I have kinda let Fallout 76 slide these past few days, as I reach the mundanity of the endgame. Which mainly consists of server hopping for weapon plans and getting distracted by nuke zones in the process. We’ll see if any of these patches fix anything.
Still in a mood for survival game though, I was sucked back into Starbound with the Frackin’ Universe mod pack. This is a full-body mod that basically changes nearly every aspect of the game by adding dozens of new systems and results in thousands of different interactions. To give you an idea, one of the early buildings is a “wooden centrifuge” that allows you to put water in, and get Hydrogen and Oxygen canisters back out. There are other systems changes as well, including the fact that your character no longer emits light, so things like flashlights and seeding tunnels with hundreds of torches becomes important.
So far I have spent about 8 hours playing and haven’t even left the starter system yet.
The problem I’m facing is two-fold. First, there is a noted lack of direction/progression. The mod includes a whole host of “tutorial” quests to introduce some of the concepts, but in practice they are more like “craft a growbed… now have fun!” While I can’t quite build everything yet, I have like a dozen different crafting stations and no sense of what I should be building, or working towards. “It’s a sandbox, do whatever.” Yeah, no, not how it works. If you look at ARK or even Minecraft, there are subtle channels of progression – things are either level-gated or material gated or biome gated. There’s gating in Frackin’ Universe too, but the starting gate is way too big.
The second issue is sort of mundane, but… I’ve already beat this game. Frackin’ Universe puts in all these new systems and such, but the core game is still about collecting six artifacts and defeating the tentacle monster. There is a longer journey to get there – the mod rebalances things so its not as easy – but the destination is the same. While I could and probably should just create my own goal and do whatever, I feel like if I’m already having to do that, I should probably do that in a game I haven’t already beaten. I mean, I already had 60 hours in vanilla Starbound.
We’ll see. It’s fun (and a bit frustrating) for now. The question will be for how long.
Seeing as I’m a cynical bastard most of the time, it’s fascinating experiencing the frothing internet rage from the other side of the glass for once. “Don’t buy Fallout 76!” “This game feels like an alpha!” “The micro-transactions are ridiculous!” “It’s a glitchy, buggy mess!” Cool story, bros. Imma be over here being totally absorbed in my hunt for Aluminum and Adhesives for 5-6 hours a day.
I mean, is this what it feels like to really enjoy something and then encounter someone who doesn’t, for reasons that seem so disconnected from your personal experience so as to seem divorced from reality? Politics is one thing, but somehow this seems even more extreme.
Let me break it down for you: Fallout 76 is a Survival game. I do not just mean Fallout 76 has hunger and thirst meters, I mean the games you must compare it to are other Survival games. Games like:
- The Forest
- Metal Gear Survive
- State of Decay (1 and 2)
- The Long Dark
- 7 Days to Die
- Conan: Exiles
- No Man’s Sky
Fallout 76 does indeed come up short against some of those. Subnautica is much prettier, for instance. You can’t dig into bedrock and build your own personal bunker like in 7 Days to Die. But the complaints about lack of story, or the emptiness of the world, etc, suddenly become quite silly when you start asking where the NPCs are in, say, ARK. Fallout 76 is better than State of Decay in every category (story, gameplay, basebuilding, etc). Conan: Exiles lets you have slave NPCs at your base, but they aren’t materially different than some turrets most of the time.
Granted, some of these are $30 games and not $60, but still.
If you want to be mad at Bethesda for not making Fallout 5 happen in 2018, then… okay. I don’t think that was ever in the cards even if Fallout 76 didn’t exist, but maybe. It’s like being mad at Blizzard for the Mobile Diablo fiasco – that was a mismanagement of expectations, and likely had zero impact on the work of Diablo 4, which is inevitably coming.
Having said that, I begrudge no one for waiting 6+ months for the (ahem) fallout to settle before taking a second look. Fallout 76 is absolutely a game that will be in better shape a few patches from now. Stash size will be bigger, bugs/crashes will be reduced, some of the quests will actually be completable, there might be more of an endgame, Workshops might be worth something, and so on. No Man’s Sky was a huge letdown on release, but look at it now, within the context of survival games. If I still had space on my SSD, I might have booted NMS up again with this latest patch.
If I were not spending every waking moment playing and enjoying (!!!) Fallout 76, that is.
I managed to put a solid five hours of play into the Fallout 76 Beta last night.
My overall impression is that the game is fun, despite the frustrations. Whether the game will continue being fun for any particular length of time is another matter entirely.
Let’s start with the basics. The game is gorgeous. Prior Fallout titles judiciously used green/brown wasteland scenery and only populated certain pockets with relatively normal plant life. Here in West Virginia though, you start out in a vibrant, Autumnal wilderness. The music has also been surprisingly good. In fact, I pretty much have left the Pip-Boy radio off through my entire playthrough. One, because it was unnecessary, and two, because everyone around you can hear it.
Speaking of other people, well, they exist. I did not run into any griefers during my playthrough, nor did anyone stream rap music or racial slurs. Conversations were cordial, and mostly focused on pointing people towards where the good loot was located. As reported pretty much everywhere, there is no text chat – everything is open mic.
That said, people are also distracting. Listening to one of the dozens of holotapes strewn across the landscape is hard when XxSephirothxX is chatting about (and demonstrating) how the cars can be punched until they explode in a huge fireball. You can always listen to the holotapes later, but they are often context sensitive to where you found them.
The economy of the game takes a significant shift in thinking. Within about ten minutes of starting, I came across a few ruined buildings with about five Scorched (burnt ghouls that can use guns). I killed four but actually died to the last one, which appeared to be an elite of some kind (had a crown near his level indicator). I respawned, walked back down, picked up my bag of dropped junk, killed the elite, and started looting. The elite was somehow carrying half a dozen pipe rifles. Jackpot, right?
There are vendor robots and kiosks in various locations, but the vendor rate appears to be 10% or less. As in, if the item says it’s value is 30 caps, you get 3 caps at best. Fast traveling about four inches on the map costs 7 caps. Moving your CAMP costs 5 caps. Blueprints are 120 caps.
The vast majority of the time, you are much better off scrapping… well, everything. Collect a bunch of weapon, Junk, and other sundries, find a workbench of any kind (thankfully) and break them down for parts like scrap metal, screws, and the worth-its-weight-in-gold aluminum. Breaking down weapons gives you a chance to acquire modding blueprints and the like as well. Then take those bits and pieces and upgrade, repair, and otherwise craft the gear you want.
This feels like more of a sea change in practice than it might come across in text. Damn near everything drops weapons… which I guess normally happens in Fallout games. But now you need to hoard stuff and collect all the things so you can scrap it, because crafting is now a huge component to the game at every level. Settlements in Fallout 4 might have been whatever to you, but your CAMP is basically the only home you’ll ever have. Weapons and armor wear down and break at inopportune times, and even if they don’t, you need this stuff to upgrade your existing stock.
Having said all of the above, there are some somewhat serious concerns.
For one thing, the inventory management of Fallout 76 is hardcore. Now, it’s a typical Fallout game insofar as weight is basically the only driving concern… but it’s a big one. A lot of people on Reddit found out early that your Stash (shared inventory) has a weight limit of 400 lbs of stuff. This might seem like a lot or a little, but the bottom line is that you can easily reach this cap in less than 10 hours of playing. Hell, if you come across some early Power Armor, that’s nearly 100 lbs right there. Junk has weight, scrap has weight, weapons that you can’t use yet – yes there are minimum level restrictions on weapons – have weight. All of this adds up quickly, and I have no idea what exactly the plan is for when you aren’t level 7 and have a full Stash. Throw everything out? Only loot 1-2 key resources? I’m hoping that this weight limit is a Beta thing.
Another issue is that this game is very much a console port. Again. Pressing Esc brings up your map. Then you have to press Z to open the settings/options menu. What? Fallout has never had a particularly good UI scheme, but I found it largely impossible to tell what blueprints I had just acquired from scrapping a gun. For example, I unlocked “Ivory Handle” but did not see it as an option when modifying any of my guns. Maybe it was an ivory handle to a knife? No idea. You have to dig into the Pip-Boy to find out what the disease you just picked up does. Again, this is par for the course for Fallout games, but this is also a no-pause, no safe place survival game.
Don’t get me started on the CAMP screen when trying to build shit. Let’s just say that Z and C are involved to navigate around. It’s not intuitive at all.
There is no Beta tonight, but there will be some extra time this weekend. I plan on playing as much as possible. The game is a lot of fun, despite my grumblings. But like I said at the beginning, it’s hard to tell for how long. At some point, there will be a transition from “loot all the things” to “can’t loot all the things” to “don’t care about looting things.” It’s tough to forecast how quickly that transition will occur, but I can already see it on the horizon.
When it comes, I suppose that’s when we’ll see the griefers really come out of the woodwork.
Why did I think it was a good idea to start playing Stardew Valley for the first time this weekend? The Fallout 76 Beta is coming out like tomorrow, and I decided it was a good idea to boot up a game that has already consumed 10 hours of my time in two days? Good lord.
As a side note, it’s amusing experiencing the same synapses firing off when I farm and plant crops as I do when playing survival games. It’s starting to make me wonder whether I like survival games, or if I have been using survival games to scratch the itch for farming simulators.
Either way, it’s trouble. I gotta do stuff this week.
(e.g. Why I Stopped Playing: The Forest.)
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.
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?
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.
Conan: Exiles (hereafter Conan) is basically ARK where the dinosaurs are people.
Not really… but kinda.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tropes are a thing. A lot of people feel like tropes are the worst thing imaginable, and every new title should be breaking new ground every time, or what is the point? That’s a bit unrealistic, I think. To me, tropes can be comforting. Experience in one game does not often transfer to another, so when it does, it can help in understanding the mechanics that interact in new ways. Plus, sometimes the tropes make the genre what it is.
That said, I have been playing a lot of survival games lately, and some of these tropes have got to go.
Starting out naked with no items? That’s good, important even.
Crafting recipes that require a resource that should be abundant, but turns out to be super rare? That shit has got to go. I’m in Conan: Exiles and there are two early-game arrow recipes: one requires bones and the other requires feathers. Just guess how many bones exist in the average human or animal. If you guessed “a similar number to the amount of feathers that are contained in a clearly-feathered ostrich-like creature,” you would be correct. Zero, specifically, on average.
Although, arguably worse is how little bark you can harvest from trees.
Shit like that didn’t phase me much in the past, but I think I was spoiled by The Forest. In that survival game, you can just chuck dead bodies on your campfire, and 6-7 bones would pop out a few minutes later. Oh, and it has the best building mechanic in any survival game I have played: you set down a blueprint and then have to carry the materials to that location. That makes way better sense than putting 540 stones in your (loincloth) inventory, crafting a Furnace that mysteriously weighs 50% less, and then plopping it down wherever.
At the same time, having experienced the ability to climb anywhere in Conan, it will be tough to go back to other survival games in which a waist-high cliff is an insurmountable obstacle.
One step forward, two, three, sometimes forty steps back.
Project Zomboid (PZ) is an Early Access, isometric post-zombie apocalypse survival game set in Kentucky. While the pared down graphics and isometric camera might give one pause, I was fairly excited to give the game a try. What I discovered is possibly one of the more “realistic” survival games out there… and that realism is way overrated. And less fun to play.
Honestly, I was actually surprised how much I disliked PZ almost immediately. After character creation, you take control inside the one for-sure non-zombie house – your own. From here, you go through houses and find… normal stuff. Fully stocked refrigerators and freezers. Ovens to cook raw meat. Working lights. Faucets that deliver fresh water directly to your mouth. While your character starts with no skills, you are fully capable of surviving quite a while just fine doing nothing.
That does not last for long, of course. Within a month or so, both the electricity and water will shut off permanently. So the game’s central conceit reveals itself: how long can you survive?
In the abstract, this is not dissimilar to, say, Oxygen Not Included, wherein there is no win condition per se. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find myself immediately repulsed by PZ, conceptually. When you wake up naked on a beach in ARK, there is a very obvious, grokkable progression path towards survival. All of that is turned on its head with PZ. I found myself ransacking houses for supplies, and then asking myself why.
The answer is supposed to be “to prepare for self-sufficiency and safety after the lights and water turn off,” but that feels like such a weird, abstract endgame. It’s definitely unique in this particular genre, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it’s probably unique for a reason, e.g. it feels bad. You aren’t building up to self-sufficiency, you’re building down. It is also harder to feel any particular sense of urgency without metagaming the entire experience.
I dunno. There is technically a starting game mode which takes place 6 months after the start of the zombie apocalypse, which features the water and lights already off, and most things already looted. In other words, a more typical survival game experience. But after spending a few hours with the base game, I don’t know that I feel it.
This is definitely going to be one of those Early Access titles that needs more time in the oven.
An hour or so after yesterday’s post, I went ahead and bought State of Decay 2. Life is short, I have the money, let’s do the thing.
Just as a warning though, Microsoft doesn’t make it easy.
State of Decay 2 is not on Steam. Further, there is no express PC copy. The game is apparently part of Microsoft’s “Play Anywhere” initiative, which means you end up having to buy the Xbox One copy, which can also be played on Windows 10 machines. I purchased on Amazon because of my 5% cash back card, but I suppose you could do so from the Microsoft store a bit more directly.
The problems were just beginning though. One of the first things I had to do was associate my PC with a Microsoft account. My copy of Windows 10 is legit, but I never bothered to register it or anything, so now apparently I had to reconfigure how I sign into my own damn computer just to get access to the storefront. Once that was done, I took my digital code, followed the links, and redeemed the code in the Microsoft store. But… where was my download button? Where was My Games? Every link I followed just took me around in circles.
In case you follow my lead, hopefully this link works:
That will hopefully take you directly to the game’s page. Be aware that you’ll probably still need to add your PC as a Device on Microsoft’s servers or whatever, but you should be able to eventually download it from there.
I cannot comment much on the gameplay thus far, beyond confirming that it’s definitely scratching the itch. I’m not a fan of the game giving me a mission to kill a Plague Heart, pointing me to an NPC that gives me explosives for free, and then surprising me with the fact that the very items it told me to use were not enough to actually kill said Plague Heart, but whatever. I’m looting things, building a base, and killing some zombies. That’s exactly what I wanted to do in this moment.