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EA Play

New month, new post shilling for Game Pass.

This time, I wanted to direct your attention towards the fact that EA Play is now an included part of the Game Pass subscription. It was supposed to have been added in December, but better late than never, I guess. While there is still a premium tier (EA Play Pro) that holds some newer games out of reach, a very large and very old selection of EA titles are available.

Seeing this one brought be waaaaaaay back, for example:

I cropped the name out, but it’s Populous, released 1989. It was one of the few SNES games in my library growing up – especially when cartridges could cost $80 in mid-90s money – so I ended up spending a lot of time with the game and its many scenarios. I also ended up playing SimCity and Civilization 2 on the SNES, and have many a fond memory of that.

I’m glad I took the screenshot because it appears EA has already taken down Populous and replaced it with its sequels.

Not the same.

Incidentally, there is a big ole “BETA” written across the top of the EA Desktop app they make you download, so perhaps they are testing things as they go. I already ran into one issue downloading a game, wherein the download crashed midway and now the game will neither open nor download nor delete. When I tried booting up Dungeon Keeper 2 for giggles – and to see what the fuss was all about when I played the supposedly bastardized mobile app back in 2014 – it was an unplayable slide-show. I’m assuming that last bit has more to do with the game expecting drivers that haven’t existed for 20 years, but it’s still a poor show to have games available to download (or purchase!) in a unplayable state. At least GOG (supposedly) updates their versions to be playable on Win10 PCs.

In any case, my actual download list looks like this:

Looks like random pishposh because it is. As it turns out, I already played through a lot of EA’s catalog over the years or otherwise own the games elsewhere. For example, many of the Battlefield games, Mass Effect series, Dead Space series, and so on. Not pictured but to be downloaded later includes: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Vampyr, Star Wars Battlefront 2 (maybe), and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

There is even Anthem available, which I almost want to check out of morbid curiosity. Then again, I don’t want to develop a taste for toad right as the game gets canned. Well, Anthem will still exist for some indeterminate amount of time, but ending future updates on a Live Service game kills the game.

Anyway, if you don’t already have Game Pass then the addition of the EA library probably won’t move the needle much for you. But if you do have it and didn’t pay attention to the pop-ups… well, you’re welcome. I’ll post some impressions of these new (to me) games as I play them.

Or I won’t, because I’m too busy playing them. The eternal blogging dilemma.

That’ll Teach Me

There I was, minding my own business, writing end-of-year recap posts. SynCaine points me towards a game called Monster Train, which is sorta like Slay the Spire. It’s on sale for $18… and why not? Let’s splurge by buying a game on Steam, like the good old days.

This is why not:

Yep, I paid $18 on Steam for a game that arrived on the Xbox Game Pass like three days later. Hell, it could have actually already been there before I bought it. Forgot I had to do homework before making game purchases. I mean, I don’t have to, but it gets a bit silly the lengths I go to save $5, let alone $18.

In any case, I played Monster Train for three hours before finding it on the Game Pass. Submitted a refund request through Steam and it was rejected. Did some research on whether you can appeal your initial rejection. The consensus is that, despite appearances, each request that falls outside the automatic approval conditions (< 2 hours played within 14 days) is looked at by a human. New request, new human. Obviously that only goes so far, of course.

My second refund request was approved. I think the winning argument was changing the Reason from “Game wasn’t fun” to “Game was not what I expected.” As in, I was not expecting the game to be free elsewhere. I didn’t write that part in the box though. Monster Train is billed as similar to Slay the Spire, but it’s not really. I’ll have more to say on it later on, assuming I play more of it via Game Pass.

I’m just glad to have my $18 back in a Steam wallet that hasn’t been used in a year or two.

End of Year: 2020 Edition

If you’re reading this, you made it another year. That’s something, at least.

On the personal front, things have been going well. My wife and I have stable jobs that smoothly transitioned into work-from-home versions. We’re both introverts, so the whole lockdown thing has not hit us particularly hard. My son is meeting milestones ahead of schedule, which is nice considering he was a preemie. And after 15 years, I finally made my last student loan payment in November… for a degree that has effectively been useless. Kids, when they say “it doesn’t matter what degree you get, just get something so you can sail into middle management,” that is a lie. I mean, it is true that any degree will probably get you past the first HR filter, but for god’s sake pick something like Business Admin if you don’t already know what you want to do with your life.

Also, maybe don’t spend $50,000 trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. Unless what you want is to pay student loans for a few decades.

The gaming goals from last year:

  • Play PS3 games so I feel less guilty about buying a PS4 for two games [Nope]
  • Otherwise play the games you want to play when you want to play them [Generally yes]
  • Stop playing the games you don’t want to play anymore [Actually yes]
  • Continue being a (passably) responsible gaming dad [Won’t know for another 15 years]

I never got around to the PS3 games. Again. At this point, it’s just silly to keep bringing it up and runs afoul of the next two bullet points anyway. That said, I haven’t bothered even thinking about a PS4, so there’s that. Same with a PS5, if one were even available. I seem to have waited long enough that almost every console exclusive is coming to PC anyway. Had a Switch been available though… things may have been different.

Looking at my Steam list, I see the following titles played in the last year:

  • No Man’s Sky
  • My Time at Portia
  • Spelunky
  • Blasphemous
  • Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
  • Factorio
  • Wandersong

No, seriously, that’s it. So much for that backlog, am I right? Between No Man’s Sky, My Time at Portia, and Fell Seal, I did sink about 250 hours of gaming in there. Looking at the Game Pass list though:

  • Katana Zero
  • Spiritfarer
  • Astroneer
  • Nowhere Prophet
  • Neon Abyss
  • Sea Salt
  • UnderMine
  • Carrion
  • Metro: Exodus
  • Children of Morta
  • Everspace
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Outer Wilds
  • Death’s Gambit
  • Into the Breach

Twice as many titles as Steam… but probably only half as many hours, if not less.

The rest of my gaming time this year has been pumped into Fallout 76, Hearthstone, WoW (more recently), and mobile games. I finally kicked the Clash Royale habit, and my blood pressure is better for it. There have been a few other mobile games I’ve sunk some serious time into while trying to find a Slay the Spire equivalent. I should probably take some time to write about them, actually.

In any case… 2021, huh? To be honest, I do not even know what is coming on the horizon. Mass Effect Trilogy Remaster? FF7 Remake PC release? I am more excited for rumors about the Game Pass, such as Ubitsoft’s subscription service being folded in, or that Microsoft might buy Sega. One thing that has been a total whiff this year is Humble (Bundle) Choice. I have paused my subscription 10 of the last 12 months, two of which required refund requests because I forgot to pause. Seriously, I think I may just drop the subscription altogether, even though that would remove my grandfathered-in ability to pick up all of the random crappy games they try to give away.

On the MMO (and equivalent) front, I continue to enjoy playing WoW and foresee that extending through January, at a minimum. Fallout 76 is still fun, but my motivation to boot it up took a nosedive when I finally unlocked the last pieces of the Secret Service armor, and also noticed that the Season 3 rewards were underwhelming. Genshin Impact probably deserves its own post, but since I haven’t played it in two months, that becomes more and more unlikely. FF14 is still installed on my PC, but that flight of fancy has flown.

As for goals in 2021:

  • Continue working on the Steam backlog
  • …but don’t get bogged down with mediocre games
  • Maybe buy a Switch. For the wife.
  • (Re)Play through the Halo games via Master Chief Collection
  • Give FF14 another shot
  • Resist the urge to buy a new gaming PC

And that’s that.

Epic Store Sales

As in, the Epic Store, not epic store sales.

Back in the day, which was either last year or fifteen years ago, I had this to say about the Epic Store:

As a reminder, none of this exclusivity bullshit is necessary. Epic could simply undercut the Steam price by 5% forever AND grant developers a larger percentage of the cut, and I would buy all my games in the Epic store. I do some ridiculous shit to save $1-$2 after all. Maybe that’s Plan B for when they run out of exclusivity money?

At the time, Epic was in the midst of buying out gaming devs and forcing unnecessary exclusivity deals. Which was, and still is, extremely anti-consumer. In the intervening months, it has been interesting seeing them right the ship. Epic has brought back the “endless $10 coupon” for this winter’s sale, which means you get $10 off any game that costs $14.99 or more. Some devs are getting cheeky and having $14.98 sales, but otherwise it seems above-board. And in comparing my Steam wishlist, there are some great deals:

  • Disco Elysium – $13.99 vs $23.99
  • Hellpoint – $17.99 vs $20.99
  • Death Stranding – $19.99 vs $29.99
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete – $29.99 vs $39.99
  • Borderlands 3 – $9.79 vs $19.79

Thing is, I’m just not buying games anymore. Part of that is WoW sucking the oxygen out of the gaming room – although that may or may not be coming to an end – but the larger issue is the Game Pass. Will all of those arrive in the near future? Probably not. Possibly none of them, ever. But both Metro: Exodus and Outer Worlds did a tour and they were “Epic exclusives” I played for $1.

But here’s the other thing: would I drop everything and play those games right now? If the answer is not an enthusiastic Yes… what are we even doing? Donating to game developers? It used to be that I would get hung up on the nightmare scenario of getting an insane itch to play a game that I passed on during a sale. But it has been months since I had any such itch, and these days I am just as likely as not to go to bed early. Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe it’s due to the 1.5 year-old that does not have a Snooze button. Everyone’s getting up at 7am even on the weekends, whether we like it or not.

In any case, the deals are there if you want them. I’m pleased that Epic is heading down this direction for competing with Steam rather than exclusives. Oh, and all the free games every week (and every day recently). By my last count, I have 109 games on the platform and only bought one of them.

And I Approve this Message

Bioware just announced there is going to be a Mass Effect: Legendary edition:

Mass Effect Legendary Edition will include single-player base content and DLC from Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3, plus promo weapons, armors, and packs – all remastered and optimized for 4k Ultra HD. It will be available in Spring 2021 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, with forward compatibility and targeted enhancements on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. More information to come in the new year!

This is extremely relevant to my interests. I consider Mass Effect to be one of the best RPG series ever made, and yet despite that, I never got around to purchasing any of the critically- (and fan-) acclaimed DLCs. At the time, it was more of a principle thing, but then later morphed into a “why do all of these still cost $70?” and “why are BioWare Points still a thing?” Having a complete package with everything included makes things much simpler, with all the other enhancements being a bonus.

There was also this bit of news:

Meanwhile here at BioWare, a veteran team has been hard at work envisioning the next chapter of the Mass Effect universe. We are in early stages on the project and can’t say any more just yet, but we’re looking forward to sharing our vision for where we’ll be going next.

That the franchise will continue is good to hear. I haven’t really kept up on the news/rumors before this, so I had still been under the 3-year old impression that everything was over. Hard to be optimistic when EA, of all companies, cancels all plans for DLC for a game. Still, it will be extremely interesting to see if they continue the Andromeda thread or do some kind of prequel or what.

So, yeah, pretty exciting. I had to look up who owns BioWare at the moment just to gauge the likelihood that this Legendary Edition hits the Xbox Game Pass. Looks like EA still owns BioWare. Considering that the EA Play membership rolls into the Game Pass starting on November 10th though, it’s highly likely that my /r/patientgamers-ing has paid dividends.

Oh, and it looks like Biden won the election too, so there might still be a world left to game in.

Microsoft Buys Bethesda, the World

File this under Holy Shit, Batman:

Today is a special day, as we welcome some of the most accomplished studios in the games industry to Xbox. We are thrilled to announce Microsoft has entered into an agreement to acquire ZeniMax Media, parent company of Bethesda Softworks.

As one of the largest, most critically acclaimed, privately held game developers and publishers in the world, Bethesda is an incredibly talented group of 2,300 people worldwide who make up some of the most accomplished creative studios in our industry across Bethesda Softworks, Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog, and Roundhouse Studios. These are the teams responsible for franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Wolfenstein, DOOM, Dishonored, Prey, Quake, Starfield and many more.

https://news.xbox.com/en-us/2020/09/21/welcoming-bethesda-to-the-xbox-family/?ocid=Parterships_soc_omc_xbo_fb_Video_buy_9.21.1

As it says, Microsoft is buying ZeniMax and all its subsidiaries, of which Bethesda is a part. Among other things, this means that Starfield, Elder Scrolls 6, Fallout 5, etc, will be coming to Game Pass on Day 1. That link also indicates the deal was for $7.5 billion. Which is like… 3.5 Minecrafts.

Another amusing detail is that Bethesda and Obsidian are going to be under the same roof again. Perhaps there could be another New Vegas-esque collaboration? Obsidian are good storytellers when they don’t have to build worlds from scratch. When they do, we get garbage like Outer Worlds.

What else could this mean? Well… since Microsoft is going all-in with the Game Pass, there’s a remote chance that Bethesda-specific subscriptions get rolled into Game Pass itself. For example, Fallout 76 has the Fallout 1st subscription and then there’s Elder Scrolls Online’s sub. Like I mentioned yesterday, Game Pass doesn’t include everything, like DLCs and such. That said, EA Play’s subscription is getting rolled into Game Pass for no extra charge. So who knows?

Overall, I am extremely excited. I feel the same way currently as I did way back in the day, when the first few Steam sales started. I hated that Valve was forcing me to download Steam just to play Half-Life 2 and otherwise jump through a lot of hoops. Then once the sales started, it all clicked that this was the future. Well, the future is happening again. And now instead a future heralding the sale of horse armor, we get a timeline where you can play AAA games on Day 1 for $4.99 $9.99/month.

PC Game Pass Price Doubles

I just received an email from Microsoft that the Game Pass is coming out of “beta” and will be increasing in price from $4.99 to… $9.99. This price increase makes it… still cheaper than the $12 legacy Humble Choice subscription, of which I have paused for the past five months in a row. It’s more expensive than EA Play ($4.99) but still cheaper than EA Play Pro ($14.99).

Will I continue to subscribe to Game Pass? Absolutely.

Looking at my account history, I have given Microsoft $60.96 over the last eight months. The two biggest games I played were Outer Worlds and Metro: Exodus, but there were a slew of “smaller” titles like Carrion, Into the Breach, Children of Morta, Nowhere Prophet, Forager, and Undermine. I’m looking forward to playing Spiritfarer, going through Halo: the Master Chief Collection, Astroneer, Grounded (I may wait until it’s out of Early Access though), Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Frostpunk, and possibly Disgaea 4.

The above isn’t taking into account the games on the service that I already own elsewhere. Fallout 76, My Time at Portia, ARK, Dead Cells, Dishonored 2, Don’t Starve, Final Fantasy 15, Hollow Knight, No Man’s Sky, Slay the Spire, Stellaris, Subnautica, The Long Dark. Shit, I just realized how many crafting/survival games I could have gotten for (relative) free. Oh well.

I don’t know why I continue to shill for this service, other than perhaps to reassure myself that this is actually a thing that exists in this world. I have long railed on the concept of Consumer Surplus and how gaming companies have systematically been extracting every last ounce via DLC, Season Passes, Loot Boxes and so on. This trend towards a Netflix model for gaming has been the one bright spot this decade, it seems, eclipsing even the Humble Bundle model before it.

Will it solve all our (gaming) ills? No. Stellaris is on Game Pass but just as the base game – it still has $100+ worth of DLCs in typical Paradox fashion. Same with ARK. But there is a natural tension surrounding extra purchases for “rented” games such that I can see perhaps a higher-tier subscription beginning to include DLC. Or maybe Microsoft will be dicks and force you to purchase the game years after launch for near MSRP to get continued use out of already-purchased DLC.

Nevertheless, companies will need to make the base game worth experiencing if they hope to grab gamers’ attention without leaning on the Sunk Cost/dissonance of ownership. Not every game is going to be on Game Pass, but I absolutely believe that there will be more of these subscription options from other companies, the same way that Netflix is no longer the only, ahem, game in town.

Mainlining Forager

If you ever need to know what my game type is, look at Forager.

Look at all those resources, just begging to be collected.

Forager is distilled, crystallized, crafting/collecting. Everything is stripped down to their elemental components. You are on an island with constantly respawning resources… like every 20 seconds. You bash trees and rocks until you build a Furnace, which you use to smelt iron and gold into bars to craft more buildings. You get XP for everything, and on level-up you get Skill Points to unlock new buildings, buffs, and gear. Once you have acquired enough gold currency, you can “purchase” new islands, which you build bridges to reach. Said islands expand your access to resources, including new ones, along with enemies and item drops. Rinse and repeat, until you have unlocked half the world and you have automatic resource gathering (to an extent), banks minting gold for you, while you are off scraping the landscape clean with lightning wands and magic scrolls.

The first time I booted the game up, I played for three hours straight.

What is extra interesting to me is examining the components of Forager in terms of other games I play and enjoy. Stardew Valley, for example. You can technically farm in Forager: there is a shovel tool for digging plots, a Windmill building to create seeds from already-gathered plants, and even sprinklers to automatically water said plants. But plants in Forager bloom in like 30 seconds. And you’re just as likely to get a similar yield just blasting everything on the screen along with piles of other components. So not really like Stardew Valley at all. 

Now that I think about it, Forager is kind of like a parody of survival/crafting games. Similar to Progress Quest back in the heavy JRPG days, or Cow Clicker during the rise of Facebook games. As it turns out, sometimes parody becomes more fun than the game it makes fun of. 

I will reach a natural satiation point eventually. It may be very soon, as most of the progress I can make at this point is grinding currency for the remaining islands. There is no deeper meaning here, or even particular sense of lasting accomplishment. This is decidedly a wirehead experience. But until my tolerance level reaches its peak, I will continue mainlining this game with no regrets.

Sometimes you just need gratification, instantly. In which case Forager has you covered.

[Fake Edit] Oops, apparently I am done. There is no final boss, I have already completed all the dungeons, bought all the islands, and done all the easy upgrades. No sense grinding for more powerful gear to face non-existent threats. Those 16 hours were a blur.

Who Buys Games Anymore, part 72342

Carrion came out a few days ago, and I was intrigued after reading a review. Basically, it’s a “reverse horror” game where you control the writhing mass of teeth and tentacles as you eat your way out of a research facility. Probably not groundbreaking, but seems like a fun little game to pass the time. Was it worth $20 though? Maybe I’ll just add that to my Steam wishlist and call it a day.

Oh… or I can apparently play it right now on Xbox Game Pass.

I honestly can’t even. How does this business model work? I have the following games installed and ready to be played at a moment’s notice:

  • Halo: Master Chief Collection
  • Carrion
  • Gris
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Astroneer
  • Frostpunk
  • Forager
  • Neon Abyss

Those are mostly indie-esque games, but they could be Dishonored 2, FF15, the Gears series, etc.

There apparently was an Xbox or Microsoft or whatever event a week ago, where they demoed a few of the upcoming games. I hadn’t been paying attention at all, until I started hearing people talk about STALKER 2. I enjoyed all three games of that series, jank and all, so hearing that there was a, erm, “sequel” coming out was great news. Bottom text, though? “Coming to Xbox Game Pass on Day 1.”

Also? State of Decay 3. Xbox Game Pass on Day 1.

Also? Destiny 2 and all (?) its expansions coming to Game Pass in September.

I’m paying like $5/month for this shit. How? The “catch” of course is that games rotate in and out all the time. I own none of these games. There really isn’t any modding supp… oh wait, there is. What? 

The last time I used this title was a year ago, when I waffled on whether I wanted to buy Forager. Guess what’s on the Game Pass now? That’s right.

It’s kind of an open question on how much I would be willing to pay Game Pass, if it were not actually only $5. People still pay $15/month to play Battle for Azeroth for some reason, so that’s probably the floor. $30/month? I’m halfway to completing a $20 game that just came out, so maybe. Especially if it was a scenario in which I could sample/beat a lot of high-profile games all in a row. 

Microsoft is not sponsoring this blog, I swear. But at these prices and with these games, they don’t need to.  

Impression: Into the Breach

There are few things that prime the pump more than hearing “from the creators of FTL.” That was one of those games that seemed to come out of nowhere with a simple-yet-actually-brutally-complex system wrapped up in a sweet indie game package and threw me for a loop. It was ultimately a good loop, but a loop nonetheless. 

Despite all that, I had hitherto heard about, got excited for, and then completely forgot about Into the Breach. Until I realized it was on the Xbox Game Pass… and leaving shortly.

Into the Breach is essentially a puzzle game. You command three time-traveling pilots who are trying to protect the remnants of humanity from the Vek by piloting giant mechs. Each turn, the Vek (e.g. aliens) will move around the grid-based map and telegraph the actions they are about to take. During your turn, each mech can make one move and one action to try and foil the Vek’s plans before it occurs. While killing the Vek will cancel their action, the primary mechanism is typically “pushing” the Vek out of place on the grid.

As a general example, the default mech can perform a punch that deals 2 damage and pushes the target back 1 square. Many Vek have 3 or more HP, so this attack by itself will not kill a Vek that is about to attack a skyscraper full of people. But instead of attacking the skyscraper in front of it, that punched Vek will move 1 square away and instead attack whatever is in front of it in that new square. If it’s another skyscraper… well, oops. It could be empty air though. Or even another Vek, if you are clever enough. Or if the Vek was standing next to water/a giant pit/the telegraphed impact location of deadly lightning or whatever, it will die instantly. If the square is blocked, the pushed Vek will take an extra 1 damage and deal 1 damage to whatever blocked its path.

The default squad is the punching mech, a tank that deals 1 damage from range in cardinal directions, and artillery that deals one damage at a location and pushes everyone in cardinal directions 1 square away from the impact. If you successfully clear islands, you can spend reputation points to purchase additional items that can be equipped to give your mechs different abilities. For example, the punching mech can get a shield that makes the Vek turn around instead of pushing them, the artillery unit can get shells that light squares on fire, and so on.

If you cannot tell already, the gameplay ends up both simple and complex at the same time. Victory occurs when X number of turns complete, so you don’t really need to kill every Vek on the screen. Missions always have bonus objections which can complicate things. Incoming Vek reinforcements are telegraphed, and they can be prevented from spawning if their square is blocked – it will deal 1 damage to your mechs, or another Vek if one is pushed there.

Having said all that, this game can also be brutal. The Power Grid represents your life total of the run and it carries over through every mission. Vek destroying 1 building results in 1 less Power Grid for every mission thereafter. While you can take on missions that grant replacement power, that comes at the opportunity cost of missions that reward more reputation, which you spend on buying gear to enhance your team. Your own mechs have HP that is repaired between battles, but losing your HP in a battle will kill the pilot, which results in all their unlocked abilities going away. 

I got super frustrated at one point until I realized… this is a puzzle roguelike. Some situations will go south fast with nothing you could reasonably do. Sometimes the Vek will “waste” all of their attacks on your mechs, which you can simply walk away from. Other times the Vek will spread out and attack buildings everywhere. In a worst case scenario, you can abandon the timeline you are in and take one pilot with you into a fresh game. 

Ultimately, Into the Breach is a decently fun puzzle game. It’s no FTL, but it’s in the same quadrant. I just wish they would port this game to mobile, where it would be a perfect fit IMO. Between this and a mobile Slay the Spire, I might never be productive again.