In Starbound, I have officially surpassed the number of hours I spent playing Terraria. And I am more convinced than ever that Terraria is the superior game.
Simply put, Starbound is a game of multitude of systems that have zero synergies with each other. Dig dirt, mine for ore, create armor, and so on. Pretty basic stuff, right? Not really. The actual crafting mechanics in Starbound are terrible, as are 99% of the items you can craft. Your “tier 1” armor is made from iron and woven fabric (made from plant material), but tier 2 is made from tungsten and cotton wool. Not only does this skip Copper, Silver, and Gold ores, but I’ve been playing 20+ hours since the 1.0 release and have encountered a grand total of three (3) cotton plants.
I can understand if the cotton bottleneck was intentional. But it’s not: the interplanetary gas station sells every fabric type other than cotton.
You can’t explain that.
Indeed, it seems like the devs simply abandoned any attempt to structure progression in the face of a billion procedurally generated worlds (filled the same three enemy attack types). Matter Manipulator modules are a sort of upgrade currency that can be found in nearly every box, everywhere. So are the tech cards, which unlock double-jumping and the Metroid-esque ball rolling. Getting those upgrades early kinda sorta maybe trivializes a lot of the content that comes later. And it’s not as though you get more of them in more dangerous areas – the algorithm basically puts one in 25% of all containers.
Then there is the fact that the best items are drops, full-stop. I mean, I get it, trying to balance gear progression around both player crafting and dropped loot is hard. But the fact that there are effectively zero good weapons from crafting means that that entire element is gone from the game. So your whole desire to dig for ore is reduced to the amount you need to craft the next tier of armor. Without the desire to dig though, you don’t, which means you’re just exploring the surface of the world and missing out on all the dungeons/set pieces that exist beneath it.
“But what about building bases and such?” Yeah, that’s still there. Given the default “survival” mode requires constant eating, it makes sense for even a story-focused character to stake out a simple farm. But honestly? It’s about a million times easier just coming across an already-built set piece randomly, and then planting your flag on it. Or tearing one down and transplanting it elsewhere, as opposed to crafting the individual components.
I don’t know. There are a million more things going on in Starbound than Terraria, but Terraria actually has synergy between what its got. In Terraria, the houses you build unlock NPCs you need, and the act of building settlements attracts monsters and even bosses. The deeper you dig, the more dangerous stuff appears. You can actually craft cool shit in Terraria. All the pieces fit together into a cohesive whole. In Starbound? Not so much.
Things are shaping up to be an expensive August, games-wise.
Tomorrow August 12th we have No Man’s Sky releasing. I won’t be there on Day 1 for multiple reasons, the primary of which this is one of those games I need to see other people play first. The premise? Super cool. But what about the gameplay itself? I am not especially an Explorer type, so if the moment-to-moment fun isn’t there, I’m going to be disappointed. Or not, having not actually purchased the game yet.
August 23rd is the surprise (to me) release of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Kinda snuck up on me there. As I mentioned last year, this one is a Day 1 purchase, Day 1 Embargo tags be damned. At the time of this writing, DLGamer is offering a preorder for $42, which approaches the point at which it almost doesn’t matter that it’s a preorder. I’m expecting Human Revolution 2.0 and anything more than that will be gravy.
Finally, August 30th is Legion, of course. As I have mentioned in the past, I am buying Legion at some point. Whether that point was going to be halfway through the expansion for half price as I did with Warlords of Draenor, or earlier, I had not decided. Note the past tense there. I have been very impressed with the Audio Dramas (or specifically the transcripts), the Harbinger series, the Illidan thing, and so on. While I understand that those things often bear no resemblance to in-game experiences, it is enough to get me excited just the same. This is the first time since Wrath, really, that I feel like there is a narrative worth exploring here.
Okay, so maybe there are only three games in August I’m looking at. Still, it has been months since I’ve felt the need to buy something Day 1, and now there are three options coming out.
Well, the mystery of how Overwatch is going to make money in the future has been revealed:
The new skins, sprays, and so forth come from limited-time-only Summer Games loot crates. Players will receive a free crate upon logging in, but here’s the rub: Summer Games items cannot be purchased with your stockpile of credits, nor can Summer Games items be found in standard loot crates.
In other words, Blizzard has just created a set of new skins for all the characters, and are locking them behind limited-time paywall lootboxes. Specifically want the new Tracer skin? Good luck. You cannot specifically purchase a skin, nor can you craft one with in-game currency.
This particular pivot boggles my mind. Blizzard went from one of the most fair, egalitarian business models I have seen in videogames… to pretty much the worst possible one. Sure, they are just characters skins and “don’t matter.” At the same time, if any of these particular skins did matter to you, then, well, get fucked, I guess.
If this is indicative of Blizzard’s future direction with Overwatch, I just got a lot less interested.
[Fake Edit]: Jeff Kaplan has come out and specified that you can choose to receive a Summer Games lootbox when you earn a lootbox normally, e.g. when gaining levels. Good luck grinding that shit out in three weeks though. Making the in-game currency useless for these time-limited events is still a travesty.
I played through and “completed” Starbound about 5 months ago, and my conclusion was:
And now, even if the devs end up finishing Starbound, I will have already consumed the lion’s share of the game’s novelty – that ever-finite motivational resource. No more character wipes? Then I’m already at endgame. Character wipes? I already know where to go, what to look for, how to overcome the obstacles, and basically speed my way through normal progression. Assuming I can be bothered to do so a second time.
I’m here to say that I’m wrong, and pretty much all fronts. At least, so far.
For the most part, I wasn’t planning on coming back to Starbound, but I needed a game I could sink my teeth into that also did not require uninterrupted time. Clash Royale and Overwatch used to be my “don’t know my schedule” games, but I’m still adapting to cohabiting with another human being.
And that’s a problem with a rather large number of games, actually. Meanwhile, Starbound is two clicks away from Save & Quit, and they fixed the “issue” with you being teleported back to your ship if you exit the game. Which I had utilized previously as a tricksey way of not having to climb out of the planet-sized hole I dug, but nevermind.
The, ahem, core mechanics of Starbound have not changed, but the tech tree, what minerals show up where, the quest structure, essentially enough has changed to make the experience fresh again. For example, one minor change the devs made was to introduce a sort of invulnerable ghost creature to the moons that contain your FTL fuel. While it is tacitly annoying (and deadly) in the same way as I talked about those Wasted SOB Purifiers before, they achieve a similar purpose – change the way you approach the game. Before, the most deadly thing about stocking up with infinite FTL fuel were meteor showers, which could only kill you in the two seconds before you burrowed underground. Now? It’s a risk/reward decision on how much fuel you grab on the surface (i.e. not much), and meanwhile you’re actively playing the game so as to not get stuck in a hole while getting chased.
So, yeah. The game definitely feels more finished than it did before. I will say though, that the first couple of story missions have been the exact same as the ones I played through previously. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing… so far. We will see how things progress as I approach the endgame. Considering I already have 32 hours in Starbound, perhaps it doesn’t matter.
Then again, the bar Terraria set is still at 50 hours.
Now that my move has more or less been completed, my attention has shifted to Legion.
Remember when Ghostcrawler mentioned that Blizzard didn’t like to change things too much between expansions since change can be overwhelming? I laughed then. I’m not laughing now. Seriously, I actually played in the current expansion (about a year ago), and my eyes glaze over just at the thought of looking at Wowhead again.
Some of that will likely go away if I just, you know, jump back into WoW. But I don’t enjoy blind jumps. I need to have some kind of idea first. I enjoy research. Legion research though? Jesus. It’s not even as though you can ignore the Artifact stuff either, as that will be mission-critical in a few months.
After spending considerable time looking over things, the classes and specs that piqued my interest the most were Rogue, Death Knight, and… basically that’s it. Maybe Enhancement Shaman and Affliction Warlock also. My namesake Paladin? Not so much.
I do know that Blizzard spent a lot of time focusing on the “fantasy” of the various specs, and it shows in the talent choices and such. For example, I do get the impression that Destruction Warlocks are all about chaos, fire, and… ripping holes in dimensions. Okay, that one might be a bit weak, but still a massive improvement over the prior fantasy of “Fire Mage.” Shadow Priests seem pretty cool with the Cthulhu business. Rogues have more flavor than which DPS cooldown you want to use now. I especially like how Assassination is poisons and bleeds whereas Sublety is more mystical shadow damage-esque.
Indeed, the flavor thing is really bringing me down when I think about my former main, which spent most of her time as Retribution. What’s the fantasy of Retribution? There isn’t much, you know, retribution going on. Eye for an Eye is neat, I guess. And, whatever, there’s Retribution, but you know what I mean.
You can’t even really say “holy damage” because Exorcism is gone, along with Hammer of Wrath, and basically Execution Sentence (now a talent) and Consecration (mutually exclusive). I thought it was bad last year, but now it’s even worse; I expected nothing, and was still disappointed. The spec seems entirely reliant on Ashbringer for its whole fantasy.
For as flavorful as paladins can be conceptually, the amount of squandered possibility is sad.
And that’s moving today. Around three miles away, but still.
It’s a relatively inconvenient time though, with all the discounts and pre-expansion patches and such.
I was very, very tempted to pop the first of my nine WoW Tokens (purchased over a year ago) on Monday to ensure I wasn’t holding onto goods that would be deprecated. Then I thought through it rationally. “Okay… so I’d be spending a Token worth X amount to save… what? More than X amount?” A year of “lost” Garrison revenue has led me to believe price inflation would have rendered me non-competitive anyway, assuming I even had the time to spend dicking around the AH at the moment. Which I don’t.
Still, I will be in Legion. I haven’t decided if it will be right at the start, or later on like with Draenor.
Meanwhile, the Guild Wars 2 expansion is currently selling for $25 for another week or so. Although my attempts to get back into GW2 earlier this year didn’t go particularly well, I feel that part of that was due to the lack of buy-in. Not necessarily in forcing the feeling of investment per se, but knowing that next to none of the content I had access to would be new. Want to try the Revenant? Nope. See new zone? Denied. Living Story? Sorry, that’ll be a few thousand gems.
On the other hand, half off something I don’t ultimately end up using is 100% wasted. So we’ll see.
The last deal I wanted to mention was that current Humble Bundle in which they are selling Battleborn for basically $15. That’s gotta sting, yeah? From $60 to $15 in 2.5 months. I was tempted to pick it up… for Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel, not for Battleborn. On the other hand, I’ve mainlined Borderlands 2 to the degree that I’m not even sure I want to play that type of game anymore.
Hmm. Perhaps this move hasn’t impacted my purchasing decisions as much as I thought it has.
I am currently playing through a rougelike called “Wasted,” and the experience has been interesting. It is an Adult Swim Game that I believe came in a Humble Monthly Bundle or something, as I don’t remember purchasing it. The premise is very non-serious – think Borderlands rougelike with permadeath – but that’s not particularly relevant. What’s relevant is the addition of the SOB Purifiers.
The general gameplay in Wasted pretty common in terms of opening doors, killing enemies, avoiding traps, grabbing loot. After about two minutes on each floor though, an extremely deadly (albeit predictable) enemy spawns at the entrance and slowly makes it way towards you. The first few times I encountered these SOBs, I very nearly quit playing the game entirely. Why do they need to exist? How much bullshit is it that their miniguns basically stunlock you? The SOBs seem to have sucked all the fun out of exploring the levels.
After a while, I realized something. Namely, that I wasn’t experiencing Fallout-esque burnout.
As the developer has gone through great lengths to point out in the Steam forums (even getting a bit saucy in the process), the Purifiers exist as a gameplay element to shepherd the player around and drive them forward. You aren’t supposed to be exploring, you should be making some strategic gambles on your way to the exit. If I had all the time in the world, I would be fully healed before opening any door, spending 99% of the gameplay crouch-sneaking, and micromanaging an incredibly-limited inventory with the attention of Warren Buffet. In other words, I’d be playing it just like I play every other post-apocalypse game. Or most games, period, if I’m honest.
Other roguelikes have addressed the “problem” of over-exploring characters with Hunger mechanics and the like, but the Purifier feels really interesting to me now. Mechanics like Hunger don’t actually impact my behavior in those games; if anything, it just makes me more committed to looting all the things in the vain hope that there is some half-rotten morsel in that broken filing cabinet. Hunger also evokes that most-hated of all gameplay mechanics: the Breath meter in underwater levels. It feels oppressive, cheap.
After I got over the first few bullshit deaths to Purifiers that nullified hours of progression, I started to realize how… well, elegant is not the term, but perhaps “fair” they are. The Purifiers always spawn in the same location (the entrance to the floor you started on), after roughly the same amount of time, and always move towards your location decently slowly. If you happen to be in a circular sort of area, you can lure them to your location and then double-back behind them. Yeah, getting caught in a long hallway or dead-end sucks, but the Purifier’s arrival is announced both when they spawn and as they get closer to your location (the music changes).
In a real sense, Purifiers give you a sense of agency that Hunger does not. If I hit a fork early in a level, I might skip the locked door (which the exit is never behind) so as to give myself more time to explore a later fork. Or maybe I’ll lay some traps near the entrance to the level so that the Purifier spawns in a mine field that will hopefully cripple a leg and give me additional time. And, hey, even if I just barely escape through the exit at the last possible second, I know that I still get a full X minutes to explore the next floor without having to worry about them. That is a far cry different than Hunger or whatever, which often represents a cumulative loss of time.
For the record, I am taking this mechanic way more seriously than the game does. Indeed, the premise of the game is drinking Booze and getting radioactive hangovers that will help/hurt your next Booze run. But the problem that Wasted solves with Purifiers is a problem that exists in every roguelike (and arguably any survival game), and it’s the best solution I’ve seen in quite some time. I’m not sure it would be especially applicable in future games ala Fallout 5, but I hope the eventual solution is more akin to this than something else.
I don’t think I can stand the freedom to collect 10,000 tin cans anymore.
Have you seen this adorable thing?
Whoever walked into that Nintendo exec meeting with that in their pocket better have gotten a raise.
I’m not going to go over the details of what games it includes and all that – once again, there are a million different blog posts about it – but I did want to briefly comment on my reaction to it. Namely, it’s brilliant. And what is especially brilliant about it is the fact that it costs $60.
See, you can get a Raspberry Pi 3 for $30-$35 and potentially create your own emulator that plays all the games. But between the Pi 3 itself, some kind of enclosure for it, the microSD card, the controller, and all the steps necessary for piracy… well, let’s just say there is a point at which it’s better to just go legit. And, shit, how much would people pay for a tiny nonfunctional NES on their shelf in the first place? The fact that it plays actual games is probably a bonus.
We’ll see this holiday season whether or not the internet hype over the device translates into actual dollars. I hope it does… because I’m hoping for a SNES version later. Can you imagine? Super Metroid, FF6, Chrono Trigger, A Link to the Past, Secret of Mana, Mario Kart, and so on.
Then it will be on like Donkey Kong (Country).
Recommended price: $5/bundle
Metacritic Score: 80*
Completion Time: 14 hours
Buy If You Like: Match-3, Dating Sims, Being embarrassed
Let’s get this out of the way: HuniePop is essentially a dating sim in which you attempt to sleep with as many anime girls as possible. The default Steam version is “censored” (uncensored patches are available) but this is still a game that you are going to likely need to play in Offline mode with the door closed. And you’re still probably going to feel a bit embarrassed.
That said? I found the actual game elements to be incredibly engaging. The main game component are the Dates you go on, which play out in a Match-3 game in the same vein as Bejeweled, Candy Crush, Puzzle & Dragons, etc. The differences are the sort of progression mechanics involved.
Each girl has their preferred Affection token and least preferred (e.g. Red vs Green, etc) which affects the score multiplier for when you match said tokens. Then you have Romance tokens which don’t grant scores when matched, but instead boost the overall score multiplier. Then there are Sentiment tokens which, again, don’t affect the overall score but give you resources to then utilize up to six different Date items, which are sort of power-ups you choose ahead of time. Then there are Joy tokens, which grant additional turns when matched. Finally, there are Broken Heart tokens, which reduce your current score by a percentage, making them an escalating threat as you near your goal.
Oh, and you only have a limited number of moves to reach your goal. And matching 4-5 in a single move sometimes grants special Power multiplier tokens of that color. And you can upgrade Traits which generally improve the score multiplier of certain colors, or increase the limit of Passion levels, or increase the odds of Power tokens appearing.
Did I mention each successive Date has a higher score requirement to reach?
Successful Dates grants Munie, which you can spend on gifts, food, and drinks as you try to woo a girl. Successfully giving the girl the answers she wants to hear gives you Hunie, which is the upgrade currency. Giving the correct gifts to a girl also grants you a Date item, of which there are a wide variety that can change your general strategy. For example, some items increase the odds of a specific Affection token appearing, which is nice to swap in when Dating a girl who prefers that specific token. Other items transform all Broken Heart tokens into something good, or give you +3 Sentiment for every 4-5 of-a-kind match for the rest of the Date, and so on.
Outside of the game mechanics, I have to say that the writing and voice acting is pretty hilarious. Stereotypes abound, with the Indian yoga instructor, the tsundere, the girl next door, and what have you, but the dialog itself remains amusing throughout. If some of the responses seemed rote by the end, it was only because I realized I had played this game for 15+ hours and unlocked all the special characters. Without failing a single Date, mind you.
As to whether this game is worth it appearing in your Steam library… that still comes down to your own comfort level. The Match-3 and general progression component is actually very good, and absolutely could (and arguably probably should) stand on its own. The dating sim bits? Not so much. This is definitely a kind of “read Playboy for the articles” situation, just less socially acceptable.
But you know what? I both played it and wrote a review about it. So, you’ll probably be fine.
I dislike talking about the same thing as everyone else, but… it’s impossible to ignore.
The best thing I can say about Pokémon Go is that it is a case study in accidental viral marketing. Or would it be grassroots social media marketing? I only know my beach vacation went from zero to “pull into that parking lot, honey” within hours on Thursday.
Both Google search trends and Nintendo’s stock prices bear that suddenness out:
By the way, $1000 on Nintendo last Wednesday is $1571 as of Monday night.
The aforementioned request for a detour was from someone who had no interest whatsoever in videogames, and by all indications still has no interest today. But I am absolutely certain that when she is out and about in town this week, she will be taking the “scenic” route through the red zones in order to get some more PokéBalls.
The other thing I’ll say about Pokémon Go is that its fascinating witnessing a perfect storm in motion. This isn’t the first Augmented Reality game to come out – Niantic were the ones to release Ingress, whose bones make up the entirety of Pokémon Go. No, this is what it must have felt like back in 2004, when WoW came onto the scene and blew up. Popularity basically beyond all reason.
And that is essentially where I am: watching this “game” be popular beyond all reason. It is impossible to “play” in every context in which I would play any game, it drains battery like nothing else, it gets full access to your Google account, and it’d waste my time even if I had never downloaded it in the first place (i.e. by the detour requests). I get that it’s nice fun for the whole family, blah blah, people actually moving around outside, etc.
Know what I see? A whole lot of more oblivious people walking around staring at their phones.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to clear my plate.