With my wife away on an annual weekend vacation with her sister, I was left unscheduled for three whole days. Since my daughter is well into the age range where she’s more or less self-sufficient, and because she had a friend over Saturday and into Sunday, I had no agenda. That’s a pretty dangerous situation, since I’m more apt to fill my free time with the things I want to do, and not the things I should do. But it’s OK; the lawn will be there for another day.
Saturday – Wildstar and Golem Arcana
Saturday morning was Wildstar morning. I’ve moved through Thayad and have found myself in a war zone. It’s a very densely packed war zone, almost ludicrously so. In some places it’s impossible to move without triggering aggro, but to the developer’s credit those situations are usually stocked with paper mache targets. It was during this segment that I realized something about Wildstar. When it launched, people compared it to vanilla WoW because of it’s focus on the end game raiding, and because both of them have a cartoon-like aesthetic that turned some people off. The rodent-like Chua and the…what are they? Rabbits? The Aurin, with their ears and tails and anime eyes, and of course the liberal use of humor rubbed some people the wrong way. The game seemed to lack any semblance of gravitas that I guess the “hardcore” players demanded in their raid-heavy, srs bsnes games.
But Wildstar can get really fucking dark. I remember that in Vanguard there was one quest in particular that had you kidnap NPCs for a mage’s experiments, and then dump the wasted bodies over a bridge. I thought that was dark, but Wildstar doesn’t let you forget that you’re technically at war with an opposing side over control of the planet Nexus. It’s not just being on a battlefield that’s their way of reminding you, either: you’ll meet NPCs who end up as cannon fodder, use of chemical weapons, experimentation on citizens and soldiers, and other horrible things. I don’t mean to minimize the actual atrocities that humanity has applied to humanity, but of some of the things you see — and participate in — in Wildstar happened in real life, they’d easily be considered war crimes, and if that doesn’t negate the perception that the game is just a lighthearted WoW clone, than nothing will.
Later that night I managed to fire up Golem Arcana. I don’t remember if I mentioned this or not, but in case not and for those not in the know, it’s a miniatures board game from Hare Brained Schemes, my new favorite indie developer (they did Shadowrun Returns and are working with Catalyst Game Labs to bring Battletech back to the small screen for realsies this time). Like Battletech, GA is about pitting armies of minis against one another in certain virtual scenarios. Unlike BT, though, GA has a technological component in that you are given a stylus that pairs with a smart device like a tablet or smartphone, and you use this stylus to select the minis on the board and the board itself. The GA application handles everything that a traditional tactical game has you crunching: action points, damage tracking, skills and abilities, terrain modifiers, and everything else, which frees you up for focusing on the tactical aspects of position.
At first I wondered why you’d even need the minis, and even after playing the two tutorial games I’m still kind of scratching my head because the app gives you an overview of the map and the soldiers on the field. You can work with the units either by clicking on parts of their ID cards, or simply by using the stylus to scroll through options on the screen. The board itself is just there to tap on so you can pick a place to move to. But there’s the visceral feel of seeing and moving the pieces around the board that bridges the gap between another stack-of-papers wargame played live with another person, and the isolation of online multiplayer where people are more focused on their devices than they are on actual interaction. I give it a thumbs up, and it made me wish there was a similar, more in-depth treatment of Battletech, because that would be amazing.
Sunday – Steam Shopping and Guild Wars 2 Free As In Beer
Yesterday morning I picked up two new games. The first was Sword Coast Legends which releases this month and already has me stockpiling adult diapers for the date. SCL is a licensed Dungeons & Dragons property, which is good because I like D&D. It seems to be another dungeon crawler in the vein of oh so many: Diablo for the slaughter, Baldur’s Gate or Pillars of Eternity for the party composition, but the absolute goosebump-inducing best slam-dunk part of the game? The dungeon master tools! I’ve watched a few live-streams of the early builds of the game where the builder tools were featured, and this is probably the closest we’ve gotten to an actual successor to Neverwinter Nights. That’s not to disparage Neverwinter or to look down on the intense moddability of Divinity: Original Sin, but the tools and the fact that the game can support an actual DM who takes over NPCs and can drop monsters and modify the terrain on the fly while others are playing clearly nudges it ahead of the pack of claimants. I am very excite for this.
The other game I scored was an embarrassing omission from my library: Satellite Reign. I’ts a party-based, real time, cyberpunk homage to Syndicate. There’s nothing in that description I do not love, but it only recently released and while I have had the game on my radar since it went into Early Release on Steam, I opted to wait it out. I am glad that I did, and that I did notice that it had been released, because when it comes to nailing it, Satellite Reign nails it. The visuals are top-notch, evoking the absolute best vision of “classic cyberpunk” I’ve seen in a long, long time. The gameplay is easy to learn, but stupidly difficult to master (being real time means a whole lot of thinking on your feet). There’s stealth, hacking, taking over ATMs to syphon money into your bank accounts, research and development, and, of course, the “we don’t call it that” Persuadeotron, although one that works differently from the one you had in Syndicate. I’ve found that the more games I buy, the fewer I actually don’t regret having purchased, but this should have been a no-brainer, so I’m excited that it was, in fact, a no-brainer.
And in tangential news, learning that Guild Wars 2 basic is now free to download, free to play, makes me happy. As Syp said on Twitter, though, anyone who wants it probably has it by now, so ANet and NCSoft probably weren’t seeing too much revenue from new sales anyway. What ANet didn’t say in their PAXPrime presentation, though, was the situation surrounding those who buy Heart of Thorns. There was contention that the price of the expansion was kind of high, and that the expansion also includes the core game which many saw as the reason behind the high price. For new players, it was a steal; for the rest of us who already own the game, that’s excess baggage that we’re being asked to pay for.
Addendum – Literature!
In other, non-game related news, a story of redemption. I had purchased the book The Martian after the groundswell of positive reviews, and because it’s being Made Into A Major Motion Picture(tm), so in order to lay claim to “the book was better” (although that may not be the case, based on previews I’ve seen), I’d actually have to read the book. I heard it had humor, and real science, both of which I enjoy to varying degrees.
After starting the book, though, I realized that while I enjoyed high degrees of humor, my enjoyment for high degrees of technobabble is at an all time low. The novel starts out like a goddamn chemistry textbook, and while I like chemistry (probably my third favorite science), I had expected a novel, not a lecture, even if that lecture was being presented in comic-strip-in-prose form. I admit that the heavy hand of science fatigued me to the point where I eventually didn’t care to pick it up again.
It wasn’t until I mentioned it to The Martian and Golem Arcana pimp BlueKae that I figured I should give it another go. There had to be more to this than just dry college prep chemistry, the way people were going on about how brilliant it was. So I picked up where I left off, with the protagonist still stranded on Mars (it’s not called The Martian for nothing, or for reasons you might otherwise expect). There was some residual coursework to be done, but then the story picked up as a story once the focus started splitting itself between Mars and NASA back on Earth. Now we’ve got a drama! After than, the book started working for me: the science was mixed with humanity once other humans entered the picture, and the humor was more humorous because of it.
I also finished a set of short stories by Hugh Howey, who is firmly seated in my list of top five authors. Wool was amazing. Dust was astounding. Beacon 23, an anthology about a damaged war “hero” who mans a remote interstellar navigation lighthouse, was interesting. Plot-wise, I don’t think it can touch either Wool or Dust, but Howey has a great writing style that fits the short anthology model perfectly. He keeps the plot moving without miring it in a lot of fluff, but still manages to provide a decent amount of back story and pathos to the characters and their situations that the story never feels like it’s sacrificing weight for length. He’s also really good at putting truisms into words. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right words to convey an idea or a thought or an experience to someone who’s never experienced it, and it’s even harder to string those words into a sentence that says so much with seemingly so little effort. Howey is exceptionally good at doing just that, which makes his books entertaining and cathartic on many levels. You can get the five part Beacon 23 for the Kindle for $0.99 per installment, and if you haven’t read Wool or Dust (both of which have been at least optioned for movies or TV, which pleases me greatly), go for the omnibus versions of both.