While I still have a modicum of free time, let’s talk about Stardew Valley.
It’s awesome. /impression
Describing why it’s awesome is much more difficult. So I’m just going to try talking about its various interlocking systems.
Despite the game looking and sounding like a peaceful farming simulator, there is a rather large amount of tension to the gameplay. You start the day off at 6 AM with (usually) a full energy meter. Each time you till a farm tile, water a plant, chop a tree, etc, you use up a little bit of that energy. Starting out, the only real way to regain energy is to eat either foraged food or perhaps some of your crops. This, of course, will prevent you from selling said items though.
Meanwhile, the clock is always ticking in 10 minute increments. You can walk around and explore the town, but the game doesn’t care if you run out of daylight with a full energy meter or an empty one. People in town have schedules as well, so if you want to seduce/befriend them, you have to plan around their day. Forgot to pick up seeds and it’s 5:10 PM? Tough luck, the store is closed. If you’re not in bed by 2 AM, you collapse and are dragged home by someone, losing money and some of tomorrow’s energy along the way.
On top of that, you have longer-term considerations. Some crops will produce in 4 days of growing. Others take 12 days. Some you have to replant after harvesting, and others will continue producing. Each season in the game is 28 days long, and most crops only grow in one season. Ergo, it’s entirely possible for your 12-day crop to wither on the vine one day before harvest if the season changes.
Oh, and by the way, some of the super-important unlocks require items that can only be found/farmed/fished within certain seasons. If you miss a Spring item after the season changes, well… better luck next year.
All of that might sound intimidating. And complicated. And difficult to optimize. And it is all those things.
But it’s also weirdly liberating. Because it is not as though the game just ends if you miss some kind of deadline. Life keeps going. You can try and complete the most efficient path… or you can just keep doing what you are doing. Want a big farm? Focus on that. Want to raise livestock instead? Go do that. Fish all day erry’day? Probably viable. You may or may not get enough cash to upgrade your house before the first winter, but who cares? Only you.
The mutual exclusivity of tasks somehow doesn’t feel constricting. You can’t dig deeper into the mines and also plant new fields and forage for forest plants and also talk to everyone in town in the same day. But that doesn’t feel like an arbitrary restriction so much as a natural consequence. It makes intuitive sense that these things take time to accomplish. And it’s not as though swinging your ax makes time advance faster or anything – it takes precisely as long as it takes to get something done. This also makes you appreciate the tool upgrades a bit more, if they reduce the amount of swings it takes to finish a task.
I recently unlocked the Sprinkler item to craft. As you might expect, it automatically waters crops around itself. That said, the beginner version only waters four tiles in a cross shape around itself. “That’s dumb,” I thought. More advanced versions are available later that water all adjacent tiles, and eventually multiple rings of tiles. But once Summer hit, I went all-in on crops with the idea of earning enough coin by mid-season to finally upgrade my house. And now I’m spending 2+ in-game hours just watering plants each morning. So while the sprinklers are incredibly inefficient, I started thinking to myself that 4 less tiles to water * 10 is actually lot less time/energy used each morning.
That’s just one example of an interesting decision the game presented me without it coming across as an obvious Yes/No binary. The game is just full of them too, thus far. Instead of worrying about watering crops, I could have a different set of concerns if I had decided to build a chicken coop instead. I’m assuming it’d have something to do with feeding all those animals.
So, yeah. Stardew Valley is fantastic. It’s scratching all kinds of itches I didn’t even know I had. Short-term planning, long-term planning, optimization, experimentation, agency… all wrapped up in a pixel bow and all created by one dude. Can’t wait to see what else this designer has up his sleeve, and hopefully the sleeves of a few extra helpers, because I don’t want to have to wait another 4+ years for his next title.
After having spent some additional time with Wildstar, my impression has soured rather significantly.
I touched on it before, but I really need to reiterate how bad Carbine is screwing up questing. We have known since 2012 that they decided on Twitter-length quest text “because nobody reads it anyway,” but this rather disturbingly flippant attitude results in perhaps the most banal leveling process I have experienced in an MMO. It is one thing to reduce all quests down to kill X mobs or click on Y things, but it’s another thing entirely to not even bother papering over the activities with clever writing. I read quest text because it is the only real difference between MMO A and MMO B, in terms of doing things. With Wildstar, I was about 15 quests in before realizing I was wasting my time reading even their Twitter quests.
“Good job. Do this over there now!” Okay… where is “there?” What am I accomplishing? Ultimately, the truncated dialog doesn’t even matter because it’s faster to just click on the Quest Laundry List to get a directional arrow and rangefinder to tell you exactly where to go. And once you arrive, click on the shiny things, tunnel vision down the Challenge, and follow the next arrow somewhere else. At a certain point, I have to wonder if Wildstar could have pulled off an MMO without NPCs or dialog at all. By the end of the beta, I was barely even looking at the environment.
By the way, the Path system isn’t going to save anything. I tried the Scientist (click on these things with actual lore attached to them), the Settler (click on these things), and Explorer (jumping puzzles + uncover the map) without any real sense about why Carbine decided to compartmentalize the few quests that aren’t bag-n-tag. Maybe they get amazing later, but the only real thing that set them apart from one another are the special abilities that you unlock at the end. The Scientist, for example, can summon party members to his/her location and eventually create portals to the Capital City. Explorers get to triple jump on a 30-min cooldown and the equivalent of the WoW Monk ability Transcendence. Settlers are probably the best in that they create buff stations (that last 60 seconds…) that can grant 30-min buffs like +50% run-speed, bonus XP, and can eventually drop vendors (and I think bank bots, I don’t remember).
Combat-wise, it was not until I read someone describing combat as staring at blue and red circles on the floor that I realized, yes, that is entirely accurate. My initial positive combat experience also seemed to have been colored by a relatively powerful, EZ-mode-esque Stalker class. I tried out the Spellslinger and was shocked to discover that being rooted to the ground for some abilities is a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with the idea generally, but it feels particularly incongruent with Wildstar’s “action move move move huzzah!” zeitgeist. Playing the Engineer sort of cemented the experience that, yes, combat is not nearly as crisp or impactful as I felt on the Stalker. And that there are some serious concerns about the long-term viability of ranged classes.
By the way, take a look at some Warplot PvP:
Supposedly, group content is not quite as much of a visual disaster (you only see the green zones from other players). But hey, who actually knows what will happen in 40m exclusive raids, with attunements no less. A pretty bold plan to double-down on vanilla WoW mechanics in the same year that Blizzard thinks downsizing to 20m raids is more viable with their 7 million subscribers.
And, really, that combination of factors took Wildstar from Hype Train to trainwreck in my eyes. If your endgame is “40m raiding or die,” if your PvP is an epileptic seizure waiting to happen, and if your leveling game is a plotless point-n-click adventure, then… what’s left to justify $60 and a subscription? Player housing? Hoverboards? To an extent, I recognize that it’s a bit harsh to make judgment calls about an MMO based upon the sub-level 20 experience, but… well, should we really be giving games such a free pass anyway? Not at full MSRP, that’s for goddamn sure.
Of course, sometimes these decisions get made for you. Four members of my ex-WoW crew are playing Day 1. If you order it via GMG, you get 20% off. There’s no way the game is worth full MSRP… but how about $48? Ughhhh. Well. I have at least until Monday to make my decision (assuming GMG’s latest 20% coupon doesn’t come back in time), whatever that ends up being.
Let me just put it out there that this abbreviated Beta Impression should by no means be indicative of anything. Titanfall had me by the nucleus accumbens before I even got out of the goddamn tutorial. I can sum up why in one hyphenated word: wall-running.
If I had to use an un-hyphenated word, it’d be “mobility.” Take away the guns and giant death machines raining down from sky, and Titanfall is everything that you loved about Mirror’s Edge. I mean, double-jumps! I haven’t had this much fun simply moving around since… well, Mirror’s Edge and maybe Tenchu. I’m spending so much time belaboring this point because I had a big stupid grin the whole time I was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-ing every single match. Goddamn is it fun to run around.
Now, Titanfall has some problems. And I don’t mean graphical problems (I had 50+ fps at high everything) or beta-esque problems like bugs or whatever. I mean, some pretty structural problems, or at least issues to keep in mind. First, the guns are a bit ridiculous. There is your standard assault rifle, sniper rifle, submachine gun and shotgun that is a one-hit kill (sigh). Then there is also the “Smart Pistol.” What does it do? Oh, it locks onto players and instantly kills them when you get three locks.
That screenshot is from the kill cam I watched after wondering how I instantly died. You might notice that the guy is cloaked. Actually, every player has a cloaking device by default, although the Smart Pistol can defeat it (taking a few seconds longer to lock on). You might also notice how the line curves a bit towards the end. Yeah, Smart Pistol bullets can bend around in mid-air. You don’t have to lead your target or even aim directly at them – as long as they’re within the blue box on your screen, you’ll get your locks, and just pull the trigger.
Now, this gun is also tremendously fun to use, especially when you use it to kill the NPC fodder running around as they die in one lock. But every time you die to it, you’ll be thinking “Bullshit.” Doubly so when you’re dueling some guy who’s dancing around the sky and instantly kills you because he doesn’t have to aim.
About the biggest, most important thing I can talk about is the 6v6 limit to matches. I mean, I filter out anything that isn’t 24v24 or higher in Battlefield 3 & 4. While I was playing though, I have to admit: the environments felt pretty busy. Admittedly, this is entirely because the devs seed the battlefield with NPC fodder troops that you can kill for XP and to accelerate your Titan timer. As some other bloggers mentioned, I didn’t entirely notice all that much damage coming from them either, but it’s possible that is a beta thing. Still, it’s usually worth shooting them to get your goodies faster. Plus, they definitely add to the sort of manic ambiance with their shouts, gunfire, and even random quips.
How are the Titans themselves?
The Titans are fantastic. You get to call one in every 4 minutes, and the timer speeds up by 15 seconds every time you kill a Pilot. They feel powerful without feeling omnipotent, and it’s sometimes correct to call one in and not pilot it – letting the AI engage with the enemy is a great distraction as you cap a strategic point. Every player has an anti-Titan weapon by default, so it never devolves into that depressing Battlefield scenario when a tank rolls by and you can do nothing about it. Plus, if shooting rockets at a Titan doesn’t sound badass enough, you can run up to and “Rodeo” (in-game term) one yourself, which involves scrambling on top and shooting your weapon into the circuitry.
Despite being positively juiced about this game, I still want to make sure you come away with a wet blanket firmly wrapped around your shoulders. Because for how amazingly fun and slick it feels – I let out an audible groan of pleasure when my Titan snatched me out of the air and deposited me inside the cockpit like a goddamn anime – I cannot help but worry this is one of those wirehead moments. In other words, I worry it’s all surface-level pleasure without deeper substance.
I guess it’s arguable as to what substance Battlefield or the latest Call of Duty have, but I feel with Battlefield at least that there is a good variance in map experience precisely because there are 32 different enemy players to run across. While getting matched against 6 clan members isn’t a total shut-out here necessarily (you can still kills NPCs), matches last less than 10 minutes and you can get stomped even faster than that.
Supposedly the PC version of the beta is going to be opened to the public soon, so I recommend trying it out for yourself if you can. My interest in the game went from around ~20 to over 9,000 based on playing it all day Sunday, but I don’t know if I’m willing to pull the trigger on even the discounted pre-order price of $48. I have over 250 hours in PlanetSide 2, over 100 for BF3, and only about 38 hours in BF4. Will Titanfall meet or exceed any of those? Hard to say. There are unlocks, achievements, XP, and all the “normal” FPS trappings. I just… sigh, I just don’t know how long the honeymoon will last, you know?
Until it does end, I suppose I should be getting back to getting busy while I can.
I have been playing the Battlefield 4 beta these last few days, and I’m not quite sure what to think.
It certainly isn’t the jump in quality from Battlefield 2 to 3, that’s for sure, although there are some interesting moves. For example, the default rocket launcher has a tracking mode that activates when the Recon class designates a target with their binoculars; this sort of solves the incredible power discrepancy between Engineers that had unlocked the, er, lock-on launcher versus newbie players.
Another interesting change was how they gave the Recon class (aka snipers) C4 charges. While this makes roof-top campers extremely annoying – they can drop C4 at the elevators and wait for the door opening sound for an auto-kill – it also creates an amazing tension in the class. Do you run out and C4 that tank while risking being caught in close-quarters with a sniper rifle, or do you hang back and try and snipe with a tank blowing you and your team up? Giving snipers claymore mines and assault classes C4 makes more thematic sense, but reversing those roles makes for more interesting gameplay decisions. Even better, the thermal Binoculars you get not only lets you lock on to vehicles for your teammates to kill (you get bonus XP when they do so), but it lets you more easily spot enemies running around that are too far to hit. Or, honestly, that you aren’t skilled enough to hit. Just spotting them is basically 1/4th a kill though, and it’s a useful service to do so.
However, some design changes have gone in the wrong direction. Technically, it was Battlefield 3 that “introduced” the concept of the medic class having to actually unlock their core ability, i.e. to revive people, but Battlefield 4 is taking that to ridiculous extremes. It takes 11,000 Assault-class XP to unlock the Defibrillator, which I hope to god is a placeholder value. Perhaps if smaller maps were available it might not be so bad, but actually getting that amount of XP on a class that otherwise brings nothing interesting to the table is a massive chore; not only do the other classes have easier ways of racking up easy XP, but remember that BF4 (and BF3) made the change to a regenerating HP model too. Between that and the near-zero Time To Kill numbers, the ability to throw a Med-Pack is only ever useful when you find yourself dueling someone from behind cover.
The unlocking situation gets even more ridiculous when you look at the Support class, aka the ammo guy. While I suppose it was annoying/immersion-breaking when a single Support dude could drop an ammo box and spam infinite grenades over the wall, putting the ammo box behind a 52,000 (!) XP grind-wall is an extreme overreaction. The most obvious trickle-down effect is that it makes every class weaker by extension: what good is an Engineer without rockets? Given how you respawn with full ammo, the smart move is then to play both aggressively and carelessly by spamming everything you have and then effectively suicide yourself for Round N+1.
While there has also been some grumblings over the idea of “Battlepacks” – random lockboxes filled with camos, dog tags, XP bonuses, etc – as someone who played Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer for a while, I don’t see it as such a big deal. Yes, it is a cynical cash grab given how you can pay money to buy those things. However, as far as I can tell, you do not actually unlock more powerful weaponry from these boxes. Which automatically makes them less of an issue than ME3’s lockboxes where opening a rare Widow or Carnifex/Paladin was basically the start of your game.
Beta is beta though, and this one is more restrictive than most. Overall, I can’t say that I’m too impressed. It’s honestly been so long ago that I uninstalled BF3 that I forget if being able to spawn inside a vehicle from the Deploy screen is something new to BF4 or not. And, really, that’s kinda what it comes down to: why do we need Battlefield 4 again? Once all the maps are unlocked, then perhaps we’ll see where the differences lay. Plus, supposedly Commander Mode is back.
But right now I do not see any reason why I would be compelled to purchase Battlefield 4 on Day 1 as opposed to when they bundle the game + first Map Pack together. Or, really, when they bundle the game + Season Pass.
For some reason, I am definitely getting more of a Singularity vibe than necessarily a Bioshock vibe. It might simply be I am beyond the saturation phase of Unreal engine games:
I got about 3-4 hours of gameplay in yesterday evening, and am a bit past the point where you can start picking up various powers. Blink is pretty cool, although I was initially let down by my inability to Blink through objects. The other power I purchased was a sort of Life-sense ability that I am inclined to believe is stupid-OP. In fact, I feel pretty OP from the get-go, to be honest. In games like Deus Ex: HR, the downside to “stealth” kills were that they weren’t actually stealthy at all. That is not a problem in Dishonored: enemies are stabbed through the neck and die in under 3 seconds, perfectly silent (as far as I can tell).
In fact, given Blink, the Life-sense skill, instant stealth kills, and the verticalness of the beginning areas thus far, Dishonored feels more like a first-person Tenchu game than anything else. That comparison really hit home when I finished the first area and saw this screen:
The Tenchu series is one of my favorite of all time, so it is not a bad analogy.
The main problem I have at such an early stage is the notion that we have another seemingly binary Bioshock situation between good/evil. As in, there are apparently two different endings, and if you go only halfway, you might be stuck with the “evil” one. Which is fine… in a game where it feels more like a legitimate choice. Bioshock, for example, just asked you not to kill the Little Sisters; DE:HR had scores of nonlethal maneuvers and/or weapons, and I think the nonlethal option was the default takedown when you pressed the button. Conversely, Dishonored has your sword attack bound to left-click, and you need to hold down the Ctrl button for a few seconds to knock someone out instead.
It’s fine for the pacifist play-style to be more challenging upfront. A brand new game just loses some of its luster when I am immediately confronted with a screen like this:
Killing is quick, easy, and fun in Dishonored. Dropping down from a 3-story building onto one guard, Blinking behind another with blade flashing, and taking out a third with a crossbow bolt before the first guy stops bleeding feels like I’m playing Ninja Assassin: the Game. It seems a bit too easy at times, but I imagine that is the point when I am on the first real mission and playing on Normal (there are two higher difficulties); later levels are probably more intricate. Tenchu was mainly as difficult as it was when you cared about getting Grandmaster, at least before those ridiculous “one alarm = failure” missions.
That said, I might start over before going further. If I go the nonlethal route, I should probably go all the way. And if I am going to kill ALL the things, I am probably going to need to bump the difficulty up a few notches.