My (Preliminary) 10-Hour Tale – No Man’s Sky

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“Oh, Mr. Conductor,” I say with exuberance, waving down a man dressed in a bright pink space suit and a tiny blue conductor’s hat. “Does the hype train get off at the next exit, my dear sir?”

“NO,” says the bright pink conductor of the Hype Train in a booming voice that reminds me of the unwavering density and blackness of the vast universe.

“THE HYPE TRAIN NEVER STOPS.”

Chugga-chugga, choo-choo, my friends. Man, very few video games get into the hype levels No Man’s Sky has generated. I didn’t even feel Fallout 4 or Fallout 76 got this much attention, especially considering this is the third such wave of excitement for the 70’s-sci-fi-book-cover space exploration simulator. Even the lead programmer and head of Hello Games had this to say:

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Nothing says despair and dread like a lower-case “oh no”.

His reaction is appropriate. At the game’s release in 2016, I bought into the hype train like crazy and spent the full $60 game for something that was very unpolished and most decidedly not multiplayer. This derailed the Hype Train quite badly for a lot of people, leading Steam reviews to put No Man’s Sky at Mostly Negative.

Fortunately, I don’t think Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games has much to worry about anymore with No Man’s Sky’s latest update called NEXT. How big and important was this update? When I downloaded, it came to about 6.7 Gb. Impressive, I thought, for a game that was about that large before the update. But what’s more impressive is what it meant for the originally single-player-only experience: No Man’s Sky is actually multiplayer.

And what’s more? The game looks even more incredible than it did before from both a gameplay and a graphics standpoint.

I mean, look at what the last three days did for No Man’s Sky:

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Wow!

It’s gone from Mostly Negative to Mixed. I don’t think I’ve yet seen a game do that. And that’s 2000 positive reviews more than there were yesterday. I mean, just take a look at the patch notes for NEXT. Hello Games took their sci-fi adventure and flipped it on its head. Base building is nearly infinite, freighter armadas can be purchased and travel the stars with you, and even the basic building materials and recipes have been overhauled to the point where crafting and exploration is now an exciting venture instead of a mindless grind.

Admittedly, I struggled and panicked at the very start of the game; I was dropped onto a very radioactive planet with no ship and three-fourths of my radiation shielding gone, and had no idea what materials I needed to recharge it. I didn’t even have a scanner to search! But panic turns into resolve when you finally get your bearings, and following the mysterious storyline of the Atlas is proving to be very interesting.

There’s finally a reason to upgrade your blaster: biological horrors and sentinels show up in the worst places, and even caves are no longer safe places to hide. You’ll need to refine the raw materials you harvest from the worlds you explore, and refined materials are often more valuable than their components. Oceans are deep enough to fly under (this may be a bug, I’m unsure) and mountains are now continental in height. Artifacts can be found in hidden underground ruins and can sell for millions of credits, incentivizing exploration and discovery in a way the game hadn’t before.

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I made a dad joke! Do you get it? 1.3k people did!

With all that said, I did encounter two game-breaking day-one bugs that interrupted my play.

The first was a bug with the main quest; the quest wouldn’t allow me to warp to another system until I fueled my ship with antimatter. I would craft the warp fuel and fuel my hyperdrive only to have the quest reset and send me back for more antimatter. Good news: unlimited fuel. Bad news: no way to use it. I managed to un-bug the quest by purchasing another ship. I imagine it was something to do with the fact that I got a ship with a hyperdrive earlier than the quest assumed I would get one. Interestingly, I had a similar problem with earlier updates of No Man’s Sky.

The second occurred when only partially repairing some systems on my ship. The game didn’t like ‘partial repair’ so much that the next time I loaded my save game, the game initialized on a brand new world as if I’d started a brand new game, with no inventory, no ship, no upgrades, nothing. I fixed this with help from the No Man’s Sky Reddit and editing some junk code from my save file.

As of an hour ago, I’ve learned that both of these issues have been patched out, however. So as far as bugs are concerned, the only ones I’ve stumbled across are gone.

I thought I’d start out on normal mode, but to be honest, creative mode is looking really appealing. Check out this awesome cliffside base by ParagonHex:

I’ve played NEXT for about five hours now, and I have no desire to stop. I’ll have more to share in the coming days, but until then, consider this a tentative but glowing review of No Man’s Sky. I can’t wait to helm the bridge of my own freighter fleet and establish a sprawling base on a tropical planet. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to discover my first ruin and not get eaten by horrors.

Early Review: 9/10

My 10-Hour Tale – Tropico 4

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*sigh*

I’m going to have to talk about politics, aren’t I?

Nope, not going to do it. I’m going to talk about a really fun strategy game that’s themed around political intrigue, foreign relations, benevolent dictators that can make the rebellious “disappear” at any time, secret police, every citizen living below the poverty line, social security, free healthcare, free college education…

Nope. You can’t make me. I’m not going to do it.

Mmmm. Hmm-mm. Nonononono hmmmmmmMMMMMMM BOTH DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS ARE THE PROBLEM THE US WAS NEVER MEANT TO HAVE A TWO-PARTY SYSTEM CHANGING LAW SHOULD BE NATURALLY DIFFICULT BECAUSE OF MANY VIEWPOINTS NOT JUST TWO THE FREE MARKET SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO REGULATE ITSELF I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY MARIJUANA IS ILLEGAL ESPECIALLY FOR MEDICAL PURPOSES I SYMPATHIZE WITH WOMEN’S RIGHTS ON ABORTION BUT ADOPTION IS A MORALLY ACCEPTABLE AND LIFE-CHANGING OPTION FOR ALL INVOLVED ESPECIALLY FOR COUPLES WHO CAN’T HAVE CHILDREN RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE IS SELF-SABOTAGE AND NATURALLY LEADS TO FEWER JOBS ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WITH NO EXPERIENCE EDUCATION SHOULD BE MORE ACCESSIBLE TO THOSE BELOW THE POVERTY LINE NO MATTER THEIR RACE OR RELIGION SCHOOL TUITION COSTS ARE RIDICULOUS AND SHOULD BE BETTER REGULATED BY THE STATES I ACCEPT MY WHITE MALE PRIVILEGE BUT UNDERSTAND THAT NOT ALL WHITE MALES HAVE PRIVILEGE EVERY LGBTQ+ PERSON CAN AND SHOULD BE WHO AND WHAT THEY WANT TO BE AS LONG AS THEY AFFORD ME THE SAME COURTESY BUILDING THE WALL ON MEXICO’S DIME IS A STUPID IDEA BUT THE U.S. SHOULD BE ABLE TO CONTROL ITS BORDERS WITHOUT SEPARATING FAMILIES WHO COME SEEKING ASYLUM THERE SHOULD BE TERM LIMITS FOR EVERY ELECTED MEMBER OF CONGRESS SENATORS AND MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE SHOULD BE FORCED TO LIVE IN THE DISTRICTS THEY SERVE TO KEEP THEM ACCOUNTABLE TO THE PEOPLE PRESIDENTIAL AUTHORITY TO USE EXECUTIVE ACTIONS SHOULD BE RESTRICTED I HONESTLY BELIEVE THE WEALTHY WOULD PRODUCE BETTER GOODS HERE INSTEAD OF IN CHINA AND OFFER BETTER PAYING JOBS DOMESTICALLY IF NOT FORCED TO PAY SUCH HIGH TAXES HEALTHCARE IS NOT A RIGHT BUT MODERN MEDICINE IS WOEFULLY IMPRECISE IF ADMINISTRATION FEES DIDN’T COST SO MUCH AND GOOD DOCTORS HAD BETTER PROTECTION FROM LAWSUITS MEDICAL COSTS WOULD BECOME AFFORDABLE ON THEIR OWN

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ERROR: OPINION OVERLOAD. UNABLE TO UNDO. (I was going to use the Scanners movie head explosion, but thought it a bit graphic.)

*pant* *cough* Sorry. Give me a minute.

There. It’s done. It’s all out there. I’m a strange specimen of libertarian/independent mixed up with a conservative upbringing. I have reasons and personal experiences for thinking all these things, as most people do, and I’m fairly flexible accepting well-reasoned arguments on both sides of any topic. I have a lot of respect for those that consider themselves classical liberals, trying to understand socialists gives me a headache, fascists are just plain wrong, and communists need to go live in 1970’s Cuba or 1960’s East Germany.

So why do I reveal these many political sins I call opinions in a video game review? Well, two reasons. First, because I must be a glutton for punishment, as I have the overwhelming desire to be part of a discussion I’m very unqualified to participate in (although you should never assume unqualified means uneducated). Second, because it’s games like Tropico 4 that make me wonder what it would be like if I threw out all of my beliefs about good government and became a dictator of my own resource-rich island out in the Caribbean.

Turns out, I’m pretty good at being a dictator.

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My very refined Presidente avatar. Yes, a pipe instead of a cigar. I was going for “the most interesting Presidente in the world” look.

Tropico 4 is, yes, the fourth game in the strategic Tropico series by Haemimont Games and published by Kalypso Digital where you take the reins of your own Caribbean island as a Fidel Castro-esque figure with an awesome voice actor. You can choose to be a fascist dictator that offers nothing but swift and terrible military action to your rebellious subjects or a benevolent presidente-for-life who offers free education, free healthcare, free housing, and free margaritas to all your loyal citizens. Okay, maybe not the margaritas, but you can certainly set up your own cabaret and celebrate the good life.

Having played the previous Tropico games, I chose this one to write about because it’s been my favorite. It’s also the best in the series right now, if reviews would have you believe. I haven’t played Tropico 5, but friends and many reviews on Steam say Tropico 4 did everything better. Tropico 4, like its predecessors, comes with a plethora of DLC (too much DLC, in my opinion, although I got them all in a bundle) that breaks down into the very-positively upvoted Modern Times and…everything else. You get additional islands and challenges along with a smattering of questionably useful buildings like nuclear bomb shelters and propaganda towers in case life in the Caribbean gets a little… fallout-y.

As dictator (or El Presidente!), it’s your job to balance the many goods and services your citizens need as well as manage the many different factions of people that arrive on your sun-kissed shores. These tasks can range from painfully easy to painfully difficult depending on the difficulty settings (yes, there are easy-to-use difficulty settings, huzzah) imposed by the level or by yourself in free play mode.

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Yes, that is farmland and a dump in the middle of my community. It can’t smell good, but it just works.

First, Tropicans need to eat (a variety of foods always helps the mood). They need proper housing (good housing is expensive) that is free of crime and gang violence. They need to worship God in churches and cathedrals. They need good medical care from clinics and hospitals. They want liberty of information through radio, newspapers, or television. Tropicans want good and meaningful jobs and education opportunities.

On top of all these things, Tropicans have opinions about how Tropico should be governed. Each belongs to a faction, like the religious faction who value faith and church availability above all else, the militaristic faction that values national defense, the loyalists which value independence from superpowers, the environmentalists that will complain against you for over-exploiting Mother Nature, the Capitalists and the Communists (duh), and the intellectuals who value education and wisdom.

Tropico 4 is all about maintaining a balance of all of these factors and somehow still make a tidy profit for your national treasury… as well as improve the financial health of your hidden Swiss Bank account. You’ll get foreign financial aid from the US and Russia as long as you remain in their good graces, but it’s never wise to go into the negative for very long lest your foreign relations deteriorate and almost everyone starts to protest (sounds familiar to modern-day politics, to be honest).

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Typhoon!! Everyone hide in your baseme- oh. Island. Right. Um, duck and cover?

So how do you make money? You can jump-start agriculture with cash crops like tobacco or sugar, mine iron or gold, raise cattle or llamas, or strike into the tourism business and establishing a few hotels and entertainment venues. Then, build factories to take advantage of your island’s natural resources, like cigar or weapon factories. In Modern Times, you can even establish chemical plants, concrete factories, and business offices to supplement your income. Most factories come with extra upgrades you can unlock by providing them with power from power plants or wind turbines, letting you improve the job quality for your factory’s workers or help you produce goods faster.

In fact, you’ll need power for lots of things, like movie theaters and hospitals. And giant rotating statues made of solid gold. You know, the essentials.

Establishing a fully-operating and well-oiled economy in Tropico can be tricksy. To help you navigate the dangerous political waters of life as El Presidente, you can pass certain laws or edicts to increase the people’s opinion of you… or remove any dissidents that would raise their voice against you. Edicts include social security for the elderly (the price of which increases as your island’s population grows older), declaring a national holiday (which changes some Tropicans into Loyalists or Nationalists), issuing tax breaks straight to each citizen (which is obviously great PR but pricier the more people live in Tropico), make housing free (which is great for public opinion but the capitalists hate it and cuts into your bottom line), establishing a literacy program (increase the rate at which workers gain experience in their jobs), and even printing money (which grants a ton of money but makes everything you build permanently more expensive).

Some of the more interesting edicts that I rarely played with until recently include legalizing same-sex marriages (which increases intellectual respect but lowers religious respect), call for an anti-litter campaign (which decreases pollution but also decreases liberty), and declaring martial law (in case crime gets out of control, liberty and all production is decreased). Modern Times brings a few entertaining edicts to the table, including banning social networks (increases production, but it also shuts off Tropico 4‘s social integration at the same time, lol), passing healthcare reform (increases the amount of people that can be treated at clinics and hospitals), and calling for a Festival of Love (makes a baby-boom population increase and boosts tourist spending for a few years).

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And you thought I was joking about the giant rotating golden statue.

So how do I play Tropico? Probably in the most ham-fisted way possible: the guy with the money makes the rules. Farming farming farming cash crops right away, leaving only a few farms to make food for everybody. Open the doors of Tropico early enough with an immigration office, and you’ll have all the labor you’ll need to see huge profits (or, as Trump would say, YUGE). Unless I start with a church, I tend to ignore them until I have a big enough checkbook to afford a high school first (as churches can only be run by educated priests). Buy a clinic; there is no choice here (people dying is the last thing you’ll want). If you’ve got lots of white sandy beaches, go for tourism immediately: even with few amenities, tourists will practically shower you with money in between the timed exports.

The intellectuals, the religious, and the loyalists usually hate me for a while, and a rebellion starts to form when you get to about 45% approval rating or lower. But by the time it gets down to about 43% or 42%, I usually have enough money to afford churches, entertainment, and a ministry to help me pass edicts like social security and my first tax break. From there, build even more farms and plantations, a college, an armory, and a few guard posts, and the paltry few rebels who’ve chosen to live alone in the miserable jungle will have no choice to accept the amnesty I offer when approval gets back above 50%.

I think Tropico 4 and the series in general is so funny (and fun) because while you can choose to be a communist “presidente” who does nothing positive for the people, you still have to rely on foreign markets, exports, and trade in order to progress. Why do you think embargos and sanctions work so well in real life? The money has to come from somewhere, and sorry Venezuela, but printing money only gets you so far when inflation rages. Education and healthcare might be free in Tropico, but all the farms, mines, office buildings, churches, restaurants, hotels, and tenements are all state owned and regulated as cheaply as possible. What’s an education in North Korea worth these days? Would you trust Cuban doctors to treat a heart defect or operable cancer?

Workers aren’t paid according to their skills; workers are paid on a scale of what the government thinks they should be paid, usually dependent on which jobs are needed most at that time. Which can be $1 a day, if you wish (although job quality will go straight down the crapper). Don’t want to be a teamster? Well, the teamster office is paying $25 an hour at the moment, even though it’s on the other side of the island. How many of us would drop our current jobs, abandon our homes, and remain nomadic depending on where the money goes?

Does that appeal to anyone?

If it does, imagine if your “presidente for life” was some politician you really couldn’t stand. *ahem* In real life, you may be able to vote in your country, but very few get to choose their dictator.

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Tropicaaaaaaans iiiiiiin SPAAAAAACE!

Tropico 4 is a fantastic game from El Presidente’s perspective. It asks the grand question, “What would the dictators of the world do with unlimited resources and man power?” Tropico‘s seemingly fantastic answer is: “What they’re already doing and then some.” I like to think I’d be a pretty benevolent dictator, if thrust into that position. But you didn’t see many people fleeing to communist Cuba during the 80’s and 90’s for its economic opportunities, religious freedom, and safety from political persecution. No, I’m pretty sure those rafts were floating towards Florida, not away from it.

Review: 9/10 for fun, 9/10 for making me research history and current events, 1/10 for making me talk about politics

My 10-Hour Tale – Endless Sky

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Release Date: October 2015

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

As you walk down your loading ramp into the anchorage of the Helheim starport, the musky smell of fusion coolant and greasy off-world cuisine fills your nostrils. Filled with about two dozen similarly-sized if not similarly-designed freighters, you immediately sense anxiety in the air as your eyes scan the port for the delivery office. Dozens of cargo containers line the edge of the dock, makeshift homes for a crowd of miners looking to find their fortunes excavating this toxic volcanic world.

Good thing you aren’t looking for work yourself. Many of these young men have probably been waiting for weeks to get a mining permit or join a crew. It isn’t that the dangerous mining jobs are scarce; it’s no doubt the mountain of legal paperwork, performing physicals, and collecting hastily filled-out medical and insurance waivers that makes the entire hiring process run like molasses.

To your surprise, three young men in port authority uniforms approach, two of them picking up and carrying a large fueling hose towards your ship and one stepping towards you with a digital ship log in his hands. You’ve never seen a starport with such prompt ship service, especially one as busy as this.

“I.S. Faulknor, registration number 281-79-AS675. You’re Captain Elizabeth Oren, correct?”

You nod and reach your hand to shake his. His hands don’t move from the clipboard. In fact, his eyes don’t quite match up with yours.

“You have the twenty tons of medical supplies we requested from the Delta Velorum system, correct? I’ll have my men confirm your delivery logs. Follow me.”

The uniformed man turns without waiting for a response, walking roughly towards what you hope is the dock delivery office. You follow behind him, instinctively reaching to check that the blaster at your hip is still there. It is.

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Hyperspace! Weeee!

The uniformed man leads you through the crowd of desperate and bored miners. You notice that many of these would-be miners look a lot younger than legal working age, and give you, the sharp-looking and (some would say) good-looking starship captain, a look of curiosity and interest. At the very least, you’ve taken a shower in the last 48 hours – many of the miners looking at you look and smell like they never have. The stares get more pointed and even indignant as you follow the uniformed man past the city entrance gate and the long job lines.

You ask your new companion why delivery confirmation would be done outside of the starport. He doesn’t respond immediately.

“My… My supervisor is off-duty but said wanted to speak with you the moment you landed. Please follow me. You will be paid after you speak with him.”

You struggle to maintain a straight, unassuming face, despite the fact that the young uniformed man isn’t watching you. He picks up his step, looking over his shoulder every couple of moments, not at you, but for someone or something else.

The entrance of Helheim looks nothing like the bustling starport. Instead of sprawling lines and crowds, you see only a few tired people and rusting bots stalking the streets. Large refuse trucks collect trash, dirty government offices line the streets, and smokestacks of the refineries smolder down the road ahead of you. You pass alleyway after alleyway, each one dustier and more filled with heaps of slag and garbage than the last. Unsurprisingly, your young friend turns into one of these alleyways ahead of you, not stopping to check if you are still following. Before you can call out to him, you feel something sharp press against the small of your back.

“Captain Oren, I presume,” says a deep somewhat mechanical voice behind you. “I wouldn’t move if I were you. I have two snipers hidden up above on rooftops watching your every move, and we wouldn’t want any accidents to happen, would we? If you would kindly remove your blaster belt… with your blaster on safety, mind… and give it to me, I would be much obliged.”

You sigh, unclipping your belt. You ask the figure if he disarms all the pretty ladies this way as your eyes scan the street ahead of you. No one notices the exchange, least of all any police drones.

“Just twice,” replies the voice. “Once, when some ornery lass tried to swindle me out of some credits while gambling on Shorebreak. And once before that, when some smartmouth little lady tried to smooth-talk her way into a passing grade from her flight instructor… Shame those street smarts didn’t translate to the real world very well, eh?”

The moment you hear the words “little lady”, your eyes widen.

“Kaden…?” you whisper, straining to get a look behind you. “William Kaden?”

The sharp pain vanishes.

“That’s Instructor Kaden to you, little lady,” says the synthesized voice, the volume of his voice suddenly much lower. “Keep your eyes forward and don’t look around. I wasn’t lying about the snipers. Though, admittedly, they’re less for you and more for anyone else that might be following you.”

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You’ll see this every time you land on a planet, and planets will offer different services, such as starports for purchasing ships, outfitters for buying upgrades, and more.

Memories of your flight training on your homeworld of New Boston years ago fill your mind, memories filled mostly with pain and disappointment from your time under the tutelage of Instructor William Kaden, ex-Republic pilot and all-around hard-ass. Although you had graduated by the skin of your teeth, he had been the one teacher you had never been able to please or impress. The pain of him asking for your training pistol and your flight badge at the end of Kaden’s advanced flight class still stung.

Now someone – possibly William Kaden – is standing behind you threatening you with a combat knife and possibly your own firearm. Whether the man was bluffing about the snipers was irrelevant; attempting to disarm him and return to your ship is out of the question. Although, if this man really is Instructor Kaden with a voice-changer, you know you don’t have anything to worry about; William Kaden is – and was – one-hundred percent Republic lawman. But what would a retired Republic pilot and flight instructor be doing on a mining world at the edge of Republic space?

You ask him bluntly if he’s looking to purchase twenty tons of medical supplies.

“Afraid not, little lady. As I’m sure you’ve deduced by now, you’ve been shipping something a little more important than morphine and band-aids. Don’t know the grade of your ship’s sensors, but the crates were hermetically sealed and lead-lined. All the better you didn’t know. Let’s take a little walk, shall we? Don’t acknowledge me, now, eyes forward. Just down this first alley, that’s it. I’ve got a proposition for you that you might not want to pass up…”

*             *             *             *             *

The original Escape Velocity was one of my favorite Mac games growing up (yes, I still have my dad’s old Power Macintosh G3 right above me on a shelf now, it even has a Zip drive… remember Zip drives?) Later on, I fell in love with Escape Velocity: Nova. Absolute love. This game made you captain of your very own ship and gave you a galaxy full of opportunity and danger to explore. You start out in an admittedly tiny cargo shuttle, but you could eventually become admiral of your own fleet. Or, you could join one of the many factions in the game and accept their storyline missions to eventually unlock amazing ship types and ship upgrades.

While Escape Velocity: Nova remains available for both Macintosh and PC, there’s one thing it isn’t, and that’s FREE and OPEN-SOURCE.

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There are dozens of ships, from tiny shuttles to gigantic warships. Some can be bought, some have to be earned, and others have to be stolen.

Endless Sky is a single-player “2D space trading and combat” game “inspired” by Escape Velocity. The quotes are mighty hefty, because Endless Sky is basically nostalgia fuel for anyone who played EV or EV: Nova in the 90s and early 2000s. You might even call it a spiritual successor.

Just like its influence, in Endless Sky you can essentially be any kind of pilot you want to be. Set sail (or engine) as a raider who boards ships to plunder their cargo (don’t forget yer peg-leg and eyepatch, yarrr), or follow the law and become a mercenary who chases down pirate bounties. You can be a simple trader who goes from system to system trading ware like metals, luxury goods, and (yes) medical supplies. You can even land on pirate systems and accept smuggling runs that pay very well if you don’t get your delivery scanned and confiscated by policing gunships.

You can certainly play to your heart’s content in this sandbox space simulator. But like Escape Velocity, Endless Sky has a main storyline that the player can follow as well. There are even unique dialogue choices to help you decide what kind of captain you want to be. Unlike Escape Velocity: Nova, unfortunately, it seems like this storyline isn’t quite as complex when it comes to branching pathways and joinable factions.

Yet.

The game is still in an early state; while I’m hesitant to call it ‘Early Access’ since so much of the game is complete and ready to play, there are many items that lack graphics and tooltips, and many of the alien factions (of which there are many, owning systems that are accessible only by jump drive that enables travel between unconnected systems) are lacking any story connections or starting points. This makes many ships and items unavailable unless you attack and disable the alien ships yourself and steal their equipment. This, obviously, makes them hate you, which is never good if you ever wish to travel in their territory.

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If you’ve played EV: Nova, you’ll find the minimalistic UI very comforting and familiar.

If you can’t tell by my attempt at writing a storyline hook above, I’ve wanted to build a storyline in EV: Nova ever since I started playing the game. Now I’m feeling the same way about Endless Sky. There are quite a few mods available for the game at the moment, and modding seems very easy compared to modding Escape Velocity. (As you can tell, I have so many things I want to do that I obviously can’t do them all. I can’t say it’s the next thing on my list but making a storyline mod for Endless Sky is on there.)

The major strength of Endless Sky is also its weakness: it is a free, open-source game, being developed as a hobby by a single very busy developer. This means that, unfortunately, updates seem few and far between. As of now, it’s been more than six months since the last update. According to the Steam discussion board, the developer hoped that the end of May would mean an update to v0.9.9, but so far this hasn’t been the case. Communication is relatively regular, however, so I haven’t lost hope in the game’s development.

I would do better to explain how the game plays, but you know what? It’s FREE. I urge you to go play it for yourself. Relax. Go on some trading missions. Once you have a bigger ship, go blow up some pirates. Or be a pirate, either one. It’s worth your time, and updates are only going to make the game even more entertaining. Should it ever go on sale, this is one game I will be paying for.

Review: 9/10

 

My 10-Hour Tale – Into the Breach

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Release Date: February 2018

System: Windows (Steam, GOG.com)

Unto the breach? Into? Oh well.

Before I decided to purchase Into the Breach, I only knew one thing about the game: it was made by Subset Games, the same studio that brought us FTL: Faster Than Light. I haven’t reviewed that game just yet, but I can firmly say that it was one of the most difficult and enjoyable experiences I’d had with an indie “roguelike” title back in 2012. FTL’s systems were unique, varied without being overly complex, and an entire campaign could go south within the space of a single battle. At the end of your travels to warn the Federation of the rebellion’s impending invasion, you were either prepared to go up against the mighty Rebel flagship or you were not. And more often than not, I was not prepared. But that’s the fun of the RNG and exploration.

In like fashion, Subset Games brought a new grid-based tactical game into the world that shared the same kind of desperate upgrade-as-you-go can-they-save-the-world feeling. Into the Breach makes me think of Gundam or Pacific Rim set to the tactical system of XCOM or Final Fantasy Tactics, but with a twist: not only do you want your heroes to save the day by defeating all the bad evil monsters, you also want to do your best to save the civilian cities and buildings. In other words, the point of the game is to be opposite of a Michael Bay film. A pixelated Michael Bay-less film.

I mean, collateral damage is going to happen, and it may or may not be my fault, but heroes don’t have to worry about that, right? No. Wrong. Very wrong.

Oh, and time travel! That’s always good, right? Don’t worry, no terrible time loops in this story.

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It’s the leader units you want to look out for. These things are big meanies.

Giant Mechs Versus Giant Aliens

So as far as the narrative goes, here’s the gist of it: Earth in the far-flung future is being invaded by gigantic city-sized alien bugs called the Vek. An unnamed group of human and A.I. mech pilots are called upon to battle them with three giant robots armed with a variety of different weaponry and gadgets. The Vek multiply quickly, and the odds look grim for humanity… The only ace-in-the-hole our intrepid pilots have is the ability to reverse time and “start over” whenever defeat seems imminent. Through this mechanic, the pilots (and the player) can even reverse time once per battle, restarting a bad turn.

Into the Breach is a turn-based game in which the player will face increasing numbers and types of Vek in battles that only last about five to six turns (a turn being all the Vek move, then all your mechs move, rinse and repeat). This means the combat can be very fast paced if you allow it to be; this is not recommended, as speed invariably leads to making terrible mistakes. In reality, you can take your time, analyze the battlefield, and create the best solution to squish the Vek and keep them off of civilian population centers and important buildings and vehicles. Call it a side-effect of time travel.

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FAILURE: INVASION IMMINENT. EMERGENCY TIME TRAVEL PROTOCOLS INITIATED.

Future Arms and Tech

Your pilots will have a single mech team at the beginning. But unlocking achievements will help you unlock additional mech teams that can bring all new exciting tactics to the fight. For example, the Rift Walkers (your initial team of mechs) have pretty straightforward attacks, including the Titan Fist (which damages and pushes the target backwards), the Taurus Cannon (a long-range attack which has the same effect as the Titan Fist), and Artemis Artillery (which damages the center target and shoves all surrounding units one tile away from the center). Eventually, you’ll unlock mechs with weapons like Aerial Bombs (which damages and create smoke on the target, making the target unable to act), Flamethrowers (which damage units over time) and Acid Projectors (which inflict A.C.I.D. status on targets, doubling any damage the unit suffers). Better yet, every piece of weaponry will show you their effects when mousing over it, so there’s no confusion about their effects.

The point of all of this weapon diversity is to help you twist and manipulate the battlefield to your advantage. You see, the Vek emerge from the ground (which you can stand on top of to block their emergence) and they don’t act immediately after announcing their attack. This gives your pilots the ability to counter them before they act.

The Vek will attack your mechs, allies, or civilian buildings, and it’s up to you to choose whether to attack and kill them, somehow shove them out of the way of their intended target, or even shove your target into other Vek, damaging them both. If you’re clever enough, you can even turn Vek attacks against themselves, and there are achievements for doing so. If you’re even more cleverer and willing to take a risk, you can smash your own units into the enemy or push yourself with artillery explosions for a movement boost. The game encourages you to do anything, including self-sacrifice, to achieve victory. Don’t worry, though; the mechs are capable of self-repair, which you can take advantage of instead of attacking.

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Your first team: the Rift Walkers.

Be cautious, though: not only do your mechs have HP bars (and losing pilots means losing their valuable experience and abilities), you have an overall “Power Grid” that represents the health of the civilian cities. Damage to structures will remove bars on the Power Grid, and when it hits zero, it’s game over and time to time travel to an alternate timeline where you didn’t screw up. This sets up a conundrum you’ll encounter many times in combat: should I sacrifice my pilots to protect my Power Grid now, or should I sacrifice the Power Grid to save my pilots for the future?

Oh, and one more thing: your pilots aren’t the only ones time-hopping. Every once in a while, a “time-pod” will drop onto the battlefield that you can secure or ignore. Don’t ignore them for too long, though, or the Vek will also attack them. You won’t want to ignore them since they’re filled with goodies like new pilots and mech powerups… Unless you’re going for the achievement to ignore them, of course. Into the Breach is pretty achievement heavy when it comes to putting you at every disadvantage possible.

Not-Exactly-Paradise Islands

In every campaign, there are four island sectors ruled by different factions (including corporations, terraforming specialists, A.I. engineers, and scientists). On each, you’ll encounter different biomes which can work with or against your overall strategy. At first, you’ll only be able to go through the islands one at a time, but after you successfully defend each island, they’ll become available from the beginning of a campaign from then on.

Missions on each island will have special secondary objectives on top of simple survival. A successful “lightning bolt” objective will add to your Power Grid power rating. A successful “star” objective will grant the player a reputation point that they can spend at the end of the island on new pilots, fusion reactors (which power the weapons and defensive capabilities of the mechs), weapons, tools, and Power Grid power. If no weapons appeal to you, purchasing Grid Power is sometimes a good option as obtaining any power over seven will add to your “Grid Defense” rating. This is the percentage that civilian buildings will completely resist Vek damage. There’s nothing like losing complete hope only for a building to negate its own damage!

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Such a simple UI. It didn’t need to be any more complex than this.

After completing two islands, you’ll be able to play out the final battle at the Vek Hive island… If you think defending additional islands too risky, then, by all means, take on the final battle. The difficulty of the final fight will curve to how many islands you’ve completed, but you’ll probably be better prepared if you complete three or four islands. If you succeed in destroying the hive, you’ll get a happy ending, and your pilots will time travel to another timeline, ready to continue the fight (for eternity? Some lines suggest that your pilots have been in the fight for a very long time, relatively speaking).

Of course, it’s also possible for a fantastic run to be killed in the final battle. Or any battle, for that matter. Just like in FTL, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is a very distinct possibility at all times in Into the Breach.

Success and Failure

Into the Breach manages to be difficult without being overbearing (unless you want it to be, there is a brutal hard mode for expert tacticians). There’s an “every single move and action counts” mentality that makes the game feel a lot like the game of chess I never knew I wanted to play, complete with a time travel “turn reset” button in case I mess up somewhere along the way. The whole campaign isn’t very long, meaning it’s a great game to pick up on a lunch break, and failure isn’t ever permanent. In fact, I found that getting certain achievements depended on a bit of failure.

Deciding what each mech is going to do and how they will move is completely dependent on which type of mech they are and what armaments they have. Artillery with increased move distance makes them infinitely more versatile, melee mechs need increased health and a pilot that can make the mech armored (or resistant to single points of damage) and flying mechs never have to worry about water or acid pools. Of course, it’s completely up to you to upgrade your mech in every game. Utilizing every mech’s strengths and overcoming their weaknesses is where the true challenge lies. Each mech team you obtain has a completely different game plan, and it took me quite a while to get used to a team change.

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Of course, the Vek live in an active volcano. Where else do giant bugs live?

My personal favorite? Blitzkreig. A hook mech to reel enemies in, a boulder mech to squish and stop Vek from emerging from the ground, and a lightning mech to chain-electrocute close-up enemies (even through buildings).

My verdict? If you like tactical board games, you should definitely play this game. Into the Breach is slow enough for beginners to learn and enjoy, yet there’s nothing stopping a more advanced player from playing at crazy-fast speeds if they wish (there are speed achievements, too). Complete with an intuitive UI and tooltips explaining absolutely everything, I never had any questions about the effects of any weapon or gadget.

If you can learn chess, you can learn Into the Breach faster. In fact, the only thing Into the Breach is missing is a multiplayer “mech vs. Vek” or even “mech vs. mech” feature, which I think would put it over the top in my book. Co-op with two teams of mechs versus a mass of Vek on an expanded board would have been amazing.

And I just found out there are mods for the game. I think my brain just broke because of the awesome.

Review: 9.3/10

My 100-Hour Tale – Dark Cloud 2

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Release Date: November 2002

System: Playstation 2, Playstation 4 (PSN)

First off, let me apologize: this review may be all over the place, there’s a lot to cover. I considered making this a Backstage Tale instead of a review, but I figured just because Dark Cloud 2 is one of my favorite titles on the PS2 doesn’t mean I can’t be critical of some of its features and give it a good ribbing. I’ll admit right now that, although I attempt to create the illusion of impartiality, I’m a pretty biased guy. I have no journalistic aspirations. After all, if you want a 100% objective review, here’s a good example (ha, and you thought there was no such thing).

When it comes to games that represent my childhood and teenage years, games that I’ve given hundreds of hours of my life to leveling and grinding, games with soundtracks I’ll play in my car to make my sisters embarrassed to know me, I might gush a little more than usual.

That being said, Dark Cloud 2 is one of the most entertaining and fulfilling games I’ve ever bought for two systems and never finished. Blasphemy, I know. But I never did say my 100-Hour Tales had to have a satisfying ending.

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Yes, that is a pig monster I flipped on its head with a sword with gold exploding from its butt. Isn’t that how you make money?

Timey-Wimey Ball

Dark Cloud 2 is a third-person action-adventure RPG known as Dark Chronicle everywhere but the good ol’ United States (because we love our sequels so much that we don’t buy a game unless we see a number next to the title, no matter how disconnected the stories are between the two games). Go figure, huh?

Level-5 is responsible for the development of this wonderful game. And they are known for delivering wonderfully-Japanese games (of course they would, they’re Japanese). This is the same company that has given us such gems such as Dragon Quest VIII and XI, the Professor Layton series, the White Knight Chronicles, the Inazuma Eleven series, and the Studio Ghibli-designed Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Revenant Kingdom. Level-5’s design and story development are lovingly anime every step of the way, and Dark Cloud 2’s is no different.

For this review, I’ll start with the bad. Okay, not bad, just rough.

For anyone that doesn’t know, Dark Cloud 2 is a time travel story. This means that, just like other stories about time travel, there are plot holes the size of Mack trucks. In fact, one of the weakest aspects of Dark Cloud 2 as a whole is its story. You follow the story of a present-day boy named Maximillian (voiced by Scott Menville, who also voices Robin in Teen Titans) and a girl named Monica (voiced by Anndi McAfee, who also voices Emily Wong, an investigative journalist from Mass Effect) who comes from 100 years in the future. She was able to travel to the present (her past) because of a mysterious blue stone she holds called an Atlamillia. Max was given a similar red stone with instructions to never lose it; it, too, is an Atlamillia, and coincidentally allows the wielder (and those around him) to travel 100 years into the future. There’s a third Atlamillia in the world, but its location is unknown (the story never says where it is in the present if it even exists at that time at all).

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Monica, Max, and Cedric going back to the past. I refuse to make a ‘Back to the Future’ joke.

So far so good, right? Well, not so much. This big bad Emperor Griffon (voiced by none other than Mark Hamill, actually) somehow wields a lot of power over time *cough* ATLAMILLIA *cough* and has eradicated several important people and organizations in Monica’s time by erasing their origins points in the present. Pretty tricky. How Monica is able to remember these important people and organizations when they have been completely erased from time, the game doesn’t explain. The Atlamillia, maybe? *cough* WHY NOT *cough* Anyway, Max and Monica travel to these origin points and fight all sorts of monsters and recruit villagers to restore these future people and organizations so they can help you get to Emperor Griffon and stop him from messing with time.

Right off the top of my head, I can think of twelve ways to ruin our heroes’ origin-point-restoring plan with time travel before they even get started. But that doesn’t make for a fun video game. So, oh well, I’ll allow it.

The absolute worst part of Dark Cloud 2?

The dialogue.

Oh, the DIALOGUE.

(The fish isn’t around long and is never seen again, it’s a shame.)

Great voice actors, obviously terrible voice direction. Play the game and just try to endure the awkward pauses. Upon his defeat, one villain in particular is given a sob story about his mother out of absolutely nowhere, and I couldn’t take it seriously when I watched it as a teenager. It still makes me cringe. But it’s okay: you can merrily skip every last cutscene by pressing start and then triangle. I won’t say anything more because I’ll probably get in trouble with people who actually like the campy characters.

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Yes, that is a giant tree with a tailor’s shop in his nose and a sandwich shop hat. His name is Jurak, and you’ll be reviving his origin point, nose-tailor and all.

The Part Where He Gushes

This is the part where I gush.

The gameplay is superb. Absolutely bonkers good. Max wields a wrench (or hammer) and a gun, while Monica brandishes a sword and a magical bracelet that fires elemental spells. As the story progresses, Max gains the ability to drive Steve, a fully-upgradable mech robot, and Monica gains the ability to transform into the very monsters you fight. You start with pretty rudimentary weapons without many stats, but as you kill monsters, they’ll drop experience orbs with which your weapon will slowly level up. The last hit on the monster determines which weapon gets the experience, even if another weapon did most of the work (if you want to distribute experience evenly between main and side weapons, kill a monster with Steve then quickly switch to Max or Monica before picking up the experience orbs).

Once your weapon has a level, they’ll be granted synthesis points. On your travels you’ll pick up a lot of different resources, most notably crystals of ten different stats: attack, durable, flame, chill, cyclone, lightning, exorcism, smash, beast, and scale. Spectrumize (or break down) a crystal or resource to turn it into a synth sphere which can then be applied to the leveled-up weapon to increase the appropriate stat. (For example, let’s say I want to upgrade the ‘beast’ stat. I have a ‘Hunter’s Crystal’ in my inventory and a synthesis point available on my weapon. I would spectrumize the ‘Hunter’s Crystal’ and then apply it to my weapon for a three-point increase to ‘beast’.) You can spectrumize almost anything, including other weapons, but they may not be as effective as crystals or rare gemstones.

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+6 means Monica’s sword has leveled up six times, and the blue glowy lines around it mean it can evolve.

With high enough stats, your weapon can then ‘evolve’ and take on a different form, and oh boy, there’s a weapon tree for all four types of weapons (Max’s wrench/hammer, Max’s gun, Monica’s sword, and Monica’s bracelet/armband). Weapons can break and become unusable, but they’ll never disappear on you like they did in the first Dark Cloud. You can always repair them with repair powders, which are plentiful in dungeons or can be bought.

You’ll be fighting monsters in many different dungeons, which are randomly generated in a way that reminds me of a very simplified Diablo dungeon pattern filled with monsters, locked doors, an entrance, an exit, and a gate key. Even the same level will never generate the same way twice. On every level, you can gain medals based on beating certain challenges, which include beating a time limit, catching a certain size of fish (YES, THERE’S FISHING, more on that later), playing a game called Spheda (YES, THERE’S GOLF, more on that later), or meeting other special conditions. Later in the game, you’ll also find objects called Geostones which are vital to your origin-point-restoring efforts.

And at last, we reach the big draw of Dark Cloud 2: the actual world restoration project called Georama. With Geostones, you’ll receive blueprints to building the structures, natural formations, and tools your present dwellers will need to build a proper future. You’ll recruit people from the starting town of Palm Brinks to live in these communities as if they were destined to live there as well as build their homes, fulfilling the conditions laid forth in the Geostones that will end in the correct future a century from now.

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You’ll find lots of these. One per stage, in fact, after a certain point in the story.

No two environments are alike; Sindain is a forest with rivers and hills. Building successfully in Balance Valley depends on evenly spacing your buildings on four different plateaus. Veniccio requires platforms (since most of the building area is ocean) and metal homes of different colors. And hot embers are currently falling on Heim Rada, so wood buildings are right out. I spent so much time getting my village to look right, I was doing it more for fun than actually accomplishing it only for the objectives. The only thing that limited my creativity is the high expense of the materials.

All The Extra Bits

YES, THERE’S FISHING. And fishing competitions! And fish RACING! You can even level up your fish! When I fish in Dark Cloud 2, I remember all my fond memories of fishing in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It’s all super relaxing and rewarding.

And yes, there’s GOLF. Or spheda, as the game calls it. It is super difficult; your golf ball (‘time spheres’) and the hole (‘time distortions’) are both colored red or blue, and you can only score if your ball and the hole are opposingly colored. Every time the ball bounces, it will change color. You have to think strategically and get the ball to the hole at the same time as it changes the right color and in a certain amount of hits. I’ve had an equal amount of success and failure at spheda, but I still love it.

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Ahh… Night fishing at the docks. All so Max can catch a huge fish to show the guy next to him and recruit him for wacky time-traveling adventures.

Oh, and Max has a camera which he uses to take pictures of absolutely everything and can ‘invent’ items based on the photos he takes. He can even take special pictures called ‘scoops’ that he can give to a friend for a reward. This is actually a huge part of the exploration…

Oh, and all the people you recruit from Palm Brinks can join you on your adventures, providing special bonuses or selling certain items to you, even while you’re in dungeons. Cedric has saved my life by repairing Steve and his weapons so many times…

Oh, and apparently there’s a special dungeon for anyone who actually beats the game (unlike me) that ends in one of the most difficult bosses in the series, someone who may be familiar if you’ve beaten the first Dark Cloud

Oh, and you’ll be humming the earworm soundtrack for days…

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My favorite screen, especially if I’ve broken most of my weapons to get here.

There’s so much to love in Dark Cloud 2. I really adore this game. Like I said, I’ve bought it twice, once for PS2 and once for PS4. For anyone with a PS4, I would highly suggest picking up this game and giving it a try. I haven’t beaten it, but I keep coming back to it, even after all this time. Dark Cloud 2’s weapon upgrading system has such an addictive depth. The game’s monsters and bosses are all unique and varied, and dungeons are just fun to delve. It’s just such a shame that such an epic time travel story had to be so darn campy.

But that’s just my opinion. I know a lot of people love it because of the camp. Regardless, play this game. If you missed it in 2002, you missed a diamond in the rough.

Review: 9.5/10

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

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

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

 

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