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Pre-Burnout

I decided to start playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (BLPS), as one of the literal 124 games in my Epic library that I did not pay for. No, really, I just counted one-hundred and twenty-four. Minus one, as I did end up purchasing Outward way back in the day:

Anyway. Borderlands: Pre-Sequel!

…yeah, it sucks. I give myself about a 40% chance of uninstalling it the next time I play.

There are a lot of people who don’t, but I for one actually do appreciate the Borderlands writing style. The humor doesn’t always land, but there simply aren’t many people out there writing, well, out there. Most games have utterly boring dialog and take their generic plots very seriously. So when you have a game series that does the exact opposite, amusing things can happen.

That’s not the problem though. The problem is the gameplay.

Back in the day (Jesus Christ, 2013?!), I talked about getting burned out on Borderlands 2. At the time, I was talking about the absurdity that occurs when you get to the level cap and end up facing enemies with tens of millions of HP. Some of that is impacting me even at the beginning of BLPS, as I start wondering whether I am going to just plow through the story missions or play this “for real.” See, nothing you do matters in a Normal playthrough. And on the next playthrough, you have to plow through the story again until the level-cap, doing zero side-quests, lest the unique side-quest rewards roll stats at your non-level-cap level. Which would make them instantly useless.

The other part though, is just how the gameplay design doesn’t fit the design of the game. For example, for such a kinetic gunplay experience, Borderlands has these awkward moments of intense inventory management. Bosses and enemies can explode in a fountain of epic loot… and you have to meticulously look at each one to analyze its stats, see if you have enough inventory space to pick it up, and so on. BLPS takes this to a whole new level considering the game takes place on a low-gravity moon. Which means you can be in an intense firefight and killing enemies with jetpacks, only to watch in horror as potentially good loot goes flying off in all sorts of directions.

Speaking of low-gravity, BLPS adds the element of gliding and slamming as attacking maneuvers. Which is fine. But it really highlights the fact that there isn’t much that the game is asking you to do that is actually supported in the game. This isn’t a cover-based shooter, for example, but the game does expect you to take cover/crouch to avoid damage while waiting for your shields to recharge. Arial acrobatics and butt-stomps are nice and all, but good luck surviving long enough to do any damage as you are literally floating out in open vacuum. Most of the encounters I face are either trivial or overwhelmingly difficult, depending on the availability of cover and whether enemies are randomly equipped with shocking guns (which melts shields).

The above issues are not unique to BLPS, of course. In 2021 though, the standards to what nonsense I am willing to endure have been raised.

Finally, I just have to say there are extremely early parts of BLPS that is just frustratingly bad. Like when you just start playing the game and are facing multiple rooms full of hostiles before you get your very first shield. Was that a thing in BL2? I don’t remember. But there’s also an area after unlocking the first vehicle where you are expected to make a jump while boosting… and I fell into the pit like six times in a row. I was boosting, I was hitting the obvious ramp, and down in the pit I went. Almost uninstalled that night. The deaths were irrelevant – the percentage of wealth penalty is trivial at that level – but it indicated to me that either the game was going to be that janky, or that I no longer understood what the game was asking me to do.

So far, the answer seems to be “both.”

Impression: Kingdom Come: Deliverance

It has actually been a while since I first started playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance (KC:D), but in that time I have put in around 50 hours. I am not certain that I will put in any more time to complete the game, but figured I would go ahead and dedicate some virtual real estate to my experience.

Wake up and smell the peasantry.

In short, KC:D is for a very specific type of player. And I’m not it.

There are a lot of things to like about the game. Visually stunning. Novel setting and premise, insofar as it’s a no-magic, no-hero medieval adventure. Immersive without needing quotes – first-person perspective in which you can see your feet, helmets getting in the way, walking (or riding) through the muck and rain. Arbitrarily hardcore, even at the expense of fun… which some people enjoy.

Again, I’m not one of them. Or maybe I can be, but not entirely this particular flavor.

The best example is with the combat. You have probably encountered dozens of variations of “you start out as an illiterate blacksmith’s son with no combat experience, OF COURSE combat is hard at first!” I mean, yes and no. Yes in that you start off as a level 1 character with literally no skills or points to put them in until you get XP. No in that the combat system is still trash at max level, as you typically just perform the same moves you have been doing the whole time, except this time you have enough skill points for shit to matter. That’s about as realistic as World of Warcraft or literally any RPG ever made. Except here you are still stuck stabbing faces (lest you be unbeatably countered) while waiting for your opponents to attack (so you can unbeatably counter them).

Also activated the perk: Jank

Oh, and occasionally you will be surrounded by peasants and murdered because lock-on targeting jank. Which is “realistic,” I guess. About as realistic as clipping through a bush or under some stairs and attacking back with impunity.

Another vaunted feature is the whole “the world goes on without you” bit. Example: if someone asks you to meet them tomorrow at sunrise at the crossroads, they will simply go on without you if you don’t show. REALISM. Except… that doesn’t always happen. Some quests will wait for you for months, including Crossroads Boy before you talk to him. Which is handy when you unexpectedly get locked up in jail for in-game weeks after attacking sleeping bandits who were scripted to ambush you, but apparently count as innocent villagers when you pre-murder them.

Which, philosophically, well… huh. Morally though, I think I’d feel worse if the voice of god had not automatically whispered my witness-less deeds to every guard in the kingdom.

Oh, apparently it was only 9 days…

But, real talk, are you the type of player who is fine permanently failing quests you did not realize were timed? I’m not. Which means I had to do a lot of Googling on every upcoming quest to figure out when I was “allowed” to go explore the game and when I was locked on rails lest I run out the invisible clock. One of the biggest failings of the Witcher 3’s story (IMO) was a false sense of urgency with the primary quest, which made the overall impetus for action a joke. But Kingdom Come: Deliverance’s seemingly random adherence to the clock feels worse in practice.

Most RPGs do the false sense of urgency thing. But most RPGs don’t try to present themselves as some kind of immersive sim either. I don’t hold a Final Fantasy to the same sort of standard, even if the fate of the world is supposedly at stake. 

At the end of all that, I still put in 50+ hours, so that’s saying something. I did not encounter TOO many bugs beyond some combat jank. I did lose probably around 4 total hours of progress to the asinine saving system, which involves you needing to manually drink some liqueur. There are mods to fix that (and other issues) but I could not be bothered to manually install them. Instead, I simply stole everything not bolted down from everyone I could to pay for my Quick Save addiction, which was still not good enough to prevent me from losing progress in dumb ways (e.g. peasant dog-piles). 

If you’re looking for Skyrim 2.0, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not it. But it’s also not the worst thing in the world. Just go into it knowing a lot of systems are obtuse on purpose, and not always because it’s good game design.

Nevertheless, sometimes the novelty of brazzeness counts for more than you think.

Impressions: Conan: Exiles

Conan: Exiles (hereafter Conan) is basically ARK where the dinosaurs are people.

Not really… but kinda.

ConanSandbox_Sunrise

It can be a very pretty game too.

The first thing I want to say about Conan is that this is perhaps the first survival game I have played that has completely nailed the setting and tone. In a lot of these games, you are a faceless protagonist, or a random nobody who just suddenly is completely fine with butchering cannibals within minutes of regaining consciousness. In this game, you are a barbarian, in a barbarian land, doing some very barbaric things. And it fits.

In ARK, you tame dinosaurs by beating them unconscious with clubs, rocks, or narcotics. Then you… put food and more narcotics into their inventories. In Conan, you beat warriors/cooks/etc unconscious with a club. Then you… tie a rope to their legs and drag them along the ground back to your camp, and lash them to your Wheel of Pain, feeding them gruel or even human flesh, until their will to resist finally breaks and they join you. Crom would be pleased.

ConanSandbox_Thrall

Just another future Thrall, about to be lashed to the Wheel of Pain.

Like I said, it fits the theme and tone of the game. All of that is further reinforced by the demonic mobs, corruption of mad gods, and other sort of weirdness that permeates the land. It feels right.

Having said all that, there is a lot of jankiness all over the place. I’m not just talking about the typical survival game tropes like carrying 500+ stones in your loincloth inventory, or how your Thralls will sometimes unequip themselves of their weapons. I mean the very consistent outright bugs, like how attacks don’t register if you are fighting under a tent. Or the overall jarring inconsistencies in progression, like the ridiculous hoops you have to go through to complete the early-game Journal task of “skinning a creature with a knife” (literally a dozen+ steps). Or the general incongruent nature of a more “realistic” game in which you cannot simply loot the items that NPCs are wearing, or interact with any of the set pieces that dot the land.

ConanSandbox_Bug1

Pictured: no damage being taken, because standing next to a rope.

I think that, more than anything, there is one thought that is draining most of my enthusiasm away from playing Conan: “Elder Scrolls Online did it better.” Can you slaughter a camp of people and drain the Unfulfilled Desires from their corpses to fuel your ritual offerings to Derketo in TESO? No. You can, however, interact with the world in a meaningful way, like… you know, sitting in a chair, opening a crate, stealing a bowl. Certainly the whole dungeon thing works a hell of a lot better when death does not send you back across the map, naked and alone.

For the record, my experiences in Conan have been from the viewpoint of someone playing it single-player on a local server. I ended up cranking up the resource gain to x4 rate, which is probably too high, but farming iron ore for days and days is just dumb. It was dumb in ARK too, but that was on purpose: you were meant to tame dinosaurs to make collecting resources more efficient. In Conan, it’s just mindless labor meant to create PvP opportunities in which someone jacks all your stuff.

ConanSandbox_Base

My current base, sans defenses.

We’ll see how long interest lasts. I tried my first dungeon the other day, and was slaughtered by the boss all the way at the end. Despite having admin powers and the ability to spawn all my equipment back on my body and teleport back to the area, there was a very tangible part of me that felt like that was an interest-terminating loss. I never felt deprived in ARK for not seeing the bosses there while playing single-player, but dungeons in Conan are more of a thing. Probably because there are less “things” in the world otherwise.