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A Slower Drip: My Time at Portia

My typical gaming M.O. is to choose a different genre of game after focusing on one in particular. So after Forager, I should have picked something that was not another crafting/farming/grinding game. Following that ancient edict just left me with not wanting to play anything at all though. So, realizing that I am an Adult© with the means and opportunity to do Whatever the Hell I Want™ I decided to head right into My Time at Portia.

It’s good to be back.

My Time at Portia is a Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley game set in a bizarrely upbeat post-post-apocalypse future. There are ruins and collapsed buildings in the skybox, there are tales of the Age of Corruption, and even a period of darkness in which the skies were blackened for over 300 years. And yet the hero who cleared the skies is a man named Peach, the monsters you fight are things like Panbats (bats with panda faces) and sea urchins that float around with the help of balloons, and similar nonsense. It is all very cartoony and whimsical and doesn’t take itself especially seriously.

One element I do like that shakes the formula up a bit is how your character is a Builder and not a farmer. You can have farm plots and a stable and grow things if you want, but the primary mechanism of advancement is, well, building things. You can take one Commission a day from a posting board (“I need 3 Rubber Belts”), townspeople will occasionally ask you to build an irrigation system for them, some elevator needs repaired so investigations into water supply issues can be resolved, and so on. A lot more crafting than farming, in other words. This solves the sometimes awkward problem of having unlockable crafting tiers of items that you only ever make one of and never use the crafting table again.

While it has been an enjoyable game thus far, I do think I am over-optimizing the game a tiny bit. I am not even past the second season yet and have already unlocked and am using the highest-tier tools and Workbench. There are still longer-term items to purchase (expanded housing plot, etc) and upgrade, but I am primarily “done” in terms of exciting progression, e.g. needing a specific tool to gather a particular resource. We’ll see how the rest of the game pans out.

Having said all that, I am certainly doing what I enjoy. It is not ARK or 7 Days to Die or more freeform crafting-survival, but My Time at Portia scratches similar itches for the time being. It also feels more relaxing than even Stardew Valley, as you can tweak settings like Day Length to give yourself more time to explore/talk to townsfolk. If this is what you’re looking for, well, you found it.

Mainlining Forager

If you ever need to know what my game type is, look at Forager.

Look at all those resources, just begging to be collected.

Forager is distilled, crystallized, crafting/collecting. Everything is stripped down to their elemental components. You are on an island with constantly respawning resources… like every 20 seconds. You bash trees and rocks until you build a Furnace, which you use to smelt iron and gold into bars to craft more buildings. You get XP for everything, and on level-up you get Skill Points to unlock new buildings, buffs, and gear. Once you have acquired enough gold currency, you can “purchase” new islands, which you build bridges to reach. Said islands expand your access to resources, including new ones, along with enemies and item drops. Rinse and repeat, until you have unlocked half the world and you have automatic resource gathering (to an extent), banks minting gold for you, while you are off scraping the landscape clean with lightning wands and magic scrolls.

The first time I booted the game up, I played for three hours straight.

What is extra interesting to me is examining the components of Forager in terms of other games I play and enjoy. Stardew Valley, for example. You can technically farm in Forager: there is a shovel tool for digging plots, a Windmill building to create seeds from already-gathered plants, and even sprinklers to automatically water said plants. But plants in Forager bloom in like 30 seconds. And you’re just as likely to get a similar yield just blasting everything on the screen along with piles of other components. So not really like Stardew Valley at all. 

Now that I think about it, Forager is kind of like a parody of survival/crafting games. Similar to Progress Quest back in the heavy JRPG days, or Cow Clicker during the rise of Facebook games. As it turns out, sometimes parody becomes more fun than the game it makes fun of. 

I will reach a natural satiation point eventually. It may be very soon, as most of the progress I can make at this point is grinding currency for the remaining islands. There is no deeper meaning here, or even particular sense of lasting accomplishment. This is decidedly a wirehead experience. But until my tolerance level reaches its peak, I will continue mainlining this game with no regrets.

Sometimes you just need gratification, instantly. In which case Forager has you covered.

[Fake Edit] Oops, apparently I am done. There is no final boss, I have already completed all the dungeons, bought all the islands, and done all the easy upgrades. No sense grinding for more powerful gear to face non-existent threats. Those 16 hours were a blur.

Impression: Factorio

I was gifted Factorio from one of my friends whom I had gifted Rimworld. We’re cruel like that. Given how much I enjoyed Rimworld and Oxygen Not Included and other resource-collecting/crafting games, it seems like Factorio should be right up my alley.

For some reason though… it’s not.

I am in the very early stages of the game. The tutorial, in fact. And while I very much enjoy crafting/survival-esque games and colony management games, Factorio is neither. It is an automating and stand-around-waiting game. You directly control an engineer and initially collect resources 1 at a time until you build machines that can do it for you automatically.

For example, you discover an iron ore field. You can mine it yourself, one nugget at a time, until you can build a Stone Furnace to smelt the ore into an Iron Plate. Use those Iron Plates to build a Burner Drill, which will automatically mine whatever you set it on top of, e.g. iron ore. Then you build conveyor belts so the iron ore can fall out of the Drill and be moved elsewhere, where you build robotic arms that can place iron ore into Stone Furnaces and more robotic arms to place the Iron Plates directly into a storage box. Or onto other conveyor belts to move it to Assemblers which can convert them to Iron Gears, which are necessary to produce the next dozen things down the tech tree. You will also need a similar setup to mine/process copper, stone, and coal to power everything.

In principle, this is the same sort of thing you’re doing in Oxygen Not Included. But that game… is fun. I’m not sure what Factorio is yet.

There’s a rather annoying part of the tutorial in which you are specifically tasked with creating 50 gun magazines per minute while also consuming 12 technology per minute. I get that the point of the exercise is to push the player into understanding you can build a dozen Lab buildings to accelerate research, and same with the mass-production of magazines (to feed turrets to fend off hostile wildlife). That said, I was the closest to quiting the game outright at that moment. All prior tutorial steps were “build X, which takes a half dozen steps,” which was fine. The magazine/tech thing was arbitrary though, and I was a little worried I would run out of technology to research before I successfully built enough Labs. Nevermind how many extraneous magazines were crafted as I trialed-and-errored my way to figuring out how to achieve that, again, arbitrary rate.

At this point, I may abandon the tutorial altogether and give the “real” game a try. Not having any express goals is not something I typically enjoy in gaming generally, but is not something that bothered me in Rimworld or Oxygen Not Included.

We’ll see if I have the same sort of success (read: fun) in Factorio.

7D2D: Alpha 18, Asinine Developer Edition

Let’s play a game. Taking this Perk, would you expect to be able to craft a Wooden Bow?

7D2D_Archery

If you answered No… you’re wrong! You can actually craft a Wooden Bow after taking that Perk. Trouble is, a Wooden Bow requires:

7D2D_WoodBow

That’s right, Bow/Crossbow parts. Can you craft those parts? Nope! You can only find them from looting, purchasing from vendors, and/or dismantling already-constructed bows/crossbows.

My first reaction to this was shock. I have been playing 7D2D for a number of years now, and this was perhaps one of the most unintuitive things ever added to the game. In prior Alphas, you could not just construct guns or compound bows from nothing, which made some sense. But as updates have progressed, the amount of things you can otherwise craft, and their complexity, has increased.

This all might have just been whatever. But when I started searching forums to see if I was missing something, I came across this series of Roland (one of the Fun Pimps) posts pushing back on someone complaining about Bow parts:

Even beginners should know that crafting involves both the knowledge and also a recipe. What craftable item in the game can be made with knowledge only and no recipe? None. There is nothing disingenuous about it. You gain the knowledge and then gather the mats to craft. You cannot craft wood or stone or feathers– you go out and find them. You also cannot craft bow parts– you go out and find them. There is nothing different about this than any other part of the game.

Later on, he says:

[…]Sounds like the frustration comes from not getting an immediate payoff for spending the point. You wanted to spend the point and then make your better bow and you couldn’t because you were missing some recipe items. So what? That should give you purpose. It is like an emergent quest for you and you alone.

Guess what? When you perk into the Workbench you aren’t going to immediately be able to make everything on the list. You’re going to have to go out and gather mats.

This line of reasoning is incredibly asinine. Instead of actually offering up the real reason Bow parts are a thing now, e.g. for balance/time-gate reasons, Roland here is getting all sanctimonious over shit that doesn’t even make sense in the rest of the game. Here is a non-exhaustive list of shit you can craft in this game from basic materials:

  • Gyrocopter
  • 4×4 Truck
  • Radiation Removal mod
  • Laser sight mod
  • Lead Car Batteries
  • etc

Do those require a found schematic or Perk? Yes. Do they require “Gyrocopter Parts” found via RNG? No. The fact that I can make a functioning laser from Scrap Plastic and other debris I can wrench out of a car on Day 1 – nevermind what science-fiction a “Radiation Remover” is attached to a spear – but can’t actually craft a baseball bat without a Perk AND baseball bat parts is ridiculous.

7D2D_Bat

Thought I was joking, did you? “Baseball Bat parts.” Meanwhile…

7D2D_RadRemover

For context, Irradiated Zombies are a class of special zombie you can encounter that otherwise rapidly heals itself. This can make them all but immune to traps, as they out-heal the damage. Adding this mod to a weapon though, disables their healing for like 60 seconds. Just some steel, glue, springs, and “mechanical parts.” Meanwhile, you are physically incapable of crafting a baseball bat without special parts found in the world.

Look, I understand the actual reason for these changes from a game design standpoint. The devs are worried about the game being “solved” before Day 14 as veterans craft all the endgame goodies from the debris around their starting location. Why leave your spider-hole when everything you want is within reach?

The tension of the 7th day Blood Moon comes not just from the zombies themselves, but whether you can find enough materials within the six days to outlast the night. Forcing people to go out and loot buildings lets you treat each house like a mini-dungeon (which they are these days) plus adding the time element to things. Do you spend the morning of the 7th day reinforcing everything, or do you roll the dice and loot one more place?

The issue is when the devs won’t just say that. Is it because that would be too “gamey”? Or do they not actually know themselves? There will be complaints whether the devs are straight-forward or not, but at least telling the truth will save them from embarrassing themselves on the forums and insulting their fans besides.

Crafting is Required

Divinity: Original Sin 2 (DOS2) has a terrible crafting system.

At first, I felt like this was okay. Crafting in the original game was often a bit overpowered, such that most of the time you were better off crafting upgrades than you were trying to loot them. This was a problem in Skyrim too, which I talked about back in 2012:

Short of the sandbox-esque nuclear option of destroying gear and/or permanent durability loss, I do not see a worthy payout for the costs of strong player crafting. I just completed a long questline to reconstruct a 1,000+ year old amulet whose power started a war and led to it being split into three parts and sealed away; the names of amulet keepers were to be forgotten under the pain of death. After finally reforging it, I held it in my hands and… oh, +30 to Health/Mana/Stamina? I created an amulet with +67 to Health and +40% extra Bow damage nearly 50 hours ago.

/vendor

I am not sure any game has gotten the craft vs loot tension correct. If the best items come from looting, players are incentivized to kill things for loot and ignore crafting. If the best items are crafted, players craft them and don’t care about killing stuff. Sometimes you can make hard enemies drop exclusive crafting material instead of loot, but that’s just loot with extra steps.

The problem is when game designers decide to have a weak crafting system, then seed their game with thousands of random pieces of debris. There is shit everywhere in DOS2: flowers, mushrooms, plates, cups, parchment, individual keys that exist forever for some reason, nails, hammers, and so on and so forth. Well over 90% of it is completely useless, despite it being integral to some crafting recipe or another. The existence of these items and your ability to interact with them is an invitation to their collection. Which, ultimately, just serves to pad game time and make inventory management a chore. It’s all a designer trap, outside maybe 2-3 arrow/scroll recipes.

So why not just get rid of crafting, if it’s going to be nigh-useless? Well… what are they going to do with all these cups and silverware so meticulously seeded on every table? Seems as though if you want interactable widgets, you need a crafting system of some kind to justify it. We’re well past the Metal Gear Solid 2 days when breaking single wine bottles or watching ice melt was an innovation.

Just because it’s an RPG doesn’t mean you have to be able to pick up all the things. But you damn well better have a useful reason to pick stuff up, if you allow it. Which makes crafting required.

Too Much Cheese

I have always had mixed feelings when it comes to Early Access games, but not always for the same reasons as everyone else. For example, one of the biggest dangers is getting hooked on a game that just never gets completed. Money dries up, development stops, you never get any sort of conclusion. I’ve never been too worried about that – either the game was fun when you played it, or it wasn’t.

No, my biggest concern is when the game gets better or more balanced… but I’m already done.

Oxygen Not Included (ONI) is a colony-management game from Klei that I started playing last year and it has gotten significant updates on the regular. Some new buildings, some new creatures, a sort of end-goal to strive for, and so on. Other things have not changed over the year, and it’s questionable whether they ever will. And that bothers me because some of the things that haven’t changed are broken mechanics.

One of the mid-to-late game threats in ONI is heat. In the beginning, you’re worried about Oxygen (hence the name), so you burn algae for air. Then you run out of algae. Switching to an Electrolyser allows you to turn water into Oxygen + Hydrogen, so you focus on getting clean water to burn, while finding a use for all the unbreathable Hydrogen (generally via Hydrogen Generator to power to the Electrolyser). This is another trap though, because the “free” Oxygen getting piped out is hot, and as your base heats up, your crops will fail. Thus, cooling things becomes a top priority.

While there are a number of “legit” ways to cool things down, the Water Sieve method is straight-up broken. Water Sieves are used to turn Polluted Water into normal Water, for use in bathrooms and such. The supposed downside of this is that the Sieve itself outputs relatively hot water at 40°C, which will gradually heat up your base and ruin your crops (which typically stop growing at 30-35°C). The real issue though is that the Water Sieve always outputs 40°C water… even if the Polluted Water was at a much higher temperature. Thus you get physics-bending/game-breaking (IMO) solutions like piping your clean water out of a Water Sieve and into an Aquatuner (which cools liquid down at the expense of heating itself up)… which is being liquid-cooled in a tank of Polluted Water… that you are piping to the Water Sieve.

Clever use of game mechanics, indeed.

Along the same lines, I have a 100% zombie-proof base in 7 Days to Die. It’s a tower with a nearby ramp and fence, along with a half-block on the other side of the fence. To the zombie AI, this half-block would allow them to jump again and land on the tower and start eating my face. In reality, once they hop over the fence, they miss the half-block, and plummet to the ground, taking damage. From there, they run back up the ramp and try again until they die again. I still try and kill them myself for the XP, but I have all the time in the world to line up the shots or try again if I miss. The devs have added a “tantrum” mechanic whenever a zombie tries to run a path and fails, but that just means the zombie will wail on a bunch of iron spikes.

There are two “easy” solutions to my “problems”:

  1. Don’t use these mechanics, and/or
  2. Don’t play these games yet

To which I would say:

  1. Handicapping myself via willpower alone isn’t fun, and
  2. These are precisely the type of games I want to be playing at the moment

If you have a list of non-Early Access survival/crafting games that I haven’t already played, by all means, let me know. Otherwise, I’m going to be over here stuffing my face with delicious cheese, and paying for it later.

Quick & Dirty Guide to Starbound (Frackin’ Universe)

Frackin’s Universe (FU) is a Steam Workshop mod that revitalizes (and complicates) the entire Starbound experience. It is not recommended for a first playthrough – go beat the base, vanilla game first. Then, just when you think you’ve had enough, come back, load the mod, and play what feels like Starbound 2.0.

StarboundFU_Title

Beyond FU itself, I highly recommend the following (compatible!) mods:

In particular, Improved Containers will change your Starbound life. They added a button to automatically stack anything you’re carrying into an existing stack in a container. Great for off-loading one of the dozens of new ore types introduced in FU after coming back aboard your ship.

Beginning Recommendations

Play or skip the tutorial. When it asks whether you want the default ship or the Build Your Own Ship (BYOS) option, choose BYOS. This allows you to skip a huge block of vanilla Starbound progression and immediately construct a ship of your dreams.

Incidentally, you can construct your dream ship out of any materials lying around. Including dirt. Despite floating in deep space, you are free to destroy the walls and background tiles of your ship at any time; there are no decompression mechanics in Starbound. Just note that “loose” items/blocks fall to the bottom of the screen, and walking onto a spot without background tiles puts you in an airless, zero-g environment. This will likely be fatal to you at the start of the game, so construct your ship from the other side of a wall first.

Get off the starter planet ASAP. Complete the required quests first, but try to get to a different Lush or whatever planet when you can. Tungsten Ore is an especially vital part of early-game progression, and the starter planet probably doesn’t have any.

Get a Mining Laser ASAP. It is better than Mining Picks, Mining Drills, and the best, most upgraded Matter Manipulator any day. You will still want to upgrade the latter over time though, as the Mining Laser burns through both normal and background blocks, which can be problematic in certain edge cases. Like when the background is full of lava, for example.

Roughly 99% of your deaths will be related to fall damage. That is not so much a recommendation as it is a fact. Mitigating fall damage is super important, but you won’t have very many options at the start, especially considering how dark FU is generally. Until you can get armor/Augments to assist with the issue, your best bet is to focus on unlocking Physics Field tech in the Tech Console. That way you can press F if you notice yourself falling to prevent all damage.

Cheese the lighting system by printing lighted signs. One of the FU changes is that you no longer emit a minimum aura of light. Combined with the fact that EPP upgrades are not cumulative, you will often be in a situation where you need to craft thousands of torches to see anything. Alternatively, once the Pixel Sign maker is up at the Outpost – unlocked after the first artifact – you can create a white, lighted sign that practically shines with the force of a thousand suns.

StarboundFU_Lighting

It also costs nothing but the effort of spam-clicking the print button. Torches are still useful in that they don’t require background tiles to work, but signs are otherwise better when you can use them.

Check every vendor you see. Most of the time, a vendor’s inventory is randomly set when you meet them. This can sometimes result in fortuitous situations like a vendor selling unlimited amounts of, say, Graphene for 28px a pop.

StarboundFU_Graphene

Base Recommendations

Build your first base on an Ocean planet. If you are anything like me, you’re concerned about where your “real” base should be located. So you go planet to planet, looking for the perfect spot, and meanwhile junk and crafting benches continue to accumulate wherever you placed them (probably on your ship). Eventually, by the time you find the ideal location, you’re overwhelmed by all the items you have to move, so you stick with your first “choice.”

StarboundFU_Base

I recommend an Ocean planet base for two reasons. First, it’s a planet. Ship bases are perfectly viable options, but you essentially forgo easy power generation from Solar/Wind stations, and easy materials from Atmospheric Condensers. Second, Ocean planets have infinite water tiles. There are craftable Wells and other water sources wherever you are, but nothing beats the convenience of holding down left-click and soaking up as much water as you need. Or automating it all later.

Keep a Sifter up and running 24/7. A full stack of 1000 Sand will keep a Sifter occupied for quite some time, but the end result will be a dozen or more different materials, some of which can be loaded back in an Alternator to power the Sifter to continue generating free goodies. The Centrifuge is similarly useful, but certainly less perpetual… unless you have Solar panels on an Ocean planet.

Farming Recommendations

Did you build a base on an Ocean planet? Lobsters are EZ-Mode. Craft some Lobster Traps and watch as they magically fill up with free food. Lobsters stack to 99, do not require cooking to eat (but you can if you want), and actually sell for a decent amount (1980px per 99 stack). While there is an indication of freshness, lobsters do not appear to spoil; this may be a bug that is fixed later.

Rice is the easiest vegetable crop to manage. Uncooked rice stacks in your inventory, never goes bad, and you only need a Campfire to cook it. Wheat is similar, but Rice does not need to be replanted (assuming you aren’t using Growing Trays). You forgo any fancy buffs, but it is incredibly straight-forward. If you haven’t found rice on a planet yet, “purchase” it from a Greenhouse.

Grow Trays/Hydroponics are niche tools. On paper, they sound amazing: drop in three seeds, a stack of water, maybe some Fertilizer, and off you go. The problem is that there isn’t a good visual indication of when the product can be harvested. Or when it runs out of water. Or when all of the output slots are full of spoiled food.

Where Grow Trays excel is when they are used either with a stackable product, such Silk, or with a food item that normally despawns when harvesting, such as Wheat. In most other situations, I prefer planting crops in dirt.

Aeroponic or Hydroponic Tubing is strictly better than dirt, once you unlock them. They are kinda expensive considering dirt and the broken sprinkler are so early in the tech tree, but there are benefits to be able to pack more plants into a smaller area (sprinklers need height to water everything). Just keep in mind that you do have to “till” the tubing before planting.

If you want the most-filling food, then you’ll want Ultimate Juice. Incidentally, it also provides +20% Jump/Energy/Health/Run Speed and a Rage effect. This requires six different crops to craft though: Boneboo, Feathercrown, Oculemon, Neonmelon, and Toxictop. Finding these crops before reaching the endgame will be a challenge.

Critical FU Functionality

Frackin’ Universe adds a lot of very complicated systems. Here are the most important/useful ones.

Power – Both Power Generators and Batteries (when charged) output X number of Watts. Plugging a 4W battery into an Arc Smelter (req. 40W) isn’t going to work. That said, wattage is cumulative on a wire. Connect ten 4W batteries to that Arc Smelter – or preferably, to a Wire Relay – and you will be in business. Just note that if you are using 40W, that is 40W less on the wire. If you have multiple stations running simultaneously, you will need a power surplus to keep all the lights on.

Terminals – A Terminal is a clickable interface that grants you access to an “Item Network.” Linking all your storage units together into an Item Network means you can use Terminals to search for and retrieve your items from a single location, e.g. the Terminal itself, instead of having to manually look for it across all your storage units.

StarboundFU_Terminal

What you’ll need:

  • Storage unit(s) full of stuff
  • Craft and place Storage Bridge near storage unit(s)
  • (optional) Craft and place Repeater to hook into multiple Storage Bridges
  • Craft and place Terminal near crafting stations
  • Connect the blues to the reds, e.g. Storage Bridge to Repeater/Terminal

Item Movement – If you want to take something from one container and physically put it into another container, you want an Item Transference Device (ITD). If you click on the ITD, you will get a bunch of pseudo-programming options that I have zero interest in learning or explaining. Instead, all you really need to know is that it basically works out of the box. Connect the red circle of your container to the blue circle of the ITD, then connect the red circle of the ITD to the blue circle of the other container. Bam. All items that appear in the first slot of the first container will get moved.

StarboundFU_Transfer

For me, the most practical use of an ITD was moving items from a Lobster Trap or Growing Tray to a box automatically. If the box is actually refrigerated storage, then all the better. Red, blue, red, blue, done. If you want something more fancy, you are on your own.

Survival Recommendations

One of your quick-slot items should be Dirt. If you find yourself in trouble, close off the tunnel you’re in with dirt; it will block melee and the majority of ranged attacks while you heal yourself or escape. While it’s a kinda cheesy move in vanilla Starbound, the enemies in Frackin’ Universe are exceedingly more deadly. Some enemies can pass through walls though, and explosive damage can penetrate tiles, so take care.

Always deploy with your Mech on new worlds. Depending on how much (if any) time you spend with the Mech-building side of things, your Mech will not make you invulnerable to planet effects or damage for long. That said, it will absolutely extend your life by a few precious seconds in case you get beamed down in the middle of a USCM camp full of snipers that can one-shot you. Just note that if your Mech explodes, you die with it. So either beam back up to your ship or bail.

Craft a few dozen flags and plant them everywhere. Flags are cheap to craft and act as bookmarks that allow you to get back to where you want to be quickly. Think you might die or encounter a tough fight? Plant a flag. If you come across a planet with a lot of good resources, plant a flag and name it “Penumbrite (Acid, Hot)” or whatever. This will save you oodles of time if you find yourself in a situation of needing more of X resource but being in a Y system instead.

Get an X (Radiation, etc) Ball Wand/Staff. Regardless of your fighting style, having a Wand/Staff with Radiation Ball (or whatever) will change your life. Specifically, it will allow you to attack enemies around corners/from range with guided death. Even better, you can dig a 1-block hole in a wall or floor and then squeeze your orb of death through it to murder your foes with impunity.

StarboundFU_Cheap

I snaked a Radiation Ball right through the one-tile gap to fry that guy.

Cheap? Sure. Effective? Hell yeah.

Armor Combinations – There are over 100 sets of armor added with Frackin’ Universe, so determining what you want to wear can be a challenge. For the most part though, it’s best to craft a bunch of mannequins and just have specialized sets ready for each planet you beam down on. That said, here were my go-to options:

Nautilus Armor / Kraken Armor / Leviathan Armor
This armor series eventually grants you Acid, Poison/Bio, Gas, Pressure, and Oxygen immunities once you reach the end. If you combine this with the Thermal Shell EPP, you will be immune to the most common damage types. A Field Generator EPP will make you further immune to Radiation, at the expense of making lava a concern again. This will cover just about everything aside from Shadow and Insanity, which can handled with EPP Augments.

Valkyrie Armor
With this set, you get Oxygen, Gas, Pressure, and Radiation protection, plus technical immunity to fall damage (you float downwards). This seems like considerably less protections than the same-tier Leviathan Armor set, and it is, but the Valkyrie gear boasts a 500% weapon damage modifier instead of 276%. Definitely a glass-cannon set, with half the armor of Leviathan and a third of War Angel.

Sunwalker Armor
This is a “War Angel-lite” tier-6 set that provides Radiation, Heat, Cold, Breath, and Pressure immunities. Additionally, there is an extra 40% Radiation resist and a +15% bonus to Plasma weapon damage.

War Angel
Basically an endgame armor, this nevertheless makes you immune to Pressure, Cold, Heat, Radiation, knockback, and all fall damage. On top of that, it provides 35% Physical Resist, so you’ll be taking less damage from mobs. Oh, and 93 Armor and tons of extra HP. Definitely a tanky set. Chain Swords deal 250% extra damage in your hands with this set as well.

EPP and Augments –  Much like with Armor, there are dozens of different types of EPPs and Augments to slot into them. The ultimate goal is find a combination that works for your play-style and providing the necessary protection to survive whatever planet you’re on. That said, some of the choices are better than others.

[EPP] Thermal Shell
Providing protection against heat, cold, lava, and burning on top of 20% Fire and Ice Resistance, the Thermal Shell is one of the most useful EPPs in the game. Many armors can give you heat immunity, but none of them will save you from taking damage in lava, which is weird. Even the Field Generator, which appears to be a strict upgrade to the Thermal Shell given how it includes Radiation protection, makes you vulnerable to a lava bath once again.

[EPP] Repulsor Field Pack
While outclassed in the midgame, the Repulsor Field Pack is a fantastic early-game EPP since it provides 20% Physical and Fire Resistance. The “penalty” to Cosmic Resistances isn’t particularly relevant until much later in the game.

[EPP] Plasma Light Pack
The final word in backpack light generation, the Plasma Light Pack doesn’t appear until the endgame and may end up being a fool’s errand to chase after. While it provides Breath and Pressure Immunities, most armors offer the same by then.

[Augment] Immunity I & Immunity Field
Pretty much the final word with Augments, Immunity I provides protection against Heat, Cold, Gas, Radiation, and Proto-Poison at a base level. Immunity Field is a recent, stronger addition that grants a 2nd level protection to those same qualities while adding on Radiation Burning, Poisoning, and Liquid Nitrogen immunities. Still does nothing versus Shadow/Insanity/etc damage, so be wary of what planets you are beaming to. Although having a specialized armor set against those qualities with a Thermal Shell with an Immunity Field Augment to handle the rest will do you well.

Impression: Frackin’ Universe (Starbound mod)

So, about 100 hours later, I continue to play Starbound’s Frackin’ Universe (FU) mod.

StarboundFU_Title

Just to reiterate: FU is a mammoth mod that fundamentally changes complicates nearly all aspects of the vanilla Starbound experience. For example, the vanilla experience has you leveling up an Environmental Protection Pack (EPP) to survive the elemental rigors of planetary progression – from no breathable oxygen to radiation immunity to cold immunity to fire immunity. Each EPP upgrade was a strict upgrade, incorporating all of the immunities of the prior ones. This progression path ensured that you went to the correct systems in the correct order on your journey to defeat the giant tentacle monster final boss.

In Frackin’ Universe, all that is thrown out the window. There are now at least 33 EPPs with wildly varying effects, none of which give you blanket immunity to everything. You are expected to use the proper EPP with a relevant Augment (21 choices) with a corresponding armor (101 new sets) tailored to the planetary conditions. Which have gotten more granular as well, of course. A fiery planet might have three degrees of flammability, tied to 20/40/60% resistance levels, affected by all the previous items plus your race’s innate resistances (if any). Having high resistances might be good for normal exploring, but extreme weather events might end up overcoming said resistances too.

Does all of that sound too complicated? I agree.

StarboundFU_Base

My current base. Not pictured: Healing Water hot spring.

What has won me over are all the changes made to support the above complexity. Dozens of new elements and ores have been added to the game. There is now a large number of completely new planet types, and every planet has been infused with micro-biomes. Difficulty is increased across the board as well, making the exploration and exploitation of these new worlds require a lot of attention.

After every night that I play this game, I spend a few minutes in bed thinking about what I plan on accomplishing during the next playing session. “I need to restock my supply of lead.” “Okay, I built the armor set that gives me immunity to proto-poison, so I should be able to get some Protocite Ore.” “I should really create an ocean base for the free water.” “Why haven’t I gotten my crop situation in order?” It never seems to end. Which is great because, at the moment, I don’t want it to.

That said, I did struggle in the beginning. There was too much to take in. There are some tutorial quests that kind of guide you around, but almost all of them simply exist to get you to construct one of the many new crafting stations and leave you staring at yet another huge list of miscellaneous nonsense. The only way past the Analysis Paralysis is to hyper-focus on the one thing that you want to craft, and follow that one thread all the way to the bottom.

A few days ago, I finally constructed my Terminal network. What does it do? It allows me to link together a bunch of storage containers and then output the results on terminal stations placed around my ship, such that I can type in a name of something, then have it spit out the requested item into my inventory. You know, functionality that… exists by default in most of these sort of games. But it doesn’t here, and now it does, and I feel very satisfied about it.

StarboundFU_Miniboss

Sometimes you have to be unfair.

One additional positive I want to mention here is that I like how the mod author(s) included means to bypass some of the systems. Between the various vendors in the new science outpost and a craftable Ansible Network station, you can outright purchase a lot of the more rare ores and components, if you haven’t been able to track down their locations on planets. It costs pixels (aka money), sometimes A LOT of pixels, but it is there as an option if you just so happen to need three more bars of Quietus Ore or whatever.

What I will say though, is that not every aspect of the game is especially coherent. The Medical Station allows you to craft healing items, like in the base game. The Medical Kit II recipe requires Honeysilk Bandages though, which requires you to to engage with the whole Beekeeper system. Meanwhile, Medical Kit III goes back to more typical FU materials, and you don’t need to have crafted the prior version to unlock this one. The armor system behaves similarly – there are redundant sets (sometimes a good thing), many completely useless ones (comparatively), and a few that are clearly superior in every way.

Oh, and you can craft booze too. Unlike the Bee things though, I can’t tell that any part of it is necessary. Maybe for roleplaying purposes?

In any case, there it is. After ~100 hours of mucking about, I feel like I’m within spitting distance of some of the best armors in the game, and likely the end of novel experience. The skeleton of Starbound’s linear story remains in place, but I’m not sure that I’ll continue on with it once I get bored of flying around. Unlike other random-gen games, Starbound doesn’t benefit from multiple playthroughs, as you can pretty much go wherever you want, making anything you want, as soon as you want.

That is, of course, one of it’s biggest strength too.

Disposable Professions

As of Battle for Azeroth, WoW professions have become almost entirely disposable.

I noticed this last night as I was puttering around on some of my alts. Three of them wear leather armor, so I was hopping onto each one trying to remember which had Leatherworking. As it turns out, none of them did. So, without much thought, I dropped Skinning on the rogue and then… paused. “Leather is cheap, but those Blood-Stained Bones are relatively expensive.” Then I decided that my druid would likely be more efficient at AoE farming for leather anyway, so I logged onto her and then dropped Enchanting without a pause and gave her Skinning.

If you have not been keeping track at home, Blizzard had been moving towards the Single Expansion Relevance model for a while now. Professions used to start at 1, and you would need to dedicate tens of thousands of gold/hours farming to level them up to 300+ just to get near where current-content gear was. If you kept up, you were sitting pretty, because everyone else just coming back from a break or brand new players had a huge grind ahead of them.

It was not a particularly elegant model, but it still felt… reasonable. Plus, the constant need for old-world mats for newly profession-ed characters meant that lowbies had a good shot at become rich by just gathering herbs/ore as they leveled. There was a whole micro-economy that existed there, including the savvy Auctioneers who were able to throw together a “profession kit” that would allow someone to max out to current content within 30 minutes. The dedication needed to remain in your own professions would inspire people to level alts just to have additional options, who then needed to be leveled and geared and fed a diet of AH materials, and so on, and so forth.

Then things started to change.

The first steps were allowing players to harvest current-expansion nodes even as a starter herbalist/miner. Blizzard made sure that the product extracted was basically junk, or 1/10th of the normal result, but you could at least tap the node. And that was reasonable, especially for the gathering professions, as it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to force high-level characters to be scouring old Azeroth for Tin nodes.

Then came the gimmie recipes for crafters, which allowed them to use current-expansion resources to rank up 400+ levels. One would think that such a feature killed off the old-school profession kits, but all it really did was set a price ceiling at which it was cheaper to just buy new herbs/ore. This was especially true at the beginning of an expansion, when the latest herbs/ore were selling for hundreds of gold apiece.

Somewhere in there, Blizzard also introduced profession books, which would allow you to “relearn” all the recipes you had lost when abandoning a profession.

With BfA, the circle is now complete. Professions are entirely stratified into expansion-specific tiers. Profession bonuses, which were the bane of hardcore raiders, were watered-down and diluted into irrelevance. Once a part of your character’s identity and story, professions are, at most, a (temporary) economic decision. Hell, in the heady days of a new expansion release, it can sometimes be worth the 1000g fee to relearn a profession if you can make ten times that amount in a night of being a temporary whatever. Blizzard helpfully removed most of the dungeon requirements for 3-star ranks, so the barriers has never been lower.

And all of that is probably for the best.

I sat here a while, exploring my feelings on the matter, before coming to that conclusion. I am a huge critic of any game design in which someone can lose on the character select screen, and WoW’s profession bonuses combined with the grind back up to max rank was just another form of that. That is on top of the ~5%/month churn rate which could see your entire MMO population turn over every 20 months. A new expansion is usually released how often, again? It’s just not a good design IMO to require people to pump out thousands of useless pieces of junk to increase a number to a sufficient degree to get to starting line.

Nevertheless, yeah, there is a part of me that had fond memories of the old system. My namesake paladin has been a Jewelcrafting/Alchemist since 2008 and none of that matters. I spent hundreds of hours leveling up a fleet of alts to cover every profitable base each expansion, and now the same thing could be done by one toon and a willingness to drop 1000g.

I am sort of waiting for the day when Blizzard just goes full GW2 and lets you buy extra profession slots for real money and otherwise just be done with the restrictions altogether.

[WISP] The Forest

(e.g. Why I Stopped Playing: The Forest.)

TheForest_Mountain

Ah, the great outdoors…

Let me start off by saying that The Forest has almost ruined other survival games for me. Nearly everything about it is incredibly slick and intuitive. The titular forest feels (and sounds!) like a forest, and walking through it can be a relaxing experience.

The crafting and building game is on point as well. Instead of filling your inventory with hundreds of rocks so you can craft a furnace in your pocket, you instead lay out a blueprint out in the world. From there, you start building it piece by piece, by essentially “using” the items in your limited inventory. Most of the larger constructions require logs, which you cannot fit in your pocket. So you are out in the world, chopping down entire trees, and then either hauling 1-2 logs on your back or crafting a sled to move ~10 or so at a time. This makes each structure feel important, as you spend a lot of time crafting it and seeing it come together a piece at a time, in a way that doesn’t exist just chopping logs for abstracted resources. It’s hard going back to any other survival games after this one.

That said, the game lost me when it went from being The Forest to The Caves.

TheForest_Caves1

Hope you like this sort of thing, for the entire rest of the game.

Basically, nothing you do out in the world really matters – story progression is essentially exclusive to the cave system that snakes through the landscape. Sure, you need sticks and stuff to craft bows and your other weapons, but the experience of slowly creeping through dark, linear passages and encountering scripted amounts of enemies is basically the opposite of everything that led up to this point in gameplay. Those elaborate traps and your fortified treefort? Pointless. That house boat you built after felling a hundred trees? Pointless.

I mean, I get it. This game is technically a survival-horror, and even the craziest mutants lose some of the horror bits when you see them roaming around in the overworld instead of stumbling into them in a poorly-lit cavern. But really, these are two different games. The most you are crafting in the caves is a tent as a temporary Save location, so what was the point in expanding your carrying capacity? Or exploring the different biomes?

TheForest_Mutants

I dunno, seeing the mutants outside can still be terrifying.

So, I stopped playing. The caves are both nerve-wracking and boring, simultaneously. I have heard that I’m pretty close to the point at which the plot starts to unfold in interesting ways, but that plot is at the end of more caves, which is further from the truly fun and innovative parts of this game. And that’s a real goddamn shame.

Going forward though, I do hope every survival game copies certain elements from The Forest. Don’t let us keep Furnaces in our pockets, especially if we’re basically allowed to build them out anywhere in the world anyway. Make things feel more grounded in the open world. And, yeah, please keep the open world and not goddamn caves.