Category Archives: Impressions

Impression: Outer Wilds

I started playing Outer Wilds this week.

So far, I’m only 22 minutes in.

I love the smell of supernova in the morning

…five or six times. You know, because the solar system explodes and time loops back around.

I don’t think I’ll be talking much about the experience of Outer Wilds as I go along, because a lot of people have gone to great lengths to not “spoil” anything. Not that I have encountered anything in-game that might constitute a spoiler yet. Supposedly the game can be completed in 20 minutes if you know the right place to go, but… of course it can. The sun explodes every 22 minutes of game time, so by definition it has to be solvable within 22 minutes.

What I will say though, is that Outer Wilds has not thus far been anything approaching peaceful or idyllic or an explorer’s dream or anything of the sort. That seemed to have been the impression I gleaned from reading other posts about it.

In my first foray in space, I brought my spaceship over to some interesting orbiting debris, took a space walk to explore, and when I turned around I realized that my ship had floated away. Or rather, was in a rapidly decaying orbit around the goddamn sun. So I chased after it, damn near skimmed the surface of said sun, and then was slingshotted out into the abyss of space where I eventually suffocated in the darkness, alone. 

Lost in Space

That was the “first death” too, so I had to watch it play out in its entirety. Kind of fitting, I guess. On all subsequent screw-ups, you can use the menu to manually reset the time loop at will. But that kind of starter experience really sets a tone.

After that, I started exploring an ocean planet with constant, horrific tornadoes that are so strong that they LAUNCH THE ISLANDS YOU WALK ON INTO SPACE. That was a fun second experience. After surviving re-entry somehow, I died walking off a cliff, not having realized a jetpack at full thrust was unable to overcome the planet’s 2.0x gravity. The next few deaths were “only” due to sun explosion as I tried exploring some other ruins. Fun times.

So, yeah. Outer Wilds. Fun in the way I imagine Alien Isolation or the Chemical Plant level in Sonic 2 can be considered fun. But I’m getting the hang of things, and hopefully the experience will improve as time goes on. And loops again. You know what I mean.

Impression: Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark

Oh, how sweet is that feeling of consumption. Well, not that consumption… the other one, when you have had gaming ennui and then you boot something up and it consumes your entire mindspace.

Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark (FSAM) is a rather unapologetic Final Fantasy Tactics clone. From the bottom of the Steam description:

Strongly influenced by games such as Final Fantasy Tactics (original and Advance versions) and Tactics Ogre, this tactical RPG stands on its own as a worthy successor of those classics, bringing a slew of improvements and additions to the tactics genre.

Which is fine. We all need some more FFT in our lives.

For the most part, FSAM is pressing all the right buttons. Your characters start out knowing just a few jobs classes like Mercenary or Scoundrel or Mender. As you complete battles, each participating unit will earn AP which can be spent buying abilities in that class in a very limited “tree.” Each purchased ability raises the level of the class, which can unlock new classes. For example, raising Mender to Rank 2 unlock the Wizard class, which then is necessary to unlock other classes, etc.

What really gets the juices flowing is the customization of skillsets. Each character can have a primary class (Abilities + Passives) and a sub-class (Abilities only). So, maybe you want a Knight that also can heal like a Mender. There are two additional Passive slots and a Counter slot you can fill with skills from any class you have purchased though. So instead of being stuck with the Mender’s Passives, you can maybe choose the Ranger’s Evasion Up (13% dodge chance) and the Templar’s Defense Expert (scaling +Defense). And then, instead of something boring like Counterattack, you can choose Evade Magic from the Fellblade class, so you are immune to spells. So, yeah, super tanky Knight in heavy armor with a high dodge rate and immune to spells and can heal themselves or others. Just one combo of a whole raft of similar possibilities.

Another thing I appreciate is the Item system. Basically, Items like Potions and such have per-encounter uses that automatically replenish after combat. Collecting crafting material will allow you to upgrade the potency and unlock additional uses in the future. No more need to hoard X-Potions or the like for a time that may never come.

There are elements where the game falls a bit short. The penalty for death during battle is an “Injury” which is a -10% stat debuff until the unit sits out a battle (or more if multiple injuries). While it’s encouraged to have a larger army of rotating characters so you can sub one out, it’s easier to just travel to an early encounter node and get into a random battle with level 3 enemies, crush them, and then your injured guy is ready for the next story mission. I really just preferred the whole “you have 5 turns to revive your guy” that FFT had. This system is compounded by the sometimes wildly vacillating difficulty, wherein specific units can get piled on if you are not extremely careful, but meanwhile it’s more difficult for your team to alpha strike enemies all in one go.

I am not quite sure about the equipment system and related buff/debuff system yet. Right now I am being offered a raft of generic elemental-themed items (yawn) and a few choice weapons that apply Bleed or Blind (interesting). Debuffs in this game are just as powerful as they are in any turn-based game – battles go bad very quick if anyone on your team gets hit with Berserk/Charm/Sleep/etc, as it consumes your healer’s turn even if you fix it right away. At the same time, characters can equip 2-3 accessories so blanket immunity to many effects are possible. On top of that, enemies will often have these items equipped, so I have found my Fellblade (has a lot of debuff attacks) a little useless when 90% of enemies are immune to Poison/Bleed/Blind.

Overall though, I am having a lot of fun. It’s definitely knockoff FFT quality – there are no Line-of-Sight restrictions, presumably because that’s too difficult to code for an indie team – but for a lot of things in life, a knockoff of something great is still pretty good. Especially when you have apparently been unknowingly craving that thing this whole time.

Impression: Into the Breach

There are few things that prime the pump more than hearing “from the creators of FTL.” That was one of those games that seemed to come out of nowhere with a simple-yet-actually-brutally-complex system wrapped up in a sweet indie game package and threw me for a loop. It was ultimately a good loop, but a loop nonetheless. 

Despite all that, I had hitherto heard about, got excited for, and then completely forgot about Into the Breach. Until I realized it was on the Xbox Game Pass… and leaving shortly.

Into the Breach is essentially a puzzle game. You command three time-traveling pilots who are trying to protect the remnants of humanity from the Vek by piloting giant mechs. Each turn, the Vek (e.g. aliens) will move around the grid-based map and telegraph the actions they are about to take. During your turn, each mech can make one move and one action to try and foil the Vek’s plans before it occurs. While killing the Vek will cancel their action, the primary mechanism is typically “pushing” the Vek out of place on the grid.

As a general example, the default mech can perform a punch that deals 2 damage and pushes the target back 1 square. Many Vek have 3 or more HP, so this attack by itself will not kill a Vek that is about to attack a skyscraper full of people. But instead of attacking the skyscraper in front of it, that punched Vek will move 1 square away and instead attack whatever is in front of it in that new square. If it’s another skyscraper… well, oops. It could be empty air though. Or even another Vek, if you are clever enough. Or if the Vek was standing next to water/a giant pit/the telegraphed impact location of deadly lightning or whatever, it will die instantly. If the square is blocked, the pushed Vek will take an extra 1 damage and deal 1 damage to whatever blocked its path.

The default squad is the punching mech, a tank that deals 1 damage from range in cardinal directions, and artillery that deals one damage at a location and pushes everyone in cardinal directions 1 square away from the impact. If you successfully clear islands, you can spend reputation points to purchase additional items that can be equipped to give your mechs different abilities. For example, the punching mech can get a shield that makes the Vek turn around instead of pushing them, the artillery unit can get shells that light squares on fire, and so on.

If you cannot tell already, the gameplay ends up both simple and complex at the same time. Victory occurs when X number of turns complete, so you don’t really need to kill every Vek on the screen. Missions always have bonus objections which can complicate things. Incoming Vek reinforcements are telegraphed, and they can be prevented from spawning if their square is blocked – it will deal 1 damage to your mechs, or another Vek if one is pushed there.

Having said all that, this game can also be brutal. The Power Grid represents your life total of the run and it carries over through every mission. Vek destroying 1 building results in 1 less Power Grid for every mission thereafter. While you can take on missions that grant replacement power, that comes at the opportunity cost of missions that reward more reputation, which you spend on buying gear to enhance your team. Your own mechs have HP that is repaired between battles, but losing your HP in a battle will kill the pilot, which results in all their unlocked abilities going away. 

I got super frustrated at one point until I realized… this is a puzzle roguelike. Some situations will go south fast with nothing you could reasonably do. Sometimes the Vek will “waste” all of their attacks on your mechs, which you can simply walk away from. Other times the Vek will spread out and attack buildings everywhere. In a worst case scenario, you can abandon the timeline you are in and take one pilot with you into a fresh game. 

Ultimately, Into the Breach is a decently fun puzzle game. It’s no FTL, but it’s in the same quadrant. I just wish they would port this game to mobile, where it would be a perfect fit IMO. Between this and a mobile Slay the Spire, I might never be productive again.

Exodus Complete

I beat Metro: Exodus a few days after my prior post.

Overall, it was a decently entertaining game. There are many FPS games out there that have stealth tactics just thrown in that aren’t actually viable, but Exodus comes through just like its predecessors. Going from cramped subway tunnels to near-open world initially felt like a big drift away from the “core” Metro experience, but there were plenty creepy/FEAR-y/Metro-esque locations towards the end. And visually, the game is an absolute treat.

My only major annoyances with the game were mechanical. For example, the devs somehow made taking screenshots impossible – not even PrintScreen worked. That is in spite of the fact that there is an in-game Photo Mode. It might be minor, but it also takes forever to load into the game. Once you’re in, there aren’t many loading screens, but its literal minutes to get in even with an SSD.

I completed the entire game via the Xbox Game Pass and do consider Exodus one of the primary drivers towards me subscribing to the service.

Impression: Metro: Exodus

Despite the country being on lockdown and me working from home, my time has actually decreased from before. Figure that one out. Hint: baby.

What I have been doing in extremely limited bursts though, is playing though Metro: Exodus. My overall impression is… better than expected.

The Metro series has been an interesting experience. I reviewed the first game way back in 2012, and the key takeaway was that it was one of the best “authentic” gaming simulations at the time. Features that might otherwise be annoying actually felt right, such as having to pump up your flashlight battery as you explore subway tunnels. The second title was similar, although I seem to recall a truly ridiculous number of “knock you unconscious so we can show exposition” sections. Like, serious traumatic brain injury levels of blackouts.

Exodus starts out in the tunnels and I was not really feeling it. You kinda have to be in a mood to enjoy jump scares and such, right? When the game opened up into an almost Far Cry 3+ way though, it almost felt like too much. You have a map (Far Cry 2-style) and markers, but was it really a Metro experience to just… walk around wherever?

It is, and I like it. Or maybe I’m just getting Fallout vibes and liking that.

Indeed, in addition to pumping up the flashlight, you now have to scavenge for materials to create bullets and repair your gear. There is some minimum level of crafting you can do anywhere, and there are workbenches scattered about to complete bigger tasks like making grenades. Some human enemies drop weapon mods you can otherwise permanently learn, with others being tucked away in remote areas of the world.

There is definitely a tension with exploring though. As usual for the series, the mutants you kill drop nothing. Which itself is a surprisingly uncommon game design mechanism, if you think about it. The result is that sneaking and avoiding enemies is encouraged, which heightens the tension considering how much simpler it’d be to stealth kill them instead. The difficulty I’m on (Normal) doesn’t make avoiding fights necessary, but I do find myself tackling most missions during the daytime, which increases the amount of human enemies, who do drop gear and are easier to take out anyway. Aside from that, the other tension is the lack of fast travel. Exploring is fun and all, until you get to a point where you have to traverse the map in the opposite direction a few times.

I’m not sure how far along in the game I am, but it’s going well. We shall see if Metro: Exodus loses steam or pushes through to the end.

Impression: Factorio

I was gifted Factorio from one of my friends whom I had gifted Rimworld. We’re cruel like that. Given how much I enjoyed Rimworld and Oxygen Not Included and other resource-collecting/crafting games, it seems like Factorio should be right up my alley.

For some reason though… it’s not.

I am in the very early stages of the game. The tutorial, in fact. And while I very much enjoy crafting/survival-esque games and colony management games, Factorio is neither. It is an automating and stand-around-waiting game. You directly control an engineer and initially collect resources 1 at a time until you build machines that can do it for you automatically.

For example, you discover an iron ore field. You can mine it yourself, one nugget at a time, until you can build a Stone Furnace to smelt the ore into an Iron Plate. Use those Iron Plates to build a Burner Drill, which will automatically mine whatever you set it on top of, e.g. iron ore. Then you build conveyor belts so the iron ore can fall out of the Drill and be moved elsewhere, where you build robotic arms that can place iron ore into Stone Furnaces and more robotic arms to place the Iron Plates directly into a storage box. Or onto other conveyor belts to move it to Assemblers which can convert them to Iron Gears, which are necessary to produce the next dozen things down the tech tree. You will also need a similar setup to mine/process copper, stone, and coal to power everything.

In principle, this is the same sort of thing you’re doing in Oxygen Not Included. But that game… is fun. I’m not sure what Factorio is yet.

There’s a rather annoying part of the tutorial in which you are specifically tasked with creating 50 gun magazines per minute while also consuming 12 technology per minute. I get that the point of the exercise is to push the player into understanding you can build a dozen Lab buildings to accelerate research, and same with the mass-production of magazines (to feed turrets to fend off hostile wildlife). That said, I was the closest to quiting the game outright at that moment. All prior tutorial steps were “build X, which takes a half dozen steps,” which was fine. The magazine/tech thing was arbitrary though, and I was a little worried I would run out of technology to research before I successfully built enough Labs. Nevermind how many extraneous magazines were crafted as I trialed-and-errored my way to figuring out how to achieve that, again, arbitrary rate.

At this point, I may abandon the tutorial altogether and give the “real” game a try. Not having any express goals is not something I typically enjoy in gaming generally, but is not something that bothered me in Rimworld or Oxygen Not Included.

We’ll see if I have the same sort of success (read: fun) in Factorio.

Impression: Kingdom Come: Deliverance

It has actually been a while since I first started playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance (KC:D), but in that time I have put in around 50 hours. I am not certain that I will put in any more time to complete the game, but figured I would go ahead and dedicate some virtual real estate to my experience.

Wake up and smell the peasantry.

In short, KC:D is for a very specific type of player. And I’m not it.

There are a lot of things to like about the game. Visually stunning. Novel setting and premise, insofar as it’s a no-magic, no-hero medieval adventure. Immersive without needing quotes – first-person perspective in which you can see your feet, helmets getting in the way, walking (or riding) through the muck and rain. Arbitrarily hardcore, even at the expense of fun… which some people enjoy.

Again, I’m not one of them. Or maybe I can be, but not entirely this particular flavor.

The best example is with the combat. You have probably encountered dozens of variations of “you start out as an illiterate blacksmith’s son with no combat experience, OF COURSE combat is hard at first!” I mean, yes and no. Yes in that you start off as a level 1 character with literally no skills or points to put them in until you get XP. No in that the combat system is still trash at max level, as you typically just perform the same moves you have been doing the whole time, except this time you have enough skill points for shit to matter. That’s about as realistic as World of Warcraft or literally any RPG ever made. Except here you are still stuck stabbing faces (lest you be unbeatably countered) while waiting for your opponents to attack (so you can unbeatably counter them).

Also activated the perk: Jank

Oh, and occasionally you will be surrounded by peasants and murdered because lock-on targeting jank. Which is “realistic,” I guess. About as realistic as clipping through a bush or under some stairs and attacking back with impunity.

Another vaunted feature is the whole “the world goes on without you” bit. Example: if someone asks you to meet them tomorrow at sunrise at the crossroads, they will simply go on without you if you don’t show. REALISM. Except… that doesn’t always happen. Some quests will wait for you for months, including Crossroads Boy before you talk to him. Which is handy when you unexpectedly get locked up in jail for in-game weeks after attacking sleeping bandits who were scripted to ambush you, but apparently count as innocent villagers when you pre-murder them.

Which, philosophically, well… huh. Morally though, I think I’d feel worse if the voice of god had not automatically whispered my witness-less deeds to every guard in the kingdom.

Oh, apparently it was only 9 days…

But, real talk, are you the type of player who is fine permanently failing quests you did not realize were timed? I’m not. Which means I had to do a lot of Googling on every upcoming quest to figure out when I was “allowed” to go explore the game and when I was locked on rails lest I run out the invisible clock. One of the biggest failings of the Witcher 3’s story (IMO) was a false sense of urgency with the primary quest, which made the overall impetus for action a joke. But Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s seemingly random adherence to the clock feels worse in practice.

Most RPGs do the false sense of urgency thing. But most RPGs don’t try to present themselves as some kind of immersive sim either. I don’t hold a Final Fantasy to the same sort of standard, even if the fate of the world is supposedly at stake. 

At the end of all that, I still put in 50+ hours, so that’s saying something. I did not encounter TOO many bugs beyond some combat jank. I did lose probably around 4 total hours of progress to the asinine saving system, which involves you needing to manually drink some liqueur. There are mods to fix that (and other issues) but I could not be bothered to manually install them. Instead, I simply stole everything not bolted down from everyone I could to pay for my Quick Save addiction, which was still not good enough to prevent me from losing progress in dumb ways (e.g. peasant dog-piles). 

If you’re looking for Skyrim 2.0, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not it. But it’s also not the worst thing in the world. Just go into it knowing a lot of systems are obtuse on purpose, and not always because it’s good game design.

Nevertheless, sometimes the novelty of brazzeness counts for more than you think.

Children of Morta, Finished

As I wrap up Children of Morta, I can reflect that it has consistently demonstrated excellent game design. That is the case even when I don’t necessary enjoy the gameplay of some of the characters. For example, Kevin is a rogue-ish character that uses daggers with ever-increasing attack speed and has a lot of dodging ability. Those two elements are at odds with each other, especially when you encounter enemies who don’t get “stunlocked” by his attacks. That said, some people might like the challenge of that back-and-forth playstyle, and there are some levels in which that fast attack will stunlock every relevant enemy.

The one area in which the game stumbles a bit though? The final boss fight.

I’m not going to go into the details of the fight, just the setup. Which is… spawn in, get three random items, fight boss. None of the boss fights leading up to this point have been so straight-forward. Which is nice on the one hand, because it avoids the frustration of going through three floors of monsters only to die and have to re-clear. On the other hand, it obsoletes nearly a half-dozen or so upgrade paths that you may have spent money on AND prevents you from potentially getting some nice single-run buffs. 

This could technically be good roundabout design, insofar as it encourages you to farm gold and XP in other dungeons so you can purchase those last few upgrades to damage (etc) you might have skimped out on. If you are great with reflexes and pattern recognition, go beat the final boss; everyone else can make the fight progressively easier by farming. 

Given how many other games completely change all the rules for the final boss fight, I’m inclined to give Children of Morta a pass on this one. I have died a few times already without making much progress through the phases, so I am a tad salty about the change-up. And given how close to the end I am, the thought of farming isn’t exactly appealing. But this final bit is the capstone of a very enjoyable game otherwise, so yeah, I will play along.

[Fake Edit]: I ended up beating the game last night.

Impressions: Children of Morta

After completing the “meaty” Outer Worlds, I decided I wanted to play something lighter via the Xbox Game Pass. The first thing that caught my eye was Children of Morta. And somehow, I have been playing it in longer sessions than I ever did with Outer Worlds.

Fundamentally, Children of Morta (CoM) is an indie Diablo-esque roguelite. Well, that might be over-selling it a bit much. Perhaps an isometric Rogue Legacy? You basically run around procedurally-generated levels and kill monsters, leveling up and collecting gold you use to purchase upgrades for the entire Bergson family. There are no permanent equipment drops or anything, just random relics and runes and other temporary, just-this-run type of augmentations.

Having said that, there are a lot of design decisions that enhance and smooth the gameplay loops.

For one thing, death is not permanent. This is not Rogue Legacy where you end up having totally new family members taking over. While you do lose the progress you made in the dungeon itself, the dungeon is only 3 stages long (with a boss fight). The gold you collect is permanent and accumulates, which means that even several brief failures might allow you to purchase an upgrade or two to HP, Damage, or any of the other characteristics.

That less-harsh roguelite theme continues in other areas as well. For example, you can collect a separate, temporary currency during runs that allow you to purchase various (single-run) Relics and such from a merchant, if he happens to spawn. Or you can use this same currency to open chests that contain mostly gold. I can easily imagine “clever” designers making the player choose between using gold for permanent, generic upgrades versus spending gold in-dungeon for temporary buffs to potentially get an edge against an upcoming boss. Luckily, that is not case here.

Another welcome design is how the story sort of moves forward regardless of success or failure. During any particular run, there can be a bonus room with a snippet of lore or a short quest that otherwise results in a cutscene back outside the dungeon. While there are limits to how far the story will go before a particular boss dies, it was incredibly welcome to know that a particularly embarrassing run would not result in a total walk of shame.

I have not completed the game yet, but I have unlocked all the playable characters and am working on the second area of three known ones. Each of the characters plays very different than the others, but a few are more unbalanced than others. Oh, but did I mention that as you level up specific characters they automatically unlock bonuses that apply to the whole family? This design element ensures that you spend time changing up your play style instead of sticking with just one person all the way to the end. Well, that and the fact that Fatigue can build up the longer you play just one character. But the former design element softens the blow of the latter.

Overall, I am very much enjoying the experience.

ONI Goes Gold

Another Klei game has graduated Early Access, showing the world how Early Access should be done.

I had stopped playing Oxygen Not Included (ONI) back in March, because I was getting a bit overwhelmed with my longest-running base, but didn’t want to start over with a fresh one because there were some pending updates. I continued holding off because the release date was going to happen soon, then it got delayed, so I waited some more. Booting up the launch version last night was satisfying, like slipping into a well-worn chair after a month-long vacation.

For the most part.

New biomes have been introduced, new machines, new elements, new critters, and a new selection of theme asteroids with random modifiers like “metal-rich” or “magma channels” or “frozen core.” There are trees now, in certain locations, and an entire engineering path in which you can burn trees for fuel, turn them into ethanol, and so on. There are also some major changes to heat deletion, specifically removing some of the cheesy methods and making it more of a hassle.

At the same time… the (optimal) early game is pretty much identical. Construct some Outhouses, dig out some 16×4 rooms, make your vertical shafts three tiles wide for airflow and future-proofing reasons, dig out a basement for your Carbon Dioxide to settle so the Dupes don’t smother in their sleep, and so on. The Research tree has been rearranged, Skills have undergone a third (final?) revision, but everything you learned about the first 50 cycles or so is pretty much the same.

The one thing that stays interesting is the placement and types of geysers that can spawn. In the beginning there were only Steam geysers and volcanoes and such, but now there are ~19 different varieties that can radically change the trajectory of your entire game. For example, having a nearby Natural Gas Vent (i.e. geyser) means you can rush an early Natural Gas Generator and otherwise skip Coal power entirely. A water geyser, in whatever form, is pretty much required for any kind of long-term survival, so it’s good to find an early one and get that concern out of the way.

In many ways, ONI reminds me of Civilization in this regard. Many of the steps you undertake are the same, although early environmental resource placement can cause you to switch strategies. By the mid-to-late game though, all roads lead to Rome and you end up doing the same sort of things, e.g. the one that work, as you coast to an inevitable conclusion.

Granted, I haven’t made it to the endgame in the released version of ONI – or in the beta for that matter – so maybe they changed things up. Hell, there are some asteroid options like Rime, wherein everything is basically frozen except for the starting biome, causing you to be very concerned about generating heat instead of having to worry about cooling everything down like normal.

In any case, Steam says I have played 80 hours of Oxygen Not Included already, so even if the release version doesn’t capture my long-term attention, it’s because I have already spent a long time enraptured in its systems. It is decidedly NOT Rimworld or Dwarf Fortress, but it is another fun game from Klei (makers of Don’t Starve). If you like failing miserably several times before becoming lord of the elements, I recommend the game.