During the past month or so I have managed to play a few of the indie games from my Steam backlog. Randomly nearly all games that were released in 2012. And of all of them this is by far and away the one I have my enjoyed the most.
Although I have to own up to a mistake. Only upon playing FTL:Faster Than Light recently have I realised I wasn’t playing it quite correctly when I first tried playing the game. At the time I realised that you could upgrade weapons, augmentations and crew members in the numerous stores found in the game. However I hadn’t realised you could actually upgrade the ship to power up things like shields, or weapons from the main screen. Therefore I thought it was a cool roguelike but a bit hard as I struggled in the latter systems. That said I was still able to reach sector 5 and unlock the Engi Cruiser ship!
Once you get the hang of the game (and yes, there is a basic tutorial for dummies like me) what opens up is a fantastic roguelike futuristic space games where you never know how each run of commanding your fleeing spaceship will play out. Whether this is a successful run or where one of the numerous alien ships will bring your run to a crushing end on the next jump.
The game is hard. Even on easy the game will kill you a lot. Particularly to begin with. With over 12 hours of so played I’ve seen my ships get wrecked far too often. The game will let you experience a massive range of emotions and it has some fantastically tense moments where you can literally come back from near death with only one bar of ship health.
There some things the game did which annoyed me or I didn’t like. There is no auto pause on enemy encounters once you’ve clicked on the dialog options. This mean you have to press the spacebar to pause every time which gets annoying quickly. And it would have been nice to see previous runs count in a progression model, even if it was cosmetics or something simple like crew names carrying over. However some of this is perhaps over analysing the game for what it is.
And for me of all the indie games I’ve played I think this is one of the best examples I have ever played. Although not a huge fan of rogue-like games it’s hard not to appreciate how beautiful, simple yet complex and wonderfully diverse this game is. The highest compliment is that it makes me want to check out the developer’s next game (Into the Breach) even before seeing all the rave reviews that game has received.
Superbrothers: Sword & Brothers EP was first released in 2011 for iOS, although on PC it wasn’t released until the following year. A bit like Dear Esther which I reviewed recently it’s been in my Steam library since 2012 after picking it up from a Humble Bundle at some point. Also like Dear Esther it isn’t a long game, taking under 5 hours to play through.
The game can be best described as an indie 2d adventure game with some puzzle elements and a small amount of action. However some of these felt more like a rhythm action game in certain sequences. Without saying too much the story centres on one character who ventures into the mountains shortly after coming across some non-player characters in the game. The story is split into parts which you must complete.
Audio is an absolute strength of the game, both in the soundtrack and the sound effects. The pacing as well, being perfectly in-tune to what was going on in game. A professional musician helped with the soundtrack and it shows. There is a fantastic pixel-like style to the graphics and the whole package is just very well put together, particularly for the less than five pounds the game sells for on Steam (in the UK). It is a very pretty and charming game than made an impact with me.
That said there are two main issues I saw with the game. Firstly the controls on the PC version didn’t feel great. The biggest issue is that the touch screen controls have simply been mapped to the mouse with no use of keyboard of even joypad controls. This lack of direct control really dampened the experience for me. It plays more as a point and click game but at times I was having to click more than once because mouse clicks simply weren’t registered because of the touchscreen controls expecting you to hold down rather than press quickly. On top of this in fights I couldn’t be precise when needed to and therefore resorted to mashing the mouse button which made these parts more irritating than they should have been.
Secondly the game time-gates content to a real world clock. You can adjust your clock settings although you lose a perfect percentage score at the end. And there is an in-game mechanical for changing phases however this is broken (whether intentional or otherwise) if events have been completed in a certain order. This meant I had to wait over a week just to be able to progress the game. I’m not sure that was really necessary. Other than that some of the puzzles aren’t about logical deduction and become simple trial and error.
This is probably a game best experienced on touch screen and portable devices not just because of the controls that have been designed around a tablet but also the gameplay which is suited as a more casual experience and therefore something you can enjoy on the move. Overall a really abstract, weird and unique experience that I enjoyed for the most part.
I purchased Dear Esther in 2012 for the princely sum of £1.74. It’s the perfect example of the sort of game that fills up my library on Steam. Anyway with a bit of time over the holidays I’ve managed to complete it. It is a very short experience and it doesn’t take much time at all to playthrough.
I don’t really want to say too much about it because it’s one of those experiences that best enjoyed with as little knowledge as possible. Essentially it’s the original videogame that created the walking simulator genre that has since become quite popular. So a noteworthy videogame in that regard.
It’s difficult to summarise how I feel about it, as at times it feels too vague for want of a better word. That said it is technically well done, quite atmospheric and pretty in places. It’s also well voiced and the soundtrack in general is good. I didn’t enjoy it as much as other similar games and in that sense it’s hard to disagree with either those that don’t like it or those who enjoyed it and really appreciate it for what it is.
It’s worth mentioning that I played the Landmark Edition that was given away for free to owners of the original game to celebrate its release on consoles and includes a director’s commentary and was remade in the Unity engine unlike the original PC Source-engine release.
And finally just a note to say that the Steam Controller is pretty much perfect for this sort of game. I’m not a huge fan of that controller and prefer the main console controllers for multiple reasons. But here the Steam Controller works really well. Particularly the haptic pads which require less resistance to move.
As we are coming up for the end of year I wanted to have a look at my progress against my backlog since I set this website up around five months ago. Originally my intention was to setup up a WordPress site from scratch, learn new skills, as well as being able to track how many games I own, or have access to. Sites like Grouvee are very good at logging games but generally very bad at a timeline view.
2018 in numbers
Backlog: Increased by 12 (264 to 278)
Played: Increased by 3 (192 to 195)
Completed = 2
Abandoned = 1
Played = 6
So overall not that many games played, or completed although as a whole I think I managed to play a total of 17 games this year. However I only set-up tracking along with this site in July, so there may be a chance that I’ve missed a game or two. However this number excludes retro games like Tetris on the Nintendo Game Boy.
There is a discrepancy in my figures on Grouvee because I’ve realised I have played 6 new games for the first time since setting up the website: Rage, Fortnite: Save the World, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, Forza Motorsport 7, Dying Light and Starlink. Everything else was either played earlier in the year or I had started playing before. I believe the discrepancy is simply that I am not regarding a game as played on Grouvee until I am done with it (i.e. Rage).
However what is clear is that I have been playing GaaS/Live Services games and when I’m not playing these sort of games I do speed-up considerably at progressing in other games. I’ve written about this before. In addition other projects such as buying a new PC, upgrading my Unraid server, house DIY and work etc. have also played their part in limiting my time playing games.
With regards to purchasing new games it doesn’t appear too bad. However some of this is rebuying games on Xbox Live or Playstation Network which I already owned on PC and therefore hasn’t increased the numbers. Also free games from Games With Gold, PlayStation Plus or Game Pass reduced my new purchasing a little bit. Although I don’t add these onto my backlog figures, overall I nearly acquired 100 new games in the time of setting up the website. Most of these will be free games.
2019: the year ahead
I suspect it going to be hard to ignore The Division 2 in late February although I would like to avoid the launch and see what the game is like first. Partly because of how other similar games like Destiny 2 went, but also to allow time for microtransactions and the overall business model to settle. There are a few games like Anthem and Days Gone that are also intriguing to me.
Beyond that I missed out on a number of big hitters from the second half of this year that are on my Wishlist. Namely Forza Horizon 4, Marvel’s Spiderman and Red Dead Redemption 2. Depending on sales these might be games I pick up sooner than later. I do have access to Forza Horizon 4 via Game Pass but am put off by not having the VIP pack (earn in-game credits 2 times faster).
I would also like to buy a Nintendo Switch but with a hardware revision rumoured in the second half of 2019 this will be put on-hold for now.
And other than that probably continuing to move away from PC gaming. I am still playing many PC games but the fact is with the sharp increase in the cost of PC components (particularly in the UK) I have therefore stopped buying as many games on PC. And this is something I intend to continue with as we see new Sony and Microsoft consoles in the near future. Dying Light, Rage and Inside are all good examples of games I purchased or played on console that previously I would have picked up on PC.
It would be nice to complete or shelve somewhere in the region of 15 to 25 videogames in 2019. I think that might be hard but achievable. Certainly I would like to have played at least double the number from this year. As the first full calendar year of monitoring this will be interesting to see if I can meet this target.
Anyway an early ‘Happy New Year!’ for everyone who read this far. Thank you.
Rubbish attempt at a pun, I know. A very eventful day after The Games Awards where a number of announcements were made. Specifically the news that Epic Games have launched their new PC Storefront with a number of new exclusive games. Many which still had store pages on Steam right up until launch.
On top of this, the news also broke that Rage 2 on PC will be exclusively on the Bethesda.net Store. Not in itself surprising given Bethesda Game Studio’s previous game Fallout 76 did the same. But nevertheless compounding a bad news day for Valve.
Anyway lots of factually incorrect statements and opinions that made me want to note the following:
People aren’t entitled for complaining
Steam is the oldest, and most feature rich of any PC storefront or launchers out there. It offers features such as home streaming, controller support and refunds which a lot of other services don’t offer. People are invested in the service and love having their games library in one place. I’ve long ago realised any dream of having my games in one place is misplaced as publishers launch their own storefronts, but completely understand the complaints from the community that don’t want to sign-up to another storefront or service. People seem to be using ‘entitled gamer’ as a shield or blocker to valid criticism. But here there are arguably legitimate questions being raised, i.e. what is the refund policy? or how will the technical support work? Hopefully not like this…
This IS competition
Whether we like it or not unfortunately competition is not simply releasing games across all storefronts. Buying exclusivity is one of the oldest and easiest tactics Epic have to help their new service become a success. It’s akin to BT acquiring rights to UEFA Champion League Football all those years ago. It might not have really offered any benefit to those invested in Sky TV but it offered a basis for BT to take aim at their competitors.
30% probably is disproportionate to what digital storefronts offer
Something Tim Sweeney has talked about before and I can’t help but agree. Realistically the costs and such are probably only a few percent of any transaction. The ‘but it’s industry standard’ feels like a muted response. As annoying as this news was for some, as Epic have gone from struggling developer to financial powerhouse due to Fortnite’s success they can choose what they do next. And offering a PC storefront that maximises the revenue spilt to 88/12% (12% to Epic) is definitely fighting a battle that they believe in.
Some inexcusable practices on the announcement
Ashen was meant to be on Xbox Game Pass for PC (via Xbox Play Anywhere) and has a ‘TBD’ on its Steam page. On top of this another game; Outer Wilds had a previous fig (crowdfunding) campaign stating they were giving out Steam versions for backers. I think the right thing to do would be to offer refunds to any backers for changing a previously advertised reward. The lateness of the announcement and the lack of honesty is wrong. I think the developers and publishers involved should have at least communicated something far earlier and be clear if this is timed exclusivity or not. The obfuscation here doesn’t help.
Games can do well away from Steam
Often stated as fact that games won’t do as well when not on Steam, but I wonder how true this is anymore. Given how much of their revenue certain games earn at release I sense that these games might do fine, particularly if they have already received payment for exclusivity from Epic. Indie games having success away from Steam isn’t new.
Communication is something developers still really struggle with
Specifically this response from Coffee Stain games (Satisfactory) on YouTube. Whilst the intention was probably there, the lack of stating why they weren’t on Steam just makes me think it would have probably better to have not released this video. A tweet letting people know a Q&A was coming would have probably been better. Perhaps the couldn’t say it because of a legal agreement. But either way if you have nothing of worth to say, then don’t say it.
PC gaming gets even more messy
Yep, even more win32.exe files sitting in my systray taking up resources or launcher launching through other launchers (UPlay on top of Steam – yay!). Although a wonderful open-source project like Playnite can help try and organise the disparate services, PC gaming just got messier than it already is.
One of the most unique videogame experiences there is.
Warframe is fantastic. From the minute you first play it and start with the first movement of your character, you realise you are playing something stunningly different. Something special. So much has been written already about this game, so to get straight to the point – Warframe is one of, if not the best ‘looter shooter’ out there at the moment. It’s very unique, comes from a strong, creative and innovative developer. And has the best Community teams in the business of all online games. It’s an outright classic. It is also the near-perfect example of how a Live Service should be done.
Warframe is a game I first saw years ago when TotalBiscuit covered it in his fairly famous ‘WTF’ video on YouTube in January 2013. After that is was a game I would often see mentioned but for some reason would never play. Probably in part influenced by my negative reactions to free-to-play (f2p) business models. But in 2016 I finally had a chance to catch up with some f2p games that I had been meaning to play. There is only one of these games that I stuck with and still play even after 2 years. And that game is Warframe.
Warframe is unique. Unique combat, unique character movement, unique levelling. It also has uniqueness all through its style, designs, world, stories and numerous component parts. It’s hard to compare it to anything but it’s one of the strongest third-person shooters there is. The combat and visual display in front of your eyes is like watching the finest fireworks display you’ve ever scene when everything is flying about on screen.
The mod system which is used to upgrade your warframes is also a work of genius. Collecting and equipping different buffs and bonuses to your warframe can give you huge levels of customisation although levelling each individual mod can take long amounts of time (or money). Also fashion frame is a true end-game experience if you want it to be. A bit like the fashion wars in Guild Wars 2, there is an almost never ending mixture of parts, armour, weapons and colours than can be played with to come up with some absolutely personal and distinct creations.
As an f2p game one of the first questions should be; ‘is the business model fair’. And for the most part it does things well including being extremely generous with content. There’s in-game trading for the virtual currency (although no auction house just a chat channel) and every item can be earnt in the game. Although many of these are either time-limited (vaulted), require reputation grinds or only be obtained from a suitable high level clan.
However ‘Prime’ cosmetics cannot be earnt in game and can only be purchased for money. Prime items are the best items in the game and overall the prices for the quarterly Prime Packs feel ridiculously expensive (£92 on PC, for example). Although you can obtain Prime Warframes just playing the game (essentially the characters and therefore different play styles). However if you are low on time or a more casual player obtaining things can be very expensive. It certainly isn’t the most egregious business model which is often why people refer to Warframe as ‘f2p done right’. However it has it’s positives points but also has some negative points that are more difficult to defend.
And of course there is a never-ending release of new frames, new items etc. Which can make the game just feel like an impossible rat race to keep up with at times. Digital Extremes are doing their upmost to pump out new content but as a game now over 5 years old I would personally like them to relook at the basics. I suspect they will always prioritise new revenue generation over maintenance and improving old content. And at this point the game is layer, upon layer, upon layer, upon layer of systems designed to lengthen the grind. In places it feels like a mess. Particularly the new player experience which isn’t very good. As a new player you have countless questions which the game does very little to help with. Fortunately there is a wonderful community to help out, but alas that isn’t the point.
It’s also a game that should ideally have cross-play or at least have the intention of working towards this even if it’s years away. I would love to play on other formats although I’m not encouraged in any way to do so. However to be fair that isn’t a criticism that is unique to this game.
I have genuinely enjoyed and loved every minute with this game and would wholeheartedly recommend Warframe. It’s a one-off experience available on all current formats and is one of the better games out there at the moment. It really deserves the success it has had to date.
A casual friendly MMO and enjoyable Elder Scrolls game
If ever there was a game that can be described as divisive, then I think this game might be one such example. This MMO from Zenimax Online Studios (from the same organisation as Bethesda Game Studios) launched in 2014 to mixed reviews and anger from Elder Scrolls fans who wanted another single-player game. It was a subscription only PC game. Since then it has gone through loads of changes; transitioning to a buy to play business model, launching on consoles in 2015, the One Tamriel update in 2016, meaning you could go and do anything. And two large expansions arriving last year and earlier this year.
I first picked up the game in Febuary 2017 and at this point have played well over 200 hours on PC over a few different characters, getting near the end-game. Overall the game runs quite well although fps can and does chug when in large populated areas.
As someone who prefers solo PVE content and can be fairly slow, or casual in tackling content I would probably go as far to say this is one of the best MMOs I have played. There are 3 massive faction quest lines, one overall campaign and loads of zones to clear before you even get to the DLC and expansions (although the game calls them chapters) content. And everything you do is levelling some aspect of your character and can be tackled in any order you like. So you can simply go straight to the latest content if you so wish.
PVE questing is a very strong point in this game. Apart from fully voiced NPCs, quests don’t descend into kill/collect/gather ‘X’ number of items that so many other MMOs do. Quests often have choices and usually resolve around mini stories. One thing the game does well is organically group players. As you explore the world you will see and meet other players. This works really well for the Delves (solo) and Public dungeons. The game has PVP but I haven’t played it.
Combat is handled quite well. The combat is action based with telegraphs and markers for enemy attacks. It lacks the finesse of a game like Guild Wars 2 but is fairly enjoyable. In part due to the limited number of skills you can equip on your skill bar.
The game doesn’t have a gear score. Virtually everything you find will be for your current gear level. Once you get to Champion Points 160 gear is then end game as the game no longer scales gear up anymore. Champion Points are earned after max level and essentially allow you to spec up your character with additional skills and stats. They can take a fair while to earn to 160 although they are account based.
In fact the game has level and progression for pretty much everything. Your characters level, your 3 class skill trees, weapon, armour or other skill lines including guilds and DLC, crafting, mounts, backpack and storage and so on. Levelling even one character in all these areas will take a very, very, very long time. Like the main Elder Scrolls you level up skills by using them.
The game feels like an Elders Scrolls game. The gameplay, lore, world, User Interface all feel spot on. I do think it is popular to bash this game which isn’t based always on fact. In some ways this game does things better than the mainline games. Combat and crafting are much better, for example.
The race and class system is very flexible and again as a solo player allows for some truly creative freedom rather than being stuck to certain play styles. However any serious end game play in groups or guilds usually resolves around certain race/class builds.
In terms of negatives, the game still has the Star Trek-like looking humanoid races in my opinion, but to be fair so do all Elder Scrolls games. Certainly races like Khajit look rubbish in comparison to Char from Guild Wars 2, for example. And node stealing can happen albeit very rarely.
I think the biggest problem I have with game is it’s business model and maintenance schedule. The game continues to have an optional subscription but has an in-game cash shop which in late 2016 introduced lootboxes. These have since been tweaked to be worse. It seems that the most desirable items are being developed for these lootboxes. On top of this the game does DLC which whilst available to all subscribers, has to be purchased if wanting to own permanently. So that’s a subscription, collector’s editions, DLC, Expansions, in-game cash shop and lootboxes. Whilst none of this is abnormal for a MMO its feels an overly egregious business model and a massive negative against the game.
For EU players another issue is the weekly maintenance on the server which is done overnight for North American players so they avoid any disruption. But for EU players this means the game is unavailable during the daytime. It feels like a clear message that EU players aren’t as important to Zenimax Online Studios.
I think some of the criticism levelled against this game is sometimes unfair. It is an MMO first but still a good Elder Scrolls experience. For fans of the series there is a lot to recommend. Particularly if you want to experience Tamriel with friends.
Where The Elder Scrolls Online excels for me is as a solo friendly, fairly casual MMO experience. And on this basis I would recommended for anyone interesting to check out. However be wary of the overly aggressive microtransactions which otherwise really spoilt a solid experience.
Played on PC / Elder Scrolls Online Launcher (non-Steam version)
Not that long ago I wrote a blog piece about how I felt a bit burnt out on Games as a Service (GaaS) and I was falling out of love with them. That said in videogaming it’s hard to stay away from these sort of games. And this August saw the release of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. Despite not wanting to play it, I find myself being pulled towards the game as it feels like every Twitch streamer and YouTuber on the planet has been racing through the game to level their character to the new max 120-level. Hell back in Legion I even pre-ordered the new expansion!
WoW is a game I’ve always been behind the curve on. I first tried it in 2007 but never particularly clicked with it first time. I can’t explain why but something wasn’t quite right about that first time with a warrior in Elwynn Forrest. MaybeI just had other games at the time I wanted to play. Either way it wasn’t until Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning came out (remember that?) that I had a strange desire to play an MMO. And Blizzard had recently introduced a new Refer-a-Friend scheme that meant I could level-up with a friend as well as earn them some rewards.
Unfortunately I burnt out somewhere around level 38. This is when Wrath of the Lich King had just come out. Over the years I revisited WoW a few times during each expansion, but sometimes not staying around for long. Either way it would take until Warlords of Draenor before I would even make it to max level with a character. Since then I’ve played around levelling other classes but just have my one original toon (Draenai Shaman) at 110. Although I still have a free 110 boost on the account from already buying Battle for Azeroth.
Realistically I always don’t get that far in WoW, burning out levelling new toons or soon after reaching max level. I always have dreams of mount hunting or levelling my professions but it never seems to happen. With Legion though even if I scratched the surface I felt I got to a good place at least levelling one of my toons.
WoW for me is still a unique experience. Even though it’s not a solo-friendly game at endgame, it’s still arguably my favourite MMO even after all these years. I have lots of fun playing the game and enjoy the levelling process, world and lore. I suspect that I will still be playing it for many more future expansions yet. I do love the fact that it’s full-price content drops just continue to build on the same world. That progress you made all those years ago is still somewhere on your account and characters.
So even if I try and avoid the urge to go back to Azeroth, it is probably very likely the urge will get me one day. The question is when…
I love games irrespective of platform and I’ve never once classed myself as a PC or console gamer. That being said I have definitely spent more time on one platform at some time or another. Thinking about it the PC has been my ‘main’ platform since 2012. And this isn’t the first time. In 1996 I purchased my first PC and through the late nighties and early millennium definitely played PC games more than any other format.
However I will probably spend more time on consoles moving forward. Why? Simply put, PC gaming is getting more and more expensive. Or at least buying and maintaining a reasonable high-end setup is getting much more expensive. Even more so if you live in the UK due to the fall in value of Sterling versus the US Dollar ($) or Euro (€) since 2016.
Whilst owning PCs has never been a cheap hobby, there is a definite and undeniable shift upwards in prices. And it isn’t all driven by supply constrained components. As shown by Apple’s recent iPhone X driven success, selling less at more, can be more profitable. High-end GPUs, RAM, monitors and storage are all very expensive at the moment. Nvidia created a new price tier with their £1,000+ Titan GPU years ago. But even mainstream high-end AMD or Nvidia GPUs are commonly over £700. And at this point the Nvidia’s GeForce 1080 series is over two years old. Fairly ancient in technology terms. When the time comes replacing or upgrading my 2015 i7 5930k CPU, 32GB Ram, Nvidia GeForce 1080 GPU and 144hz IPS monitor setup isn’t going to be cheap.
But crucially is it worth the cost just for gaming. Subjectivity aside for me there is a growing sense of maybe not. In this age of largely multiplatform games, how important is the extra frames or eye-candy? I have to be honest, apart from running above 30fps, I struggle sometimes to notice the benefits of better PC graphics when comparing games I own on both PC and console. What’s more noticeable is the control method or where my friends might be playing. And in some cases 4K and HDR on consoles has impressed me more than recent PC specific enhancements.
Also with the shift to incremental console upgrades, the perceived gap between console and PC is becoming less. Certainly compared to the last generation of consoles where really limited 30fps@sub-720p resolutions tended to be the norm. And new (probably) AMD Zen-based CPUs are going to make a big difference when it comes to the new consoles in 2020.
So I think it’s time to embrace the change. I don’t want to give up on PC gaming for good as the library of unique games is simply too great. But if I ‘main’ on consoles then I just dont need as expensive a PC setup anymore. So perhaps a good chance to ditch the big, space consuming desktop and go with a relatively inexpensive gaming laptop. Either way I don’t need to do anything just yet. I can still get a few years out of my current PC. And just think about replacing things if they break down.
To be honest my mindset is already changing. I purchased an Xbox One X earlier this year with a Samsung UHD LCD TV. And my latest purchase has been a Creative SoundBlaster X7 to drive sound for all my PC and consoles. Replacing my Creative SoundBlaster ZxR that I had in my PC since 2013. A fairly future proof setup irrespective of whether I buy a desktop or laptop PC next.
So as Nvidia prepare to unveil their latest series of PC GPUs, I think I’ll just sit back and await the inevitable outcry about the prices on places like Overclockers UKforums. Feeling fairly chuffed in my choices and happy not to feel compelled to be caught up in the PC hardware rat race. Vive la différence.