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Review: Windbound

As a connoisseur of sorts for survival and roguelike games, I had a sideways eye out for the otherwise poorly-reviewed Windbound. After getting the itch to replay Raft only to realize there was a final update coming soon, I decided to play something a least thematically similar. Realizing I got Windbound for free from Epic back in February, I downloaded and booted it up and went sailing.

Overall? The mixed reviews are earned, although I enjoyed my own journey.

The essential premise is that you wake up on an island with nothing to your name, after being attacked by a sea creature. After swimming a short distance to another island, you set off to collect resources, build a boat, and ultimately activate three mysterious pillars scattered across your circular map so you can be transported to the next chapter area. You have a HP and Stamina bar, with the latter decreasing at intervals until you eat food from creatures loath to give you their flesh.

The game is… well, fundamentally really simple. Not easy, mind you, especially if you play on Survival Mode in which a single death means starting back over in Chapter 1 no matter how far you progressed. But there are not a whole lot of different enemy types, or food options, or tech trees, or similar fluff. Enemies have maybe 2-3 moves and become straight-forward to dispatch once you have learned the tells. Later on, you unlock additional combat moves, some of which become required to defeat later enemies, but overall ends up making most combat trivial.

Having said that, combat is frequently very unforgiving. On the very first island, you can face off with a boar that has a standard sort of charge attack which takes off about a third of your HP. While you can dodge-roll, timing is critical, and you can get locked into animations if you aren’t careful. You can craft a sling and bow later on, but ranged damage even with the best gear/ammo is super weak and breaks enemy lock-on, which means Spacebar becomes Jump instead of dodge. The devs clearly intended you to dodge+attack or parry every move.

The sailing portion of the game was good fun. You start off building a canoe and paddling around from island to island, but eventually you can get bamboo or wood and construct larger craft with sails and onboard tanning racks and clay ovens and so on. Reminds me of Valheim a bit with wind direction being important, although I think you can be a little fancier in this game with “tightening” your sails and catching some forward movement even while slightly into the wind.

One element of persistent progress comes from collecting Sea Shards. These can be used to purchase Blessings at the end of each chapter, which then can be “slotted” on your character in the same area. Some are wildly more useful than others, and it is largely RNG that determines which ones are available. Early on I was able to purchase Ancestral Spear, for example, which means I always had a spear available that never broke. So, so many resources and inventory slots saved from not having to re-craft spears throughout my journey.

Ultimately, Windbound is an acceptable, free survival appetizer to hold you over for a better meal. It has next to no replayability, and I don’t actually recommend its punishing “survival” mode if you are just interested in progressing through the game. If you didn’t manage to snag the game for free already, there are dozens of better games out there that are of better value for your money.

End of Year: 2021 Edition

Just like 2020, but with a little extra.

Aside from the still-raging pandemic, this has been a rather banner year, personally. Had some grueling work projects to grind through, but where they have passed, only I remain. For now. I’ve applied to some other places that are paying 30% more for the same job description. I’ve also taken up options trading as a side hustle, mainly because I got lucky with GME in January and now I’m an expert. I beat the S&P500 this year but also spent considerably more time developing ulcers in the process, so who knows with that. Think I might stick with something easier, like cryptocurrency.

Family is doing great.

Now, it’s time for what you really care about: my personal gaming habits for the year. First, Steam.

  • Chasm
  • Valheim
  • Battle Brothers
  • Card Hunter
  • Trials of Fire
  • Dead in Vinland
  • Tangledeep
  • Ring of Pain
  • Raft
  • Dishonored 2
  • Fate Hunters
  • ARK
  • Dreamgate
  • Dicey Dungeons
  • Dream Quest
  • She Remember Caterpillars
  • Undertale

A bit more than the seven games I played last year, but many were kind of one-and-done. Or perhaps more accurately “tried-and-dropped.” One of the standouts is Valheim, which continues to get updates. I have not played any more Valheim since I stopped though, and I am content to wait until its full release (whenever that is) before paying attention again. I was also very impressed with Trials of Fire, but perhaps not enough to play it again after sinking 13 hours into it. Really liked Ring of Pain too.

Next is Epic:

  • Celeste
  • Axiom Verge
  • Ape Out
  • Magic: Legends
  • Pathway
  • God’s Trigger
  • Outward
  • Crying Suns
  • Crashlands
  • Hades
  • Griftlands
  • Tharsis
  • Faeria
  • Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel
  • Death Stranding
  • Loop Hero
  • Inscryption

Epic’s twice-yearly $10 coupon insanity is finally driving me to spend more time in their ecosystem than any others. That and all the free games, but the coupon really sells the sales. I’m presently splitting my time between Loop Hero and Inscryption, with both being rather fun. Hades won all sorts of awards, but I was content with just beating it once. Griftlands was compelling for a time, even above other decking-building roguelikes, but it’s hard to stay as engaged when an average run is 7+ hours. Death Stranding is on the list for getting more attention, and I suspect I am still in the tutorial even after three hours of Amazon Prime deliveries hauling literal garbage around the haunted landscape.

Finally, we have Game Pass:

  • Monster Sanctuary
  • Neoverse
  • Star Renegades
  • Greedfall
  • Supraland
  • Deep Rock Galactic
  • Second Extinction
  • Frostpunk
  • Slime Rancher
  • Monster Train
  • Halo: Master Chief Collection
  • Grounded
  • Control
  • Solasta: Crown of the Magister
  • Atomicrops
  • Curse of the Dead Gods
  • Library of Ruina
  • Medieval Dynasty
  • Subnautica: Below Zero
  • Into the Pit
  • Tainted Grail: Conquest
  • The Riftbreaker
  • One Step from Eden
  • Crown Trick
  • Unpacking

Laid out like that, were the 25 listed games worth $120ish to access during the year? Eh, maybe. Looking back, it’s clear that I got more overall value in 2020. Then again, presuming that I would have paid to play some of these games, I probably did end up saving money overall. In any case, some of these games will be on the 2022 list as they receive updates and/or I get around to focusing on them.

I am tempted to entertain the notion of identifying a Game of the Year out of the ones I played… but nah. Hades would certainly be a safe bet and conform with all the critics. It’s good and I certainly see the argument. Looking at what actually impressed me though, are games like Valheim and then stuff like Ring of Pain, Inscryption, and so on. I don’t usually play relevant games in the year they release, so it’s kind of a futile exercise anyway.

The gaming goals from last year:

  • Continue working on the Steam backlog [Yes]
  • …but don’t get bogged down with mediocre games [Absolutely yes]
  • Maybe buy a Switch. For the wife. [Nope. Probably not even in 2022]
  • (Re)Play through the Halo games via Master Chief Collection [Did Halo Reach]
  • Give FF14 another shot [Didn’t, and now couldn’t anyway]
  • Resist the urge to buy a new gaming PC [Success!]

I don’t see much of a point in identifying gaming goals for 2022, and this post is plenty long anyway. What I anticipate happening is buying a new prebuilt PC – prebuilt due to graphics card shortages and not being super comfortable replacing motherboards/CPU – getting a new monitor, and otherwise sprucing up my battlestation. After that, I’ll pick up Cyberpunk, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Red Dead Redemption 2 for $15-$20 apiece from the Epic summer or winter sale, depending on when a value prebuilt come available. Then, I will bask in the glory of #PCMasterRace or cry in an empty wallet.

Here’s to another year of running my mouth. And thanks for listening.

Summer Epic Sale

Are we still mad at Epic? Probably not, right? Back in the day, my ire was from Epic throwing Fortnite cash around to buy exclusivity contracts, which bypasses normally consumer-friendly competition. For the most part, that all seems to have died down. Instead, we have the equivalent of Steam sales with a bonus $10 off coupon for games $14.99 and up. Which makes for some rather exceptional deals.

Oh, and apparently they added the Wishlist feature at some point.

Here is what I am currently looking at (post-coupon):

  • Hades – $9.99
  • Death Stranding – $13.99
  • Griftlands – $5.99
  • Cardpocalypse – $4.99
  • Disco Elysium: Final Cut – $19.99
  • Borderlands 3 – $9.79

This is the second time some of those games have appeared on my list, but I know for sure that Hades is getting bought, at a minimum. Griftlands keeps being described as Slay the Spire 2.0/knock-off, which is a bonus in my book, and what sets it over the edge is that it’s made by Klei (Don’t Starve, Oxygen Not Included). I keep thinking that some of these will wind up on the Game Pass eventually, especially in the more-likely-than-not scenario in which I purchase the game but don’t play it right away. It’s hard to tell though, what big names will make it and which ones will not.

[Fake Edit:] I ended up buying Hades, Griftlands, and Death Stranding. Borderlands 3 is just as likely to be given away for free by Epic at some point, and I put in 18 hours into the Pre-Sequel before dropping it from boredom. Heard great things about Disco Elysium, but everything I’ve read puts it so out there gameplay-wise that I doubt it’s a game that would develop enough of an itch to play it right now. For example, if I’m in the mood for a new roguelike, Hades is basically it, as I’ve played most of the others.

Anyway, back to playing.

Epic Store Sales

As in, the Epic Store, not epic store sales.

Back in the day, which was either last year or fifteen years ago, I had this to say about the Epic Store:

As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?

At the time, Epic was in the midst of buying out gaming devs and forcing unnecessary exclusivity deals. Which was, and still is, extremely anti-consumer. In the intervening months, it has been interesting seeing them right the ship. Epic has brought back the “endless $10 coupon” for this winter’s sale, which means you get $10 off any game that costs $14.99 or more. Some devs are getting cheeky and having $14.98 sales, but otherwise it seems above-board. And in comparing my Steam wishlist, there are some great deals:

  • Disco Elysium – $13.99 vs $23.99
  • Hellpoint – $17.99 vs $20.99
  • Death Stranding – $19.99 vs $29.99
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete – $29.99 vs $39.99
  • Borderlands 3 – $9.79 vs $19.79

Thing is, I’m just not buying games anymore. Part of that is WoW sucking the oxygen out of the gaming room – although that may or may not be coming to an end – but the larger issue is the Game Pass. Will all of those arrive in the near future? Probably not. Possibly none of them, ever. But both Metro: Exodus and Outer Worlds did a tour and they were “Epic exclusives” I played for $1.

But here’s the other thing: would I drop everything and play those games right now? If the answer is not an enthusiastic Yes… what are we even doing? Donating to game developers? It used to be that I would get hung up on the nightmare scenario of getting an insane itch to play a game that I passed on during a sale. But it has been months since I had any such itch, and these days I am just as likely as not to go to bed early. Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe it’s due to the 1.5 year-old that does not have a Snooze button. Everyone’s getting up at 7am even on the weekends, whether we like it or not.

In any case, the deals are there if you want them. I’m pleased that Epic is heading down this direction for competing with Steam rather than exclusives. Oh, and all the free games every week (and every day recently). By my last count, I have 109 games on the platform and only bought one of them.

What Competition Looks Like

After nearly a year, we’re starting* to see what actual competition looks like.

Outward_Sale

A bargain at… the same price?

Outward has been on my (Steam) wishlist for a while, despite the lukewarm reviews. During this Winter sale period, it is the same price both in Steam and the Epic Store. In a tie, victory goes to Steam. However, the Epic Store is currently running a promotion where you get a $10 coupon applied to the first game you buy that costs $14.99 or more.

Ergo, Outward on the Epic Store costs $5.99 and thus was bought there.

Outward_Sale2

First blood. I hope it’s worth it.

This is indeed the first time I have spent money in the Epic Store, despite technically owning 28 games there. I suppose this means I will have to turn in my Steam fanboy card, eh?

…if only I had one. The only brand I’m loyal to is Consumer Surplus. After a year of dicking around with pernicious exclusivity deals, Epic finally came around. As I said in that post:

As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all.

In this case I saved $10, which is absurd, comparatively. And it appears that each time you redeem this coupon, you get another one. There does not appear to be a limit either.

The real difficulty at this point is determining what other games are out there that I would possibly want to buy. It’s a bit hard remembering because the Epic Store still doesn’t have a wishlist feature in a gaming storefront in 2019. No, seriously:

Wishlist

We’re working to bring Wishlist to the store. You’ll be able to wishlist any offer on the store and you’ll be notified of sales or promotions for that offer. This has been previously listed as work-in-progress development, but is requiring more work than originally planned. We’ll keep you up to date as we move the Wishlist feature along.

That “minor” detail aside, most everything else comes down to bigger titles that don’t have deep (enough) discounts in my mind. For example, Borderlands 3. After the coupon, I could pick that up for $28.99. But… is that really a deal at this point? Having already waited this long, I may as well wait some more. Same issue with Control, which has gotten some good word-of-mouth. By the time I get time to play these games, the Spring Sale will have sprung and the price will likely be less. Plus, you know, this Epic coupon is valid until May for some reason. Time to hurry up and wait.

* I’m vaguely aware that the Epic store might have already had a similar $10 coupon deal back in the Summer.

Niiiiiiice

Is there a better feeling than pondering buying a game, deciding it’s not quite at the right sale price for you, then finding out it’s a front-runner for next month’s Humble Bundle?

HB_Timing

I submit that there is not!

As always, I’m starved for survival/crafting games not already consumed, and My Time at Portia was something that had hitherto not been on the radar. Then it was… but at $30. Seeing as how I missed all the historic low prices of $12-$15 some time in the interminable past, I resigned myself to wait things out further. Then, Humble Bundle. I care nothing for Soul Calibur or (probably) the Yakuza game, but I will snap up a $12 copy of the game I was looking for and possibly 6-7 games I wasn’t.

You know, aside from the exploitative microtransactions and design-destroying loot boxes, I’m enjoying this age of novel payment methods. Between monthly bundles, Epic’s bribes, Twitch’s giveaways, and Microsoft’s increasingly desperate attempts to sell you months of Gamer Pass for $1, I think we’re more saturated with games now than we were during peak F2P. At least, I know I am.

The trick will be to actually play them, rather than looking at the library with glazed eyes and then booting up the same game I had been playing for the last two weeks.

Down Steam

Well, I guess that’s one way to highlight the fact that maybe multiple launchers are necessary.

SteamDown.JPG

While Steam being down has obviously happened in the past – maintenance or not – this is the first time I have actually sat down ready to play something and… not being able to. Wife and baby are sleeping, I have probably ~30 minutes of free time, and I wanted to get in some quick Kingdom Come: Deliverance action. “Oh. Maybe I’ll play Slay the Spire… err… Oxygen Not Included… uh… oh.”

Steam came back up before this got posted, but something to think about for the future.

 

Who Buys Games Anymore Anyway?

I was feeling the “play something else” itch the other day, and instead of scratching it with one of the 800 unplayed titles in my Steam library, I wanted to buy something new. In looking around, I found the game I had been subconsciously looking for: Forager.

Forager

That discount includes my subscriber bonus.

But then… I paused. Doesn’t this seems like, you know, the sort of game that might end up on the free Epic Store list? Or as a front-runner for Humble Bundle? Or otherwise in one of the dozens of bundles around the internet? Same thing with my #2 choice, Fate Hunters, a Slay the Spire-esque game currently 25% off on Steam. I love Slay the Spire, I have 130+ hours with that game.

But, you know… Slay the Spire is currently a front-runner for the September Humble Bundle.

So, I didn’t buy Forager. Instead, I’m playing a few of the free games from the Epic store, like Moonlighter and Enter the Gungeon. They don’t scratch the itch in exactly the same way, but they also don’t cost $13.59. Or any amount of money, actually. All of which is making me wonder when again exactly that I will be back to purchasing games.

Epic: Bribe or Bust

You are probably aware of the Epic Game Store’s predilection towards bribing indie developers with fat stacks of cash to get them to sign one-year exclusivity deals, sometimes after Steam has been giving the same developers months of free advertising by being listed (and even preordered!) on the store. That can be considered an erosion of consumer surplus or clever use of game (business) mechanics, depending on how you feel about the taste of boots. What has hitherto been unmentioned is Epic’s stick on the other end of the carrot: declined exclusivity will keep you off the Epic store.

On July 27th (Saturday) I uploaded a new trailer anouncing Steam launch date. On July 30th (Tuesday) I was contacted by the Epic Store, proposing that I enter into an exclusivity agreement with them instead of releasing DARQ on Steam. They made it clear that releasing DARQ non-exclusively is not an option. I rejected their offer before we had a chance to talk about money.

1_YW8HKZCAxiFigsVHsVTu3A

Now, maybe there is a less nefarious reason for why the Epic store “is not in a position yet to open the store up to games that simship.” Perhaps it is related to the reasons why a Shopping Cart or Wishlist are apparently impossible to implement even with bigdick Fortnite money in a digital game store in 2019. Maybe Tim Sweeney is just an odious asshole, celebrating a “multi-store future” with GOG – a competitor in financial trouble – but not with Steam, which would invite embarrassing comparisons.

The bottom line is that the developers of DARQ turned down Epic’s exclusivity deal and now they will not be able to sell their game on Epic. Because “reasons.” It makes me slightly more sympathetic to the (indie) developers of these games, as it was not just the ready cash, but also the threat of losing out on tens of millions of other eyeballs on other storefronts.

As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?

Oh well. Let’s see how they spin this.

Dog Catches Car

It’s a real shame that Borderlands 3 isn’t coming out until next year…

Borderlands3_Steam

So many game delays this year, amirite?

Memes aside, I won’t rehash why (Epic) exclusives are bad. Instead, I wanted to talk about Rohan’s closing paragraph about the subject:

Ultimately, I think Epic’s exclusives strategy was entirely predictable. It’s also possibly the only strategy with a chance of breaking Steam’s hold on the market. I expect that while Epic may pay lip service to complaints about exclusives, they’re going to ignore the community clamour, and follow this strategy until they get established.

It’s already been admitted/established that Epic is doing this because they have an inferior product with no hope of creating better value for customers. But what struck me with the above paragraph was what happens if it succeeds. Like, they get X number of people to buy Borderlands 3 (etc) in the Epic store. So… now what?

I guess the hope is that each time you log into Borderlands 3 or whatever, you see whatever handful of other games Epic is selling. Okay. But we’ve kinda already established that the people buying from the Epic store are those who don’t really care about storefronts – they are just following specific games. And at the moment, Epic isn’t actually competing on price either. Metro Exodus is $50 instead of $60, but it’s not a “deal” because you can’t buy it anywhere else.

The endgame, such as it is, appears aimed squarely at game publishers just eventually not ever listing their games on Steam anymore. Which wouldn’t make much sense until the userbase of the Epic store is much higher, which these exclusives are attempting to achieve. But, again, there’s nothing really keeping customers coming back. Steam has a social ecosystem between reviews, forums, modding (i.e. Steam Workshop), chat, streaming, and so on. That and Steam sales. Epic so far has… exclusives… bought with Fortnite money.

I suppose the real best-case scenario here is that Epic bribes enough developers that Valve eventually responds by lowering their percentage ratio for everyone across the board. Epic could still buy timed exclusives, but it’s possible the bigger fish no longer bite as the Steam install-base remains in the tens of millions. In which case… fantastic? It’s not as though Valve actually makes games anymore, so them losing revenue doesn’t actually impact anything.

But in the meantime, fuck Epic and this ridiculous storefront war waged at the expense of consumers.