My 10-Hour Tale – Reus

Before writing this review, I shot and edited a short gameplay video with no voiceover to put on YouTube as an experiment. Immediately after uploading, it was flagged for content ID on the game’s soundtrack, despite Abbey Games insisting that the game could be streamed, recorded, and even monetized for Let’s Plays. So that kinda sucks. Maybe I’ll attempt an update once I do more research and practice my editing skills. I’d love to do video reviews along with the written blogs.

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Release Date: May 2013

System: Windows (Steam, GOG.com)

Okay, okay, after my Backstage Tale about god games, you probably think I have a purposely narrow view of what a god game should be. I really only have my personal definition of a god game (you know, ‘miracles’, a dividing line between minion behavior and player direct control, and perhaps a bit of terraforming) because I wish to see other games of this genre succeed.

Expanding on the subject, there’s something intriguing between having world-changing powers but no control over your subjects. You could see it as giving mortals ‘free will’. A natural conflict between the player and pre-defined NPC behavior arises immediately. This lack of player control can become immediately frustrating, as I illustrated in my previous article about the game Black and White and its giant creatures. Even with proper AI programming, minions are nearly guaranteed to annoy the player if given too much independence. Perhaps the most difficult comment any god game designer could hear a player make is: “I could get this done a lot faster if I could just control them.”

Of course, games can be fun with a lack of control. Just ask anyone who’s played on a slot machine. There’s that issue of balance again: on one side, you win or lose by complete chance (or RNG), and on the other, it’s simply a strategy game where the player controls everything. So, what’s the middle ground?

Meet Reus.

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Just a bunch of giants on a barren world, full of potential. Nothing big.

Just Me and My Fellow Giants

Developed by Abbey Games, Reus is a two-dimensional god sim/strategy/puzzle game where the player isn’t a god exactly. Instead, the player controls four giants with god-like powers: a forest ent-like giant, a rock giant, an ocean crab giant, and a fungal ‘spore’ giant. These giants all have abilities to create different biomes across a circular worldspace: oceans with the crab giant, deserts and mountains with the rock giant, forests with the forest giant, and swamps with the fungal giant. Once the biomes are in place, the giants can lay down resources like plants, minerals, and animals that vary between biomes. With enough resources planted down, humans will settle into villages and towns, claiming the resources you lay down. You have no control over the behavior of these humans, including how they’ll react to neighbors and even towards the giants themselves. Initially, the goal of the game is to complete the different eras, helping the humans grow their settlements. Besides the eras, there are 30, 60, and 120-minute games where you can complete challenges ranging from simple to remarkably difficult.

There are three basic types of resources: food, wealth, and tech. Food can come from elderberries (which your father smelt of), mackerel, and pears. Wealth can come from beaver (their hides, I assume), agate, and quartz. Tech can come from peppermint, ginger, and dandelions. This is just a few of the many types of resources your giants can lay down: there are over 100 different types, all with their own bonuses or ‘symbioses’ (for example, chickens produce more food if placed next to a blueberry plant). In order to ‘transmute’ a resource into a more advanced one (such as changing tech-based agate into more versatile salt), your giants can use ‘aspects’ which also act as a resource boost (to change agate into salt, you need to have your rock giant use ‘seismic aspect’.

On top of this, every resource can be granted multiple aspects, and even more so if those aspects are ‘potent’, ‘greater’, or ‘sublime’. The forest giant can use an ability called ‘fertility boost’ to increase the chance of higher quality aspects. This also happens in locations that have a higher ‘natura’ rating. Most plants grant ‘natura’ naturally.

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A tiny bayou town living under the shadow of a giant rock and the living embodiment of hay fever.

This is all to help your villages complete special projects that, when completed, will grant your giants human ambassadors which will upgrade your giant’s powers based on which biome the ambassador comes from. These unique projects grant big resource boosts, like granaries providing food, toolshops providing wealth and tech, etc. These projects themselves can be upgraded multiple times, each with more complex resource and situation requirements than the last.

But wait, there’s more! Your giants can provide a lot of resources very quickly, but if you give a village too much too quickly and not include resources that also provide a resource called ‘awe’, your villagers will soon grow discontent in their prosperity and attack nearby settlements and even your giants. That’s right, your giants are vulnerable creatures. Each has a life bar and can ‘die’ at the hands of tiny Kratos-like warriors. If you lose a giant, they return to sleep in the earth to recover and you will no longer have access to their powers for the remainder of the era. With multiple villages established, you’ll be herding cats to make sure villages don’t kill each other or your giants before you can help them all complete their projects for the essential ambassador upgrades.

Bummer. Good thing the rock titan can cause an earthquake that will topple the largest villages and towns into oblivion if they get too uppity. You can use the crab giant to sink a village into the ocean. If desperate, the fungal giant can lob giant balls of swamp goo at attacking armies.

Too Fine a Balance?

This is where Reus attempts to draw the fine line between chance and control, with ‘attempts’ being the keyword. While you can’t directly control what your villages do to your giants or to each other, you can use ‘awe’ to calm them, remove ‘awe’ to provoke them, or invoke the ‘clean slate’ protocol by quaking or sinking them. (Some high-end project upgrades like the level 3 Historic Point require that village to destroy the closest nearby village, for example, so some war is useful.)

On paper, this seems simple. Unfortunately, since you have no say on what your villages end up building for their projects, and since many of the challenges hinge on the creation of certain projects, and since it’s pretty RNG which other villages your villagers make peace or war with, Reus seems to fall off the balancing wire into a game of chance once you’re on the hunt for challenge completions. Increasing your giants’ ability to control the environment (and, accordingly, the humans) takes a lot of practice and memorization.

I’ve gotten lucky with resource symbiosis once or twice where I created a good enough amount of ‘awe’ to stop a war. But it didn’t happen often, and I couldn’t tell you which resources I used to accomplish it. It seems like resources with useful amounts of awe are few and far between, or are reserved for higher-level transmutations. And those higher-level transmutations are entirely dependant on upgrading your giants with the right projects from the right villages in the right biomes with the right resources that don’t go to war with each other or end up hating your giants.

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It’s kinda hard to tell, but there are tiny soldiers on that mountain, and they’re throwing spears at the swamp village. Look at Rocky’s face. Rocky isn’t mad, just disappointed.

A Puzzle of Many Colors

This is another game I often come back to because it’s so easy to pick up and play. But it’s hard to master. Maybe not hard, but time-consuming. If you don’t know your end goal, you’ll waste a lot of valuable time making, upgrading, smashing, and remaking resources until the right symbioses happen. Worse, even if you do know your end goal, there’s a chance your aspects won’t be potent enough for upgrades, which leads to more resource remaking.

The game falls into a pit I affectionately call Blind Crafting Syndrome: even if you’ve crafted it before, unless you’ve memorized the recipe, the game won’t give you a clue on how to repeat it. While enjoyable with no prior knowledge, Reus is frustrating to return to after time away. Reus doesn’t quite have a crafting system like Minecraft or My Time at Portia, but there are so many different combinations and requirements of resources and aspects and biomes that it requires an immense amount of trial and error to complete the higher-level challenges. If Reus had some type of planning tool you could use before laying down a resource, or even an in-game encyclopedia, it would help immensely.

Your giants are incredibly pondering and slow creatures as well (I guess they should be). Managing an entire world, even a small or medium-sized one, takes a lot of travel time and planning. All the time while playing, I would have a sinking feeling that I was doing something out of order or inefficiently, but I didn’t want to have to look up online someone else’s ‘correct’ answer. Maybe it’s my anxiety of time limits and incredible challenges, but all the time-wasting trial and error (mostly error) dulled the game for me. This game should be casual and relaxing. But it’s not. Yes, there is an endless mode, and I could practice my Reus skills. But you can’t complete challenges in ‘alt’ mode. No, I would probably head to the Reus wiki or the Steam guides for help to figure out a game plan for finishing a particular challenge in the timed game.

I would, that is, if I had an intense desire to continue to play.

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Give a forest village some chickens, they’ll ask for some blueberries. Give a forest village some blueberries, they’ll want some pear trees… Etc.

Reus is another indie game that looks simple, colorful, and inviting at the beginning but by the endgame becomes a very challenging strategy/puzzle game. A bit too much into the puzzle genre for me. In fact, to me, it feels a lot like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. I get why people enjoy putting them together, and I’ll find joy in locking a few pieces together here and there (hence why I’ve played Reus on and off through the years since its release). But I don’t have the patience to put the whole thing together.

While not wholly applicable, this one, in particular, came to mind.

Review Score: 7.7/10

Voices of the Shattered Sun

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Announcement time! Oh, this makes me so excited!

I have found the perfect toolbox to help me write my fiction and solidify the world that’s in my head. It’s called World Anvil, and I’ve just recently joined the creators’ Patreon to help support it. If you write fiction at all for video games, roleplaying, or tabletop games, then I think it’s totally worth a look (it is free, you’ll just deal with some ads).

Anyway, I’m rewriting Alyssum to be part of a trilogy of novelettes entitled Voices of the Shattered Sun. You can find the main page here. I’m also creating an encyclopedia of the Voices world (called Tiathys) that will include things like characters, races, artifacts, locations, historical events, and more, complete with pictures. Anything that World Anvil can provide I plan on playing with to help me refine my writing process.

I plan on completing Alyssum and posting it here on Chains and Tales, of course. And I don’t plan on interrupting any Chains and Tales content. But for fantasy-flavored fun, Voices of the Shattered Sun is open for business.

Feel free to become a follower there whenever I publish a new article!

 

My 100-Hour Tale – Realm Grinder

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Release Date: June 2017

System: Windows, Mac OS X (Steam), Online (Kongregate.com)

Clicker games are a relatively new concept. Well, ‘last six years’ new.

Wikipedia calls them ‘incremental games’, a game whose gameplay “consists of the player performing simple actions such as clicking on the screen repeatedly…to earn currency”. After enough clicking, there’s usually some mechanic (a ‘minion’, a ‘service’, a ‘structure’, or a ‘business’) that enables the game to ‘click’ for you, enabling you to earn immense amounts of the game’s currency over a certain amount of time. Multipliers are added into the mix, stacking higher and higher to the point where even a 28000% increase isn’t a drop in the bucket.

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Where it all starts. Again. And again. And AGAIN.

It’s inexplicable. I can’t describe it. There’s something about Realm Grinder that appeals to me, despite the very nature of the game. I shouldn’t like it. I shouldn’t like to waste time watching numbers tick ever upwards while watching Youtube videos. I shouldn’t like clicking on upgrades whose effects are soon lost in the flood of even more upgrades. Numbers increase exponentially to the point where I have to consult a chart to make sure they’re the numbers I want. Unless you’re a college physics major that deals with incredibly large numbers on a regular basis, I doubt you know how many zeroes are contained in ten-quattuordecillion… Or what that is in scientific notation. I sure don’t. I might as well be playing with my graphing calculator. At least that way, I could type the number I want immediately instead of waiting for some silly game to get there.

But then I wouldn’t get the serotonin rush from having reached that point over an achingly long period of time, would I?

The Gainful Grind

Realm Grinder is an incremental game (or an idle RPG, according to the Steam page) developed by Divine Games and originally published on Kongregate. In fact, that’s where I first played this time sink before discovering it was also free and linkable to Kongregate through Steam.

Do you like a game with goals? Trophies? Upgrades to go with those trophies? A ton of factions to choose from with different upgrade trees to suit your preferred playstyle? Then Realm Grinder is the clicky game for you!

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Happyville, tax rate: 49.13 undecillion gold coins per second. Talk about hyperinflation.

You start the game with very little money at first, building neutral buildings like farms, inns, and blacksmiths. These don’t produce much. In fact, without the right upgrade path, these units (businesses? Buildings?) will count for almost nothing. Then, for a small fee, you’ll choose a path: good or evil. The good side emphasizes a more active playstyle, while evil emphasizes idling and offline growth. The good path has honorable buildings such as castles and cathedrals while the evil side has slave pens and hell portals; either side you choose, you’ve got eleven building types to build, seven morally aligned and four neutral.

But we’re not done yet. Once you’ve picked good or evil, it’s time to choose the race you’ll align yourself with in that playthrough. On the good side, you’ve got the fairies, the elves, and the angels: fairies focus on boosting the output of the lowest tier buildings, elves focus on clicking, and angels focus on spell casting and mana regeneration (more on that in a second). For evil, you have the goblins, the undead, and the demons: goblins get cheaper buildings, the undead get increased production the longer the playthrough lasts, and demons increase the output of the highest tier evil buildings.

The more currency you collect, you’ll start to gather gems, which give you a base multiplier to all production. In order to collect your gems, you have to start your playthrough from the beginning, but you’ll have that base multiplier to help you out on your next playthrough. Play long enough, and you’ll gain the ability to reincarnate, giving up all of your gems to really start over with yet another type of base multiplier. And as you collect currency, you’ll increase your chances of finding faction coins, which allow you to gain additional multipliers in your current playthrough! Did I mention that each faction has their own spells which give you additional short-lived multipliers through the use of a slowly refilling mana bar (or quickly refilling, depending on your faction)?

But wait, there’s more! You can even spend real-world money on rubies, which can allow you to receive gems without restarting your playthrough, boost your multipliers even further, and purchase unique upgrades.

Oh, the multipliers. I told you this game is all about multipliers.

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Notice the red ‘Buy All Upgrades’ button. You’ll be clicking this a lot.

Play long enough and unlock their many treaties and pacts, and you’ll get to play as neutral factions like the Faceless, which become stronger over multiple playthroughs, the druids, which focus on magic and balance, and the Titans, which have multipliers for your multipliers. Advance even further, and there’s the good dwarves (which enhance the base good factions), the drow (which enhance the base evil factions), and the dragons (which enhance the neutral factions). And then there are the mercenaries, which allow you to take any perks and upgrades from any factions to mix and match them to your heart’s content.

“Oh, Don’t Worry, It’s Free…”

Can I tell you how much time I have in this game? Hint: not nearly as much as some of the reviewers in the Steam reviews have.

155 hours.

I won’t lie, a lot of that time was from me having left the program on in the background while doing other things. But I think an equal amount of time was me having my mouse hovering over the next upgrade, waiting for the currency to tell me when I could click. I don’t remember if I actually gave money to this game. I think I did. A dollar or two. Considering the amount of screen time I spent with this “free” game, I thought the developers deserved something from me.

I say “free”. Steam says “free”. But no. This game and the many ‘incremental games’ I have on my phone have cost me a lot of time. Was it time wasted? Perhaps. Was it time I would have wasted anyway? Maybe.

But man, can these games be addicting, especially in your downtime. It feels as though clicker titles like Realm Grinder take the most enticing thing about video games – slow and steady progression – and drip feed it to you just enough that the itch never goes away. I had stepped away from this game for about three months before writing this, and the game was just where I had left it, ever chugging its dozens of multipliers away like I’d never left. I’m not quite sure if it’s my computer or Kongregate’s server that logs my progress. Maybe it’s both.

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Oh, did I mention the excavations? More upgrades! More multipliers!

Either way, I’ll keep it installed. I never know when I’ll need something to fiddle with while watching my favorite streamers on Twitch. If you feel like it, give some love to GrandPOObear and MrLlamaSC, won’t you? I’ve just got to unlock the dragon faction. I just have to. Then I’ll uninstall this wretched game.

Maybe.

Review: 8/10

Backstage Tales – God Games: Imposters in the Pantheon

How does one program a God?

Yikes, religion on the internet!

Ha, funny. I’m talking about god games, simulators that give you power over a worldspace or the creatures and elements within it, typically on a massive scale. It could include such features as mass terraforming, devastating ‘miracles’ that can be seen as good or bad depending on the target, development of said powers from simple to overwhelming, and maybe even helping supplicants and acolytes grow to the top of the pack.

“A Mighty God Was He (or She)…”

I have very fond memories of Populous: The Beginning, one of the first god games I ever enjoyed. You start off with a shaman, the head honcho of the tribe through which miracles and spells are cast, and you wander the solar system gathering followers to increase your power and influence. If people won’t join you (as they follow other gods and their shaman can unleash the same powers as you can), it’s up to you to convert or destroy them. No peaceful coexistence in this universe. Your powers in this game ranged from summoning hordes of stinging insects to directing tornadoes to incinerating entire villages in fiery volcanoes. I’ll never forget that at the end of the game, you finally have enough power as a god to do the spell casting yourself without a range limit, and the resulting destruction of your enemies is incredibly satisfying.

You know, I never understood how the ‘swamp’ spell meant instant death to anyone who walked through it. Invisible crocodiles? Fast-acting trench-foot? Psh, I dunno, but man, it made for an effective deterrent.

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What a quaint village. Would be a shame if something… happened to it while the shaman is away.

I then played a game later in my childhood called Black and White, a game made by one of my favorite now-defunct studios, Lionhead Studios. Admittedly, I really couldn’t get into this game. At all. Why in the world would an all-powerful god put so much time and effort into training a giant creature who, for all intents and purposes, does nothing but annoy your villagers, cause property damage, and poop everywhere? I’m sure they can be trained to not do that, as I have seen insisted on many a website touting the game as a masterpiece. I never got very far in the game because I couldn’t figure out what to do with the leashes and my creature would inevitably go off and cause trouble, getting itself killed in the process (despite me nailing its super-extendo-leash to a tree near my village).

Interesting that this game is yet to make a debut on GOG.com or anywhere digitally. Sad day. (Not that I would buy it again. I distinctly remember having terrible troubles with it on my first PC… A trend that future Lionhead Studios games would follow.)

So What Changed?

So, getting both good and bad as a kid, why do I believe that god games like Populous still haven’t tapped an incredibly deep well of potential?

It’s because of how broad of a subject ‘god games’ have become these days.

If you search on Steam under the tag ‘god games’, you’re going to see a lot of different types of games, from RTS (like War for the Overworld) to sandbox games (Like Universe Sandbox) and even casual pixel games (like The Sandbox). Spore and its expansions are on this list, and while I could make a joke about a ‘god game’ featuring evolution, I’ll skip it. They even have the gall to put in the glorified screensaver that is Mountain, and the philosophical Everything. Games that I would consider to truly be ‘god games’ (complete with the spiritual and mystical aspect, the miracles, and the followers) are often not well received, with the good ones showing up few and far between (good examples are Reus, which I plan on reviewing soon, and From Dust, which is an excellent game despite belonging to Ubisoft and their terrible Uplay system). I don’t like this broad idea that if the game gives you complete control over your own little population or worldspace, it’s automatically a ‘god game’. If so, that makes Civilization or Endless Space 2 ‘god games’. It makes Planetary Annihilation a ‘god game’. It makes The Sims a ‘god game’.

These aren’t ‘god games’. Strategy, yes, but not ‘god games’.

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In From Dust, you play as a god. Ergo, this is a ‘god game’.

A Simulated Example

But this doesn’t mean ‘god games’ have to always be large-scale fire-and-brimstone destruction-fests. Let’s shrink the concept of the all-powerful ‘god game’. Imagine if The Sims were still all about the home-building and decorating, but you had no control over your sims in the slightest. What if they lived their own lives based on a list of their likes and dislikes, developed relationships with other sims all by themselves, and developed their skills without any input from you? Sounds boring? (As boring as Mountain? I digress.) Well, what if, as some malevolent or benevolent spirit or ‘god’, you could become the sim’s conscience? What if you could ‘train’ your sims to take a unique path through their lives, being the angel (or devil) on their shoulder as they live day-to-day?

What if they could ignore you if you gave them a command that didn’t match their ‘code of ethics’? This could be for good or evil, as simple as influencing a child sim to disobey their parents or as complicated as attempting to persuade a burglar sim to give back his hard-earned loot. What if, through your subtle influence, you earned enough ‘god points’ to start influencing your sims in more supernatural ways, such as through dreams, through strange ‘coincidences’… or perhaps through frightening ‘bumps’ in the night? These could give major bonuses towards future life goals, and grant convictions, changes of habit, or even phobias. What if your sim came into a choice that happened because of your influence that could change their course forever, maybe even other sims’ life courses, and they didn’t have the ‘attributes’ necessary to make the ‘correct’ choice, for good or ill?

What if you could drive your sim to become a shining beacon of humanity? Or drive them into an insane asylum after hearing self-destructive voices?

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Yes, a wholesome modern family, with a spirit from the netherworld influencing their every thought and choice. Doesn’t sound too far from the original game, to be honest.

Okay, maybe only I’m intrigued by this new Sims game. Maybe this sounds too similar to the actual game. Maybe it would give a programmer an aneurysm. But you have to admit, it’s an interesting idea that giving the player less control over their subjects can simultaneously give them more in terms of results variation. This could lead to the possibility of more replayability because of unexpected and entertaining results. This isn’t even talking about actual religious doctrine, although I suppose it could be seen that way. I see it as more of a balance between total player control (which is fun for a moment but doesn’t last long) and a complete uncontrollable game of chance (which is fun until you don’t win). And it’s all about maintaining the fun factor.

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My, aren’t you rotund.

A Line of Separation

In my opinion, ‘god games’ put a fine line of separation between the player and his subjects. In Populous, if you lose your shaman, you couldn’t cast miracles until she respawned. In From Dust, you don’t have a mystical ‘hand of god’ to save your subjects from floods of water and fire; you can issue simple commands, but you have to bend the elements to protect your followers and wait for them to brave the treacherous wilds themselves to reach relics and settlement beacons which strengthen your miracles. I think this is where Black and White went wrong for me: it put one too many lines in between the player and the population in the form of an annoying giant mascot. A good ‘god game’ will balance the influence the player has with the characters onscreen, not too separated that the player feels like they have absolutely no control, but enough that it doesn’t become ‘The Sims’ where the player can control everything. You can ‘simulate’ being a god, but not every strategy game is a ‘god game’.

Does that shrink the genre into obscurity? Maybe it does. But I think people want a ‘god game’ with this philosophy in mind, one with some element of choice and ethical dilemmas, but one with a fine line of separation that makes the game rewarding and challenging. Breaking my own rules, you can see how excited audiences were for the very recent release of Frostpunk, a game where you have to make life-or-death decisions for a population living in a steampunk arctic hell. I’m surprised that isn’t a ‘god game’, according to Steam. (I want to review it as well, it looks ridiculously difficult.) I would love a ‘god game’ that limited your influence over a small isolated community to small ‘miracles’ that grew more powerful as faith in you increased. One where morality could go either way.

And yeah, I’m going to say it: maybe someday we’ll get a god game that isn’t hyped to hell by Peter Molyneux. *cough* Godus. *cough* Spore. *cough* *sneeze violently*

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I’m ashamed of how much game time I have in Godus. Like all ‘Molyneux Specials’, I didn’t know it by its reputation before I bought it.

I want to see another really good god game like Populous appear again. A more complex From Dust with enemy tribes and tough decisions to make, maybe. Different belief systems and powers related to them. A few of the other games under the ‘god games’ tag in Steam look intriguing enough to make me want to take a look, so maybe in the future, you’ll see a god game review where I adjust my perceptions of the genre. Until then, I’ll take any suggestions on how I can change my viewpoint, as I feel disappointed in my love for this very specific niche itch I can’t scratch.

My 10-Hour Tale – Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!

Just a heads up to any readers: Chains and Tales is now on Patreon!

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If you like the content you’ve seen and you have any interest at all in seeing Chains and Tales continue to grow, please check it out and consider signing up. Not knowing how this is going to work in the slightest, I’ve put a few tentative perks for donations. Ha, I don’t even really have an audience yet and may be jumping the gun. But I’m gearing up for success and want the blog to support itself with good writing and honest reviews! No matter what my Patreon looks like a week, a month, or a year from now, that won’t ever change.

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Release Date: July 2015

System: PC (Steam, GOG.com)

I adore games that try to put a twist the tried-and-true and slightly tired ‘hero adventuring’ formula. One of my favorite Wiiware games were two games from Square-Enix: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord. In these games, you weren’t the hero venturing forth to unknown lands and delving dark and dangerous dungeons. You were either the one in charge of the kingdom sending the heroes forth, or the evil darklord trying to stop these heroes from plundering all your hard-earned treasure. Dungeon Keeper and its ‘spiritual successors’ (there it is again) the Dungeons series did the same thing.

But what if, instead of being the heroes or the overlord or the king, you were a humble merchant just trying to get by in a world full of danger? A fun game called Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (which I may review at a later time) set you in the shoes of a young item shop lady trying to make ends meet.

So, what’s the one profession every hero needs at their back? A blacksmith, of course! Every hero needs a Hephaestus or a Griswold!

And what if that blacksmith… were a potato?

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Yes, that is a giant golden potato statue in the middle of my smithy. And Kingdom Hearts carpeting. It’s all for the bonuses!

Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! is a simulation/management game where you assume the role of Patata, a young blacksmith who inherits his grandfather’s (or grandtater’s) old blacksmith shop, partnering with the mysterious and possibly threatening Agent 46 (who looks nothing like a potato version of Agent 47 from Hitman, why would you ask that). Cliché, yes. But the story doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. In fact, with spud puns fly left and right, the game’s entertaining sense of humor was what kept me invested for all ten hours.

You start the game with little more than a shack, a few workbenches, and a few fellow apprentice smiths to help. Your objective is to develop your craft and sell the weapons you create to heroes that inhabit the potato-themed world, working your way up to more advanced facilities and hiring additional workers to assist you.

Your actual goal in Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! is to purchase the smithy from Agent 46, who insists that he used to be your grandfather’s business partner… But there’s something fishy (or starchy) about this guy…

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Sure, Mr. Bald Potato. Sure.

You might notice something funny about your smiths right from the word ‘go’: their designs and names are all based on potato-flavored puns of pop culture references. My two favorites had to be Winnie Stonebell (aka Winry Rockbell from Full Metal Alchemist) and Laura Craft (aka Laura Croft from Tomb Raider). Develop your smithy enough, and you might invite some legendary smiths to work for you!

Your smiths will develop their skills as they work on weapons or train at different locations on the world map. Your smiths can also level up in a few other areas, such as improving their ability to explore the world for materials or learning the art of bartering for improved weapon selling prices. But be careful not to work your smiths too hard for too long without a vacation, because they’ll get penalized on their job performance.

All weapons strengths are based on four different attributes: power, speed, accuracy, and magic. Each weapon can be ‘boosted’ by one of your smiths or a ‘freelance’ smith for a big one-time increase to stats. Each weapon can also be enchanted with a stat-boosting item that will give the weapon a catchy suffix. You can even name your weapons!

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Lots of weapons to choose from!

With weapon-crafting experience, your fellow smiths will level up in their respective job classes, unlocking improved class types and enabling them to further improve the attributes of the weapons they work on. Also, you’ll start the game with only a few weapon types, but as you unlock the world area by area by obtaining fame and travel passes, you’ll be able to search more locations for the relics you’ll need to reveal more.

With increased fame comes opportunities to craft weapons for very special spuds. You may very well recognize them! Be warned, however, you’ll only have one chance to craft these one-of-a-kind weapons, so your smiths will have to be prepared. Succeed in famous weapon crafting, and you’ll get a big reward and a bunch of fame. Every so often, you’ll also be given the chance to win big prizes at contests that judge your weapons based on their attributes. At the beginning of the game, there’s no way to win. By the late game, you’ll be winning every award without even trying.

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No contest.

So, with having to juggle your increasing number of smiths on various journeys and vacations, crafting and selling weapons, balancing all of the different weapon types and their growth potentials, is it easy to get lost in Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!

Yes. In all the wrong ways.

If you can’t tell from the screenshots of the main game area, even though your blacksmith continually gets bigger as the story goes on, your blacksmith becomes more and more crowded with every upgrade. I’m also not a huge fan of the entire UI in general. I know it’s a management game, and information is supposed to be everywhere. But there’s just too much. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the day, time, or weather in the upper right corner as that information is rarely important enough to look at. The ‘chat’ box on the bottom right is sometimes clever but useless unless you really need to review what happened two seconds ago. All the numbers you see in the menus about weapon stats and smith stats are all just numbers, too: the higher the better, that’s all.

In fact, there’s a single example that wraps up my entire problem with this game: the ‘Feed Me’ button in the upper left. It’s a cute puppy thing. I don’t want the puppy thing to be sad. So, I click on that button so the graphic changes to show a full food bowl and a happy puppy thing. That’s it. That’s the purpose of that button. And frankly, if that button does, say, give all my smiths a bonus to productivity because the puppy potato is happy, the game doesn’t say so.

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This button right here. I can’t stand the emotional manipulation! Just let me play the dang game, puppy potato!

There is so much gosh-darn clicking in this game, it makes the late-game unbearable. Almost nothing in this game is done automatically. When characters do anything, literally anything, whether it’s taking a vacation or exploring or selling weapons or whatever, they don’t just come back to their workstations when they finish. First you have to click on the smith to get a report saying that they finished. Then you have to manually point and click a workstation to send them to. How much harder would it have been to assign them to their last workstation, or a random one if that one got filled?

Confession time: my ten hours playing this game was not concurrent. I’ve had to come back to it a couple of times because I lose the desire to play it. I’m certain I’m at the late stage of the game, but every time I reach a fame objective, do you know what the next objective is? Gain more fame. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if there’s an ending, or is it just a never-ending race for more fame. I really wanted to finish it for the review to say a hilarious cathartic ending was waiting at the end of the grind, but I just couldn’t do it.

All this isn’t to say I didn’t have fun with this game. On the contrary, the humor and the overall game system at the very least kept me wanting to come back and play it. If you want to kill an hour or even a half hour, it’s a great game. But I find it very challenging to sit down and play for longer stretches of time. In doing research for the game, I discovered that even the creators of the game’s wiki gave up before they were finished. It’s kind of a testament to the game’s lack of depth. But then, what did I expect from a game about a potato blacksmith?

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The humor keeps it afloat. The game mechanics weigh it down.

I think this must be what the item and potion shop owners must feel like when a battered-up adventurer strolls into town looking to buy and sell. There’s nothing like a peaceful life, but man is it a bit boring and monotonous.

If you enjoy management games, don’t mind a clickfest, and can pick up on a lot of anime and video game pop culture references in the form of potatoes, pick up Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! this game during the Summer or Winter Steam Sale. Or, better yet, get it on a GOG.com sale without all the nasty copyright protection. You might not finish it, but you’ll get a kick out of it.

Review: 7.5/10

 

Backstage Tales – Bethesda Trifecta

There are a lot of thoughts swimming around in my head about this one.

If you were to look at my Steam profile and organize the games I have played according to their total playtime, one thing would become readily apparent: I have given a lot of my life to Bethesda Softworks. It breaks down like this: 891 hours with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (although that comes to 986 when you include the Special Edition), 745 hours with Fallout: New Vegas, and 677 hours with Fallout 4. Ring me up, that time totals just over 100 days of total playtime.

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I mean, c’mon. This is unmodded Skyrim. You can’t get any more desktop-screen-worthy than this.

These are single-player games, mind you, meaning I spent all of this time with no one but Bethesda’s writers, a bug-and-glitch-filled world, and my own imagination. Now, if you were to ask me if I regretted spending that amount of time in these digital worlds, I would say no after a moment of hesitation. I understand that the replacement of those 100 days of practice with, say, writing… That’s a large chunk of EXP. But the draw of Bethesda’s games is escapism, pure and simple. And escapism is vital to my mental survival. Just like someone would escape into a book or a movie, these games let me assume the role of someone who is much more outgoing and assertive. And yes, someone who is, at times, aggressive, and often violent. Someone I definitely am not.

Violence is often portrayed as necessary in these worlds. Just to travel from one place to another, a sword or a loaded gun is a necessity for personal protection. There are games that you can complete without having to kill anyone (another Bethesda published title, Dishonored, can be beaten this way, but why though when you can play like this), the same can’t really be said for the setting of Skyrim or Fallout. Skyrim is in the midst of a civil war with no Empire to guard the roads to and from cities; Boston and New Vegas are only just starting to recover from the aftermath of the Great War, held down by threats both seen and unseen. Bandits and raiders abound, the Institute kidnap people, the Thalmor threaten Talos worship with death, and Caesar intends to bring his Legion to bear (pun intended). Not to mention all of the wild creatures like dragons and deathclaws that call these environments home.

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And this is my favorite line in the game. I’m sorry. The delivery is, oh, just delightful.

I don’t play these games strictly for their violence, even though the gameplay is part of the draw. After all, Fallout 4 is probably the one with the best combat system, and even then, the gunplay gets boring without any real context or purpose. For me, it’s mostly about the story, and Fallout: New Vegas takes the cake on that one. I’m the weird guy that reads the books in Skyrim (I think The Locked Room is one of my favorites), and I don’t think the main story in Fallout 4 is as atrocious as other critics say it is (I mean, it’s no War and Peace, but still). I’ve explored the heck out of these games, and in at least one instance (with Fallout: New Vegas) even helped me become familiar with the real-life location (my dad and I found Goodsprings and visited the haunted Pioneer Saloon once, even spoke with one of the owners for about an hour, it was a neat experience). I don’t know the games well enough the speed-run them, but I have spent enough time in them that exploration is no longer as fun as it once was. As for New Vegas, I just spent a lot of time completing Tale of Two Wastelandswhich combines Fallout 3 and New Vegas into a single game, and even then, I’ve played them into oblivion.

In fact, the only reason I’ve spent as much time in these worlds as I have is due of all the modding I’ve done to them. Skyrim especially. I can’t play the base games on their own. It’s why I’m so excited for the New California mod for Fallout: New Vegas to come out, as well as the rest of the Beyond Skyrim project.

So, what am I left with after 100 days in Bethesda’s buggy worlds, through all the CTDs and missing textures? As my dad told me once, “Strive to be as bold and goal-oriented in life as you would be in a video game.”

I think about that a lot. I wish life gave me an experience bar I could fill up by doing random things. Unlike in Fallout 4, when general ‘experience’ can be gained just as easily from building a power generator or discovering a new location as killing a super mutant or robot, it takes a considerable amount of effort in the real world to find success in any one activity. It takes even longer for that practice to produce anything meaningful. In improving my skills as a writer, smithing in Skyrim comes to mind. Hammering out a thousand iron daggers can help you smith that coveted dragonbone longsword, metaphorically speaking. I have to build my vocabulary and grammar skills in different ways to help me express the ideas I want to express. And in the writing opportunities I’ve had, I’ve been equally frustrated and blessed to be able to write for businesses of all types, from electricians to diving instructors to aviation fuel vendors and everything in between. Some businesses were simple. Some took a lot of research to make understandable to the common person. And some were so concerned with buzzwords and jargon, they could have pages of text on their website but not communicate anything meaningful. It takes a lot of knowledge to write, and you never know when a spare piece of research or information source is going to be useful for your future storytelling and writing ability.

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The ‘Gallery of Steel’.

I’ve learned a lot of different lessons from Bethesda games, and I consider it one of my wildest dreams to be able to craft a story the way their writers do. The possibility that someone like me could make a living telling stories and writing like they do is amazing. Did you know Lawrence Schick’s official title at Zenimax Studios is ‘loremaster’? Put that on my resume!

My favorite writers are the ones at Obsidian Entertainment that worked on New Vegas, John R. Gonzalez, Chris Avellone, and his whole team. Vault 11 (which was, in turn, inspired by The Lottery by Shirley Jackson) and the entirety of the Dead Money DLC are highlights of my experience. Old World Blues had me rolling on the floor, it was so hilarious and irreverent compared to the bleakness of Big Mountain. One of my future articles will absolutely be on how they wrote the Mormon wasteland missionaries Joshua Graham and Daniel in the Honest Hearts DLC, on whom I think they did a superb job. And while I think Chris Avellone overdid it a little bit with Ulysses in Lonesome Road (probably more due to time crunch than anything else), I think it proved its point on how people can change the course of history just by the roads they choose to walk.

Will I ever be as bold as my player character is in Bethesda games? I don’t know. But maybe I’ll become a strong protagonist someday. Admittedly, standing up for myself is one of my weaknesses, especially when pressured (I can’t imagine that’s strange, though). But I won’t become a loremaster without growing a spine. As I stated before, it’s escapism that drew me to Bethesda games in the first place, all starting with Morrowind back in the day. For someone with mental health problems, distractions are a blessed diversion from the constant self-criticism. It’s actually a good thing to distract yourself from your problems after you’ve done all you can (provided you don’t overdo it). I feel successful when I progress the story, when I slay the giant, when I build the settlement.

That’s what Bethesda is best at: creating a world you can lose yourself in. And after the non-stop, consistent battering and negativity that I’ve trained my mind to think about itself, it’s nice to become someone who don’t take no crap from nobody. In fact, it’s just fun to be someone else for a while, period. Especially someone violent, for some reason. My preference? Take the ‘Terrifying Presence’ perk, pick up your favorite Q-35 Matter Modulator, travel to the Tops Casino, and tell Benny where he can stick that lighter of his.

Hint: look away, children.

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Don’t look so sad, Benny. My plan is quicker than the cross Caesar planned for you. (Do I lose karma for saying that?)

My 10-Hour Tale – Planetary Annihilation: TITANS

First of all, I’ll say something that I’m probably going to say about a lot of the games I want to perform a 10-Hour Review on for Chains and Tales: I have a lot more than ten hours of game time with Planetary Annihilation. This is due to the fact that the original game (just Planetary Annihilation) came out before Planetary Annihilation: TITANS, and I played just under 40 hours of that. So, you could say I spent 10 hours playing with the big Titan toys. I’ll always be forthcoming about how much time I actually spend with a game, as I feel that reflects how much enjoyment and replayability a game has.

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PAT

Release Date: August 2015

System: PC, Mac OS X, Linux (Steam)

The term ‘spiritual successor’ is usually a positive term in the video game industry. It usually invokes the idea that a game has taken the theme or mechanics that one game had and built upon them to create a more refined experience. One example that gets thrown around a lot on the internet is that Bioshock is the ‘spiritual successor’ to the game System Shock: both are first-person-shooter dystopian survival and exploration games with deep atmosphere and one heck of a plot-twisty end-of-act-two. Another is that Undertale is a ‘spiritual successor’ of Earthbound in graphics, gameplay, and the wide range and contrast of emotions the characters and story produce.

So, when I say that Planetary Annihilation is the spiritual successor to a game entitled Supreme Commander, I really mean it. Like, really really. I mean it so much that I think Planetary Annihilation might have ‘spiritually succeeded’ more than a few game mechanics directly from Supreme Commander. Fortunately for Uber Entertainment, there’s a reason they didn’t get sued or anything. It probably has something to do with the fact that Jon Mavor, the lead designer and programmer for Planetary Annihilation, was also the lead programmer for Supreme Commander.

On August 15, 2012, Uber Entertainment kickstarted Planetary Annihilation with a goal of reaching $900,000. They well-surpassed that amount, reaching $2,228,000 via Kickstarter and an additional $101,000 through Paypal. Having earned the title of the 11th Kickstarter project to reach over a million dollars, was the investment worth it?

The Steam review boards are ‘mixed’. Actually, they’re currently at ‘mostly negative’.

For the base game, I mean.

For Planetary Annihilation: TITANS, the reviews are glowing and positive.

Because I had the base game, I was given TITANS for free when it was released, I believe. Or maybe it was the other way around. It isn’t DLC or an expansion, I guess; it’s technically a whole new game in my library. Why the base game is still available when the more advanced and updated TITANS is around is beyond me. There doesn’t seem to be any difference besides the missing Titans and an appropriately lower price tag.

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“YOU’VE NOT ENOUGH MINERALS.”

What makes Planetary Annihilation: TITANS into a ‘spiritual successor’? Just about everything, plus planet-hopping! But we’ll get to that.

Planetary Annihilation is a ‘massive scale’ real-time strategy game where you play as one of the titular commanders. These commanders are gigantic mechs that can build basic buildings and feature anti-air and anti-ground weaponry for fending off basic-to-mid game threats. Your goal is to destroy enemy commanders until you’re the last one standing (or your team is; there are also team battles as well, if you don’t like fighting alone). If your commander is destroyed, it’s game over. Oh, and all commanders explode in a nuclear blast when they die, so that’s fun. When failing, fail hard, I always say.

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Legate Junius go boom.

Unless you have a pretty beefy machine, playing with more than eight computer players on a map can really start to lag, so I can’t imagine doing it with human players. But it’s incredibly fun to struggle for territory on a tiny planet against two to three other opponents… At least until you can get into orbit and rain down lasers from the sky.

There exist many different types of units, organized by the way they travel: vehicles ride on wheels or treads (strong but more expensive than bots), bots walk (cheaper but weaker than vehicles), naval units float on water, aircraft fly (but are very vulnerable to anti-air), and orbital units orbit in their own sphere above the planetary battlefield.  They all have their own strengths, weaknesses, and counters, although I’m a huge fan of aircraft if you can give them the muscle they need to puncture through enemy flak cannons and missile launchers. Every type of vehicle has their own builder unit, too, so it’s not like Starcraft where you have to rely only on ground-based builders for all the hard work. It’s another reason I love air constructors in particular: they can go and build almost anywhere. But they’re excruciatingly fragile. There’s no bigger bummer than twenty or more aerial constructors all being shot down by two or three tiny enemy fighters in mere seconds. Basic constructors can build advanced factories, which can produce advanced builders that can build even more advanced structures and units.

You know where Planetary Annihilation borrows from Supreme Commander the heaviest? The economy system. Just like each other, there are only two resources to worry about: metal and energy. Metal is mined from specific points on the map, and energy is created through generators that can be placed anywhere. You can technically spend more than you are making in Planetary Annihilation. This will, however, decrease the speed of your unit building and structure construction accordingly, and possibly do you less than no good. You will be tearing across planets trying to reach for and defend every single metal extraction point possible. Why?

Because bigger guns.

Meet the Titans.

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Good morning, sunshine! Zeus says hello!

These mean machines are bigger than mountains (especially when built on particularly small planets) and can wreck shop like crazy. My particular favorite is the Zeus, essentially a gigantic floating fortress with a giant ball of electrical energy in between its arms that can decimate entire bases on its own. Get three of these and you can say goodbye to any enemy commanders who are dumb enough to share the same planet. The star-like Helios can teleport entire armies from orbit and deal with any orbital defenses on the way. The gorilla-like Atlas jumps once, and entire armies (and hemispheres) fall down. The Ragnarok is a giant drill that burrows down into the core of a planet and drops a very potent explosive that evaporates the planet (not recommended for home worlds). They’re awesome. They’re expensive. They’re awesomely expensive, and, for some reason, oddly fragile against prepared players. Even Titans must be utilized strategically.

I’ll repeat this again: why Planetary Annihilation had to be re-released as Planetary Annihilation: TITANS instead of including these units in an update or $10 DLC package is still strange to me. So if you’re planning on picking it up, make sure it’s TITANS. Maybe it was a Kickstarter tier thing.

Even with the Titans, Planetary Annihilation ‘spiritually succeeded’ Supreme Commander. But did it succeed? I remember playing Supreme Commander: Forged Alliances and having a ball with the Aeon Illuminate’s experimental units, especially its flying CZAR fortress. Every faction in that game had four, making for very unique gameplay. But no matter what faction you play in Planetary Annihilation, you’re stuck with the same Titans as everyone else.

But then there’s the aspect that sets this game apart from its predecessor: it’s set in SPACE. There’s no flat map here. Scroll your mouse wheel, and you can go from ground level to a view of your solar system. If you’re playing on a map with multiple planets, all it takes is your orbital builders to construct a teleporter on another planet, and you can zip your units there to continue the fight.

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If you can’t tell, the tiny ‘1’ and ‘2’ are landing zone locations on a single planet. That’s a lot of zoom.

On particularly small moons, you can even build Halleys (named after the astronomer and the comet). These are giant rocket engines that can alter the trajectory of the moon to crash into another planet, wiping out all life (and opposition) on both orbiting bodies.

But my favorite way to ruin someone’s day?

If you can play a game with a metal planet somewhere in the system (think the Death Star, only ancient and covered in ‘metal deposits’), all you need to do is construct five ‘Catalyst’ buildings around the planet’s northern hemisphere to activate it as a planet sized superweapon. Think ‘Starkiller Base’ from Star Wars: Episode Seven (although admittedly without the actually star-killing). The speed with which the ‘Annihilazer’ recharges is insane. I’d love to see other human players all struggling for control over the thing while simultaneously trying to stop other threats like the Titans or nuclear weapons from destroying them.

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Does this make us the baddies? Surely not. Mega-laser pew pew!

Oh yeah, there are nuclear weapons, too. And anti-nuclear weapon defenses. Kinda lost them among all the talk of Titans and super lasers.

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Nuclear weapons are RAD! And very expensive if you plan on launching more than a few at the same time.

Planetary Annihilation: TITANS is a giant game of chess set in space, and it’s the kind of RTS that’s still really fun to play single player. Yes, as I stated in my XCOM 2 review, I am a wuss, and yes, I like to play where I have 5 times more resources than my enemies just to crush them with an Annihilazer. But – and dare I admit this – I even like playing this game when the computer has more than a fighting chance. And I didn’t even mention the Galactic Warfare game mode that plays like Risk across a map of the galaxy with army upgrades and unlockables you can find to use in future campaigns. While yes, there is Galactic Warefare, the one way it fails to succeed Supreme Commander is a lack of any story mode or campaign. This game was made for multiplayer. In fact, Galactic Warfare was a stretch goal for Kickstarter, and while fun, it’s not much of a replacement for a Starcraft story mode experience.

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Battle and upgrade from star system to star system. Fun to play, but simplistic.

Despite this, one factor of a game’s success I’ve noticed is its ability to maintain its price point through a long period of time. Planetary Annihilation: TITANS came out in 2015, and it still goes for $39.99 on Steam. That should tell you a lot. I’d say pick it up immediately, but the Steam Summer Sale isn’t too far away, and I bet it’ll be there.

So, is Planetary Annihilation: TITANS a successful ‘spiritual successor’? The more I use the term in this article, the less I like it. My judgement is clouded because I see both strengths and weaknesses in Planetary Annihilation: TITANS and Supreme Commander. And succession almost sounds like the previous game has perished, never to be played again. And that’s just not true. In fact, TITANS makes me want to pick up Supreme Commander again.

Either way, despite tight hard drive space, I’ve reinstalled TITANS at least a dozen times since I’ve owned it just to play a round. If you love RTS games, pick up Planetary Annihilation: TITANS.

It’s just fun.

Review: 9/10

My 10-Hour Tale- My Time at Portia

I have hundreds of games in my Steam library, and I’ve only actually reviewed… two. Including this one. Sad, I know. So I’ve decided to dedicate at least ten hours per game and give my thoughts on what I think is good and what needs (or needed) improvement. From early access to AAA games, here’s Chains and Tales’ first 10-Hour Review!

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Release Date: January 2018

System: PC (Steam)

I saw My Time at Portia come up in my Steam queue a couple of times before I decided to pick it up, though it was mostly from being poor that I didn’t pick it up sooner. As of now, it has a “very positive” rating and equally positive reviews. I liked the fact that some of the reviews hinted to the fact that calling it a Harvest Moon clone wasn’t quite fair, and from what I’ve seen so far, I agree with that sentiment. While you can farm, the game has a lot more going for it than just farming.

Kickstarter

While I’m generally wary of kick-started projects with great ambitions, it seems like this one is a success.

My Time at Portia was kickstarted successfully at 146,697 dollars of a requested 100,000, and while it was a little late on delivery, I think it hit the mark really well considering its influences were Animal Crossing, Dark Cloud 2, Harvest Moon, and the Miyazaki animated films. That’s what I like about it: it’s a mixture of my favorite design styles and gameplay mechanics.

The closest comparison I could make is a three-dimensional Stardew Valley. Is it as complete as Stardew Valley? Well, it is in early access. Considering it’s only been out since January, this game has an amazing amount of design polish that I haven’t seen from other early access titles. In fact, in the ten hours I’ve played so far (and going in blind without assistance from guides), I can genuinely say that this is one of the most entertaining experiences I’ve had with an early access game.

It’s not without its problems, of course. Once you get past the playful and cheery art style that really reflects well on the game, one of the first things you might notice from the opening scene of the game is the voice acting. Some of it is okay.

Some of it is… a bit cringey.

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Mei’s voice wasn’t bad. The voice of the bartender named Django was… memorable.

Some Steam reviewers had issues with the main character having a voice. I had no problem with it. The option to turn it off is available in the character creation screen, just for those people that like the strong and silent type. And for the rest of the NPCs, there’s always the volume controls. In my mind, however, an early access game with dozens of fully voiced characters is impressive. Maybe needs a bit of polish before an official release, but not game breaking. I don’t personally mind it.

Of course, as any farm game begins, your Pa went and disappeared, leaving you a ramshackle workshop and home of your own to develop from scratch. Will our hero ever discover his/her father’s whereabouts? It is unknown! When introduced to our rival, who is currently the wealthiest builder in town, of course he’s a snobbish jerk. Does he get a redeeming character arc beyond snobbish rival character? Not sure yet. I’d be surprised, but then My Time at Portia has already surprised me a few times.

Like any game that involves resource management and crafting, My Time at Portia features a system that takes a bit of getting used to. It can be a bit grindy, especially in those first few in-game days… Or whenever you realize you don’t have enough wood to fuel your stone furnaces. Stamina management is a bit dull in those first days as well, and like Stardew Valley, I found myself having to cut my days short just to sleep and restore my stamina.

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Home sweet home, after the holes are patched. I found the couch in an old ruin. The Ancients didn’t need it.

When it came to ruin delving and acquiring my first bit of copper and tin, I was actually a bit surprised that mining was actual underground tunneling, complete with a jetpack for escaping deep holes and x-ray goggles for finding the really good stuff. This game was suddenly Minecraft with cheat codes on. Considering the world in My Time at Portia just recently suffered a cataclysm of some type in its recent past and the local church is confiscating and destroying what it calls ‘forbidden’ technology (including those oh-so-valuable data disks you’ll dig up in the ruins), it sure lets its explorers have some fun toys.

The game starts off slow with quests and character progression, but I think it already has a good balance once you get past the initial hurdles. Pretty soon you’ll be drowning in quests from the NPCs living in town, and I found I could complete many of the minor ones simply by building up my manufacturing capabilities. Grinders make pipes and parts, civil cutters make boards, skivers make leathers and fabrics, and your assembly station makes all your heavy equipment. You’ll go from copper axes and pickaxes to bronze and then iron, all the while making larger trees and rocks harvestable.

And then there’s combat. Remember when I mentioned that My Time at Portia felt like a three-dimensional Stardew Valley? The combat is very similar. You can dodge for a chunk of stamina and swing your sword in front of you. That’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se. Your character can be upgraded with perks as you level up to increase loot drops, damage, healing rate of items, and other bonuses, although leveling can take a while. Fortunately, everything you do counts towards leveling, from slaying llamas to chopping down trees.

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Give me your fur, your meat, and your fleeeese!

In fact, while going about my business slaying llamas for their fur and experience, I came across one of the children NPCs, a boy named Toby, walking around outside of town. Normally, I don’t think twice about NPCs, children in particular, because in many other games children are a bit of a letdown in the character development department. But in my quest to get everyone in town to like me, I talked to him. To my surprise, instead of the normal conversation menu appearing, my character spoke up (as in, the voice actor for my character spoke up) and asked Toby what he was doing. The kid responded (fully voice acted) that he was going to pick apples from the trees outside the walls. This started a simple quest to kick some apples down from the trees for the kid for some experience, some pocket change, and a relationship increase. This simple interaction surprised me; not only did the developers take time to record actual dialogue with voice actors for such a simple quest, I might have overlooked it completely had I had chosen not to interact with Toby at all. All of a sudden, as a player, I feel more obligated to talk to NPCs on the off-chance they may have something for me that’s simple to do but worth my time.

This is a challenging and time-consuming aspect of game design for a developer, but so vital for player retention. Place the burden of success on the player. Once you reveal that rewards can be found in unlikely places, the player is going to continue to search for them.

It’s one of the main reasons I love farming/role-playing hybrid games like My Time at Portia and Stardew Valley; characters in the world are allowed more time to be given a personality, likes and dislikes, and not just a few repeating chat lines. Don’t get me wrong, My Time at Portia has repeating chat lines. But simple interactions with NPCs like this gives the believability of a populated world.

A populated world, multiple monster-slaying dungeons, crafting, farming, marriage, and more. And this is an early access game, remember, and only my first ten hours in the game.

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Do da jerb, get da rewards. Repeat ad nauseam.

Overall, my first ten hours with My Time at Portia has been very enjoyable. I’m interested to see where else the game will go, and how else it plans on surprising me. If you like would like a laid-back adventure in colorful if a bit unpolished and incomplete world, you could definitely do worse.

Rating: 8.5/10