By tbk 0 Comments
Here is a list of some of the titles I played this year, note that there will be spoilers for Destiny 2, Star Trek: Online and subsequently Star Trek: Discovery and Warframe to a certain degree. You’ve been warned.
The Metro series is a First-Person Single Player shooter developed by Ukrainian studio 4A games, first released in 2010.
Metro is about a post-apocalyptic future in the Year 2033. Moscow was hit by several nuclear missiles and the surviving populace retreated to the vast metro underground network. You play as Artyom a young man embarking on a rather lengthy journey through the Russian metro and the surface of radiated Moscow in order to enlist the help of some of the other stations, since your home station has come under repeated attacks by the mutated wildlife and something called “Dark Ones”.
The Metro series’ strong point is its ambient world building, specially if you cave in and run the game in Russian with subtitles. Level design is gorgeous, despite it being set mostly in tunnels and low light environments, but the surface areas and the stations break up the monotony.
You alternate between combat levels and downtime inside various train stations, de facto towns where you can spend your currency - pre war ammunition on health kits, weapon upgrades and post war ammunition, like ball bearings for your pneumatic sniper rifle.
Or you can get drunk on mushroom booze and listen to conversations around you, giving the world that credibility it needs in order to sell itself to the player. Outside the stations is no-man land, inhabited by dangerous mutated wildlife out to kill you and roving bandits out to kill you, which brings me to the shooting part.
For me Metro has two distinct ways it engages the player in shooting, wildlife and other humans.
Even though Moscow got nuked, that didn’t stop the political power play, so you have bandits, Stalinists and Nazis prowling the tunnels looking to loot your dead body. Searching the maps for resources is key in order to survive, be it ammunition, health kits or gas mask filters, which you need to survive radiated hotspots underground or the surface in general, which also throws in some trippy sequences of you having flashbacks, reliving the last moments of the passengers and pilots of the crashed plane you’re standing inside right now. The ending plays heavily into this mysticism as well, so enjoy that ride, though the platforming sequence leading up to it could have been removed.
Combat in Metro is deadly if you approach it like a typical FPS game, rather it is smarter to survey your area, see where enemies are and engage in small 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 skirmishes as quietly as you can to thin out the lines. Sneaking past whole encounters is also a possibility and on occasion the smarter thing to do. However in Last Light I did on occasion “cancel” stealth mode and just “John Rambo-ed” my way through the next loading screen. You can do that, however it costs you resources so bear that in mind. Speaking of resources, the other enemy type is the mutated wildlife ranging from wolf analogues to mutated giant moles and flying demon like creatures who pick you up and drop you inside dilapidated cars so you have to reload an earlier save. Wildlife mostly exists to drain you of resources, they are quick, quite durable and on occasion swarm you en masse, leaving you without key components in later fights.
The game does have a morality system implemented, unlike other titles though it is not an obvious one like red or blue dialogue choices. Instead if you perform a “good” deed, like sharing currency with a street urchin, listen to beggars tell their story or spare enemies you gain positive karma, killing enemies who surrendered or are unarmed nets you negative karma. Your choices do factor into the trippy ending, however the Redux version puts the final choice into the player's hand, regardless how vile you were beforehand. Given that I never finished the original edition of the game I can’t really comment on that change. I was ok with the way the Redux version presented me with the ending, which the sequel handily ignores and railroads you into the “bad” ending story wise.
Metro: Last Light Redux
Last light is Metro, but more, which is neat at times and horrible at others.
Specifically the boss battles against the various wildlife are low points the game has. Whether it is the surface battle against a giant mutated crustacean with impenetrable front armour, meaning you have to stagger it to open up vulnerable spots, while also doing it quick enough before you run out of gas mask filters.
The most annoying thing about this fight, was how your allies don’t support you with filters in any way or form, leading to me dying 3 steps before I hit the loading screen due suffocation and 3 to 4 attempts for that particular sequence. Another example is a badly explained fight, where your job is to bait the mother of all mutated moles to charge into brittle pillars, if you try to shoot her you just waste your ammunition for nothing.
Despite these flaws Last Light does manage to uphold the strong points of the previous game, the environments are pretty, you can sit through a 20 minute cabaret program, get so drunk you start a fight with some ruffians and smash a bar in the process, or listen to a grandpa explain giraffes and elephants to his grandchildren, the respective sequences in the Nazi and Stalinists headquarters however are not really a high point in terms writing.
Last Light biggest mistake is probably that it doesn’t mix up the combat formula enough to distinguish itself from its predecessor. Meaning that repetition sets in quicker than before. The DLC adds short missions, fleshing out part of the backstory for some of the side characters or challenges for you complete.
With the 3rd game on the horizon I wonder whether they manage to retain the previous games strong points, since it a departure from small levels to a more open world approach or so I heard. If you need a FPS game on a budget in your life, then spending 5 € either Metro: Redux or Last Light is a solid choice.
League of Legends
League of Legends this year saw some crazy things, ranging from a no ADC meta, to funnel strats for a hard carry jungle to a EU versus China World finals game, which South Korean teams having not the strongest showing and of course the KD/A k-pop project. There is the occasional talk about the game dying and rumour has it that Riot games is working on some other title. Time will tell how Season 9 is going to pan out in terms of balancing.
The two big things this year in Warframe are the story quest and the release of the second open world, the Orb Vallis on Venus.
The story quest finally answers the questions: what are warframes, given you pay enough attention. The way the story is told is quite smart, putting you into a first person perspective of a bedridden father, who gets belittled by the games antagonist who plays a variation of GO with you to “pass the time”. This gives ample room for Ballas to come into his own and for you to develop an emotional reaction towards him, if you choose to engage with the game that way.
I like Warframe’s writing better than Destiny 2’s, simply because I get the feeling that whenever a character says something it means something, while with Destiny I get impression that sometimes they say things in order to sound smart or mysterious. It also helps that Warframe does is storytelling in a interactive way, while Destiny 2 relies more on cut scenes. It helps being able to do something while a “cutscene” plays out instead of sitting around, drumming my fingers on the desk and waiting for Ghaul to finish having a conversation with “The Speaker” about having faith in a giant white sphere hovering above a city. More on Destiny 2 later though. Weapon wise, everything is still a-okish. Almost every category has its niche of usage and DE nowadays tries to release weapons with some innate special ability rather than being stat containers, like in the past.
The second big thing was Fortuna and the Orb Vallis. Fortuna is the second NPC town added to the game with Orb Vallis being the second “open world” play area, now roughly double the size of the Plains of Eidolon. DE learned something from the Plains release or received some good feedback. The introductory quest for Fortuna introduces you to all the vendors, the mission components you run into and sets the overall stage for struggle that is going on with Fortuna and the Corpus.
As for the Switch version, I am impressed with the fact that it actually runs, though the visual quality doesn’t really compare to the other platforms. I did hear some issues with the plains and their bounties, also bear in mind that unless you transfer your account over, the majority of the player base might have no real clue what is going on.
Of course adding Orb Vallis increased the hot spots for grinding, adding another entry to the substantial list of things to overwhelm you. In terms of end game activities, whether you farm and open relics, hunt eidolons, engage in Onslaught, a timed mode where the objective is to kill enemies as fast possible in order to progress deeper into the reward table or run around the Orb Vallis hunting giant spiders, there is more variety of end game activities than ever before.
Destiny 2 - Complete package
Destiny 2 is the premier loot driven science fantasy shooter made by Bungie and published by Activision and the Sequel to Destiny 1, which is part of the problem with the way it handles the story, because I get the feeling that the developers assume that everybody going into Destiny 2 knows who the hell Ikora, Zvala and Cayde-6 are and is going on in general, which is fun given how Destiny 1 was never released on the PC and the second one is.
This is compounded by the choice of a “strong” “emotional opening straight into the thick of it, with the opening cutscene going straight into the assault on the Traveller by the Red Legion and therefore no time to get to know the concierge from John Wick, I mean Zavala, Ikora and Deadpool Cayde-6 better, bit of a wasted potential here, given how well modelled their faces are and how the game frames conversations with them. The plot of the base game takes you along for a ride from Titan to Io, Nessus a Centaur somewhere in the outer solar system, back to Earth. The locales offer some really neat visuals and architecture at times, specially the inside of the Pyramidion, view from the lighthouse towards the infinite forest on mercury or the Assault on the Doomsday device of the Red Legion have some breathtaking visuals to offer. On occasion I get the impression Bungie either wants me to really really care about the characters and the plot a lot, or “we don’t care, so why should you”.
Destiny 2 writing is at its best, when it is attempting to be “funny”, any time it tries to handle a serious subject matter, like the death of a friend or being kicked out of the last city of humankind on earth it falls flat or becomes involuntarily funny.
The first time this happened for me was the sequence after the tutorial. You, a guardian without its light makes their way out of the city, accompanied by the SAD violin.
The whole sequence didn’t work for me, maybe because of the SAD violin or the gameplay accompanying the sequence, scavenging a raided camp of your colleagues only to be attacked by the raiders themselves, spiky red dogs. The sequence ends with you falling down a cliff and meeting hawthorne, a new character. I was actually ready to spend a significant time with her and Devrim Kay, the vendor for the first free roam zone, however the game thought differently and after roughly 2 hours, it was off to Titan and Sloane, whose charm is comparable to a brick.
Afterwards you gallivant around the solar system picking up the rest of the Vanguard, who are busy handling their regained mortality.
The second time was with the Death of Deadpool, I mean Cayde-6. Whoever made the storyboard for the Jail fight leading up to the death scene had a lot of fun, it is full of physical comedy and dumb one liners. Then Cayde dies and the rest of the Vanguard mope around his covered corpse, with the player character breaking their silence after 4 years or so to deliver a edgy two liner and then exit the room all edgelord, maybe it didn’t help that I used a black and orange shader for most of my gear. Look the whole scene was meant to be sad and tug on my feelings, which might have worked, but then somebody decided that the lines “You don’t have to. Uldren Sov is mine” are a good idea, but then Ikora probably has one of the best lines regarding Cayde’s death after you complete the expansion, stating that Cayde was just her dumb funny friend and that was what she needed. What I try to say here is that Bungie with their impressive facial motion capturing - I guess that most facial animations are motion captured, if not hats off to the animators who did that work - and their rather large budget have really spotty writing at times that feels functional but fails to draw me into their world, which is sad given that I had games draw me in purely by their writing alone, some Freespace 2 mods come to mind as an example and House of the Dying Sun.
The Curse of Osiris expansion handles this a bit better, but only by having a vastly reduced cast, you basically spend 80% of the game with Osiris, Sagira and Ikora and nobody else, giving those characters enough screen time. Warmind on the other hand has less character building, you get the impression of what Ana wants and believes, I’d just wish there is more in the game itself via dialogue. The “Grimoire” is back, though now part of the game itself and you have to find small McGuffins in the map in order to unlock the story cards. Did I mention that those McGuffins make no sound and don’t appear on the minimap?
Destiny 2’s strength lies in how it chains activities together once you’re in the free roaming zones, whether you do idle around, play some adventures or do a public event with other random players, the flow from one activity into another feels good. It is also a dangerous thing if you do not keep track of your time, a simple ”let’s do some 30 minutes of destiny” might turn into an hour and a half.
However not everything is rosy though, the games bounty system is tied to several vendors, some are located in the end-game social zone meaning before you can venture into the wilds you better check your vendors for some bounty synergy in order to maximize your resource gain. The same applies to the free-roam vendors; better pick up your bounties before doing stuff.
Shooting wise the game is ok; Weapon models are a bit on the large side. Some enemies favor high damage single shot type of weapons more than others, which is neat meaning that sniper rifles and other high damage low rate of fire weapons have niche they can fill.
On the movement side, I have to say that it is ok, but nowhere near as fluid as Warframes movement system. Destiny 2 also has this quirk that executing your second jump while airborne and next to a surface might repel you from said surface, sending me plummeting down into waiting for respawn territory more than once and the game has ample platforming sequences.
The most fun I had was with the Warmind expansion and its escalation protocol and the ever larger swarm of enemies to fight with, giving you the opportunity to see several ultimate abilities in action and lots of explosions and I do mean lots of explosions. Shame though that the game doesn’t tell you that you need to craft a special key to unlock the last reward chest and that crafting that key is on a week long cooldown. The last reward I got from said chest? Low level boots with no modifiers on them. Thanks Bungie?
Coming in late into the game has its own issues, there are enough players running around for you to not have problems with public events and most story missions and adventures are perfectly soloable, however previous endgame content is now obsolete due to power creep, the Course of Osiris loop for its respective “end game” weapons? Why chase those guns when you could play the Forsaken story missions or the Black armory instead? I haven’t done any of the Raids as of yet, given that the person I play with on occasion, only has the base game locking him to a power level of around 260 or so, while I am 577, which makes it tedious at times to to content together.
If you ask me if paying the current price for the whole package is worth it? Hard to tell, there are things it does better than Warframe, but then Warframe oddly enough manages to make me more invested into the plot and characters. Destiny on the other hand handles chaining activities together a bit better. Honestly, if the base game wasn’t given away for free sometime in November and the Black Friday sale basically discounting the add-ons at about 50% or so I wouldn't have picked it up.
Star Trek: Online
Star Trek: Online is a F2P hotkey style MMORPG made by Cryptic Studios.
At its core Star Trek: Online is a game about your captain flying around in their starship pew-pew things into tiny bits or the acquisition of refined Dilithium, more on that later.
You start by creating your captain, choosing from a wide variety of established Star Trek races, or creating your own, however not all races are available for all factions. Gorn for example are exclusive to the Klingon Empire.
Romulans and Jem’Hadar are a subfaction, meaning during the course of the tutorial you choose to align yourself either with the Federation or the Klingon Empire, gaining access to their respective ships as well as their own. Federation captains can choose their starting point, for example in 2409 as a cadet fresh on a training cruise or in 2270 with the aesthetics of the 60ies series. The last option would be their latest add-on: Age of Discovery, focusing on Star Trek: Discovery. Note that all captains starting in the “past” will at some point end up in the future. You know time travel and all that.
The main road to max level is basically a story mode, split into segments called arcs. Along the way you recruit various bridge officers, an equivalent to pets in other MMOs. Bridge officers accompany you on ground missions and serve as your source for some of your abilities during space combat. Missions mix ground and Space combat with the occasional puzzle sequences sprinkled in. Cryptic does manage to mix up the formula a bit at times, for example letting you call in “airstrikes” from the ground or having you play through a space walking sequence above a sun.
The story missions are perfectly fine to play solo, given that you don’t hit level 50 before getting to missions that drop key items that you need for your journey to max level at 65, that happened to me twice and this means having a hard time against enemies who will two-shot you. The game suffers from a lack of meaningful endgame activities, trapping you in the loop of grind this set of endgame activities for gear in order to do other endgame activities. Outside of the game some members of the community have established DPS record chasing sites, allowing you to submit your runs to a high score list. Another set of players spend their time with the intricate and slightly convoluted build system of the game, trying to get their cake and eat it outside of the standard Meta builds.
Of course fashion frame or “Space barbie” is the actual true endgame.
For me it doesn’t really capture what Star Trek is about. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of references and clever moments, the mission Quark’s lucky 7 comes to mind and it helps that almost the whole cast from Voyager and Deep Space 9 reprise their respective roles, still there is one to many moments of “hey look how clever we are *wink* *wink*.
However there is the Lukari ark that does manage to entice the “To boldly go, where no one has gone before” vibe, before you dive back into murderhobo-ing your way through the galaxy. Make no mistake, your phasers are set to kill on default and your ship fires to destroy, but back to the Lukari. So since this is a game about references there are of course time travel shenanigans, if you liked Daniels from Star Trek: Enterprise, you are in for a treat.
Anyway the Lukari, due to time travel and self fulfilling time paradoxes, get caught in the middle of a conflict between the Na’kuhl and the Tholians and you rush to the rescue, ending their polite isolation and working towards becoming a member of the galactic community, the games words, not mine. Anyway as you progress through the ark you learn that the Lukari people are exiles form the planet Kentar, a now toxic desolate wasteland due to the Kentari people completely ignoring the ecosystem they inhabit and polluting everything. Sounds familiar? Well later on you do discover New Kentar, which is basically on its way to become a toxic wasteland again, think dystopian settings where the rich reside above the pollution layer and the poor die due to lung damage from poisonous air. This is one of the few moments where the game has an on the nose political message about a topic and it really stands out from the rest of the game. But besides the Lukari missions, what is it you do in Star Trek: Online from a story perspective? You fight in wars, and in the 25th century there is only war.
The game starts in the aftermath of the supernova that destroyed the Romulan home system. The Federation and the Klingon Empire are at war and your first few missions for either side deals with fighting in the war. Romulan characters are busy looking for a new homeworld to settle and figuring out who attacks and destroy Romulan colonies. All these introductory story arcs converge towards a single mission, which opens the map up for some new activities and ultimately the Delta Quadrant. Guess what you do in the Delta Quadrant? Meet Neelix, have the option to be mean to him and fight a war against the Vaadwaur, lead by Liam O’Brien as Gaul, which culminates in open conflict against the Iconians which gets resolved by a Time travel paradox, after that you spend your downtime with the Lukari, settle the temporal cold war at Procyon 5 and finally meet the Klingon bogey man, the Hur’q. Cryptic's current focus is Discovery and their roadmap includes mostly Discovery related content.
Now in order to pew pew your way to Level 65 you need to have a “build” going and this is where the game gets interesting, a bit convoluted and maybe a bit predatory with its micro transactions and by that I mean that is a good practice for you to double check if you really want to buy what you are buying right now AND if there is another way to actually buy it.
The game has no qualms offering you the option to purchase account bank slots right at the account bank menu, but it doesn’t tell you that those slots are also part of a bundle with other account related services as well and yes I talk about a premium real world money currency purchase here.
Lockboxes - the game’s lootboxes
Before I dive into explaining the “build” aspect of the game, I’d like to talk about the micro transaction a bit more. The deal here is that Cryptic has no issues engaging in pay 2 win to a certain degree. I have to admit I have no idea about the current PvP build meta. My suspicion is that it follows the general principle of the PvE DPS meta, get damage boosting traits and consoles for your ship and try to get as max crit chance and crit multiplier as possible. The last time I did engage in PvP content, a player with his Defiant class escort turned me into space debris within a second or two.
Anyway back to micro transactions, lockboxes are regular drops from defeated enemies, though you can buy them for refined Dilithium or from the exchange with Energy Credits, one of the games currencies. Keys are bought via Zen, the premium currency. Alternatively you can buy keys from other players form the exchange. However on occasion there are special promo boxes, that require no key to open, but you need to spend Zen for those boxes and then its of course a gamble again to actually get the ship you want. However ships from either lockboxes are usually tradeable on the exchange, given that you can afford the EC to buy the, keep in mind though that those ships are character bound and not account wide unlocks, unlike T6 ships from the “C-Store” or ingame event ships.
Fun fact: Highly sought after ships, like for example a endgame viable Constitution class , the Enterprise from the 60ies cost more EC than your upper limit on a freshly created account. Cryptic at times say that everything in the game is free, but they never really say how long it actually takes you to get to that thing you want.
Assembling a build
As with most games, in Star Trek: Online knowledge is key to successfully assemble a functioning build that can do the content you want to. However Star Trek: Online has a lot of components interacting with each other, slightly more than other games I’ve played, but see for yourself
From the top to the bottom you have: personal ground traits, personal space traits, starship traits, reputation traits, and reputation abilities.
Add to this the regular Skill tree and the post 65 skill trees and their respective combinations, the stats from star ship consoles, the personal traits from your bridge officers currently active on your ship and the active duty officers and their buffs and of course.
Duty officers are a side activity for you to have progress while you’ re away from the game. You basically receive a cadre of non-commissioned officers that you send out on various missions, yielding you rewards like unrefined Dilithium. Some Duty officers have special powers when put on active duty, like reduced cooldown for all your bridge officer abilities on usage of an ability called auxiliary to battery or Aux2Batt, get ready read a lot of 3 letter abbreviations, when looking up builds by other players or paying attention to the ingame chat room. Finding a glossary is key.
Remember how I talked about how predatory the micro transactions get?, Well starship Traits are from Tier 6 Zen only ships, some of the better consoles come with said ships or are drops from lockboxes - which are the games loot boxes. On occasion cryptic does hand out T6 ships for free during an event, provided you want to do the same activity 20 times or more.
To be fair and clear here, you can assembly a build on a budget that is able to do most content in the game. However time to acquire key components might be in the span of weeks or months, depending how willing you are to optimize your daily play session towards currency farming activities.
I have to admit I don’t really know whether this is just complexity for the sake of complexity or if this much complexity yields the possibility for a wider variety of builds that are “viable” at the cost of immediate accessibility of the systems.
The game also bogs you down with a myriad of progression systems.
There is the skill tree till max level, followed by the specialisation trees after you hit max level. Then there are the R&D schools, the Reputation system, the Duty officers and the Admiralty cards.
The economy or how and why to refine 8000 Dilithium per day
ST:O has several different currencies. The most important are:
Zen - the premium currency you get for spending real world money
Zen can be used to buy starships. Zen starships usually come with some extra benefit, an extra console for example. T6 Zen ships however come with Starship traits.
Energy Credits - used in the exchange to trade goods
Energy credits are a regular reward within the game, however you can sell items bought with Zen on the energy credits exchange, lockbox keys are a prime example
Refined Dilithium - used for certain special stores and can be exchanged for Zen.
Each character you own can refine roughly 8000 Dilithium per day. You can exchange Dilithium for Zen via a special exchange interface, the current rate is around 280 Dilithium for 1 Zen.
Good ships cost about 3000 Zen, 3 packs with one ship free are around 6000 Zen.
Which lead to some players setup of rather large numbers of “throw away” captains whose sole purpose is to farm Dilithium via the Admiralty and duty officer system, complete with spreadsheets to track the amount of Dilithium they refine. Welcome to Star Trek: Online the premier stock market simulator?
Given how janky the game is at times and believe me it is janky at times, with spelling errors being the smallest issue, I did spend a significant amount of time and money on this 9 year old game. Probably more than it is worth, yet I did it anyway, because of the Star Trek flavor and that gallivanting around the galaxy in my star ship of choice, blowing things up, plays well.
If you do decide to invest some time, double check purchases with Zen, visit the sto subreddit and the stobuilds subreddits and for the love of the prophets stay away from earth spacedock region chat.
Here are two videos from ST:O this time. One is from a time limited Discovery themed PvE event, that asked players to play this event 20 times. The other is a regularly available Discovery themed PvE queue. The time limited event is on normal difficulty, the other on Advanced, where enemies have higher effective HP than on normal.