I just wrapped up a few weeks somewhat obsessed with the Steam Early Access darling open world survival game Rust. Honestly, it was a surprise that it would even run on my relatively old gaming PC but some of my old gaming buddies were playing it together and invited me to jump in and, after hearing all kinds of hilarious stories about it on various podcasts and forums and whatnot, I couldn't resist. Unfortunately I was plagued by a bug that caused me to frequently, randomly disconnect and my group seemed to have horrible luck with encountering cheaters and abusive admins on servers, and the few servers we did well on wiped or went away after we got established. Bummer!
"Rust: the exhibitionist sociopath simulator!"
There’s a lot I could say about Rust. It’s a fun game, particularly with a group of friends, and I expect it or similar games to make a lot of noise in online gaming in the future. The concept is definitely solid. Rust itself, however, still feels like it needs a lot of refinement in the design before it’s truly a compelling long term experience. After playing for just a few weeks cracks began to show and it became a lot less fun. The game is only in early alpha for now though so hopefully Garry and company will have something truly special on their hands by the time the game is officially completed. Personally, I’m sure I’ll be back (hopefully with friends) after a bit of a hiatus for them to expand upon the game a little.
The real magic of Rust is all of the hilarious systemic, emergent experiences and the stories that result from them. This sort of "put a bunch of people together and see what happens" gameplay is what made sandbox MMORPGs such as Eve Online or, way before that, Ultima Online so compelling for many of us. At its core it seems like that's all Rust really is: one big, silly social experiment. Its crafting isn't that deep and "surviving" without other players in the world to kick over your sandcastle, as it were, is a cinch. Luckily there are no shortage of assholes in Rust who will delight to ruin your day and if you ever do run out that mantle is easy enough for you to take up yourself.
I first started out on a "PVE" (player versus environment, as opposed to "PVP" or player versus player) server where I'd hopefully be somewhat free to learn the ropes of the game before having to deal with having my progress constantly impeded by other humans and, I have to say, it was going well. I had finally located a steady supply of enough resources that I could build just about anything without too much trouble. Being fascinated by all of the oddly shaped, tall rocks that dotted the landscape I built a huge tower next to one that particularly stood out on its own in a valley with a lot of easy to reach resource spawns. I purposely left the top and some of the sides of the stairway open so that I could climb out onto the surrounding rocks and run around like an idiot. I'm not that naive though, as I was at least smart enough to further compartmentalize all of the rooms that actually contained valuables though you couldn't necessarily tell that from the outside.
One day I logged in, did a little hunting near a local zombie spawn, and returned home only to find a couple of gentlemen in full Kevlar armor (the best armor in the game) with assault rifles quickly and haphazardly building a stairway up onto the other side of the rock where my new tower was. "Were these guys building their own house? No, no way... they were moving too quickly and seemingly only interested in making it to that top!" I thought. "These guys are trying to raid me!" It was too obvious that they had noticed my open roof design and were planning on jumping in through the top to rob my ass blind.
"Meeting the new neighbors. Sugar?"
I quickly ran into my own tower and onto the top of the rock just in time to watch them finish their stairway. When one of them hopped onto the rock he fell to his death which caused the other one to bide his time while he waited on his buddy to respawn. I used this time to restock and watch for them. Eventually the lone survivor spotted me. We watched each other tensely for a minute or so, guns drawn. Finally he took a shot at me. That was all of the encouragement I needed. I opened up on him with my submachine gun hitting him at least a couple of times in the hail of bullets. Humorously, my would-be uninvited house guest immediately turned around and jumped back to his stairs and disappeared from my sight. Wow, some PVE server, eh?
I quickly formulated a plan. I had the raw materials stored to hastily close up the top and sides of my tower which would make their attempts to raid me impossible, or at least in the way they had originally planned. Once I completed my modifications I left my house, circling back around to the base of their stairway to attempt to flank them. It was night by now, pitch black even, and I got there just in time to watch them both gather their gear (evidently my attacker had also fallen to his death attempting to flee me! Ha!) and return to the top of the rock. I slowly followed them. I chuckled to myself as I watched them run over to my now enclosed tower and shoot at the walls a few times in frustration. Sorry guys!
Over the next few days I identified my attackers as belonging to a small group who setup a large base just across the valley from me. Nice neighbors, eh? Once I caught them snooping around my front door, firing shots into it randomly, and decided to call them out in the global chat. Some others questioned them for possibly breaking the server's rules but as an admin got involved I decided to let it be - I had no real investment in this server and these guys were either being fairly good sports or were totally incompetent. Either way their antics were amusing to me. Our little war of words only served to escalate the behavior however. One day I logged in to find my front door and the paths to it totally blocked off by spiked barricades. I, of course, returned the favor. The next time I logged in I found that they had built a stairway up the side of my tower, and blown a hole in it, though they never managed to get into any of my locked rooms so no real harm was done. This kind of silly passive-aggressive stuff continued before I finally abandoned the server to join my friends elsewhere.
"I was sure to thank them for the additions they made to my house."
Speaking of which, here’s a Rust-ass story for you. My group and I had established a tiny shack in the rocky southern coast and, after spending a night chasing off our neighbors and gathering resources, eventually built a small house in a nearby clearing. We were starting to get a foothold, in other words. The next day I log in to find that our server had been wiped. Damn! Since I logged in long before everyone else I decided to spend some time gathering resources and building another shack in the exact same place as our original one so that when my friends got on later they could have a leg up to continue where we left off. Right after completing my shack, before logging off, I decided to explore the neighborhood only to discover two nearby shacks with metal doors. Now, unlike houses, despite it taking a long time shacks can be completely destroyed by basic tools whether they have a metal door or not. All the metal doors did was demonstrate that the owners probably had plenty of raw materials to spare. After making damn sure the shacks were unoccupied and the owners weren't in the area I started trying to hack them down.
After several tense minutes the first shack is destroyed and, as luck had it, there was a ton of decent starter loot inside. Lots of raw material, some blueprints, even a gun! I grabbed it all and quickly ran back to my own shack to stash it, excited about this seemingly incredible stroke of luck. As I approached my shack though, I heard footsteps. Wow, really? This was a fairly isolated area and the whole time we were here previously we never had anyone come wandering by. I waited several tense minutes with my gun drawn and eventually the steps lead away. I darted to my shack to stash my new valuables. Shew! Just then I heard footsteps approach yet again and then proximity chat kicked on. “Anyone home?!” I declined to respond. Whether he called my bluff or not, he immediately started hacking down my shack. Shit! What could I do? If I logged out or just stood here it was only a matter of minutes before he was in and all my hard work, never mind my loot, was all history. "Well, I do have this gun." I thought.
"Just like real life, leaving your home only to run into a group of naked men with bows is bad news."
I rushed outside carefully closing the door behind me and started shooting wildly. Now, at this time I didn't have much experience with Rust’s atypical feeling ballistics system so I ending up missing all but a couple of shots which apparently only winged him and, having just looted the gun, had no extra ammo to spare once I had shot my magazine dry. The anonymous looter on the other hand was apparently an expert hatchet man. The next thing I knew I was lying dead on the ground. I felt damn stupid having just died to a practically unarmed guy when I had some armor and a gun, but whatever. I spawned back in my shack using my sleeping bag and figured my sole remaining option was to attempt to rush him and hatchet him down like he did me. Again, no such luck. A quick hatchet duel later and I was dead again. This time, because of the way Rust’s spawning system works, I was forced to spawn in a random spot and ended up absolutely nowhere near my new home. By the time I could make it back my stuff would be gone. I simply called it a day.
After my frustration subsided I couldn't help but laugh. Wow, truly the circle of life in Rust: I get incredibly lucky and manage to loot someone’s stuff having only been on this newly wiped server for a little while only to be ganked by a random passerby for all of my newly won loot literally only minutes later. Only in Rust!
I haven’t really sat down and attempted to complete anything new but I've definitely played some odds and ends on PC lately that I feel are worth a quick mention.
First, let me step back in time to something I forgot to mention several months ago which incidentally happens to me a lot with my blog - I randomly decide to pick something up for a few hours and put it back down without it ever earning a mention here. Anyway, I was feeling the MMORPG itch and since I hadn't touched my old World of Warcraft account in quite a while I decided to make a brief incursion back into the galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic. You might recall when I mentioned the game originally that, despite being kind of a cookie cutter WoW clone in so many ways, I was actually quite fond of it and planned to go back. While I really wasn't truly ready to return, having long since decided that this would be a game best played in all of its graphical glory after I build a new gaming rig, I still somehow ended up getting sucked back in.
"The perks of dogfighting in an asteroid field."
I played my my Sith Inquisitor through a whole new planet and got my first taste of the on rails space combat which was surprisingly fun and appropriately Star Warsy. Most of all, the game is still mainly most satisfying because I like my character which is to say I like the way I imagine my character. Make no mistake, this is a twisted amalgamation of the imaginary image of him I have and my head the very wrote and scripted ways he behaves (no matter what choices I make) in his storyline dialogs and cut scenes. This is still very refreshing to me and gives me a much greater sense of attachment to my character than I’d normally have in an MMORPG, or even a lot of single player games.
I got so into it, in fact, that I ended up rolling some new characters in some other Sith Empire classes just to get an idea for the other characters and storylines at my disposal. I played a ruthless female bounty hunter pirate and a goodhearted but dutiful imperial agent somewhat based on the titular character from the Rogue Trooper comics and enjoyed the hell out of both. While I intend to stick it out with my Inquisitor (when I return to the game sometime later) I can definitely see why some people with far, faaarrrr more free time than I opt to level up each of the classes in the game.
"An audience with Nem'ro the Hutt."
Moving on, I got a bit of an itch to play a classic hack and slash action RPG. I’m not quite sure what inspired this but I decided to warm up the original Torchlight. Although I got fairly close to the end (or bottom of the dungeon, as it were) in my first playthrough as a Vanquisher I had never actually beaten the game. You may recall from a 2012 blog post that I was considering replaying it on Xbox Live Arcade and actually played around with an Alchemist at the time to do a little theory crafting, so this time I went through on Hard mode with a brand new Alchemist. It was fairly fun, though I more or less breezed through the first two thirds of the game until I reached somewhat of a difficulty spike in which my character switched from an iron cannon of doom to a wee delicate glass cannon and I suddenly found myself relying quite heavily on my potion stores. I started to feel a bit burnt out by the repetition and lack of good loot upgrade options but forced myself through to the end anyway. While I still standby my words of immense praise for the game I’m definitely curious about whether or not the team at Runic managed to fix these issues with Torchlight 2.
"Ember Lightning and Ember Shield all day long!"
While the loot system (and the rest of the systems, really) are essentially refined versions of those from Diablo 2, I felt like I so rarely ever got loot that was actually better than what I had that it made the whole looting, identifying, and selling cycle more of a chore than anything else, and it isn't like this was because I was already wading through the dungeon in some exceptionally awesome, epic gear or anything. One thing that isn't lifted from Diablo 2 but rather Diablo is the mission and story structure. Torchlight takes place in one town, in one large, somewhat randomly generated dungeon, and has a simple main plot and even simpler side quests. Diablo made up for this by having an amazing and compelling atmosphere and while Torchlight’s isn't bad by any means, it doesn't really hold a candle to that of the Diablo series.
So, after beating Torchlight (the final boss was bullshit, by the way!) I dusted off my last playthrough of Diablo 2 which I had also started all the way over a year ago in 2012 in anticipation for Diablo 3. I have to say, the Paladin isn't my favorite class and act 5 (the expansion act) isn't my favorite act either, or perhaps the dreaded ARPG repetition is simply in full effect by then, who knows. Regardless, I flailed Baal to a fiery grave.
"Flinging flaming flails at foe's frozen faces..."
While playing back through again my above statement about Diablo’s atmosphere was reinforced without question, and then some. I simply love the dark, serious, gritty feel of the world of Diablo and Diablo 2. The music and sound effects are particularly affecting – I ended up turning off the otherwise excellent music in Torchlight and listening to some podcasts and audiobooks while playing it but in Diablo 2? No chance! I’ve got to hear that eerie score and the those freaky ambient noises and sound effects! After this playthrough I’m now foaming at the mouth to finally load up Diablo 3, providing it stays true to those aspects of the series. My only hesitation besides the impending launch of the expansion pack is sending myself into some kind of horrible ARPG overdose but I don't think I can resist, especially after the major pre-expansion pack patch that just dropped has renewed so much interest in the game again. Ugh!
Brace yourself for another shocking tale of my crippling case of backlogitis...
I pre-ordered XCOM: Enemy Unknown for PC back in 2012, anticipating the ever-loving fuck out of it after not having a turned based tactics game come close to the experience I had with the original X-COM back in the 90s, and here I am, finally playing the goddamn thing just after the release of its expansion pack over a year later... and I'm playing the Xbox 360 version to add insult to injury. I'm goddamn despicable.
The decision to go with the console release of XCOM: Enemy Within came about because I had never purchased the game on console and had heard repeatedly from various sources that playing with the controller was fine. Not only fine, but a lot of people preferred it to keyboard and mouse. Yes, even PC gamers. At first I found this unfathomable but I eventually accepted that it might just be true. This is 2014 after all. When Enemy Within was announced I figured it was my opportunity to pick up the complete "commander edition" version of the game in one package and play from the luxurious comfort of my couch. My only disappoint with this decision is that now I'm sure I'll play through this game several more times in the future and when I do it'll be on PC, so I'll need to pick up another copy of the Enemy Within expansion pack regardless. Ah well.
"MEC troopers, never leave home without 'em!"
So yeah, I'm not going to go into why I loved the original X-COM: UFO Defense because I plan on putting together a retro review of it sometime in the next 20 years. Let's just say that several aspects of the game struck me as more or less perfect and I wanted another experience that recaptured its glory. I watched all of the discussion regarding the various spiritual successors but always passed, played some other games inspired by its mechanics (such as Silent Storm, another game I need to revisit and review) but never got too far into any of them, and when I heard about X-COM finally picking up a biggish budget sequel I was thrilled. Finally, when the Firaxis game was announced and the first details were released I was quite hopeful that they'd finally put together a worthy sequel.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown isn't really a sequel or a spiritual successor, but a full on, faithful re-imagining of the original game, updated with modern mechanics and presentation. While that sounds like a description for any update of an old game, it's really quite literal with XCOM. It's like they made a check list of everything that made X-COM X-COM and put it into this new version, only changing and (usually somewhat modernizing) the systems underneath to make the still very customizable, and still very brutal game more accessible in today's market. To put it another way, it is almost as if the 2012 development team took the original design documents and concept art and made a new game without much knowledge of the previous one. Sure, a lot of the little details about how the mechanics work and whatnot are all quite different but on the surface it's the same damn game. At the risk of losing some friends here, I'd even dare say that this new imagining of XCOM might even be better than the original in many aspects. It's just that goddamn good! Awesome, dynamic squad based tactics, persistence through leveling soldiers, strategy via managing the XCOM program and researching technology trees on the geoscape. It's all here!
"Despite what the suits back at base say, sometimes you just HAVE to use high explosives."
I played through the entire long campaign with the worthy additions of Enemy Within and the other DLC, and despite only playing on normal difficulty I still found the game to be challenging at times and damn rewarding to boot. I tried to avoid "save scumming" but there were a few times where I reloaded to avoid losing senior soldiers... oh, and I abused the hell out of it to beat that damn whale mission. The Xbox 360 build had a couple of hard locks and other odd bugs but nothing to ruin to overall experience. I could go on and on about this game, and if I had written about it while playing I probably would have, but for now that is all I want to gush about it. Perhaps more the next time I decide to play through?
To cross another one off of my pile of shame, I finally played through the first of Telltale's The Walking Dead seasons. Being both a fan of the show and of adventure games in general, I've been wanting to play this game since I first heard about it and since then I've only heard more and more good things. Are they true? Yes, mostly...
"I wanted to post an example of TWD's excellent, well written dialog system. So, yeah..."
The Walking Dead is a classic adventure game in most respects. Sure, the UI is stripped down and most of the puzzles probably barely qualify as being such in the traditional sense, but at its core it still plays unmistakably like the graphical adventure games of old. While there is still a lot of environmental exploration and "pixel hunting" for items the items mostly serve to move conversations forward and add the occasional context sensitive action - there's no tedious inventory management and item combination voodoo to deal with at all. The core of the gameplay instead focuses around the conversation choices you make and how those choices affect your story - who is in your group and how they feel about you, which in the end largely comes down to differences in dialog. That sounds a little simple but it works surprisingly well and while the ultimate outcome is more or less the same, your choices at least feel like they carry some real weight.
Not everything works well though. The action sequences are pretty much all god awful. I was almost shocked to even see them here at all - people have been complaining about crappy action and arcade sequences in adventure games since the 1980s. While there's some variety there, mostly my problem with them has to do with my second complaint: the engine is pretty bad. There's all kinds of issues: long loads, flickering, clipping, and general bugginess. It just generally feels clunky. This only really started to affect my enjoyment of the game when it came to those action sequences, especially when they resulted in a sudden death or fail condition. That leads directly to the final point, one I really wasn't expecting, but instant deaths/fails galore! Really? I'll fully admit that I'm Sierra apologist but I thought the dudes at Tell Tale were big LucasArts fans. I figured they would detest this kind of thing. Ah well, at least they're generous enough to automatically restart the gameplay right at whatever sequence killed you.
Home improvement time!"
Anyway, back to the good. The hand drawn, graphic novel inspired art style is good (sometimes even strikingly beautiful) even if the engine and some of the animation lets it down a bit. The voice acting is mostly fucking brilliant with the main cast being among the best I've heard in a game. Telltale absolutely nailed the desolation, the desperation, and the overall feel of The Walking Dead setting too. Finally, the writing is great. I quickly found myself caring about the characters and, probably more telling, when I think back on my jaunt through zombie infested Georgia, I remember it more like I had read a novel or watched a good movie than I had played through it in a game. The more I ponder it, I'd have to chalk it up to a tricky combination of the basic setting and plot, the character development, and the agency the player is given behind how the story appears to unfold. It's not just an infatuation with the excellent Lee and Clementine either, even the tiny stories from the 400 Days episode made an impact.
If you're a fan of the Walking Dead show and/or comics and don't completely detest graphical adventure games please do yourself a favor and put this on your wishlist if you haven't already played it. It's brilliant. I played through the aforementioned "400 Days" extra episode and can't wait to play through Season 2 when it is finished being deployed later this year.
Screenshots are PC not Xbox 360, as I swiped from the Steam Community. Thanks, glorious PC gaming master race!