games


I like reading Shamus Young on video games, but boy howdy do I disagree with his latest column. The issue is, should you be, and feel like you’re being, The Chosen One in games?

sr-main-personIdeally, the Chosen One actually glows

He’s talking about (just one aspect of) how Mass Effect Andromeda‘s story makes little sense.

In more recent BioWare games, the story has inverted all of this. The writer has adopted a parent / child relationship with the player character. The protagonist gets bossed around and you’re obliged to do what NPCs tell you to do, and the writer doesn’t even make much of an effort to get buy-in from the player. You can’t ask probing questions and the dialog doesn’t waste time justifying things to the player. At the same time the game patronizingly pretends like the player character is in charge. You’re the Inquisitor. You’re the Pathfinder. You’re the famous Messianic Commander Shepard. You’re so great. People look up to you. People love you. You’re special. You’re important. Now go do these missions and don’t ask any questions.

I haven’t played Andromeda, but I did play as Shepard, to say nothing of Batman, the Lone Wanderer, the Dragonborn, the Boss, Gordon Freeman, Jade, the Witcher, Empress Emily, Bayonetta, etc.  So the first thing I’d suggest is: these games are actually trying to tell you something important about being the Chosen One. It’s genuinely limiting. Being the special person who saves the world means that you don’t get to do whatever the hell you want. Being Batman isn’t dizzying freedom, it’s backbreaking responsibility. And yes, people will tell you what to do, because that’s what saving the world involves. You gotta go save it, and probably there’s only one way to do it. (Or two ways, one involving stealth, the other involving combat.)

(Also, I know he’s being sarcastic, but “people love you”? Are people fond of the one dude who can save the world? I’d say they’re far likely to be anxious, demanding, and irritable. They’re supposed to be saving the world, and here they are in my shop selling troll fat, or stealing calipers from my barrels, or reading people’s memoirs. I don’t want to see that, I want to see some world-saving.)

Shamus goes on to suggest a way to ‘fix’ this scene in Andromeda, and his way might well be better writing. But the reason his fix works is that it leads to the exact same results. That is, you’re still railroaded.  The cutscenes would set you up as Making Great Decisions, yes, but then you’d go and do the exact same things as when people were telling you what to do.

It can be fun when we do get to make overall decisions, but for obvious reasons this is a hard ask. It’s illuminating to fire up Fallout’s Creation Kits and examine how complicated a single quest is. 80% of players probably make the same main decisions, but you have to have options for the most absurd possible options. If decisions can have consequences later, you’re greatly multiplying the amount of work without increasing the amount of game players see.

Beyond that, though, I think it’s quite silly how games insist on setting up the player as the Chosen One. It’s the same sort of narrative escalation where every action movie has to be about the end of the world. Do that enough and the artificialness of the excitement becomes obvious. Corvo failing to protect the Empress once is a bad mistake; doing it twice implies that he’s just awful at his job.

Plus, you don’t have to be the Prophesied One! Maybe you’re just the security guy, as in Deus Ex. Or the guy with the really good wrench, as in Dead Space 1. Or a random survivor, as in Left 4 Dead.

Most intriguingly, you could be no more important than the NPCs. The best example of this is Stalker, where you are just one of many opportunists wandering the Zone. The first Borderlands managed this: the player character was just a treasure hunter, which is basically what the player was too. They ruined this in Borderlands 2 by making Vault Hunters some incredibly rare caste of superheroes.

Finally, the reason games often make stupid requests is, I think, a clue to how game development works.  You don’t have a writer sitting down, saying “The PC will now go fetch a doohingus”, and the quest department writes a Doohingus-Finding Quest. More likely, different teams have already created a bunch of levels, and the writer’s job is to come up with some insane story that requires traversing all of them. Like writing supervillains, it’s just not a job where every instance can make sense on its own terms. Sometimes they come up with a great reason why you have to traverse the sewer level next, sometimes they don’t.

Should you be able to push back at the writer’s lame suggestion? Maybe, but that’s part of why (say) Fallout always has a dialog option to insult the quest giver. It’s kind of juvenile. More effective is when the game itself lampshades the arbitrariness of the plot; the Saints Row games are notable for this. But that option is probably only available for comedy games.

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The Overwatch World Cup Viewer is great for reviewing World Cup matches.  It’s also great for no-clipping around the world, seeing how the maps are put together and getting views you’re not supposed to be able to see.

OW NEPAL

For instance, above you can see the entire Nepal map.  All three stages are loaded at the same time, but you can’t see one stage from the next.

And here’s an unusual view of Ilios showing all three stages.  You can see this statue from Ruins; it’s interesting that it actually has a face (and belly button), which you can’t see when playing.

ow ilios 2

If you compare Blizzard World to the map of it, you can see that not everything is actually modeled. There are supposed to be a Spawning Pools Water Park and a Caldeum Market to the right, a Blackrock Mountain to the east, and a pirate ship in the water; none of these exist. But the rest of the park is pretty much all modeled, though only just enough to look OK from a distance:

ow bworld.jpg

The house marked with an asterisk isn’t even on the ground.  Also note the shadowy figures in the foreground… apparently this part of the park is still open, and has visitors. You can see them moving around as you play the map.

There are even cars and riders on the monorail– though they’re rendered as minimally as possible:

ow bworld 2

Here’s an unusual view of Hollywood. I’m really surprised that so much of the city is rendered, even if there’s also a lot of model re-use. You can see the theater where you spawn– the green roof in the middle background– so all of this is off to the left when you exit spawn, so most of it can’t be seen, even as Pharah. It’s interesting that they have enough of a polygon budget that they can model all this– including the backsides of buildings that you absolutely can’t see from the playable area. (And all those pipes and air conditioning ducts and curved roofs are really 3-d modeled.)

OW HOLLYWOOD

(I’m surprised because in Hammer, the level editor for the Valve games, anything you can’t see is scrupulously removed.  If you put a cube in the distance, only 2 or 3 sides will actually exist in the level. Evidently we now have polygons to burn!)

Here’s the theater itself– the green area is the lobby of the theater where you spawn. Behind it, a little disappointingly, there’s just some random tiny buildings; they didn’t block out the actual theater.

OW HOLLYWOOD theater

I wondered if the Rialto map has all the extra bits required for the Archives event (where you are the Blackwatch team sent to deal with the Talon guy).  Nope.  They obviously re-used a lot of the map, but not the extra parts (like the restaurant).

Finally, here’s something you’ve probably seen, but only while plummeting to your death. It’s the Omnic shantytown located under the King’s Row power plant.

ow kingsrow

This view is looking up toward the power plant. Again, this is suprising in the level of detail. You can see the track for the cart; the bright yellow circular thing just visible above the track is the dynamo (or whatever it is) above the final point.

Hmm, found some figures on the web. Alyx from Half-Life 2 has about 8000 polygons, which was a lot for 2004. (The Combine soldiers have only half that.) By contrast the Overwatch characters have 30,000, not including their weapons. That’s… a lot of polygons. So a few buildings with 100 to 200 polys are nothing to worry about.

(One trick which the game engine probably uses is to load low-poly versions of things that are in the distance. Still, the point is, the polygon budget is mostly thrown at the characters.)

A website suggested finishing the main quest in Destiny 2 rather than doing all the side quests, so that when you do get to them, they give you better gear. So, OK, I finished the main quest. Only now I think I’m done.

destiny-1au

Destroying the Death Star with handheld weapons

The main story is, I dunno, about 20 hours? It includes one mission I absolutely hated, because of the damn tank. Its controls are horrible, so I spent half the time driving it into walls and trying to extricate myself… you can call new tanks, and not infrequently I ran to the next spawn because that was easier than getting the old tank pointed in a reasonable direction. Plus I kept dying in one particular location, till I realized there was a separate fire mode I needed to be using.

But! The last few missions are actually pretty good! You have to eliminate the Legion’s Deathstar, you see.  So you go to a Legion base, fight your way through the absurdly chunky structures favored by these space fascists, kill a big bad, and steal his key codes and his ship. This apparently isn’t noticed at all, so you can fly to the Deathstar and cause havoc.  You blow it up and then head back to Earth to take out the biggest bad, old Ghaul the Inexplicable.

As I mentioned, you’re a mute unkillable zombie with no civilian applications, and that’s your secret weapon.  They can’t kill you.  So you get into a rhythm of shooting bad guys, hiding behind walls while you recover heath, and shooting some more. And occasionally ulting the hell out of them. (I still think the ults are doled out too sparingly, so you can never quite count on them. But if you think of them as a treat rather than an ability you should have, you’ll feel better. Plus, in the final battle they actually give you extra ults, so for once the final fight is kind of fun.)

There’s one brief section where you have to go into space. Now, the Deathstar is at the orbit of Mercury, so it’s hot. So you have to jump from shadow to shadow, while shooting enemies… or letting them fry as they cross the sunlit parts to come to you. This was pretty damn neat.

(The game, with its gift for astounding scientific illiteracy, calls this mission 1 AU.  That of course is the orbit of Earth; Mercury is at about 0.4 AU.)

So, Ghaul doesn’t get to blot out the Sun, plus he’s dead. After this, the game lets you back in the Last City, suddenly filled with other players.  Plus you get an engram, finally, which turns out to be a coupon for one piece of gear, and you can join factions, and you get a new spaceship, and the major NPCS have some gifts for you. And you can go back and do all those side missions.

I might, but it turns out killing Ghaul has done a number on my motivation. Look, I just saved the Sun and the entire solar system, rescued the Traveler, and now everyone’s got the Light back rather than just me. And you want me to go fight some straggling aliens here and there? You got thousands of Guardians now, let them do it.  I still have to go murder more of Ancient Greece.

I still don’t know what the other currencies are, and I think I only spent half my skill points. They have a dumb system where new skills replace the old ones– e.g. you can have three different types of grenades, but only use one kind at a time.

If I’d paid $60 for the game, I think I’d be a little disappointed… but for free, it’s a great diversion. It’s beautiful, it gives you plenty of things to shoot, and it has its moments (such as that run in the sun, or Nathan Fillion’s character). But it’s also rather clunky and confusing, it never quite knows what to do with its ideas, and it’s huge without being diverse.  And the story is overblown, throwing in threats like “destroying the sun” without having this either make sense or have any real impact.

An example of the “ideas” problem: the enemy aliens are all just murderous things with red health bars. Only two of the Legion even have voice lines, and there’s not a moment where anything they do inspires respect or sympathy. Within the same company, you could look at, say, World of Warcraft, where a lot of effort has been put into making the Horde an interesting rather than just eeeevil; or Overwatch, where the villains have something to say for themselves and the heroes may be questionable.

Another example: the game is set all over the solar system, but they don’t (say) play with gravity, or distance from the sun, or atmosphere, or temperature. The surface gravity of Titan is 0.14 that of Earth; that’d be pretty interesting.

As for the hugeness, I think the best open world games don’t just give you things to shoot, they add other stuff.  The Arkham games give you Riddler puzzles; Mass Effect has its romances; Beyond Good & Evil 1 throws in races, photography, and space pool; Fallout 4 has settlements; Saints Row lets you play dress-up and listen to the radio.

So, again, not a bad game. But, I dunno, it feels like a 20-hour game that thinks it’s a 200-hour game.

Blizzard gave me a free game!  Well, me and everyone else, but it’s still nice to get a message that you have a gift.  It’s also huge, 80 gigabytes… well, sorry, Team Fortress 2, it was finally time to uninstall you.

So, Destiny 2.  First impressions: it’s like Borderlands without the cel shading or the southern fried attitude. And weirdly rough around the edges.

destiny2-nessus

You have learned the Gek word for genocide

The story– did you know it had a story?– is that Earth is in the middle of a bunch of interstellar war. Humans are almost extinct; they live in one last city, called the Last City (names are terrible in D2), until some interstellar fascists called the Red Legion show up and destroy it. Their leader is called Dominus Ghaul and will make you miss the more caring, friendly nature of Zinyak.

You are a mute, frightening zombie.  This isn’t perhaps what the PR guys say; they call you a Guardian. But: you have a little floating robot who can resurrect you, and this is an explicit part of the story, not just a gameplay thing. You’re a fighting machine and you never talk– the robot talks for you. Clearly he’s not your “helper”, he’s the actual intelligence controlling you, and you’re a zombie.  Nonetheless, you’re humanity’s last hope.

It really does feel like a more serious Borderlands. You go on pretty linear routes, killing everything in your path– monsters named the Legion, the Fallen, the Vex– look, names are not the game’s forte. They thoughtfully drop guns and armor slightly better than your current ones. Occasionally you level up and get points to increase your superpower.  I’m a Hunter, so basically I dress like Reaper and my ult is Genji.

OK, positives:

  • I really like Borderlands, so the whole concept is pretty nice.
  • It’s very pretty, for post-apocalyptia. I mean, there’s nowhere left with a good restaurant and even the hubs are full of monsters, but it looks great.
  • Do you like Firefly?  They got most of the actors here somewhere.
  • In the hubs you can run into other players, and fight the monsters with them.
  • You can play co-op, but I haven’t yet.
  • You can triple-jump, which is 50% better than a double-jump.
  • Inventory management is pretty streamlined… it’s generally really clear if a piece of gear is better. This is actually an improvement over Borderlands where you had to do calculations in your head to find the actual DPS given things like round size and reload speed.

Negatives:

  • It’s full of stuff it doesn’t bother to explain. I have no idea how one should upgrade a character, or what the three different currencies are. I get messages that I’ve acquired something and can’t find it, nor do I know what to do with it. There are whole mechanisms– emblems, engrams, triumphs, gear customization– that are referred to but don’t seem to exist for me. (I get messages that I have a “triumph”, but the character screen says I have 0.) My character is an “Awoken” and there’s no explanation; they seem to be basically Dark Elves.
  • It seems buggy in places. Twice I’ve had to quit because enemies didn’t appear and nothing happened.
  • There’s an annoying, punishing half-attempt at platforming. Get the timing wrong, or fail to invest in that triple-jump, and you die. Come on, games, this was solved by Arkham Asylum in 2009.
  • The ult is really powerful, but they dole it out so slowly that you never know whether to use it, or save it for the next boss.
  • You have powerful grenades, and they’re on an over-long cooldown too. Devs, if you’re terrified we’ll actually use the powerful tools, maybe make them a tad less powerful rather than not letting us use them?
  • I know, suspension of disbelief, but I’m kind of put off by an utter disregard for physics. The story has the Legion wanting to destroy the sun, which makes little sense… they don’t even bother to provide a reason, or even explain why they’d do this while their own troops are scattered over the solar system. Plus, firing lasers at a star won’t make it go supernova and stellar explosions can’t go faster than lightspeed. You visit an asteroid named Nessus. A planetoid of under 100 km diameter out by Uranus would be a rather interesting setting, but in the game it’s a lovely warm planet with plants and running water and breathable air and Earth gravity.

In between: game devs, it’s not that hard to make a multiplayer game with a single-player story that does not contradict the multiplayer. Conan Exiles or The Secret World or DC Universe Online all managed it: they came up with stories where the player is not the Chosen One; rather, lots of people have these neat powers. Destiny 2 does not manage this– you are apparently the only Guardian who can take on the story missions. Yet you see other players and can play other missions with them, or even run PvP sessions. It wouldn’t even be hard to fix this up: oh look, we have a corps of Guardians.  They seem to outnumber the civilians, since the writers insisted on near-genocide, but since the Guardians are immortal zombies, perhaps it makes sense that their numbers would accumulate.

Anyway, it looks like I’m more than halfway through the story, so I expect I’ll finish it.  Googling, it looks like the thing I found and couldn’t identify was a Relic which unlocks more powers, which requires, astonishingly, killing more monsters.  Well, OK.

Does it sound like I don’t like it?  I don’t think I dislike it. The price is right, and it’s not actively tiresome, like say Agents of Mayhem. I wish it were a little more comprehensible, though, and maybe that the story went beyond apocalyptic space opera.

Update: Rest of review, after finishing off Ghaul.

Not content with playing Overwatch, I’ve been watching it– i.e., pro streams and games.

For the World Cup, Blizzard created a separate viewer, which lets you follow any player, and indeed control the camera. This is pretty damn neat, and I hope they’ll implement it for Overwatch League– heck, for any games.

You can also use it to look at the whole map in ways that you can’t when playing. Biggest surprise: the three-stage maps are really one map.  E.g., Lijiang Tower:

ov4

I really thought these were separate maps with skyboxes to show the bits of the other stages that you can see.  But with the viewer you can fly from one stage to the next: everything is there, down to the last health pack. Note that you can see some of the player info– the actual gameplay is at Control Center, but we can see Night Market in perfect detail. (And note that the spaceship spawns are there, although this isn’t the current stage.)

Another example: here’s a view of the Busan map showing both the temple and the city. (There’s still some culling that goes on– if you pull back far enough from the city, it disappears.)

ow3

And here’s a closeup on the hillside, showing that at this distance from the city, the trees
are just 2-d pictures on flat quads.  (You can see a bit of the city center to the right.)

ow2

What about the actual pro play? Well, I really enjoy seeing Space or Emongg play D.Va or Zarya, or Surefour playing anything, or Fareeha playing Pharah. I don’t know if I learn much, but some things amuse me:

  • Pro players still destroy everything in spawn.
  • Space changes his players-to-avoid after almost every match.
  • His ult tracking is amazing.
  • Wait times for Top 500 are terrible: 5 minutes or more.  Nice for streamers: they can look at chat.
  • Top 500 players still complain about unbalanced matches.
  • If someone’s out of position, the callout is e.g. “Zarya feeding.”
  • Surefour sounds infinitely chill.

And speaking of Surefour, if you watch just one pro game, find today’s Canada-France game and watch the Busan map, especially the Meka Base.  He has some game-winning Sombra ults.

 

I haven’t played an Assassin’s Creed since the first, and I never finished that. But touring (and murdering half of) Greece sounded fun, so I picked up ACO.

aco ships

Now how do you suppose I’m going to get a ship to go over there?

I am playing, of course, as Kassandra, because why wouldn’t you? A badass dude is boring; a badass woman is interesting. The voice actor, Melissanthi Mahut, even gives her a strong accent, which is a little unusual for the protagonist of a game.

Overall stuff: I’m not very far in (9 hours), but it’s fun so far.  Almost all of the baggage in the series– the Templars and Assassins, the future stuff, the assassination structure– has been downplayed.  It’s a lot like The Witcher 3, in fact.  Kassandra is a misthios, or mercenary, so your character, like you, wants to accumulate money and gear and murderate people. You work for various disreputable people, and there are plenty of side quests along the way. The game is absolutely gorgeous, and they’ve found a way to have quite a population of NPCs at any one time, so it doesn’t have the “three people represent a village” thing that many games have.

You can tell if a character is unimportant, because they’ll be speaking Greek. The handling of Greek seems inconsistent… characters pronounce the same word different ways (this is especially noticeable with drachmae), and it seems to me that some pronunciations are Hellenic and others modern. Definitely not classical: ph th kh are not aspirated, but fricativized. Kassandra seems to drop her h’s (Helios = Elios), but at least Kephallonia gets a [k] not an [s].

The writing is, well, serviceable. You start out doing errands for your disreputable pal Markos. Apparently you washed up on the beach as a young girl and he took care of you, but he’s a hustler and ne’er-do-well, kind of like Roman in Grand Theft Auto IV. He’s in debt to the local gangster, the Cyclops, who is the focus of the early missions.

Which is fine as a general setup, but if you look at any episode carefully, it falls to pieces. Markos owes a debt to Cyclops, and proposes paying for it by stealing a treasure of his. But you never actually sell it, and eventually– when you’ve advanced enough levels– you just murder him. Cyclops apparently has a ship, which is good because you want one. But instead of getting that ship, you rescue a ship-owner from Cyclops and he gives you his ship and crew. (For that matter, you’re also sent to talk to a shipbuilder, who quotes you an insane price.)

Now, Shamus Young would give you a 20-part series tearing all this apart, and probably will, but I’d just note that it all seems cobbled together to make the game work. We need an early infiltration mission, thus the theft; we need a ship, thus the rescue of the sea captain. Yet another mission is simply an excuse to meet Elpanor, the next quest giver once you’ve left Markos behind.

That’s all fine; it’s just an excuse to wander around being violent. The fighting is enjoyable, though I should really master the dodge mechanic. (You avoid damage if you parry or dodge, though if you fight people of your level– this is always clearly marked– you can get knocked about quite a lot before dying.) The stealth is more fun.  You can scout out an area with your eagle and mark enemies. You can parkour around, you can hide in bushes, and a stealth assassination is fast and powerful, more so than fighting.

Here and there you get choices which are apparently meaningful later. E.g. there are characters you can romance, though apparently this takes awhile.  (For reference, the first one is Odessa, who you meet on Ithaka.) I do like the climbing mechanic– Kassandra can climb just about anything. (There are high points you can clamber up, then use as fast travel points.)

One story thing that does bug me is that Kassandra seems to know little about her own home island.  She’s apparently known to be a mercenary, but the local thugs don’t fear her, nor does she work for them… what the hell has she been doing for her ten years on the island? There’s a burnt-out village a short walk from her house, and she doesn’t know about it. She doesn’t know that Odysseus’s palace is right there on Ithaka, the next island north, which she can swim to if she wanted. She also has a house, but she doesn’t seem to care about it and there’s nothing really to do there. It’s not even marked on the map; before leaving Kephallonia I found it again and made a note of the location:

aco my house

My record collection of ancient bards is there

I know, most adventure games don’t do this either. But they should! It’s nice to have a place on the map that’s yours, ideally customizable.

Once you get the ship, you can go and discover the wider world.  Naval combat is a whole ‘nother beast. Athens and Sparta are having a war, which you can join in, changing sides at will. The map looks intimidatingly large at this point… if it’s as full of things to do as Kephallonia, it could take weeks to finish. I don’t think games have to be this open-world; in fact, it can be discouraging to look at a huge map full of to-do icons. I think Arkham City is about perfect for the size and complexity of a map.  On the other hand, I’d like to think it works like a Fallout game, so I can choose to go to Athens or Sparta or Crete and just see what’s there.

One thing I absolutely don’t miss, by the way, is the future-world stuff from the first game. Or the Templars and Assassins, for that matter. There’s a cut-scene in the beginning that references the apparently interminable story, but it’s soon over; the game doesn’t even pretend to be interested in that stuff any more. (Maybe it does later.) I note in my review of the first game that it didn’t have a save command; in ACO you can save any time except in combat.

My one complaint, and it’s minor, is that the game can be short on guidance. There’s tutorials for fighting, but not for climbing. (You just use shift; I kept trying space, as in other games.) The fast-travel mechanic isn’t explained, though it’s quite simple (climb to the highest point, then you’ll finally get a prompt). Also, you can fail a romance– or at least it seems you can; with my first options Odessa ran off in a huff. So maybe save before trying to make it with someone.

I’ve already heard speculations on what other locations should get the same treatment. Well, duh, Three Kingdoms China. I would love to be able to pick a side and fight at Red Cliffs. Of course I’d be against Cáo Cāo, but either of the southern kingdoms would be a good client. I’ll even suggest a great protagonist: Sūn Quán’s daughter, who in fact is fascinated by war and has her own troop of female archers.

 

 

 

 

Well, I’m in a new galaxy, named Eissentam.  It’s apparently Galaxy No. 10 of 256.  I don’t expect I’ll visit them all. Spoilers ahead if you worry about that.

nms feeding

The questline of Conan Exiles– if you can find it– is that you build the MacGuffin, use it, get a tiny dumb cutscene, and start over in a new game. Well, No Man’s Sky does pretty much the same thing. You finish the Artemis questline, you get some alone time with Atlas, and your reward is to start over in a new galaxy.  (You do keep your inventory and ship. And it turns out you can summon your freighter and get the contents of your old storage units; but you don’t keep your base.)

The questline is great as a means of keeping you busy: there’s a ton of stuff to do, and it walks you through building and populating your base.  As a story, it’s basically incoherent nonsense. Making a game that simulates an entire galaxy, the devs decided to go meta: whoa man what if the game is about simulating an entire galaxy and you’re like an AI?  I think this is a trope which more or less never works.  About all that can be said for it is that at least it explains why the NMS galaxies don’t obey our laws of physics. (I do like the idea of the early part of the quest– you try to connect to other Travelers– but there’s no payoff to this part.)

An immense amount of effort has gone into NMS; still, after 76 hours, the seams are showing. The animals and plants are built off a limited number of models: your basic dinosaur, your basic bouncy thing, your basic bird, your basic jellyfish, and so on. I’m not bored yet, but I’m not expecting my enthusiasm to last through an actual trip to the galactic center.

There’s little bits that work really well.  E.g., you can feed the animals, they crowd around you, and then they poop coprite.  That’s what’s happening in the pic above– it’s part of a new set of weekly quests for Nada and Polo. It sounds dumb, but it’s actually rather charming, one of the few moments you feel like you’re interacting with the world.

The vistas of new worlds are also nice.  There are some worlds that look like the ruins of world-spanning cities, which are pretty eerie:

nms ruins

If this sounds mixed, well, that’s how it is. I think it works well as a survival game with an unusually broad canvas for exploration.  The base building is too punishing… seriously, dudes, 350 pieces of pure ferrite (not even a basic material) to build one fricking room?  The story is dumb; on the other hand, the mini-stories you get by taking side missions or talking to random aliens can be fun. There’s always something to do; also always something to complain of.

(OK, one more complaint: the language stuff is still pointless. I know over 400 words now; that’s just enough to point out how utterly unlike language learning the process is. E.g. for a long time the Geks would greet me with “Ammr friend!”  It seemed obvious that ammr was hello, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what it is. To make this process, you know, slightly more like a game, why not let me guess at words? Or let me ask for a particular word rather than a random word?  Who learns ‘isotopes’ before ‘is’?)

Edit: OK, one more bit of praise and complaint. The kind of nice bit: fixing frigates. The frigates can go out exploring, but the crew is incapable of doing minor repairs. OK, the justification is dumb, but the mechanics are cute: you clamber around the frigate to make the repairs.

The complaint: freighter missions are tedious. You send your frigates on missions, and hopefully they come back with some stuff. OK, but you have to go out to your freighter to start and stop the mission and maybe mess with inventories. And sometimes go fix the frigates. Why can’t you just make a phone call? (I suppose because then there’d be no reason for the freighters to have insides. It’s of a piece with the general problem of NMS: every area is super-pretty, and never feels alive.)

Did I complain about the base building?  Yes, I did, but I can always complain more. I finally learned how to make rooms of any size, using the cube modules. Nice idea, but each cube takes 200 pure ferrite, which is insane. The devs should play Empyrion to learn how to make base building actually fun.

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