Category Archives: Impressions

Impressions: Sigil of the Magi

Sigil of the Magi is a deck-building roguelike ala Slay the Spire with some Into the Breach vibes. It is currently in Early Access, and I was given an early peak by way of a review copy.

The Slay the Spire influences are front and center with the types of cards available, the pathways, and especially the shops. Basically, if you are at all familiar with Slay the Spire, chances are good that you will immediately recognize which cards are going to be good, which ones are noob traps, and what “relics” are going to pull their weight through a run.

That said, Sigil of the Magi does have a number of other interesting things going on.

First, you actually control a party of three separate characters, each with their own cards and card pools. Second, you literally control them in that you can move them around a very small map. While the UI needs some iteration to make things more clear, you can currently see what actions enemy units will take, and their attack preferences. That is where the Into the Breach vibes come in: if an enemy is set on attacking someone but you move all your characters out of range, the enemy will close the distance but then do nothing. Unfortunately, this sort of turn manipulation only goes so far, as enemies will settle for their 2nd or 3rd choice targets if they are within reach instead. Additionally, many of the enemies in the game have some sort of scaling mechanism that makes delay tactics unwise.

The third feature is what really sets Sigil of the Magi apart though: the Tray. This is a four-slot area under the map where you can pre-cast any card in hand for use in future turns. At first, this really just feels like a consolation prize for not being able to do much in the first turn of battle, before many of the enemies are within range. And since you only get 3 energy to play cards (at first), you typically don’t have anything left over to store for future turns once the melee is joined.

That said, the Tray becomes very interesting once you hit 4 energy and start getting cards that interact with it. For example, there is a card that give +4 Armor twice, but gets +1 Armor each time it is stored. Or maybe you get some discard synergies going, but don’t have a payoff card in hand, so you just bank the enabler. The cards in the Tray also are no longer in your deck when it is shuffled, so sometimes it might be worth keeping the generic damage cards in there to keep them out of your hand.

Is Sigil of the Magi good? Right now… kinda, sorta. The tough thing about Early Access for deck-building games is how so much hinges on card/enemy/relic balance, which can change at any time all the way past post-release. For example, right now, you have to choose a card after each combat encounter. This is literally the first deck-builder I have played that didn’t allow you to skip a card choice, and having to slot in whatever the least-bad, anti-synergy card you get offered feels like a punishment for winning battles. Is this an intentional design, like a sort of auto-difficulty balancing mechanism? I hope not. Conversely, abusing Taunt cards to force the end boss to skip all his mechanics and uselessly attack a very armored Knight was a lot of fun. Probably a bit imbalanced, but fun.

Overall, this is one game that I will keep an eye on as it makes its way through Early Access. The bones are good, and they definitely have things set up to allow for a lot of balancing methods. There are only two parties available at the moment, for example, but I can easily imagine varied combinations or even a sort of random mixing to add flavor to future runs. Plus, I really like the Tray conceptually.

We shall see how the balance goes though.

Impressions: Grounded, pt 2

While the first Impressions post for Grounded was a week ago, the reality is that I have been mainlining the game daily for the past three weeks. That first post was written based on my first dozen hours or so, but I ended up playing so much that I never got around to actually posting it. So here are my impressions about the game after some 50+ hours.

Grounded is good. Sometimes annoying. Definitely still Soulslike.

The game world continues to be a huge star of the show. Survival games sometimes have to make huge contortions to accommodate varied biomes – lava must coexist with snow and deep oceans and deserts all in the same map – but the way Grounded interweaves its own biomes is a masterclass in design. The backyard is a believable backyard. And yet going from the Grasslands to the canopy of the Hedge is a big transition. Or to the pond. Or in the sandbox, with it’s deadly Sizzle effect when you traverse the dunes without shade. These are different places, with different resources, and different challenges to overcome. And it all feels… coherent. Believable. Or at least, as believable as teenagers crafting crossbows out of grass vines and crow feathers can be.

Some aspects of the game have begun to provide friction. As you become stronger and explore further afield (ayard?), you… well, have further to go each time. Ziplines become a means of faster-ish travel, but they require a LOT of setup – constructing a vertical tower in the yard, carrying supplies to build destination anchors, and slaughtering dozens and dozens of spiders to turn their webs into silk to craft the zipline itself. Meanwhile, the only way to repair your Antlion Armor is to kill Antlions in the Sandbox, the best healing component must be farmed in the Pond, and you feel in your weary bones how much more time will get wasted with each unblocked attack you take while exploring the Upper Yard for the first time. It gets pretty exhausting, especially when you have to leave an area, inventory laden with loot, and know how much busywork is ahead of you before you can go back again.

Perhaps the better recourse would be to build multiple bases instead of one major hub. Problem with that is some of the more advanced crafting stations can’t really be moved easily. Plus, it’s arguable as to how much time you would really be saving building several bases.

In any case, I am decidedly approaching the endgame. Having achieved upgraded Tier 3 Armor and Weapons, I can say that most fights with bugs are less Soulslike than they were in the beginning. As in, I don’t have to Perfect Block every single attack in order to not die. The tradeoff, as explained earlier, is that you end up needing to farm up considerably more healing potions and items to repair your gear. Some of the bugs I am facing do indeed still pose an incredible threat even with all my gear, so don’t believe you can necessarily gear your way past everything. Plus, there are required boss fights in this game, including different Phases and novel attacks.

And this is kinda what gets me about Grounded. The setting, premise, and story do not match the gameplay. Teenagers from the 90s shrunken down and running around their backyard for flimsy story reasons leads you to believe this is a game that might appeal to younger players. On Normal difficulty, it most decidedly is not a game for younger players. Or older players that may be reflex-impaired. Every time I think I’m hot shit crushing bugs left and right, I take two unblocked hits and I’m sprinting away chugging healing potions. And this is in a game where I can hit Save after every encounter!

I have my frustrations with Grounded, but I’m still here mainlining this game for like 3+ hours every night. There isn’t anything special about the story, and yet I find myself eagerly traversing the yard to clear out the labs to get the next morsel of plot. Or, if I’m more honest, to unlock the next piece of gear and craft the latest weapons from the bones exoskeletons of my enemies. And all this feels fine to me, as there is a definitive conclusion on the other side. No “keep playing until you get bitter and jaded” purgatory here as with ARK or other survival games.

So, yeah. Grounded. Not the worst way to spend 50+ hours.

Impressions: Grounded

Grounded is a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids survival game from Obsidian, which recently graduated from Early Access. I played it for about a dozen hours during Early Access, but decided to wait until full release before diving in for real on Game Pass.

What I have discovered is… well, a fun albeit highly incongruent survival Soulslike.

To start out, the world of Grounded is amazing. You wake up in a small cave that opens out into a forest of grass and weeds that towers above you. Although there are giant juice boxes and other items to hammer home just how tiny you are, they are really unnecessary – everything about how you move around the yard, the distances involved, and of course the creatures keeps everything front and center.

Your first experiences with the yard fauna is usually benign. Aphids, Weevils, and Gnats are basically mobile food and resources. Red Worker Ants are curious about you, but only go hostile when you hit them. Same with the lumbering Lady Bug, although they will quickly one-shot you in the beginning when attacked. Mites are typically your first hostile mob, and they are only really dangerous when you’re distracted or get surrounded. But it doesn’t take a lot of exploring before you encounter the apex predators of the backyard: spiders. Orb Weavers relentlessly patrol their territory and Wolf Spiders are the terror of the night, ranging far and wide through the yard from dusk till dawn. Daylight does not offer much comfort once you journey further afield though, as you encounter Larva, Stinkbugs, Mosquitos, and more.

And this is where things go a little off the rails for me. Grounded has all the trappings of survival games, including a huge map where you can build bases just about anywhere, resources needing to be gathered, and so on. But what you are actually doing to progress at all is a series of escalating Souls-like melee encounters. I say “Souls-like” because everything revolves around performing Perfect Blocks against insect attacks, then counter-attacking. You can technically just regular block attacks (with a shield made out of Weevil meat), but you still take a significant amount of damage, can get debuffed, and eventually stunned depending on the frequency of attacks. Meanwhile, you completely block all damage even with a Pebble Axe from any enemy if you Right-Click your mouse at the correct time.

In games like ARK, there’s no Perfect Blocking a T-Rex bite. But, you can still take out a T-Rex through clever terrain and/or structure use. In Grounded, most enemies ignore most terrain that otherwise slow you down, e.g. grass stems. And even if you happen to engage from on top of something they cannot reach, your (early) ranged attacks with the bow don’t deal much damage. Indeed, since you cannot block while using the bow, the game seems to discourage any realistic use of it outside first-strike or fleeing bug scenarios. “What about flying bugs like Mosquitos?” Yeah, sure, try to get a few arrows in. But you will 100% die if you don’t perform Perfect Blocks with a regular melee weapon of some sort, even if you have the clunkiness of having to toggle between it and the bow.

The worst part, IMO, is how there isn’t much of an escape from the bug-based progression. I guess I cannot claim that it is impossible to complete the game without learning each bug’s song and dance, but it is a fact that several crafting stations require bug parts to be constructed. Again, in ARK the dinos are “soft” required because nobody has time to collect 10,000 Stone and Iron to build the goodies you want. In Grounded, you simply aren’t building a Drying Rack without Bombardier Beetle parts. I haven’t made it into any of the later Lab story areas yet, but there are plenty of bugs between me and where I think the front door is, so… yeah. Prepare to “git gud” or die trying.

(Or play on a lower difficulty, I guess.)

Overall, though? I’m still having fun. The first dozen or so hours had me running from everything more powerful than a Solider Ant, but I’m basically approaching Tier 2 equipment and a general level of confidence to take on most things. Had it not been for an Orb Weaver Jr joining the fight in defense of its momma, I would have taken one of those down already. Luckily, the game features both the default survival “fuck you” of dropping all your gear on death AND the ability to Save your game at any time. Which… is weird. I’m assuming you don’t get saves while playing Multiplayer and that’s the difference. In any case, saves won’t, er, save you from getting owned by spiders or whatever, but it at least affords you the opportunity to practice Perfect Block timing as many times as necessary to get the last bug part to craft a new Hammer or whatever.

Beta Impressions: Forever Skies

Forever Skies is a survival sandbox – airbox? – currently in a beta playtest state. The central premise is that the Earth has been wrecked by several flavors of disasters such that the only safe means of exploration is in a customizable blimp above the roiling green fog below.

The beta is severely limited. As soon as you unlock the blimp, a 20-minute timer counts down and things just end no matter where you are. Nevertheless, I still got a feel for the basic gameplay loop.

Forever Skies is essentially a simpler, airborn Raft. One of the principle tools you have is a blimp-based extractor gun that allows you to deconstruct specific objects at a distance. The main two resources have been Metals and Synthetics, which you can extract in unlimited quantities from floating tumbleweed-esque things. These let you build insect fishing lines (which penetrate the green fog below), moisture extractors, water purifiers, and create fuel for your engines. Although I appreciate the fact that the tumbleweeds ensure one doesn’t get stranded in a failure state while exploring, it does sort of undercut any perceived need to explore anywhere – you essentially solve all food, water, and fuel concerns within 5 minutes of getting the blimp.

In any case, one of the limiting factors in the creation of additional higher tech goodies are Solid State Batteries, which are found in sort of light beacon structures on the tops of skyscrapers. I managed to have time to float towards one such structure, explore around, grab the battery, and then build the tool that allows me to add rooms (etc) onto the blimp. I then unlocked the ability to create a turbine, which would have allowed me to fly higher up, presumably granting increased access to other such “islands” above the clouds.

Having written this out, my impression is less and less that Forever Skies is a sandbox at all. Even if each beacon island (or probably their location) is procedurally generated, you are not really “exploring” anything on the way to one. And once you arrive, your goal is to A) grab the battery and B) check for blueprints. Hopefully there are more uncommon ingredients introduced later on, as the tumbleweeds essentially made anything else you could pick up redundant.

It is difficult to gauge where exactly along the Early Access progress Forever Skies happens to be. If this demo is early-early, then good. If what I saw was basically Beta… yikes. The trailer seems to indicate that this is not the case, what with the sample environment not looking exclusively green, there being a few additional tools, and a better-looking blimp.

Still, I have some concerns about the sort of fundamental “island to island” gameplay. In short: meh? The overall concept of the game is different than other survival ones – no trees to punch, for example – but the islands may as well be instanced puzzles inbetween loading screens. This isn’t Subnautica where there are interesting things going on around you, even if you are in transit to another spot on the map. Effectively nothing else exists outside of the blimp and islands, which is why it reminds me so much of Raft. The trailer indicated that maybe your blimp will take damage from storms or creatures or whatever, but again, that alone is not going to elevate (har har) the experience by much, if at all.

Also? The demo has you get a virus early on from eating a melon, which results in you taking damage any time you look towards the sun. Okay, fine, that’s unique. You end up curing the virus by eating a pepper in another area. Like, I know that the premise of the game centers around viral shenanigans, but I’m not exactly sure what this sort of “mechanic” is supposed to bring to the game. Maybe an enforcement of not being able to exclusively grow melons (which you can’t do in the demo anyway)? Are we going to routinely get infected with random shit and need to go to the next island for the cure? In some games, you do need to encourage players to expand their horizons instead of turtling in one particular area. This one ain’t it – there isn’t anything else to do but head to the next island.

In any case, that’s the Forever Skies demo. I’ll submit my feedback in the more proper channels as well.

[Cyberpunk 2077] The Other 40 Hours

I have a very dim view of the designers behind Cyberpunk, but as Nogamara pointed out, I do have 40 hours and counting in the game thus far. So, what gives?

As it turns out, Cyberpunk 2077 is a lot of fun in the moment-to-moment gameplay.

My prebuilt beast of a PC is running Cyberpunk pretty much on max settings (1440p) with 60-80 fps, and… damn. Night City looks incredible. Aside from the absurd number of loading screens when booting up the game, I notice nary a slowdown or hiccup as I speed around the streets looking for trouble to get into. In this regard, it is pretty much like GTA 5 mixed with Skyrim: a pleasure to just get around and get into trouble.

In the beginning, I was playing the game like I always default to with first-person games: sneaky archer. Cyberpunk does support this to a point, but only just so – Dishonored this is not. To clarify, you can indeed stealth through pretty much all the missions, taking special care to perform silent takedowns, pick up Quickhacks that will blind or distract enemies, hide bodies from patrols, add silencers to your weapons, and so on. There’s just… no particular reason to. Stealth is not extrinsically rewarded, locations are huge with dozens and dozens of mooks to plow through, and pretty much every other aspect of the game leads you towards more direct confrontations. Indeed, if you end up picking fights with higher-level “skull” enemies, you are no longer able to perform takedowns on them.

Having said that, the game gets a bit weird once you stop pulling punches and start pulling grenades. As it turns out, grenades are rather good at solving a lot of problems, like gang assaults in progress, enemies hiding behind cover, and basically anything you toss them at. While these have been my preferred method problem-solving, bullets work just as well. By the midgame, there aren’t a lot of things that are especially difficult. Granted, I am playing on Normal difficulty, but I’m not certain whether increasing the number of headshots necessary to defeat foes would do much to make things more engaging.

From a story perspective, Cyberpunk has been serviceable to good. There are a lot of weird side gigs and cross-references that sort of make the setting feel more Outer Worlds goofy than Deus Ex. For example, there are direct Office references, Portal cake jokes, and so on. The main story segments are more reserved and philosophical… ish. While I’m not done with the game yet, the whole Keanu Reeves rock star terrorist angle feels bizarre. Is he supposed to seem cool? Was he a rock star turned partisan, or was he always a commando and did concerts as a front? I’m not sure the answer even matters.

Indeed, I was presented with a few “choices” between unlikeable major factions and I just chose to destroy the one that insulted/betrayed me more recently. I’m fine with games introducing decision-points that have no bearing on anything other than roleplaying, but guys, would it kill you to offer a bit more context? What’s my motivation here? Hard to hate The Man if none of your interactions up to this point have dealt with The Man in a meaningful way. For all the implied Corpo oppression, it doesn’t affect the player in any way. Yeah, there’s poverty and gangs everywhere, but that’s window dressing and content, respectively. I would have liked to have seen a variation of the Wanted meter where instead of cops, you start getting hunted by Corpo mercs depending on the side jobs you take.

In any case, those are my positive impressions. It’s fun to run around and shoot people in the face. The commitment to first-person perspective – including little things like being able to see your feet, seeing when you get cyberware installed on your hands, etc. – is refreshing and welcome. I seek out opportunities to fight and infiltrate buildings and cause mayhem. I love cyberpunk as a genre.

However. I am currently sitting on 1 unspent Attribute and 7 unspent Skill points. Nothing in the talent trees get my juices flowing, and I have nothing to look forward to, nothing to build towards. Shit, I just found out one of the capstone Technical Ability Skills I had within reach – the one that makes Tech weapons ignore all enemy armor – doesn’t actually work. As in, enemies don’t have armor to ignore. What kind of literal fucking clown show is this? Apparently I was also supposed to be getting free Quickhacks for my hacking efforts (and spent Attribute points) but some bug that’s been around since 1.0 prevents it. Neat. This game would arguably be better off with zero Attributes or Skills systems at all. Not even “everyone has everything all the time,” but literally no one having any enhancements.

After all, there are always grenades.

Having said all that… there is a greater than zero chance I segue right into a second playthrough with a male V focused on “studying the blade” at max difficulty. Quickhacks have been cute, but I’ve been eyeing time dilation katana shenanigans ever since I saw the requisite cyberware on vendors. Viable? Probably not. But it is just crazy enough to possibly be fun.

[Cyberpunk 2077] Terrible Design

Cyberpunk 2077 has undergone a ton of changes since its disastrous launch. I was not keeping track of everything they fixed and tweaked, but suffice it to say, there was a lot. Some of which was immediately indicative of… well, idiot designers. That may sound harsh but let me give you an example: there is an early talent (Dagger Dealer) that allows you to throw your equipped knives. What was missing from the launch of the game until literally February of this year was any way to retrieve your thrown knives. Some designer thought this talent up and some programmer put it into a game where there are legendary knives, and no one thought that maybe losing them forever was a bad idea? Again, this was fixed in version 1.5 which I am currently playing. But the fact that it was even a thing outside of alpha is mind-boggling.

What I am coming to understand is that Dagger Dealer is a symptom of deeper issues.

Historical screenshot for the lols. In 1.5 they magically come back after a few seconds.

The overall leveling system is just a mess. You gain XP and gain character levels, which grant you Perk points and occasionally Attribute points. The latter are very important because they determine the maximum level of perk you can select within that Attribute. Additionally, each Attribute has multiple Skill Trees associated with it. So for example, the Reflexes Attribute contains the Assault, Blades, and Handguns trees, each of which contain 17-20 Perks that can have multiple tiers.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Each Skill tree has its own XP meter that increases by utilizing that specific Skill in various ways. The more you use Handguns, the more Handgun XP you generate, and eventually you work your way down the reward track up to the limit of the Attribute. The rewards are usually little enhancements (Recoil reduction on Handguns, etc) but sometimes they are Perk points which you can actually assign anywhere. While that could lead to some interesting decisions wherein you start farming Blade XP to generate extra Perk points to put into Handguns or whatever, the emphasis should not deviate from the word “farm.” Because that is what it takes.

All of that may sound complicated, but none of it is particularly interesting.

I could live with all the overcomplicated shenanigans, but what I cannot stand is a Talent/Perk/Skill system with so few synergies. It is like the designers didn’t even try. I scoured the various trees and the closest thing to interesting that popped up was a Reflexes 8 Perk in the Blades tree called Stuck Pig that increases Bleed duration by 3/6/9 seconds. That is notable not because it’s actually any good, but because there is no “inflicted by a Blade” qualifier to it. Some things other than Blades inflict Bleed, so that would be an interesting choice and/or build to work towards if Bleeds were your thing. If instead you put any Perk points into Handguns, well, all of them turn off the moment you equip anything else.

And, Jesus Christ, don’t get me started on the crafting system. Because I’m going to anyway.

Crafting is governed by the Technical Ability Attribute and subsequent perks in the Crafting Skill tree. The most important ones are those Perks that unlock the crafting of Rare (5), Epic (12), and Legendary (18) items. In many games, there is always a tension between player crafting and found loot: A) if crafting is better, why search for loot, vs B) if loot is better, why engage with crafting at all. Cyberpunk kicks this up a notch with Iconic gear – these are weapons/armor with unique effects that you can continually upgrade… provided you dump a bunch of Attribute points into Technical Ability. If you don’t, those Iconic items might be good for a mission or two before trash drops start dealing more damage.

A bargain at no price.

Aside from that, crafting largely sucks. You need to purchase weapon/armor “specs” from vendors to unlock the ability to craft that item in that specific tier. Just because you can craft a Rare sniper rifle does not mean you can craft the Epic version of the same sniper rifle, even if you unlocked Epic crafting via Perks. Also, the spec for that Sniper Rifle costs 75,000 credits which is just about what it costs to just purchase the Legendary version of that Sniper Rifle from the same vendor. At a certain point you can farm practically infinite amounts of credits via crafting anyway (purchase components, craft X gun, sell to vendor, cycle vendors), but the point is that the system as a whole makes no fucking sense. What was the harm with a more reasonable weapon spec cost? Woohoo, I get a “cheap” Epic Sniper Rifle by dumping Attribute and Perk Points into a tree that does not otherwise enhance my ability to deal damage with said Sniper Rifle. Christ, I bet that I would deal more damage with a trash-tier Sniper Rifle and those points spent in Reflexes instead.

By the way, Cyberpunk does feature a Respec button. The hilarious thing – in a comedy of errors sort of way – is that it only refunds Perk points, not Attribute points. Thus even though I am 40 hours deep into the game and realize how terrible Crafting has been for me, none of it matters because I can’t shuffle many of those points elsewhere because I’m limited based on Attributes, not Perks. I guess there is an argument that people would game the system by switching to a full Crafting build, upgrade all their shit, get infinite money, and then swap back to a weapon-specific build, but come on.

Know what else is disappointing? The cyberware parts of Cyberpunk. The game is predicated on body enhancements and everyone certainly looks the part. But the thing you find out after browsing a few Ripperdocs is that all the enhancements are… just random buffs locked behind Attribute gates. Sometimes you will find a common-tier upgrade not locked behind such a gate, but the vast majority are tied to your character’s Body or Reflexes Attribute, which means a Technical Ability/Intelligence character (cough) doesn’t have much to gain by cyberware. Which is really fucking bizarre, right? Compare that to how Deus Ex handles things – augments grant gameplay-changing abilities and are otherwise a big deal. In Cyberpunk, they are non-choices.

One of the few “interesting” cyberwares, and it disables your ability to use grenades. Because reasons.

Ultimately, that is the biggest disappointment of all: everything in Cyberpunk (outside of dialog) feels like a non-choice. Can you “choose” to build your character around using Shotguns and Katanas for roleplaying purposes? Sure. Place your Attribute and Perk points in the corresponding slots. But none of that is interesting. And to me, there is no such thing as an uninteresting choice – there are choices and mere decisions. You decide to use Shotguns, and everything else follows. Notwithstanding the banality of having to decide on a specific weapon to use in the first place, there is no room for synergy choices within Skill trees or trying different strategies once Attribute points have been committed.

I am not certain this part of Cyberpunk 2077 is fixable. Being able to Respec Attribute points would help, or perhaps granting more Attribute points overall. Perks would have be radically reworked to introduce synergies though, and I’m not certain designers who had to wait a year and half to noodle on how to fix throwing knives is up to the task.

Impression: Necromunda: Hired Gun

In a word: jank. But the good kind. Mostly.

Necromunda: Hired Gun (N:HC) is a run-n-gun, arena-based looter-shooter set in the Warhammer 40k universe. You play as a cybernetically-enhanced mercenary taking contract-killing jobs deep in the bowels of the eponymous Imperium hive world. And you also have a dog. And that dog can be cybernetically-enhanced.

The gameplay is… well, jank. Cool jank, but jank nonetheless. After about the first mission, your character unlocks a bevy of amazing movement capabilities. These abilities include double-jumps, wall running, power slides, and even a grappling hook. However, these maneuvers become downright required mechanically – several of the player upgrades include 50%+ dodge chance while wall running, for example, or even that your guns become more accurate and have aim-assist… while wall running. That said, the movement is not as tight as, say, Titanfall: when you power slide off a catwalk, your character instantly drops to the lower level in a sudden abandonment of physics.

Despite this focus on movement, the maps are not all that set up for you to take much advantage of these maneuvers, up to and including many instant-death zones for you to fall into. Sure, that makes the environments feel more real and dangerous. On the other hand… jank.

The gunplay is also not really that tight. There are several classic Warhammer 40k weapons available, but several of them are downright awful. Enemies have near-perfect aim and you will be taking constant damage, so the entire gunplay element requires you to be in close range to take advantage of DOOM-esque self-healing by rapid enemy takedowns. This makes longer-ranged engagements (and the corresponding guns) functionally impossible. So you end up being laser-focused on close-quarter weapons like shotguns and the like.

As mentioned previously, this is also a looter-shooter. You will acquire a lot of incrementally more powerful guns that you can customize with various mods and relics. You can also farm cash with side missions to assist with upgrading your cybernetics and special powers. For as many powers you have available, I did find it quite odd how limited you end up being with accessing them via hotkeys (there is 1 total). You can pause time to select from the full menu but that breaks the game flow a bit.

To be honest, the weird feeling of the world and overall game design snapped into place once I read the the developers of this game were the same as EyE: Divine Cybermancy from a decade ago. I don’t expect anyone to have ever played that but it was basically a radiant-quest Deus Ex meets Warhammer 40k meets… developer dreams exceeding their grasp. It wasn’t a great game, but it had a lot of ideas and they did their best to execute on them. Same thing here.

Ultimately, I do find Necromunda: Hired Gun serviceable in the “shoot people in the face” department. Boot it up, play a mission or two, and put it down. My copy came from a recent Humble Bundle that got discounted down to $6 instead of $12. If yours didn’t, well… maybe it’ll come to Game Pass.

Impressions: Gordian Quest

Ever wonder what would happen if designers just added all the things to a game? Wonder no more.

Gordian Quest is a sorta-roguelike tactical turn-based deck-building card game, with a full story campaign along with the more “traditional” roguelike modes. You control up to three characters with their own individual themed decks and battle enemies on a grid. Characters can also equip items that boost their stats or even add special cards into their decks. Those stats are important for the scaling of cards and also because there are D&D-esque skill checks occasionally. Also also, characters gain XP and level up, allowing them to place talent points on a customizable, randomized grid and expand in multiple directions. Have I mentioned there are 10 characters to choose from and each character has three distinct themes of cards that can be mixed and matched? And that items have rarity levels and randomized stats, with Legendary versions possibly opening new synergies? Oh, and items have rune slots too, which can be slotted with additional stats or special effects?

Like I said, the designers really went nuts with this one.

In reality, the game is mostly more coherent than I am implying. If you played Banners of Ruin, this game is basically that with some D&D and Card Hunter and FFX Sphere-Grid sprinkled in. Nothing stands out as being completely unnecessary while you’re playing, but just thinking about it now… goddamn is there a lot.

Is it fun? Yes. For a while.

Unfortunately, I basically broke the game before I finished Act 1 (of 4). Two of my characters are an archer and a rogue, with either one of them being capable of solo-murdering the entire enemy team on the first turn. If for some reason there is a straggler, the other one mops up. My third dude never actually gets to play cards at all, but if he did, he also is fairly stacked in the murder department. I had hoped that perhaps things would change once I hit Act 2 – maybe enemies would have a bunch more HP or have more Initiative to go first – but thus far that has not been the case. The only time enemies even get a turn is when they are bosses with literally 10-20x as many HP as normal, and even then they only ever get that one turn before getting melted.

The double-unfortunate thing is that breaking the game in this way was not particularly difficult. Part of that is undoubtedly due to my overall experience with deck-building games wherein winning strategies are roughly the same: prioritize increasing your per-turn draw, and keeping as few cards in your deck as possible. The other part though largely stems from what I imagine was a designer attempt at keeping things “balanced.” For example, the available talents are… boring. Even the ones all the way at the bottom of the tree. So I basically ignore all the Tier 3 talents and just pick the ones that grant +1 draw per turn and similar.

This “balance” extends to the three themes per character as well. My archer has Sharpshooter, Trapper, and Sentry schools of cards. Sharpshooter is all about damage. Trapper is about setting traps on enemy cells and cards that move enemies around (thereby forcing traps to trigger). Sentry is about setting up turrets on your side of the battlefield, boosting said turrets, and then letting them damage the enemy. You would be forgiven for assuming that Trapper and Sentry cards deal more overall damage, considering that that would make sense given the fact that they require setup. But… that’s not the case. Sharpshooter cards deal the same or more damage with no setup. And since 99% of the Trapper and Sentry cards are useless by themselves, you engineer your way to only choosing Sharpshooter cards when offered a choice, thereby increasing the average power level of your damage cards in a runaway feedback loop.

There is a bard character that is all about building up melody combos and essentially buffing the entire party so that they don’t need to worry about defense on their own turns. There is a warlock character that focuses on Bleed effects and debuffs. There is a golemancer that presumably mances golems. I haven’t even bothered trying those characters out because what’s the point? They would never get a turn. There are so many buffs, debuffs, tactical decisions, etc, that are entirely irrelevant in ways it seems impossible to make relevant without massive nerfs and a complete overhaul.

Sigh. Could this be solved by just avoiding the Archer and Rogue? Sorta. Although the Warrior and Cleric characters also have some gnarly damage cards/combos too. Could all this be addressed in a future patch? Maybe. If this was still Early Access, I would not be as concerned. Given that this is a full 1.0 release though, something tells me that they aren’t going to radically alter the way the card schools are entirely set up. And it is not as though higher difficulties can “solve” the issue either – cranking enemy HP higher and player damage lower is only going to make the currently non-viable (in comparison) strategies even more non-viable.

I suppose I will see if anything changes between now and the final boss. Assuming that I bring myself to slog through the rest of the game, like a Conquest victory in Civilization that was a forgone conclusion fifty turns ago.

Up until this point? Pretty fun though.

In Other News…

…this happened yesterday in FF7R:

I don’t remember this part in the original game.

Not quite playing as much FF7R as I probably should for how much amusement I get each time I do.

If there is a particular reason, it’s this: FF7R is not a survival crafting nor a roguelike deck-building game. Those are apparently the only ones capable of consuming my entire life in one go anymore. Everything else has to be… “intentionally” done. Or perhaps there is indeed something critical to be said about the lengths between exposition in FF7R, filled such as it is with vast expanses of empty, dungeon space.

Which reinforces the size of Midgar, mind you, just perhaps too well. Or conveniently well. Hmm.

Second Impressions: FF7R

I didn’t think it was possible, but I like Final Fantasy 7 Remake even more.

One aspect that I didn’t like initially has really grown on me: uninterrupted dialog. Basically, there are no RPG-esques pauses whenever someone is talking. Conversations just flow with zero button inputs. It was initially kind of frustrating, because some of the banter is hilarious and it goes by too quick for me to take a screenshot (I always have subtitles up in games precisely for screenshot purposes).

But do you know what it all reminds me of? Mass Effect.

Over ten (!?) years ago now, I was writing about how the winks in Mass Effect were blowing my mind. There is a lot more than winks going on in FF7R, but that’s not really the point. The point is that these are genuinely interesting characters with personalities and mannerisms. They wink, nod, pose, strut, and otherwise behave in consistent ways. Some of those mannerisms are very anime-ish, but hey, Japan. At least these land miles better than in FF14.

Anyway, I just got to the point where I party up with Aerith and I’ve been smiling the whole goddamn time. I’ve always historically been Team Tifa, even before Disc 1, but Aerith is the biggest dork in the Remake and I love it. Just the little things like Cloud saying “The wererats pray on the weak” and Aerith replying “Well, you better be careful then.” Typing this out seems so dumb but there’s just this whole vibe going on in the game, and I’m feeling it.

Oh, and there’s this moment when Cloud and Aerith reach a pipe and have to slide down to get to the next area. Aerith goes first… and says “Wheee!” with her hands raised in the air as she goes down.

It was almost over before I could take a screenshot.

Guys. Guys. Again, feel super-dumb typing it out. But when was the last time you played a game where you were able to vicariously feel the joy and care of the designers through the screen? Whoever scripted that moment loved their job. It didn’t have to exist. It was over in literally two seconds – I couldn’t even hit the screenshot key fast enough – and it has no bearing on anything other than to flavor the experience and convey that which is Aerith.

It made me smile. When was the last time a game did that for you?

In closing, let me reiterate the disclaimer that the original Final Fantasy 7 has been in my top 5 game list for 25 (!?!) years. So FF7R is basically intravenous nostalgia from the word GO. Will you appreciate the “personalities and mannerisms” of these characters in the same way I do? Probably not. In a vacuum, they might just be cliché.

Nevertheless, these devs have taken a formative experience of my childhood and brought it to life in a way that has exceeded all my wildest expectations. A breath I never knew I was holding has been released as a cathartic sigh, blowing away my whole jaded gamer schtick. For the time being, at least.

So there it is. Hopefully the rest of the game holds up, but it doesn’t even matter. I’m happy right now.