Try It Tuesday: Dauntless

Since approximately a quarter of the world’s population — according to the sky-high queue numbers — was attempting to log in to Dauntless’ open beta this past weekend, I thought I would do the same. Seemed like an attractive title done by some ex-Blizzard folks, so why not? And never underestimate the draw of free-to-play, even in the grand year of 2018.

I have not understood the whole “monster hunter” genre nor partaken up to this point. If I am correct, it’s essentially “Raid Boss: The Game” where all you do is fight a mega-boss… and then another… and then another. With a whole lot of action combat and some expected crafting along the way. It’s like an MMO if you stripped it down to some of its lesser interesting parts.

After giving Dauntless a few hours, I am sure that I still don’t quite get the appeal of these games. I was bored, antsy, and ready to be done with it.

Character creation was fine. Adequate. In a really weird move, you initially have to pick out two pre-created “ancestors” and then mold the resulting blend of the two. No matter who I picked I ended up with a severe-looking and somewhat off-putting character. At least I could amuse myself by putting facial hair on women. Yes, I am 10 years old.

The visuals and especially the characters reminded me of a slightly less good-looking Landmark. If nothing else, I miss that game for its style. Really grooved on all of that.

There weren’t any classes from which to choose, so I got the default sword and eventually changed over to chain blades. Right now there are five weapon types, so I guess five “classes.” Seems kind of thin to me. Would have loved a machine gun or bombs or something. Going toe-to-toe with giant monsters seems kind of suicidal to me.

As far as I could ascertain, the basic gameplay loop is this: You accept a mission to kill a giant behemoth and then are ported to a floating island containing just one of these. You and your few silent player friends run around picking flowers and trying to find the boss, sending up a flare when one of you does. Then you engage in a boss fight that lasts shy of forever. It’s not helped by the fact that there is no on-screen indicator (that I could tell) informing you of how much life the boss has left. You just slash and cut and watch damage numbers go by, occasionally taking a breather to quaff a potion.

The combat, which is definitely the meat and the potatoes, is mostly fluid and involves some combos on your part and a variety of moves on the boss’. Everything’s controlled by mouse, so you only have a light and heavy attack and have to do them in a certain pattern to trigger a combo. I was horrible at this, but what did it matter? Slash slash, guy’s going to die one day anyway.

The combination of action combat, a boss with no health meter, and very simple moves (with no special abilities like what I would get in an MMO) quickly turned me off to the whole process. If I’m going to be clicking this much, I might as well be playing Diablo or something else that pays off with a lot more loot.

Between missions you head back to Ramsgate, the main town hub. It’s quite attractive (I can’t really fault the game’s style and design) but there was no life to it. People just ran in, got missions and did crafting, and ported back out for the next mission.

Maybe there’s something more to these types of games that I’m not getting. Maybe it’s just not the kind of game for me. I can accept that. But no matter what, Dauntless was not successful in piquing my interest or retaining me as a future player.

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Try It Tuesdays: Rimworld

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

My doctor was a hard worker, but she was subject to fits of depression — and then she got dumped by her boyfriend, Wolf, which sent her into a downward spiral. A timberwolf trailed one of my miners home and ambushed him, leaving him bleeding out on the country side. The blight started running rampant through my crops… and then the tornado came.

This is Rimworld. This is pretty awesome.

I had long been meaning to pick up this colony simulator, but I was also cheap and waiting for it to go on sale. Finally, I said what the hay, and I got it at full price. Considering just how many hours I’ve dumped into the game so far, I feel like I got a good deal here.

A more visually pleasing (if only just) Dwarf Fortress with a dash of The Sims tossed in, Rimworld starts you out by handling a crash-landed crew of three on an alien world. From there, you give orders and try to corral your “pawns” (as the community calls them) into creating a sustainable colony. It’s not easy, as dangers can come from the group itself, the difficulty of trying to provide all of the necessities, and from various natural and manmade threats. One bad fire, one small infection, one psychopath biding his time in your midst… and it can all go to pot real quick. Shockingly quick.

And yet Rimworld isn’t frustrating or mean so much as it is engrossing. Every game is a layered story where group survival unveils in a myriad of ways. There is a deep level of strategy going on, and during my first few attempts, I kept starting over once I realized that I had been doing something wrong (or sub-optimally) for a while now.

While you don’t get to outright tell each pawn what to do, you are the overseer who makes priority lists, sets up tasks, and can even draft characters into a shooting war if necessary. I had to keep track of so many variables, from terrain to temperature to moods to the best materials to use for what — and yet when it all comes together to make a colony work, it’s pretty satisfying. I have not stopped being amazed at all of the factors that my characters take in during their day-to-day lives. They can get freaked out by seeing a corpse, scared if they sleep in a room in the dark, and spontaneously throw a party just for fun. Having one get shot and then desperately trying to save her before she bleeds out can be a nail-biting venture, especially if one disables the ability to load previous saves.

I find a deep satisfaction in setting up everything Just So and then watching a colony tick, from the food production cycle to having the power come on to training animals to assist you. There’s a lot of research into more items that can help, but the threats start to ramp up and choices have to be made on the fly.

Probably my only complaint is how slow everything goes at the start. It feels like there are all of these mood debuffs that I’m powerless to address because I haven’t enough research or building supplies to make the items needed. I also kind of wish I could see or hear my colonists talk to each other or see moodlets above their head instead of having to constantly evaluate their character screens, but that’s pretty small potatoes.

There’s so much in terms of options, here. You can choose different biomes, different levels of difficulty (just try surviving on an ice sheet), and there’s a massive modding community that I haven’t even begun to research. I’m hoping to get my colony (Hill Valley) to its second year at some point without starting over, but I keep learning something that I feel will help me more if I just had another shot.

Anyway. Rimworld amazing. A must play.

Try It Tuesday: Final Fantasy IX (tablet version)

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

As I mentioned before, this month I’ve been indulging in some Final Fantasy nostalgia, which has led me in part to finally playing through FFIX on my iPad. I bought this version a couple of years ago and haven’t gotten around to it yet, but the time seemed right.

The first and only other time I’ve played Final Fantasy IX was back in 2000 on the original PlayStation. I had just moved to Michigan that year, and living as a bachelor, I had plenty of time on my hands. Chrono Cross and FFIX really helped to fill the time in those waning days of the console’s popularity, and I remember having just a terrific time with this installment. I don’t quite know why I never replayed it afterward, except that probably I jumped into the PS2, got disillusioned with consoles, and stuck to computers solely for gaming then on out.

Anyway, the tablet version. All of Square’s Final Fantasy mobile adaptations have their ups and downs, and this is no exception. I love the virtual controller and everything is fairly responsive, but there’s no cursor memory (at least not that works for me) and the backgrounds are incredibly ugly. They had a problem resizing those backgrounds to higher resolution screens, so they stretched and filtered them into a kind of muddy mess. It’s a shame, because otherwise FFIX is a vibrant and attractive game.

So Final Fantasy IX was an odd entry when it first came out. It was intended to be a return to form after the last few sci-fi games and a love letter to the franchise. It didn’t get a lot of respect due to its more cartoonish look, but I think it’s developed a much deeper reputation since. It was a game with a much more upbeat hero than Squall and Cloud, and it had more humor to boot.

The tablet version is pretty much the FFIX as I remember it, graphics aside. It’s been 18 years or so since I last played, so my specific memories are pretty fuzzy, and I got a few good laughs out of how primitive the 3-D overland maps are. Yet it did spark bits of nostalgia here and there, especially with the terrific music and certain set pieces. On the other hand, it’s a product of an earlier gaming generation with plenty of the clunky JRPG staples, such as long battles, wildly varying difficulty, a lack of a useful map (although there is an overlay on the overworld), and the inability to save anywhere you like.

One thing I really did enjoy — as I did back in 2000 — was the use of “Active Time Events.” Essentially, these were little story snippets that you could activate during various times in the game, giving you the choice to check in with other characters and other situations. It allowed for the party to split up more and gave the player the feeling of directing the narrative in a very, very limited sense. I also appreciated the ability for characters to learn skills from gear and trade that gear around as a type of progression.

I don’t know if I quite liked it as much as I did the first time around. It felt a little clunky and trite at times, with the characters being a bit shallow and simplistic (and Zidane’s 90s-style haircut is painful). But it still looks and plays just fine, and if you’re craving a Final Fantasy fix, I suppose you could do a whole heck of a lot worse.

Try It Tuesday: Closers Online

The gunblade! The gunblade lives in Closers! I’m having crazy flashbacks of Final Fantasy VIII right now.

For this week’s MMO experiment, I took a dip in Closers Online, or as its western version is simply named, Closers. It’s an eastern import being run by the “action combat” kings, En Masse. I thought the cel shaded anime style looked pretty attractive and liked the idea of something that wasn’t outright fantasy. So why not? Free-to-play and all.

The (subtitled) story here is that aliens from another dimension are wreaking havoc all over the world, and a team of teenage “Closers” are brought in to put an end to it with their psychic powers. Why just teenagers? Because we have a demographic to appeal to, fool! I went with the pink haired, dual knives-using Sylvia as a shout-out to my friend Syl. Also, she had the least heaving bosom out of all of the female characters.

While “MMO” may be slapped somewhere on this product, Closers is really just a lobby game that has the option to both solo and join up with groups for very linear stages. There’s no exploration, no real variety here, just a whole lot of beat-em-up action with combos, light shows, and flashy numbers popping out every which way.

Although Closers is pretty to witness, especially in action, it’s not the most user friendly of games. For starters, the control scheme is fully keyboard and fully awkward. You use the arrow keys (not WASD) to move and a handful of keys at the bottom left to activate jump (which isn’t the spacebar), attacks, and specials. I had such a hard time trying to reprogram my finger memory to it that I ended up simply mashing things to make the bad guys die. When I could manage it, I did some pretty impressive chain attacks in the air, but that wasn’t often.

The other issue I had right off the bat was the method of tutorial delivery, which took place in the form of endless windows and on-screen diagrams that couldn’t be removed. When you’re in the middle of frantic combat, you don’t want pop ups distracting you. I think there was a story buried in the middle of this, but the game went overboard frontloading information and equipment and do this and learn this and master this and… pfft. I just started clicking through things until I got to a new stage to actually play the game.

I did get a costume and a pet, so there are a few elements in this game that have some appeal to me. Also, one of my skills allowed me to literally drop a bus on my enemies. The transit authority did not appreciate that, but that’s a small price to pay for one of the coolest moves ever.

OPPAN GANGNAM STYLE

Also, did this city just plaster a giant picture of my team on a skyscraper? That’s a nice gesture, but I’m just level 10 and haven’t really saved anyone outside of the tutorial. Nice thought, though.

I dutifully ran through a few more stages, but to be honest, there isn’t much going on here. It’s all flash and style but little substance, with attractive stages that go from Left to Right until you reach the boss and defeat it. I kind of got my fill with that back in my Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. days, so I feel like I’ve graduated past this sort of fluff.

Try-It Tuesday: Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Welcome back to Arcadia Bay, where everything is the same and different at the same time.

When Life is Strange: Before the Storm was released, I was quite cool on the concept. It seemed to be pushing all the wrong buttons: a prequel with no time travel that focused on characters we already knew the fate of. And it was shorter (three episodes vs. five for the original). And it didn’t have any big supernatural mystery. And it focused on Chloe.

While I loved Life is Strange, I never got on board the Chloe bandwagon. She just rubbed me the wrong way and felt way too angry and bitter to be identifiable and likable. So a whole game about her? Um… no thanks. But then I got a $30 gift card from NewEgg and was browsing through the games section and saw this and thought, “Why not?” It wasn’t costing me anything, at least.

And after about 10 hours of a playthrough, I’m back to say that my initial fears… weren’t really put to rest. Despite some raves that I see out there for this game, it’s nowhere near as compelling or interesting as 2015’s adventure game. It’s a quieter character-driven piece that doesn’t have much in the way of a main narrative but does, to its credit, make Chloe a lot more personable and brought out Rachel Amber for us to meet.

Taking place about three years prior to Life is Strange, Before the Storm documents about three days during which Chloe connects with fellow classmate Rachel. Seemingly opposite, the two bond quickly and help/use each other to navigate the various struggles they’re going through. Chloe is feeling abandoned after Max left, her dad died, and David moved in on her mom; Rachel’s starting to crack under the pressure of being perfect and she’s found out something really disturbing about her father. They both talk about rebelling, about fleeing the town, about being besties forever… you know, hyper-emotional teen stuff.

But we know the end. Which is the problem here, as it is with a lot of prequels. When you know the end — especially a tragic end — then it robs a lot of tension of what’s going to happen before that point. We’re just learning more about who this Rachel is, why Chloe was so hung up on her that she spent months searching for her after her absence, and seeing all of the pieces move into place for the beginning of Life is Strange.

Everything seems so much smaller and less important with the prequel. There are fewer characters, no supernatural paradoxes to navigate, and no really fun mechanics. So many plot threads and decisions are offered up as potentially important only to fizzle out later (such as the big fire that Rachel started… which just kind of goes out in episode 3 like it ain’t no thing). And I couldn’t shake the knowledge that Rachel, as captivating as she is here, ends up as a user of people and of drugs. We know she’s not stable; she’s the Laura Palmer of this series. And to see Chloe kind of grovel at her feet and treat her like perfection felt wrong to me.

The budget and scope of Before the Storm feels smaller, too. There’s a lot of padding, such as several scenes where you try on clothing or just watch characters hang out while montage music plays. You spend way too much time fixing up a truck, just because Chloe needs a truck eventually for the sequel. And while Chloe and Rachel get excellent facial animations and voice acting, the rest of the cast has this wooden doll quality to their animations. It’s almost uncanny valley for some of them, like Rachel’s dad, and I found it pretty offputting.

I didn’t hate it. The story was fine and kept me somewhat interested as it went through the paces. There are two bits in particular — a D&D session with two other students and an interactive version of Shakespeare’s Tempest — that are brilliant ideas and well worth the praise that they’ve earned. And the body language, particularly of the principle characters, is nuanced and identifiable. When the characters just shut up and act, it can say so much.

But I can’t give Deck Nine, the studio brought in to create this prequel, a complete pass. There just are too few decisions of consequence, too many illogical plot points, and too much dithering around to make this as good as it could be. How many dream sequences do we need in which pretty much nothing is said? If the characters are going to end up as we know they are for the original game, what does anything they do or say matter? Why was David completely a jerk to me when I tried to rein in Chloe during the first episode?

And then there’s the ending, which the team completely botched. It’s really, really bad, because I got the feeling that the writers got themselves into a corner and then had to twist themselves into knots to create some sort of game-hinging choice. I don’t want to spoil it, but basically you’re going to have characters completely reverse their positions and motivations in the last hour just because, and the game is going to try to argue you into going a certain way that you know another character would hate.

As I said, it wasn’t bad. It was serviceable, which is probably the nicest thing that I can say about any prequel. But it wasn’t that necessary, didn’t add much to the world building, didn’t answer many questions that were left by the original, and didn’t have my mind all in a whirl when it was said and done. Here’s hoping for the real sequel, whenever it comes out.

Try-It Tuesday: Global Adventures

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

Global Adventures is a deeply weird game. And deeply flawed. But I will give it this: It has one of the coolest character selection screens I’ve ever seen. You get this crew of characters endlessly running from this giant animated stone guardian, and as you pick the characters, they turn around to fire at it.

Anyway, so what is this game? Global Adventures is what could charitably be described as “Indiana Jones and Lara Croft meet Diablo meet Chinese game design.” That’s probably making it sound way cooler than it is, but it did get my interest when I came across it a few months ago. It’s a different setting, and the more I thought about it, the more a treasure hunting Diablo clone with a contemporary setting (albeit one with magic and some high tech stuff) is pretty cool. I thought I’d check it out for this month’s MMO experiment, even though it’s still in early access.

I went with a Bio-Tech, one of three playable classes right now. I swear, this is as grown up as I could make her look. The teddy bear doesn’t help my case. She’s a dual pistol fighter who can occasionally summon a giant robot to do stuff, so obviously that had to be my pick. Decent but not great customization options, and then we were off!

Right away, I couldn’t decide if I was going to love or hate Global Adventures. That feeling continued pretty much the entire time I was playing it. For every positive I found, there was a cruddy drawback that sprang out at me.

For example, the tutorial starts right out in a wonderfully detailed Aztec temple, and the game’s cel-shading and graphic design is flat-out gorgeous. There were cool little animations, like climbing up walls and swinging across with vines, that made the little pocket zones feel far more 3D than they had any right to be. And combat was fairly fun, if simple.

Yet the framerate was completely inconsistent and right from the get-go, this game suffered from the “neurotic over-controlling mom teaching a teenager how to drive” syndrome. Like, the game would let you play for a maximum of two seconds before wresting control away from you to explain something else or do one of the numerous little pointless cutscenes.

And oh, these cutscenes are bad. Horribly bad. It’s like they didn’t even try with the voice acting and lip syncing, but grabbed the nearest intern, shoved him or her in front of a mic, and made sure that the character mouth would open and close. And very little of what they said or did made sense. This is a game that should have a lot of story and instead has a pile of gibberish involving a fat leach called Slim Jim, random temple robbing, you have an arrowhead you’re trying to hawk, there’s a Global Adventures company, and a random guy in the street sends you to the corners of the globe. I gave up on trying to follow it.

The thing is, there’s a good game somewhere in here that needs a lot of love, attention, refinement, and western localization. It’s just not getting it from what I see.

Don’t get me started on what this game thinks is “humor.” It just made me hate any character attempting it.

Use disorientation tactics! By this the game means “move somewhat to the left and right.”

I guess the whole product is serviceable, and if it ran more smoothly, I’d even be up for enjoying it now and then. I did like how my character would take out a bike when auto-pathing between missions, and the bonus goal of fully clearing out and exploring each area (for extra loots). But it’s in too rough of a state right now, so I’m going to tuck it away and wait to revisit it when and if it actually releases.

Try-It Tuesday: Tacoma

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

After devouring What Remains of Edith Finch the other week, I needed another injection of interactive “walking simulator” storytelling… which led me to Tacoma. Created by the Gone Home team, Tacoma doesn’t stray far from the template from the aforementioned games. You’re a female arriving in a deserted location who investigates her surroundings and pieces together a narrative of what happened prior to her arrival.

In this case, it’s a space station instead of a family house, but the concept doesn’t stray too far from the path. Something Has Happened to the station Tacoma and its six occupants (who are no longer aboard), and it’s up to you to find out what while recovering as much of the recorded data as possible.

The twist here is that in certain areas you can recover all or part of audio and video recordings of the crew in the past — sometimes hours, sometimes weeks, sometimes even months ago — and then play them back as they move about. You can’t see their actual bodies and faces, but rather color-coded humanoid blobs, but you can peek into their HUD computer displays and follow them as they go about various tasks and discussions. The only real choice you actually have in the game, in fact, is who to follow when, which only determines what order you get all of the story beats.

Between the crew logs, their computer messages (emails, texts, letters), and some minor environmental observation, the narrative gradually comes together. The game starts promisingly pretty much at the point of the crisis, and then delivers logs that go back and forward from that point to give you ever-widening context. And even though the people are blobs, you get to know them a bit and find out a few details about their backstories and relationships.

While I ended up not liking Gone Home very much, Tacoma was better — but only a little bit more. I loved the setting and the mechanics, but it is way, way too short of a game. It’s like a short story instead of a novella, and I ended up feeling robbed that we didn’t get more sections with more conversations and details. The characters don’t get as much time to be fleshed out, the mystery, so to speak, gets rushed in the end, and the sparse environmental details didn’t live up to Gone Home or Edith Finch.

It’s what I would consider a $5 game, max, for what you get. Definitely worth a quick two-hour playthrough, but once you’re done, there’s no reason to ever revisit it.