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Survival Survival: The Forest

Short version: Survival Horror, with more of an emphasis on Survival.

forest_1

Really nailed down the forest bit.

Right from the start, I just have to say that the Forest is one of the most visually impressive games I have played, and it’s still in Alpha. Specifically, I played Alpha version 0.52

The game starts with you on an airplane with your son. The plane crashes on an island, you see a dude in red paint and loincloth take your son away, and… action. Loot some airplane food for sustenance, grab the emergency hand axe from the body of a flight attendant, and you are in the middle of the forest. Good luck.

While The Forest initially plays out like your standard Survival game, it diverges in interesting ways. For example, most Survival games limit the amount of items you can pick up either by weight, or fitting into grid, or something like that. In this game, you are limited by type. For example, you can only carry 8 sticks… but can also carry 8 rocks, 20+ arrows, a half dozen medicinal herbs, four melee weapons, a few bombs, a bunch of animal skins, and so on.

forest_rainbow

Sometimes you gotta stop and smell the storage containers.

The other interesting bit comes in the form of logs. Logs are the basic building component for pretty much any structure, but they are much too large to carry around in your inventory. So… you carry them on your shoulders, one at a time. You can craft a “Log Sled” pretty easily, which allows you to store and easily move up to 8 logs, but the physicality of it all adds an unexpectedly potent bit of immersion.

Also, dude must be ripped and/or a lumberjack.

The main hostile force in the game are the cannibals. While I have not spent a whole lot of time testing things, the cannibals are absolutely not the sort of mindless enemy that traditional Survival games utilize. Sometimes they rush at you and attack. Sometimes they rush forward and stop when you don’t make some move to retaliate or run away. Sometimes they just get on their knees and worship you a bit.

As time goes on – and as you destroy the forest around you building tree houses – the cannibals get more hostile. And that’s when you start building traps, walls, and stocking up on armor made of lizard skin and leaves. Or perhaps you chop the cannibal corpses into pieces, and construct a burning effigy to establish your dominance.

It was around hour 10 when I descended into a cannibal cave, confident I had enough supplies and arrows to face what was down there. That’s when I saw it, while I was dangling off the end of 50 feet of rope:

forest_nope1

Nope, nope, nope.

That’s enough Forest for me, for now. I’ll… yeah, I’ll wait for Beta. Or release.

Or the heat death of the universe.

Edit:

Since that last screenshot is too dark, here is what the creature looks like via an in-game photograph:

theforest_legs

…yeah…

Can’t quite tell if it is supposed to be two women fused together, or three. Probably three.

28+ Days to Die

Okay, now I’m (probably) done with 7 Days to Die.

The one thing I really wanted to do was try and succeed at a randomly generated world. Which is kinda weird, since I’m not exactly a huge fan of procedural entertainment for its own sake. The issue in the absence of randomness is that… it’s not random – you know exactly where everything is. The specific loot might vary from seed to seed, but you’ll always know where the police station is, where there might be a gas station, ect.

Of course, random maps often end up like this nonsense:

7daystodie-terrain

Seems legit.

I almost abandoned my attempt within the first 30 or so minutes, simply because of how annoying it is starting back over. In my prior save, I already had crossbows, iron sledgehammers, and nearly all gun recipes. The real meat of survival games happens in that inbetween time where you are desperately scavenging for supplies while establishing a base. So while it’s fun stepping foot into zombie town for the first time, loot possibilities endless, it’s also highly annoying trying to break down doors with a stone axe. Oh, a gun safe? I’ll just break the lock… ah, right, Stone Age.

I kept at it though, and before I knew it, I had an impenetrable zombie base. Actually, I knew exactly when I had such a base, because I recognized the weird structure that lays atop a “hidden” bunker, and also knew that zombies can’t dig anymore, so the game was effectively over. I mean, there was still the very real chance at death due to zombie dogs, which I encountered several times while venturing about. But as far as Horde Night goes? I could effectively just go AFK while browsing Reddit while it occurred in the background.

7daystodie-fortress

Welcome to Thunderdome.

Later, I created a zombie cage with bars and spikes such that I could shoot/stab through the bars and even loot while the zombies couldn’t do much. I have yet to encounter the Screamer or Cop Zombie types, so perhaps increasing the difficulty could engender some additional feeling of danger.

Alternatively, I might be effectively done. Which is fine, considering I have been obsessively playing it for the last two weeks and have racked up nearly 60 hours at this point. Not bad for a game in Alpha. Indeed, the next update is supposed to have a Behemoth zombie that will topple structures with ease. Unless they let zombies aim at the ground though, bunkers will still be an I-WIN button.

In any case, I highly recommend this game.

I might also recommend waiting until at least Beta to get the most enjoyment out of it. But hey, if you catch it at $5 or $10, it’s worth the money if you think you might like zombie Minecraft.

7 More Days to Die

I technically wrote my last 7 Days to Die (7DTD) post last week. As of today’s post, I have more than 30 hours in the game.

Things were dicey there for a bit. As mentioned, I had a wooden house on stilts on top of a gas station. While I survived the 7th day zombie horde with ease – whose zombies automatically see you through walls – there was a night where some zombies made it to the roof and were mucking about, seemingly ineffectively.

7daystodie-Pillar.jpg

Cue foreshadowing.

When I tried to repair a bit of the damage they dealt, I noticed that 3-4 of my roof blocks kept falling down. As I was walking around on the remaining roof tiles trying to figure out why… the entire wooden structure collapsed. Which destroyed my forge and two wooden chests, instantly destroying all of the items inside. Apparently one of the stilts had been destroyed, destabilizing the structure.

It is the nature of these sort of games that such a setback is enough to justify starting a new map.

Although I wanted to give up right then, I decided to pack up what little I could salvage and then strike out into the world. If I was going to give up, I may as well poke around and get some additional experience with the game world, eh? After walking around for a while, I suddenly saw it:

7daystodie-Stadium.jpg

Home, sweet home.

Yep, a football stadium. Score.

Over the next in-game week or so, I holed up in a makeshift structure on the roof of the press box, making traps and speeding along the crafting path. I might have just stayed there permanently, but I had no source of Potassium Nitrate, which is a key component of Gunpowder. While I understand that this is good game design, e.g. not having all resources in the same biome, it was nevertheless extremely annoying. So, I packed up some supplies, and struck out into the world again.

In the course of my journey, I came across a burnt forest biome. While scavenging a destroyed house, I noticed a well. With a hatch. Hmm. Opened the hatch and descended down, only to see a bunch of wooden stake traps in front of a bunker door. I spent the waning hours of Day 21, e.g. horde day, tearing down that metal bunker door with increasing trepidation. I had no backup plan; it was either this or death.

When the door finally fell, I walked in and… yeah: Loot for days.

I created a makeshift barricade down near the bunker entrance, but it did not appear to be especially necessary. The zombie AI had little issue attacking me on top of the gas station or even the stadium, but they have significant issues with underground bases, apparently. Indeed, none of them even really got to the well itself. I have read on the forums that there will eventually be digging zombies or something, but it’s hard to imagine them being able to get through ~10 blocks of dirt and then the concrete bunker itself.

Ironically, this was another logical end point. All my resources were back at the stadium, but I had effectively found a zombie-proof base. It reminded me of the endgame of Civilization matches, where winning is a foregone conclusion and you are left with just the drudgery of going through the actual motions.

Nevertheless, I’m still playing. I ended up leaving the bunker and trekking to a snow biome to finally get some Nitrate. By the time I got back to the stadium, I sat through Day 28’s horde with relative ease. At the point I stopped, I had a mini-bike (7DTD’s only vehicle) all but completed, and was considering the logistics of moving all of stuff to the bunker, including fertilized dirt since the burnt forest biome is kinda depressing. But… nah.

Am I done with the game for now? Probably. Maybe. Who knows? Unlike many other #ForeverAlpha games, 7DTD’s forums have active developer commentary and updates scheduled. The next build, for example, is supposed to include electricity, wires, automated traps, and some base-destroying behemoth zombies for all your endgame needs.

The game is fun and compelling in a visceral way for me, but I’m definitely heading towards the tail-end of novelty and optimization. If I play some more, I’m abandoning the default seed (of which I downloaded a map; cheesy, I know) and heading to randomly generated worlds. I’m just worried that this game will go the same way as Minecraft: a fantastic sandbox that I play in Alpha/beta and then never go back to, even after they add all the good stuff by release.

Survival Survival: 7 Days to Die

In short: zombie Minecraft.

7daystodie-GasBase2.jpg

Fortress of Mostly Solitude.

7 Days to Die (7DTD) is a fairly robust post-apocalyptic survival sandbox game that features deformable terrain, zombies, and the titular over-the-top weekly attempt on your life. I played version 15.1, and the game itself has been in alpha since December 2013. I just purchased it in the recent Steam Winter Sale for $10.

As with most survival games, you start out mostly naked with limited supplies. Run around, punch some trees, craft a Stone Axe that will be your primary tool for most of the game. The nice thing is that just about every single thing in the game world is able to be manipulated or destroyed. Craft a Stone Shovel early on and you can pretty much dig to bedrock. Or just dig a large moat around your future fortress. Then fill it with wooden spikes.

The zombies in this game are fairly standard walkers and runners, at least as far as I have seen. There is supposedly a “heat” system in place that determines whether the zombies will be attracted to your location, and the zombies themselves apparently can hear you (including the noise you make opening your inventory). Oh, and smell you too, if you happen to be carrying any meat. In practice, there will basically be zombies around at night no matter what you do.

7daystodie-GasBase.jpg

Further back shot of home.

Speaking of zombies, there is an interesting interaction with them and the game world. Everything is destructible, remember? That also means by zombies. While they can certainly try to break their way through windows and doors, there is nothing stopping them from literally banging their way through the walls either. Even elevated positions are not immune, as zombies with readily take their rage out at anything near your location, including any sort of support structures.

Oh, and have I mentioned that there are (rudimentary) physics in the game? Alpha is alpha, so there are some goofiness like floating candles and such, but buildings can absolutely come tumbling down if enough supports are destroyed. (Cue ominous foreshadowing.)

Mechanically, the game is… in an interesting place. The early game feels fantastic. Looting feels extremely rewarding, as you can get some rather extreme rewards from any random pile of garbage. Things get weird in the mid-game though, around the Iron stage of crafting. At that point you are going to need a standard, defensible base to craft a forge, and then start harvesting a ton of resources. If you haven’t looted some critical tools before the Forge though – such as a Cooking Pot – you almost might be better off resetting the game. You can craft such things, but it is so far along the “tech” tree that most of the benefit is moot.

7daystodie-glass

It’s always nice to have choices.

Speaking of tech trees, there is a rudimentary leveling system in the game, somewhat similar to Ark. Honestly, the implementation needs some considerable iteration, as it is not intuitive at all. There are some “big” skills that cost 10 points per rank, and grant you thinks like faster Stamina regeneration or bonus damage to blunt weapons. There are also skills that only cost 1 point each, such as Mining, which are naturally raised by performing the skill in-game, but can be purchased outright. Then there are other ones, such as Leather, which just straight-up grants you the ability to create leather. But there are also schematics in the game that are required before you can craft certain items.

Like I said, the Skill/Leveling system needs some work. It feels good seeing your crafting skills naturally improving, but you also run into the Oblivion problem of incentivizing, say, crafting a hundred wood clubs to power-level your way to the next unlock. It also irks me a bit that Iron and Steel take the same materials, with the latter just being kinda arbitrarily locked behind “Construction Tools X.” Some kind of progression system is good, but I’m not sure this one is the right one.

Overall though, I am both impressed and pleased with 7 Days to Die thus far. I put in around 10 hours in two days, and will probably be stopping here. On my second character, I built a sort of wood treehouse on the roof of a gas station, and survived the 7th Day horde attack with relative ease. As I started digging a moat around the perimeter in anticipation of the next one, it occurred to me that playing any further was likely to result in me extracting all of the fun out of the game before it is fully implemented/tweaked.

Dirtbound

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.

Starbound_GasStation.jpg

Bold move, Cotton, let’s see if it works out for them.

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.

Why I’m Not Playing Black Desert Online… Yet

Well, for one thing, I never buy anything for MSRP.

The coverage for Black Desert has been extremely interesting. As noted over on Dragonchasers, a lot of the blog posts read really similarly: being overwhelmed by the map, the quest structures, the crafting, etc. Bhagpuss struck out on his own, of course, with a series of very compelling exploration posts. But perhaps the most intriguing point to be made came from Syl’s observation that:

If we are thinking more longterm however, there is one thing on the forefront of my mind since the beta: BDO is very playing alone together. There is not just very little opportunity to cooperate with other players, the game actively discourages player-to-player interaction on several levels

Nearly 100% of the coverage I have been reading has been solo-exclusive. Which… makes sense, considering this is a sandbox slash sandpark. But even though I feel a strong twinge to jump into Black Desert to fiddle with the AH – Bhagpuss mentioned a particular weakness in the player-made furniture market that got my AH senses tingling – the seeming lack of “endgame” focus somehow dampens my enthusiasm. What do you do on the regular at the end? Amass more wealth? Gank high-level players? Or, god forbid, “whatever you want?”

I have not actively participated in an MMO endgame in probably five years… but the possibility that I am able to is important to me. For some reason. Damned if I could tell you why.

Still, the game is on my radar and will be procured eventually. At something less than full price.

Review: Fallout 4

Game: Fallout 4
Recommended price: $25
Metacritic Score: 84
Completion Time: 22-100+ hours
Buy If You Like: Fallout 3, FPS Skyrim, Post-apocalypse recycling simulators

Not your father's wasteland.

Not your father’s wasteland.

After 95 hours of gameplay, I have come to one conclusion: Fallout 4 is one of the strangest games I have ever played. It is simultaneously brilliant and baffling; moving the franchise forward and pulling it back again; an unfinished and undocumented disaster packed with the most intricate of details.

Like I said: strange.

The main thing to understand right away about Fallout 4 is that it is almost a direct continuation of Fallout 3 (in terms of feel), and not Fallout: New Vegas. While many people say that New Vegas was the pinnacle of the (3D) series – and that may well be the case – it was also developed by an entirely different design team. Fallout 4 is a Bethesda game, not a Obsidian game, and so it has more in common with Skyrim than anything else.

From a gameplay perspective, Fallout 4 is the best that the series has ever been. The gunplay and FPS elements have been refined to the degree that it is now entirely possible to play the game without using the VATS system at all. Indeed, even when using VATS, time no longer freezes, but simply slows down, always keeping the player in the middle of the action. The addition of Legendary enemies (and their assorted loot) keeps enemy encounters relevant and exciting throughout the entire game. Many of the staple monsters in the game have received a conceptual facelift, such that Feral Ghouls, Deathclaws, and even the Sentry Bot feel both “new” and like they should have been that way all along.

Textless stories.

Textless stories.

Then there is the crafting. Oh, the crafting. Every single piece of post-apocalyptic debris is now salvageable into crafting components to support the Settlement-building part of the game, or the gun modding. This one “small” change completely shifts one’s exploration perspective, as now suddenly all the empty rooms you might encounter are full of the priceless treasures that are typewriters, office fans, and aluminum cans. Indeed, this might almost work too well, as it is easy to get distracted with salvaging these things rather than seeking out other, more hidden loot.

By the way, let me just say that Bethesda seriously nailed the ambiance and setting in general. Boston felt like a real (ruined) city, and not just a series of loading screens and skyboxes. Even the surrounding cities and suburbs felt like actual towns. Putting aside their gameplay elements, the addition of Settlements really went a long way in making the wasteland feel populated by real people, rather than simply being trash heaps from which raiders and enemies spawn.

That said… a lot of the rest of the game just feels off.

The Lockpicking and Hacking minigames are back, directly lifted from their original incarnations, unexplained in any real way in-game. Speaking of unexplained, the Settlement system has one of the worst UIs I have ever seen in a videogame. The Perk system overhaul is similarly ugly as sin, giving the illusion of depth but none of the functionality. Perhaps the Skill point system wasn’t all that much better, but at least each level felt like it had tangible progress towards a goal.

Some lines are okay.

Some lines are okay.

The voice-acting is extremely good, but the dialog itself (and the choices given) all seem rather bad. Indeed, this was the first Fallout game I have played in which the main story quest felt inconsequential, incomplete. Several times I had to look up what the main quest even was, as the “find your son” narrative receded into the background radiation of the wasteland.

All told, I played Fallout 4 for 95 hours and still ended up skipping a tremendous amount of the game. In all that time, I never got around to doing any quests for the Brotherhood of Steel, or visiting Salem, or even really poking around the bottom-right part of the map. There is so much more that can be done… and I’m unlikely to muster the drive to see it through. Does this indicate the game is deficient in some (many) ways? Perhaps. On the other hand, what right do I really have to complain about a game that generated 95 hours of entertainment?

The bottom line is that Fallout 4 is a game worth playing, whether you are a fan of the series or if this is your first Fallout title. I don’t think Fallout 4 is possible to become anyone’s favorite game, but there is more here than in 99% of the other games you could be playing.

Quick & Dirty Guide to Fallout 4

Just now picking up Fallout 4? I envy you.

Here is all the spoiler-free info I wish I had before I started playing.

The Baseline SPECIAL

If you are new to the series or just want a character build that works, I consider this the baseline:

TL;DR

TL;DR

The leftover points can be put wherever, but you’ll probably want to get Endurance to at least 3.

Why is this the best? Simple: it unlocks the largest amount of the best Perks in Fallout 4.

Strength – 3

Unlocks Armorer, the first rank of which will let you squeeze out some extra mileage from whatever armor you manage to loot; Armorer also becomes important if you decide to go the Power Armor route. The rest of the Strength tree is useless for anyone but melee character builds and can thus be ignored. Note, however, that Strength impacts your Carrying Capacity.

Luckily, Companions are easy to come by and can carry ~200 lbs of wasteland junk.

Perception – 4

Unlocks both Rifleman and Locksmith. Rifleman is probably one of the more absurd Perks in Fallout 4 simply because it increases the damage of pretty much all the weapons in the game: sniper rifles, shotguns, laser muskets, etc. Meanwhile, Locksmith will, of course, allow you to pick locks. Two things of note though: bobby pins are pretty common (no reason to take Rank 4), and you can recruit a companion that can unlock Master-level locks. As in, if you take that companion, you won’t need Locksmith at all. You’ll miss out on the XP and other companion banter however.

As an aside, Perception governs VATS accuracy, so you might want to dump some extra points in if you end up using VATS a lot.

Endurance – 1

Basically, there aren’t really any good Perks in this tree other than Toughness, which only needs Endurance 1 anyway. You should be able to easily reach your health regen needs via farming, resting, and so on.

Optional: Endurance 3 will unlock Life Giver, the third rank of which grants passive regeneration at level 16. Since you’ll probably want Endurance to be higher than 1 anyway just so you won’t be one-shot by grenades and such, this isn’t much to ask.

Charisma – 6

This is technically optional, but Charisma 6 unlocks Local Leader. The first rank of Local Leader makes it so that all of your Settlement Workbenches becomes shared stashes (for components only). Basically, if you want to engage with the Settlement minigame with any kind of seriousness, you’re going to need this Perk. Charisma also improves prices when buying/selling stuff with vendors by about 5% per point.

Optional: Charisma 1, if you are fine either Fast Traveling all the time, or otherwise don’t plan on doing much with Settlements. Just note that Charisma impacts your dialog success rates. You can generally cheese these with chems and reloading saves though.

Intelligence – 6

This is enough to unlock Science, Scrapper, and Gun Nut, e.g. the crafting trifecta. While it is possible to just get Gun Nut at Intelligence 3, you will be hurting for screws, a crafting component that is otherwise sparse in the wasteland; the first rank of Scrapper will get you screws for days by salvaging crappy pipe guns that drop from 99% of the NPCs you kill. Meanwhile, the first rank of Science will unlock a plethora of both gun mods and Settlement options.

Agility – 3

It’s enough to unlock Sneak. Keep in mind though, that Sneak is less useful in Fallout 4 than in games past, because non-aware hostile mobs do not show up on the compass ribbon. You can certainly hear them talking to themselves, but the likelihood of you actually using Sneak successfully indoors (for the delicious Sneak Attack Criticals) is pretty small. Outdoors, Sneak is almost superfluous as you can generally just crouch and snipe from afar.

Luck – 2

It has been said that Luck is one of the more powerful stats in Fallout 4, and that may well be true. However, unless you are willing to commit a lot of stat points, two is enough to unlock the first rank of Scrounger, which will pretty much solve your ammo problems for good. Plus, sell your unneeded ammo for cash.

Optional: Luck 8 for Grim Reaper’s Sprint or Luck 9 for Four Leaf Clover. Grim Reaper’s Sprint has always been pretty powerful in the other Fallouts, and it’s technically possible for you to unlock it at level 2, if you wish. Going all the way to Luck 9 will allow you to leverage a pretty absurd amount of Perk synergy: Four Leaf Clover procs will give you an auto-critical, which you can bank for whenever with Critical Banker, which do an impressively high amount of damage with Better Criticals, and will likely kill your target and possibly proc a full AP bar via Grim Reaper’s Sprint, letting you pump out more bullets and restart the process with Four Leaf Clover.

Advanced Tips

Been around the Wasteland a bit, eh? Okay, here are my observations from playing the game:

Free Stat Points

The stat Bobbleheads are back again, and picking them up increases the relevant stat by 1 point. In other words, if you have a specific character build you are going for, you can budget your SPECIAL stats accordingly. For example, my baseline recommendation has Charisma set to 6 for Local Leader. If you don’t anticipate using Local Leader until after you find the Charisma Bobblehead, you can set Charisma to 5 and use that extra stat point elsewhere.

Also, there is a “You’re SPECIAL” book laying on the floor in your former house in Sanctuary. Pick it up and you’ll get a free stat point you can place wherever you want.

Advanced Stat/Perk Planning

The Baseline I recommended originally simply gives you complete access to most of the best Perks right away. If you instead follow the Bobblehead route (e.g. relying on the free stat to meet requirements) though, you can do some goofy things… like this:

Almost makes me want to reroll right now...

Almost makes me want to reroll right now…

Or maybe not put it all in Luck, but split it into Perception and Agility. Or whatever.

In fact, you can go even further down the optimization route with the understanding that not only will there be “dead levels” in there where your best Perk choice will just be leveling up a stat, but also that you don’t necessarily even need a particular Perk until later in the game. For example, Science won’t be used for much until you start routinely encountering enemies with laser weapons. You won’t want to unlock Local Leader until you have a decent stockpile built up, so maybe use Charisma as a dump stat until the end of your 20s.

Collect that Junk… Intelligently

Nearly every piece of lootable debris can be broken down into useful crafting components, which will be important if you engage in the Settlements system at all. There are two tricks here that you should pay attention to though.

The first is “Tag to Search.” If you open your Pip-Boy and browse over to the Junk tab, one of the options should be Component View. This will show all the components your currently held Junk will break down into. If you notice any with Aluminum, Screws, Leather, Oil, Adhesive, Copper, or whatever you might be low on, go ahead and tag those. Within a few hours, you’ll start to have a Pavlovian response to Office Desk fans, Lighters, and similar items.

The second tip is to not just rely on scavenged items in the world. Vegetable Starch is a Cooking recipe that makes 5 Adhesive per batch. Cutting Fluid is a Chem Station recipe for Oil. But also do not discount your everyday friendly shop keepers in Diamond City and beyond:

Mouth literally watering.

Mouth literally watering.

I used to have a Leather problem. Then I realized that I can get Moe to part with 6 Baseball Gloves for 5 caps apiece. That’s 18 pieces of Leather for 30 caps. The other vendors are not as lucrative in say, Oil or Aluminum, but it certainly beats revisiting already-cleared factories scrounging the floor for cans or spending an insane amount of caps for “shipments of X” at several thousand caps apiece. Do a little browsing each time you offload your raider loot, and it will all add up.

Mod Shuffling

After doing some weapon upgrading, you might notice your inventory filling with random-seeming weapon mods. What is actually going on here is that whenever you replace one mod with another, the old mod is not destroyed, but removed and stored. You can take advantage of this fact to both access better mods than you may be able to craft, or even use it to bypass the need for Gun Nut entirely (although you’ll want it for other reasons).

If you come across a weapon with a mod you want – say, a Silencer – head over to the crafting table and act like you are creating a new mod for that slot. In fact, that is exactly what you are doing: replacing the current mod with hopefully the “None” or “Standard” version. Voila! Now you have a Silencer despite not having Gun Nut maxed out. Just keep in mind that mods are base-weapon specific. A Silencer for a Pipe Gun is different than a Silencer for a rifle.

Keep a Charisma Suit Handy

Caps are more important in Fallout 4 than they have ever been, and Charisma is your ticket to getting more of them. Before offloading your latest haul of raider loot, equip your Charisma Suit, e.g. all the items with bonuses to Charisma. It should not take you too long to find clothes with at least +2 Charisma, and you can stack two additional points from both Sunglasses and Pompadour wig. Each point of Charisma improves prices by about 5%, which absolutely adds up over the course of the game.

Speaking of Charisma, vendors, and caps…

Better Living Through Grape Mentats

One of the most insane chems in Fallout 4, Grape Mentats are a craftable variation on the standard Mentats that provides you with +5 Charisma and a 10% buying/selling bonus from vendors. Whether you stroll into Diamond City laden with raider loot or are eyeing a vendor’s Legendary equipment selection, you will want to take some Grape Mentats.

How much of a difference does it make? This much:

  • At Charisma 9: item costs 2331 caps.
  • As above + Grape Mentats: item costs 1366 caps.
  • As above + Cap Collector perk: item costs 1301 caps.

As you can see, Grape Mentats “stack” with Cap Collector, but not very well. Which is fine, because Grape Mentats are easy to make and have no prerequisites. The ingredients are: Hubflower x2, Mentats x1, Whiskey x1. Given that the latter two are everywhere in the game (including on vendors), the only difficult part is actually getting Hubflowers.

Luckily for you, I have found a few good locations:

You can never have enough.

You can never have enough.

The circled areas generally have 4+ Hubflower nodes in a small area. Said nodes do respawn eventually, on an unknown timetable.

Avoid the Designer Perk Traps

Certain Perks have always been hit-or-miss in the Fallout series (Nerd Rage! is still awful), but there are some that are worse than others this time around specifically due to decisions the designers have made.

For example, rethink your desire for a Sneak build. Sneak Attack Criticals are still in the game, but achieving them is incredibly more difficult this time around, and almost entirely superfluous. Non-aware enemies no longer appear on compass ribbon, so you almost have to make some noise to even know enemies are present. Sneak also requires heavy investment before you can move faster than an agonizing crawl, and you are likely to be instantly spotted indoors anyway. Making matters even worse, Fallout 4 has Legendary item prefixes that will double the damage of the weapon when used on enemies with full health, and another that adds an additional projectile. Why run around slow all the time when you can have a gun that basically gives you Sneak Attack Criticals by default?

Another subtle trap is Nuclear Physicist in the Intelligence tree. Take it if you want the Radiation weapon damage boost, but do not take it for the Fusion Core boost. Getting 25%/50%/100% longer duration on Fusion Cores sounds like something you’d want for a Power Armor build… right up until you realize that Fusion Cores can easily be bought from damn near every vendor in the Commonwealth. With Grape Mentats, I can buy Fusion Cores for 240 caps. So at Rank 3 of Nuclear Physicist (which requires level 26), I’ve spent three Perks all so I can… buy Fusion Cores for 120 caps. Rank 2 Cap Collector will get you infinitely more caps for two Perk points in comparison.

Other traps include Sniper and Penetrator in the Perception tree. While they perform exactly how they are described, the point is that they sound cool, but aren’t actually that useful. For example, if you are in a position to use a sniper rifle, you will typically be much better off waiting for your target to peek their head over cover and shoot them outside of VATS anyway.

Power Armor Decision

After one of the first quests in the game, you are given your very own suit of Power Armor. Deciding on whether or not you are going to try using it full-time is one of the more important decisions you can make. And, yes, you can use Power Armor all the time throughout the entire game. The only limiting factor is Fusion Cores, which aren’t actually that limiting at all in practice. But the question, again, is whether you want to use Power Armor all the time.

I'm tired of your shit, Preston.

I’m tired of your shit, Preston.

The benefits are pretty clear: an insane amount of armor right off the bat, allowing you to tank damage and most non-water sources of radiation. Additionally, Power Armor automatically sets your Strength to 11 with a corresponding increase to Carrying Capacity. The individual pieces of Power Armor do take damage and need repair, but it generally only takes a few pieces of steel to get them back up and running again. From a mechanics standpoint, Power Armor can’t really be beat.

…unless you don’t like skipping most of the other gameplay.

While in Power Armor, you do not receive any of the benefits of other armor you might be wearing. For example, I came across a piece of Legendary leg armor that increases my movement speed by 10%. I bought a Legendary arm piece that reduces damage taken by Human by 15%. Incidentally, this is why I say you’ll want to make the Power Armor decision early: to prevent you from spending 2000+ caps on gear instead of Fusion Cores. Running around in Power Armor all the time basically means all those items – and any you might pick up along the way – are functionally useless.

The more damning for me personally though, is simply how Power Armor feels while playing. You walk slower, all the time. Power Armor doesn’t impact your Sneaking ability from what I can tell, but you will certainly hear your own mechanical footsteps all the time. A large part of your screen will be taken up by the Power Armor UI, even if you aren’t wearing the helmet piece. And if you do wear the helmet piece, 100% of your character’s spoken dialog will be filtered through the face mask. At first, it’s amusing, but you lose a lot of the voice-acting nuances and emotion this way IMO.

It’s a tough decision, so take your time. It’s not the end of the world if you change your mind – you can command your companions to don the Power Armor in your stead (assuming they don’t already have their own suit) – but there is no real reason to “level up” both paths.

Fallout 4: Actual Impressions

I want to go back to playing, so let’s do this stream of consciousness style.

Bugs?

I’ve experienced very few, if any bugs. Or at least, I’m so used to Bethesda’s janky game engine that most things don’t register as bugs anymore. The only “game stopping” bug I’ve encountered has been when my Pip-Boy stopped showing up; it was technically there (I could hear the beeps) but it would not render. Saved my game, exited, and it was there upon my return.

Beyond that, I’ve seen Dogmeat fall off ledges, some enemies get stuck, and the AI act goofy in the thousands of ways you put up with in Skyrim for years.

#JustGameybroThings

#JustGamebryoThings

Considering I was fully bracing for the Fallout: New Vegas-esque “download a fan hack to be able to even play the game,” this is one of the smoothest Fallout releases, ever. The bar is laying on the floor, but still.

Gameplay

It’s Fallout 3/New Vegas.

…in fact, I’m almost concerned. I played those games so much, nearly everything about them is a known quantity. It’s like quitting WoW for a few years and then resubbing for the expansion – things have changed here and there, but you fall into your old habits pretty quickly. Fallout 4 is going to have to do a lot to surprise me in any way. Not that it has to necessarily, but it can’t rely on novelty to get me in the mood.

By the way, I know it’s largely a thematic issue and all, but it would it kill them to not reuse all the posters and even radio songs from Fallout 3? The asset recycling got so bad in New Vegas that the entire game ended up feeling like an expansion to Fallout 3 rather than its own game. Thus far, Fallout 4 is getting a pass from me (voiced main character adds a little… character, to the story), but it’s a tiny bit disappointing just the same.

Crafting

The crafting system in Fallout 4 reminds me of exactly how garbage-tier The Witcher 3’s crafting is. I’ll have to make another post on this topic, as I feel a rant coming on.

In Fallout 4’s case, the crafting system is both robust and perhaps too clever for its own good. As you may have heard, now everything is useful. Which is great! And miserably awful. Here is an example:

There went my afternoon.

There went my afternoon.

Rather than require discrete units of a particular item – such as Wonderglue in Fallouts past – nearly every goddamn thing in the game world can be broken down into crafting components. This is pretty cool, as it was a giant pain in the ass in prior games when you unlocked a weapon blueprint and then spent the next two hours desperately looking for that one specific item in all the junk of the world.

The downsides… are many, unfortunately. First, when everything is useful, you tend to want to grab everything. There was never any reason to hoard telephones and hotplates and all the random bullshit debris in abandoned buildings before, but now there is. Right now, screws in particular seem almost more important than purified water. I love how you can “Tag for Search” specific components though, as it will tag items you are looking at with a magnifying glass icon to remind you that you need to grab that specific thing without having to double-check some crafting spreadsheet.

The second issue is that it appears Bethesda really, really wants everyone to have Charisma 6 for the first rank of the Local Leader perk. Without that perk, all of the Workshops you encounter in the world aren’t connected, e.g. they are not a shared stash. Which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that you can easily grab 100 lbs of random garbage in any given building. Can you Fast Travel back to your whatever settlement you decide is your main base? Yep. Is it annoying to sit through those load screens just to unload your bags every 15 minutes? Yep.

The last thing that’s annoying feels like something that will get addressed with a fan mod eventually, but it’s still annoying right now. Basically, there’s no prioritization when it comes to breaking down “Junk” for crafting components. In the picture above, you’ll notice how one of the items being broke down is the Giddyup Buttercup Body. I actually already collected various pieces of this item (which is a little wooden horse toy), and I imagine that there may be some kind of trick or achievement to reconstruct it. Or would have been, had I not scavenged it for screws. Same deal with Deathclaw Hands: if you aren’t careful, those will be scrapped for generic leather, of all things. Not sure if there are craftable Deathclaw Gauntlets this time around, but for sure there are Baseball Grenades that require intact baseballs, and the game won’t stop you from breaking those down into leather either.

So the bottom line is that you have to be particularly vigilant when crafting lest you scrap an item you’ll need intact later. Which is a pain in the ass, considering Workshops have a “Transfer All Junk” button that’s too convenient not to use. I have taken to transferring everything over, then manually picking out what I suspect will be useful and placing those in a separate container.

Revamped Perk/Leveling System

I don’t know how I feel about it.

Actually, that’s a lie. Right now, I don’t like it. Back in the day, Skill Points were really like the old WoW talents in that there is really no “choice” in the matter (after you chose your direction) and the tiny incremental improvements didn’t feel that impactful either. That said, their absence leaves a void. For example, Sneak (Rank 1) makes you 25% harder to detect. Uh… 25% more than what? What’s the baseline? Another example are the gun perks, which gives a given weapon type (rifle, pistol, etc) +20% extra damage. There are level requirements to most Perks, so you can’t just get +80% damage with rifles right off the bat, but the difference between that first rank and not having one is immense.

I mean… okay… 20% immense, but still.

Amusingly, the way the game is set up, you can get at least a stat or two up to 10 right off the bat, granting you access to the “top tier” Perks straight away. Further ranks are gated by levels, but it’s an interesting approach. Want to be a level 2 character with Grim Reaper’s Sprint? Go for it.

The tricky part is that after character creation, the only way to access deeper Perks is to spend your Perk point from leveling up to raise the SPECIAL stat it corresponds to. Want to just start playing the game like a normal person? Fuck you, newbie, now you gotta spend the next four levels getting nothing of value. This is the situation I’m in with the whole Local Leader perk – in order to get one rank in Local Leader, I’ll need to dump three points into Charisma to unlock it (I only had Charisma set to 3 at the beginning). At the moment, I’m thinking that I don’t actually need that perk that bad, but it still sucks knowing that I could have “fixed” things at the beginning had I not, you know, started playing the game.

Skip “optimizing the fun out of the game” one time, and this is what happens. Lesson learned.

More?

Yes. Despite the negatives above, I have a burning desire to get back to playing. And I shall do so.

Facepalm: Witcher 3 Edition

I have been holding back on Witcher 3 discussions, in the vain hope that I will encounter the brilliance everyone else appears to see in it. But yesterday the game finally reached it’s unintentional shark-jumping moment to me:

So much for immersion.

So much for immersion.

The phenonom is not new. The Blade of the Bits was a quest reward, crafted by the legendary Hattori blah-blah, master craftsman, at the end of a high-level quest chain. The sword was said to have no equal; “a sword to outshine all others.” Peerless… aside from the goddamn common sword of the same level with better stats (!?) that Hattori himself is selling.

Many RPGs fall into this same trap. In fact, it’s rare that an RPG with a crafting system doesn’t. Remember Skyrim with that stupid amulet quest that rewards you with a 1,000+ year old neck piece that’s worse in every way than the stat bauble you crafted at level 10? If the best gear came from drops alone, crafting would largely have no point; the reverse is not true, however, as it rewards players for engaging in the crafting system while not necessarily penalizing players who skip it.

But goddamn if this particular issue is not just another glaring hole in the abyss of Witcher 3’s broken-ass game design. Immersion? Spot-on. Side quests having weighty story bits? Absolutely. But Witcher 3 fails at every other thing that makes a game a game. You know, the actual systems part? This Hattori thing is just a symptom of a much larger issue that apparently everyone is willing to ignore. Namely, the leveling, the crafting, the item collecting… basically all of it.

Bah. I’ll likely finish the game within the day, so I’ll save the full deconstruction for the review.