Hey, you know what’d be nice? At the end of this, the Hell Year? To look at a video game that’s explicitly not about violence and destruction, but about development and creation. Too many games have a vocabulary of only violent verbs: kill this, destroy that, steal such, hurt so. And there’s room for those, to be sure, but sometimes it feels like they’re all there is room for. Or maybe they’re just what I reach for when I don’t feel like being critical, it’s entirely possible this is me. Either way, how about a more pleasant game for once?
Now, I can’t prove I mumbled this to myself mere minutes before the Steam promotion email for Lion Shield‘s Kingdoms and Castles hit my inbox. But doesn’t that sound like great serendipity either way? Just the fact that this game was apparently on my Steam wishlist… I don’t even remember adding it there. Plus, Lion Shield’s mission statement is explicitly “Lion Shield seeks to make games with three core values: players’ creative expression, strategic decisions, and beauty.”
If you add those two together, this might be a Christmas Period Miracle.
This week Ran Signature came to an end, and (spoiler alert) the Ransistance too will soon come to a close, this means I have to pick both a shorter game for the Sunday slot and another longer game. Generally when this happens I start looking through my steam library, trying to find recent additions or just games that have been sitting on my backlog for quite some time. I try to keep in mind game length when I do this, I reserve different lengths of games from each game slot.
Sometimes I am reminded of a game I started ages that I want to finish, or a game I remember generating a lot of discussion and I slot that in, other times I talk to people or ask for suggestions. I try to avoid First Person Shooters, not because I don’t like them, but from past experience they take too much focus from me, making it too difficult to keep up commentary. I also try to avoid games in genres I have no real interest in like sports or racing.
In the case of the next Sunday game, I have picked Emily is Away Too, I was surprised to see it pop up in the November humble bundle given I had absolutely no idea they had made a sequel to Emily is Away. I am looking forward to exploring it.
Along with Rogue and Nethack, Thomas Biskup‘s Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM from here on out) is often billed as one of the great fantasy adventure games of the ASCII era. It’s a sprawling epic of a game, dozens of races and classes and possibilities and a hundred years of implied backstory set in the giant world map of the Drakalor Chain. It’s the first and so far only one of those big three games that I’ve actually played, and I have good (if time-dulled) memories of sitting side-by-side with a friend, playing our respective characters and dying our respective deaths and slowly figuring out how all this stuff works. And how we could subvert the whole no-save thing with clever use of hand-written batch files. You know who you are, friend who still reads this work; say hi in the comments!
I recently learned of, and got a review key for, the Steam version of ADOM. I interpreted what I saw and read as an attempted remaster, which got me interested: For all its perks, ADOM is very inaccessible, in the way that ASII games from that era usually are. A remastered ADOM, made visually accessible and incorporating contemporary game design wisdom, has the potential to be an incredible thing. I happily entered the key, downloaded the game, booted it up, and rolled my first Grey Elf Elementalist, figuring everything would be alright forever.
I’ll give you a moment to take in the title of this review real quick.
Time to play a little catch up on the channel. With Torment: Tides of Numenera completed, I needed to come up with another game to play in that slot. Time was short as this occurred during the preparation for my Australia trip and I hadn’t anticipated Torment finishing quite so soon but I quickly spotted an obvious candidate in my steam list: Pillars of Eternity.
Long time viewers may remember that I started Pillars of Eternity sometime last year and stopped because 1) I was getting a little tired of the constant fighting and 2) the series was getting a little long. Given the tendency for the audience to drop off over the course of a long series it generally isn’t a great idea to have a super long 100+ episode series.
On the other hand, I really want to finish Pillars of Eternity and doing a Let’s Play of a game helps me stick with it and play consistently. So back to Dyrwood we go, let’s see just how long this RPG is. Should I start cutting down on the fights or sidequests to speed things up?
Sometimes you have to take a chance on a game you know nothing about. Or so I tell myself; the drive to only ever play the RPG adventures and metroidvanias and interesting experimental games (and visual novels) that I know I’ll enjoy (or loathe deeply) is ever-present. But without boundary pushing, how could I expect any sort of critical growth? Stagnation is death when it comes to writing.
Anyway, this unexpectedly wordy paragraph only serves to explain why I picked up Jonas Kyratzes‘s Omegaland. It looks for all the world like baby’s first platforming game, which isn’t generally a genre I’m wild about. But I know looks can be deceiving in projects like this; I have played Frog Fractions. So maybe there’s more to this game than meets the eye? The Steam page‘s “be prepared for few surprises along the way” (sic) does suggest that…
Then again, it might not be. Should I be judging this book by its cover? Only one way to find out.
This update was delayed somewhat on the grounds that I was helping out at and then attending a wedding. The end of my Australia trip was super busy and I didn’t have the time or inclination to get this written up.
During this particular week; I finished up Torment: Tides of Numenera. It has been quite a journey, not only was there 67 episodes of the main series, but there are another 46 episodes of Torment Thursdays and playing around with the initial beta and 3 episodes of playing the alphas. I have spent about 76 hours reading out a lot of text.
I think what I enjoyed most about the game was the opportunity to spend time exploring the setting of Numenera. Unfortunately, my total pen and paper experience with Numenera has consisted of half of a oneshot adventure but I have always enjoyed the ideas expressed in the setting. Exploring a world that has seen advanced civilizations rise and fall so many times that the world is fully of ancient debris right down to the soil and Torment: Numenera was a good vehicle to explore it.
As far as the ending, I was surprised at how persuasively the Sorrow was written. She has been relentlessly pursuing us the entire game and we have witnessed her destroy not just other Castoffs, but also other more apparently innocent people and yet she was able to explain her purpose and convince me that this could not continue. I don’t think I have ever had the villain convince me over to their side before.
The releases for the week ending on 2017-11-10 were:
I first heard of Wizard Fu Games‘s Songbringer in that most me way of hearing about new games: An online acquaintance hyped it on Twitter. I otherwise have very little idea what to expect from Songbringer. It bills itself as a ‘procedural action RPG’, which, what exactly does that mean? What do those words in that order tell us about what this game is? Nothing, that’s what. Which means there’s only one way I’m going to find out…
So, my job ended last week. Temporary contract, planned end, I knew it was coming. I already have a new job lined up for January 2018 (with some 95% certainty), meaning I’ll be home free and on unemployment benefits for the next two months. So far, so ‘good’: You’d probably expect this gives me plenty of time to review a whole bunch of games.
Complication, though: My job ended halfway into last week. Between wrapping that up, preparing the new job, and a general sense of routine-busting panic (I am not a person who deals with change well), I haven’t had a lot of time to think about game reviews. I’m alright now, so the rest of November and most of December should go well. Just wanted to let you know that today isn’t going anywhere. Thanks for understanding.
As for late December… Well, we’ll get to that when we get to that. Again, I appreciate your patience and understanding, and I’ll try my best to get some good reviews going for these closing months of 2017. Twenty serpentine, indeed.
Allegations that most of my gameplay time this week went into the gun-shooting adventures of a space-age robot wizard remain, as always, scurrilously unfounded.
I think this week marks the first time I have quit a working game earlier than intended since my unsuccessful playthrough of Heroines Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok in early 2015. During the mission I ran into 3 separate issues which culminated in quitting the game and not going back.
To start with: We somehow automatically failed the sidequest from the previous expedition. We were asked to collect musical instruments and had no less than 14 instruments in our inventory and the collector leaves in disappointment. Not a great start, a relatively minor issue, but one that sets the tone for the episode.
Then, during this expedition we encounter our first celestial shrine. Unlike most shrine effects, the celestial shrine doesn’t create a hazard, instead it create impassable terrain. As an added bonus it also seems to cover a much larger area than most shrines. This is a trap, one that can’t help but get most players the first time they encounter it. It is simply much more dangerous than most other shrines and the most likely to render an expedition incompletable. A more experienced play of Curious Expeditions would know to avoid looting such shrines unless the path to the finish is clear. This kind of trap is not great to spring on a player in the last expedition of a run, personally, I would try to ensure this was exposed earlier when it isn’t going to completely destroy a character’s chances.
Finally, having realised the hopeless situation I resolved to use the Hot Air Balloon to escape and rescue what little treasure I had. Now when you are doing this, you get the rather selfish option to kick companions out of the party to increase space available in the balloon. Given I was on the last expedition I decided to completely empty my party. Unkind? Definitely. Encouraged by the game? Indisputedly. What the game doesn’t warn you is that you need at least 1 companion to actually use the hot air balloon. Dismissing every companion renders you unable to escape.
This was the final straw. Keep in mind, the interface to dismiss members of my party is explicitly tied to the hot air balloon. Why does it let me dismiss everyone from this interface if I need one companion to escape? Why doesn’t the interface tell me I need at least 1 companion to use the balloon before I set it up? This is either a bug, or both a terrible interface and a trap. Regardless it was the final straw for me and robbed me of even the consolation of at least returning from the sixth expedition. An incredibly bad experience that soured me on ever returning to the game.
Sharp-eyed inspectors of my Twitter timeline the last two weeks may have guessed the review that would show up this week. Like many of my friends, peers, and distant relations, I fell hard for Opus Magnum, Zachtronics‘ latest… opus, I guess, in their preferred systems optimization genre. It took an international board games convention and a glut of incredible game releases to knock me out of an Opus Magnum fugue, and even now, I’m thinking about going back. I didn’t even get that far into the story. And I could probably optimize that one puzzle a little better. Maybe by…
So it might surprise you that, as the headline suggests, this is going to be a relatively short review. Turns out I just don’t have that much to say about Opus Magnum! In fact, I could do the whole review in two lines: “If you liked the other Zachtronics games, get this one too. And if you’ve never played any, but you were thinking about checking the genre out, start with this one.”
Alright, let’s call this my time-optimized review. Check that off the list. For my next solution attempt, I’ll try to write one that actually hits all the relevant content marks…
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, none. Mechanical, some degree, but nothing serious.)