Impressions: Across the Obelisk
Across the Obelisk is a chunky deck-building roguelike that has a lot of overlapping mechanics that… mostly work together.
You control four characters each with their own decks. By default, these characters are a warrior, ranger, mage, and cleric, and all have their own unique card pools. Additionally, each character has four equipment slots (and one pet slot) that can be filled with a wide assortment of gear. Additionally additionally, each character can level up five times, getting a binary choice of abilities unique to that specific character (e.g. the four warriors each have different choices). Additionally additionally additionally, you earn Perk points across all characters that allows you more customization options in the form of +1 bonuses to various stats.
Oh, and you accumulate “Supplies” that let’s you upgrade the towns at the beginning of each map. And maps have various lanes and encounters and character unlocks and secrets and general themes.
Like I said, there’s a lot going on.
The problem, 25 hours in, is an understanding that a lot of the game just doesn’t matter. In Slay the Spire, you always go first and can see what the enemy is going to do. In this game, enemy actions are hidden by default – you have to debuff them with certain cards to temporarily see – and turns are based on the speed stat… which can be buffed or debuffed. So sometimes the enemy will just do things to your team without you knowing what’s going on. Like all deck-building games though, sometimes you can’t do anything even if you do know what’s coming due to the cards drawn.
Another issue I have is how often what the card says doesn’t matter. Characters have resistances to the various damage types in the game, and it’s often a fact that enemies get 60% resistance or higher. When I first unlocked a high-cost card that said “Deal 60 damage” I was excited… only to find that it actually deals like 20. The game calculates it for you so there’s no surprises, but nevertheless this funnels all successful strategies towards stacking debuffs (which typically lower resistances as a bonus). Which is whatever I guess… until you face enemies immune to that debuff, or can self-dispel, or can transfer (!!) the debuffs back your way. Most of the time, whether a given enemy can do this will be a complete surprise. Fun times.
Ultimately, I’m finding the game plenty compelling in an almost unhealthy way. Each run makes the next one that much easier, which is good, but this also means you are set up to fail the first dozen or so runs. I like how you can end up crafting a lot of your favorite cards right at the beginning of the game and thinning your deck out so there is less ramp-up. Figuring out synergies between the classes feels satisfying, and unlocking characters can lead to new ways of playing based on their unique talents.
But if you aren’t into deck-builders, this certainly isn’t going to get you onboard. Not only is there a lot of RNG – moreso than normal deck-builders – each run takes several hours between having to coordinate four different decks and equipment and upgrades and so on.
Impressions: Sun Haven
I’m currently at around 30 hours played with Sun Haven. I bought it six days ago.
‘Nuff said, yeah?
Sun Haven is a pixel fantasy farming/life sim game in the same vein as Stardew Valley. Like, literally in the same vein. Protagonist arrives in a town, meets a bunch of people, can choose a life of toil via farming, crafting, ranching, fishing, mining, and so on. There is a daily community quest board, a calendar of birthdays and festivals, a pile of romance options. Deja vu, yeah?
The thing is, Sun Haven has a lot of very interesting innovations even within the farm/life sim genre.
For example, Sun Haven has no energy meter. That’s right, you can perform actions for as many minutes there are in the day (and you can make those longer too in the Options menu). It almost feels like cheating, for veterans of this genre. And guess what other sacred cow got slaughtered? The game auto-saves constantly, which means you can safely stop playing at any time, e.g. not just when going to sleep. What the what?! If you thought “one more day” was addicting, wait until you play this.
As mentioned before, the setting is fantasy. Your main character can be human… or elf, or angel, devil, and so on. You can also select a starting background, which affects if you arrive in town with some seeds or a fruit tree or farm animals. Magic also features somewhat prominently, with you learning a fireball spell very early on to assist with combat. As you gain XP in Farming, you can eventually get spells that will automatically till a big square via an earthquake, or summon a rain cloud to water your crops in an area.
Another thing that keeps things fresh is the fact that there is a surprisingly large number of Skills you can pick across the Exploration, Farming, Combat, Mining, and Fishing trees. Each one accumulates XP separately, and while the Skills offered generally affects the specific category, sometimes there is synergistic overlap. Also, these are Skill “trees” only insofar as you need to assign 5 Skill points to unlock the next tier of Skills – you are not actually forced to go down one set path.
There is a plot within the game that is unveiled over time via fairly simple questing. I cannot comment much about it at this point, as I have not really seen enough of it to tell what’s going on. What I can say is that additional towns are unlocked (including different farms!) as you progress. I just got to the Elf town and none of the traditional plants you are used to grow there. Indeed, the Elf town doesn’t even use gold as currency, so you can’t just make bank in Sun Haven and waddle your way over to clear out the vendors. I’m guessing that maintaining two or more farms simultaneously will not go over well, but it will be interesting to see if you can effectively abandon your old life and simply start over elsewhere.
One last piece that I thought was insanely clever was the fact that most foods grant permanent bonuses when eaten, subject to a cap. This encourages you to plant a large variety of crops even after you used Excel to determine the most profitable ones, since each point of extra Mana will save you X amount of seconds by summoning rain clouds instead of using a watering can like a pleb. The bonuses are typically small, like +1 HP and then go down to +0.75 HP for the second serving, but across the dozens or so recipes it all adds up. This can affect HP, MP, Attack, and even movement speed.
My only real criticism so far is that the game is so well-made that I started expecting more out of it. For example, combat is extremely simplistic. Enemy will aggro and try to melee you. You can unlock a Fireball spell early, or you can rely on Crossbows or Sword swings to defeat them. None of this is all that different from other games in the genre. And yet I kept thinking that Sun Haven needed more spells, or enemies with a more interesting attack pattern or something. Exploration feels really good, with a whole pile of useful things to collect off the ground, and yet enemies being so simplistic sort of diminished that somehow. I will say though, that I encountered one boss out in the world that made me flee, and that made things exciting again. Just wish there were more of that in normal enemies.
Overall? Sun Haven gets top marks from me. The genre innovations – mostly in the form of sacred cow slaughters – is a breath of fresh air, and the sense of progression is top-notch. I’m excited to see what the rest of the game has in store for me, even though I’ve already clocked in more than my money’s worth just in the first third of the game.
The Waiting Space
I have been playing a number of games since completing Dark Souls, but none of them are the games I really want to play. Because those games aren’t done yet. And it’s driving me mad.
This is a farming/life-sim game set in a more tropical area. It is currently in Early Access and available via Game Pass. According to the Roadmap it looks like there are updates planned all the way out until Winter of 2023 and then some additional big updates prior to the 1.0 release. One of those updates? The traditional marriage and/or kids additions. I don’t require life-sims to have these features, but if it’s already planned to be available, I also don’t want to miss out and/or have to replay for that content.
My Time at Sandrock
Quasi-sequel to My Time at Portia, which I played for 108 hours and enjoyed quite a bit. A lot of content already out there, but according to the Roadmap, it will be late March/early April before they add the marriage system in. Then late May/early June before they add three additional NPCs into the romance pool. I don’t know any of these NPCs or if I would care about them at all, but… what if I did?
The Mistlands biome has finally came out, but apparently there are more on the way. I have waited almost exactly two years already, so I may as well continue to wait until this one gets done.
Farming/Life-sim game that is a more fantasy-based Stardew Valley. And it even got a v1.0 release! After checking the patch notes though, I noticed the “Coming Soon!” section which includes, among other things:
- – More Pets
- – More Race Specific Dialogue
- – Having children with your spouse
- – Farm Buildings (Sheds / Greenhouses)
- – Proximity Animations
- – Minor DLCs
- – Main Story Epilogue
The Planet Crafter | Craftopia | Len’s Island | Sons of the Forest | Traveler’s Rest
All Early Access and none of them discounted. Pass for now.
[Edit] Just kidding, Steam Spring Sale is going on.
Technically on sale and… technically released? Doesn’t have the Early Access tag any more, but most info points to this being in a more Beta state. Green Hell is one that has been on my radar for a while from a survival standpoint. What I have heard is that it is a bit more grindy insofar as you have to take care of your macronutrients rather than just regular Hunger, and you are much more likely to die of random snake or spider bites than other games. Those sort of things are whatever. The biggest damnation though has been talk about how base-building is not really encouraged based on the narrative of the game, which requires you to venture out all across the map. That sort of thing really hampers things, if true.
V Rising | Kynseed
Released but no sale, so… no sale.
[Edit] Just kidding, Steam Spring Sale is going on.
Voidtrain | One Lonely Outpost | Palworld | I Am Future | Under A Rock | Lightyear Frontier | Rooted
None of these are available, even in Early Access. :(
All of this is mostly pointless belly-aching because of course I have a million and a half other games bought and paid for to play. But I want to play these games at the moment. #1stWorldProblems.
[Dark Souls] Final Day
I beat the final boss of Dark Souls on Saturday.
I’m so, so glad it’s all over.
According to my save file, I spent just shy of 58 hours playing Dark Souls. At no point during that duration did I ever really feel “comfortable.” That is presumably by design. Each new area has new enemies to encounter, bullshit traps to get Gotcha!’d, and just a general sense of subtle malice. If you make it far in exploration but then die, you respawn at a Bonfire and all enemies between you and your corpse respawn. If you make it far and find a new Bonfire, you have to make the choice to sit at it and respawn all enemies or continue onward but risk respawning much further away. None of the bosses had Bonfires near them, so you either had to run like crazy past guardian mobs or hack your way back and hope you could retrieve your corpse to make the otherwise lost souls worth it.
Oh and many Bonfires are just straight-up hidden, because fuck you.
Another fun aspect of the game was the simple fact that I never really found a weapon I liked, and this led me into wasting hours and hours farming for shit I never really ended up using. I used the Uchigatana for a large portion of the game, but it continued to get weaker to enemies over time. Eventually I got lucky with a Black Knight Sword (BKS) drop, which immediately became my go-to weapon for the mid-game. Unfortunately, I hated it the entire time. The Uchigatana moveset allowed for a quick strike to interrupt/kill charging enemies, and the power attack was a longish-range poke. Meanwhile the BKS had a slow regular swing, and a power poke attack that triggered after like 5 seconds of vulnerability. But, what the BKS offered was raw damage, and killing enemies in 1-2 attacks was much more useful overall than 4-5 attacks.
My final weapon ended up being the Gargoyle’s Halberd. It has good range, a relatively quick attack, and its attacks in general don’t cost much Stamina. The unfortunate aspect was the fact that I ended up leveling Strength all the way to 40 in an attempt to give all the dozens of other weapons – including the super heavy ones – a fair shake. Unfortunately, there is a point at which an unupgraded weapon is useless no matter how much baseline attack it brings, and thus you can fall into the trap (as I did) of farming and farming to upgrade weapons that you end up saying No Thanks to.
The combat system in general and most bosses specifically are full of outrageous jank, IMO. Having a shield up 24/7 is how I approached most of the game as I found dodge-rolling to almost be entirely useless. Everything I have read indicates you get i-frames by rolling, but those only seem to exist insofar as your character is at half-height during the roll and the attack may be directed higher. For example, if you dodge-roll backwards but the enemy is doing a poke, you get hit. If you dodge-roll right but the enemy is doing a side-swipe, you get hit. Sometimes you can dodge-roll between an enemy’s legs, but sometimes they shuffle two pixels to the left and you just roll into their feet. Sometimes you can just strafe out of the way of attacks, and other times the attacks will auto-swivel your way.
Perhaps this is all a “Git Gud” scenario. I mean, I beat the game, so… maybe not. In any case, I’m not sure “Git Gud” slaps as hard when we’re talking about QWOP-levels of jank.
Having said all of that, the world of Dark Souls was incredible. More specifically, the level design. You don’t get the sense of how interconnected each area is to one another at first, but by about midgame everything starts fitting together in extremely clever ways. You have probably seen a cave loop around back to its entrance a thousand times in other games, but Dark Souls has a degree of coherence that feels wholly unique. The game is also full of shortcuts that allows you to acquire powerful items much earlier in the game if you have the knowledge to do so. The average player is never going to be able to take advantage of that, but I appreciate the willingness of the developers to not throw up arbitrary barriers in a lot of places.
Overall, I am glad that I played Dark Souls even if it was not the most enjoyable experience. Seeing where things began (Demon Souls notwithstanding) gives you a greater appreciation for where things have gone in the meantime. Plus, it is an extremely boldly-designed game that took risks to stay true to the designers’ intentions, and I respect the moxie.
I do already own Dark Souls 2, but I think I’m going to take a break from the tension and play other things for a while. Perhaps something in which I don’t have to worry about instantly dying all the time.
Momentum is more keenly felt in its absence. The more aware of it you are, the less of it you have.
It has been difficult to play much of anything these past two weeks, as I contracted acute bronchitis with a dash of viral pneumonia. Only today, day 12, would I say that things have downgraded to
tropical depression bad seasonal cold. My physical condition has made it difficult, as you may imagine, to make any meaningful progression in Dark Souls. And it is this progression that I fear may grind to a halt if I coast too much further or take an off-ramp to other titles.
The dilemma is not always present – I have juggled several games before. But it is arguable as to whether any said jugglees had momentum behind them. Or perhaps needed any. Some games just slip in and curl into your lap. Others require you to lean forward in your chair a bit. It is easier to keep leaning than to start again, though. Posture and all that.
Maybe some Youtube and going to bed early, again.
Enjoy your health, when you have it.
[Dark Souls] Day 5-??
This will probably be the last “Day” post about Dark Souls.
I am still playing and enjoying the game… to a slightly lesser degree than before. The first crack in the façade came from the Bonfire hidden behind an illusionary wall. Up to this point, I had considered Dark Souls to simply be amoral. I wasn’t even mad that I missed the Undead Merchant for 10 hours because the stairs to his location was hidden behind some boxes. But a Bonfire? That’s just cruel. Who the fuck even discovered that in the first place? Were people just randomly rolling around and bumped into it?
Speaking of incredulity, who figured out being able to head back to the Asylum? Or Snuggly? I expected to get some kind of prompt from Snuggly’s nest based on what I had read, but there was nothing. I didn’t even realize that you could just up and drop things on the ground. Engaging with this mechanic is not required for game completion, but it is one of those things I would have never figured out in a million years. In Metroidvanias like Hollow Knight and Ori, I do spend a little extra time attacking walls in case there are hidden areas, but Dark Souls is a bit too large for that to make sense.
The third crack came from the Stray Demon in the Asylum. Technically, this was the very first boss that I died to and was unable to retrieve my souls, but whatever. After struggling (read: dying) for quite some time, I finally had to look him up a bit. What was I missing? I knew to avoid being near the pillars as their destruction seemed to remove 95% of my HP. But his fire(?) AoE attack took 55% of my HP and seemed unavoidable, and applying Flash Sweat (reduce fire damage by 45%) did nothing. What was I missing? As it turns out: nothing. Being behind the Stray Demon is supposed to protect you from the AoE but the positioning is janky. Near the tail? Attack goes through his legs. Too far away from his legs? Attack mysteriously wraps around like a backdraft or something. The true answer is… you can block most of the damage with a shield. Ah. Just press L1 and this AoE fire-but-not-fire attack that wraps around everywhere just zoink, deals minimal damage.
Honestly, this wasn’t the first janky boss encounter either. During the Gaping Dragon fight, I was minding my business attacking his tail stump and one of his legs just up and one-shot me. But… I wasn’t near his leg. I started wondering how hitboxes work in this game, and how i-frames from rolling are pretty opaque mechanics-wise. Perhaps having your character change colors would not befit the nature of the game – like characters do when dodging in Metroidvanias – but it’s hard to feel satisfied with your actions as a result. Dodge-rolling always feels like a huge gamble, as sometimes it appears enemies will still turn to track you even when they are midair in the the middle of a jumping attack animation. Part of the “fairness” of Dark Souls comes from the notion that everyone is playing by the same rules. If you let an enemy get behind you, they will backstab you for a ton of damage, just like you can do to them. But more and more it’s becoming clear that some enemies (maybe all?) don’t get animation-locked as you certainly do in the middle of an attack.
I dunno. Dark Souls came out 12 year ago, got two sequels, and then Elden Ring became a wildly successful cultural touchstone (20m copies sold after 1 year). Nevermind how many ancillary games were created in the Soulslike genre in that time too. Clearly they got something right. And I still feel it in there, despite the fact that the game looks like it came out on the PS2 and is locked at 29 FPS.
I just wish it was a little more consistent. On the other hand, I am… kind of ignoring the several times the game trolls me with traps. Boulders, barrels, Basilisks. It does somehow feel like a very Dark Souls thing to do to suddenly say “Illusionary walls are a thing now, deal with it.” So maybe it is consistent.
[Dark Souls] Day 4ish
I rang the first bell.
The lesson learned with Dark Souls isn’t that the game is unfair, it is just amoral. It doesn’t care.
You fight one boss when heading to the bell, and then another one shows up halfway through the fight. During one attempt, the bosses flew through the air, landed on opposite sides of me, and both breathed fire in a cone attack – I was stunlocked into a fiery death. I just had to laugh. If this were a “proper” game, I would say that the boss design was terrible or punishingly difficult. And it is punishingly difficult. But on my next attempt, I somehow managed to get inbetween the legs of the first boss when the 2nd was summoned, and I… just kept wailing on him. Not sure if the boss was stunlocked by me or if it was some combination of the slope and/or me riding its crotch, but it just died without dealing any damage. Dispatching the 2nd boss was easy after that.
Way earlier in the level, there’s an intimidating armored boar. I don’t know its moveset because once I realized it would chase me down some stairs but not into the corridor at the bottom of the stairs, I just aggroed it, then stabbed it in the porkchops when it turned around. At no point was I in danger of taking damage.
In any other game, that would be an “exploit.” In Dark Souls, it’s just business.
The main complaint I have with Dark Souls though are the Bonfires. Not having one immediately before boss fights is whatever. Having Bonfires for the zone be behind fake walls is another thing altogether. Up to this point, Dark Souls has done a good job at organically teaching you mechanics. The hidden Bonfire in Darkroot Gardens though is just dumb. I could understand perhaps if the Bonfire was visible from the other side, e.g. you see it when returning from that area, but nope.
These days, I no longer have hang-ups surrounding looking shit up. Specifically, Bonfire locations, especially whenever I’m deep in a new zone and/or after killing a boss. Going in blind is kind of a big portion of the “fun” of these games, but… nah. Dying with the equivalent of two levels in my backpack and having to traverse an entire zone of mobs that can kill you real quick if you’re not meticulous is not my idea of fun. If progress was not lost, or perhaps if I had barely any souls at the time, I would be considerably more caviler.
Looking up anything is a slippery slope though, and I have slid further down than intended a few times already. Sometimes though, it’s difficult to feel too guilty. Basilisks, for example. I fell down a trapdoor in the Depths that puts you in the middle of like three of them, and I managed to take them out. If I hadn’t known about the Curse though, then I might have stayed in the fog too long and died an ignoble death while continuing to pay for it in the respawn.
Nevertheless, I am still having fun. So on it goes.
[Dark Souls] Day 3
I level up my base sword to +5 by farming souls. It’s not my “main” weapon, but until I find a Dexterity-based weapon, it is the one I have, so why not? This awareness, that one can farm currency/XP, dislodges something stuck in my mind. Where has this notion been in all the Git Gud conversations? Of course, there are probably limits to farming – practical or otherwise – and certainly you must respect boss mechanics. But there is a lifeline beyond trial and error, a sense of progression possible to afford you that slightest extra edge.
I feel more comfortable, even in unknown areas.
From the Blacksmith, I try and remember if there was a shortcut to the Undead Burg. Heading lower, I encounter a crippled statue thing that shoots lightning. I hit it once or twice, note how my power attack deals 15 damage, and then just run around it and down the hallway beyond. Kill some plant creatures. Walk to a vista area, look around for a moment, note “there doesn’t seem to be many mobs around here,” and instinctively turn around and parry the blow from another plant creature coming up behind me. Pretty sure getting hit where I was would have sent me flying over the cliff.
Keep heading down. Find a corpse with a bunch of leather armor and a bow. Head down further. Get waylaid by armored sub-boss. This one has a spear, so I spent a few minutes learning it’s moveset. As I circling him, I started walking down a ramp… and realized that his attacks couldn’t hit me. He eventually started using a new move that actually attacked downward, but I had already thrusted him to 10% from relative immunity. The corpse he was guarding has a shield that gives bonus stamina regen. Welp, that is probably going to be a forever item.
Keep heading down, found a Bonfire, now I’m in the Valley of the Drakes. Die a few times to the first Drake while I learn its moveset. Frustratingly die next attempt when the Drake had barely a sliver of HP; Dark Souls has zero remorse about you getting stunlocked in a lightning breath attack. Regain my souls, then fight it again. This time… the Drake leaps backwards off the cliff and dies. I run past another Drake on the bridge in order to loot the corpse there, then run away back up the elevator, save my game.
Darkest Dungeon plays in my head: “Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer.”
I know what I am supposed to do, where I’m supposed to go. But I don’t want to. Not yet. Still no Dex weapon. Should I just pivot into some Strength build? Should I murder the Undead Merchant (killing NPCs is definitely a thing in Dark Souls) for his sword? What are the odds that I care about Undead Burg in the future, especially considering how long it took to find the guy in the first place?
Soon. Not today, but soon.
[Dark Souls] Day 2
For the first time since becoming a father, and probably a bit before that, I played a game until 5AM. It was… ill-advised. For reasons unrelated to the game.
Suffice it to say, I’m having a good time in Dark Souls.
After spending mumble-mumble hours farming in the Undead Burg zone around the Bonfire, I started pushing some more progress. Dead bodies that have loot have a sort of white glow around them, and the fact that you retain items upon death naturally leads one to the occasional questionable strategic decision. Do I engage this clearly-powerful sub-boss dude, or try and run past him and loot the goods?
My first attempt to fight him actually went very well, until I died – got a lot of successful parries and ripostes, which deal massive damage. The next half-dozen were inexplicably worse. So I farmed some more levels, came back, and then… got curious how far he would chase me around. The answer is pretty damn far. Which meant I could circle back around an area, drop down to the dead body with loot he was guarding, snag it, and then re-engage in peace. As with many things, once the anxiety surrounding the reward was gone, I was able to casually poke him to death rather than committing to try and parry him.
In the next area, I went down a spiral staircase, encountered another sub-boss looking guy, and was one-shot through a shield at full health. Noted, game.
In the next area, I went
down up a spiral staircase and encountered the second main boss. It took two or three attempts to down it, but that was mainly because I don’t have a real good grasp on dodge-rolling yet. Does it give i-frames? Sometimes it looks like it does, and other times it clearly does not. Eventually I brute-forced learned the combat mechanics and down the boss went.
In the new zone, I eventually found the Blacksmith. This is actually the first vendor I found in the game. I am aware there is supposed to be another vendor in Undead Burg, which would have been real fucking convenient because 100% of my gear has came from rare (trash) drops from regular mobs. My character is a Thief with no Dexterity weapons aside from the starter one. I still don’t actually know where the other vendor is, but I’ll look later. Took down a sub-boss with the ole leisurely poke-in-stab, looted a reward that makes my health potions stronger, and apparently (hopefully) unlocked the ability to quickly traverse from this 3rd zone back to the beginning one. Or maybe that elevator was one-way?
Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me either way.
Posted by Azuriel
As a further sign of these
inflationarygilded age times, Amazon is altering the discounts associated with Amazon Coins, e.g. their virtual currency for apps sorta within the Amazon ecosystem.
In case you were wondering, right now the discounts are:
It is a fair question to ask “who even uses these things?” The answer is: me. Specifically and exclusively to purchase things within Hearthstone. The whole thing is quite convoluted, but if you download the Hearthstone app on your phone from the Amazon store (and NOT through Google Play or iPhone equivalent), then you have the option of paying for expansions (etc) using Amazon Coins.
As a real example, there is a new expansion coming out for Hearthstone next month. Blizzard is selling a pre-release bundle that features 60 card packs and two random Legendary cards for $49.99. It’s not a bad deal if you are committed to playing the new expansion, as getting packs for less than $1 apiece is “good” (technically $1.50 each normally), with the Legendary cards being bonus on top.
But an even better deal is paying Amazon $42.50 for 5000 coins instead, and buying the expansion that way instead. Technically you need a smidge more Coins because of tax – that’s always how they get you – but the overall discount adds up. Plus, if you already have a Amazon credit card, you get 5% cash back on top of everything else. There were even better deals way back in the day, when Amazon would give you 30% coins back, which allowed for some extremely cheap Hearthstone’ing.
After April 3rd though, that same deal will save you… $2.50. Which will probably be a wash considering the need for miscellaneous coins for tax. Not sure who bothers with Amazon Coins after this.
Posted in Commentary
Tags: Amazon Appstore, Discount, Hearthstone, Inflation