Author Archives: Azuriel

PC Game Pass Price Doubles

I just received an email from Microsoft that the Game Pass is coming out of “beta” and will be increasing in price from $4.99 to… $9.99. This price increase makes it… still cheaper than the $12 legacy Humble Choice subscription, of which I have paused for the past five months in a row. It’s more expensive than EA Play ($4.99) but still cheaper than EA Play Pro ($14.99).

Will I continue to subscribe to Game Pass? Absolutely.

Looking at my account history, I have given Microsoft $60.96 over the last eight months. The two biggest games I played were Outer Worlds and Metro: Exodus, but there were a slew of “smaller” titles like Carrion, Into the Breach, Children of Morta, Nowhere Prophet, Forager, and Undermine. I’m looking forward to playing Spiritfarer, going through Halo: the Master Chief Collection, Astroneer, Grounded (I may wait until it’s out of Early Access though), Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Frostpunk, and possibly Disgaea 4.

The above isn’t taking into account the games on the service that I already own elsewhere. Fallout 76, My Time at Portia, ARK, Dead Cells, Dishonored 2, Don’t Starve, Final Fantasy 15, Hollow Knight, No Man’s Sky, Slay the Spire, Stellaris, Subnautica, The Long Dark. Shit, I just realized how many crafting/survival games I could have gotten for (relative) free. Oh well.

I don’t know why I continue to shill for this service, other than perhaps to reassure myself that this is actually a thing that exists in this world. I have long railed on the concept of Consumer Surplus and how gaming companies have systematically been extracting every last ounce via DLC, Season Passes, Loot Boxes and so on. This trend towards a Netflix model for gaming has been the one bright spot this decade, it seems, eclipsing even the Humble Bundle model before it.

Will it solve all our (gaming) ills? No. Stellaris is on Game Pass but just as the base game – it still has $100+ worth of DLCs in typical Paradox fashion. Same with ARK. But there is a natural tension surrounding extra purchases for “rented” games such that I can see perhaps a higher-tier subscription beginning to include DLC. Or maybe Microsoft will be dicks and force you to purchase the game years after launch for near MSRP to get continued use out of already-purchased DLC.

Nevertheless, companies will need to make the base game worth experiencing if they hope to grab gamers’ attention without leaning on the Sunk Cost/dissonance of ownership. Not every game is going to be on Game Pass, but I absolutely believe that there will be more of these subscription options from other companies, the same way that Netflix is no longer the only, ahem, game in town.

How to Lose Friends and Mismanage People

The r/ClashRoyale subreddit was going through a revolt over the “Clan Wars 2” update, and the Community Manager was, uh, not managing well. In one of the early threads that highlighted the fact that small clans are stuck facing the same large clans for five weeks in a row, Drew said:

to play devils advocate here (i know the sub won’t like this opinion) but shouldn’t the solution here lie with the clan themselves?

if you have an inactive clan maybe the clan needs a shake up and more active members?

just asking some hard questions that i would like some opinions on!

Do you even need context to understand how monumentally stupid this was to say?

Context makes it worse. The old Clan War design made it so that the people who did Collection Battles were the ones that needed to do attacks on War Day. The system was opt-in and every clan you were competing with had the same number of attacks. The new design just gives everyone in the clan four attacks per day and matches you against clans of varying population. This leads to situations where you can be in a 20-person clan with the highest-skilled players in the world who win every battle, and still lose every race for five weeks in a row to a 41-person clan filled with people who AFK lose every battle (losses still award some progress).

So while Drew tried to back-peddle with the “just playing Devil’s Advocate!” card, it’s hard to read the Clan Wars change as anything other than what it appears to be: a concerted effort to destroy small clans in favor of zerg clans. Drew all but confirming that with his “question” did not help anything.

Know what it reminded me of? Guild Leveling in WoW. Remember that? If not, here’s a post from six years ago when Blizzard finally removed the “feature” that was the death knell of my own tight-knit guild. Like this Clash Royale update, it essentially penalized smaller guilds and rewarded large ones, as if that is something that ever needs additional encouragement. “Everyone can earn rewards… eventually! Just choose between getting them immediately, or hanging with your friends while knowing everyone is paying an objective, tangible price for being together.”

Don’t worry though, Drew has the easy solution: get a better bigger clan!

To be entirely fair, Drew released a new Reddit post titled “Quick Update from the Dev Team” on the subject as I was typing this out. It’s not a roadmap, but he does highlight just about every complaint from the community that Supercell received in the past week, e.g. since the update, along with some potential fixes. The relevant section:

SMALL CLANS NOT BEING CONSIDERED IN MATCHMAKING

WHY IS IT BAD? (COMMUNITY FEEDBACK)

  • Small Clans can’t finish the race
  • Small Clans getting outmatched by bigger Clans
  • Small Clans matched against maxed Clans
  • Small Clans not getting rewards so can’t level
  • Not fair/equal footingvDamages close knit small Clans/family & friend Clans/IRL Clans

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Introduce “small Clan Wars”?
  • Have smaller rewards but also smaller Fame thresholds
  • Matchmake based on Clan Size
  • Introduce new Clan creation stats (10/25/50 member clans with different rewards and leaderboards) and make separate system & leaderboard for them (like boom beach task forces)
  • Give extra War Deck resets for players (like extra attacks in Clan Wars 1)

Hmm… yep, that’s a pretty accurate assessment of how terrible the update has been.

None of this is particularly relevant to me anymore, as I left my clan and uninstalled Clash Royale already. Do I miss it? Eh… not really. As with most things in life, holes get filled in with random crap if you let it. I find myself on Reddit more, or lowering the bar even further for random trashy manga via Tachiyomi. It’s not as though I got any extra time in the day after I left WoW either.

Nevertheless, I do find it infinitely amusing (and annoying) about how Time is a Flat Circle when it comes to developers making the same sort of mistakes, over and over, forever. When the forums are in revolt, don’t play Devil’s Advocate. Maybe never play Devil’s Advocate at all. Don’t go out of your way to reward big zerg guilds, as they almost always have an advantage already. And when you inevitably lurch away from an immensely dumb design decision, take a look around the table and see if there wasn’t anyone who was warning you about how dumb the idea was at the time.

If there wasn’t someone there at the table, well, maybe you need to add a few more chairs, eh?

Clashed Out

I’m real done with Clash Royale.

My trajectory was set for a while now. I have been playing near-daily for over four years now, after all. While there have been a lot of new cards developed in that time, systemic issues made them functionally useless – when you are playing in the top leagues, you need max-level cards to succeed, and all new cards start at level 1. Still, Supercell managed to make a few intelligent changes along the way that kept things moving. For example, nowadays new cards are “boosted” to your King Level for a month, meaning I can actually use them straight away.

The problem is that Supercell hyped up the “Clan Wars 2” changes that were aimed at breathing new life into the clan part of clashing. And the delivery wasn’t just flat, it actively destroyed what existed and replaced it with some real shit.

Odds are none of you play Clash Royale or particularly care either way, but hang with me a second.

The old system had a two-day cadence. On Day 1, your clan had a rotating set of three “collection” battles. For the most part, these battles were way different from normal battles: you had options like Draft (build a deck), Classic Deck (get a random pre-built deck), Sudden Death, and so on. The important bit is that these game modes are quite fun AND don’t require max-level cards. Win or lose, your clan gets X amount of random cards that they will later use for the actual clan battle. On Day 2, your clan all has to use the same cards that were collected to build the best deck they can, and fight other people under similar limitations (but different cards). Your card levels matter here, and sometimes the card selection forced you into a deck archetype you aren’t comfortable with.

The new system? You need to build four decks using your own cards, and none of the cards can overlap. Then you participate in a “River Race” in which you… use those four decks playing 1v1 battles. Just like you were playing ladder, aside from being stuck with sub-par decks due to the no-overlap limitation. Each deck has a 12-24 hour cooldown. There is technically a wrinkle insofar as you can instead attack enemy ships directly, which results in a weird PvE-ish situation, and can cause said enemy clan to be forced to repair their ship instead of doing attacks and acquiring more Fame (which determines how fast your boat goes).

My clan completed the race within 2-3 days and netted 1st place. There doesn’t appear to be any particular reason to keep playing the River Race after that. Maybe you can still get some gold or something?

Regardless, this update took the one interesting part of the game – the unique game modes – and jettisoned them away. There still is a rotating game mode that can be fun, but it only changes a few times a week and there are some stinkers in the rotation. Everything else is basically just 1v1 ladder. Well, it’s ladder for the first game, and then you are stuck with whatever shit decks you can throw together with your remaining cards as you face three Hog Cycle decks in a row. I’m better off than most insofar as I have mostly max-level cards… but I hate ladder. It’s the same shit meta month after month, and all I’m doing is just grinding gold to upgrade cards I don’t actually use.

Enough.

The funny thing is… some people will say this is a success. After all, I have given Supercell $100 or so and I have gotten untold hours of entertainment over four years. From a mobile game! And yet I could not possibly be more burned out, worn down, disgusted. Well, I could, and have been, with other games like MMOs. But I haven’t played MMOs in a while precisely because of this level of burnout, and I don’t like experiencing it from a mobile game too.

That’s my own damn fault, of course. I could have been wasting (more of) my time on Reddit or whatever instead of still playing a game I was growing to dislike on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I suppose that is the price we pay for seeking games to worm into our daily routines: they leave holes when you eventually root them out.

My Time at Portia: Beginner’s Tips

Here are a few critical beginner tips to make your experience in My Time at Portia more pleasant.

1. Slow Down Game Speed

One of the first things I recommend doing is opening the Options screen and reducing the Game Speed. All this controls is how quickly the clock ticks in the game. So, instead of burning two hours of daylight heading over to your neighbor’s house to chat, it may only take 30 minutes to cover the same ground. This will also give you more opportunity to use all of your Stamina on digging/logging.

For myself, I pushed it all the way down to 60%. This gives me plenty of time to stock all my furnaces, talk to who I need to, and complete all my chores with plenty of time to explore a bit more before hitting the sack. If you want to burn some more daylight, you can speed it back up at any time.

2. All your Storage is Linked

Even though the game mentions this in a loading screen tip, it wasn’t until a few dozen hours into the game that I realized that all your storages are linked. What this means is that if you have one easily-accessible storage chest, you can open it and then browse the contents of all the others, even if they are inside your house (which I recommend doing to save real estate).

Why is this useful? Because you can name each chest and then put that stuff in the chest and easily find them later. I have chests for Metal, Wood, Cloth, Foodstuffs, relics from Ruins #1, Ruins #2, etc etc etc. Considering how often you have to physically put stuff on your hotbar to assemble things, it’s helpful to organize all your stuff.

3. Fishing = $$$

If you haven’t already learned this from the Fishing Tournament in the first month, Fishing is one of the most lucrative endeavors in the game. As soon as you craft your first fishing pole, you can purchase bait from Sophia’s store and then head to the fishing hole near the waterfall. Goliaths are the common catch there and each one has a book value of 350g. The King Goliaths are very rare and hard to reel in, but their book value is 5000g. I recommend not selling those until you have two, because…

4. Breed Fish for Easy Cash

At a certain point, you’ll be able to craft a fish tank. If you plop two fish of the same type (and rarity) into the tank and feed them regularly, eventually you’ll get a 3rd fish. There’s a distinct lack of any kind of useful interface with the fish tank, but basically you can dump in as much food as you want and the fish feed themselves until it runs out. As long as they aren’t hungry, another invisible timer will be counting down until a third fish appears in the tank. Just make sure you don’t accidentally pull a fish out of the tank until they have bred, because it resets to timer even if you put it back.

For practical purposes: put in two King Goliaths (or other 5000g fish pairs), load it up with food, and then 7-8 days later you will have a 3rd 5000g fish. Rinse and repeat for some nice passive income.

5. Don’t Overthink Relationships

There are a few dozen members of the Portia community, and quite a few reasons why you might want to cozy up to all of them. For example, store discounts, extra stat buffs, periodic presents, or because you want to make one of them your beau. Just don’t go too crazy with it though.

Each star or heart container represents 100 relationship points. Talking with townsfolk confers… +1 point each day. Sparring with them confers… +1 point. Playing Rock-Paper-Scissors… yeah, +1 point. While there are Skills that can be unlocked to boost these numbers, they pale in comparison to the other avenues to raise relationships. Giving gifts, for example. Most townsfolk appreciate certain food dishes, and giving them it on the daily is worth +10 points each time.

Additionally, about midway through the game, you “unlock” the ability to go on Play Dates with most townsfolk, once per person per week. If you plan out things right, you can fairly easily score +25 to +40 points in an evening. This isn’t even counting the bonuses (+20 to +35) that come from quests, or them viewing relics you place in your yard, or when you complete their Commissions.

In short, don’t get hung up on talking to everyone everyday.

6. Embrace the Dig

Early on you will unlock some Abandoned Ruins. While these locations have buried relics to chase, the biggest draw is just to find a mineral vein and dig. And dig. And dig some more. While you do need Wood to power the Furnaces that turn all of the copper (etc) ore into usable bars, the vast majority of your time in MtaP will be spent digging. So embrace it.

Also, Pro Tip: you can trade up to 999 Rock for Wood at a 1:1 ratio at A&G Construction. While you will want to keep some Rock around to turn into Bricks on occasion, this conversion will save you a lot of time if you don’t have to split your time between digging and logging.

7. Note the Economy

Prices in Portia fluctuate: down to the low 70% all the way to 135%. Every vendor is affected by the same multiplier shown in the upper-right of the vendor window. Changes are typically gradual, so you’ll have some idea of the direction things are moving. Needless to say, if you are wanting to sell things, you will get more bang for your buck saving it for high-price days. Just keep in mind that each vendor has a maximum amount of money they have each day, so you can’t exactly unload 50,000g+ of goods all at once.

On low-price days, I recommend stocking up on items from Sophie’s Store like fish bait, dough balls, and random cooking ingredients like Sugar and Rice and Cumin. You can also save a few thousand Gols by waiting for these days to purchase new armor from the clothing store.

GW2: Full Steam Ahead

Guild Wars 2 is heading to Steam in November.

The details are sketchy at the moment, but it does appear that GW2 will have the same sort of account restrictions that Final Fantasy 14 had when it made a similar move back in 2014. Specifically, you will NOT be able to migrate your existing GW2 account to Steam, and you will likely be locked into the Steam ecosystem if you do end up spending any money. For example, you will need to purchase the expansions within Steam and not from other vendors or ArenaNet directly. 

Speaking of expansions, ArenaNet also teased a 3rd one coming out in 2021.

But that isn’t the interesting bit though, is it? Why is GW2 coming to Steam in the first place, 8 years after its launch? Are the financials in that dire of straits? 

Based on the above figures, things don’t appear too far off from their historical levels. Which, of course, is always a risk when it comes to NCSoft and their predilection to axing “just okay” titles (e.g. Wildstar, City of Heroes). If something happens to Aion, ArenaNet should start sweating.

In any case, perhaps we should not be surprised by the move to Steam. Like already mentioned, Final Fantasy 14 has been on Steam for quite some time. And if you missed it, even EA seems to have finally capitulated and are bringing over not only their hitherto walled-off Origin library, but even their EA Play subscription. At some point the math must have worked out: additional revenue from an expanded audience > Valve’s 30% (or whatever) cut on in-game purchases.

Interesting how nobody is heading to Epic… yet?

Having said that, I’m not entirely sure how successful the GW2 transition to Steam is going to be due to two systemic issues. The first is that GW2 is still using DX9, with no particular indication that it’s even possible for them to update. This is going to lead to some very negative Steam reviews (for what those are worth) for performance reasons. It’s 2020 and GW2 is still using single-thread drivers that came out in 2002.

The second is more insidious: ArenaNet’s insane Gotcha! paywalls. The Living Story updates that occur a few times a year are free… if you happen to log into the game and unlock them before the next one comes out.

Everyone else, including 100% of all Steam players, are going to face a screen like this one:

That’d be $20 for all of them

I suppose it could technically be argued that these are optional story content, but really the overarching plot in GW2 makes (even-) less sense if you are sticking just to the expansion pieces. You will be seeing completely new characters while your own character talks to them as if they have known them for years. Plus, there are certain maps and vendors thereon that make gearing up incredibly easy in comparison to the alternatives. 

Steam already has a lot of “F2P” exploitative cash grab titles available, and I don’t think GW2 does itself any favors so obviously slotting itself into that crowd. But a lot can happen between now and November, so perhaps we will see a surprise bit of competence from ArenaNet. Either including the Living Seasons for free (ha) for everyone or bundling them with the expansion purchases (which should have occured from the start). We’ll just have to wait and see.

A Slower Drip: My Time at Portia

My typical gaming M.O. is to choose a different genre of game after focusing on one in particular. So after Forager, I should have picked something that was not another crafting/farming/grinding game. Following that ancient edict just left me with not wanting to play anything at all though. So, realizing that I am an Adult© with the means and opportunity to do Whatever the Hell I Want™ I decided to head right into My Time at Portia.

It’s good to be back.

My Time at Portia is a Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley game set in a bizarrely upbeat post-post-apocalypse future. There are ruins and collapsed buildings in the skybox, there are tales of the Age of Corruption, and even a period of darkness in which the skies were blackened for over 300 years. And yet the hero who cleared the skies is a man named Peach, the monsters you fight are things like Panbats (bats with panda faces) and sea urchins that float around with the help of balloons, and similar nonsense. It is all very cartoony and whimsical and doesn’t take itself especially seriously.

One element I do like that shakes the formula up a bit is how your character is a Builder and not a farmer. You can have farm plots and a stable and grow things if you want, but the primary mechanism of advancement is, well, building things. You can take one Commission a day from a posting board (“I need 3 Rubber Belts”), townspeople will occasionally ask you to build an irrigation system for them, some elevator needs repaired so investigations into water supply issues can be resolved, and so on. A lot more crafting than farming, in other words. This solves the sometimes awkward problem of having unlockable crafting tiers of items that you only ever make one of and never use the crafting table again.

While it has been an enjoyable game thus far, I do think I am over-optimizing the game a tiny bit. I am not even past the second season yet and have already unlocked and am using the highest-tier tools and Workbench. There are still longer-term items to purchase (expanded housing plot, etc) and upgrade, but I am primarily “done” in terms of exciting progression, e.g. needing a specific tool to gather a particular resource. We’ll see how the rest of the game pans out.

Having said all that, I am certainly doing what I enjoy. It is not ARK or 7 Days to Die or more freeform crafting-survival, but My Time at Portia scratches similar itches for the time being. It also feels more relaxing than even Stardew Valley, as you can tweak settings like Day Length to give yourself more time to explore/talk to townsfolk. If this is what you’re looking for, well, you found it.

Mainlining Forager

If you ever need to know what my game type is, look at Forager.

Look at all those resources, just begging to be collected.

Forager is distilled, crystallized, crafting/collecting. Everything is stripped down to their elemental components. You are on an island with constantly respawning resources… like every 20 seconds. You bash trees and rocks until you build a Furnace, which you use to smelt iron and gold into bars to craft more buildings. You get XP for everything, and on level-up you get Skill Points to unlock new buildings, buffs, and gear. Once you have acquired enough gold currency, you can “purchase” new islands, which you build bridges to reach. Said islands expand your access to resources, including new ones, along with enemies and item drops. Rinse and repeat, until you have unlocked half the world and you have automatic resource gathering (to an extent), banks minting gold for you, while you are off scraping the landscape clean with lightning wands and magic scrolls.

The first time I booted the game up, I played for three hours straight.

What is extra interesting to me is examining the components of Forager in terms of other games I play and enjoy. Stardew Valley, for example. You can technically farm in Forager: there is a shovel tool for digging plots, a Windmill building to create seeds from already-gathered plants, and even sprinklers to automatically water said plants. But plants in Forager bloom in like 30 seconds. And you’re just as likely to get a similar yield just blasting everything on the screen along with piles of other components. So not really like Stardew Valley at all. 

Now that I think about it, Forager is kind of like a parody of survival/crafting games. Similar to Progress Quest back in the heavy JRPG days, or Cow Clicker during the rise of Facebook games. As it turns out, sometimes parody becomes more fun than the game it makes fun of. 

I will reach a natural satiation point eventually. It may be very soon, as most of the progress I can make at this point is grinding currency for the remaining islands. There is no deeper meaning here, or even particular sense of lasting accomplishment. This is decidedly a wirehead experience. But until my tolerance level reaches its peak, I will continue mainlining this game with no regrets.

Sometimes you just need gratification, instantly. In which case Forager has you covered.

[Fake Edit] Oops, apparently I am done. There is no final boss, I have already completed all the dungeons, bought all the islands, and done all the easy upgrades. No sense grinding for more powerful gear to face non-existent threats. Those 16 hours were a blur.

Who Buys Games Anymore, part 72342

Carrion came out a few days ago, and I was intrigued after reading a review. Basically, it’s a “reverse horror” game where you control the writhing mass of teeth and tentacles as you eat your way out of a research facility. Probably not groundbreaking, but seems like a fun little game to pass the time. Was it worth $20 though? Maybe I’ll just add that to my Steam wishlist and call it a day.

Oh… or I can apparently play it right now on Xbox Game Pass.

I honestly can’t even. How does this business model work? I have the following games installed and ready to be played at a moment’s notice:

  • Halo: Master Chief Collection
  • Carrion
  • Gris
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Astroneer
  • Frostpunk
  • Forager
  • Neon Abyss

Those are mostly indie-esque games, but they could be Dishonored 2, FF15, the Gears series, etc.

There apparently was an Xbox or Microsoft or whatever event a week ago, where they demoed a few of the upcoming games. I hadn’t been paying attention at all, until I started hearing people talk about STALKER 2. I enjoyed all three games of that series, jank and all, so hearing that there was a, erm, “sequel” coming out was great news. Bottom text, though? “Coming to Xbox Game Pass on Day 1.”

Also? State of Decay 3. Xbox Game Pass on Day 1.

Also? Destiny 2 and all (?) its expansions coming to Game Pass in September.

I’m paying like $5/month for this shit. How? The “catch” of course is that games rotate in and out all the time. I own none of these games. There really isn’t any modding supp… oh wait, there is. What? 

The last time I used this title was a year ago, when I waffled on whether I wanted to buy Forager. Guess what’s on the Game Pass now? That’s right.

It’s kind of an open question on how much I would be willing to pay Game Pass, if it were not actually only $5. People still pay $15/month to play Battle for Azeroth for some reason, so that’s probably the floor. $30/month? I’m halfway to completing a $20 game that just came out, so maybe. Especially if it was a scenario in which I could sample/beat a lot of high-profile games all in a row. 

Microsoft is not sponsoring this blog, I swear. But at these prices and with these games, they don’t need to.  

FF14 is Going F2Pish

Even after repeated attempts, FF14 has never managed to hook me. Part of the reason is because I am mostly done with the MMO genre in general. Another part is that FF14 is front-loaded with dozens and dozens of hours of irredeemably bad, garbage questing. The bar is pretty low for MMO questing, sure, but when everyone pontificates on how FF14 has the greatest story of all time, the “*only after 60+ hours of terribleness” asterisk is usually missing. 

Nevertheless, I had heard of plans that the devs were going to overhaul the vanilla experience to make it less of a slog. Eyebrow raised, I made a mental note and went on with my life.

Well, the time is nigh.

Patch 5.3 is slated for August 11th and it includes:

  • Main Scenario Questline Update: A Realm Reborn – The A Realm Reborn main scenario questline will be reworked to give new players a more streamlined experience as they progress through the story leading to Heavensward. Additionally, players will be able to use flying mounts to take to the skies in A Realm Reborn areas upon completion of The Ultimate Weapon quest.
  • Expanded Free Trial – The free trial will now allow players to enjoy unlimited playtime up through level 60 and will also include access to Heavensward content, an additional playable race (Au Ra), and an additional three playable jobs (Dark Knight, Astrologian, and Machinist).

It is difficult to get precise information regarding how “streamlined” is streamlined. I have heard estimates ranging from 13%-30% of the quests have been removed, and other non-removed quests have gotten trimmed back in terms of required items. If after all this I’m still asked to run a dungeon to collect cheese for my own banquet, then I’m going to expect some dev seppuku in the future.

One of the bigger surprises though, was the second bullet point. Square Enix is expanding the Free Trial from level 35 to level 60, and including all content of the main game and the first expansion, including the new race and classes introduced. And keep in mind this trial is not time-based. For all intents and purposes, this makes the front half of the game F2P. 

As it happens though, this will only be for “new” players. If your account has ever paid money to Square Enix, you are ineligible for any such trials. Which means if I come back to FF14, I will have to abandon the characters I already leveled. From *checks calendar* 2017. Which… okay, whatever. Hopefully the skids are greased enough that I can pass through the utter tripe of the starting experience and get to the supposed good stuff and see for myself if FF14 is the second coming. 

My guess is No, but I have been wrong before.

The Outer Hype, Also

I finished Outer Wilds last week. Finally.

/review over

As with its similarly named cousin, The Outer Worlds, I walked into this experience under the cloud of effusive praise. Polygon named Outer Wilds Game of the Year 2019 and added it to their Game of the Decade list (#25). Which… makes sense, I guess. It would be kind of awkward for a GOTY to not be good enough for the decade.

But if Outer Wilds is Game of the Year 2019, then 2019 must not have been a good year for games.

To be fair, there are a number of praise-worthy elements to Outer Wilds. The premise of a time-loop mystery is fairly unique (Majora’s Mask notwithstanding). The lack of any form of combat is similarly rare. The game does a really nice job of simply letting you jet around the solar system right from the get-go. The soundtrack is great and the visuals and setpieces can be breathtaking. In truth, there is a lot to like here. The fact all this novelty and ambition came from an indie dev with a dozen people is the commendable bow on top.

Setpieces are pretty crazy original.

It’s just that… the game isn’t for me. Or possibly you.

Everything was great for about two-thirds of the experience. Once you get the controls down, you can wake up from the beginning of the time loop and be orbiting any planet in the solar system within minutes. The impending supernova did grate on my nerves a few times, as it always seemed to occur when I was 90% done exploring a specific location, requiring me to make a return trip to finish up and then suiciding so as not to limit exploration time somewhere else. 

As with all videogames though, things escalated from there. Exploration started requiring some gnarly platforming, where failure often resulted in survival… but lost minutes, of which you only ever have 22. So it may as well have been death. Then the game required gnarly platforming AND specific timing. It wasn’t enough to discover where you needed to go for the next clue, you also had to be there at a specific timeframe.

Up to this point, I had been doing everything on my own. But when I encountered a particularly annoying timing puzzle I could not solve after repeated attempts, I was ready to abandon the game. As is often the case, when I broke down and looked up the solution, it was something that should have been obvious. But immediately following that one sequence were many more that would not have been obvious (to me) at all. Still later sequences require you to sit on your hands for 7+ minutes before getting the opportunity to finish navigating a hallway that becomes impossible to complete within 30 seconds of the window of opportunity opening. Who is this fun for?

I too recreated that one scene from Sunshine.

And that’s the $25 question. Or in my case, $17.80. And the answer is: Not me.

This should not have been much of a surprise. I don’t actually like Adventure/Puzzle games. Or more specifically, I abhor games in which you can come to a hard stopping point and flounder around not even knowing what it is the game is asking you to do. Can’t beat a boss? Gain more levels, or memorize its attacks, or try a different strategy. Can’t get into a locked room? Well, unless there are some movable statues right outside or a monster with the key, then good luck. There could be any number of reasons why the door is locked, up to and including the fact you aren’t supposed to go through the door. And when the solution ends up being “attach a probe to it and then wait FIFTEEN MINUTES for the entire structure to be sucked into a black hole and ejected out into space and then go through a different opening altogether,” I’m not exactly happy at the designer’s cleverness.

Nevertheless, I am glad I played Outer Wilds, if for no other reason than to see for myself as to whether it is a transformative experience. Again: not for me. I can see how it could be for some people though. Maybe. I’m not really sure, actually, because I find it difficult to imagine the sort of person who is capable of working through the entire game without a guide and also receptive to its underlying message. The guides I used didn’t ruin any of the details, but the experience itself gets a bit disjointed when you’re Alt-Tabbing every few minutes.

But if you are a fan of timed, Adventure platforming roguelikes though, you are in for a treat.