Gaming Round-Up: The Lightning Round

Been having trouble settling on a “main” game lately. I’ve run out of stuff to do in Anthem, and The Division 2 is more something I just pop into from time to time (plus I’m a little burnt out on shooters right now).

A cutscene in DemoniconInstead, I’ve decided to try out a long list of games, rapid-fire style. Most of these were via Origin Access, which I subscribed to for a month just for the sake of testing out games, but a few were from my Steam backlog or other sources.

Demonicon

I really liked the world-building for this. It seemed like a very unique setting. However, everything about the game is just super janky, from the outdated graphics to the inexplicably wonky controls to the weirdly incest-focused storyline.

Fractured (alpha)

I got a key for this via my gig at Massively Overpowered. Honestly, I don’t why they dropped the NDA. Fractured is in such an early state it barely qualifies as a tech demo. You can run around, do some basic crafting, and kill wolves, and that’s it. At least the music was nice?

I’m not saying Fractured is a bad game. I’m saying it’s not a game at all yet.

Pillars of Eternity

I’ve been wondering for a while if my newfound love of table-top gaming would improve my view of CRPGs, which seek to replicate that experience in a video game environment.

My character in Pillars of EternityNo, it has not.

Mechanics that make sense in tabletop just don’t work as well in a video game, and Pillars of Eternity is especially egregious example of why I don’t like CRPGs. Combat pretty much plays itself, and victory or defeat is determined on the character sheet, not the battlefield. What’s the point of playing a video game with so little interactivity?

Some of the class concepts are pretty cool, but it isn’t enough to overcome how dull the actual gameplay is.

Also, wow, is the UI for Pillars of Eternity ever bad. Why are all my active abilities teensy weensy icons I can only access by hovering over a tiny widget in the corner of the screen?

Tyranny

Another CRPG, I found the gameplay of Tyranny far more palatable than PoE (though that’s a low bar). I actually got to press buttons sometimes, so there’s that. I also think the premise — being the servant of an evil dark lord — is interesting, but it doesn’t seem to do it justice.

I was hoping for something like the experience of playing a Light Side Imperial in SWTOR — struggling to balance your personal conscience with your loyalty to corrupt superiors. Instead, Tyranny seems content to pigeon-hole you into the roll of the villain no matter what. It’s not even a case of choosing the lesser evil; you’re just the bad guy.

Combat in the CRPG TyrannyI don’t think You Kick Puppies: The Game is a very compelling premise.

Beyond that, I also found myself exhausted by the information overload this game throws at you. The game mechanics are overwhelmingly complex, and every NPC has absolute reams of dialogue. I’d say it’s like reading a novel rather than playing a game, but novels have editors.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

This one was pretty fun. Force-lifting people off of ledges was good fun, and I felt like the force of destruction a Sith ought to be. I did find some of the controls a bit odd, and the way the camera changes for boss fights is jarring.

Ultimately, I lost interest because there didn’t seem to be much of a story.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

I probably wouldn’t have tried this if I’d known the combat was turn-based. Again, it makes sense in tabletop, but not for a video where I’m trying to be immersed in the moment.

Also, like Tyranny, the amount of reading was ludicrous.

Combat in Torment: Tides of NumeneraDarksiders

Like Force Unleashed, this was fun, if a bit mindless. I enjoyed hacking and slashing my way through demons for a while, but the story didn’t grab me much, and when I got stuck on a platforming section, I became frustrated and walked away.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

I know this is considered one of the all-time greats, but to be honest I only lasted about twenty minutes. The graphics have not aged well, and the combat turned me off right away. Then I bugged out(?) and couldn’t move, and I lost my will to keep trying.

Grim Dawn

Seems like a solid game. Very similar to Titan Quest, but not quite as tedious. As in Titan Quest, you can combine classes, which allows for some interesting combos. I went with shaman and occultist, focusing on nature magic and pets. I also liked how, well, grim the setting is. Very ambient.

On the downside, the voice acting is abominable, I felt very starved for skill points, and I strongly dislike games that require you to unlock higher difficulties. Normal is too easy.

My shaman in Grim DawnI’m definitely tempted to buy Grim Dawn and play more at some point, but I will have to think about it.

Dungeons III

Now this game I liked. So much so, in fact, that it deserves its own post…

New articles

Finally, before I go, I’d like to drop a link to my latest article at MMO Bro, where I explore group roles outside the traditional trinity.

And don’t forget to follow my Not So Massively column at Massively Overpowered! I have some more detailed reviews of new games I’ve tried recently over there.

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Tales of the Apt Thoughts

When Adrian Tchaikovsky’s massive Shadows of the Apt saga at last came to an end, I left it with very mixed feelings, having disagreed with some of the story-telling choices he had made toward the end. Nonetheless, I cannot deny he is an objectively good writer, and that Shadows of the Apt boasts one of the most intricate and impressive settings in the entire fantasy genre.

Cover art for Tales of the Apt: Spoils of War by Adrian TchaikovskyThus, I did eventually find myself compelled to look into the short fiction collections set in that universe he has released since the end of the main series, titled Tales of the Apt. So far, there are three installments in this series: Spoils of War, A Time for Grief, and For Love of Distant Shores.

The first collection somewhat disappointed me. It mainly dealt with locations, cultures, and themes that were already well-explored in the main series, which seemed a waste of potential. We get it; Wasps are dicks.

The only highlight was the story of a disgraced Mantis-kinden Weaponmaster searching for her warrior’s death, a story perfectly calculated to appeal to my interests.

A Time for Grief was more impressive, though. It features a lot of new material surrounding settings and concepts that were not explored by the novels, including a very interesting delve into pre-history and the true origins of the insect-kinden. The title story also delves into the birth of the city-state of Princep Salmae, and feels important enough that I think it really should have been included in the main books somehow.

The third book, For Love of Distant Shores, was my favourite. It feels more like a full new novel, because while it is still technically a short story collection, it follows the same characters throughout.

For Love of Distant Shores tells of the travels of the absent-minded Beetle explorer Doctor Ludweg Phinagler (seriously) as he uncovers new knowledge, and mortal peril. Mostly peril. This serves as an opportunity to visit a number of areas and stories mostly or entirely new to the series, some of it truly fascinating.

However, Phinagler himself isn’t necessarily the focus. The stories are told via the notes of Fosse, his assistant, an acerbic and debaucherous Fly-kinden woman. More than anything else, Fosse is what makes For Love of Distant Shores worth reading. Her wry, cutting commentary is an absolute delight from beginning to end.

All of these stories seemed to be written with the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the setting, so unfortunately I’m not sure I’d recommend the collections to those who haven’t already read Shadows of the Apt.

For those who have read the novels, I definitely recommend A Time for Grief and For Love of Distant Shores. Spoils of War is less memorable and probably only worth it for super fans, if that.