Tag Archives: RPGs

Bastioneer

I’ve had a few of the more well-known survival games in my backlog for a while now. No Man’s Sky has had my eye since it was first released, well before it was patched into a reportedly vastly improved experience, I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about Subnautica, and can’t wait to dig into that one, but it was Astroneer I decided to go with this time. Between the three, Astroneer looked like a much more casual experience, and I didn’t want to dedicate myself to some massive galaxy spanning adventure or spending several tense hours cowering from giant alien shark-beasts in some underwater cave. Not yet, at least.

Caverns of fun!
“Caverns of fun!”

As luck would have it, it turns out that Astroneer actually scratches an itch that I don’t believe either of those games would have. That would be the same very basic mining and caving gameplay loop that Minecraft’s survival mode employs. While plenty of other games have implemented much deeper and/or more interesting survival modes since Minecraft first blew up, that particular aspect of it has always been left by the wayside. Whenever I’ve gone back to Minecraft, that always seems to be the most compelling component for me. Playing cooperatively with my girlfriend, she’d often be the one crafting and building, while I’d spend almost all of my time digging out elaborate mines and exploring the game’s massive, randomly generated cave systems when I’d encounter them. When it comes to those aspects, Astroneer absolutely delivers.

The basic premise of the game is that you’re some sort of an astronaut dropped onto a planet and, well, it’s not readily apparent what the fictional reason for your mission actually is, something vaguely related to gathering research, I guess? From a gameplay perspective you’re immediately thrown into a classic loop of gathering material to build upgrades, to gather better materials, to build better upgrades, and so on that just about every survival game incorporates to some degree. The difference is that Astroneer focuses entirely on that loop – there’s no additional survival elements related to eating food or water, staying warm, etc. nor are there enemies or many other direct threats to your character. Your only survival concerns are oxygen and the occasional dangerous variety of plantlife, which are usually easy to avoid once you’re aware of them.

I spent countless hours trekking around the surface too.
“I spent countless hours trekking around the surface too.”

So, that pretty much leaves you with mining, exploring and scavenging, and upgrading your base and equipment. Eventually this has you even leaving your starting planet to head to another one of the other 6 planets and moons in the solar system for a change of scenery and access to some new resources to mine or otherwise gather. It’s a relatively simple and fairly open-ended game, with little in the way over any sort of overarching goals that you don’t set yourself, which, when combined with the game’s beautifully clean, stylized visuals and excellent, minimalist soundtrack, make for an extremely relaxing experience, whether played alone or cooperatively. I spent way too many nights unaware of how much time had been flying by while I was deep into a grinding session.

Sure, there can be some stress, like when you accidentally fall into a cavern, breaking your connection to your oxygen tether network, or end up getting lost for hours while exploring (damn you, shitty beacon system!) but overall Astroneer really nails owning this particular corner of the survival genre like nothing else I’ve played. I do have some other complaints, like the lack of split screen coop on the console version, and some fairly serious performance issues that seem to relate to the number of objects in the world (and likely those two things are directly related) but nothing close to a deal breaker.

...and when you get bored of that stuff, you can GTFO!
“…and when you get bored of that stuff, you can GTFO!”

That said, I’ve had my fill for now. While I wouldn’t say I “completed” the game, I accomplished enough to feel like I had more or less mastered most of the systems before it all started feeling too repetitive. I got most of my tech to tier 2 (of 3) and beyond, visited every planet, unlocked some cores, and just basically got a healthy taste of almost everything on offer. The biggest compliment I can give the game is that I absolutely think I’ll be back to Astroneer instead of Minecraft the next time I’m feeling a strange, primal urge to go delving into deep in pursuit of rare materials.

For a bit of a palate cleanser, I followed that up with a quick dip into Supergiant’s now something of a classic action RPG, Bastion.

In a stroke of innovation, NPCs with quests have exclamation marks over their heads!
“In a stroke of innovation, NPCs with quests have exclamation marks over their heads!”

Bastion was one of the darlings of the wave of new, sexy indie games hitting Xbox Live Arcade back in the Xbox 360’s heyday, and it seemed like everyone was playing it for a time, the ever-present and extremely divisive narrator being a hot topic on every podcast I listened to. Having always enjoyed narration and frankly surprised it hasn’t been done in more modern games (cue flashbacks to Dungeons and Dragons Online) I was quite looking forward to it myself. A huge Diablo fan, I was far more skeptical about playing a colorful, consolefied take on the ARPG genre, which was honestly probably the main reason I hadn’t got around to playing it until now.

Immediately upon jumping in you’re treated to the game’s sublime visuals. A painted, colorful floating world filled with squat, cartoony characters that evoke isometric Japanese tactical RPGs from the 90s more than Diablo and its ilk is assembled around as you walk through it to cool effect. Then the narrator comes in and… well, that wasn’t what I was expecting at all! Instead of a narrator chiming in here and there, and feeling fairly removed from the game world like an overwatching dungeon master or the hilarious narrator from a Sierra adventure game, the narrator in Bastion is actually another character in the world with his own personality, and he really is ever-present, chiming in about every other little thing your character does. It’s not that it wasn’t cool, it just wasn’t what I had in my head for all these years.

Even Bastion's junk yards are beautiful.
“Even Bastion’s junk yards are beautiful.”

Then I got into the action and, eh… it was fine. Nothing too particular to complain about, but something about it just didn’t click with me. I knew it was a short game, so I figured I’d keep playing it and at worst, have to write a fairly negative review. Then, maybe my third session in with the game, out of nowhere I found myself having a ton of fun. I think a big part of my enjoyment came from the extremely smooth pacing. Having such bite-sized levels was genius, making it feel effortless to dive in and out, which ends up being vitally important as you start unlocking new weapons, weapon upgrades, spirits, and secret skills to play with.

I’m the type of person who typically settles on one good loadout in a game like this and won’t deviate from it all too often outside of a cursory test of any new items and abilities I pick up, but Bastion absolutely nails its upgrade and loadout systems. Soon I found myself experimenting wildly to find the best ways to best each of the weapon challenge areas and the “Who Knows Where” wave attack arenas. I was actually having some of the most fun I’d had with a game like this in recent memory.

When in doubt, use a shotgun.
“When in doubt, use a shotgun.”

Once I was hooked on the combat and the progression, the intrigue of the story, the aforementioned beautiful art style, the amazing soundtrack, and really, just an overall highly tuned experience from front to back, brought me the rest of the way to the end of the game. I ended up enjoying it so much that I went from barely interested to now committed to trying some of Supergiant’s other games, like their 2014 follow-up, Transistor. Hell, I even briefly considered giving the new game+ a go, something I almost never do. In the end I settled on being happy with as close to 100 percenting the game as you can get in a single playthrough, and calling it a day. Still, that was a pleasant surprise!

Screenshots are from the PC versions of these games, stolen from random users on the Steam Community pages for these games.

Grubbin Cold War

I’m a little bit behind with my normal game log updates so this is a bit of a catch up session.

Around Halloween last year I decided to grab Double Fine’s Costume Quest 2 off of XBLA. As a side note, I don’t think they call it Xbox Live Arcade anymore, do they? Whatever man, I’m a die hard! Anyway, I gushed quite a bit about the first one on here, so I felt pretty confident about grabbing the second one.

Dentists should be portrayed as villains far more often.
“Dentists should be portrayed as villains far more often.”

Gameplay hasn’t shifted significantly in the sequel. It’s still basically a simplified take on classic JRPGs, with the game divided into wandering an “overworld” exploring, looting a little and talking to the odd NPC, and then moving into turn based, party versus party battles when you encounter enemies. The overworld is mostly the same, though some costumes have special abilities which are used to solve simple puzzles while navigating. Really, they’re more about gating you based on whether you have the costume or not than presenting any sort of challenging puzzle to solve though. The combat system itself a bit different, with a greater focus on timed attacks and blocks and the addition of special ability cards, but it all still feels very JRPG-inspired, and while you may prefer one system over the other, the difference isn’t all too compelling to me.

The real appeal of Costume Quest is its quaint charm and humor. Unfortunately, while the overall plot might be better realized this time around, the writing struck me as far drier. I didn’t get nearly as strong of a genuine sibling vibe from the main characters, for one, and it’s hard to put my finger on why, but I also didn’t think the game was quite as funny as the first one. Maybe I’m just in a drastically different headspace than I was a few years back, or perhaps the formula has just worn out its welcome. The gameplay also started to wear out its welcome though. In the end, the repetition of exploring the overworld and getting pounded with so many random battles really took a toll on me, and I had to drag myself to the finish line. For a game that’s only 8 or 9 hours long, that’s definitely not a great thing.

Dream
“Dream team: Gandalf, Thomas Jefferson, and a fucking pterodactyl!”

I hear a Costume Quest 3 is in development now but unless they make some major changes to the basic formula I may give that one a pass.

I started a second game from the dusty corners of XBLA at around the same time as I started Costume Quest 2; the sequel to another game that I absolutely loved, Toy Soldiers. I was actually a lot less confident about Toy Soldiers: Cold War because of what seemed like a new focus on special “barrage” attacks, especially the new Rambo inspired playable commando, who was featured constantly in all of the media surrounding the game. I’m happy to report that I was wrong, and Toy Soldiers: Cold War is about as direct a sequel as you could ever want while still allowing for some tweaks to the formula.

Sometimes it's just too easy...
“Sometimes it’s just too easy…”

So about the game. Well, I’m just going to steal, almost verbatim, what I said about the original Toy Soldiers here. Toy Soldiers: Cold War takes the classic, simple tower defense gameplay, gives it an awesome Cold War/Vietnam era meets kid’s toy box theme, and adds in the ability to control towers and other special units (tanks, helicopters, and jets) by hand to up their effectiveness and/or your score. It’s a very simple concept but executed almost perfectly with an awesome presentation and a healthy layer of polish.

As with the first game’s World War I theme, the cold war era doesn’t get used too often in video games, and the variety and selection units is even cooler and funner to play with in my opinion. The fact that these are toys means how “realistic” it might be for a Huey gunship to duel a MIG-23, for example, is almost entirely irrelevant. That said, like the first game, everything being a “toy” of some sort, and the fact that you’re fighting in some kid’s bedroom, hardly detracts from the gritty war experience. I quickly forgot that my M1 Abrams tank had an radio control antenna sticking out of it, or that the mass of troops I was brutally gunning down were supposed to be toy soldiers at all.

These (toy) BMP-1s don't stand a chance against my (toy) Abrams.
“These (toy) BMP-1s don’t stand a chance against my (toy) Abrams.”

The aforementioned barrages, which are awarded for certain conditions, actually rarely come into play, though I suppose you could optimize your play to get awarded them more frequently than I did. Besides the commando unit I mentioned, most of these are powerful air strikes, some controllable and some not, and can really help turn the tide during a particularly nasty wave. The special controllable units, tanks, helicopters, and the occasional jet, feel more powerful in Cold War, but now have batteries, effectively meaning you can only use them for a short durations, having to wait for them to recharge between uses. Timing your use of these units can make or break your success in certain waves, and can greatly make up for a lack of certain turrets or upgrades.

I completed the entire campaign on the default difficulty, and also ran though both DLC campaigns. The DLC campaigns are short and sweet and seemed more focused on adding more maps rather than changing up the gameplay too much, despite one of the campaigns letting you play as the USSR, but if you really like the base game, perhaps more maps to play is incentive enough to pick them.

I’m ashamed to say that, like the first game, I still didn’t end up trying the multiplayer modes. One of these days. They look awesome, feature glorious split screen, and you can even play through the entire campaign co-op.

The Commando doing what he does best, which is apparently effortlessly shooting down Mi24 Hinds!
“The Commando doing what he does best, which is apparently effortlessly shooting down Mi24 Hinds!”

Signal Studios keeps knocking these games out of the park for me, and I’m already planning on picking up the latest game in the series, Toy Soldiers: War Chest. War Chest looks to really push the fun toys angle of the series over the edge, and even includes licensed toys like He-Man and G.I. Joe this time around. Seriously? Dude.

Last, and least, I’ve been playing Bungie’s Destiny 2 here and there. I know it’s been out for months already, but I’m going to hold off on talking about it until I play through the campaign a second time and can put together some more coherent conclusions on it, but I’ve definitely enjoyed my time with it so far. Stay tuned for that!

As usual, the screenshots here are mostly stolen from other places. Despite scouring Steam Community for what felt like hours, I’m not too satisfied with the Cold War screenshots. Sure, they’re cool, but they don’t represent that game’s core tower defense gameplay too well. What can I say? The flashier action stuff just makes for better pictures.

The Tale of Garn: Epilogue

Directly following the completion of the massively dragged out “Garn” Oblivion campaign I’ve decided to do a quick postmortem wrap up to answer some of the questions that have been asked over the years and just take a quick, general look back over it all.

What’s up with the name “Garn”? Is “Garn” from x?

First, the name Garn. A lot of people have wanted to know where I got it. A few have commented on it sounding kind of dumb and/or not fitting the character.

You’re totally right. I actually came up with the name several years previous when I decided to try playing an Alliance character in World of Warcraft for the first time. Specifically, I wanted to try the prototypical human Paladin. I always thought human males looked dumb as hell in WoW, and still do for the most part, so I gave him a name I thought sounded appropriately dumb and harsh, like something Conan’s less-known knucklehead brother might have. My decision to use that name in Oblivion was fairly random. This Garn was also “human” and the name was appropriately fantasy-ish so it seemed like an okay fit. I admit at that time I had little idea of what my character’s… err, character would be like. What a different series this would have been if I had played him as just a beefy, dumb fighter. Maybe next time?

Not actually anything to do with witches.
“Not actually anything to do with witches.”

What is Garn’s x?

Some people have been curious about the particulars of the character, since I rarely talked about the specifics of the game systems during the campaign. All shall now be revealed!

Race: Breton
Birthsign: The Warrior
Class: Witch Blade (custom class focusing on Heavy Armor, Block, Blade, plus a few schools of magic.)
Level: 42
Health: 521
Magicka: 270
Fatigue: 394

Strength: 100
Intelligence: 100
Willpower: 100
Agility: 94
Speed: 104
Endurance: 100
Personality: 90
Luck: 91

Major Skills:
Athletics: 91
Blade: 100
Block: 84
Heavy Armor: 100
Conjuration: 100
Destruction: 88
Restoration: 78

Notable Minor Skills:
Armorer: 89
Alchemy: 41
Acrobatics: 40
Mercantile: 33
Security: 98
Speechcraft: 36

Notable Accomplishments:
Days Passed: 199
Quests Completed: 118
Skill Increases: 675
Training Sessions: 80
Fame: 144
Infamy: 0 – What little infamy I had I would have cleared while doing my Knights of the Nine routine.
Days Jailed: 0
Items Stolen: 1054 – I can’t imagine how I racked up so many.
Items Pickpocketed: 0
Assaults: 58
Murders: 0
Largest Bounty: 40
Creatures Killed: 1902
People Killed: 845
Locks Picked: 441
Souls Trapped: 0 – I didn’t do any soul trapping at all with this character, surprisingly.
Potions Made: 215 – Surprised it was this many. I didn’t do much Alchemy with Garn.
Oblivion Gates Shut: 9 – The bare minimum to advance the plot + Allies for Bruma.
Horses Owned: 1 – Really? I always avoided getting my horse killed and only really ever replaced if I had to.
Houses Owned: 2 – In addition to my Imperial City shack I also acquired but never used the awesome Benirus Manor in Anvil.
Books Read: 236
Skill Books Read: 15
Artifacts Found: 2 – I got the Skeleton Key to save myself the frustration of constantly hording and breaking lock picks, and of course the artifact needed to complete the main quest.
Hours Slept: 225
Hours Waited: 1369 – I waited more than I slept, huh! The waiting mechanic is crucial for saving time.
Nirnroots Found: 114

Gold on hand: 342,662 although I hadn’t sold most of my loot since starting the main quest, and of the little of it I took with me a lot of it was worth a fair amount (magic weapons and armor, mostly.) I also horded almost every piece of magical weapon or armor that fit my class in my Imperial City shack for the first half or more of the campaign. Probably quite a lot of money tied up in there.

I played on default / medium difficulty for more or less the entire campaign. At first this was quite hard thanks to OOO’s rebalancing. For most of the middle and end of the story I found it laughably easy to slaughter my opponents. At the end, going through the main quest line, a lot of the Daedric enemies were actually pretty tough. I ended up bumping the difficulty slider down a tiny bit just to make clearing out Oblivion gates less of a grind.

The story arc/plot of the series? Why didn’t you do x questline?

At first I had only a vague idea that I might do normal quests and write about those, and not coming up with any other great hook early on, that is definitely how things developed. Soon I found myself needing to consider what order I’d play the questlines in for some sort of narrative coherency. The final product is fairly close to what I had imagined with the only difference being that I had originally planned for Garn to be sidelined by evil (an excuse to do the Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, and Daedric questlines) and him doing the Knights of the Nine questline in order to repent. With things taking so long and some conflicting thoughts about exactly how I’d pull off the whole redemption thing, I decided to skip those questlines altogether.

How many hours did you play?!

Naturally it didn’t actually take me more than 9 years to play Oblivion – it’s not that long. According to my last save, almost 122 hours on the nose. I only played a session or two a month, with each session usually being somewhere in the neighborhood of a few hours. There were definitely segments where my post didn’t really reflect how long I had played but for the most part I feel like my time playing is pretty well represented by my writing. I would have loved to play much more often but I found having to write about my adventures before proceeding on to be a big stumbling point. In fact, I wanted to play so much more than I was playing that I actually ended up running through an entirely separate campaign with a different character on the Xbox 360 version of the game back in 2013. I also 100% Fallout 3 during that time as well.

So is Oblivion like, your favorite game ever?

Err, that’s hard to say. I’d definitely say that The Elder Scrolls is my favorite RPG series ever. I love the immersive nature of the world and the more and more I learn about it I absolutely love the lore behind the series. In fact I’ll be playing through Arena soon in one of my Retro Reviews, hopefully.

What mods are you using?

People have certainly noticed that I’m not playing 100% vanilla Oblivion. While I’ve found a few other mods I would have loved to incorporate into the campaign (this one for example, which adds active Imperial Legion forts across the continent) I decided to keep my add-on list static after starting the campaign for the sake of stability. Getting Oblivion mods, particularly complicated ones like OOO, to play together can sometimes be difficult. My setup is fairly solid.

Here they are, and the load order (tuned with Oblivion Mod Manager):

Oscuro’s_Oblivion_Overhaul.esm – OOO is the source of most of the odd tweaks that people have observed.
Enhanced Daedric Invasion.esm – I liked the idea of this mod but apart from having more and more spawns around the gate I didn’t notice many of the cooler enhancements.
AWS-Core.esm – Atmospheric Weather System.
Unofficial Oblivion Patch.esp
DLCHorseArmor.esp – Essential! 😛
DLCHorseArmor – Unofficial Patch.esp
DLCOrrery.esp
DLCOrrery – Unofficial Patch.esp
DLCThievesDen.esp
DLCThievesDen – Unofficial Patch.esp
DLCThievesDen – Unofficial Patch – SSBB.esp
DLCMehrunesRazor.esp
DLCMehrunesRazor – Unofficial Patch.esp
DLCVileLair.esp
DLCVileLair – Unofficial Patch.esp
DLCSpellTomes.esp
DLCSpellTomes – Unofficial Patch.esp
Short Grass V3.esp – So I can see my loot!
Natural_Vegetation_by_Max_Tael.esp
Natural_Habitat_by_Max_Tael.esp
Oblivion Citadel Door Fix.esp
Crowded Roads Revisited.esp
Crowded Cities 15.esp
Obscuro’s_Oblivion_Overhaul.esp
OOO-Level_Stock.esp
DLCFrostcrag.esp
DLCFrostcrag – Unofficial Patch.esp
DLCBattlehornCastle.esp
DLCBattlehornCastle – Unofficial Patch.esp
Knights.esp
Knights – Unofficial Patch.esp
Enhanced Daedric Invasion.esp
Enhanced Daedric Invasion for OOO.esp
No psychic guards v1.2.esc – A classic essential!
PekImperialHorseArmor.esp – Because the Legion should have armored horses too!
OOOPekImeprialHorseArmor.esp
KseAliLeveling.esp – Forces maximized/optimized leveling.
Encumbrance100.esp – Because I don’t like managing my inventory constantly, and I’m a pack rat.
Quest Award Leveler.esp – I think it’s a bummer that you need to optimize quest timing to make quest rewards more valuable / last longer. This mod simply keeps them leveled to you. Problem solved!
Quest Award Leveller – Vile Lair.esp
Quest Award Leveller – Mehrunes Razor.esp
Quest Award Leveller – Kinghts of the Nine.esp

One of the sillier challenges I had during the course of the series was that I didn’t want to migrate this setup to over another PC and risk breaking anything. While there were other reasons, that was one of the excuses I used for not updating my main gaming PC for way, waaay too long. I had built just before I started this campaign. Yeah, it was definitely time to upgrade… 😉

What did you do to take your screenshots?

Nothing too special. I used FRAPS and set it to repeat shots every 2 seconds. A lot of my action shots are achieved by playing normally but occasionally going into third person, plus a huge amount of simple luck. This didn’t always work for me though as sometimes I wouldn’t end up with anything useful after an otherwise awesome encounter. My fight with Mankar Camoran is a great example of that – no great pictures of the fight with Mankcar himself. Beyond that I often purposely framed nice shots using third person view and, more and more often as the campaign progressed, started using the toggle free camera (TFC) console command for the sake of variety.

Things you learned from the series / what you’d do differently next time?

First of all, I learned that writing is hard. Despite not being particularly good at it I absolutely love to write. The problem is that I’m goddamn slow, and I usually have trouble finding the time and the motivation to sit down and write something out, revise it multiple times, sift through my screenshots, etc. This was the main reason this whole project took so long – I’d play for a few hours and then I’d have to come up with the time to pen my adventure before having another session. This was especially frustrating after a great session that got me all amped up to play more.

I found it quite difficult to keep my perspectives consistent with such spread out writing sessions. I ended up purposely experimenting with this for my own benefit which is where the different “From Garn’s recollections” and “From the journal of Garn” subheadings came from. I found it ESPECIALLY difficult to keep my tenses straight when writing something so long and spread out which I admit I don’t have any good excuses for. I guess I won’t ever end up writing my Great American Novel after all… 😉

Directly related, the final format I used for this “Let’s Play” was a bit ridiculous. I would have been far better off writing a more detailed account of a much shorter adventure OR a much less detailed account of something this size or even larger. The next few of these I do will be much shorter form, whatever format those end up being, for the sake of my sanity.

Finally, a little less mechanical, I learned a ton about the lore behind the Elder Scrolls series and a lot about the TES community in general. I actually wish I had sought out more sources than the various wikis and whatnot beforehand as I might have been a little better prepared to make my fiction fit into the canon from the get go. I’d have to say that the various TES related subs on Reddit, including /r/TESLore were especially influential later on into this series.

Shoutouts:

Living in Oblivion – Nondrick’s Non-adventure was a great, less serious, inspiration for starting this originally.
The Elder Scrolls Subreddit and related subs were excellent resources, especially for learning about the lore.
The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages (UESP) was my main reference when planning my sessions and writing up my adventures.
The Imperial Library also a nice place for referencing the script and in-game books.

That’s about it for Garn! I’ll definitely never do such an epic Let’s Play ever again, at least not in text, but this probably isn’t the last time I’ll be doing one based in the Elder Scrolls series.