Blog Archives

Checkpoint: Guild Wars 2

I’ve been playing some games. Let’s talk about it.

Guild Wars 2

At the end of September, I complained about the impenetrable nonsense in GW2. Since then, I have been, er, penetrating it daily.

Originally, the goal was to keep the oven pre-heated, so to speak, by doing some daily chores to score the 2g payout plus login bonus. That way, if the expansion coming in February piqued my interest, I would have a nice stack of cash heading into it. Plus, you know, if I didn’t like playing the game prior to the expansion, I could come to my senses and not buy it.

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea to go ahead and unlock the Griffon mount.

Oh boy.

The impression I had going into this endeavor was that you needed 250g saved up and you basically walked flew away with a Griffon. That… is not even remotely accurate. Step 1 is completing all of the Path of Fire expansion. Which, I admit, is a reasonable request for someone who purchases expansions. At least, in normal MMOs – I have never actually finished the Personal Story in all the years I have played GW2.

The Path of Fire story was quintessential GW2 material. I had no idea who anyone was, why they were there, or what was going on. And that was fine because it didn’t matter. Oh, and here is a huge, stunning domain of a god that you can explore for 15 minutes before never coming back. I swear that ArenaNet devs must be made up of 80 artists and 2 scenario writers who hate their job.

Story complete, you can now start on the Griffon achievement. Which requires 250g… and five map achievements. Which each have a half-dozen boxes that need checked off. Some are simply exploring and finding Griffon eggs in certain locations. Others are defeating Legendary/Champion bosses that require a group to accomplish. Somehow that little detail always got left off of the Griffon description.

As of the time of this writing, I believe I have the hardest elements taken care of. It took 5-6 days to luck into groups of other late-Griffon enthusiasts, and the LFG tool factored into zero of them. I managed to snag credit for one of the kills simply because I noticed a player wearing a Commander tag down in the general area I knew the boss to be. I dropped everything I was doing and frantically galloped my way there and tagged credit on the last 10% HP. It was cheap, but I’ll take it. And did. But there was one escort mission that took multiple days for it to even show up as an option and I almost abandoned the effort, thinking it was bugged out.

Once the Griffon is unlocked, then what? Part of the impetus to get the Griffon was how annoying it sounded to get the “Return to X” achievements to unlock, among other things, a 32-slot bag. So that is probably the next goal. We’ll have to see though how difficult that happens to be now that it is no longer “meta” to do so. If it’s more like the Griffon quests x10, then… I dunno.

Then again, what else am I doing?

Happens Every Time

I have tried to have three vacations this year – honestly, just staycations with the kiddo still going to daycare – and yet we are 3 for fucking 3 on him getting sick/having a fever exactly on the week that I am off. Not the week beforehand, not the week after. The exact week I had taken off. Supposedly this is “good” because, hey, I don’t have to use sick time! But, you know… I could use sick time AND not have to entertain a sick two-year old for 12-14 hours when I had plans to do stuff.

If you’re wondering, yes, I accrue a lot of vacation and sick leave each year. Join a union, folks.

Anyway. What have I been up to lately?

Fallout 76

This has been my default, “I don’t know what I want to do… let me load this game until I figure it out” game for a long time now. The fact that I still play is actually beyond all objective reason. But… it’s a survival-esque game not in Early Access (even if it sometimes feels that way) and the moment-to-moment gameplay is spot-on. There is also a Season reward track that awards some special items and store currency for completing some daily/weekly quests. That said, my character can only really progress further with precise, legendary item god-rolls all to tackle content that in no way needs said god-rolls to run.

I suppose I did play WoW for a decade despite hitting similar progression walls. And yet I do not have the same confidence that Fallout 76 will continue having new content developed that necessitates new gear. Or new challenging content at all, really.


While I have watched more matches than participated in them, I do still complete the accumulated dailies every 3 days or so. As someone who has played since the beta, I do have to say that this meta is perhaps the strangest it has ever been. Not just the Quest combo decks that finish on Turn 5, or how any game going past Turn 7 is surprising. There just isn’t a whole lot of AoE anymore. Swipe from Druid or Fan of Knives from Rogue have been gone (from Standard) since March, I think, so it has been a while. Still, I raise an eyebrow any time I see players committing a half-dozen 1/1 creatures to the board and/or going wide as a strategy for success. At least, until I remember how much AoE is lacking and that they can usually get away with it.

Slay the Spire (mobile)

I have officially surpassed my progression on PC with that of mobile, in the Ascension department. And I keep coming back, as the game is pretty perfect to play in 10-second chunks as you watch a 2-year old. I have played a LOT of deck-building roguelikes over the past few months, and none of them really come close. I sometimes wonder if that is because of the first-mover effect, or if the game is really that good. Every day I lean more to the latter.

Also, all those other deck-builder roguelikes aren’t on mobile.

…And That’s Basically It

I have a huge amount of games that I “should” be playing that I just… don’t. Ones that have been perfectly fun to play, for the few times that I have done so. The problem is: what do you do when you don’t have a consistent play schedule? For example, I was having fun with Solasta, Control, and trying to see if Death Stranding would ever be fun at some point. But once you lose gaming continuity, a lot of things fall apart. It gets harder and harder to to boot that game back up – you forget the controls, the strategy you were going with a character build, you literally lose the plot.

If I only have an hour to play games, I’d rather play ones that I know can generate fun in that hour.

Oh well. This crazy work project will be going on for several more weeks, and there is no guarantee that anything slows down after that (since we pushed back all normal projects to make room for this one). This could be the new normal. Not exactly what I envisioned or hoped for, but it is what it is.

This is My Life Now

Big project going on at work has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Right before the project started, my son brought home some unexpectedly powerful daycare flu. It wasn’t COVID (we tested), but still knocked him out of daycare for nine days, and I’m still getting over it myself going on 14 days. I wasn’t out out for those whole two weeks, but masks + a runny nose does not mix well. Plus, it doesn’t look great to people when you step outside the room to take your mask off to blow your nose, even if you hand sanitize after. I don’t even blame them – I’d be leery too.

One amusing side-effect of this whole situation is what’s happening with my free time. I’ve been going to bed earlier due to wanting to beat the illness sooner, and also due to the project requiring a physical presence way early in the morning. So while I do still have 1-2 hours to game each night, I haven’t had the drive to do much other than veg out.

It started with watching some Twitch streams of Hearthstone. The new expansion is out, Blizzard fucked everything up by introducing multiple uninteractive OTK (one-turn kill) decks, but I still like to keep a pulse on things, so the streams were entertaining. Then I started watching Youtube videos of the Hearthstone streams, because A) I could see different decks more easily, and B) I can jack up the speed to 2x and thus watch twice as many. Finally, I started going to HSReplay where you can watch, well, simulated replays of Hearthstone games directly. There is a fast-scrolling feed on the main page which tells you the matchup, so you can isolate Paladin vs Warlock or whatever you want.

No joke, yesterday I watched random Hearthstone replays for two hours and then went to bed.

That has to be the nadir, right? I’m not playing the game, I’m not watching other people playing the game in an interactive setting, I’m not watching an edited video of the game playing… I’m literally just watching JPEGs of the game happening on the screen. And I found it entertaining and insightful! If I were just watching TV or something, at least there would be a plot or overarching story or something. I could say “I finished X series.” Still haven’t gotten around to watching the newest season of Handmaid’s Tale, for example. Then again, I’ve been watching that on CNN for the last four years already.

I feel like I should feel worse, but I kinda don’t. Between the two-year old and this work project clown show, I have learned to… let things go. Not in a “woosa” sort of way, but in that Fallout-esque “It’s been 200 years since nuclear Armageddon and I still can’t be bothered to sweep the inside of the house I’ve been living in for a decade.” Might be harder without a broom, I suppose. And we still have unopened, unsorted boxes from when we moved into this house three years ago so I probably I shouldn’t throw too many stones. Or I should start with the ones still laying on the floor.

Blizzard’s Reckoning

You have probably already seen 37 other blog posts or articles about Blizzard being sued by the State of California over sex discrimination. Technically, it’s Activision Blizzard being sued, but apparently the rot and “frat-boy culture” is squarely in the Blizzard corner. Then the company slammed its dick in the car door with a disastrously-bad PR “rebuttal” that included this:

The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived. They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family. While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.

Lawyers going to lawyer, but that doesn’t quite fit the Blizzard image that they were trying to maintain. Indeed, now over 2000 current (for the moment) Blizzard employees agree that perhaps vigorously denying discrimination/harassment is taking place feels a bit tone-deaf in the context of being sued for… ignoring/disregarding claims of discrimination/harassment taking place. “All voices matter.” “I was groped during a manager-sanctioned drunken cube-crawl.” “La-la-la-la-la.”

Out of the various takes I’ve read, there are two that resonated with me. First, was a deeper dive into the complaint itself over on Nosy Gamer. As they point out, there is a lot of press about the harassment that led to a woman’s suicide, but the bulk of the complaints were more focused on sex discrimination in pay, promotion, and management. The harassment is abhorrent and vile, but the meat and potatoes of the lawsuit seems to be the more mundane misogyny that seeps in and saturates many companies. This is still not what we want to be seeing from beloved studios, especially ones who occasionally appear to care about the cultural zeitgeists in which they inhabit.

The other take that resonated was from Shintar over at Priest with a Cause. In particular, the linked video gave voice to the dilemma one encounters upon hearing how shit one’s favorite company actually is under the surface. Do you take the principled stand and boycott the company and its products? If you don’t boycott, are you tacitly supporting the abuse? If you do boycott, is it a moral imperative to convince other holdouts to also unsub? If you aren’t boycotting, should you point out (Achtually…) all the other evil companies that those people are supporting?

In short, No. Do whatever. Follow your heart. Leave everyone else alone.

That is considerably less satisfying, of course. And it raises uncomfortable questions. But that’s also life. I continue to recycle even if they probably just dump it into the same garbage pile as normal, or shipped it China or wherever back when it was profitable to do so. But I also just throw away batteries, because if it’s that big a deal, you better make it fucking easy to know where I was supposed to drop that bag of batteries off at. Seriously, some places were going to charge me to give them dead batteries. Fuck that, I’ll put it in their dumpster. (I didn’t)

So, there it is. There is a Hearthstone expansion coming out next week and I’m excited to see the cards. But I’m not in favor of sexual discrimination. But… I’m still going to play the expansion and not feel particularly guilty about it. Maybe a little guilty. Then I remember I’m in favor of a strong, regulatory government – such as the one that brought this lawsuit in the first place – and get on playing this childish RNG fiesta of a card game with a mostly clean conscience.

You do you.

Wiki Void

Have you ever played a game without a robust Wiki available when you needed it?

If so, have you ever thought about doing something about it?

It is an interesting dilemma all around. As a developer, you cannot really be in the business of creating or maintaining your own Wiki. That would be kind of a full-time job, even if anonymous internet users weren’t able to change the information at any time. On the player side though, you often don’t have the necessary details to write accurate information. Sure, the text on the screen is there. But you are often not privy to the mechanics behind the scenes, and may not even be able to test anything depending on how everything is constructed.

For one reason or another, I have been playing a lot of games lately that have very limited Wikis. Some of that is because they are mods for games still in Alpha, e.g. Darkness Falls within 7 Days to Die, which incidentally is not the sort of thing you could really imagine happening like 10 years ago. A mod of a game in Alpha? Taking the time to write all of that sort of double-ephemeral data seems extra pointless. Then again, I certainly would have enjoyed having access to the information at the time, as I ended up spending 60+ hours with the mod.

Then you have the obscure games like Fate Hunter. Good fun. Zero information. Well, there is precisely one guide out there in the Steam community – and it’s a good one! – but that’s it. Is it worth trying to fill in a Wiki about it? Eh… probably not. Ring of Pain is another sort of low-information indie game that I did end up adding things to the Wiki because I was tired of going back to and forth with a text file of things I needed to remember (“what’s a Shrine of Neglect again?”).

So, it depends, I guess. Or maybe it’s simple: I will add to/improve an existing product, but not start from scratch. Which is probably reasonable considering that every minute I’m doing that is another minute I’m not playing the game I’m writing about. Which is a price I already pay for blogging.

Impression: Griftlands

Griftlands is Klei’s entry into the roguelike deckbuilder genre. And in typical Klei fashion, it overcomplicates everything.

Dialog is actually pretty good across the board.

In some circumstances, overcomplication can be good news. It represents depth and complex systems and a high skill ceiling. Oxygen Not Included is a gem of a colony sim, and Don’t Starve is one of those genre classics that seems simple at first, but quickly demonstrates how deep the rabbit hole goes.

So what’s the issue with Griftlands? The complication is just time-consuming.

One of the central hooks is that Griftlands is a roguelike deckbuilding RPG. The three characters you can pick from each have an elaborate backstory and encounter numerous choices throughout the game. And speaking of backstory, the game’s lore is extremely elaborate and interesting. It takes place on a remote, swamp-like planet populated by the descendants of a spacefaring civilization that… stopped sparefaring. Most of the citizens worship Hesh, an inscrutable Cthulhu-esque monster in the deep ocean. So you have mechs, bioweapons, ancient tech, and post-apoc Thunderdome elements in this gumbo soup of a setting. It’s pretty cool.

Less cool is how all these RPG/Visual Novel elements interact with, you know, a roguelike deckbuilder. Like how my first playthrough with the first character ended when I died to the final boss after 7 hours, 15 minutes. While you can make different choices the next time around, in reality they are more of an A/B route sort of thing. Do you side with the authorities or the rebels? Do you double-cross the one dude or not? The final boss is always the final boss. My second playthrough was a success after five hours. And that was with me skipping some of the dialog I had already heard before.

Just a breezy 5 hour, 20 minute playthrough.

Even ignoring the story aspects, the deckbuilding side itself is complicated.

You start off with two decks, completely independent of one another: Battle and Negotiation. Whenever you come across an encounter, you often have the choice of determining whether to use one or the other. Generally speaking, Negotiation avoids “battle” encounters entirely, but sometimes they are used to weaken a particularly stubborn foe before fisticuffs. Negotiation is an entirely different battle system with different mechanics and even different “HP”. Additionally, you can “lose” in a Negotiation without losing the game, although that typically results in you no longer being able to do any more Negotiations for the rest of the in-game day.

On top of this, all cards have XP meters that increase as you play them. Once filled, the card gets one of two upgrades to choose from. The generic cards have a dozen or so potential options, but the main ones you get from shops or win from battle will just have the two options. This XP element will typically encourage you to stall battles out so you can level-up your cards, but this can only be done for X number of rounds before your character becomes exhausted. Nevertheless, the XP mechanic complicates things quite a bit considering the final encounter for each character is always a Battle, so choosing Negotiate all the time will lead to inevitable failure.

Turns out this combo is pretty strong.

On the Battle side of things, everything is more straight-forward. Ish. You face off versus one or more enemies like in Slay the Spire. You might get some help though in the form of a pet, hired goons, NPC helpers, or NPCs summoned from cards in your deck. Each of the three main characters have their own special mechanics. For example, one gets Charges that can be expended to boost cards, another takes self-damage that turns into end-of-turn self-healing, and so on. You can add cards to your deck after successful encounters or buy them from shops. Grafts are permanent items you, well, graft into your skull that act as passive abilities. And so on and so forth.

Oh, I forgot to mention about relationships. During Battles, enemy character have X amount of HP, and then a slightly higher threshold for Panic. For example, someone may have 80 HP but Panic once they get to 20 HP. Cause all the enemies to Panic and the encounter ends with you having the choice as accept their surrender or execute them. Executing characters grants you a special card, but will also likely cause one of their friends to hate you. This hate manifests as a Social Bane, which is just a persistent debuff that exists as long as they hate you. Some are whatever, but others increase the costs of all vendors, or cause you to lose money every time you sleep, and other nastiness. You can try and kill the person who hates you to erase the Social Bane, but unless you properly provoke them into a duel, you just continue the cycle of hatred.

On the flip side, Social Boons also exist. Most of the time they come from doing quests for people, but sometimes you can just straight-up throw enough money at someone to get them to like you. Just like in real life!

Are you feeling the overcomplicated-ness of this game yet?

Overall the game is fun, but honestly it is in spite of all of these systems. A particularly long Slay the Spire run takes me maybe 2-3 hours max. Doubling that for Griftlands does not double my fun. Indeed, the longer things go on, the more disappointed I become if I don’t succeed. The saving grace of most roguelikes is winning or losing quick enough that you can jump back on the horse without questioning your life choices. With Griftlands, you have plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

As a final note, there is a Brawl mode which eliminates all the plot and just lets you play battles in sequence. I just completed my first one before writing this… after 3 hours and 20 minutes. That is one long-ass roguelike experience.

Silver End

I’m done with Valheim for now.

Where we last left off, I had already committed 4-5 real, prime-time, father of a 2-year old, I-should-be-sleeping hours finding and “exploring” mountain ranges bereft of silver. I had contemplated either uncovering the map with cheat codes or using an online tool to explore my world seed – somehow the latter seemed less morally questionable – but then decided against it. When you’re already this far up shit creek, you may as well keep paddling and see how much further it goes.

The answer is: seven. I explored seven mountain ranges before finding one that spawned any silver.

Quality gameplay

If we want to get technical, the first two mountain ranges were on my starting continent, and even I figured they had a low likelihood of having silver. From there, the modus operandi was to set sail towards any landmass that appeared to have a mountain on it. Luckily, you can tell from quite a distance whether there is a mountain – much farther than the tree-spawning distance, which otherwise tells you whether you’re heading for a swamp, plains, or forest. Unfortunately, all mountains have a similar skybox at range, and thus you do not know whether it’s going to be the size of those open meadow areas, or something more substantial. In my experience though (n=7), if you do not immediately see any drakes flying around, you are wasting your time at that location.

In any case, I finally hit pay-silver on mountain #7. And just like with the swamp, there were at least three separate silver nodes within about a 40m distance from one another. And one of those towers and give you the location of the boss. I had heard those were an extra layer of RNG I could potentially enjoy, but my tower had the location stone. Neat. I set up shop in the tower, moved my smelting infrastructure via portaling, and began getting my dwarf on.

That was convenient.

Then… I was done.

The final nail were Stone Golems. As enemies, they’re fine. I had heard they took extra damage from the pickaxe, but honestly it’s way easier to just bash them with a mace and use your shield to almost negate all their attacks. The problem is that they drop Crystals. And Crystals have zero use in the game. Not “limited use” or “decorative item that grants no bonus,” I mean this is an item the devs put into their Early Access game but didn’t bother attaching to any recipe. It was a stark reminder that whatever the game is now is unfinished. Any of the frustrations I have experienced up to this point may not have been intended. The devs might have just not gotten around to it.

Suspension of disbelief: collapsed.

So now I’m off playing other, more finished games. Steam shows 46.6 hours played with Valheim, which is worlds more than I spend on 90% of the games I do end up playing. Other bloggers have already defeated the remaining bosses and still others appear ready to continue onwards past the edge of the page. Which is fine. But if there is any hope that I will feel motivated to play Valheim 6-12 months from now when it will (presumably) be more feature-complete, I had to call it. Should have called it after the swamp fiasco, honestly. But there it is.

The Return, part 54846

Mere days after I derided FFXIV for offering four days of free play, Blizzard offered the same thing… and I took it. Looking at my payment history, it appears that it had been almost exactly two years since I last had a subscription.

The returning WoW experience was a bit jarring, to say the least.

The shoulderpads get bigger every year

The level squish resulted in a roster of level 45s. At first, I was perturbed, thinking there had been some mistake. Did I not have a bunch of toons at the prior level cap? As it turns out, not so much. In fact, I had just the one Demon Hunter at the cap. Really shows how little I cared for Battle for Azeroth.

So the first order of business was taking my erstwhile Legion main (a druid) from 45 to 50. And I did so… in Redridge Mountains. Such is the power of Chromie Time. On a practical level, it makes every mob scale to your level, and all quest rewards likewise. I have lived through multiple expansion transitions, but seeing white gear with a vendor price of 66g and almost being better than your current equipment in a traditionally beginner zone is something else. I carried on, primarily because War Mode offered a 25% XP bonus and the odds I would encounter Horde in Redridge of all places was quite low.

That finished, I decided to take stock of my stock. And vendored 90% of it. My old goblin self would be spinning in his hypothetical grave, but he’s dead for a reason. I did toss a bunch on the AH and actually walk away with 10,000g, but I’m not about to chase that dragon again. At least, not the degree in which I’m crafting Cataclysm potions and other bizarre crap that somehow still sells on occasion. Flying around TBC zones trying to mine Khorium which sells for 400g+ per ore? That’s a bit more likely. Especially since every resource node is about 1/4th of a quest in terms of XP gain in Chromie Time. You can hardly afford not to, right?

As for other goals… we shall see. The four days have since expired and I could pop the WoW Token sitting in my bags at any time. There is a current pre-expansion event going on, but in looking at the rewards, it doesn’t seem worth much. Certainly nothing like the Wrath events, which offered Haunted Memento, which still sell for tens of thousands of gold all these years later. Capping all of my toons would be a reasonably achievable goal. Aside from that? Maybe unlocking the Allied Races?

I could also just continue doing what I had been doing until I heard about the free trial. Which, admittedly, wasn’t exactly much more than grinding out meaningless shit in other games. I really should be doing anything else.

It’s also been 2020 all fucking year, so maybe I’ll just do whatever I want.

Post-Magic Apocalypse

I knew it was coming, but it nevertheless stung a bit when Bethesda hotfixed “magic weapons” in Fallout 76.

Made famous by this Angry Turtle video, “magic weapons” were guns that did inordinate amount of damage due to bugs derived from their Legendary affixes. This predominantly affected shotguns (each pellet did full damage) and fast fire-rate heavy weapons like gatling lasers (each hit seemed to hit 4-5 more times). In practical terms, magic shotguns would 1-shot most enemies and magic heavy weapons needed only a few seconds of fire to melt foes. As you might imagine, this was quite fun.

Was it OP though? Maybe. But not especially so considering the overall meta.

“Bloodied” builds have been meta for… if not since release, at least for the last year. A weapon with the Bloodied affix deals up to 100% damage per shot based on your remaining HP – the lower your health, the higher your damage. While you would assume the build makes you a glass cannon, Fallout 76 includes a number of Perks that combo with low HP, such as Nerd Rage (40 DR, +20% damage, +15% AP when under 20% HP) and Serendipity (45% chance to avoid damage while under 30% HP). Power Armor already gives passive damage resistance on top of the armor, but the Emergency Protocol mod further decreases damage by 50% (!!) and increase speed by 25% when under 20% HP. Then there is the Adrenal Reaction mutation that basically adds Bloodied (yo dawg) to your weapons at low health, so you can Bloodied while you Bloodied.

Oh, and did I forget Unyielding legendary affix on armor? That gives you +3 on all your stats per piece (!!!) depending on your low health, which means people running around having 30 Strength, 30 Agility, etc, before even considering buffs or chems. So not only were they dealing insanely more damage, they were also passing all the Speech checks added with actual human NPCs no problem as well. Clearly, this was how Bethesda wanted the Fallout 76 experience to be.

As you might imagine, Bloodied/Unyielding items are in demand and thus expensive when sold in player vending machines (if available at all). Thus, I felt like this short era of Magic Weapons was overall good for the game, or at least more equitable for us plebs than the poorly balanced baseline.

In the meantime, I have been making do. All shotguns get scrapped. I have been cycling through various weapons to gauge their efficacy, and have winnowed down the field considerably. While Magic weapons have been removed, there are still a number of probably-unintended glitches, such as how first-hit Sneak Attack bonus damage is applied to several bullets when shot from automatic guns. Targeting the head amplifies the damage considerably, which takes us back to Magic weapon territory. Indeed, overall auto > semi-auto is the name of the game – if your one shot doesn’t instantly kill your target, you are wasting your time in comparison.

Is Fallout 76 still fun for me? Yes. Well, in that general MMO-grind sort of way. I’m collecting Gold Bullion by doing dailies and Events to unlock the highest tier of armor and a few other weapons to try out. I’m doing the Daily Ops to unlock a CAMP item that would be a convenience option. And otherwise biding my time until the next content drop.

So, yeah, exactly in a MMO sort of way.

Still No Man’s Sky

Right as my interest in My Time at Portia was ending – sadly, before the end of the game proper – I started hearing about a major update to No Man’s Sky. Called Origins, this particular update seemed mainly focused on reseeding the universe with new planets with more extreme terrain/plant/animal possibilities. Having missed the past couple of other major updates, I decided to go ahead and jump back in with a fresh character.

Some 40-odd hours later, I have hit that same existential wall the last time around.

Almost all of the particulars of the game have been improved. Base-building restrictions have been lifted across the board. The once-ubiquitous Sentinels are now just policing fun on certain planets. The UI has been improved… to an extent. The various avenues to raise cash have been widened. The Nexus has been made into a multiplayer hub of sorts, and its vendors allow you to bypass quest-restricted tech if you wish.

And yet… it’s still missing something. And it might be something dumb like “challenge.”

Some games are not meant to be challenging. No one is going to play My Time at Portia while looking for a Dark Souls experience. In this regard, No Man’s Sky is very obviously tilted towards a chill, Explorer player-type. Sentinels are robots that used to patrol every planet and turn aggressive when you started mining resources in front of them. As mentioned, they no longer exist in every world. For the vast majority of your gameplay, the weather is going to be your biggest foe – one defeated by pressing two buttons every few minutes, consuming resources you can buy in bulk at nearly every space station. 

Which, again, fine. Whatever. It’s a chill, exploring game. 

But things get a little crazy once you start flying around in space. At some point, your ship will be scanned by hostile pirates, who will disable your ability to escape and start trying to blow you up. While you can again survive just about anything by recharging your shields with elements purchased by the thousands, you can also equip your ship with missiles, laser beams, a space shotgun, and all manners of similar things. Regardless, this is decidedly a less chill, exploring experience.

After a while, the dissonance in the game between space combat and terrestrial combat became too great for me. See, your Multi-Tool can also receive a number of upgrades to add a shotgun, laser cannon, a grenade launcher, and so on. But when would you ever use it? Attacking Sentinels is periodically required to progress the storyline, and bigger and meaner ones do end up showing up. But under all other normal circumstances, there is no challenge whatsoever once you are on a planet. 

Where are the pirates or mercenaries on the ground? Where are all the hostile wildlife? You will see the same half-dozen varieties of hostile plants on every planet across the entire universe. But nothing in the way of meaningful challenge. About the closest you get is “the Swarm,” which puts up a decent fight when you try stealing their eggs. Facing them on every planet would be silly, but that kind of thing might justify having anything more than the same unupgraded rifle you build from a quest 50 hours prior.

Again, No Man’s Sky doesn’t have to head that direction.

The problem for me though is the existential crisis that hits mid-game, in which you question what it’s all for. In my fresh save, my character has 45 million Units and a B-class ship with about 28 slots. The normal drive would be to search for an A-class or S-class ship to buy, and then upgrading those further while simultaneously upgrading my own suit and Multi-Tool. There are several mechanics in the game now that allow you to pursue those goals in measured (read: grind) fashion.

But… why? I mean, sure, “why do anything in a videogame?” In No Man’s Sky though, progression is basically bag space. Can you equip weapon mods that increase damage or clip size? Yes. Do they have 5 rarities and slightly randomized number ranges? Also yes. Does any of it matter at all? Absolutely not. You can go 50+ hours without shooting a damn thing, even accidentally. Oh, unless you’re flying through space, in which case we’re actually playing X-Wing sometimes.

I think the devs might eventually get there. Last time I played, all the alien NPCs stood or sat in the same spot, never moving. Now they move around and make the space stations feel, well, actually populated. Slap some helmets on them and give them guns and maybe shoot me planetside on occasion and we’re in business. Or ramp up the aggressiveness of hostile fauna on some of the planets. Think ARK. At least on some planets, anyway.

I’m not looking for challenge challenge, at least not in No Man’s Sky. Actually, I would love a 3D Terraria/Starbound experience if I’m being real. That might not have been what everyone signed up for in this game though. Perhaps add another game mode? But it should be Game Design 101 that if you add a Chekhov Shotgun, you should craft encounters in which a shotgun is necessary.