Author Archives: Azuriel

Gaming Update

I’m probably done with RimWorld for now. After installing the mods I was talking about, I found some uranium on the map, made mining it a high priority, and completed the construction of a ship. By the time I had four cryopods – not nearly enough for my 12 colonists – I realized that a lot of it didn’t matter. I could continue fast-forwarding through time, or I could see the ending credits right now. So I did. And this was apparently enough to satisfy whatever itch compelled me to boot the game up every day.

I’ll definitely revisit RimWorld once 1.0 is released, but in the meantime, I’m playing other games.

Ironically, the other game that continues soaking up my free time is another Early Access title: Slay the Spire. I had stopped playing it a few weeks ago, having rather thoroughly and completely beat the game and unlocked everything. The Daily Challenges brought me back: they are normal runs with additional bonuses and/or restrictions. For example, some of them give everyone (including enemies) +3 Strength, or cause you to get three copies of a card when added to your deck, etc.

It is not lost on me that the Daily Challenge has some strong parallels with, say, Mythic+ dungeons in WoW. “Play the same content with additional restrictions/considerations.” The huge, fundamental difference though is that Slay the Spire is fun, and WoW dungeons are not. Well, that and the simple fact that the bonus/penalties in Slay the Spire can change the entire way you approach run, whereas in WoW it just makes the things you were going to do anyway (speedrun past enemies) more deadly.

I haven’t talked about it before, but I’m approaching the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider, e.g. the sequel to the first Tomb Raider reboot. The visuals are incredibly amazing, but for the most part I think I enjoyed the first game better. While this game plays better, I’m at a point where I feel more like Spiderman than Lara Croft. Or Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, for that matter. There’s always been platforming element overlap between the two series, I guess, but it feels more fantastical in Rise of the Tomb Raider than it ever did before.

Going forward, I have a lot more games queued up on my plate. We’ll see which ones actually get any attention though.

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Fixing Problems*

After about 75 hours of RimWorld, I decided to download mods to “fix” the base game.

As mentioned a few times around here, RimWorld is still currently in an Early Access state. Version 1.0 is on the horizon, but we do not yet have a complete feature list or an itemized accounting of what is going to change. This was frustrating me quite a bit in my current playthrough, due to an outcome I cannot help but question whether it was intended.

The basic gist is this: a group of mechanical enemies attacked my base, and Wolle got shot and was bleeding out. I rescued him and patched him back up… but he would not leave the medical bed. Prognosis: shattered spine. Vanilla RimWorld actually has bionic arms, bionic legs, and bionic eyes as core features. You can’t craft them, but you can buy them from traders occasionally, and clearly have the medical technology to install them. Additionally, there are nanite serums in-game that can automatically boost your skills, which by the description function specifically by moving from the orbit of the eye, into the skull, and then transmuting into the necessary brain tissue.

RimWorld_Pre-Wolle

The Days-Are-Numbered version

Plus, there is something called Luciferium, which are medical nanites that can fix permanent scarring – including in the brain – for the low, low cost of permanent addiction. If you miss a dose every 5-6 days, and you will go on a berserk rage until death. A “devil’s bargain” indeed.

Trouble is, nothing cures a shattered spine in the core game. Was this an oversight? If Luciferium can cure stab scars in the brain, surely it could repair a spine too? Well, it doesn’t. So that led me to question whether it was intentional. There is nothing that cures shattered ribs either, for example – they just permanently reduce the amount of torso damage a colonist can take before collapsing/dying.

So, perhaps the designers were wanting to force the player to confront a scenario in which they have a permanently disabled colonist. Do you maintain them as dead weight, perhaps even taking them with you somehow if/when you escape the planet? Do you simply euthanize them and turn them into a hat? I can see how the emergent moral dilemmas come about. On the other hand, it’s hard to draw a line at spines and ribs when nanite magic is already out of the bottle.

Despite this, it wasn’t until I wasted an in-game month unsuccessfully trying to find uranium to start building a ship that I broke down and modded the game. I added a mod that augments the ground-penetrating radar to actually tell me the resources that are located underneath. And then I added Expanded Prosthetics and Organ Engineering (EPOE).

With EPOP installed, I did the relevant research and built the required workstation and finally crafted a fresh new bionic spine for Wolle. After a successful surgery, I took a look at his Health page… and realized that he wasn’t just fixed, he was better. Specifically, something like 20% better. So now I’m in a scenario in which I could craft 11 more bionic spines and implant them into my colonists to maximize the amount and quality of their work. Then I could get to work on about a dozen other bionic implants too.

RimWorld_Wolle

Now his spine is broken in a different direction.

Like I said before, bionic eyes, arms, and legs are already in the base game. In fact, I have some spares hanging around for emergencies, but bionics are better than standard-issue meat in every way already. While you cannot craft your own, you can generally pick up extras without too much trouble. So it’s not quite too far a bridge, right? Right?

Sigh.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I do think shattered spines are a hole in the vanilla game’s original design, hopefully to be filled in a more balanced way upon release. But then again, sometimes it is precisely the gaps in satisfaction that moves us out of our comfort zone.

Fungible

My gaming purchasing decisions go through two processing stages:

  1. Is the game discounted from MSRP?
  2. Do I anticipate more fun spending X on this game, than X on Y game(s)?

That second step really stops the vast majority of my purchases, especially since the advent of Humble sales and similar bundles. Ironically though, I often don’t end up purchasing those cheaper, great (indie) games because they get caught in the same filter, creating a sort of recursive loop that prevents all purchases.

You will note that my backlog of games shamefully has no impact on my purchasing decision.

Last night was the final day that I could preorder 70 packs of Hearthstone’s latest expansion, Witchwood. I sat looking at the purchase screen for a long, long time. I would not say that Hearthstone is necessarily a must-play game for me, but it is something I have been playing off-and-on for… how long? Jesus Christ, five years?! Wow. How is that even possible?

What was I talking about again?

The preorder for Witchwood was $49.99. For a game I have been playing for 5 (!!!) years, that doesn’t seem like a lot. But you know what else is $49.99, listed in the same Battle.net launcher? WoW’s next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. I’m not super excited for the next expansion, but I do have $70 in BlizzBucks on my account (from selling my Legion stockpile of gold) and a New Year’s resolution to fund my Blizzard gaming using it. Between the two, WoW is absolutely going to give me more bang for my BlizzBucks.

There is also the more salient point that $50 can get you a LOT of gaming these days. An absurd amount, honestly. The current Strategy Bundle at HB will net you Endless Legends and Endless Space 2 for $12. There is a complete edition for Civ 5 which is like $15. There is something to be said about fun depth probably being better than simply time spent (e.g. just because you spend 500 hours playing Civ, doesn’t mean it’s your favorite game ever), the fact remains that you can get a lot of value for your dollar these days and games are largely fungible.

Of course, what ends up happening far too often with me is that I get in the mood to play a particular type of game, and everything that isn’t that specific game becomes less fun to play. Which means I am generally better off buying games on sale, even when I have a ridiculous backlog, in the off-chance that my hankering is satisfied with something I already bought.

Or, sometimes, I just end up playing the same damn game over and over for a long-ass time, until my mood shifts again. Have I mentioned I have 70 hours in RimWorld now? The only thing that could bring me out of this Survival kick is an update to 7 Days to Die or me deleting enough games to make room for Ark again (100+ GB, ugh).

Or until the winds change again, I suppose.

Emergent Details

I am beginning to ponder whether “emergent gameplay” is dependent on what might otherwise be considered “extraneous details.”

In RimWorld, the details are the devil. Each and every creature that exists drops its own kind of meat when killed, along with its own type of leather. Forty-eight different kinds of leather, specifically. On the one hand, this can get annoying when your warehouse fills up with a dozens of different stacks of the same sort of resource (e.g. leather) that can’t be blended together to craft a piece of clothing. On the other hand, the specificity of leather allows for the now-infamous “Human Hat” situation.

RimWorld_BionicEye

That would explain her poor shooting skills…

Another situation is wounds/scarring. When a colonist takes damage, they can be injured across their entire body in ultra-specific locations like… middle-finger of their left hand. Or their eyeball. I have one colonist with a shiv-scar in their brain. I did not find out about that old wound until two-dozen hours in, and finally made the connection as to why this particular person was slower than others at Researching (brain injuries basically reduce productivity by 50%).

This specificity occasionally leads to emergent gameplay. Another colonist (Redfields) was addicted to Smokeweed, developed a small tolerance, which led to a large tolerance, which led to Asthma in both lungs and a small carcinoma in the right lung. I was tempted to just kill Redfields and hope to recruit a different person – keeping someone alive and happy through withdrawal symptoms is a real pain in the ass – but I decided to give it the ole’ college try.

So after the next pirate raid, I captured one of the downed raiders, stabilized them, and then harvested their lungs. Which I then transplanted into Redfields.

Everything was fine up until Redfields developed a small carcinoma again in one lung. “Goddamnit, Redfields, those were brand new lungs! Well, to you, anyway.” Luckily, I realized that I could excise the tumor directly, which my doctor did successfully. Once Redfields made it past his withdrawal period, I went ahead and rewarded him by removing the eye that had a permanent LMG wound and replacing it with a bionic eye. Now, he’s one of the best sharpshooters in my colony.

RimWorld_Quest

I feel the invisible hand of fate moving once again

He’s still missing a nose though. Not quite sure how he lost it, and I don’t there is cosmetic surgery in the vanilla game. Oh well.

The point is that emergent gameplay is kind of predicated on there being many, many different points of potential interaction. If damage was only registered to more generalized sites, or abstracted away entirely into HP, there is no Redfields story.

Then again, this can be done on the AI side instead, I suppose. There are not a whole lot of player-moving parts in GTA5, for example, but I think we have all seen some outlandish things occur in that game that come about because of random variance in civilian (or cop) behavior. Or in the Far Cry series. A “normal” shootout suddenly turns into a 5-car pileup, a wildfire erupts, and now there’s an angry bear or mountain lion or eagle joining the fray.

It makes me wonder about how emergent things might work in an MMO setting though. Project: Gorgon apparently has a whole lot of nonsense embedded in it – players turning into Cows and leveling Cow skills – but for the most part, I think most of us prefer less fiddly bits, rather than more. For one, it’s much harder to balance, and for another, it complicates social dynamics. If you aren’t optimal, you’re sub-optimal, which means you are holding the group back with your selfishness.

This pushes emergent features more into the AI side, which sounds like the direction Blizzard is heading. At the same time, would you even want an MMO where the mobs are intelligent and a real challenge? Like, all the time? In an open-world single-player game, absolutely. But elsewhere? I’m wondering if emergent social interactions is more than enough emergence for MMOs.

DimmerRim

I restarted once or twice since my initial post, but now the colony of Pine View is well on its way to getting off this blasted rock. Or die trying. Maybe the latter.

It’s entirely possible that I am ruining RimWorld for myself in the process, however. I ended up choosing a lower difficulty, and have the ability to reload my Save files. My thought process is that enough of the game systems are obtuse and opaque to a ridiculous degree, so I wanted the ability to take them for a test drive. Trying something and failing though, is often the heart and soul of the repeatability of rougelikes (of which RimWorld is one… sorta). Making it all the way to researching a space ship and reloading my first encounter with death bots – who behave very strangely compared to all the other enemies – will make it significantly easier to plan around in future games.

Having said that, the game is seriously addicting in a Civ-esque “one more turn” kind of way. Usually, I leave the game speed on maximum, as what I want to accomplish takes place over several days. Crops take time to grow and harvest, research is usually slow, and wounds take time to heal.

Looks like Elephant is back on the menu, boys!

One thing that I have quickly become inured to is the game’s meme aspect. In other words, I no longer have any idea how interesting a given story can even be anymore.

For example, a common occurrence is having your base attacked by raiders. After the battle, you will very quickly have a dead body problem. If you leave a dead body out, your colonists will get a morale penalty each time they look at it. So, one solution is dig a grave and dump the body inside.

Another solution is to butcher the body into piles of meat and human leather. Aside from cannibals, no one likes human meat, but you can create Kibble for your creatures out of it – much better to use that instead of animal meat, since the latter can be used to create better regular meals. Meanwhile, human leather can be fashioned into clothing and cowboy hats, and is apparently very fashionable.

Human Leather pants are IN this year.

There are downsides, of course. The entire colony gets a morale debuff that lasts several days when a human body is butchered, and the actual butcher gets another debuff on top of that. In these situations, it’s helpful to have a Psychopath butcher, as they tend to be immune to these sort of penalties. Alternatively, you can simply increase the leisure hours of your colonists, and likely mitigate that sort of thing. Recreational drug use helps too.

Oh, and when you capture raiders alive, you can convert them into joining your colony. Or you can harvest their organs for later use and/or cash. And then turn their bodies into hats.

At some point though, the ridiculousness becomes rote. Sure, part of this is likely because of the difficulty level I chose, and the possibility of save scumming. But even in a complex emergent system, how many truly compelling narratives occur? It’s amusing the first time a colonist dies while trying to tame an Alpaca, but thereafter does angering a turkey hold the same amount of charm? It’s hard to tell anymore. And there can only be so many human hat stories.

In any case, I’m going to start over soon on a higher difficulty and see what happens. I will also try and investigate a few mods too, because there are some elements of the base game that are unfathomably dumb. The Research tab having zero useful information, for example, or the fact that I cannot mass-select my animals and designate them to a different Allowed Zone. There are workarounds the latter issue, as for many others, but it still feels kinda dumb.

Impressions: RimWorld

After becoming a bit impatient with Oxygen Not Included, I decided to buck my principles and buy the never-on-sale RimWorld. Technically though, I did get a discount through the Humble Store (10% off), so that’s the way I’d recommend going.

RimWorld_Base

My most successful colony.

If you have not heard of it before, RimWorld is a sort of colony-management game in the vein of Dwarf Fortress, with the visuals of Prison Architect. In the default scenario, you pick three survivors of a starship crash, and shepherd them through the trials and tribulations of life on a titular RimWorld. There is technically an end-goal of researching technology/production far enough to send at least one person back into space, but it’s a bit more of a sandbox than that.

Much like with Oxygen Not Included, your colonists are basically controlled via a granular priority system, augmented by their own mood and predilections. You can request that trees are cut down and the wood used to build a new room, for example, but it’s possible your colonists will start playing horseshoes or lay down on your solar panels to gaze at the clouds.

They can and will also do things like plop down a stack of turkey leather right in the doorway to your freezer, letting out all the cold air and potentially ruining your entire meat supply. There’s no real way to force a person to do one particular thing (aside from Drafting them for combat) – the best you can do is prioritize one thing to the maximum level, disable everything else, and hope for the best.

If the above examples seem silly… that’s kind of the point. Each colonist has an entire background narrative, with expanding needs and desires that influence their actions at any given point. Romances will form between two people, then a break-up, and suddenly one or both might experience a mild (or major) psychotic break due to the mood penalty said break-up causes.

Well, that social interaction plus seeing the colony pet terrier get killed by a Cobra, the fact that their bedroom is too small, and a number of other interactions over the last few days. Butchering the dead dog for its meat and then turning the leather into a hat probably also didn’t help things.

RimWorld_Lovin

“Lovin'” provides quite the stat boost.

The emergent narrative formed by these random, interacting systems is the heart of RimWorld.

Speaking of “random,” at the beginning of the game you get to choose the AI Storyteller and difficulty of your game. The default AI will throw increasingly difficult encounters your way (modified by game difficulty), ensuring that you never reach a point at which you become entirely stable. The other two AI choices give longer periods of calm, and completely random ones at random intervals, respectfully. I can appreciate the transparency of the system, even though it makes things… a bit game-y, I suppose.

In any case, I am enjoying my time thus far. There are still a lot of game elements that do not make complete sense – the Research system in particular is difficult to wrap my head around – but the sort of little narratives that emerge are pretty interesting. So, we’ll see.

Impressions: Monster Slayers

Monster Slayers is basically a worse Slay the Spire.

Monster-Slayers-Attack

Ugh, the visuals and UI are just bad.

The premise of this deck-building roguelite is that you are part of a guild of people trying to take down the Big Bad Guy. Your deck and cards are reset on death to the default ones associated with the class you pick (of which there are several), but you maintain any gear you have accumulated, and any Fame unlocks. Considering that gear increases the damage of your attacks, can give you “temporary” cards in your deck (that will persist as long as that gear is equipped), and boosts your HP, these are essentially permanent advantages that you maintain as soon as you collect them.

The issue is twofold.

First, it is physically impossible to actually “beat” the game without several cycles of death and gear accumulation. In other words: grinding. It’s not the grinding that’s necessarily bad, but rather how the game is balanced around it. You will essentially be paired up with monsters that you have zero chance of defeating, not because of poor planning or execution or even RNG, but simply because the game is “balanced” that way. Losing in that manner never feels fun. Roguelikes (and -lites) often feature punishing RNG, but that’s not what’s going on here – you are engineered to lose X times in Monster Slayers, guaranteed.

Monster-Slayers-LevelUp

Weeee

The other, more important issue is that… the gameplay is simply bad. In Slay the Spire, you get a notification of what the enemy is about to do, and so there is a possibility of some interplay or tactical considerations. Should you try Blocking the damage, or are you free to go all-out Attacking?

In Monster Slayers, beyond a description of what the enemy does in general, e.g. “Vampire Bats can drain health,” there is no real indication of anything. So what happens is that you just play your cards until you run out of cards or AP, and then your opponent plays their cards, and you wait to see if you’re dead yet or not. That’s really it.

There are some other “minor” issues like the game looking terrible, the UI being horrendous and mostly useless, not having a understanding of what cards the enemy is playing (not that you can interact with them much), the music being repetitive, and the act of playing cards not feeling good. For example, the Rogue class has several “Deal N+1 damage, draw a card” attacks, and while it’s fun chaining those together, if you click too quick, you’ll accidentally play a different card.

If you are looking for another Slay the Spire fix, look elsewhere. If not… play Slay the Spire instead.

Clever Flow

Despite not being initially impressed with Oxygen Not Included (ONI), I continued playing. And now I’m very impressed with the rather clever gameplay flow that Klei has touched upon.

ONI_Base2

My most successful base thus far.

Like I mentioned before, every game of ONI starts with three Duplicants appearing in the middle of an asteroid. While you have enough supplies for a few days, there is always a bit of a frenzy of activity hollowing out some living space for your Duplicants. Amusingly, toilets end up being actually a higher priority than even water. By the end of the second day or so, I’ve got a water pump set up, some toilets, a bunch of resource compactors (e.g. storage), some beds, a Microbe Musher, and perhaps a manual electricity generator hooked up to an Algae Deoxydizer.

This is where the subtle genius of the game design kicks in.

Ostensibly, your base seems self-sufficient. The Algae Deoxydizer is converting algae into oxygen, the Microbe Musher is turning dirt and water into Mush Bars (e.g. calories). And you presumably have a nice supply of water handy. For now, everything seems fine. Emphasis on the “for now.”

The whole time your Duplicants have been running around, they have been exhaling CO2. This pools in the lower reaches of your base, turning certain sections into unbreathable rooms. Even if you dig out a trench beneath your base for the express purpose of giving CO2 somewhere to go, it never actually goes away – it will eventually become dense enough to spill into upper rooms. So, you’re going to need to research technology to try and filter that CO2. Something like the Carbon Skimmer sounds great… but using that requires turning drinkable water into polluted water. Where is that polluted water going to live? Hmm, perhaps you need to research methods by which you can filter polluted water back into drinkable water…

And round and round we go.

While this seems like Game Design 101, I do appreciate the flow ONI has set up here. At times, things can seem incredibly frustrating insofar as a fundamental flaw in your base design reveals itself far too late for you to realistically do anything about it. But most of the time, I just get a bit more excited to start back over with a fresh world and learn from my mistakes.

ONI_IceZone

Found a valuable Ice biome… through a Chlorine-saturated hot zone.

And somehow, these sort of things feel like my mistakes, rather than the game being cruel. “CO2 is heavier than Oxygen, so of course I shouldn’t have built my beds on the bottom floor.” “Oh, damn, I accepted one too many Duplicants, and now my food generation isn’t enough.” “Shit, I have been relying on six different machines that consume algae, and now I’m running out!”

Oxygen Not Included is still in Alpha, so there are a lot of things that can change. While I’m having more fun with it than I was originally, in the back of my mind, I also sort of recognize that the game is “solved.” As in, there are optimal base configurations that maximize output and minimize waste. While the same could sorta be said for other survival games, the issue is that ONI is all about managing a finite amount of resources. With something like Don’t Starve, I could always just strike off and head into the wilderness and take a chance.

I dunno. The asteroid itself is randomly seeded with biomes each time, so I can see encountering special circumstances that might change a strategy. For example, most people head towards Electrolizers and Hydrogen Generators, because they combo really well in powering your base and providing Oxygen (at the expense of water). I was heading that way too, before I discovered a Natural Gas Geyser – geysers being the only source of renewable resources – within sight of my starting point. All of a sudden, I was rushing to figure out how to exploit burning natural gas. “OK, it dumps out polluted water and a bunch of CO2. The CO2 scrubber deletes CO2 and also produces polluted water, so I should pipe that through a Water Sieve to reclaim the pure water, then send that into an Electrolyzer… but what about the Hydrogen?”

Like I said, there is a lot about Oxygen Not Included that can be compelling.

For now though, I’m going to stop generating new worlds and wait for some more releases to flesh out the rest of the game. The recent “Rancher” update overhauled a lot of the alien critter mechanics, invalidating certain strategies and presumably enabling a few others. I’m hoping that after a few more of those kind of patches, we’ll start to see something resembling a story-mode, and/or a way to make the march to endgame a bit more varied. The Rancher updates does this a little, but I feel we still end up with Hydrogen Generators and abusing Wheezewort (cooling plants) mechanics.

Impressions: Oxygen Not Included

Oxygen Not Included (ONI) is a base-building and resource management game currently in Early Access, in the vein Dwarf Fortress and RimWorld. At least, that is what people tell me, as I have not played either one of those. What I have played is Craft the World (pt1, pt2), and ONI is basically that, minus the dwarves and goblins.

ONI_Base1

My first base. Doomed to failure.

The premise of ONI is actually kind of compelling. After picking three Duplicants from a roster of randomly generated ones, they appear in the middle of an asteroid. The ostensible goal is to survive as long as possible using what resources you have available. Instead of controlling them directly, you the player can generate and prioritize tasks like digging out certain squares, constructing machines, etc, and your Duplicants will work to make that happen. Contrary to the title, some basic oxygen is included in the form of oxygen-generating rocks, but it is not nearly enough to last long-term.

Indeed, oxygen-management is indicative of what you will be working on over the arc of the entire game. In the beginning, you will create machines that convert algae (mined from special squares) into oxygen to supply your base. However, your Duplicants exhale CO2, and that will gradually accumulate in the lower reaches of your base (science!). So, eventually, you are going to need to either research technology to convert that CO2 into some other form, or at least pipe it elsewhere. Meanwhile, you also have to grow food, find water, and research some method of disposing of all the poop (or polluted dirt, if you prefer) your Duplicants generate. Have I mentioned there are germs and stress to worry about too? And the fact that you are in the middle of an asteroid, so the whole “pump the CO2 elsewhere” is really just delaying the problem for another day?

ONI_Gases

Gas management is much better in my current base.

As of right now, I do not believe there is a story or “campaign mode” for ONI, and I do not know if there is any planned either. The goal is to survive as long as possible, and there are some very optimized base configurations out there to ensure that is the case. However… I’m not sure that is enough for me, game-wise. Klei’s other popular game, Don’t Starve, also features an implicit goal of surviving as long as possible against escalating threats. The end-state of death there though, usually comes from violence or mistakes rather than slowly running out of finite resources. I felt much more agency in Don’t Starve, in other words, even if the outcome was very similar.

What I will say is that Oxygen Not Included grabbed my attention very early with a compelling premise, and makes me wish there were more Terraria/Starbound/etc survival games out there that I haven’t already played . Hmm… maybe it’s time for RimWorld then…

A Bridge Too Nier

I have completed Nier: Automata (N:A) all the way.

NieRAutomata_Castle

Again, the visuals were extremely good.

As I mentioned a few days ago, the major impetus for my buying N:A in the first place was the seemingly unrelenting stream of praise it received. “Best game ever!” “GOTY 2017, if not of all time!” Those sort of proclamations immediately actives my Bullshit Sense, honed as it is after the Bioshock: Infinite debacle. That was almost five years ago now, and I’m still mad that it gets any praise at all. Seriously, people, that was not a good game.

Suffice it to say, Nier: Automata is not Bioshock: Infinite. In fact, it is extremely good.

But does that mean N:A lives up to its hype? Well… yes and no.

When I look back on the games I view as true epics with moving storylines and compelling characters, I see games like Xenogears. FF7. Chrono Trigger. The Mass Effect trilogy. In this context, I did not feel that N:A’s plot achieved a spot on that pantheon. At the same time, I can also recognize that Xenogears was released in 1998, which is possibly before many fans of N:A were even born. So, in a sense, I can see how someone can view N:A as being the best story they have experienced.

However, pure epic story-telling is not the only prism through which a narrative can be judged. When I think about my experience with Far Cry 2, for example, I found it deeply moving and incredibly clever from a meta-narrative perspective.

NieRAutomata_BossDead

Robotic hearts in the darkness.

Far Cry 2 was a slog of bloody, seemingly pointless firefights against interchangeable factions all the way to the very end. And that was the point. The gameplay itself was being used as an emotional vehicle for the player to show them experience the pointlessness of the conflict firsthand, and feel your own culpability in perpetuating a cycle of violence for ultimately selfish ends. When I was finally given the option at the end to either escape Africa or stay and sacrifice myself to save some refugees, the weariness and resignation I felt via the protagonist was real to me too. Staying behind to manually blow the bomb came as an immense, cathartic relief.

It is in this sort of reference point that Nier: Automata actually deserves the praise it receives. N:A is no Xenogears, but it is a Far Cry 2. Or Metal Gear Solid 2. Or Spec Ops: The Line. Not in the content of its message necessarily, but in its clever use of gameplay mechanics and subverting expectations to elicit emotions rather than relying on plot alone.

Indeed, one of the most poignant and moving sequences in the game occurs during the closing credits of the E ending. I went from rolling my eyes, to mild interest, to frustration, to finally… an emotion I had not experienced since Journey. And right at the very end of it all, the game asks a final, devastating question of the player, that I was not expecting nor prepared to answer.

And I blinked. Days later, I still feel somewhat guilty.

You would be forgiven for wondering why the above is not enough for Nier: Automata to take a seat next to Xenogears. I might just be obstinate. Or it may simply be as banal a reason that those PS1 classics came first, or were experienced in my more formative years, or both. But still, I hesitate.

Honestly, it is probably better for everyone to temper their expectations anyway. If you go into Nier: Automata thinking you will experience a 10/10, or something far and away better than whatever you view as your favorite game, you will probably be disappointed. If instead you go in with eyes open, acknowledging the fact that you will essentially need to beat the same game twice (from two different perspectives) before the “real” game begins, you will likely be more open to the emotional notes that the game elicits.

Plus, I hope you like action games. And twin-stick shooters. And… you get the idea.

NieRAutomata_Hacking

And hacking! Can’t (ever) forget that.

Speaking of notes though, the soundtrack is every bit as amazing as they say. It is a complete aural experience, with familiar themes expanding during epic moments, or contracting when the action inverts for a hacking mini-game. Some soundtracks have a few good songs, but Nier: Automata is good the entire way through, at every moment. Haunting, melodic… perfect. It absolutely deserves a seat with Mitsuda’s Xenogears and Chrono Trigger, even if thematically they differ.

So, yeah. Nier: Automata is worth playing. It’s not perfect, but it’s so goddamn ridiculous and bold and eccentric and sometimes horrifying and sad. And, ultimately, meloncholy. There are bad bits, some boring parts, and some questionable design decisions. Yet, more than anything, this is a game that ignored what everyone else was doing and shot for the moon. That ain’t nothing.