Thoughts on X-Com: Chimera Squad

XCOM: Chimera Squad isn’t the next entry in the main XCOM series, which dates back to the early 1990’s. This means two things: it’s not a full priced $60 game, and it’s not as in-depth as a game in the main series. What some might call “XCOM Lite” or a mobile version of the game, I would argue has a surprising amount of things to do and still manages to keep you engaged for hours at a time. For those of you unfamiliar with XCOM, it was a grand strategy game from the 20th century in which you as the leader of the XCOM program, lead Earth’s defense against alien forces. A few sequels were produced, until eventually the series was rebooted in 2012 with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This title would later receive an expansion update, XCOM: Enemy Within which added new elements to the same formula. That same year there would be a spin-off title called The Bureau: XCOM Declassified which attempted to take the series in a different direction, and wasn’t as universally loved as the main series. Falling back onto known successful strategies, XCOM 2 would release in 2016 and the series would return to greatness along with receiving a bunch of updates and the full expansion XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. I would say that Chimera Squad falls somewhere between a spin-off in the same way as The Bureau, and a full XCOM title because the game is not too far off from the main series in terms of gameplay and also carries on the story from the two games that are part of last decade’s reboots.

Looking at the screenshots above, you wouldn’t think this wasn’t a part of the main XCOM series, and to a degree you’d be correct. The combat system present in Chimera Squad is familiar to anyone who has played these games in the past. This style of tactical combat is somewhat standard form in other genres as well, so you should feel at home with the mechanics right away. Where some differences emerge is in the new “breach” system, and the addition of encounters. Each mission will consist of 1-3 encounters in which your same squad will have to fight and survive til the end, along with completing other sub tasks as needed. Each mission starts with a breach, where you can arrange your squad in order of entry along with selecting differing entry points depending on your squad makeup. For example, if you have someone with a breach charge equipped, certain walls can be blown up to gain breach bonuses while one particular agent you can recruit has the ability to enter through vents. Otherwise, you’re pretty much playing as you would expect, and after missions end you return to HQ, much like you would in the main series.

HQ is probably the biggest change that makes this game feel like “XCOM Lite.” Instead of having a sprawling base and some options to customize, you’ll have what equates to a police station. Your crew of agents hang out in the locker room where you can equip them with new gear that’s found via missions or built by you. Research takes place, and takes days to complete, but will open up new options for your agents. You can buy stuff from a black market. You’ll spend most of your time looking at the city screen, where you essentially monitor the happiness of each borough. If people are scared/pissed, there will be anarchy, which equates to a new mission you have to complete in order to lower the angst. If too much angst happens all over the city, it’s game over. You do have tools to deal with this though, where you can send teams to each zone and have them do stuff to lower the overall terror level. Upgrading them provides you with abilities to automatically lower terror or freeze the level where it is so it won’t raise for a while. These abilities are on long cool downs though so you’ll have to use them wisely. There are different missions that advance the story, but you’ll have to wait days for an investigation to end so that you can properly enter that mission and progress. In the meantime, you’ll be trying to maintain order by doing side missions in different areas. It appears that there are different factions and though you can only choose one to focus on, I’m unsure if you end up investigating them all or just one per game session. Whatever the case I didn’t quite finish the investigation I am on at this point, so I can’t say exactly how a game is completed.

Though there is voice acting there wasn’t much time put into the story that brings everything together. Most story bits are told through cartoon like stills and barely animated sequences, though there is more dialogue and what have you during combat missions and in HQ as well. The overall story carries on from the 2012 reboot to now. In that first game, Earth was being attacked by aliens. In the sequel, the aliens had overtaken Earth and the last vestiges of humanity were working together to take Earth back. This continues from there, where essentially the war ended, much of the alien forces left, much of humanity was killed off, and the remaining humans and aliens have attempted to create a unified civilization. It seems to be working, but there are various factions of aliens and humans that are against unity and that’s the stuff we’re around to squash.

Overall I think the story fits well enough in the context of this universe and the gameplay is reflective of the series while being easier to just jump in and go. It really is a “lite” version of a game we already know but it somehow works. It’s also a very attractive price point if you are itching to play XCOM but can’t bring yourself to fire up the older games. At $20, you really can’t go wrong. Just don’t expect the same epic overtones as the originals.

Journey to The Outer Worlds

So Fallout is a thing. If we go back in time a bit, the third game in the series made the jump to the 3D space and turned the series into a first person affair, much like The Elder Scrolls series. This is partially due to the fact that at this time Bethesda bought the IP from Interplay, so it was their first game and they obviously used the TES architecture to design it. I played Fallout 3 but didn’t really enjoy the fact that you relied heavily on the VATS system to do well in combat so the game couldn’t be played in a fast paced style. Stealth didn’t make as much sense to me then either, though these issues were rectified for me come the fourth game in the series. Somewhere in between there, another Fallout game was made, but by a different company. This game was Fallout: New Vegas, and though it appeared at the time to be using the same engine as Fallout 3, it’s almost fair to say that Fallout: New Vegas was the “real” Fallout 3. 

Long ago a company named Black Isle Studios made some amazing cRPGs that I played and enjoyed. These games were distributed by Interplay, who would later go under and sell off IPs, hence the tidbit above. The studio itself would close down but was famous for developing the first two Fallout games along with Planescape: Torment. Later, a new company would emerge from the ashes, and Obsidian Entertainment would go on to work on similar titles like Neverwinter Nights 2, and Knights of the Old Republic 2. They came back around to Fallout with New Vegas and then I assume that they were no longer allowed (or interested) in pursuing more games in that world. Instead, we’ve gotten The Outer Worlds, which in itself is much like a Fallout game, but is set in its own world. I should also note that Obsidian went back to their roots for a few years developing the Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny games.

The Outer Worlds was on my radar early on, but I was skeptical after buying Fallout 76 on day one and being mostly disappointed with it. I wanted another Fallout experience but that wasn’t it, and I wasn’t sure that Obsidian would deliver something I wanted. The other issue was that while it was releasing on consoles and PC on day one, the PC version could only be picked up on the Epic Games store and I have whole-heartedly boycotted that platform. Later it was said that the release would come to Steam, but that it would be one year later. The Outer Worlds has been out since October of 2019, and here were are smack dab in the middle of that year. I saw the game on sale on the Playstation Store and decided I didn’t want to wait until October 2020 to pay full price for a year old game. That might not be the case, but I simply didn’t want to wait. So I picked it up, downloaded and started playing last night.

As much as I want to compare The Outer Worlds to Fallout, I’m going to try and leave the comparisons behind outside of those I’ve already mentioned. Yes, they are both first person RPGs that take place in the future, and have plenty of retro and futuristic elements but that’s about where it stops. Here, the story revolves around corporations that serve as factions throughout the universe. There’s also much more than just one world to explore, so I imagine if you put all of the maps together you’d get a similarly sized world. Travel on foot takes some time but there is a lot of detail put into each point of interest and the world feels alive.

As with most RPGs, you’ll start out by creating your character, which seemed pretty straight forward. I’m not sure how well I chose to spend my skill and attribute points, but I pulled from my knowledge of these style of games and assumed that dialog options along with hacking/lockpicking skills would be a good way to go. I’ve also focused on being able to use long guns so that I can take enemies out before they get to me. Overall it feels pretty much the same as most RPGs, but I see some little nuances that were interesting.

The story goes that you were frozen on a ship that was bound for a corporate owned colony somewhere in space, but something on the ship failed and so you (along with others) were frozen for 70 years. Apparently a lot has happened since then, but it seems that corporations control various parts of space and your faction standings will fluctuate as you participate in the story. A fugitive helps you escape, but then his ship is damaged so he sends you planet side to meet with a smuggler who is going to help you help the guy who saved you but then he gets squashed by your landing pod and you’re sort of on your own. I’ve only played through the first area and just got access to a ship, so now I’m able to travel the stars. But just the first portion of the game successfully introduces you to a number of characters, gets you some gear and experience (I believe I’m level 7 already) and even gets you your first companion. Apparently you can have up to two companions at a time in this game, so that’s something new.

Like most of these types of RPGs, you have an overarching story line and then a bunch of little side quests. At this point I believe my priority is to help get the rest of the frozen colonists free, but first I have to help the fugitive that freed me. From there I assume more will happen, but along the way a bunch of little stories will unfold. I love this style of game so I know that I’m going to have fun with this one, I just don’t really know what to expect.

Finally seeing the ship’s navigation makes the game appear that it will be huge. There are a lot of planets there to explore, however we didn’t do a whole lot on Terra 2, so I’m not sure that each place we visit will be that expansive. Whatever the case, I’m anxious to get back to it, so I’m gonna hit publish and play some more!

The Steam Calculator: 2019 Edition

The first time The Steam Calculator was brought to my attention was back in 2014. At the time, I had only been purchasing games via the platform for a little while but it was still and interesting way to look at your Steam library. I’m a fan of stats and figures, so I guess this was a given. It just so happens that when I wrote that first post about my observations about said stats took place shortly after the first Newbie Blogger Initiative that I participated in. I also ended up writing a follow up post one year later and made some comparisons between the years. Seeing as how it is Blaugust and this topic popped up via other bloggers, I thought it was fitting to take a look at my account once again. It’s been just over five years since the original post, and four since the second so I’m sure my stats will have inflated quite a bit by now. I linked to both of those posts above but I will copy over some stats here for easy comparison. Let’s look at the numbers from the first post:

This account is worth $607.64. If all games were bought on sale, it would be $276.54.

* *Games owned:* 55

* *Games not played:* 5 **(9%)**

* *Hours spent:* 304.5h

I was surprised to find out how much time I had spent playing games on my Steam account at that time, given that I had mostly played MMOs and MOBAs via their own launchers up to that point, but I was heading towards critical backlog mass very shortly. Contrast with a year later:

This account is worth $2054. If all games were bought on sale, it would be $562.

* **Games owned:** 168
* **Games not played:** 34 *(20%)*
* **Hours on record:** 660.0h*
* **Average price of games owned:** $12.22
* **Average price per hour:** $9.86
* **Average playtime:** 4.9h

I went more in depth in my stats analysis in the prior post, but we can see an almost $1500 spike in account value, over 100 new games added and more than double the amount of hours spent on the platform. Let’s fast forward and see what’s going on, current day:

This account is worth $5195. If all games were bought on sale, it would be $1410.

* **Games owned:** 416
* **Games not played:** 90 *(22%)*
* **Hours on record:** 1569h*
* **Average price of games owned:** $15.93
* **Average price per hour:** $8.19
* **Average playtime:** 4.8h

So first of all, wow that’s a lot of money for only three years. $3.1k is no small figure, but I guarantee you that very little of my library was purchased for full price. I rarely buy games that aren’t on sale, and have trained myself to wait for the semi-annual sales that occur. I’ve also tried to cull my backlog by playing games until I beat them or decide that I never will, and then they get uninstalled. This has been an ongoing project of mine, but it is difficult to keep up with as new games are releasing all of the time and I end up getting new ones still, but it’s been much less often in the last couple of years. This is most likely due to splitting my free cash between gaming and MTG, but also due to expenses varying over the years. Looks like I have a ton of games that aren’t played but I know that I’ve played most. I think it’s still counting DLC and/or Free to Play games that I don’t really own. It has been noted that this database isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s still fun to look at. It appears that my average price of games, price per hour and average playtime haven’t changed much in four years. I’d attribute this to my schedule, having a family, work, and all of that good stuff. I’m in a good place with it, so that’s what matters.

If you’re curious about your own Steam accounts, you can find that app over here.

Thoughts on Steambirds Alliance

When Steambirds Alliance showed up in my Steam discovery queue, I was surprised by its description. It was tagged as an MMO, but also as a shoot em up (schmup). I happen to enjoy bullet-hell style games, and have played them since childhood, but I didn’t see how you could turn this sort of concept into an RPG, let alone an MMO. Color me interested, particularly when I found out that it was in Open Beta and free to download to try out. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but after a session with the game I found it to be intriguing. Many of the concepts that you’d expect from an MMO are present. There is crafting. There are different ships that could correlate to classes. There are quests. You level up. You get gear. There are open world parts, and dungeons complete with bosses. There is a central hub city where you can group up with other players and it works sort of like Marvel Heroes, where the open world is wandered by all, and if you participate in battle you get your own share of the XP. It does actually become a bullet hell at times too, so the schmup portion of the game’s design is true to its roots.

Being in beta, I’m sure there are still kinks to work out. The tutorial was good enough, but didn’t really describe the fact that you don’t really sell your loot, you just drop “trash.” There are features that don’t open up until you’re level 5 or level 20. I have no idea what crafting is like due to this level restriction, though I will admit the levels come at a rapid clip. There is a story that loosely translates to birds hating cats and cats ruling the world currently, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Then again, when is the last time you cared about the story/quest text in an MMO? It doesn’t look bad but it definitely doesn’t feel AAA. Not that being indie is a bad thing, but it doesn’t really feel like a top notch game, but that could also be due to the fact that it’s a schmup MMO mashup and that’s just weird to begin with.

Honestly I don’t think it’s a bad game, but I have only scratched the surface so far. I had to play it to sate my curiosity, but I’m not sure it’s something I’ll play more of. One thing that makes the schmup genre fun is the fact that yes it is challenging, but there is an end to the game and you can say you beat it. Turning that concept into an MMO either means eventually things become trival or you get bored because by now you normally would have beaten several games in the genre. I’m not sure what to think about this one, but I wish them luck in their coming launch. Seems to have some sort of population, I saw dozens of people playing during my session. I’d recommend checking it out if you’re bored and want something new, or if you’re as curious as I was about this bastard of a game concept. If you’re already playing a more traditional MMO I don’t think you’d be into this one.

Early Impressions: Wolfenstein Youngblood

I’ve been looking forward to the newest edition of Machine Games’ Wolfenstein series, and it finally arrived this past week. Wolfenstein Youngblood is a game I had considered pre-ordering, but with how easy it is to get burnt these days, I decided to wait. Releasing on my payday was good for me, and thankfully it also didn’t run the full $60, instead being a $30 game on day one. Something came up that day though, so I didn’t end up buying it until the following afternoon. In the interim I read the “mixed” Steam reviews and it seems that most people were panning the game as not being a traditional Wolfenstein experience. Many compared it to other looter-shooter style games such as Destiny or The Division. It doesn’t have much of a story, the AI is poor and co-op is forced, etc, etc. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

There is no doubt that this is a game created using the same engine and made by the same team and past Wolfenstein titles. The gameplay is smooth, graphics crisp and the mechanics are sublime. I enjoy running around and shooting nazis now as much as I did back in the original. As far as story goes, it is true that it is not as straight forward as the previous iterations — you’ll get some tidbits via cutscenes, but the majority of the dialogue comes from characters you’ll interact with and from the sisters talking among themselves during levels. I’m about 7 hours into the game, and I feel like the story has pieced together well enough, but it’s not to the same level as when B.J. was at the helm. Whatever the case, I don’t find this to be a major downfall, particularly when we’ve all been playing this style of game for decades and the point is to shoot stuff and blow shit up… story used to not even exist. I’ll admit I really enjoyed Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus‘ story, but it wasn’t integral to my enjoyment either.

Gameplay is core to me in this style of game, and there is a weird amalgam of concepts that have been thrown together here, and yet they seem to work. This isn’t a looter-shooter, because you don’t constantly swap out gear or get different colored upgrades. It isn’t open world, because there is a “safe zone” called the catacombs and this is where your base of operations is. You will get new people residing here along the way, and most will give you quests. This is also the hub from which you sort of teleport (it’s explained as using the metro system) to different parts of Paris, or at least this world’s version of it. Story missions lead you to a point where you must beat several bosses at different locations, but it will end up where you won’t be able to progress immediately, instead needing to do some side missions (from the aforementioned quest givers) to gain experience. This is where I would correlate this game to other titles like Destiny, but it’s mostly just a co-op FPS with some light RPG elements and not quite the psuedo-MMOs that Destiny and The Division are. Enemies can become bullet-sponges after a time, but I can’t think of too many games where this isn’t the case, so I don’t understand the complaint. I have found that so far the AI isn’t terrible (as I haven’t wanted to play with randoms and I don’t know anyone personally that has this game on PC just yet), but I can see where it might become a liability in later stages of the game. Regardless, I don’t really see why the criticism is being laid on so thick. This is a fun game for $30, and thought it’s not exactly what we’re used to from this company, it isn’t a bad thing. It’s not a buggy mess like some of the other games in this vein have been either.

Instead of having new guns pop up all the time, instead you’ll collect coins throughout the world and can use them as currency to upgrade your predetermined set of weapons. Each item has a list of parts that can be upgraded, and from there you get some branching paths so you can optimize each as you see fit. As you gain experience you’ll gain player levels and with that comes perks that you can use to get different powers, have more health/armor, dual wield and other cool things. You really get to play the way you want to and I think that’s pretty cool for an FPS. There are a ton of collectibles in the world for those achievement hunters, and you can read/listen to those as you like. Easter eggs are around too… including an arcade cabinet housing the OG game.

Overall I think this game has a lot of potential. Future DLC could see this expanding into a psuedo-MMO, but it’s not quite there yet. Whatever the case, if you’re a fan of this series I think you’ll still like this title. Worst case scenario, it should be on sale by Christmas time.