All posts by brian

Stray Avengers thoughts

  • None of the purchasable costumes seem to be based on anything preexisting. That’s really weird. One of the fun things about Marvel is that there’s just mountains of existing stuff in comics to mine. I would’ve expected to see a lot more recognizable stuff in this game. Legally distinct characters, not based on MCU, yes. No comic book costumes? What in the world are you doing?
  • There are fewer recognizable Marvel villains than heroes, and that’s real weird. They’re not really treading new ground here either. I can count three bosses/villains and two of them are movie retreads. It’s a real surprise considering how Spider-Man was throwing villains at me every hour. This game doesn’t even namedrop, and it’s not an origin story. The player comes into it with an established Avengers team. They’ve fought villains.
  • This game is distinctly separate from the MCU, but I can read into it that they intended to keep it in MCU canon. Let’s just say the plot has a ton of overlap with things that were big themes in MCU adjacent properties four years ago. That’s around the time when the game was teased.
  • A surprising amount of the game is HARM, which is the training room. Every hero has a HARM training mission. There’s a string of HARM missions that are just wave-based combat scenarios in a small room. I guess it’s a good way to pad out a big, pretty, expensive game.
  • I’m working through the story expansions, so I may have more to add here.

Marvel’s Avengers

I remember a game called Marvel Heroes. I remember it because I played a lot of it, but you can’t play it anymore. It was a free-to-play Diablo-style game. It shutdown in 2017, but I don’t recall ever learning why. It seemed pretty popular at the time and the developers kept cranking out new stuff for it. If I were a deeply cynical person, I might assume Marvel Heroes had to die so that Marvel’s Avengers could live.

Avengers has a surprising amount of things in common with Heroes. They both sort of flatten out the differences in superhero powers to make the game easier to play and understand. Some characters are shootier and some are punchier. Some can fly, but the others can grapple or double-jump or stretchy-arm. Everyone has four slots for equipment that are wholly separate from what they look like. They’re total nonsense, like I’m choosing which rib cage is stronger for Hulk, but Heroes did this too.

Like Heroes, you can spend a whole lot of cash money on your character’s appearance by buying costumes. Like Heroes, you can also just play the game a lot to accumulate the currency you need to purchase these costumes. They rotate on a daily basis, so you don’t necessarily get to choose whichever you want unless you want to spend cash. I never accumulated enough in-game currency to buy a costume by the time I got to the end game credits.

Heroes was free to play. Gameplay was entirely unlimited, though I was limited to a selection of free heroes to start. Though the characters weren’t free (without playing for currency or paying cash), it was adding characters all the time. It was alive for four years and had over 63 characters before it shutdown. Avengers is full retail price, and seems to be giving heroes away, but we’ll see if that continues beyond the current selection. Since release, they’ve added two versions of Hawkeye, and a Black Panther expansion is on the way. I can’t figure out if that expansions will be free or not.

Whether directly inspired or not, I think it’s pretty clear that Avengers learned a lot from Heroes. But is Avengers good? It’s okay. It’s not endlessly playable like Heroes though. It’s obviously a more expensive game and that translates to a better looking game, but it’s also a game with less to do, less to do it with, and just as much, if not more, exploitative monetization of things that you want in a superhero game. I think I was having more fun with Marvel Heroes before it shutdown.

Cloudpunk

Cloudpunk is delightful little game, even if it’s not very delightful and not very little either. It’s as simple as it gets, gameplay wise, but the writing kept me hooked the entire time. Before I played, I saw jokes that it was the real Cyberpunk (compared to Cyberpunk 2077) and it’s not really that far off from the truth.

There’s so little here as far as gameplay. You drive a hover car and make deliveries. That’s sort of it. Criss cross the map, try not to pinball off other cars or buildings. Your car can get damaged but it’s so sturdy that I never blew it up.

What the gameplay is doing is giving me something to do while I soak in the world. On this night, in the city of Nivalis, it doesn’t stop raining. There is no ground to drive on. It’s only ocean below, as if the rain hasn’t stopped in a decade and city just grows upward to escape it. Every building is painted in neon colored advertisements. People and androids who aren’t in the upper crust of society live below the cloud ceiling and never see the sun. Everyone at the top is a CEO and we’ve long forgotten what that job does. They just exist with everyone else in service to them. If you want out, you can live in the fringe, eating mold and never feeling warmth.

What makes this game is the writing. I remember these details because the characters, especially your character, Rania, are so compelling. I wasn’t racing to each delivery. I was taking a stroll while I listen to the discussion between Rania and whoever I was making the trip for.

The city and its people make Cloudpunk work. Maybe this could have been a visual novel, and I would’ve never played it. But it gave me an interesting place to explore with characters I wanted to learn more about.

Today’s Gripe

A common problem I have with starting a new game is that it takes way too fucking long for the game to get started. Between tutorials and world building and exposition, too many games won’t just let me play it. This is particularly frustrating when I want to play something like a JRPG. They all start with long cutscenes, lots of establishing of the world, walking around and talking, and then maybe it might drop me into one fight where my options are hobbled because I haven’t completed the fight tutorial yet. Sometimes the tutorial is so awful that I can’t tell what I need to do to get through it. I drop so many games after only 15 minutes of playing them.

Hey video games. Get to the fucking point. Please let me play you within the first 15 minutes so I can figure out if I even want to keep playing.

Cruelty Thoughts

Something I learned really quickly was that death is expensive. In my first mission, I busted in the front door, shot a couple guys, and got mowed down by their friends. Barely got started and died immediately. Then I noticed that my respawn fee is $500. I didn’t have any money, so my balance is in the negative.

Alright, back into it, round 2. I slink around. I don’t go in through the front door. I manage to get a couple kills that drop organs. Yes, organs. Kidneys, livers, intestines, etc. And then I die. My balance is -$1000.

This game has a stock market. One of the tabs in it is “parts”. This is where I can sell those organs I found. Neat! After an even slower and even more cautious run, I finish the first level. I’m paid $1000 for my troubles. Considering the cost of implants and upgrades, this is a pittance. For $1000, I can’t buy anything worthwhile. All the cool stuff, higher jump, grapple, armor piercing ammo, is way too expensive for this. I’m going to have to sell these organs if I ever want to get cooler stuff.

On the second mission, I am a ghoul. I’m not making money completing missions. I’m making money harvesting and selling parts. I don’t know of a more reliable way to get to parts than kicking corpses, so I’m football kicking these dead motherfuckers all over the place. When I kick a corpse over a wall, I curse. Fuck, there goes my parts! Civilians got parts too, so they’re not special. I’m going to get their parts. What passes for dogs in this game have parts. Give me those parts!

I’ve walked into a residential neighborhood, killed a lot of people, and walked out with a sack full of intestines, livers, pancreases, brains, and kidneys. I got paid $2000 for three of those kills, but I made four times as much selling parts. And look at these jump boosters I just put in my legs! I can leap right over fences now! Makes it easier to get to those hard to reach parts.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about Cruelty Squad. Trailer below.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Here’s what Torment: Tides of Numenera (TTN, because I’m not writing this over and over) has over its predecessor, Planescape: Torment – I finished it. Okay, that’s probably a bit unfair, but I’ve given Planescape: Torment several attempts, a bunch of good college tries, blind and with guides, and never finished it. For whatever reason, it didn’t hold my attention long enough to reach the end.

My experience with TTN is a lot of the same, except instead of starting from scratch I’ve just picked up the same save over the years. I backed this on Kickstarter. I’ve had access to it since launch, maybe earlier.

I think it’s taken me four years to finish because it’s a lot of reading. This is the definition of a narrative-heavy game. It’s almost all narrative without being a visual novel. Every map has a dozen plus things to look at and inspect and prod, and every area has four or five named characters with backstories, perspectives on what’s going on, and usually one side quest between them. There are seven companion characters, three can follow you at a time, and they all have their own side quests. I also learned way too late that you can switch them out rather easily, so it’s possible to pursue each of their long-running quests on the same playthrough.

It’s a lot. And the world it takes place in isn’t your standard fantasy world. It’s based on Numenera, a tabletop RPG that puts players millennia into the future. You’re so far into the future that you’re in the 9th world, as the last 8 have somehow ended in cataclysm. One of my favorite descriptions of Numenera is that magic is real, it’s actually technology, you can find it by digging around in piles of garbage, and it’s wildly dangerous. This whole world of cyborgs, mutants, farmers, raiders, slavers, airship pirates, magic, technology, transdimensional beings, living gods, and sentient cities is a whole lot.

What TTN does very well is that it does end with explanations. There is so much weird stuff going on. By doing the quests, and talking to everyone, you can get answers. But like the setting of Numenera itself, you have to dig to find out what’s under the surface. It’s a lot of reading and most of it is well written, but at some point I had to ask myself if I wasn’t better off reading a book.

Demo Derby – Steam Next Fest

Demos are hard. The biggest games don’t do them because they don’t need to. Their fans will promote the shit out of their games, with no hands-on experience, to the point that they can rely on pre-orders. Mid-tier games sometimes do them, but often don’t because they’re hard to do. You need to give someone enough to play to get a feel for the game, not so much that you’ve given them all they need, and you have to put your best foot forward so that you don’t turn off a potential sale. Indies do a lot of demos. They need to sell to publishers and they need to sell to potential buyers.

Steam is doing their own not-E3 this year called Next Fest. Part of Next Fest is highlighting indie games, including a ton of indie game demos. A handful of games I’ve been interested either put up demos for Next Fest, or I’m just learning they had a demo. Here’s some impressions, starting from least impressive to most impressive.

The Fermi Paradox

This is a not-4X with a stated goal of guiding space-faring species into meeting each other. Unfortunately, I found it a bit dry. This guiding is done by collecting influence points and using those to nudge sliders like tech level, population, and ethics via random events. For example, a war broke out on Earth. I could flat out stop the war by spending points, I could let it happen without losing any points, or I could encourage the war to add to my influence. That’s sort of the whole game. I didn’t feel like my nudging of sliders was particularly effective. I spent the whole time clicking to collect influence, making a decision every now and then, and none of it felt like I was doing much more than blindly navigating a decision tree.

NORCO

NORCO is a sci-fi Southern Gothic point and click adventure that explores the industrial swamplands and decaying suburbs of South Louisiana. It is exactly what it says on the tin. I love the way this game looks, and the writing is the kind of atmosphere I’m into, but it’s still a point and click adventure. I already had this on my wishlist before Next Fest, but I’m not exactly a huge fan of the genre. It sort of had a Kentucky Route Zero feel though, which I’m into.

The Riftbreaker

This is part RTS, part twin stick shooter. It’s like if you played Total Annihilation without selecting any units beside the commander. It’s a good looking game, but I’m not the RTS type. It starts with building a base.

Death Trash

Third person, post-apoc RPG. I’m pretty into this. It felt like the first Fallout except with direct input action. It’s weird and dark and a bit slow moving. I hadn’t heard of it before now and I’m going to keep and eye on it.

Dread Templar

Quake-like. Fast action, lots of brown and red texturing. It’s plenty fast and the shotgun felt good, but the first weapons are a pair of pistols and the first enemies are a bit too skinny. I know I don’t have perfect aim, but I felt like I was missing when I should’ve been hitting. Give me a bit more credit, please!

Sable

Third person adventure platformer. This game’s got a great look to it and I like the atmosphere. It’s fully 3D but it’s flat shaded and looks like a rotoscope animation. I mainly stopped playing it because I don’t want to get too far and have to redo it all when the game is released.

UNSIGHTED

Really surprised by this. It’s a 2D action RPG, a lot like Crosscode or Hyper Light Drifter. I generally loved what I played and stopped before I got too far into it, but it does suffer from that third person 2D perspective problem where it can be hard to tell what plane of elevation I was on.

Far Cry 5

Yes, I got around to playing Far Cry 5 months (?) before Far Cry 6 is to be released. What of it? I’ve flopped around all over the floor trying to find a game that I want to play, and I landed on Far Cry 5.

Far Cry 5 is fun. I haven’t played a Far Cry since 3, barring Blood Dragon, and this game is still really familiar. Instead of islands and jungle, it’s in rural Montana. That shift in location makes a pretty big difference in how the game plays out too. I spent a ton of time in Far Cry 3 sneaking around and stealthily stabbing and neck-snapping to take over outposts. In Far Cry 5, I get into a helicopter and hover over an outpost while I rain bullets on anything moving below me. Sometimes I have to land to clear out one or two holdouts in a building, but usually my AI companions will do that for me.

It falls apart a bit in the narrative. In isolated, rural Montana, a Christian doomsday cult has taken over. This region is split into three territories controlled by each of Joseph Seed’s siblings, John, Faith, and Jacob. Each of them have their Thing. John is the torturer, Faith is the drug dealer, and Jacob is the militarist. That’s about all the development they get though. This all comes through periodic abductions.

It’s sort of hamfisted, even for an open world game where you can be anywhere and doing anything when an abduction occurs. They occur in different ways, which is a bit hilarious. In each of the three regions, if I completed enough missions, I’d be marked or blessed or hunted, and then I know I should stop doing something time-consuming because I’m going to get snatched.

This is how the vast majority of the narrative is delivered though. Me, in a cage, being talked to by one of the Seeds, before they (for some reason) release me back into the world to shoot their cultists to death some more. The delivery in the cutscenes is great! But it takes me out of the game to push me further along the storyline and that’s not a great experience.

I’m also a bit sour on the ending. It’s appropriate but it’s a bit of a cliffhanger and I have no idea if the DLC or the semi-sequel New Dawn resolves it.

Pause

I went hard on FFXIV for a couple days and stopped playing. Why?

In short, I have other games to play. Wow, such a revelation, right? But that’s the beauty of a demo. I can try out something that sounds good and see if I want to put more time or money into it.

Playing FFXIV made me recognize that I wasn’t really doing anything I couldn’t do better in a single player game. I have every other Final Fantasy. I’ve only finished XV. I could even play FFVII Remake.

I will give FFXIV credit for being a better single player MMO than ESO. The world’s prettier, there’s a lot more meat to the narrative, and actual cutscenes. It’s fun, just not so fun I’d spend $15 monthly on it.

Adventures in FFXIV

I finally got out of my starting area.

I’ve read that tank and healer classes have an easier time finding groups. I experienced a bit of this when the story sent me to an instanced dungeon. My current class is lancer, DPS. I went to start the dungeon and it put me in a queue, waiting for a healer and a tank. The wait time was estimated at 6 minutes.

Now that I can go to any of the starting areas, I decided to swap classes to a tank class. That’s when I found out that there are very few non-DPS classes.

As I learned, if I want to play a tank, I can pick gladiator (which leads to paladin), or marauder (which leads to warrior). Dark Knight and Gunbreaker are advanced classes (level 50+). Likewise, if I wanted to play healer, I could go conjurer (leading to white mage) or arcanist (leading to scholar), which astrologian being an advanced class. I was really close to the starting point for marauder, so I went with marauder.

Side note: look at this wild class imbalance. Four tank classes, three healer classes, eleven DPS classes. No wonder DPS classes have to queue.

I went to the marauder quest giver. It turns out switching classes is as simple as switching weapons. He gave me an axe so I equipped it.

Immediately, I’m standing there in nothing but my underwear with an axe on my back. All of my armor was either specific to lancer, or too high level. I was a level 1 marauder.

I didn’t keep any low level gear. I had to run around in my underwear until I could find an armor vendor. Even then, his only level 1 armor was a shirt. Oh well.

It did not last long because I was able to level up to 5 (the next gear level) fast, but it was pretty funny and definitely unexpected.