Game Review – Townscaper and Dorfromantik: A Tale of Two Citybuilders

I decided to combine these two games into one review for a couple of reasons: The main one being that they are both extremely simple and don’t require a lengthy review. The other is that they are both very similar, while being almost nothing alike.

What the hell am I talking about?

The name of the game here is nothing short of beautiful simplicity. Not only are these two games easily played with just a mouse, but they are so conceptually simple that they are both casual, and chill–yet still able to occupy hours of your time if you want them to.

Let’s start with Townscaper.

There’s a (hideable) grid and colour plallet. It feels artsy.


It actually might be a misnomer to call Townscaper a game. It’s really more of a creative tool that even the developer himself describes as a “toy” rather than a game.

I think it’s far more than a toy, though.

Sure, it’s immaculately simple, and there’s no “game” to be played here. There’s no premise other than to build a town with as much creative freedom as your own mind will allow. But that’s the joy of it. You can think as much as you want about your next step, or not at all. You can just click click click away and turn your brain off until you think it looks neat. Or, you can create a masterwork of intentional design. You’re still never doing anything more than clicking on stuff, or choosing a colour. You have a fair number of undos and redos, as well. It’s like a mini-modelling software, where the only thing you’re modelling is a town, and the details like trees and bushes and benches are filled in for you.

All that is expected of you is to click away. It’s almost therapeutic.

Ok, I guess it is kind of a toy. From:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYvVZgXHb14



Alright, so what’s the deal with Dorfromantik? It’s pretty much the opposite when it comes to the ultimate “point” of the game, and especially when it is in fact, a game.

At its core, you’re building while trying to achieve a high score. You place tiles in accordance to generating points, as well as increasing the size of your deck. Oh yeah, it’s kind of a card game, too. A very simple one; it uses cards as a mechanic in the same way a board game might. You draw from your deck in sequence, and whatever card you’ve drawn, you must place. So there is a definite strategy. You want to place forest next to forest, and farms next to farms, and houses next to houses, while winding rivers and trains throughout. The game encourages that by giving you bonus points and extra cards for completing what are effectively small “quests”– wherein you connect a specified number of say, forest tiles together, or pass a grand total of river tiles placed.

You are shooting for a high score, but there’s no pressure at all.


While there is a fair amount of strategy to it, it’s still built on the rugged simplicity of doing only one thing at a time: pick a tile, place it on the board. It’s never any more than that, yet it’s also so much more than that. The fact that it only ever lets you place the next tile in the deck means you can never play the same game twice, or design the same map twice. Plus, you don’t even have to play the game if you don’t care that much about getting the top score–and there’s even a pure creative mode on the way.

Classic Mode already feels like a complete game. Ain’t no half-baked early access titles here.


So these games are similar and different in a lot of the same ways. While their differences make them great on their own, their similarities are what make them a great contribution to gaming as a whole. The fact that these two games are capable of captivating the creative juices with only a click is elevating. They are both games you could easily play, stress-free for 15-20 minutes before bed… or all day long, trying to create a rare Pepe, or recreating Minas Tirith. You can play these games with your brain off or on. It’s hard to say that about most other titles.

While they are also both still in Early Access, they are also both expected to release sometime later this year. They are also both extremely inexpensive and playable as they are.

I highly recommend getting them both.

/gameon

Here’s a 4/20 treat from the treasure that is Marc Rebillet. (some strong language, but nothing out of place for this page)

Game Review – Monster Hunter Rise: Quality of Life at its Finest

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

It doesn’t get much better than this. Seriously. After watching a seemingly constant stream of disappointment across the board from the “AAA” game machine, CAPCOM has given us something we can finally sink our teeth into. Yes, it’s a monster pun and I’m proud of it.

Monster Hunter Rise puts every other AAA launch in the past 6 months to shame. Square Enix, take fucking note. MHR sold over 5 million copies in less than 2 weeks, to absolutely stellar reviews I might add, and it’s currently a Switch exclusive. After the laughable Avengers and OUTRIDERS launches, I’m playing a game that is just as co-op friendly, yet drenched in glorious attention to quality of life for the gamer.

You even have your own personal spy.


I’m not even talking about how much better this game is than Monster Hunter: World (and it is), I’m talking about features that this game has that I wish other games had. Features like: instant fast travel. No annoying animations, no having to find a fast travel location. Just open the map, click the spot, poof you’re there.

Or how about: gear wishlist. If you visit a blacksmith and decide you want to craft a piece of gear, you can put it on you wishlist, and you will be notified the moment you have the required components to build it.

There are also presets for everything. You can save dozens of presets for gear and items separately. So you can set your armor and weapons with one preset, then you can pick another preset to decided how many of which items you want in your inventory before, or even during a mission if you stop off at the base camp.

There is so. Much. Quality.

8 slots x 14 pages. 112 possible loadout configurations is a lot.


Sure, the graphics are a bit of a downgrade from World, but World is meant to run on more powerful hardware than the Switch. The maps are more focused, however. In a way that actually feels more immersive and dense. You have a more clear path to your goal instead of just meandering around for an arbitrary amount of time. The world is just more interesting, too.

You can also freely play with friends and strangers. I always found it strange that World is often attached to the “MMO” genre, when it isn’t, really. Rise has just as much multiplayer potential, but no one would accuse it of being an MMO. Its online elements are present, but not required. Yet, I still see plenty of room for future content and cross-overs, just like World had. If CAPCOM is smart, they will definitely keep adding to this stellar title, because it is not only above and beyond previous MH titles, it raises the bar in terms of the expectations we should have of a game like this at launch. Especially when we’re paying AAA prices for legacy franchises from A list publishers.

Have I glowed enough about this game, yet? It’s already been about 500 words and I’ve barely talked about the actual gameplay. And believe me, I will use every chance I can to use this as a dig towards other AAA publishers who have literally launched 3 games in a row at AAA prices to “mixed” reviews and massive drops in player counts. LOOKING AT YOU SQUARE ENIX. I still think FF7 Remake is a scam, too. I know a lot of people would disagree with me on that one, but that’s a topic for another time.

Square is currently batting 3 for 3 with terrible launches.


I digress.

In a lot of ways, Rise feels similar to World, but with a more streamlined approach. While some argue it takes a bit of the “hunt” away, recent editions of Monster Hunter’s hunting mechanics feel arbitrary, and just extend the gameplay for no reason other than to take more time to do the same thing: fight the monster. So we might as well just get to it then, shouldn’t we? You can still wander around the maps, picking up items, and fighting mobs that spawn at different intervals, just as World allowed. But now, missions take less time because there’s less puttering around and more getting to the action.

Action that is great. Action that not only includes all of the diverse array of weapons and play styles available in previous Monster Hunter games, but refines them. Mobility has become a joy, with such a variety of ways to get around, including a personal dog mount, (called a Palamute, of course) and the ability to ride and control wyverns. Yes, you can ride monsters.

Look at the cute doggo!


They’ve also replaced the grapple hook and claw with a new mechanic called the Wirebug, which effectively gives you some lite Spider-Man abilities. You can grapple and swing in mid-air, while also being able to run along walls for several seconds. The Wirebug also has unique abilities with each weapon, and is what allows you to mount your prey–giving a new depth to combat yet seen in the series.

By the way, did I mention the cool quality of life features? Some of them even add to the immersion. You can actually choose your overworld theme. Themes, by the way, which appear to be sung by some of the main characters you interact with.

Pick your tunes.


And sure, it’s not perfect. There are even some little annoyances which have persisted through a number of the MH games, like cinematic sequence that happens at the end of a hunt. While it looks cool, it can be disorienting and a bit long–especially if there are still other active monsters on the field, because they don’t stop attacking during the sequence. The UI could stand to be a bit more intuitive as well. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve never played another MH game before. That said, there are a lot of in-game resources, and tutorials you can flip through to help you make sense of everything going on.

Ok, I’d be lying if I said this didn’t look super cool, though.


The reason why I am glowing so much about the quality of life in this game is simply because a lot of modern “AAA” games especially, don’t feel as if they were made by people who play games. There are certain features which should never be missing at launch; graphics options we should always be able to control, like motion blur and screen shake… there are so many things which annoy gamers, which manage to always be present at the launch of modern games, with the promise they will fixed later. I’m. So. Tired. Of. This. It’s one of the things I constantly debate about the hotly contested OUTRIDERS (yeah, I’m back to bashing Square Enix again), because people tell me how much better it’s going to get after polish. I don’t care about or want that. I want a game that doesn’t lock cutscenes to 30fps on my 3080 at launch, or force motion blur or have pointless animation sequences every time you walk through a door. I don’t think my expectations are out of line when these are extraordinarily clear oversights that any modern gamer should have pointed out at extremely early stages in development, never mind after a game is launched. A game which costs over $100m to produce, and has as lauded a publisher as Square Enix shouldn’t have bullshit oversights at launch. And the same goes for everyone else.

This is why MWR is so important a launch for me. It’s both a great game, and it didn’t have the rocky launch we’ve come to expect from big publishers, while still having sales well into the millions. It all comes down to commitment to quality for the player. This is what absolutely shines about Monster Hunter Rise. Not only is it a solid evolution of the formula, but it sets the bar for what expectations of a AAA release should be. One has to wonder how much influence Nintendo had in this, since it is a Switch exclusive, and Nintendo certainly has a track record of maintaining a standard of quality for their own products–with MHR being no exception. Perhaps there was some collaborative effort?

Either way, it’s a well produced effort by CAPCOM for Nintendo, and I’m here for it. This is the level of quality we should be expecting across the board.

/gameon

You also get an owl companion called a “Cahoot.”

Game Review – Kingdom Two Crowns: A Royal Upgrade

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The first installment of the Kingdom series was a curious take on tower defense. I enjoyed it. I put at least a few hours into it. I played New Lands, as well. The problem with both was the depth required to keep me engaged.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the series. I like tower defense, and I like strategy games. This series manages to combine elements of both in a way that is both minimalist, and yet, deeper than it seems on the surface. There’s a nuanced approached to how these games are designed and I am a big fan of how well it combines simplicity with conscious base design.

This is where Two Crowns succeeds.

Effectively picking up where its predecessors left off, Two Crowns shares much of the same gameplay: explore either direction of a 2D world, find treasure, expand and defend your base, build a boat to reach the next area.

It even says it in the do-hickey.


The thing Two Crowns does so effectively compared to its predecessors is the world building. Travelling between levels is travelling between continents. You can and will go back and forth on your boats. It’s fun to see your old bases still operating as you return, and the new challenges waiting when you get there.

The world is grander and full of more interesting things to find, too. There are curious ruins which have various effects when you unlock them. There are cottages with extra characters hiding inside, which you can coax to come join your kingdom. There are even several mounts to find and ride while you explore.

Wage war against The Greed while astride a badass Gryfon.


The mechanics are otherwise very much the same as the previous games. Controls are extremely simple, with very little guidance, allowing you to feel impressively immersed in this little 2D kingdom. As each day passes, waves of enemies grow increasingly difficult. So, you’ll have to continue to upgrade your base, and recruit villagers to defend it, just as before. However, if you lose your crown, you return to the same kingdom as a descendent, with many of the original facilities in place–which gives a sort of extra-lite, rogue-like progression. So, even when you fail, the game encourages you to keep going.

There are some things that might give it a little edge, though. It lacks some depth of control, like being able to command your units, or actually fight with your own character. When you respawn as a descendent, previous areas you explored already have their treasures plundered, which can make early progress a bit tedious in return attempts.

Small things aside, I really enjoy this one because there just aren’t many games like this. It’s a simple game with a big ability to charm and tweak the right buttons for a lovely mix of tower defense, strategy and adventure. It’s a game I will definitely keep coming back to.

/gameon

No memes, just another pretty picture.

Game Review – Mech Mechanic Simulator: I’m a Day-Trading Grease Monkey

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What do stock trading, logic equations, and mini-games based on 30 year old puzzle games have to do with repairing giant robots? A lot, apparently. It certainly makes for an interesting combination of elements forming together like a bit of a hap-hazard Voltron. Seems appropriate for a game about repairing mechs, anyway.

Ok, so I know I just threw a lot of crazy images together, but I’ll try to make sense of it all.

Let’s just start with the core game:

It is a mechanic simulator at its base. There are many, many games of this type, and a good portion come from its publisher and their “friends.” I put “friends” in quotes, because it seems like a number of these Chinese publishers have an invested interest in each other, especially considering I even got a loyalty discount for owning other games. Some of you may be familiar with PlayWay as a publisher. Their history of mechanic and repair simulators is long and storied.

PlayWay’s two best-selling games. They like their mechanic sims.


If you’ve never played one, it’s fairly self explanatory. You are a mechanic, and your job is to fix things. So in Car Mechanic Simulator you fix cars, in Mech Mechanic Simulator you fix mechs. I think you probably get it at this point.

The basic gameplay loop is as it sounds: pick up an order to repair a mech, complete the tasks required, send it back, get paid, repeat. Fixing and replacing parts is pretty straightforward: use the scanner to diagnose the problem, pull a limb off the suit, put it on a table and begin stripping it down. Like other mechanic simulator games, there are various stations to be unlocked and upgraded which allow you to repair, clean and craft individual components. So you can remove rust, weld, fix electronics and apply a fresh coat of paint… basically all the things you would expect from a game like this.

So far so… the same as every other game like this, right?

Click the shiny thing. Take it out. Put in a new one. Ezpz.


Wrong.

It seems like it’s going to be like most other mechanic games until after the first few hours, and you start unlocking stations that aren’t at all similar to other games in this genre.

For example, there is a functioning mini-stock market, featuring rising and falling values of the companies whose mechs you service. As you support the company, its stock grows, and so does your income. If you own stock in a company, and complete a contract from that company, you get extra compensation for the job, so it’s worth buying at least a few shares to boost your income.

I guess it seems kinda appropriate after the whole GameStonks fiasco.



While some of the cleaning and repair stations are fairly typical; cleaning off rust, and welding broking parts as one might expect. But the electronics station has you play a minigame to repair components that reminds me a lot of the classic puzzle game, Pipedream.

The calibration station actually requires you to solve a logic puzzle (aka, math), which upon completion, puts you in a virtual environment wherein you “calibrate” the mech by running around and shooting things. Eventually, you unlock stations which allow you to build your own mech, customize it with various paint pallets and decals, and even take it on missions.

TIL “calibration” means doing math and then shooting stuff.


There’s a surprising amount of game here for one with such a simple premise.

I wouldn’t call it perfectly executed, however. There are some things which feel a bit, oversight-y. For example, some of the background assets feel a bit cheap. Could be store bought or just default engine assets. The lighting could be more natural, as well. There’s a bit of a feeling that the game didn’t have a lot of artistic direction. The android “helper” is also entirely useless and unfunny. Thankfully, his voice over can be turned off in the options menu.

There are also some minor bugs, and missing textures here and there, although I might excuse them as 1.0 issues which could easily be polished in a patch or two. I even got a reply to my Steam review from the developer, asserting this would be the case.

I love getting replies to my reviews. Active devs warm my heart.


Despite some of the lack of polish, and the game going off script with stock trading and atypical puzzles, it still manages to work. I have to give this studio credit where it’s due: no one else made a game about fixing mechs, and no one else put a stock market in a mechanic game. So kudos for the creativity, and lots of points for the effort.

I’ll definitely get my money’s worth out of this one.

/gameon

Have a mech-related topical meme.

Game Review – Loop Hero: I have a problem

Rating: 5 out of 5.

So I bought Loop Hero a few days ago, and can’t seem to do anything else. I’m not the only one, either. While it hasn’t blown up quite to the extent of Valheim, which is an unstoppable machine of unrelenting consistency, it’s doing quite well for an indie game quite intentionally designed to look like it was made 30 years– so much so that it even has a CRT scanline filter.

In its first week, it sold over 500,000 copies, and sits at a 95% with nearly 10,000 “overwhelmingly positive” reviews. It rocks a very consistent 40,000 simultaneous players, which is pretty good for a roguelike, reverse-tower-defense, deck-builder. I know, it’s confusing just saying it. It’s a game that’s hard to describe, and even harder to illustrate with images. Even following a guide wouldn’t make much sense without actually playing the game yourself, and it’d probably be pretty boring to watch a play-through.

Time for some stuff on a page.

Yet, this is probably the most innovative game of 2021, so far.

I’ll do my best to break down what makes this such a hit.

First, you take two, simple, recognizable and ancient game formulas and flip em. Especially the tower defense part. Like a TD game, you have a set path of travel, except you are the character on the path, and baddies spawn to impede your progress. You place towers along the way to give you bonuses and resources to collect, but they also act as spawners, increasing the number and variety of monsters in your path. The point of it all, is to complete as many loops as you can before returning to your homestead, where you use the resources you acquire to build up your base, unlock new items and classes, so you can return to the loop to gather resources so you can continue to upgrade your base. It sounds repetitive–and it kind of is–but it’s also marvelously addictive.

There are lots of stats to read. Read things. It helps.


The roguelike elements are present, in that every loop is unique, and you start fresh at level 1 every time. Death is not nearly as punishing as most games, and often serves as a narrative punctuation, and you even still get to keep at least 30% of what you gathered, or more if you have the right items which protect your losses. So, while it is technically a roguelike, the elements are more of a gameplay mechanic, rather than simply your main incentive to stay alive.

So far, it probably all sounds pretty straightforward, right? Do loops, get loot, repeat. Yet, somehow I’ve already done this for 35 hours in 3 days, so there’s something in there keeping me going, and it’s the depth.

This game is way deeper than it appears on the surface, and even with the amount of time I’ve put in, I still haven’t figured out all the potential tower combinations that exist. Like many other tower defense games, you can combine the effects of towers to either help you, or hinder the enemy, or sometimes vice versa and both. However, these effects are not immediately obvious, and exist nowhere in the game’s description or lore. When you unlock these combinations, they are described in the in-game encyclopedia, but you will not be instructed on how to make them.

There is a surprisingly wide variety of characters and a clever narrative to unravel.


This leads to complexity of gameplay I never thought possible from a tower defense game. Suddenly, I’m not just arbitrarily looping to unlock better gear and new buildings at home, but I’m doing it to make new discoveries about how the game works. For such a seemingly simple game, I’ve never had so many, “ooooooooh,” moments, where I realize how to modify or improve my gameplay techniques.

This is the spark of creativity. Not just from the developer, but also for the player. It’s why people like crafting games. People like being given choices, and opportunities to build and invent. It’s not just sandbox-y, player freedom, it’s the feeling that your creative choices make you better at the game. That’s a magical feeling. Loop Hero pulls off that magic in such a way that it somehow feels like it’s reinventing the wheel with mechanics that aren’t all that new. It’s almost like if someone just flipped a tire inside out and realize this could be a whole new way to get around.

K, sometimes you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel.


Which is perhaps why it’s so appealing. There’s nothing here that should be entirely unfamiliar to the seasoned gamer. The basebuilding is fairly straightforward, but open-ended. You have a large grid, and you can place most buildings wherever you want within reason, and within a certain radius of other buildings. The deck-building is simply picking the bonuses and towers you want to show up in your hand while you’re looping. Collecting loot and leveling up in the game is straightforward, increasing in loot rarity and monster difficulty every time you start a new loop. Combat is simply watching your character attack, while you sort out which items you’re using.

Yet, there’s also no other game to compare this to. It has somehow taken so many familiar elements of game design, and made something entirely new. This isn’t a clever homage, or a throwback, even though it looks like it is.

What it is, is something that will inspire a new genre. I am quite certain we will soon see Loop-likes, and I am here for it.

/gameon

P.S. I just learned there is a game called Reinvent the Wheel and it looks neat.

Game Review – Warhammer 40K: Dakka Squadron: The Flyboyz are back in town

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Yes, I’ve started recording gameplay, again. Maybe I get more than 11 views on this one!


A year or two ago I caught wind of a “Warhammer 40,000 Orks flight sim” in development. Naturally, my interest was piqued, being a fan of the universe in most of its aspects, having even manned and painted a 2500 point Imperial Guard tabletop army. I’m also a fan of flight sims and arcade shooters, so it’s right up my alley. Plus, we have another solid example of what makes the Warhammer universe so interesting in the first place: no shortage of fun new ideas.

While Games Workshop has certainly had its share of missteps over the years, one of the things I’ve always appreciated is their willingness to give their IP to small developers, at least more recently, anyway. (I’m not going to get into Warhammer vs. Warcraft in this article, but give it a search if you don’t know what I’m talking about and would like to). The mega-publishers like Activision and EA never want to leave their own formulas, and so we get Star Wars Battlefront 1 and 2 as sequels to games with literally the exact same name, which could have actually made 10x more money if they were simply remasters of the original games instead of loot-box-laden EA suckfests. But I digress…

Image result for star wars battlefront 2 copies on shelves
We really should never forget that EA was unable to sell a brand new Star Wars game at Christmas.


So what is Warhammer 40K: Dakka Squadron?

It’s a fun, arcade-y, shoot-em-up with an emphasis on Ork silliness, and it strikes that chord well.

The voice-overs are goofy and on brand. The Ork visual style is well utilized. Everything looks slapped together, and made to blow things up, and they do. Even the Ork aesthetic philosophy of adding modifiers through pure faith are present. So your red paint job does in fact make your plane go faster.

The graphics are not bad, but fairly low polygon to work across many platforms. It did released on mobile, after all. So you can find it on Android, and iOS, as well as Steam. I won’t be talking about gameplay on mobile, however, since I am a fully refreshed member of the #pcmasterrace with a brand new RTX 3080 and all. So I am reviewing exclusively the Steam released, “Flyboyz Edition.”

Your colour choices are almost as important as they are in the tabletop game.


The gameplay is simple. Maybe a little too simple. There is definitely no “sim” to be found here. You have very little control over your roll orientation, and you do little more than Star Fox style spins when you press A or D. This can be a bit disorienting, as your plane will make its own decision to right itself if you do a loop. They definitely encourage you to use set turn-back maneuvers (a single button press will reverse your direction) rather than “real” fancy flying techniques. Which is fair, because like I said, there’s no “sim” here, and therefore, no real physics or lift or anything like that going on.

Go fast. Shoot stuff.


Despite the lack of realism, it’s still a lot of fun. One of your primary attacks against other fighters is simply ramming them when you are close enough. I can’t name too many games in the genre which actually encourage mid-air collisions. The action is fast-paced, and the missions don’t expect more than 10-15 minutes of work for each. Blow up a bunch of stuff, get some upgrades, move on to the next fight. The variety of weapons and gameplay are more or less what you’d expect from this Orks themed flying game. You have nimble fighters, and bulky Bommas with a variety of tools, guns, rockets and Boom Bombs to flatten everything in your path.

Lots of stuff to unlock and blow things up with.


The game isn’t without some obvious problems, however. While I haven’t experienced this particular issue as an English language player, I’ve read about a number of localization issues with other languages which mostly sound like the result of laziness. Maybe they never hired anyone and just used Google translate. A smart idea would be to ask for community localization efforts, though, still rather equally lazy.

The AI of enemy units is just straight up awful, as well. You will consistently see them bumping into walls and making very little effort to correct themselves. Since it’s clearly meant as a casual shooter, I wouldn’t say they need a challenge boost by much, but it would be nice just for immersion sake if the mobs had better pathing, considering the arenas are pretty small. Which is my other major gripe: the arena size boundaries are tight. Very tight. They could perhaps loosen up the ceiling a bit, just to make diving and bombing less cramped.

Not sure “AI” is even the phrase I’d use. The I seems to be missing.


Putting those issues aside, it is still a lot of fun, and has a breezy price point around $20 on Steam. If I had to rank it as it is, I’d give it a solid 7, with room for improvement. It could be a 7.5 or an 8 with localization and AI fixes, along with some minor gameplay polish.

If you’re looking for some fast 40K aerial action with a clever Ork theme and few expectations from the player other than having fun, this might be what you’re looking for.

/waaagh

P.S. I died so many times making this review.

Game Review – Valheim is Wurm Online on easy mode: and that’s a good thing

Wait, you’ve never heard of Wurm Online?? Shame on you.

You may be more familiar with its moddable offline-ish baby, Wurm Unlimited, which is available on Steam. It’s a standalone version of the MMO, giving players freedom to manipulate the game client and host private servers.

So what is Wurm, and what does it have to do with this early access Viking game that everyone keeps comparing to Minecraft and Rust? A lot, actually.

It all started with a game studio called Mojang Specifications AB, co-founded by the one and only Notch. Oh, the guy who who made Minecraft, you mean? Yeah, that guy.

Microsoft/Mojang has since removed all mention of Notch/Persson from Minecraft

Wurm Online was the brainchild of then colleagues, Rofl Janssen and Markus Persson. It can only be described as a blend of the classic MMORPGs like EverQuest and Ultima Online, and a clear technical predecessor to the formula we recognize from Minecraft. The landscape is fully shapeable, and ever changing. Trees grow back, and eventually take over unclaimed land. Monsters roam randomly around the map, freely challenging anything and anyone in their path. Crafting is mind-bendingly complex, and allows you to build a variety of tools, weapons, vehicles and structures out of many different materials with curious and even creative results. You can sail vast bodies of hostile waters, and navigate between continents. It might even have the most interesting, and dynamic skybox ever made, displaying evolving weather patterns, including wind, rain, snow, storms, rainbows, as well as an elaborate star map with a constant cycle of celestial bodies and even occasional eclipses. Both world and sky are truly open.

Snow rainbow? S’no problem.


All that said, it’s also the heaviest grind of any game I’ve ever played. Putting up a building requires an extraordinary amount of time and effort involving cutting down swaths of forest, and digging up many actual boatloads of clay, iron, stone and whatever other building materials you can think up. It’s an immense timesink just to feel like you’ve made any progress. There is a sense of accomplishment from putting in so much work, but it’s hard to justify the amount of time it takes just to get resources.

The combat is also… wonky, and dated. It has a lot of the classics of RPGs like swordplay, bows, magic, etc, but it’s not exactly “action” based. It’s almost like real-time turn-based, if that makes any sense. It feels more like you’re rolling dice than swinging a sword.

Nothing says “exciting combat” like clicking through menus and pointing directional arrows.


So again, wtf does any of this have to do with Valheim? Well, it has most of those things I described, but without the ruinous grind. Building is easy, and fun. Combat is exciting and satisfying. It’s so many of the things that made Wurm interesting, but better.

It has a marvelous and beautiful skybox, with dynamic weather patterns and great wind effects. It has an easily moldable landscape, allowing you to sculpt the terrain to your will and build to your heart’s content. The sailing is spectacular, challenging, dangerous, and an absolute adventure all on its own. Combat is simple, yet fluid and rewards skill without overtly punishing casual players. There is an endless spree of dungeons, dangerous monster spawns, and even a story to follow if you so wish.

Dungeon diving with friends? Check.


Although, if you don’t wish, you don’t have to. You can just have fun with your friends, trying not to die to falling trees and screaming boars. Yes, just falling trees are dangerous. Hell, you can even sail off the edge of the world. When in Norse Mythology, do as the Nords.

…and I feel fine.


Many of these things seem eerily similar to what Wurm was trying to accomplish when development started nearly two decades ago, but Valheim did the thing Wurm couldn’t do: make it fun and accessible. Which I suppose is also where Mojang was able to succeed with Minecraft.

While it’s certainly easy to compare Valheim to Minecraft for its sprawling open world and ability to win hearts so easily, it takes existing in your little Viking world to the next levelit’s a brilliantly refreshed formula in a genre that has been beaten into the ground. Minecraft was a unique revelation when it gained popularity. By comparison, Valheim is like a diamond standing out in a sea of broken glass.

Realistic waves, wind and weather physics, while being hunted by giant sea monsters? Check.


Let me be clear: I am beyond bored with “survival” games. I can’t stay interested in games like The Forest, or Rust, or Ark, or Conan Exiles, or 7 Days to Die, or Terraria, or, or, or… unless I have peers pressuring me to play with them. While it’s a great co-op experience, I can play Valheim solo and do so confidently, without feeling like the constant monitoring of food and other resources is just an arbitrary chorewhich often ruins experience for me in other games.

I think that’s what makes the game so compelling in the first place. It’s not really doing anything new at all. It’s so easy to compare it to a lot of other popular titles. I like to be a pedantic hipster relating to Wurm instead of Minecraft, but there’s no question that it borrows from more popular and similar games. Yet, it still stands out. Even with chunky pixel art graphics, it has a gorgeous aesthetic, and an extraordinarily immersive environment. Even with familiar cooking and crafting progression, it still feels fresh and creative. Even with simple combat mechanics, it’s still fun and engaging.

Giant deer that shoots lightning? Check.


It’s hard to describe how well this game rides the line between fresh and familiar.

Big studios wish they could crack the secret to selling a million copies of a new IP that isn’t pushing the boundaries of game design itself like Death Stranding, or reaching out to the broadest of demographics like Among Us.

Valheim is a beautiful reminder that a game doesn’t need brutal originality to feel fresh, inviting and completely new.

/gameon

P.S. Can someone tell me why people compare it to Dark Souls? I don’t see it.

Game Review – Starpoint Gemini 2

Game review – Starpoint Gemini 2
Platform – PC (exclusive)
Developer – Little Green Men Games
Publisher – Iceberg Interactive

Release date – 26 Sept, 2014

Rating – 8/10

42islife

Because no space-related article is complete without a Douglas Adams quote.

Starpoint Gemini 2 is the first real *complete* space title to come along since the abysmal launch of X: Rebirth. Having left a considerable gap in the market for the hardcore space-sim crowd, we’ve seen the rise of titles like Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous among a few botched attempts like Transverse. Since the closest to completion at this point (yet still quite aways off) is Elite: Dangerous, but has a rather steep point of entry to the beta, your best bet for spacey goodness in a released package at a relatively inexpensive price is Starpoint Gemini 2.

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Expecting a vast, open void of quiet trade routes and peaceful sailing? This is not that game.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Starpoint Gemini 2 is its unabashed density. Space is not wide open and quiet. You will encounter many anomalies, wrecks, asteroid belts, wormholes, ruins and countless hostiles trying to drill you a new asshole — and that’s just while flying from A to B. There’s no dull moment in this universe. Yet, amid the nearly staggering depth and complexity, there is an apparent simplicity to the control scheme. You won’t be doing a lot of dog fighting and navigating, rather you will be angling your ship for better weapon and shield coverage while giving commands for boarding procedures and defense protocols. You are made to feel more like a ship captain than a pilot. This perhaps takes a bit of the “sim” out of the game from the perspective of flying the ship, but adds a lot in terms of commanding one.

This is actually one of the things the game really has going for it. Rather than relying on pure skill and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants speed, the game plays out a little more like an action RPG. You have skills and powerups based on your class, giving you tactical advantages for say, commanding fleets and using boarding parties, rather than just blasting your way in and out of any given situation.

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It's a spacesimactionRPG.

True to the space-sim genre, the title has a fairly steep learning curve in the early game. There’s not a lot of reward for your time spent, and sometimes you just feel vastly under-powered. However, stick with it long enough, and the ratio flips. Suddenly, you are building a fleet around you, commanding a rather devastating ship of your own, and you begin to feel like a force of destruction within the universe. Due to the contentious nature of the many NPC factions, there’s no shortage of wars to be waged or space to conquer even outside of the main story-line.

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The rather detailed and expansive map requires manual exploration, too.

This brings me to the title’s biggest flaw: the campaign. It’s both boring and poorly written. It tries too hard to be compelling with the most cliche revenge-but-deeper-than-you-think-wink-wink played out archetypes imaginable, with long, uninspired speeches from every damn character, which are all horribly voiced. I don’t just mean the acting is bad, either. The audio quality and volume levels vary between EVERY character, and it sounds like there was no direction at all. No one even tried to put a little effect on the voices to sound spacey. As a guy who is actively trying to work in the audio side of the game industry, I am almost offended by how bad the voice work is in this title. If anyone from LGMG reads this: please drop me a line and I will gladly run your vocals through a compressor or something at the very least. It’s seriously bad enough to make me want to give up on the campaign altogether.

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TL;DR, never mind the yawn-worthy VO. The ability to skip has never been more welcome.

Despite the glaringly awful campaign, the game has more than enough to do to keep you interested. You can elect to forego the story altogether and just freeplay your way around its colourful universe. Its ARPG inspiration means menus and contextual system management, while still as complex as you would expect from a space sim, are easily managed and controlled via its well-designed user interface. While it can sometimes feel a little candy-coated, I mean it with the highest compliment that everything just “makes sense.” It’s refreshing to play a space sim with such a simple UI that manages to retain the depth of control I demand. While there is a bit of a learning curve compared to broader reaching titles, it’s not nearly as steep as some of its predecessors.

While it’s hard to compare Starpoint Gemini 2 to some if its competitors (namely Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous) as a space-sim, it manages to set itself apart with its RPG elements and clever UI. It will never match up to the hardcore realism of other titles, nor does it try to. It’s a great entry on its own, and should be a valuable little gem in any space-sim enthusiast’s collection. Here’s to hoping the main campaign and voice work get some attention, because it could be the difference between a great space game, and one of the best to come along in a while.

/gameon

spg2space2

P.S. Space is pretty.

Game Review – Rising Storm/Red Orchestra 2

Game review – Rising Storm/Red Orchestra 2
Platform – PC (exclusive)
Developer – Tripwire Interactive
Publisher – Tripwire Interactive

Release date – 30 May, 2013

Rating – 9/10

teamkill

That's why you STOP LAGGING BEHIND AND GET TO THE OBJECTIVE, NOOB.

While this is an older release strapped onto a title from 3 years ago with an already aging engine, I felt the need to write a review as it doesn’t get nearly enough praise or attention. Yeah, it’s PC exclusive, so it’ll never get the exposure of a cross-platform, broad demographic “AAA” title – but that’s already a selling point. It’s not trying for flash and flare. There aren’t massive piles of motion-captured slow-motion animations or giant robots. This is a game about substance over cosmetic, and it delivers. My 232 hours in-game stands as a tribute.

In a genre dominated by prestigious franchises blandly following their own trends, there exists a game which has dug in its roots and produced a first-person-shooter focusing on bullet drop off and perimeter fire. Weapons that jam, overheat and require maintenance. Rewarding accuracy and patience over kill ratios. It’s a game where leadership can easily turn the tides of a match in more ways than a kill streak. In short: it’s an online FPS that focuses on realism and makes no apology for it.

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Can't see them? Don't worry, you will learn. (You'll also die a lot)

While there is a more forgiving casual mode for this game, the most populated are the “realism” servers, and for good reason. Once you play on one of these hardcore maps, Call of Duty and Battlefield will seem like on-rails arcade shooters. There are no decals over players’ heads, friend or foe, there’s no ammo counter, no on-screen aiming reticle, and you can easily die bleeding out from a single pistol shot if you don’t bandage up quick. This is not your average shooter. If anything, it could be considered a WWII battle simulator.

Not sure how much ammo is left in the clip? You have to eject it and look. MG keeps overheating and under-performing? Swap the barrel. Getting too many team kills? Start shooting at faces instead of backs of heads. Spawning comes in reinforcement waves rather than individual timers, so learn to move as a unit. And for fuck sakes keep your head down. Cover is your friend. Don’t sprint across open fields like an idiot. Check your map and listen to your commander when he’s calling air strikes so you don’t get caught in your own bombing runs.

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 If a bullet doesn't get you, the mortars, artillery, mines and grenades will.

Yet, beyond the gritty realism lies a game with a lot of heart and a ton of fun if you can handle the intensity. I’ll admit, the attention to detail was almost off-putting at first, and I can see some players being frustrated enough to pass. If you stick with it, though, it’s the most satisfying experience you can have in a game like this.

It’s truly spectacular in execution. Seeing a successful artillery strike wipe away a whole regiment (or being the one caught in the blast) is impressive in itself and actually requires teamwork, as only a Squad Leader can “spot” a target, while the lone Commander reserves the ability to call in the strike. It’s not to suggest there aren’t some cool things you can do as a grunt, either.

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EVERYTHING BURNSSSSSSSS

The weapons are a fairly standard fare selection of WW2 hardware, but Tripwire’s attention to detail shines right through the crowd with how they actually function. I can’t name another title where you occasionally have to swap a machine gun’s barrel, or physically check your ammo count, or with such realistic bullet trajectories. The flamethrower is nigh awe inspiring. It’s beautiful. The flames actually bounce and reflect off walls, and fill up rooms. Victims just melt away in a pool of screams.

The maps are equally as detailed as the weapons. They are large and sprawling; covered with wreckage, weapons, ruins, foliage, coated with a layer of mayhem and gloomy atmosphere. You never quite know where its limits are until you hit them. I’ve never played another game that felt so much like I was actually on a battlefield. It’s dangerous, difficult, and unforgiving. I love it.

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Yes. That is both recent and free content.

Rising Storm, having been released  as what could only seriously be called an “add-on” to Red Orchestra has actually caused them both to evolve. Red Orchestra started taking tank warfare more seriously, (yes, this game has tanks, and holy shit are they challenging to use) and Rising Storm continues to pile on new maps and weapons. Nevertheless, Tripwire has never made me pay for any extra content since I originally bought into the beta. Every content update has been free. Not only is Tripwire dedicated to keeping this title alive, they aren’t nickle and diming us for it.

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Good guy, Tripwire.

I cannot stress the importance of this game to the industry. Tripwire should serve as a model for any developer who actually intends to cater to their audience. They listen, and they deliver. They don’t dilute the formula to broaden their demographic. In fact, one of their more recent updates actually adds improvements to “Classic Mode” which is somehow even more hardcore than “Realism Mode.” This is a game that prides itself on being difficult and doesn’t apologize for it, even if it means alienating the casual crowd. Is that really a bad thing? Perhaps if you just want to make a ton of money.

Sure, it could be rebuilt into a new engine for prettier graphics, bringing it into the “next-gen.” You could hire hollywood actors to have their faces eerily planted into the game for no apparent reason, and you could make dramatic movie-esque trailers full of explosions and filters to show during the Super Bowl.

If instead, you’d rather have a great game that won’t compromise its greatest strengths for the sake of extra sales –  you get an honest developer like Tripwire, and a product that deserves far more praise than it gets.

/gameon

walkintomortars

P.S. Punny Boromir is correct.

Game Review – Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Game review – Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Platform – PC, PS4, XBONE, PS3, 360
Developer – Monolith Productions, Inc.
Publisher – WB Games

Release date – 30 Sept, 2014

Rating – 9/10

walkintomordor

Actually, it's less "walking into Mordor" and more "killing into Mordor."

As a long time fan of Tolkien and his works, I (and I assume many others) have been craving a game which doesn’t sum up to yet another adaptation of the movies. When Shadow of Mordor was first announced, I was cautiously optimistic. We finally have a release featuring a new character who actually gets to stomp around in Mordor – something even Boromir was hesitant to undertake. However, this title shares more than a few similarities with Star Wars: Force Unleashed in its attempt to bridge the two main trilogies with a character who has as many abilities as one could allow in that universe and remain faithful. While I considered Force Unleashed (the first one, specifically) to be somewhat underrated, it was widely received as a disappointment. With predecessors like Jedi Academy and Knights of the Old Republic, it could have taken a few more notes.

Thankfully, WB had the review embargo lifted a few days prior to release, and gave copies to the big sites (IGN, PC Gamer, etc). It was hard to ignore the impressive gameplay videos and raving reviews. Could this be the open world LotR franchise title I’ve been hoping for?

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You will never play another game with so many exploding heads.

Abso-fucking-lutely. For the first two hours, I couldn’t even handle how immediately you are dropped into being the sole perpetrator of the mass genocide of Uruk-hai. With a seemingly endless assortment of decapitations, impalements and other brutal blade attacks, this game might as well have been called, “1000 Ways to Kill Orcs.”

While the combat system borrows heavily from the Arkham series (same publisher, after all) and takes cues from Assassin’s Creed as well, it’s quite refined and satisfying in its execution. There are an impressive variety of abilities and each ability has multiple animations, so you never feel like you’re only relying on a strict regiment of block/attack. As both a human and a “wraith,” you have an array of devastation to unleash upon your foe; whether you wish to rely on the skills of a cunning warrior, or the powers which come with your link to the netherworld. There’s also a nice balance between stealth and active combat which doesn’t appear to favour one over the other. As a whole, the fighting system feels round and well thought out.

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 I love doing this one.

Even with all of the head chopping and brutal shanking, the thing that ties the whole room together is the Nemesis System. In most games like this, your life is bound to a series of checkpoints and saves. You and the game progress along with these checkpoints and when you die, you restart from the last one, as does the rest of the game. However, because it is established very early on that you are stuck in a deathless limbo, your demise only means you will return again soon after. So, rather than your death forcing you and the game to turn back time, it is now a mechanic for the progression of orcs in a similar way that their death lead to your own progress. Yes. NPCs level up by killing you.

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And now for something completely different...

The map starts off with a set of 20 captains and 5 warchiefs. As you kill them off, they will be replaced by others at random, or by grunts that happen to get the lucky last strike. So not only can a mere grunt be promoted up the chain of command by killing you, he will remember killing you and taunt you for it. Some may actively hunt you as well. Sometimes, captains you believe slain will come back with a vengeance, show up at the worst possible moment, and become a giant pain in the ass you consistently have trouble killing because you can’t keep your emotions in check when he pops up on the screen.

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Fuck this guy so much.

What this translates into is a game world that feels alive. It seems to progress in spite of you. The Uruks continue to roam around the map, fight among themselves, hunt dangerous creatures, tame slaves and generally go on about their business. Because you’re thrown into this right away, there’s never a lull in the action. There’s little urgency to push the plot forward just to have fun; invading feasts and ruining duels is rewarding on its own merit.

Each captain comes along with his own unique skill set, too. So even if you end up seeing a few repeats, they rarely have the same weaknesses and strengths. Variety is not amiss.

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According to the voice over, it's pronounced "douche."

In true Lord of the Rings fashion, instead of amassing an armory full of gear, the weapons you have are named and unique to your character. You’ll even complete specific missions which craft the lore behind them so to become (in)famous orc-slaying relics. Each weapon can be slotted with up to 5 runes which allow you tweak for your play-style. There is a wide assortment of runes with random stats as well as “epic” unique runes with set stats. Only captains and warchiefs will drop runes, so they are your main incentive for taking down the big bosses.

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Is your dagger legendary, or are you just happy to see me?

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor delivers in a way I honestly was not expecting. On its shell, it looks like it might be a bland ripoff of another formula’s success, but it has so much more than that going on under the hood. While the combat isn’t revolutionary, it’s well-refined, and the Nemesis System more than makes up for it in the revolutionary department. The story isn’t particularly original, but it’s well-voiced and cast. The artwork is fantastic, and the lore is respected. It’s not a perfect game but it gets high marks for execution and having the guts to do something new.

However, at the end of all the criticism and nitpicking the game truly excels in one area: fun. It’s so much fun, all the little things don’t matter and you remember why you like gaming in the first place. Yeah, it’s that kinda good.

/gameon

lethalstrike

Mordor: Where killing orcs is a means of transportation.