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Rimworlder

As feared, I succumbed to Rimworld yet again.

The experience of playing Rimworld 1.4 with all the paid DLC has been interesting. And yet, simultaneously, an outrageous slog. Principally, my problem with Rimworld is the opening act. The “game” doesn’t really start until you have a working refrigerator and a relatively stable colony of 5-6 people. Before that point, you do not have the resources or manpower to engage much with the Research tree, rituals, caravans to other settlements, or any of the fun war crime shenanigans that just sort of happen on the way down the slippery slope.

To back up a bit, let me talk about my first scenario this time around: Rich Explorer. Instead of crash landing with three pawns, you land with just one but with a pile of money and a tech tree unlocked enough to built turrets right away. For some reason, this particular scenario has been speaking to me for months now – possibly because it speaks to the sort of survival games I enjoy. What I discovered was… pain, and not just because I run the Randy storyteller with the 2nd highest difficulty. Basically you have to have Construction 5 skill on your pawn in order to craft turrets, so I was defending solo for the first year. Not that it would matter much, because turrets require power, which was difficult to set up when you are also trying to sow crops to survive the winter. And that’s another deviation from my historical Rimworld attempts, e.g. not selecting a temperate zone that has year-round crops.

I persisted with that playthrough all the way to the next summer, until the moment that the four pawn colony I had scraped together all managed to get food poisoning at the same time. I wasn’t under attack or anything, I was just frustrated beyond reason that all four of my pawns were vomiting constantly, weak with fatigue, and I was zoomed in, watching pixels to see if they managed to actually finish eating the meal or would get interrupted and then collapse on the floor from starvation or not. It’s very possible that the colony would be fine, but I didn’t want to waste my time even on the highest game speed to see if they would.

Honestly, I don’t remember much about the 2nd attempt. I just abandoned it for similar reasons.

The third and current attempt is somewhat of a “cheese” run. Using the Biotech DLC, I decided to create my own xenotype that includes the Iron Stomach trait that makes them immune to Food Poisoning. I also used the Ideology DLC to create a belief that organ harvesting is OK, seeing corpses don’t provide a negative debuff, and research speed is increased. My pawns are genetically addicted to Psychite though and the area I settled in only has two growing seasons. Plus, any recruits beyond those initial three won’t have the xenotypes or Ideology bonuses without extra work.

That said… it’s still a slog. I’m currently surviving (thus far) the winter and barely have had time to research any new techs, let alone anything that utilizes the rest of the DLC material. Which is not necessarily the “point” of the game, but come on. All the fun stuff (to me) occurs when you have a somewhat stable base and can start meaningfully interacting with the rest of the game world. I’m still very far from being able to do anything with gene editing, Psycasts, or anything other than try and survive the winter without multiple psychological breaks.

Welcome to the rim, I guess.

Impressions: Grounded, pt 2

While the first Impressions post for Grounded was a week ago, the reality is that I have been mainlining the game daily for the past three weeks. That first post was written based on my first dozen hours or so, but I ended up playing so much that I never got around to actually posting it. So here are my impressions about the game after some 50+ hours.

Grounded is good. Sometimes annoying. Definitely still Soulslike.

The game world continues to be a huge star of the show. Survival games sometimes have to make huge contortions to accommodate varied biomes – lava must coexist with snow and deep oceans and deserts all in the same map – but the way Grounded interweaves its own biomes is a masterclass in design. The backyard is a believable backyard. And yet going from the Grasslands to the canopy of the Hedge is a big transition. Or to the pond. Or in the sandbox, with it’s deadly Sizzle effect when you traverse the dunes without shade. These are different places, with different resources, and different challenges to overcome. And it all feels… coherent. Believable. Or at least, as believable as teenagers crafting crossbows out of grass vines and crow feathers can be.

Some aspects of the game have begun to provide friction. As you become stronger and explore further afield (ayard?), you… well, have further to go each time. Ziplines become a means of faster-ish travel, but they require a LOT of setup – constructing a vertical tower in the yard, carrying supplies to build destination anchors, and slaughtering dozens and dozens of spiders to turn their webs into silk to craft the zipline itself. Meanwhile, the only way to repair your Antlion Armor is to kill Antlions in the Sandbox, the best healing component must be farmed in the Pond, and you feel in your weary bones how much more time will get wasted with each unblocked attack you take while exploring the Upper Yard for the first time. It gets pretty exhausting, especially when you have to leave an area, inventory laden with loot, and know how much busywork is ahead of you before you can go back again.

Perhaps the better recourse would be to build multiple bases instead of one major hub. Problem with that is some of the more advanced crafting stations can’t really be moved easily. Plus, it’s arguable as to how much time you would really be saving building several bases.

In any case, I am decidedly approaching the endgame. Having achieved upgraded Tier 3 Armor and Weapons, I can say that most fights with bugs are less Soulslike than they were in the beginning. As in, I don’t have to Perfect Block every single attack in order to not die. The tradeoff, as explained earlier, is that you end up needing to farm up considerably more healing potions and items to repair your gear. Some of the bugs I am facing do indeed still pose an incredible threat even with all my gear, so don’t believe you can necessarily gear your way past everything. Plus, there are required boss fights in this game, including different Phases and novel attacks.

And this is kinda what gets me about Grounded. The setting, premise, and story do not match the gameplay. Teenagers from the 90s shrunken down and running around their backyard for flimsy story reasons leads you to believe this is a game that might appeal to younger players. On Normal difficulty, it most decidedly is not a game for younger players. Or older players that may be reflex-impaired. Every time I think I’m hot shit crushing bugs left and right, I take two unblocked hits and I’m sprinting away chugging healing potions. And this is in a game where I can hit Save after every encounter!

I have my frustrations with Grounded, but I’m still here mainlining this game for like 3+ hours every night. There isn’t anything special about the story, and yet I find myself eagerly traversing the yard to clear out the labs to get the next morsel of plot. Or, if I’m more honest, to unlock the next piece of gear and craft the latest weapons from the bones exoskeletons of my enemies. And all this feels fine to me, as there is a definitive conclusion on the other side. No “keep playing until you get bitter and jaded” purgatory here as with ARK or other survival games.

So, yeah. Grounded. Not the worst way to spend 50+ hours.

Impressions: Grounded

Grounded is a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids survival game from Obsidian, which recently graduated from Early Access. I played it for about a dozen hours during Early Access, but decided to wait until full release before diving in for real on Game Pass.

What I have discovered is… well, a fun albeit highly incongruent survival Soulslike.

To start out, the world of Grounded is amazing. You wake up in a small cave that opens out into a forest of grass and weeds that towers above you. Although there are giant juice boxes and other items to hammer home just how tiny you are, they are really unnecessary – everything about how you move around the yard, the distances involved, and of course the creatures keeps everything front and center.

Your first experiences with the yard fauna is usually benign. Aphids, Weevils, and Gnats are basically mobile food and resources. Red Worker Ants are curious about you, but only go hostile when you hit them. Same with the lumbering Lady Bug, although they will quickly one-shot you in the beginning when attacked. Mites are typically your first hostile mob, and they are only really dangerous when you’re distracted or get surrounded. But it doesn’t take a lot of exploring before you encounter the apex predators of the backyard: spiders. Orb Weavers relentlessly patrol their territory and Wolf Spiders are the terror of the night, ranging far and wide through the yard from dusk till dawn. Daylight does not offer much comfort once you journey further afield though, as you encounter Larva, Stinkbugs, Mosquitos, and more.

And this is where things go a little off the rails for me. Grounded has all the trappings of survival games, including a huge map where you can build bases just about anywhere, resources needing to be gathered, and so on. But what you are actually doing to progress at all is a series of escalating Souls-like melee encounters. I say “Souls-like” because everything revolves around performing Perfect Blocks against insect attacks, then counter-attacking. You can technically just regular block attacks (with a shield made out of Weevil meat), but you still take a significant amount of damage, can get debuffed, and eventually stunned depending on the frequency of attacks. Meanwhile, you completely block all damage even with a Pebble Axe from any enemy if you Right-Click your mouse at the correct time.

In games like ARK, there’s no Perfect Blocking a T-Rex bite. But, you can still take out a T-Rex through clever terrain and/or structure use. In Grounded, most enemies ignore most terrain that otherwise slow you down, e.g. grass stems. And even if you happen to engage from on top of something they cannot reach, your (early) ranged attacks with the bow don’t deal much damage. Indeed, since you cannot block while using the bow, the game seems to discourage any realistic use of it outside first-strike or fleeing bug scenarios. “What about flying bugs like Mosquitos?” Yeah, sure, try to get a few arrows in. But you will 100% die if you don’t perform Perfect Blocks with a regular melee weapon of some sort, even if you have the clunkiness of having to toggle between it and the bow.

The worst part, IMO, is how there isn’t much of an escape from the bug-based progression. I guess I cannot claim that it is impossible to complete the game without learning each bug’s song and dance, but it is a fact that several crafting stations require bug parts to be constructed. Again, in ARK the dinos are “soft” required because nobody has time to collect 10,000 Stone and Iron to build the goodies you want. In Grounded, you simply aren’t building a Drying Rack without Bombardier Beetle parts. I haven’t made it into any of the later Lab story areas yet, but there are plenty of bugs between me and where I think the front door is, so… yeah. Prepare to “git gud” or die trying.

(Or play on a lower difficulty, I guess.)

Overall, though? I’m still having fun. The first dozen or so hours had me running from everything more powerful than a Solider Ant, but I’m basically approaching Tier 2 equipment and a general level of confidence to take on most things. Had it not been for an Orb Weaver Jr joining the fight in defense of its momma, I would have taken one of those down already. Luckily, the game features both the default survival “fuck you” of dropping all your gear on death AND the ability to Save your game at any time. Which… is weird. I’m assuming you don’t get saves while playing Multiplayer and that’s the difference. In any case, saves won’t, er, save you from getting owned by spiders or whatever, but it at least affords you the opportunity to practice Perfect Block timing as many times as necessary to get the last bug part to craft a new Hammer or whatever.

Beta Impressions: Forever Skies

Forever Skies is a survival sandbox – airbox? – currently in a beta playtest state. The central premise is that the Earth has been wrecked by several flavors of disasters such that the only safe means of exploration is in a customizable blimp above the roiling green fog below.

The beta is severely limited. As soon as you unlock the blimp, a 20-minute timer counts down and things just end no matter where you are. Nevertheless, I still got a feel for the basic gameplay loop.

Forever Skies is essentially a simpler, airborn Raft. One of the principle tools you have is a blimp-based extractor gun that allows you to deconstruct specific objects at a distance. The main two resources have been Metals and Synthetics, which you can extract in unlimited quantities from floating tumbleweed-esque things. These let you build insect fishing lines (which penetrate the green fog below), moisture extractors, water purifiers, and create fuel for your engines. Although I appreciate the fact that the tumbleweeds ensure one doesn’t get stranded in a failure state while exploring, it does sort of undercut any perceived need to explore anywhere – you essentially solve all food, water, and fuel concerns within 5 minutes of getting the blimp.

In any case, one of the limiting factors in the creation of additional higher tech goodies are Solid State Batteries, which are found in sort of light beacon structures on the tops of skyscrapers. I managed to have time to float towards one such structure, explore around, grab the battery, and then build the tool that allows me to add rooms (etc) onto the blimp. I then unlocked the ability to create a turbine, which would have allowed me to fly higher up, presumably granting increased access to other such “islands” above the clouds.

Having written this out, my impression is less and less that Forever Skies is a sandbox at all. Even if each beacon island (or probably their location) is procedurally generated, you are not really “exploring” anything on the way to one. And once you arrive, your goal is to A) grab the battery and B) check for blueprints. Hopefully there are more uncommon ingredients introduced later on, as the tumbleweeds essentially made anything else you could pick up redundant.

It is difficult to gauge where exactly along the Early Access progress Forever Skies happens to be. If this demo is early-early, then good. If what I saw was basically Beta… yikes. The trailer seems to indicate that this is not the case, what with the sample environment not looking exclusively green, there being a few additional tools, and a better-looking blimp.

Still, I have some concerns about the sort of fundamental “island to island” gameplay. In short: meh? The overall concept of the game is different than other survival ones – no trees to punch, for example – but the islands may as well be instanced puzzles inbetween loading screens. This isn’t Subnautica where there are interesting things going on around you, even if you are in transit to another spot on the map. Effectively nothing else exists outside of the blimp and islands, which is why it reminds me so much of Raft. The trailer indicated that maybe your blimp will take damage from storms or creatures or whatever, but again, that alone is not going to elevate (har har) the experience by much, if at all.

Also? The demo has you get a virus early on from eating a melon, which results in you taking damage any time you look towards the sun. Okay, fine, that’s unique. You end up curing the virus by eating a pepper in another area. Like, I know that the premise of the game centers around viral shenanigans, but I’m not exactly sure what this sort of “mechanic” is supposed to bring to the game. Maybe an enforcement of not being able to exclusively grow melons (which you can’t do in the demo anyway)? Are we going to routinely get infected with random shit and need to go to the next island for the cure? In some games, you do need to encourage players to expand their horizons instead of turtling in one particular area. This one ain’t it – there isn’t anything else to do but head to the next island.

In any case, that’s the Forever Skies demo. I’ll submit my feedback in the more proper channels as well.

Gaming Age: Survival

When you look at the general gaming zeitgeist, it’s clear that it goes through distinct ages.

  • RPG-elements
  • MMO
  • Battle Royale
  • F2P
  • Open world
  • Survival

We are currently in an age of survival. Not literally (OK, also literally), but of survival games. Which is good news to me as it is clearly one of my favorite genres, but even I have been surprised at the recent volume and game companies involved. Let’s take a look of what’s coming up according to PC Gamer.

Retreat to Enen (Aug 2022) is about becoming one with nature rather than chopping down all the trees. Forever Skies (Early Access late 2022) is survival and exploration in a blimp base above the ruins of Earth. I Am Future (2022) is another sort of “skyscrapers above the mist” setting but is supposedly more jolly in perhaps a My Time at Portia sort of way. Above Snakes (2023) is isometric survival with Native Americans in which you place down your own tiles to explore. Derelicts (TBA) is a 1-man developed survival game that looks like Satisfactory with actual survival elements. Sons of the Forest (Oct 2022) is a sequel to The Forest, ’nuff said. Nightingale (Early Access late 2022) is described as “Victorian gaslamp fantasy” and certainly looks cool, although it strikes me as less survival and more adventure/story progression.

That article was focusing on new survivals games that weren’t “chop wood, mine ore, repeat” though.

In the pipeline is an open-world Terminator survival game. Ubisoft is making Skull & Bones, which is Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag + survival. Wild West Dynasty is the next game from the publisher of Medieval Dynasty. Jagex is working on an open-world survival game based on RuneScape. ARK 2 is coming, featuring in-game Vin Diesel. My Time at Sandrock is a thing.

What kind of inspired the post though, was Square Enix announcing Harvestella, a “life sim farming game.” I know that farming sims aren’t technically survival games, but it’s kind of a wolf vs dog situation.

[Edit] I cannot believe I forgot the other example: Blizzard’s unnamed survival game.

The thing that I am discovering about myself through all this is that my tastes and predilections have not shifted much. That in of itself is not an epiphany, of course. But 11 years ago I wrote a post about Bean Counting and how I recognized that as the sort of root of fun I dig at in every game I play. For a long time, MMOs satisfied that desire. And regular RPGs like the Witcher, and several F2P games, and Open World games, and so on.

With Survival (and farming) games, I feel I have come to perhaps the purest Form of Bean Counting.

Of course, Novelty is also important… otherwise I would be playing Minecraft and calling it a day. And so I feel it rather fortuitous that I happen to be living through this age, and its embarrassment of survival riches. If you don’t like punching trees or watering plants, well, I’m sorry. I’ll just have to horde crafting supplies enough for the both of us.

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.

Impressions: Medieval Dynasty

Stardew Valley meets Crusader Kings.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit early for that. I’ve only played for about two hours, and have no particular idea what’s really going on yet. But there are a few notes I wanted to jot down.

First, I really like the premise, from a mechanical point of view. You are a orphaned peasant told to just grab some empty land and build whatever. The twist here though is that each season is only three game-days long. This acceleration is possible because, you know, dynasty, e.g. you are intended to produce an heir that’s carries on the family business of village-building.

This is both unique in the farming/crafting genre and also helps handwave some of the more traditional gamey bits. Like how one dude can chop down a dozen trees and build a house in an afternoon. I mean, it’s still handwavey due to how hunger/thirst works, but I still appreciated the thought.

Also, you can change the 3-day season to be longer if you want via settings. The devs “strongly suggest” leaving it at 3, and I can see their point even from the start: without the dynasty bit, it’s just a worse Stardew Valley.

Having said that… well… the 3-day season makes all the NPC and questing bits exceedingly silly. One of the starting quests is to find out why a rye shipment hasn’t arrived. To complete this quest, you have to walk 1200m or so to the next town, then halfway back, then back, then return all the way. It took 1.5 in-game days to complete. So, basically my entire Spring. The reward was 300g, for which I have no context whether it’s worth the time I lost. Some of the meals from vendors cost 270g for some porridge, so I’m guessing No.

It was nice to see that the quest had an 18-year time limit though. Especially since one part was locating the courier who was bleeding to death near a river. Would he have just been bones if I waited 5 “years?” I’m guessing No again.

Anyway, there’s that.

OK one more thing: I find it intimidating in these games when they say “build wherever.” I recognize the terror of analysis paralysis, so I end up creating a base camp within earshot of the beginning area. Somewhere along the way though, the base camp hits a tipping point where it would be too onerous to move everything somewhere else, so I keep it in a lame area and just deal with the dissonance.

In this game though? Shit is extra scary. I’m going to have to create and reload several Saves given how it might take in-game years to find a spot where I’m happy settling. Meanwhile, I don’t know which resources are more difficult to find/gather or any sort of late-game concerns.

Which is of course the smartest thing to worry about after playing something for 2 hours.

Fallout Worlds

Bethesda recently removed the Nuclear Winter battle royale mode from Fallout 76, and replaced it with Fallout Worlds. This new feature is intended to satisfy the promise of modding within Fallout 76.

Essentially, it allows you to spin up your own Private World (a feature that already exists) but then tweak a large number of “developer” settings. For example, you can remove building restrictions, remove crafting restrictions (i.e. infinite materials), give yourself infinite ammo, crank up/down NPC damage and a number of other settings. Access to this feature does require a “Fallout 1st” subscription, same as normal Private Worlds, although there is a free “community” version that is intended to… something. Advertise the feature? Give bored people something else to do?

There is a catch though: while you can clone your character over to Worlds, they cannot come back.

A large number of people in the Fallout 76 community consider Worlds a waste of developer time. Originally, I did too. What’s the point? Why spend developer time on a feature that has no progression? All of the time you spend in Worlds doing whatever is isolated to Worlds alone, even if the only thing you tweak is goofy things like exaggerated ragdoll effects or more frequent rad storms. I suppose it might also be nice for those people who want to test out certain Legendary builds without needing to track down/grind out specific weapons.

The counter-argument that got me though was this: who says you have to come back?

Almost three years ago, I made the argument that Fallout 76 was a survival game. And, well, I sure as hell ain’t playing ARK on default settings. There isn’t anything approaching the ridiculousness of dino babysitting for literal real-world hours in Fallout 76, but there is an argument to be made that some elements of the experience diminish fun rather than facilitate. Things like grinding out multiple Daily Ops just for the free ammo to feed your minigun so you can use it in Public Events. Infinite ammo would cut out a significant possible gameplay loop, but again, some loops are better than others.

There is also the fact that a solo world is what many people have been asking for all along. Private Worlds already exist as a feature under the subscription, and has the bonus of allowing you to preserve your unified character progress in Adventure Mode. But what is that really? You also level up in custom Worlds, possibly at a faster rate. The two things you miss are the sort of Season rewards – most of which can be boiled down to resource gifts – and… other people. You can invite others to your own Custom Worlds, and they can even rejoin that specific Custom World without you having to be online, but there is otherwise no random people drifting in.

And that’s the real downside, not the forked progression. Other people have certainly been distracting during story progression, but Show & Tell is a strong motivator for emergent gameplay. I can’t tell you how many times I have strolled into a random person’s CAMP just looking to browse their vendor wares and then end up shamed how great their camp looks compared to my Oscar the Grouch roleplay (or at least that’s what I keep telling myself). I have built elaborate nonsense in ARK and Valheim and similar games before with full knowledge that none would witness its greatness. It’s easier in those games though, because other people never existed to me. Here, it’s different.

Having said all that, I have no particular desire to fork over subscription money to access Fallout Worlds. I now understand the appeal though, even if it’s not directly appealing to me. I happen to enjoy rummaging through literal post-apocalypse garbage and slowly accumulating all the things.

If you don’t, well, Bethesda has you covered now.

Mod: Darkness Falls

If it seems as though I fell into a hole… I kinda did. Specifically, in the form a mod for 7 Days to Die called “Darkness Falls.”

I have mentioned it before, but 7 Days to Die (7DTD) is a game that somehow pushes all the right buttons for me. It has zombies, crafting, loot progression, skill points and XP, base building, a sort of tower defense angle (during the 7th day Blood moon), resource gathering, scavenging post-apocalypse buildings, and so on. A lot of those mechanics synergize with each other in interesting ways too. For example, you have to weigh the costs/benefits of clearing buildings of supplies versus mining for resources to build out your base to survive the Blood moon every 7 days. And knowing that a horde of strong zombies will be able to hone in on your position on a regular schedule gives meaning and structure around your day-to-day decisions.

The base game has been really good over the years, despite it still being in Alpha, but after 200+ hours the novelty wore off. Updates are more often on a yearly cadence, and sometimes the improvements are a step backwards in some respects. In Alpha 19, for example, loot progression has been tied to one’s “game stage.” What this means is that if you end up clearing out the Shotgun Messiah weapons factory early on – a sort of Tier 5 (the highest) dungeon – the big loot at the special chamber will include… Stone Axes and maybe a Blunderbuss. This was done to prevent people from potentially cheesing hard buildings and walking away with an AK-47 within the first two days, but come on.

In any case, Darkness Falls is one of the many (!) complete overhaul mods available for 7DTD. It takes the current game (A19.4) and rolls back some of changes made over the years while adding new enemies, new resources, dozens of new dungeons, and an actual endgame. The core gameplay loop is still there, including the Blood moon. But now you can choose two classes (out of 8) when you roll a character, and each class has exclusive access to some of the new (or old) mechanics. If you max those classes out, you can collect Skill Notes to build another class book and start unlock additional perks.

I have played so much in the last two weeks that I have perhaps burned myself out on it. Also, sometimes the mod just trolls you a bit. In some of the “custom” added dungeons, for example, they will have a full room of zombies just pop out of a wall and mob your face within seconds. Under default settings, you drop all your loot on death, and thus be extra boned from such maliciousness. I have tweaked my own settings so that I get to keep whatever is in my toolbar, so I don’t accidentally get stranded 2 km from my body, naked and alone.

So, yeah, that is what I have been up to. Like I said, I may be on the tail end of being burned out from playing the mod for so long. At the moment, I am stalling before heading into the endgame biome because I know that’s where the demons are and I don’t exactly have the proper endgame weapons/armor to take them on in a straight-up fight. But I am also getting concerned that the “surprise room of demons” gimmick is in my near-future and I don’t like it. That sort of thing would work better in co-op or something. When it’s just you, there is every incentive to cheese the zombie AI as much as possible to survive. Which… works, but also kinda sucks.

Post-It

I think I figured it out, what I want most in a game. I want this:

That’s a Post-It note I scribbled upgrade materials on and kept near my keyboard. While the Bow portion was for Valheim, the rest of it is for a Survival Management game called Dead in Vinland that I have played pretty heavily lately. Indeed, Steam says 48 hours in the last two weeks.

It’s difficult to discern whether Dead in Vinland is actually that fun. Hell, I don’t even know where or when I got it. After digging into my account history, it looks like it came from a January 2020 Humble Bundle? Anyway, I had been listlessly jumping from game to game because the games I want to play are unfinished Early Access titles. Which may be redundant but nevermind. Titles like the aforementioned Valheim, 7 Days to Die, Grounded. Basically every survival game ever – just got to add “content” to the list of things you have to scavenge for.

Thing is, I’m starting to realize that it may not necessarily be the survival genre per se. What I truly enjoy, what pushes all my buttons, is exactly what is on that Post-It note: Planning. I looked at all the camp upgrades in Dead in Vinland and winnowed them down to the seven that might actually have a meaningful impact. Then I could start making rational decisions on which to build first based on my available resources. It would be suboptimal to complete the two that both take 20 Wood, for example, as that is a resource that would take focused harvesting at the expense of everything else. Plus, Wood has other users whereas with Pelts I only need 30 of them total.

I do find it annoying in how few games allow you to take in-game notes. I have fun with Metroidvanias but dislike how next to none of them let you mark the map so that you know you need to come back to a particular area after getting the double-jump ability, for example. Technically, Hollow Knight let you mark the map, but only with weird icons that you had to purchase with in-game currency. Games like My Time at Portia let you make notes, but not in the way I wanted – if I’ve figured out that so-and-so really likes Apple Pies, let me attach that somewhere on the crafting screen itself. So, again, I can look at my available crafting materials and plan out the optimal route to utilize them.

I bring that up because it is not as though I necessarily enjoy just writing stuff on Post-It notes.

Well, actually, I do.

Names blurred to protect the innocent

And pondering further, it is not even necessarily that I want games where planning is required. Dead in Vinland can certainly punish you for a lack of planning – the antagonist demands a revolving tribute of goods every 7 days – and that’s not necessarily fun. It certainly drives the gameplay and gives you a reason to head certain directions, which is fine. Fun? No.

In any case, when I bust out one of my half-dozen Post-Its and start writing stuff down, I know that something is cooking. The game itself may not always warrant that level of planning – perhaps it will be a shock, but I do have a tendency to over-analyze things – but the act of doing so absolutely increases the net level of fun that is occurring. Or perhaps is just indicative of something occurring deeper beneath the surface and the product is fun.

Now, I just have to find a (finished!) game that is worthy of that attention.