Conan: Exiles (hereafter Conan) is basically ARK where the dinosaurs are people.
Not really… but kinda.
The first thing I want to say about Conan is that this is perhaps the first survival game I have played that has completely nailed the setting and tone. In a lot of these games, you are a faceless protagonist, or a random nobody who just suddenly is completely fine with butchering cannibals within minutes of regaining consciousness. In this game, you are a barbarian, in a barbarian land, doing some very barbaric things. And it fits.
In ARK, you tame dinosaurs by beating them unconscious with clubs, rocks, or narcotics. Then you… put food and more narcotics into their inventories. In Conan, you beat warriors/cooks/etc unconscious with a club. Then you… tie a rope to their legs and drag them along the ground back to your camp, and lash them to your Wheel of Pain, feeding them gruel or even human flesh, until their will to resist finally breaks and they join you. Crom would be pleased.
Like I said, it fits the theme and tone of the game. All of that is further reinforced by the demonic mobs, corruption of mad gods, and other sort of weirdness that permeates the land. It feels right.
Having said all that, there is a lot of jankiness all over the place. I’m not just talking about the typical survival game tropes like carrying 500+ stones in your loincloth inventory, or how your Thralls will sometimes unequip themselves of their weapons. I mean the very consistent outright bugs, like how attacks don’t register if you are fighting under a tent. Or the overall jarring inconsistencies in progression, like the ridiculous hoops you have to go through to complete the early-game Journal task of “skinning a creature with a knife” (literally a dozen+ steps). Or the general incongruent nature of a more “realistic” game in which you cannot simply loot the items that NPCs are wearing, or interact with any of the set pieces that dot the land.
I think that, more than anything, there is one thought that is draining most of my enthusiasm away from playing Conan: “Elder Scrolls Online did it better.” Can you slaughter a camp of people and drain the Unfulfilled Desires from their corpses to fuel your ritual offerings to Derketo in TESO? No. You can, however, interact with the world in a meaningful way, like… you know, sitting in a chair, opening a crate, stealing a bowl. Certainly the whole dungeon thing works a hell of a lot better when death does not send you back across the map, naked and alone.
For the record, my experiences in Conan have been from the viewpoint of someone playing it single-player on a local server. I ended up cranking up the resource gain to x4 rate, which is probably too high, but farming iron ore for days and days is just dumb. It was dumb in ARK too, but that was on purpose: you were meant to tame dinosaurs to make collecting resources more efficient. In Conan, it’s just mindless labor meant to create PvP opportunities in which someone jacks all your stuff.
We’ll see how long interest lasts. I tried my first dungeon the other day, and was slaughtered by the boss all the way at the end. Despite having admin powers and the ability to spawn all my equipment back on my body and teleport back to the area, there was a very tangible part of me that felt like that was an interest-terminating loss. I never felt deprived in ARK for not seeing the bosses there while playing single-player, but dungeons in Conan are more of a thing. Probably because there are less “things” in the world otherwise.
It’s been a few days since the drama, but I wanted to reserve a piece of internet real estate to talk about the Jessica Price fiasco. It’s fine if you don’t know who that is, or what the drama is about. All you really need to know is the following sequence of events:
- Jessica Price talks about the challenges with narrative storytelling in MMOs.
- Popular streamer and GW2 content creator, Deroir, suggests that solutions can be found doing things a different way.
- Jessica Price responds with the following:
Today in being a female game dev:
“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”
like, the next rando asshat who attempts to explain the concept of branching dialogue to me–as if, you know, having worked in game narrative for a fucking DECADE, I have never heard of it–is getting instablocked. PSA.
Since we’ve got a lot of hurt manfeels today, lemme make something clear: this is my feed. I’m not on the clock here. I’m not your emotional courtesan just because I’m a dev. Don’t expect me to pretend to like you here.
The attempts of fans to exert ownership over our personal lives and times are something I am hardcore about stopping. You don’t own me, and I don’t owe you.
Within the day, she was fired.
The reason I wanted to lay this all out is because the reality-distortion fields are being engaged and the entire debacle is being framed as a new Feminism vs GamerGate front. And that’s incredibly dumb, and sad, and arguably dangerous. Jessica Price was fired because she was behaving as a noxious asshole in an official capacity. Full stop. We don’t even have to examine whether it was “mansplaining” to interact with Jessica’s social media post, because there isn’t a scenario in which her response is ever appropriate.
And instead of talking about that, we’re talking about this:
Price is worried about the precedent the firings set. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” she said. “Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”
That’s a Kotaku link, but the framing of the debate is also being set by Polygon (emphasis mine):
Jessica Price, who was fired by ArenaNet last week for arguing with fans of the company’s Guild Wars 2 MMO, said she feels betrayed by how the company “folded like a cheap card table” when confronted by toxic fandom. In an interview with Polygon, she talked about the meeting in which she was fired, and castigated ArenaNet managers for their “highly unprofessional” reaction to a social media controversy.
That kinda makes it sound like Price was heroically standing up to the school bully, and unfortunately got caught in the Zero Tolerance policy for fighting back.
Instead of, you know, reading literally this:
Really interesting thread to read! 👌 However, allow me to disagree *slightly*. I dont believe the issue lies in the MMORPG genre itself (as your wording seemingly suggest). I believe the issue lies in the contraints of the Living Story’s narrative design; (1 of 3)
When you want the outcome to be the same across the board for all players’ experiences, then yes, by design you are extremely limited in how you can contruct the personality of the PC. (2 of 3)
But, if instead players were given the option to meaningfully express *their* character through branching dialogue options (which also aren’t just on the checklist for an achievement that forces you through all dialogue options), (3 of 4 cause I count seemingly…)
then perhaps players would be more invested in the roleplaying aspect of that particular MMORPG. Nonetheless, I appreciate the insightful thread! (End)
And responding with:
thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude 9_9
You getting mad at my obvious attempt at creating dialogue and discussion with you, instead of just replying that I am wrong or otherwise correct me in my false assumptions, is really just disheartening for me. You do you though. I’m sorry if it offended. I’ll leave you to it.
Today in being a female game dev:
“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”
And yet this is somehow Reddit’s fault, as if the notoriety of the thread detailing Price’s behavior was spontaneously generated (or artificially manufactured), and not the natural result of her shockingly aggressive behavior. Suppose there were bots involved, perhaps unleashed by GamerGaters who are somehow huge GW2 fans and capable of mobilizing within hours. The most they could do is increase the thread’s visibility, after which it seems easy to imagine becoming self-perpetuating.
I don’t like anything about this entire scenario – it feels like a permanent loss to chaos and entropy. This unforced error gives those in GamerGate a free win, when their general philosophy is abhorrent nonsense. And here I am, also defending corporations and their ownership over the social media profiles of their employees, even when “off the clock.” Like when Price writes “make sure you smile while they hit you,” I want to ask if she has ever worked a goddamn day in customer service or retail in her entire life. Yeah, that’s the job. I’ve worked at places for years in which hanging up on a customer was a fireable offense the first time you did so.
I don’t know what the takeaway on all this is. I am not a culture warrior, but I do believe in social justice. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, but I can’t muster any sympathy for Price. Maybe I’m not as good as I imagine myself to be. But if that person has to read what was actually said and come to the “Reddit got me fired” conclusion? Then I don’t want to be that guy. Price deserved the boot.
Tropes are a thing. A lot of people feel like tropes are the worst thing imaginable, and every new title should be breaking new ground every time, or what is the point? That’s a bit unrealistic, I think. To me, tropes can be comforting. Experience in one game does not often transfer to another, so when it does, it can help in understanding the mechanics that interact in new ways. Plus, sometimes the tropes make the genre what it is.
That said, I have been playing a lot of survival games lately, and some of these tropes have got to go.
Starting out naked with no items? That’s good, important even.
Crafting recipes that require a resource that should be abundant, but turns out to be super rare? That shit has got to go. I’m in Conan: Exiles and there are two early-game arrow recipes: one requires bones and the other requires feathers. Just guess how many bones exist in the average human or animal. If you guessed “a similar number to the amount of feathers that are contained in a clearly-feathered ostrich-like creature,” you would be correct. Zero, specifically, on average.
Although, arguably worse is how little bark you can harvest from trees.
Shit like that didn’t phase me much in the past, but I think I was spoiled by The Forest. In that survival game, you can just chuck dead bodies on your campfire, and 6-7 bones would pop out a few minutes later. Oh, and it has the best building mechanic in any survival game I have played: you set down a blueprint and then have to carry the materials to that location. That makes way better sense than putting 540 stones in your (loincloth) inventory, crafting a Furnace that mysteriously weighs 50% less, and then plopping it down wherever.
At the same time, having experienced the ability to climb anywhere in Conan, it will be tough to go back to other survival games in which a waist-high cliff is an insurmountable obstacle.
One step forward, two, three, sometimes forty steps back.
The Steam Summer sale came to a close a few days ago.
The end actually snuck up on me. I talked about the items on my wishlist before, but what ended up happening is A) I bought State of Decay 2 at full MSRP, B) I bought The Division (Gold) for $18, and C) I bought Conan: Exiles for $18 via two discounts on GMG. There still seemed to be relatively good deals available, but I wanted to spend all my time playing State of Decay 2 recently, and figured that that was worthwhile. Why buy more games than you can immediately play?
That would have been good and all, but… well…
Yep, that’s Conan: Exiles as one of the early unlocks for Humble Monthly Bundle.
What’s worse is that I’m pretty done with State of Decay 2, and I’m having very little fun with The Division. I’m level 8 at the moment, and wondering if the rest of the game is going to be basically this the whole time. And so I may have been inclined to boot up Conan next, and yet I could have gotten it for $5 cheaper + a bunch of other games had I waited like two days – GMG doesn’t allow refunds once the code is activated. I could always pause for the month, but the cosmic odds are such that the hidden games are probably going to be more stuff I want. Until it’s actually purchased, of course, and what’s inside is really a dead cat. Quantum physics is truly the biggest troll of them all.
As mentioned, I buckled down and bought State of Decay 2 (SoD2) recently.
It is difficult for me to directly compare this game to the original, because I last played it in 2014. Based on that review, a lot of things have stayed the same. You are still selecting base locations at predetermined places, you are still looting all the places for supplies, you are still recruiting survivors, and are still faced with Ironman mode – auto-saving checkpoints and permadeath.
Let’s assume you haven’t played this series at all before. What’s it like?
After the (extended) tutorial, you are basically given a base and four survivors. Your survivors are going to consume certain resources every in-game day, such as 1 Food/person, 2 Medicine when healing from injuries, etc. Missing those resources will lead to negative morale, which leads to in-fighting, which leads to survivors leaving and/or dying. Thus, you need to keep supplies high.
To keep supplies high, you can scavenge for them. Each building will typically have 1-5 spots where you can look for stuff. Some of those things will be individual items/upgrade materials, and others will be the duffel bags of base supplies that you are really looking for. Your character can only carry one duffel bag at a time, so extended scavenging is best done with a vehicle that has decent trunk space. Of course, that vehicle will need to be gassed up from time to time, which requires you to scavenge for Fuel too.
Another way to get supplies is leveraging base upgrades. Building a Garden, for example, will grant you +1 Food/day. That Garden can be upgraded if you have a survivor with the Gardening skill, and it can also be modded (say with a Compost Bin or Fertilizer) and temporarily boosted at the cost of Seeds. Doing all of those things, including providing your base with water somehow, can boost the Garden into providing 9+ Food/day. You can also turn the Garden into a Medicine factory by switching the yields to herbs.
Bases also allow you to claim Outposts. You start off with two possible slots (up to 5, I think), and you can essentially claim almost any building anywhere as an Outpost. All Outposts will create a zone where zombies won’t spawn, and will allow access to to your storage area and the ability to swap out characters. Additionally, certain Outposts can passively give you resources – Ammo Stores give Ammo, fast food joints give Food, etc. Some just give you more bed slots, and others actually give you base-wide power or water, at the cost of daily Fuel.
I mentioned all of the above rather than getting into the meat of the actual gameplay because the above essentially creates the gameplay. You need to scavenge for materials to make your base more self-sufficient, or scavenge to make up for the deficiency. You recruit more survivors because the one you are currently controlling has gotten injured, or is exhausted. There are quite a few guns and explosives and different melee weapons in the game, but zombies don’t drop loot and are best avoided in general. Technically, killing them will periodically grant you Influence, which is a catch-all currency in the game, but eventually weapons wear out and you’ll likely be spending that Influence on spare parts to repair said weapons.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is a lot of fun for me. But if you don’t like the base management and/or resource management side of things, SoD2 is definitely not for you. This is not Dying Light or even Dead Island. There are quests to follow, but since any member can permanently die at any time, there isn’t really a strict narrative going on. The overaching “point” of the game is to destroy all the Plague Hearts, which involves tossing a bunch of molatovs inside a building while waves of red zombies attack you. That’s… basically it.
Like I said: fun. For me, for now. For you? Maybe, maybe not.
Project Zomboid (PZ) is an Early Access, isometric post-zombie apocalypse survival game set in Kentucky. While the pared down graphics and isometric camera might give one pause, I was fairly excited to give the game a try. What I discovered is possibly one of the more “realistic” survival games out there… and that realism is way overrated. And less fun to play.
Honestly, I was actually surprised how much I disliked PZ almost immediately. After character creation, you take control inside the one for-sure non-zombie house – your own. From here, you go through houses and find… normal stuff. Fully stocked refrigerators and freezers. Ovens to cook raw meat. Working lights. Faucets that deliver fresh water directly to your mouth. While your character starts with no skills, you are fully capable of surviving quite a while just fine doing nothing.
That does not last for long, of course. Within a month or so, both the electricity and water will shut off permanently. So the game’s central conceit reveals itself: how long can you survive?
In the abstract, this is not dissimilar to, say, Oxygen Not Included, wherein there is no win condition per se. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find myself immediately repulsed by PZ, conceptually. When you wake up naked on a beach in ARK, there is a very obvious, grokkable progression path towards survival. All of that is turned on its head with PZ. I found myself ransacking houses for supplies, and then asking myself why.
The answer is supposed to be “to prepare for self-sufficiency and safety after the lights and water turn off,” but that feels like such a weird, abstract endgame. It’s definitely unique in this particular genre, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it’s probably unique for a reason, e.g. it feels bad. You aren’t building up to self-sufficiency, you’re building down. It is also harder to feel any particular sense of urgency without metagaming the entire experience.
I dunno. There is technically a starting game mode which takes place 6 months after the start of the zombie apocalypse, which features the water and lights already off, and most things already looted. In other words, a more typical survival game experience. But after spending a few hours with the base game, I don’t know that I feel it.
This is definitely going to be one of those Early Access titles that needs more time in the oven.
Blizzard was running a free weekend of WoW just a few days ago. This was basically me:
I still have the Curse Client – or the Twitch client now, but Amazon owns it? – so I was able to get all my addons updated and the screen to basically look the same as it did the last time I logged in. Which might have been 400+ days ago?
Blizzard has made a big deal about some of the artifact appearances going away permanently with the next expansion’s pre-patch, which itself is going Live within a few weeks. I looked through them, and pretty much the only ones I would conceivably care about were the Feral and Guardian druid ones. My average ilevel was 840 when I left, and 910 is basically the floor for attempts. Some guides have mentioned that you can reach that ilevel with about a week of dailies and such.
Cosmetic rewards in gaming is in a weird place for me. As rewards for completing content, I feel like it’s a good choice over straight (gear) power. As a means of funding games (e.g. cash shop), it is probably the least offensive, provided they do not come in loot boxes. But eventually… does it not just end for other people? Like, you enjoy the way your character looks and that’s that?
I spent years and years trying to get the Raven mount out of a TBC heroic, and I eventually did. And now I’m done with land mounts – any other mounts I ride are due to utility (flying, water-walking, etc). It doesn’t matter what other mounts Blizzard releases, and so mount-chasing just ceased to be compelling for me anymore. Same with transmog, really. Once you get a good set going, whatever else gets released would need to be way better than my current one in order to move the needle. You can only wear one costume/ride one mount at a time, so why both acquiring multiple ones?
Thus, with Mage Tower unlocks not being a good use of my time, I’m left with… well, too many things, actually. There’s two full raids worth of bosses to tour with LFR, plus an entire demon planet to quest through, and a half-dozen Allied races to unlock, oh and flying is a thing now which requires a whole bunch of assorted tasks and reputation grinds and, and, and etc.
Yeah, that’s gonna be a no for me dawg. I’m out.
Well, out is probably optimistic. I never uninstalled WoW in my life, and I am sorta interested in the train wreck of an expansion (lore-wise) that Battle for Azeroth is shaping up to be. There is just too much shit I have to shift through and prioritize and decide on at the moment. When a new expansion is released, things are much easier. Go quest, gain levels, unlock abilities, repeat until level cap. Once you hit said cap, things go sideways in terms of shit to do. Each patch adds more and more and the only way to keep your head above water is to have been treading this whole time. Makes it a bit tough to come back after an extended break.
I dunno. This may come as somewhat of a shock, but I sometimes overthink things. But I figure if I’m going to need to dedicate some time to (re-)learning some things, I should probably take that time to learn something new, e.g. playing something else.
WoW will still be there later, as always. Waiting.
An hour or so after yesterday’s post, I went ahead and bought State of Decay 2. Life is short, I have the money, let’s do the thing.
Just as a warning though, Microsoft doesn’t make it easy.
State of Decay 2 is not on Steam. Further, there is no express PC copy. The game is apparently part of Microsoft’s “Play Anywhere” initiative, which means you end up having to buy the Xbox One copy, which can also be played on Windows 10 machines. I purchased on Amazon because of my 5% cash back card, but I suppose you could do so from the Microsoft store a bit more directly.
The problems were just beginning though. One of the first things I had to do was associate my PC with a Microsoft account. My copy of Windows 10 is legit, but I never bothered to register it or anything, so now apparently I had to reconfigure how I sign into my own damn computer just to get access to the storefront. Once that was done, I took my digital code, followed the links, and redeemed the code in the Microsoft store. But… where was my download button? Where was My Games? Every link I followed just took me around in circles.
In case you follow my lead, hopefully this link works:
That will hopefully take you directly to the game’s page. Be aware that you’ll probably still need to add your PC as a Device on Microsoft’s servers or whatever, but you should be able to eventually download it from there.
I cannot comment much on the gameplay thus far, beyond confirming that it’s definitely scratching the itch. I’m not a fan of the game giving me a mission to kill a Plague Heart, pointing me to an NPC that gives me explosives for free, and then surprising me with the fact that the very items it told me to use were not enough to actually kill said Plague Heart, but whatever. I’m looting things, building a base, and killing some zombies. That’s exactly what I wanted to do in this moment.
Just to contradict Bhagpuss, let’s talk about the Steam Summer sale.
Actually, Steam sales are kind of irrelevant these days, as most digital retailers either match or beat even the best discounts most of the time. For example, Steam currently has a bundle up for Prey + Dishonored 2 for $28.33. If you pick up Prey for $15 on Steam individually, then you can buy Dishonored 2 for $13 on DLGamer and save yourself… thirty-three cents.
An actual example would be something like Conan: Exiles. It’s $24 on Steam and several other retailers, like Amazon. Well, I have one of those Amazon credit cards which gives you 5% cash back on purchases. So, we’re back to the big bucks in saving… $1.20.
Hmm. Perhaps we are indeed way past the commodification stage of gaming.
On a somewhat related topic, you might have seen people talking about the new Steam tool which allows you to check your total money spent on the platform from the beginning. Some people have posted their numbers rather guiltily, or celebrating their “low” scores. My own personal spending was around $2100, but I was curious as to how long a time-span that covered.
So, I scrolled and scrolled till I reached bedrock:
Across eleven years, that comes out to about $16/month in entertainment. Humble Bundles and the like are not counted, of course, but I still feel more thrifty than guilty. During my Magic: Online days, I would routinely drop $10 to enter a Draft tournament that could be over within 30 minutes, to say nothing about what I spent on paper cards over the years. And, of course, most of us have years-long histories of MMO subscriptions behind us instead of, or in addition to, these numbers.
Still, I get the guilt. I have a wishlist of games I’m tracking across various storefronts, despite the fact that my library is filled with unplayed titles. Part of it is “collect them all,” but a larger part is avoiding “I feel like playing X right now, but the game isn’t on sale anymore.” For example, I’m currently on a survival kick and have an insane urge to play State of Decay 2. It’s not on sale though, so I’m looking at all the other games I have and playing those in the (vain) hope that it will scratch the itch. But it doesn’t. Close, but not quite. But I feel rather lucky I already have The Forest, and Subnautica, and a handful of other titles to tide me over until either the target game goes on sale, or the craving subsides.
Anyway, this is the current list of games on my radar:
- Conan: Exiles ($24)
- Final Fantasy 15 ($25)
- State of Decay 2 (no sale, $30)
- Divinity: Original Sin 2 ($36)
- Far Cry 5 ($45)
- ARK DLC ($12)
- Kingdom Come: Deliverance ($42)
- Prey ($15)
- Dishonored 2 ($13)
- Metal Gear Survive ($25)
Of those, I’m heavily leaning towards picking up Prey & Dishonored 2. And Final Fantasy 15. And Conan: Exiles. Because reasons. Well, mainly because Subnautica and The Forest aren’t cutting it anymore and I don’t have the hard drive space for ARK and I need to purchase all the things all the time and hoard digital games like pieces of wood to craft a shack in a post-apocalyptic world.
/breathes in a paper bag
Or maybe I do nothing. Play the games I have, let the seasonal sales pass, and reevaluate my options during the next major holiday. Considering Alpha 17 for 7DTD will be coming out in a month or so, and the Fallout 76 Beta will (presumably) happen before November, I could wait it all out.
Or maybe I just buy the fucking game I want and play; get it out of my system and on with my life.