Impressions: Against the Storm
Against the Storm (AtS) is a roguelike city-builder, and may very well be the first of its kind. Each game feels like the early to midgame turns of a Civilization match as you explore the foggy forest in pursuit of randomized resources that will force you to adapt your builds in new ways every time. And right as the combination of production synergies and passive abilities make your base amazing… the match is over, and you prepare to do it all over again somewhere else.
Random really is the name of the game. The win condition is raising your Reputation bar to maximum before the Queen’s Ire bar fills up. To raise your Reputation, you complete randomized Orders (quests), solve randomized Events/Caches strewn in glades on the map, leverage randomized Cornerstone abilities (passives), or raise the Resolve (happiness) meter of one or more of your races past a certain point to earn a steady trickle. You’ll do all of these things by collecting resources randomly distributed on the map, with buildings that were chosen from, you guessed it, a random assortment.
If all that randomness sounds a bit off-putting, well, it is. At first.
The genius of the game’s design is how it leans into adaptability. For example, if you wanted to make Beer, it’s very possible for there to be no Wheat on your map and no Farm building offered to grow Wheat. That sucks. But Beer can be made from Wheat or Roots. Or maybe you get offered a series of choices that leads you towards Wine or something else instead, which you trade for Wheat. Damn near every production building in the game has 3+ alternative inputs available, and since some buildings are more efficient than others, you are passively steered in certain directions that might be out of your comfort zone. I’ve had maps where I was just never offered something fundamental, like Planks or complex foods, and had to radically alter my gameplan to survive.
Remember Sid Meier saying games are a series of interesting decisions? That’s Against the Storm.
Successfully completing a map gains you progression currency you spend unlocking passive bonuses and other goodies back at the Smoldering City. After that, it is back to the world map and selecting the next hex to tackle. Each possible biome has a general theme and resources that appear more frequently. Select your randomized starting party, add some specific resources of your choosing, and then spend the next 5 minutes with the game paused to study the randomized buffs/debuffs you have received, and choose your randomized starting three building blueprints. You will repeat this cycle 5-6 times until the entire world gets reset (except for meta-progression) and you start everything again.
It is worth noting here that I don’t actually like city-builders all that much. I played SimCity 2000 for hundreds of hours ages ago and Frostpunk was okay, but I’m not especially a fan of games where you alternate between Pause and 3x speed. AtS is especially egregious in this regard because of all the interlocking parts with production buildings and various, randomized resources. That very randomness though, is precisely what has kept be playing for the last 25 hours – specifically the desire to optimize the madness. Each map will take you 1.5-2 hours to beat and then you are given a clean slate, so don’t come in thinking you will be making a self-sustaining colony or anything.
Overall, I am very impressed.
The game is starting to wind down for me though, as I have noticed my desire to win just for the upgrade currency to unlock new passives… that will make wining again easier. The offset for that are higher difficulties, including “Prestige” (aka Ascension) ranks that have ever-increasing maluses, but that’s not exactly what I’m looking for. And if I was, I would just play Slay the Spire.
So apparently there’s this Liebster thing going around, and since I’m still kinda wiped out from traveling, let’s dive right in.
1. What was your very first MMO character and why did you choose that race?
Blood Elf warlock in WoW named Izuko. When I first decided to get into WoW, I had to decide early on whether to buy just the base game or the game plus Burning Crusade expansion. Since I went with the latter, I also knew that companies have a tendency to make expansion races/classes overpowered, which meant I needed to roll either Blood Elf or Draenei. While I clearly ended up sticking with Azuriel the Draenei paladin overall, Eversong Woods was perhaps the best possible starting zone for anyone new to MMOs.
Useless personal trivia: I quit playing Izuko after my leveling guild fell apart while I was in the mid-40s in Hinterlands. I was ready to quit WoW entirely at that point – old-school Hinterlands was awful at the best of times – but felt like that I wouldn’t get my money’s worth if I didn’t at least roll a Draenei. So I did. And here I am, blogging about going to PAX East with my former WoW guildmates, whom I’ve only ever met in person once before, at GenCon. Then again, I’ve probably talked to them over Vent for more hours over the past six years than any of my IRL friends.
2. Would you rather have a tiny elephant as a pet, or a tiny kangaroo?
Neither. I enjoy other peoples’ pets and have owned some in the past myself, but having to literally manage their shit has lost all appeal. If I had to pick though: tiny elephant, no question.
3. Do you overuse any figures of speech in your writing or speaking?
So… yeah. About that. For the most part, I write like I speak, including adding what probably amounts to superfluous commas all over the damn place. I have also noticed that an embarrassing number of sentences are bisected by “but,” but I’m not sure what I can really do about it. And the “so” thing.
4. You can snap your fingers and visit any city in the world. Where are you?
It’s a bit pretentious, but… Kyoto. Been there both times I traveled to Japan and plan on including it on any future Japanese itinerary.
5. What was your first (real life) pet? Who is your favorite pet?
I believe it was a gecko, which soon got lost in the grass when I tried to “walk” it. My favorite pet was probably my dog, Bo (we had a cat/dog pair named Rocky and Bullwinkle). Bo was one of those pets that spanned multiple Ages, from elementary to college.
He’s been dead for a while now, thanks for asking.
6. You’re on a desert island and only have one album, one movie, and one book. What are they?
The album question is a bit tough, as I have zero loyalty to specific artists, only good songs. Based on number of top-rated songs on my iTunes account, it looks like Auidoslave’s debut album and/or the soundtrack to Her would win overall. Hmm, apparently Fort Minor’s Rising Tied is also up there. On an island though, I’d probably need to relax, for which the Her soundtrack is most conducive.
In terms of being able to rewatch/reread something over and over, I have to go with Fifth Element and… uh… the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Because who reads one book over and over?
7. Why did you start a blog?
I was pretty active on the WoW forums back in TBC and Wrath. Over time, I realized that the same (discredited) arguments were being trotted out again and again, so I figured that I could save myself time by copy/pasting a well-sourced post rather than spamming the same text. Additionally, things on the forums had tendency to go “poof,” so I also wanted some way to preserve Blue posts and the like. It was a pretty poorly thought-out plan, I admit.
Later on, I found that I played WoW for the AH shenanigans, so it made sense to make Player Vs Auction House. This was followed later on by the realization that, no, I did like arguing with strangers over the internet more after all. And still do, to this very day.
8. What’s your favorite video game soundtrack?
I’m changing this question to favorite video game composer. In which case, Yasunori Mitsuda, hands down. Being forced to choose between the Chronos and Xenogears soundtracks is simply cruel. Although have you listened to Xenogears Creid? Hmm… now that I think about it, I’ll go with Xenogears straight-up.
9. Which writers have been the most influential in your own writing?
I’m not entirely sure how influenced I am in writing style, but I am quite often in utter awe over Jerry Holkins’ (of Penny Arcade) poetic prose. Something something Dickwolves, I know. But seriously, read this shit:
It must be said, though, that they have a different kind of cold than I have in my town. Brenna wanted to take a walk before she had to fly out one year after the show, and I said no, that was a terrible idea, because people were freezing in place where they stood out there and being loaded onto trucks like cordwood, bundled for quick sale, to those for whom freshness was paramount.
Somehow we ended up on the walk anyhow, because whatever, who cares, and we hadn’t gotten three blocks before we turned back. I would like to say that this was a choice we made, turning back, but we were turned back because your cold is of a fundamentally different sort. We went back because we could not go forward. It wasn’t a land habitable by people. Their cold is the great Leviathan, which marks the edge of the map.
That was just a recent example in my spartan, verbal shrine to well-crafted sentences.
10. What is your favorite virtual hat in any game?
T6/Veng Glad paladin helm in WoW. I’m a sucker for halos, especially since I usually turn helms off.
And that’s it.
While I answered the questions, this was a half-assed commitment, so I’m breaking the chain.
Recommended price: $10 (full)
Metacritic Score: 83
Completion Time: 50+ hours
Buy If You Like: 2D Minecraft, procedurally-generated Metrovania platformers
Up until I started playing a few weeks ago, the entire mental space Terraria occupied for me can be summed up as “that 2D Minecraft knock-off.” I am not even sure which game came first, and it did not seem to matter: Terraria was just another game about digging for ore and crafting better pickaxes to mine for more ore. In only two dimensions.
After seeing an entire weekend evaporate in a flurry of clicking pixel blocks however, I am here to say that Terraria is not just a 2D Minecraft clone. It is an unholy union between all the addictive parts of Minecraft combined with legitimately entertaining Metrovania gameplay with a liberal dose of SNES graphical/musical nostalgia thrown into the mix.
Terraria starts out innocently enough, with your character equipped with a copper sword, axe, and mining pick. The beginning hours will be spent chopping trees, building your first crafting station, killing some slimes to turn their quivering innards into fuel for your torches, and so on. Much like Minecraft, zombies and other uglies come out at night which drives you to create shelter and then start digging underground for wont of something else to do.
While it might not initially seem so at first, there is a surprising amount of depth (har har) to Terraria’s gameplay. While you are hunting around for Copper and Iron ore, you will of course encounter enemies in the deep places of the earth. You will also frequently encounter priceless clay pots of a forgotten age which can be broken and looted for coins. You will eventually start coming across chests filled with goodies/equipment, and even crystalline Hearts, which can be broken and then consumed to increase your HP.
As you hit certain milestones, the world around you changes. Once you have accumulated 50 silver pieces, a Merchant will hang around your house, provided you build a room for him to sleep in. Finding and hoarding bombs will cause the Demolitionist to start peddling his explosive warez. And once you surpass 200 HP, there is an increasing chance the Eye of Cthulhu (the first boss) will settle its gaze upon your growing hamlet.
Not only does all this progression feel natural, it is also addicting. Your hunt for better ores to craft better armor and weapons to make your life easier leads to encountering stronger foes and ever more secrets. While crafting is a lot less complex than with Minecraft – you can talk to the Guide to see every craftable item that a given ingredient can produce – it simultaneously feels a bit deeper. Hitting Diamond could be accomplished relatively quickly in Minecraft, at which point you were essentially in the endgame. Contrast that with Terraria, where the natural hardiness of your foes directs your exploration of the whole of the game map before culminating in a Final Boss… whose defeat unlocks the Hardmode version of your world, with new enemies and even harder bosses.
Of course, all of this implicit progression leads to a necessarily more finite resolution. While there are quite a few different set pieces to play around with, you are probably not going to spend the same amount of time building castles and mountain fortresses here as you would in Minecraft. That said, my game clock read 53 hours by the time I finished off the last of the Hardmode bosses and crafted the final piece of my ultimate armor. I could farm these bosses a few more times for their exclusive material drops – who wouldn’t want to run around with a flamethrower? – but it almost seems superfluous at this point. What would be next? Would I reroll a new character in a new procedurally-generated world? I could. But I feel I have already mastered these mechanics, and would simply arrive at the same destination a bit faster this time around. Hell, I could even equip my new character with the flamethrower and best pickaxe in the game to further speed along the process. Or I could go play something else.
Overall, the only real regret I have with Terraria was having spent all the time up to this point thinking of it as just a 2D Minecraft. Both games share many similar qualities, but why would another instance of “cause one to lose all track of time” or “become obsessed with mining better ore” be considered a deficiency? Both games are fun, in slightly different ways. Indeed, I am not even sure which one I would recommend first to someone who has played neither. Show Minecraft first, and like me, you might be a tad disappointed in the more limited forms of customization and Terraria not quite comparing to the sheer scale of an infinite 3D world. With Terraria going first though, you run the risk of having the person balk at Minecraft’s lack of direction and flat sense of progression.
In any case, having indie game companies force these tough choices on us when the AAA industry is falling over themselves pumping out derivative, 6-hour long sequels is ultimately a good problem to have.