Gaming Round-Up: Torchlight II, Star Trek Online, Anthem, and More

Time for another quick round-up of some of the gaming I’ve done in recent weeks. This month I got a free month of Origin Access (somehow…), which allowed me to check out a bunch of games for free.

The Icetide season in Anthem.Torchlight II

The main coup of the free month of Access is that it let me play through Torchlight II, which means I’m now caught up and ready for Frontiers.

TL2 is an upgrade over the original in virtually every way. It’s still kind of a by the numbers ARPG, and not a lot about it is terribly original, but there’s a lot more variety of enemies and environments than the original, and it’s fun.

I can’t put my finger on why, but something about this game reminded me of the original Dungeon Siege. Strange to feel so nostalgic playing a game that’s new (at least to me).

The highlight of the game for me was my class, the Outlander. It may as well have been built for me. Bows, dark magic, support abilities, pets… it’s everything I ever wanted all rolled into one.

TL2 is still a little repetitive, and the last few areas in particular turned into a bit of a slog. There was never a lot of story in the game, but in the latter half it feels like the writers gave up altogether. The Alchemist started out as a relatively nuanced villain with a sympathetic motivation, but that just flew out the window after a while with no explanation as to why.

My Outlander in Torchlight II.My other major complaint is that the skill system is pretty awful. I’m not a big fan of traditional skill trees at the best of times, and this one embodies all of the worst sins of the concepts. You don’t just spend points to unlock skills but have to constantly dump more into them to keep leveling them up. Everything is massively level-gated.

And worst of all the respec only lets you change the last three points you spent. I wound up with a bunch of points sunk into skills that I only took because I had no better option at the time (thanks, level-gating) and no way to reclaim them and put them into abilities I was actually using.

Frostpunk, They Are Billions, and Diluvion

These are some other games I tried via Access, but I didn’t stick with any of them long.

They Are Billions sounded really fun in theory — zombie horde mode RTS is something I’m all for — but there’s little to no story, and it’s just not that fun. It takes so long to build up your base and get your economy going. It’s tedious.

Frostpunk is another one that sounded cool (hurr hurr) but didn’t deliver. It’s brutally punishing, to the point it feels impossible to ever get ahead. It’s just one crisis after another.

My city in Frostpunk.Beyond that, it’s just not that fun. You spend the vast majority of the game just watching your town run itself. You can speed up the game speed to hasten things along, but it constantly resets itself to the default speed, which is painfully sluggish. Bafflingly, this is intended behaviour and not a bug.

Diluvion is something I tried on a whim when I was scrolling through vault games. A post-apocalyptic steampunk submarine RPG sounded interesting, but there’s no voice acting, and the controls are terrible. I don’t think I lasted fifteen minutes.

Anthem

I haven’t been playing a lot of Anthem lately, but I have dabbled a bit to check out the new Icetide season. While it is a bit disappointing to not see more new gameplay (just a new Freeplay event and the time trials), I am nonetheless surprised there isn’t more buzz around the fact Anthem literally reskinned the entire game world to reflect a real world season. Has any other game ever done that before? I’ve never heard of it.

It’s gorgeous, too. I always like winter zones, but even for me this is a cut above. The light dusting of snow paired with the vivid red leaves is so striking.

It seems a lot of art design work for what is otherwise a fairly small update, and that has conspiracy theories spawning in my head. Given the rumours of a reboot, I wonder if the snow environment is something they were working on for the reboot that they realized they could port into the base game…

The Icetide season in Anthem.Time will tell, I guess.

Star Trek Online

The real surprise lately is that I’ve suddenly started playing Star Trek Online again. I didn’t really see that coming, but between getting caught up on Discovery and the hype for the upcoming Picard series, I guess I’ve had Trek on the brain, and I wanted a fix.

It’s been a long time since I played last, and I didn’t get that far before, so I started over with a new character, though still a Romulan. Only real difference is this one’s an engineer rather than a tactical officer.

The one big change from when I played last — at least in my view — is the addition of scaling tier 6 ships, which allow you to just stick with one ship throughout instead of changing every ten levels or so. If you ask me that’s how the game should always have worked. Changing ships constantly never felt right to me.

The scaling ships are mainly a microtransaction thing of course, which isn’t ideal, but I can live with it. I bought myself a D’deridex warbird (or more accurately bought the T6 equivalent and reskinned it as a D’deridex) and named it the Tomalak, which is all I ever wanted.

My D'deridex warbird in Star Trek Online.I’m choosing ships purely based on aesthetics and nostalgia, so I had no idea what the stats of a D’deridex were like until I started playing it. Turns out it has all the cornering ability of a brick lodged in half-frozen mud.

On the plus side, though, it seems very tanky. I can just shrug off most threats like they’re nothing. That plus a powerful but very short range AoE DoT make this ship very much a bruiser, but I’m enjoying it. Using my cloak to get in close and then popping my DoT can get pretty hilarious.

Otherwise my view of the game remains much the same as it always has. It’s super janky and full of bugs and clunky, over-complicated systems.

But it does capture the look and feel of Star Trek very well, and for now, that’s enough for me. I just wanted a decent Trek fix, and STO is giving it to me.

Also, I was jonesing for a new MMO to play. I’ve mostly played single-player and “not-so-massively” games this year, and I’ve had a great time with that, but it did feel time to sink my teeth into a meaty new (or new to me) MMO.

I will say this game is a bit like crack to a fashionista like me. So many options for both my character and my bridge officers. It feels like I’ve spent half my time in-game so far just tinkering with outfits. It’s a shame you can’t save multiple outfits for your officers the way you can for your own toon…

My Romulan engineer and her bridge crew in Star Trek Online.I did pick a good time to pick up the game, what with all the holiday sales on. When I got my D’deridex, I got a package with tickets for three T6 ships for barely more than the cost of a single ship. I still haven’t decided what to spend the remaining two tickets on. I’m considering Akira class, Galaxy class, and Valdore class (or again their T6 equivalents, which I would then reskin), but I’m also tempted to try something that launches fighters. Carrier has arrived and all.

There’s also alts to consider, as well. I’m not sure if I want to stick with my Romulan or branch out. If any STO players are reading this, do you think alts are worth it as a story fan? Would I get a lot of different content playing Federation or Klingon, or would it just be the same stuff as my Romulan past the tutorial?

Gaming Round-Up: Bioware and Blizzard

I’ve found myself in another period of jumping between a bunch of games in rapid succession lately. Without intending it, I’ve ended up on a bit of a Bioware kick, though Blizzard has also put in an appearance.

A Season of Skulls event in Anthem.

I’ve chosen to participate in IntPiPoMo again this year, so I’ll be including extra screenshots of every game. Click to enlarge!

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I’ve been meaning to do it forever, but I finally did a third playthrough of Mass Effect: Andromeda. As I’ve said before, the new game plus in this game is truly second to none. After two playthroughs, I had all the skill points and gear I could possibly need. I didn’t need to waste any time mining, gathering, or even looting bodies. It makes for a much tighter, more story-driven experience.

I skipped even more side content this time — especially on Kadara — making for a nice breezy playthrough.

This time I did something I haven’t done in Mass Effect before: I played as a soldier, using mainly combat abilities. It’s definitely not as fun as biotics, but it’s not without its charm. Overdrive plus a rapid-firing assault rifle gets pretty hilarious.

I also romanced Jaal this time. It took a while to get to the good stuff, but I can see why his romance is so well-regarded. Dude’s so passionate he makes even me feel a bit weak in the knees.

Sara Ryder and Jaal in Mass Effect: Andromeda

SWTOR: Onslaught

I had pretty low expectations for this expansion, but even so it’s a disappointment.

First of all, calling it an “expansion” is pushing credibility to a breaking point. It has barely any more content than their recent content patches. I think the whole thing took me maybe five hours.

That might be forgivable if they hit the ball out of the park on the quality of the content, but they didn’t, at all. The entire story is crushingly dull. It feels like they rehashed some rejected side quests from the base game. It’s a very small, ultimately irrelevant story. It’s downright insulting to go from being a galactic super power to doing fetch quests for some nameless back alley gangster.

The faction conflict worked in the original class stories because it was just a backdrop for more personal stories. My agent had personal reasons for fighting back against Hunter and his ilk. There’s none of that in Onslaught; you have no reason to care about anyone or anything in this story. It’s just shooting faceless NPCs of the enemy faction.

At the very end, there are some teases of a new direction for the story, and it sounds very interesting, but it begs the question of why we didn’t just skip to the good stuff. Why waste time with the tedious chores that make up Onslaught?

The planet Onderon in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The one thing I can praise about Onslaught is that it doesn’t feel like a total reboot of the story after the Fallen Empire/Eternal Throne arc. I was worried it would be. But the Odessen Alliance is still a player in the story, and there’s lots of cameos by familiar cast members. Even Koth put in an appearance.

I would have liked more content with Lana — weren’t we supposed to be getting married? — but at least she’s not gone entirely. That gives me some hope for the future.

But man, even for the low price of a month of subscription, I feel ripped off by Onslaught. What a waste of time.

Anthem

I’ve also ducked back into Anthem for a brief visit. I was drawn by the new Mass Effect-themed Javelin skins. I’d yet to find a look for my interceptor that I really liked, and Quarians are my favourite ME aliens, so buying the Quarian skin was a bit of a no-brainer.

I love it. Even if I hadn’t been a Mass Effect fan, I might still have gotten the skin because it just looks so damn good and is so different from anything we have in the game right now.

Anthem has done a really good job at adding interesting cosmetics, and the fashion endgame is getting pretty serious. And I, for one, welcome our new fashionista overlords.

The Quarian Interceptor skin in Anthem.

I also checked out the new freeplay events added for the “Season of Skulls.” They’re pretty fun. The one with the torches in the darkness especially stands out as being very atmospheric and rather different from any of Anthem’s previous content.

Anthem unquestionably has a problem with anemic content right now, but I must say the quality of what content does get added never disappoints.

StarCraft II

I’m at the point now where I think I’m willing to drop my boycott against Blizzard, though I definitely plan to be more skeptical of what they do in future. Brack’s apology at BlizzCon doesn’t count for much, but the tolerance they showed to protesters at the convention does speak to a willingness to walk the walk on free speech. It’s the bare minimum necessary to maintain the illusion of decency, but the bare minimum is by definition good enough.

I still the company’s changed, and I’m trying to lose my blind fanboyism for them, but I’m willing to give them another chance at this point.

For now all that’s manifested as is finally buying Stetmann in SC2’s co-op, though even then I paid using some of my remaining WoW Token balance.

Playing as Egon Stetmann in StarCraft II co-op.

He’s an interesting commander, but I don’t think he’ll ever be my favourite. I like the concept of the Stetallite mechanic, wherein he blankets the map with satellites that project various buff fields, but the way it’s implemented feels like a bit of a chore. You spend every free moment dropping more Stetallites, and it gets exhausting after a while.

Zerglings with Immortal shields get pretty hilarious, though. I’ve had surprising success just massing swarms of Lings and swamping the map with them. Back them up with Hydralisks for anti-air; their missile attack is godly.