What I’ve been playing

A mission in Wargroove’s campaign

Hello! Since it’s been a while since I wrote about games, I wanted to cover off the notable titles that I’ve played in the last few months. Some of these are new releases — Wargroove, Steamworld Quest. Others are old favourites — Firaxis or Paradox games, benefiting from recent DLC. With much of my gaming moving to Nintendo Switch, I’ve broken out Switch and PC games — in general the PC games have focused on strategy, while the Switch games have been more varied.

Nintendo Switch

Wargroove was probably my standout game for the first few months of the year, with its combination of elegant mechanics, a charming aesthetic, and a generally well-designed campaign. A map can be finished in an hour; but that hour can see quick land-grabbing dashes, a meticulous dance as you yield ground or search for weaknesses in the enemy line, and the final decisive moment when your dragons swoop on the enemy stronghold, or you manage to trundle your trebuchets in range. The game is held back by poor skirmish AI – which limits replayability and makes one of the three gameplay modes, a series of linked skirmish maps, rather pointless – and I do wish the last couple of campaign maps offered depth instead of artificial challenge. Overall, though, it succeeds both as an Advance Wars spiritual successor and as its own game – I will be very interested in any DLC or sequels.

Meanwhile, Steamworld Quest has turned out to be very good. It’s built around one of the best turn-based RPG combat systems I’ve come across, both well-designed and well-executed. I think I’m about two-thirds through, and I have a longer blog post half-written, so stay tuned….

Steamworld Quest in action

Temporarily on the back burner is the Donkey Kong DLC for Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (I finished the base game last year). It’s more of a good thing, and often laugh-out-loud funny; presumably I’ll return after playing more Steamworld Quest.

I have mixed feelings about Bomber Crew, a game sometimes compared to FTL. Individual missions are very good: enjoyable, often frantic, in the same way as FTL’s encounters. The problem is the overall structure. FTL playthroughs were short: if you died, it was back to square one, but you didn’t lose much time. Bomber Crew is more like XCOM, and not in a good way. There is an ongoing campaign and if you are shot down, you continue with a new plane and crew – the problem is that they will not have their predecessors’ upgrades. I don’t like grinding to re-upgrade the plane and re-level the crew, and I don’t think it makes for a good loop.

Finally, Worms: WMD is a solid franchise game – while the basics remain similar to previous 2D Worms games, I like the additions — vehicles and crafting. The vehicles’ destructive power is classic madcap Worms, while crafting gives the player extra options during a match.

PC

Perhaps the recent standout has been Hearts of Iron IV: first the Man the Guns expansion, then a brief return to the Kaiserreich mod, before moving onto a Fallout: New Vegas total conversion mod, Old World Blues. In general, HOI4 becomes steadily better with each version — Man the Guns and its accompanying patch are solid, without the AI problems that dog the most recent version of Stellaris, and while the new naval system takes a bit of work to set up, I like the power and flexibility that it allows. I doubt any expansion can address several problems with HOI4’s underlying design – the flawed transition between peace and war, the lagging and grindy late game – but for all that, this is a game that’s provided me with significant enjoyment over the last three years.

Old World Blues deserves a highlight for several reasons. First, there’s its sheer ambition: a whole new map, tech trees, and custom factions. Second, I love New Vegas’ setting. And third, it’s functioned as something of an expert-level class in HOI4. For instance:

  • I’ve usually found supply to be trivial in HOI4, except when fighting in remote areas such as the Andes or Central Asia. It is not trivial in Old World Blues. The awful infrastructure of the post-apocalyptic West Coast, unless upgraded, imposes severe attrition on massed troops – a problem when playing as the NCR, a “quantity over quality” faction.
  • Similarly, playing this mod made me realise that historical hindsight let me paper over the gaps in my knowledge of HOI4 mechanics. Yes, a long-ranged escort fighter is a good idea. Yes, armoured divisions should be built around combined arms. Yes, there’s something to these newfangled aircraft carriers. Without this advantage, I’ve struggled. I know the difference between a P-51 and a B-17, but should I build NCR salvaged power armour or Protectron robots? How important is the “Breakthrough” stat? How are supply lines calculated? I think I need to pay more attention to the underlying numbers – and that will make me a better base-game player as well.

Meanwhile, I’m currently nearing the end of my first Civilization VI: Gathering Storm run – it’s been enjoyable, even without making much use of the new features. Sadly, I don’t think I’m going to win! I also made several unsuccessful attempts as Dai Viet in Europa Universalis IV – I think I’m out of practice after not having played for several expansions.

A few non-strategy games stare at me from my Steam library. Yakuza 0 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, both picked up on sale last year; the former unplayed, the latter barely scratched. Heaven’s Vault has beautiful art, and I love its premise – you play a science-fiction archaeologist and the gameplay seems built around dialogue and deciphering alien languages – but I haven’t quite been able to get into it. Next time…

Further reading

Write-up of Old World Blues

Musical Monday: “Heartaches by the Number” (Fallout: New Vegas), performed by Guy Mitchell

This week’s song is another one of my favourites from Fallout: New Vegas. Enjoy!

 

Games of the Year: 2013

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Game of the Year Awards

1st Place Award RibbonAs promised, here is my list! As with last year, I’ve highlighted noteworthy achievements, as opposed to trying to single out favourites (so you will see some that I thought were more interesting than fun). I’ll kick off with what I thought were the year’s overarching themes:

 

Theme of the year I: march of the small games. Every year has its notable short and/or cheap indie games, such as FTL in 2012, and in 2013 these included Skulls of the Shogun, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Papers: Please, and Gone Home. However, the year also saw a large publisher, Ubisoft, throw its hat into the ring with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Ubisoft is set to continue this trend with Child of Light, and it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which other publishers follow – especially after Tomb Raider missed Square Enix’s expectations, sparking the latest bout of soul-searching about the future of AAA games.

 

Theme of the year II: iteration. In 2012, my favourite games (XCOM, Wargame: European Escalation, Analogue: A Hate Story), as well as other notable titles (FTL, Journey) were all quite novel. Even XCOM, while thematically faithful to the 1994 original, was mechanically unique. 2013, though, was more like 2011 in its preponderance of evolutionary rather than revolutionary games, from the big end of town (Assassin’s Creed IV) to the little guys (Dominions 4), plus expansion packs (Civilization V: Brave New World, XCOM: Enemy Within). That said, we’ll see exceptions below.

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Musical Wednesday: Big Iron (Fallout: New Vegas), by Marty Robbins

And we’re back! This week’s song is Marty Robbins’ 1959 country ballad “Big Iron”, featured in Fallout: New Vegas. Including it in the game was an inspired choice! Not only does the song help establish the game’s pseudo-Western atmosphere, but its lyrics — about a gunslinger who rides into town with a “big iron on his hip” — could easily have been about your exploits as an RPG hero. Enjoy!

 

Fallout: New Vegas: a post-nuclear Western (?)

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Fallout: New Vegas

Howdy Pardner
Howdy Pardner

 

(With apologies to every writer, director, and star of the Wild West)

 

EXT. THE MOJAVE DESERT

 

The one-horse town of Goodsprings bakes, silent, in the Nevada heat. One after the other, we see several POWDER GANG BANDITS approach, cradling baseball bats and crude firearms. The Powder Gangers are in high spirits, looking forward to the plunder of the town.

 

 

POWDER GANGER #1: Pardner, I do reckon that there town be as easy as liquor flowing at the saloon.

 

POWDER GANGER #2: Yee-haw!

 

The Powder Gangers laugh, twirl their moustaches. Suddenly, they hear a yell.

 

An armoured figure – not one of the townspeople, but our hero, THE COURIER – charges out from between two houses. The Courier winds back his arm and for a moment, time seems to freeze. When it flows again, something red and fizzing has landed at the Powder Gangers’ feet.

 

POWDER GANGER #1: … Is that… dynamite?

 

FADE TO WHITE.

 

I’m ten hours into Fallout: New Vegas, the most unique-feeling entry in the venerable Fallout line of RPGs. Its predecessors (#1 and #3 in particular) revelled in their post-apocalyptic setting: their mohawked raiders could have come straight out of a Mad Max movie, and their civilisation was a precarious, hardscrabble thing – ersatz Bartertowns scattered around the wastes, each surviving as best as it could.

Continue reading “Fallout: New Vegas: a post-nuclear Western (?)”

What I’m looking forward to – September 2010 edition

With Civilization V newly released in the US and about to launch in Australia, this seems like an opportune time to ask: which games, books, etc am I looking forward to? There are a few entries on this list, and for each, I’ll note just long I plan to wait before actually plonking down my cash:

  • Civilization V: This one I’ll be holding off on. Part of it is the highway-robbery pricing: Americans pay US$50 on Steam, I pay US$80. And part of it is the fact that a number of reviewers have complained about the game’s AI (most visible in Tom Chick’s 1up review, but even the reviewers who liked the game all seem to have noted the AI flaws), which is as obviously vital to a satisfying single-player experience as it is often lacklustre. I love the Civilization games, I grew up playing them, but I can afford to wait for the AI to be fixed up.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: This might just be a Day 1 purchase, seeing as it’s not outrageously priced on Steam and it comes on the heels of Fallout 3, one of the most impressive games I’ve played. As we draw closer to New Vegas’ release date in October, I intend to finish playing Fallout 3, and then write a series of posts about why I love that game’s storytelling so much.
  • The Last Guardian: The sequel to the sublime Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and a reason why I went for a PS3 instead of an Xbox 360. Another possible Day 1 purchase for me.
  • Shogun: Total War 2: One of my “wait a year or two for the patches, mods, and expansion pack(s)” games. I have no faith in Creative Assembly’s  ability to deliver a bug-free game with a competent AI at launch, but I’m sure that when the game is patched up, I will love the experience of playing war-leader, and the spectacle of seeing vast armies clash.

Books

  • A Dance With Dragons, by George R R Martin: Okay, I’m not expecting this any time in the next twelve months, maybe even not the next 18 or 24 months. I wasn’t even the world’s biggest fan of A Feast for Crows, which had me mentally screaming, “Bridging book! Bridging book!” throughout. But as the next instalment in my favourite fantasy series of all time, Dance will most definitely see me at my local bookstore, forking out for a hardcover; even Martin’s bridging novels are better than 90% of the other fantasy fiction out there.

EDIT: I knew I’d forgotten something… Europa Universalis 3: Divine Wind and Crusader Kings 2, forthcoming game releases from Paradox. These two probably deserve a post of their own, so stay tuned for tomorrow’s update!