2018 Games GOTY no GOTY blog post

Introduction

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.

Metro Redux

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.

Warframe

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.

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Inside the Pyramidion

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

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small bonuses everywhere

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.

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regular and specialisation skill tree examples

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.

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Thoughts on some of the games I played in 2017

Welcome to my dumb list of games I played in 2017.

This could have been titled “The Platinum Year” since I ended up buying 3 games made by Platinum games, alas I only finished one of them so I don’t feel comfortable talking about the other two at large.

2017 was a bit of weird year for me, since I skipped a lot of the “must haves” either because I couldn’t buy them in the language I wanted - Wolfenstein: The new Colossus” or simply because around August I decided not to spend so much time in front of a computer and pick up a different hobby. I did end up playing an awful lot of games though this year, here are some of them:

Nier: Automata

The only thing I played of Nier was the prologue/tutorial section, then the game crashed on me and I have to admit I haven’t touched it since. Partly because I read that the PC version might use a patch or two. What I can say is that I ended up buying the 3-Disc edition soundtrack after 30 minutes of playing or so. It is pretty good.

Vanquish

The second Platinum game and THE Platinum game I finished, after a 3 month break or so.

Vanquish is at heart a cover-based shooter. There is a twist to it though and that is the ARS suit Mr. Protagonist gets to wear.

With said suit you can dash on your calf mounted rocket boosters from cover to cover and enable “augmented reaction mode”, basically bullet time. Both drain from the same energy bar and you never want said bar to completely empty otherwise you are fucked. Boosting is necessary in order to quickly swap from cover to cover since cover can and will be destroyed and “augmented reaction mode” helps you line up headshots while ass sliding away from danger.

The story is… “interesting”, a weird mix between Anime and cliché North America, including Protagonist-San starting to smoke a cigarette in the middle of the fight only to toss it out as a distraction for the Evil Russian robots you’re fighting against.

Vanquish is probably a game for highscore chasers and speedrunners. If you play just for a single playthrough you probably are going to be disappointed.

The Bureau - XCOM: Declassified

This was free for a limited time on Humble Bundle.

The Bureau is a classic cover-based shooter set in the 60ies, so classic it makes the same mistake games like Mass Effect 2 and a few others make. That is you know that combat is about to happen before it actually happens. Chest high wall syndrome and all that. Anyway my gripe with the The Bureau is getting in and out of cover. I’d say the holy grail of all cover based shooters is the correct way of handling entering and leaving cover and The Bureau feels clunky in this department, so I died a few times cause I was unable to leave cover and there was a grenade right next to me. The other annoying part was when your AI controlled squadmates refused to revive you and you just died. For all the failures this game has, it does manage to make encounters tip over in the outsiders favour really quickly if you lose focus for a few seconds and then you end up reloading from from a checkpoint. It also oddly doesn’t manage to do the 60ies flair completely and I don’t know why? This might be because you only every visit a single town, otherwise you run through abandoned farms and countryside.

In between missions you spend time at “Site X” your secret underground base where you can have conversations with other people, including a suave as fuck Liam O’Brien and do some minor side quests, so far so standard.

What is “cute” about the story is the justification of your camera angle and if you pay attention even briefly you know what is going on before the BIG reveal. The game does peter out at the end though, the final bossfight is basically a gauntlet and ends with a voice over epilogue.

ACE COMBAT ASSAULT HORIZON Enhanced Edition

Unlike the majority of other Ace Combat Games this is not set in “Strangereal” but instead in the real world. This is my first time venturing into the Ace Combat series and therefore I am hard pressed to make a definitive statement about how much “Strangereal” affects the enjoyment of the series. Anyway the plot is EVIL RUSSIANS are doing evil russian things cause love or something, honestly the plot is not really that interesting. What is interesting are the existence of turret sections and the dogfight lock-on which basically is the way to kill Ace pilots in the game and a variation of a QTE sequence. It’s ok, and the system is used for high adrenaline MICHAEL BAY moments but occasionally freaks out a bit and puts your plane into a weird position. The turret sections are dumb and don’t really add a lot specially if you play them with a controller.

Iron Wings

Iron Wings is an arcade style flight action game set in World War 2 made by an Italian studio mostly doing mobile and 3DS titles. Dramatis personæ of the game are Jack and Amelia a Tuskegee airman and a WASP service woman respectively both flying for the Iron Wings unit which, oddly enough, seems to consist only of those two.

Anyway this a fictional story set during the 1940. Gameplay consists of you and your wingman flying missions consisting of dogfighting and occasionally providing air support for ground troops. You can switch between Jack and Amelia anytime since they fly specialized planes, Jack handles dogfighting and special abilities, Amelie does bombing runs and photo reconnaissance. Planes appear to have no stats so they are purely cosmetic, weapons however do have stats and are purchased with money earned during missions. The cardinal sins it commits is not giving you a way to try out guns or bombs before purchasing and presentings stats of weapons in a meaningless way. Some of the issues in the game are its repetitive lines - “Proceeding with the contact point”, missing tutorials - how do I order my wingman to engage a target? - not really helping to a game that gets frustrating at times.

Warframe

There will be spoilers for endgame content of warframe.

Warframe this year had one of its larger updates with the Plains of Eidolon. Yes Plains, The game managed to escape its space ship rat mazes and fake “open world” planet tilesets and released a 3 by 3 kilometer large square map, complete with day and night cycle for you to run, jump, fly and slide down hills while murdering foes with glee. Adjacent to the plains lies Cetus, “city” of the Ostron people though it’s more of a hamlet or village actually. Centerpiece of Cetus is the market place where you can buy things, turn in your spoils from the plains and do task for the local populace in order to gain favour with them. DE managed to take established game systems and put them into a new environment. None of the warframes currently in the game had to be changed for this update, however some gained more favour with the community again due to the sheer size of the map and the need to zip from A to B quickly. Same can be said for the guns, sniper rifles now have a place to shine and see regular play, though shotguns are currently still regarded as the ruler of all weapons.

Activities in the plains include bounties, multi-tier missions, earning you standing which in turn you can use to buy blueprints or tools to help you gather more fish and ores and gemstones. Yes you read that correctly, you can now go spear-fishing in Warframe and cut ores and gemstones for use as crafting materials. DE unfortunately added a new slew of crafting materials to an already considerable amount of existing ones. During night the plains namesake makes an appearance: the Eidolon, a large towering “raid” boss wandering the landscape ready for you to take down and reap its rewards which in turn allow you to craft better gear to murder him faster. The ever turning grindstone called Warframe.

Between fishing, ore farming, standing farming and the occasional Eidolon runs I am somewhat hard pressed to fit in time for some of the games other activities and DE might reach a point where the different farming hotspots might overwhelm part of their player base strapped for time.

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Plains of Eidolon and some fish

League of Legends

League this had some major changes, the rune system in the game since beta has been replaced and merged with their Masteries system, gone are the tiny singular boni - 1.5 more magic resistance per rune for example. I like the new system, the runes are more interesting since you now have to perform certain actions in order to trigger effects and it also allows for a bit easier time to specifically tune your setup on a game per game basis. Worlds this year were held in china and oddly enough Faker did not win, but rest assured a korean team did win the championship. On my end nothing really changed, still no pentas, Yasuo still most killed champion, still low elo.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

This is a RTS game in lieu of Supreme Commander or Planetary Annihilation, meaning a larger focus on resource management and marco style play. It is not really necessary to command individual units and frankly not possible since you build more than 100 units in the first few minutes of a game. What does separate it from the aforementioned titles is the map node system and usage of global abilities. The map you play on consist of interconnected nodes and the default setting requires you to have an unbroken connection to your nexus building in order to gather the resources of the node. The games has 3 resources, metal, radioactives and Quanta. The first two are gathered by capturing nodes, the third one by building generator buildings. Quanta is mostly used for super abilities and to increase unit cap. Unlike spells of hero units in WarCraft 3 for example, super abilities are not character bound and range from production boost to direct damage abilities and defensive shields.

Ashes of the Singularity is a cold game at heart, like most RTS games. However, Ashes takes it a bit further by only having robotic units, which means you don’t really have any endearing unit quibbs or other stuff going for it. The music strikes a similar tone with especially the tracks for the “Substrate” faction being somewhat melancholic in nature.

The game has two faction for to choose from, the “Post Human Coalition” and the “Substrate”. There is a plot but its presentation suffers like all RTS games from a certain lack of immersion. Briefings are held via talking portraits similar to StarCraft and even if you had a more “interactive” environment something just doesn’t click for me. Maybe it is because the first thing the “Post Humans”, entities capable of changing matter by sheer thought are doing is being afraid of a non hostile artificial consciousness. It is suffice to say that said consciousness is the later later and founder of the Substrate. Even in the far distant post-singularity future petty wars exist.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

The Modern Warfare games following the first ones always feel like they HAVE to one-up Modern Warfare. This time we have the ISS blowing up, Keith David yelling at you to protect this here Burger joint and “No Russian”. Let’s talk about the the Burger joint first. Unlike most Modern Warfare games this particular mission is not a corridor but a box and you spend your time running from one fast food restaurant to the next in an ever changing battlefield. It’s a nice change of pace and somewhat cleverly done. Now “No Russian” is not cleverly done. “No Russian” tries to incite an emotional response from the player, rather heavy handed though, especially if you’re the type of person who is always a bit more distant to most media in terms of immersion and “No Russian” felt really dumb to me, let’s just ignore how you are shooting airport security personnel on a russian airport, wonder what nationality they are. From a gameplay perspective the slow methodical walking you are forced to annoyed the hell out of me. Oh right the magnificent beard of Captain Price makes a triumphant return halfway through the game.

Call of Duty: World at War

They managed to get Gary Oldman as crazy russian. That and BANZAI yelling charging Japanese soldiers jumping out of the ground is all I remember from that game.

Path of Exile

Path of Exile is the game if you want to figure out game systems, break them down and prove? you understand how they work by figuring out THE build for a class. It also probably has one of the better F2P systems in place. This years expansion revamped the difficulty level and added several new acts. If you have the time at hand and are looking for that kind of challenge this is probably the game for you.

Crysis 2

I played through both Crysis games this year again or I am in the process of doing so. Crysis 2 is a big departure from the previous Crysis trading the wide large maps for smaller more confined areas in New York city and a more streamlined approach to nanosuit powers. There is a plot and a story but it makes the mistake of being a bit too mystical at times for the player to really understand what is happening with the player character. The other story going is easy enough to follow. There is a novelization by Peter Watts, who has gained a bit of a reputation for writing social dystopias and it does provide a bit more context but doesn’t really spell it out for dummies what is happening with ALCATRAZ after PROPHET puts him into nanosuit and kills himself handing the ALCATRAZ of to a Nathan Gould a scientist who punctuates his sentences with “man” and occasionally “bro”. The game sees you fighting a somewhat mundane war against a private military organisation and the “ceph” cephalopods wearing power armour giving them a high level maneuverability, thankfully there is cloaking and C4. The game is fun at times having some neat map design setpieces, a shootout around a cathedral and infiltrating roosevelt island. The final confrontation however is not an epic boss battle, but another gauntlet run against cloaked cephs, that have been stalking you since halfway through the game and a QTE sequence. It does take place in Central park though, suspended several hundred meters in the air between mechanical tendrils.

Crysis 3

Crysis 3 reverses the map shrinking of Crysis 2 and extends the maps to a larger area, mixing in destroyed buildings overgrown with vegetation and gives you a hunting enemies in the high grass moment. It also hands the player a compound bow which is fun to use and nice change of pace and requires some skill in using.

On the plot and story front the game makes the mistake of skipping ahead several years and covering those years with a lame intro monologue narrated by on the NPC so I ended up having a hard time reconnecting with PROPHET and PSYCHO. The game introduces a new take on the upgrade system by allowing you combine different powers into a set and store several set for quick swapping on the run. On normal difficulty however I feel it is not really necessary to exploit this system to 100% meaning always having the optimal upgrade active for the given situation. Oh and ALCATRAZ's story get concluded in a collective note: "Unable to restore file, too badly damaged". There is a final boss battle and last player controlled sequence is the hacking mini game, which auto solved for me because I had the hacking assist power activated.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Currently I am sitting at 50% completion according to the savegame I last played in April or so. What annoys me most about Andromeda is that I’m not sure why I don’t like that game. Let’s recap what the game is and what it is about, at least on the surface.

Warning there will be spoilers and I don’t really care about the technical problems the game had at launch. Yes I do find it somewhat questionable that some of the animation bugs did go through QA or what that the QA manager or their higher up thought when they winked them through and said ship it. However I think the game has more pressing problems that are not related to technical side of things.

Mass Effect Andromeda takes place in the Mass Effect universe, specifically 630 years in the future in the Andromeda galaxy. The player character, one of the Ryder twins, is part of the Andromeda initiative. A privately funded project to build several arcs, fill them with willing colonists and cross the deep void over to the Andromeda galaxy. These arcs launch successfully sometimes between Mass Effect 2 and 3, which means that the player character has no idea about the Reaper threat and how it resolves. Convenient isn’t it?

There are some hidden message left by Liara for Ryder senior and some of these were recorded during Mass Effect 3 and there is a high chance that the reason the Andromeda Initiative was founded was the reaper threat. Anway the overall plot is as follows, you arrive after 630 years of travel in suspended animation and everything is in shambles, previous selected habitable worlds turn out to be uninhabitable and surrounded by an unknown phenomena. The Andromeda Initiative, due to these setbacks had to deal with inner political strife leading to two factions abandoning the initiative and settling their own respective planets. This lead to the diplomatic fronts being hardened and “exile” being the capital punishment.

The player character as one of the “Pathfinders” specially trained and augmented is tasked to figure out what the hell is going, secure habitable worlds and ship the dangerous waters of politics and meeting two new Alien races along the way: The kett, which end up being the antagonists of the game and the angara, native inhabitants to this part of the andromeda galaxy.

What follows are various types of missions ranging from plot advancing grand schemes to tiny dumb MMO fetch quest level tasks, which is part of the problem. There is so much to do to keep you busy while exploring planets and most of these things are rather mundane, however somebody saw fit to add enough plot to them that it made me question why? For example on the first planet you land, an arid landscape, you end up taking over a mundane task for a presumed dead engineer travelling to several waypoints and activating a McGuffin while the Engineers terminal ill child pre-recorded pep-talk messages play in the background, trying to convince the father to carry on and accept the child's death. The point I try to make here is that they spent a lot of time and effort fleshing out the “collect 10 bear pelts” quest type missions and I would say that dropping those type of quests completely and instead focus on improving or adding less but more involved quest might have been more beneficial to the game. Other times I spent what felt like 4 hours on the icy fields of Voeld hunting down McGuffin’s the game places randomly at kett camps.

MUCH.FUN.TO.BE.HAD.

Bear in mind I liked the way Voeld looks. The game can serve up pretty vistas from time to time and visiting different planets and exploring them is fun at times, until you open the map and see all the fetch quest you can possible do or when quest break for you, then it turns into a chore.

Politics is a major keyword here as most CHOICES the game throws at you, or most CHOICES I encountered so far had an political undertone. Do you vote to keep the established Pathfinder for the Asari, a highly decorated and almost legendary commando in place even though she acted questionably in the line of duty or do you demote her and appoint a replacement for her. Politics, politics and Kumail Nanjiani voicing the salarian politician/administrator for the Andromeda Initiative adds to this and honestly was one the better characters in the game. He nailed it for me.

The thing is, Mass Effect tries to be its own thing with its own character so to speak, at the same time there is so much derivative about it that it hurts. You end up getting your own ship, the Tempest which lo and behold is based upon construction plans of the Normandy SR-1 and therefore looks awfully like the normandy. The nomad in slightly changed forms also makes a return. The other thing is how the game makes it hard to have “your” ryder be a thing as the developers had a rather young somewhat playful personality in mind and don’t really check what kind of responses you choose and disable or change your out of conversation chatter. For example Ryder is serious business at one point only to gleefully say “whoops” five minutes as they run over kett soldier in the nomad. Things like that break the character a bit for me. Currently it is unclear when and how Mass Effect as a franchise continues.

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Game of the year 2016 thoughts

Some thoughts on some of the the games I played this year. Spoiler warning though!

DOOM (2016)

The only all-caps title but not the only one with a year in its title, more on that later. DOOM has the problem that its gameplay loop does run thin if you engage with it too long, but oh boi it’s a hell of a ride till then. The emphasis on fast movement and smart weapon choice during engagements is what I sorely missed the last few years out of First-Person-Shooters. The soundtrack catering exactly to what I currently want out of my “heavy” guitar music does help in solidifying its place on this list. Just a heads up: even the DOOMSLAYER doesn’t care much about the plot and its exposition.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Well to be fair the premise of SPACE was what tipped me towards a purchase. I have to confess that this is only the second Call of Duty title I purchased, the first one being Modern Warfare back in the day.

The biggest gripe I have with the game is in its story and how I fail to understand the motivation of the villain and his reasonings to do the things he does and my lack of emotional response to some of the story beats.

Small interjection here: I don’t think shooting your subordinates for no reason other than to prove a point would not fly in any armed force.

So while the campaign is a bit of a mixed bag for me, it does open rather strong though with a skydive through the atmosphere of Europa with landing on its surface with Jupiter and the great red spot looming of on the horizon. This is isn’t the only nice set pieces and further down the line you can expect space dogfights, Zero-G infantry action in an asteroid field and top of the hulls of capital ships and some capital ship fleet action. Though it is somewhat hilarious that at one point you end up fighting inside an airport on Luna. I guess even in the far distant future nothing really changes.

Speaking of things never changing, it is somewhat funny that the space combat gameplay loop consists of dogfighting interspersed with “Defang this capital ship” objectives. Freespace 2 much?

However the second half did fail to entice the emotional response I was supposed to have and I honestly can’t tell whether this was because it was badly written or I refused to get emotionally attached to the characters. Speaking of characters, it was a rather weird moment seeing the digital face of Claudia Christian and Claudia Black walking in during an ingame cutscene. I still wish somebody would either convince or just give Claudia Black a main voice acting role already.

This is also the second game together with Titanfall that has a robotic character and while E3N doesn’t play the same role as BTN in Titanfall 2, both share the funny snarky robot character trait, making it somewhat easy to warm up their existence, HK-47 and K-2SO say hi!

It is somewhat interesting to explore the concept of racism by replacing the target of said racism with a mech. I guess nothing really changes in the future.

From all the shooters on this list this the one with subjectively most restricted movement and therefore I wasn’t really having any plans delving into the multiplayer. Same goes with the zombie PvE thing.

Titanfall 2

This was mostly a whimsical “sure why not” purchase. What I got was some decent voice-acting by Matt Mercer and I always take the chance to hear Liam O’Brien not going “HASAKI” every 10 seconds. Voice acting part aside the gameplay itself also was enjoyable, with an emphasis on movement and some really interesting level design. While I did see some articles about the time travel mission, the majority of the other levels were not bad either, I found the Testing facility and radio tower in particular really nice and a great change from the usual fare of rather simplistic level layouts. Sometimes it also matters the space you play a FPS in and not just the guns and movement it offers.

On the topic of multiplayer, if I had the time to really delve into it, this would probably hit all the things I want out of a FPS multiplayer experience, well almost, I just don’t like the unlock system treadmill shooters these days have. Props on the developers for saying “NO” to a season pass system. In direct comparison, I preferred Titanfall 2 a bit more, given its more interesting movement set and level design and the fact that campaign of Call of Duty failed to completely grab me.

Shadow Warrior 2

Shadow Warrior 2 was on my radar shortly after it was announced to the public, however I ended up not really following any other announcement and only catching a 10 minute combat video at some point. Turns out it is Borderlands 2 done in a way I actually enjoy, meaning it has a lot of movement options available to the player, a weapon wheel with more than 2 slots and a more interesting skill system than “one active plus a bunch of passives”. However just like Borderlands 2, Shadow Warrior 2 suffers in the story department. The strong opinion would be: “You either like the plot or you hate it” and well it’s somewhat true. While its predecessor Shadow Warrior (2013) did manage to make me invested in the plot and its characters somewhat, the sequel failed to do that. I blame the returning story beat of “the incorporeal sidekick” and lacklustre characters and character development, with most of the supporting cast of Shadow Warrior (2013) returning and a few new additions.

Just like the cast, the movement system also makes a return with double jumps, dashes and some of the special sword moves from the previous installment, Unlike Shadow Warrior (2013) you now gain skill points and unlock skill cards you can slot your points into, unlocking either passive boni or active abilities.

Weapon wise you basically get handed out the equivalent of “uniques” from Diablo or Borderlands. Named weapons with a certain design, stats and special abilities. You can further augment them by installing gems into them, adding elemental damage types, passive boni, ammo and behaviour modifications to your guns occasionally radically changing how a weapon operates, for example turning any gun you wish into a autonomous deployable turret. The game forces you to take these options into consideration while designing your loadout and playstyle. With this comes a few caveats though, like accepting that your loadout is always in transition in terms of what weapons you carry with you as old gear becomes unable to handle the enemies the game throws at you. The other part is the UI, if you have a loot driven game it is imperative that your UI is able to handle organizing and presenting the information necessary to make an informed choice and here Shadow Warrior 2 fails miserably by not providing enough search and sort functionality meaning you either have a very strict inventory management going on or you spend 30 minutes between missions fighting the UI to find an adequate replacement to your outdated gem, which seems to be known to be developer because with the December update gem filtering was added.

That one's new!
That one's new!

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Pretty locales and questionable humour

The other gripe I have is with NewGame+ resetting your story progress and forcing you to play through the campaign again instead of turning it into a free roam affair, given how the game already has a hub area + randomly generated levels consisting of various level prefabs glued together.

Speaking of levels, Shadow Warrior 2 once again drives the point home that it also matter in what space you fight, offering corrupted country side with deep chasms, to a futuristic city of steel and glass with artificial holographic trees Shadow Warrior 2 is just a joy to look at time in terms of colours and locale.

Grim Dawn

Grim Dawn very clearly shows its lineage and budget constraints at times, specially in the some of the early game voice acting which I found subpar at time. Made by the team who also brought you TitanQuest and by the gods does it show, the same (old) engine, inventory, item and mastery system.

Not all stayed the same though, the mastery system got expanded with an additional skill tree independent of your mastery choices. Additionally some crafting materials can grant you active abilities when slotted into your weapons. Subsequently builds have to me more planned and thought out, than in say Diablo 3 where your skill set and playstyle revolve around items and can change on a moment's notice depending if you just found a new unique or not.

Settings wise we have a world where magic, dynamite and firearms co-exist, but so far I haven’t run into anything resembling factory structures or obvious usage of electricity. The name of the game is also the cataclysm befalling the world at the start, greenish non-corporeal ghost entities from another dimension invade the world and possess the bodies of the poor humans in order to retake what is rightfully theirs, while a cthulhu like entities also appear to plot an invasion, putting the humans between a rock and a hard place. The intro comic offers an ok explanation as to why your character is special. Unfortunately Act 1 takes place inside a swamp complete with Undead and I don’t like swamps. What also is a bit of a problem is how the firespell throwing zombie gets replaced in Act 2 by the molotov throwing human bandit.

League of Legends

Well LoL and Warframe are probably the games I spent the most time with in 2016. This year in League we had some League related Memes turned into reality, aggravating the community by replacing the ranked Solo/Duo system with a flex-queue system meaning that lone wolves could be paired against a 5-person team, introducing primary and secondary role selection meaning you get support every time you either pick support or fill no matter what and finally a new client replacing the old one. Oh and they also managed to release a replay system, that doesn’t involve 3rd party sites.

On the competitive side, nothing really changed, South Korea is still dominating over the other regions, champion diversity in comparison to DotA 2 is still abysmally bad, with apparently hitting an all-time low this year and Faker played for the winning team again.

Oddly enough this year also saw one interesting pick during worlds, namely Miss Fortune, a champion normally played in the Attack Damage Carry position ended being picked as a specific counter to Zyra THE high priority pick/ban support of the tournament.

Personally 2016 continued to be the year of support trials and tribulations, sprinkled in with a few stints to midlane and the further cementing of the opinion that games like these are best played with a fixed group in order to make the most out them or to be slowly and surely turned into a walking meme. To commemorate your accomplishments or lack thereof Riot also released a statistics page of your ranked season.

Most important for the ego
Most important for the ego

Please Liam O'Brien STOP with the HASAKI!
Please Liam O'Brien STOP with the HASAKI!

Warframe

For those unaware Warframe is a 3rd-Person F2P loot driven shooter with randomly generated instanced “dungeons”.

Warframe in 2016 continued its mantra of constantly evolving and changing in “order to stay fresh”. Largest change change surely was revamping the system of acquiring prime parts. This change lead to a sudden devaluation of veteran players stock of “void keys”, McGuffin items required to have a chance at rolling for a prime part, forcing veteran players to use the ever evolving hamster wheel instead of relying on their void key safety cushion.

The star chart was reworked once again reducing the amount of total nodes and making it easier for novice players to find the line of progression. On the weapon side of things DE started to add passive abilities to certain guns, increased attack speed on crits for example. It is a nice change from the “this does more damage” spiel of the past few years. The new cinematic quest called “The War Within” was also released this and failed to entice the same strong emotional reaction that The Second Dream did. Maybe you can’t always have BIG revelations. There were some new additions to the gameplay mechanics, the kicker however is that they are only useful for farming a new resource and nothing else and Warframe already has problems with its mechanics not working smoothly together at times so plonking another set of mechanics on top of what could be called a mess doesn’t seem such a good move.

Odin Sphere: Leiftrasir

This was basically the only reason I grabbed my PS Vita out of wherever it was gathering dust. 60 hours later I was done and enjoyed almost every minute of it, with the occasional area being a bit too long and combat fatigue setting in. There is just something about Vanillaware’s art style and gameplay that draws me in, and it was interesting going back and playing the predecessor to Muramasa to see how the games evolved and, more importantly, how the remaster updated the gameplay of Odin Sphere.

House of The Dying Sun

If I would hand out Game of the Year awards, this would be the hottest contender, probably even the winner. At its heart Dying Sun is a puzzle game of sorts, asking you to analyse the given mission, find the right tools for the task and execute it correctly. This is a game with a tiny budget doing so many things right; the buzzing sound announcing that you are in firing range, the muffled sound of your sniper rifle firing, your ship slightly shaking as the round leaves the barrel, the Taiko drums in the background labouring away underlying your calculated mayhem and destruction with a steady rhythm. The game takes a lot of inspiration from Homeworld, be it ship design or the skyboxes. The writing is terse but on the point, the whole plot of the game being summarized in less than a paragraph, but it works and sometimes less is more.

Sometimes you don’t need a million dollar budget and the digitized face of not one but two Claudias. Sometimes all you need is a burning planet in the background, a cold analytical counter displaying 00,000,000,000 and silence only occasionally interrupted by the laboured machine-assisted breathing of a human being. Sometimes that’s enough.

The downside of course - nothing is perfect - is the rather small mission set and the fact that after beating them the only reason to return for additional sessions is the wave based endless mode added with a post release update. There are also issues selecting ships in the tactical mode and while the game does pause in tactical it does kill your flow if you have to spend five to ten seconds trying to select the fighter you want to jump into.

Stellaris

Stellaris on release worked best for me the first 30 to 45 minutes, while you spend most of the time exploring your neighbourhood, running into random events and smirk at the references you manage to catch in the event texts. Then once you consolidate your borders and the mid-game comes around the game grinds to a halt somewhat with nothing really to do. The latest DLC fixes that issue by basically throwing events at you that you can only tackle with a midgame fleet, but well for me this is more a systemic problem I have with the title and that is that none of the systems feel complex enough for me, whether it is planetary development, faction management, diplomacy or combat. The game still has a few scheduled updates ahead of it and a lot is possible. It’s just that so far I start a new game and one to two hours into the game I somewhat lose interest in it and stop which is a shame.

Honorably/Dishonourable Mentions:

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

They captured the original art style, they hired the original composer, it takes place on a desert planet and the units somewhat reflect that and yet there is something missing that fails to connect it to the success of Homeworld.

Overwatch

Overwatch is probably a prime example of the type of game, where playing in a fixed group increases the enjoyment by a large magnitude, Pub games feel so disjointed at times and my time being tied up with League and Warframe, means I haven’t spend a large amount of time with Overwatch.

thanks for reading!

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A probably unhealthy obsession with Freespace 2 and its modding scene

This entry partly exists as an answer to Mr. @jazz's end of the year blog entry, partly because I wanted to write some dumb stuff about Space Sims, specifically Freespace 2.

So Freespace 2 is an interesting thing, lauded by a few people for its interesting story, somewhat referenced in Saints Row IV - by stating that Freespace 3 is probably not going to be a thing and thanks to the Source Code project and some dedicated work still able to hold up today in terms of visual presentation and mission design.

Now I think it is safe to say that either Freespace 1 or 2 introduced the “Shitty escort mission” meme and to be honest some of the missions in Freespace 2 are bad. A few years back Space Sims supposedly had a small comeback and with Star Citizen and Squadron 42 it might have another comeback again, but when I played some of those “comeback” games, the missions felt so uninspiring, yet hobbyists using a 10+ year old engine are able crank out some interesting missions that make you pause for a moment ask why nobody had that idea years ago.

Part of this might be that the Freespace 2 community played the “standard Freespace 2” missions to death and started looking to push the boundaries of what can be done with the engine and mission design for Freespace and maybe for this type of game in general.

Enjoy certain elements of SHMUPs? Incorporate bosses, boss meters and weak points on bosses into your campaign.

How about a showdown between you, some big evil bent on destruction, your pal Gordon Ramsay and a fleet of ships named after various types of cheese. Did I mention the several tons of tacos you purchased a mission before and are now ramming down your opponent's throat? What about visual novel style intermissions used to drive the plot forward instead of a text reader?

I honestly wonder once the shininess of Squadron 42’s engine and Mark “I am not Christopher Blair in this” Hamill wears off, what will be left over? Escort Missions and Bombers that handle like a brick and are armed with ~8 second lockon time single projectile torpedos or something more interesting. I guess we’ll see.

One of the mods I enjoyed playing the most is the Blue Planet series, starting with Age of Aquarius. Called by some a “well made maybe even the best “standard” Freespace 2 experience you can have”. A few years later War in Heaven started to get released in piecemeals, culminating with a Director’s Cut release this Winter, adding Voice-overs to Act 1 and 2, as well rebalancing all 3 currently release Acts.

War in Heaven takes place a few years after the events of Freespace 2. The GTVA managed to reverse engineer the Knossos Portal and sends an expedition fleet through towards the Sol system. Blue Planet - Age of Aquarius details this journey to its conclusion in Sol, where the GTVA declares the local Sol government, the United Earth Federation, illegitimate and demands reunification under the GTVA banner, which the UEF refuses. Civil War erupts as a result of this. War in Heaven picks up a few months into the conflict on the side of the UEF, following the path of a young pilot.

In Act 3 you fly for the Fedayeen, the UEF’s BlackOps unit. These BlackOps offer some of the most interesting missions I have played in Freespace 2 in terms of design and mechanics.

Initially on release I felt that Act 3 was more of an experimental mod pack trying out different ideas instead of introducing one new mechanic and then permuting on it, today I am not so sure about this assessment. Nowadays I’d say they wanted to achieve two things: Move away from the outdated ways Freespace is presenting its plot and put player agency first and foremost. These two imperatives are present throughout Act 3.

I wish to avoid giving away too much in terms of plot and mission design so I picked the first combat mission of Act 3 to showcase why I adore this mod so much, a Convoy Assault.

Now Convoy Assault can be rather boring, as in fly a bomber wing, have an escort of fighters and just unload ordinance and call it a day or you are piloting one of the fighter escorts, turning it back into an escort mission.

Not so here, here a set of systems is presented to you, a deadline is set and you are left alone to resolve the mission. Manage your assets, deliver the payload and engage in space shotgunning.

I like this approach to mission design, due to the puzzle nature and the perceived freedom the designer gives you. However I had a few issues with this approach mainly that on occasion it forces you to abandon the simplicity of just dogfighting and ties you down with managing your assets and “play the objective” and make no mistake I had playthroughs where me getting distracted with dogfighting meant mission fail.

Before we come to the video part of this, showcasing “Nothing is true” a few words of our sponsors and the shiny products they offer the aspiring operator.

Ainsarii

Stealth-fighter, rather fragile, good maneuvering though, can glide, emphasis a hit-and-run playstyle where you Alpha-strike a target then run away to reset and pick your next target. Reminds me a bit MOBA style Assassins.

Sidhe

The space version of a Videogame Shotgun. Feeds good into the Ansarii’s potential Assassin playstyle. Disgusting amount of damage if all pellets hit. Sounds good too, no Fae though.

UX Accelerator

Burst weapon dealing a lot of damage.

I’m torn which of these two runs is the better one, so have both of em. Note that run 2 lacks a bit of coherence in terms of the dialog as I turned on displaying the messages sent by the convoy and that I stay for the aftermath of Falcata Wing’s handiwork in both runs.

Nothing is true

Alternate take

A few Helpful links:

Getting started, the beginning:

http://www.hard-light.net/wiki/index.php/Getting_started

A java application serving as a download manager for your needs - download mods, FSO binaries and the MediaVPs:

http://www.fsoinstaller.com/

Now for mods.. it is a long list, here is a write up that helped me out a bit:

http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=80688.0

note that certain older campaigns might require a specific version of the Media VPs or FSO executables, check the respective release threads for information.

if you like video try out these two courtesy of Axem, he has his hands in a lot of pies:

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