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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.

Arked

Maybe there was some fanfare somewhere, but it came as a complete shock to me that Ark came out of Early Access this past week. As in, it’s fully released. It even has a Big Boy Pants price going on:

Ark_Price.JPG

Glad I picked it up for $12 a year and a half ago.

Deleted my prior saved game and started fresh on a “Single Player” server. The results were… rough.

The early-game in Ark is essentially broken as shit. I spawned in the “Easy 3” section of the default Island, which puts me on a beach. The first few minutes is the traditional Minecraft experience of punching trees to create tools. As you gain levels, you can spend Engram Points to purchase schematics according to your level, which kinda allows you to differentiate yourself between a builder or scavenger or whatever. Which is fine, but particularly sucks in single-player considering that I’m level 10 but still can’t build a Thatch house (since I went for weapons).

The real problem though is the absurd difficulty spikes. The beach where I spawned has a cliff face blocking access to the interior of the Island, and the water is filled with massive sharks. No matter which direction you travel down the beach, there are extremely aggressive raptors essentially trapping you in a corridor of death. You can respawn after being eaten, but whatever items you were carrying will have been dropped, and the dinosaur responsible will still be by your corpse.

Ark_SpawnCamp

Carno corpse camp.

Oh, and your items despawn after 15 minutes.

In other words, in the early game, consider your former items to be permanently lost. Which wouldn’t be too bad if not for the fact that getting back to some baseline of combat readiness requires you to punch trees, craft a Pick, mine some stone, create a Hatchet, gather some wood, then make some Spears. Oh, and hold E down when near about two dozen bushes so you can craft some clothes. All so you can maybe engage some raptors that you cannot outrun and will likely kill you. So you can do the whole thing over again. And by the way, you can actually spawn into the game right next to a raptor or T-Rex and start getting eaten before you even have full control of your character.

If you make it past this early game though, you can craft a house and a bed that will let you respawn at a stationary location. And perhaps build some storage containers filled with surplus equipment, so that you aren’t starting from zero every time.

Ark_HellNo

Carno, Alpha Raptor, Therizinosaurus? No thanks, I’m good.

This terrible beginning experience will not deter my Sisyphean struggle however. Part of the reason I stopped playing Ark 1.5 years ago was the terrible optimization that caused my PC to run it at 24 FPS max. With some settings tweaks, the game runs basically around 50 FPS at all times now. I’m hesitant to say everything is fixed on this front though, because I have a GTX 1060 now instead of a 970, so your frames might vary.

In any case, what I’m curious about is how the single player portion will play out. Supposedly there is an actual storyline involved, rather than this being a pure sandbox experience. [Fake Edit: Nope, no story] I routinely boot up 7D2D despite there not being any particular narrative, but the fundamental fact is… I like these sort of survival games. Ark scratches that “collect hundreds of Wood to build things” itch, in spite of being unbalanced as hell thus far. So, I will persevere. And should the boulder roll back down, I shall smile as I walk back down to push it up again.

At least, unless I spy a more interesting boulder somewhere else.