Mini Impressions: April Humble Monthly

Another month has passed and another new bundle of games has been unlocked from Humble Monthly. The early unlock for April was The Witness which I already knew wasn’t my thing so I gifted that copy away to my sister. The remaining bits of the bundle unlocked earlier this month, and I finally had a chance to check out some of the pieces of the puzzle. I didn’t play all of the games but I still have thoughts to share, so let’s take a look at the list:

Black Mesa
Kingdom: New Lands

Layers of Fear
Tumblestone
Event Zero
Slime-San
Jawns

I’m not sure why, but I basically never play any of the Humble Originals. They’re always DRM free copies and I just don’t install games that aren’t via some sort of launcher. I don’t know why that is, but you can bet that I didn’t play Jawns for this reason. Same goes for prior months. I also didn’t play Event Zero which is one of those narrative games that bore me. Slime-San falls into the same uninterested category, as it was a pixellated platformer and I’m just not that into platforming these days.

Layers of Fear looks interesting. I get more of a Amnesia or SOMA vibe to it, but I haven’t played either of those titles despite owning both. If I remember correctly SOMA was in a bundle a few months back. Having just completed Resident Evil VII, I thought it might be worth jumping into right away to keep up with the creepy vibe, but I have yet to jump into it. Still on my to do list.

Black Mesa is a remake of the original Half-Life that is supposed to add some modern convenience along with better graphics to the beloved title. However, it’s still in Early Access and apparently the tail end of the game is not present just yet. I had my eye on this one for a while and wish to play it, but I think I’m going to let the developers finish it before diving in.

Now, on to the games I actually did try out. Kingdom is a cute little side scrolling base management game that came out a while back. I remember friends talking about it and I almost picked it up myself a couple of times. The bundle came packed with both the Classic version of the game, and the expansion “New Lands,” Though having experimented with them both, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of difference between the two. Let me show you what I mean:

Kingdom Classic
Kingdom: New Lands

I mean honestly, do you see a difference? All I noticed was that my character went from having light skin to dark skin, and now there’s some clouds. I’m sure it’s one of those types of expansions that adds new stuff, I did notice that the tutorial was more fleshed out in the latter game. Both install and play seperately though, despite not being a sequel. They both had their own Steam cards and whatnot too, so it’s probably more like a directors cut or additional bits added in. You guys that have played more of the game could probably clear that up for me. Overall, it’s a fun little time waster but not a game I’d spend a load of time with.

Lastly, a little puzzle game called Tumblestone. It’s got match 3 elements, but you match bricks that are already existing, and don’t add to it. You also have to clear bricks to get to bricks behind them, so each puzzle has one or more ways to solve it, rather than being more like traditional match 3 games where you can add extra bricks and then clear them later. It seems alright as far as puzzle games go but nothing super engaging.

That’s it for this month’s games. The early unlock for next month was Dirt Rally, and if you’ve been paying attention, both Dirt 3 and one of the other titles in the series were free on Humble Bundle’s site over the past few months. So plenty of rally racing to be had. Apparently the 4th game in the series is coming out soon as well. Inside was the other early unlock (two this month, which is different) and it looks like a little platformer with some cool art direction and a mysterious story. I’ll check these out and get back to you next month. Until then.

Early Access Gem: Shardbound

Games that combine multiple genres into one are becoming a trend, don’t you think? We’ve had plenty of CCGs developed over the years, both in physical and digital form. Tactical, turn-based games are also nothing new, with various iterations spanning multiple generations of consoles and PCs. We can come up with many examples of genre-bending or melding just in the last few years, with standouts like MOBAs and the new Hero Shooter genre taking center stage. The free to play model itself has also gone through various iterations, though the lockbox has taken precedence, and despite these differing costs to speed up progress, typically you can play the full game without spending anything at all (at least with the fair developers).

Enter Shardbound. A free to play title that has a cash shop, that is a combination of CCG and tactics, that sounds like it would be a little on the weird side but works fairly well. In the above picture you can see a bit of everything, and that will allow me to explain. So, just like Hearthstone and other CCGs, you’ll have a deck of cards to take with you into battle. You also have a Hero unit. This unit will have its own special ability, along with being a representation of your life total. They start with 25, and if they die it’s game over, no matter how many minions you have left standing. Like Hearthstone, you’ll get one mana per turn. More like Magic: The Gathering, cards have various effects and you can play from your graveyard. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force et al, you’ll be using turn based tactics to eliminate the enemy. That’s the main gist of it. The tutorial will do a better job explaining things than I just did, but if you’ve played any of the games I’ve mentioned here you will likely understand things rather quickly.

Deckbuilding looks like fun. You’ll use a hero and their color cards (think class specific cards) and then flesh out your deck with various neutral cards. I rather enjoyed the purple deck, being graveyard focused. Some of the Heroes feel better than others, but their decks tend to make up for their own shortcomings. As of now the game is in Early Access so it has a bunch of temporary artwork and is definitely not complete but it is very playable in this state.

The game provided me with 30 chests right off the bat. In them, I received cards of different rarities, and that seems just about the norm. Buying chests seems a little steep and probably unnecessary at this point, but the welcome pack comes with another 30 chests for $5, so that’s not bad. I’m sure you will have ways to earn or craft the cards as well as the game is further developed.

 The interface is nicely done. Rather than having a series of menus, the devs decided it would be cooler to have your character represented by a space ship, and a series of floating islands represent the various menus. You have a home base of sorts, where you can train, build you deck, buy stuff and form a “house” which I assume is just like a clan. From there you fly to other “shards” where the PvP battles take place. I did well in my first couple of fights but there is definitely a learning curve as to how all of the mechanics work. Overall though, I think this one is worth checking out!

More New & Noteworthy

Leave it to the Steam Discovery Queue to turn me on to games I’d never heard of. Sometimes I’ll absent-mindedly add games to my wishlist, and then sometimes I will just buy them on the spot, particularly if something new and shiny has a bit of a discount. This time around, two games struck my fancy, and both for very different reasons.

If you were as much of a nut as I was for Half-Life, you’ve likely played a mod or two. The original game released in the 90’s when the Internet was becoming a thing and multiplayer PC gaming over-the-internet was in a state of growth but wasn’t an always-connected proposition just yet. Half-Life was a smash hit, and a great game to play but once you were bored of the campaign, traditional deathmatch was there for you. That didn’t last long though, and soon we had mods from creative people with plenty of time on their hands. Mods grew in popularity, but only a select few became stand alone titles, and only a few saw new iterations when Half-Life 2 released. The two biggest mods for the Half-Life era were easily Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat. I played both for countless hours through beta on to release — at school, at home and even at Internet cafes. Between the two Day of Defeat was always my favorite, and Day of Defeat Source to follow. Eventually the games grew old and people moved on, but even with the older Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games, the feel was never quite right. I absolutely loved Day of Defeat and that has been a missing part of my gaming DNA for a decade or more at this point.

Enter Day of Infamy. A project put together by the people behind Insurgency. A game I never played, but had definitely seen around and thought about purchasing a time or two, but with a modern era combat scheme that I’m just sick of. Even Call of Duty has moved beyond the modern and into Sci-Fi realms, so this just felt like more of the same. It turns out that I may have made a hasty judgement there, because if Insurgency plays like Day of Infamy, it surely must be an awesome game. A Server lobby? In 2017? I’m shocked and appreciative! Realistic combat as opposed to bullet sponges? Tell me more! A “hardcore” experience, with less information on screen and no kill confirmations (outside of your own visuals)? I’m sold.

The graphics are nothing spectacular, this isn’t AAA quality but it still runs well and feels optimized. Things are serviceable, and the focus feels to be right where it should — on gameplay. There are several game modes, including the standard Day of Defeat format of pushing (similar to Rush in Battlefield) and capturing objectives, with a tug of war mechanic allowing one team with an edge to win, or be pushed back. There are other modes as well, including coop, though I haven’t tried that out just yet.

There seems to be a progression of sorts, where gaining experience opens differing skins. Classes have their own unique abilities to master and the games are over fairly quick, with a best of 3 format. MVP style awards are given at the end of matches for your e-peen’s growth to boot.  Overall the game feel like a spiritual successor to Day of Defeat, so if that was your bag, this game is sure to be as well. For $20 you’ll no doubt have a good time. At least you can use it to break up other multiplayer experiences, and simultaneously travel back to a simpler time.

Monster Slayers is an indie game that recently came to Steam, but I suppose I should admit that it is only new to Steam, not a new game. Apparently it is a port of a Newgrounds flash game, but that isn’t to say it feels like a rip off, which one might say about paying for a free flash game. It does have a “lite” feel to it, but to be more specific, it feels like “Darkest Dungeon Lite.” Less complexity, but a similar feel. The game touts being part Rogue-like and part deckbuilding. From what I’ve seen, it melds the two concepts quite well.

You’ll start by picking a class (out of 6 with 6 more being added very soon). Each will have its own sorts of abilities in card format. Each class will start with some cards pertinent to their play style, and some other generic cards. For instance, I started with the Wizard class, and he came with basic attacks like any other class, but then had mana charge and magic missile, both of which can be found otherwise but are nice to start out with. It seems that there is some overlap, but planning your deck to work well for your class is part of the strategy.

Battles play out in a turn based format, with 3 cards being drawn for you. You then choose how to spend your action/magic points based on cards in hand. Each card will resolve and then you’ll end your turn allowing the enemy to play their cards until one of you is dead. Death is permanent, but like Rogue Legacy, you’ll be able to use fame from your forebears to improve new characters allowing you to make it further and further each run. After a brief tutorial, you’ll jump to a new level and have a map that looks familiar to Rogue-like players:

Clicking on one of the available spaces will take you to the next room, where a variety of events will occur or monsters will be present to battle you. Gaining experience allows you to open perks, there is loot to find and equip and new cards will make their way to your deck. You even get a companion with special abilities and their own skill trees. There’s clearly plenty to do, but a single run can be mere minutes if you aren’t careful. Still, there is constant progression and it’s a blast to play. I recommend it if you’re done with your current Rogue-like fling and are looking for a new one to try, or if you were a fan of Darkest Dungeon. It’s under $10, so what do you have to lose?

That’s it for this edition. What do you guys think of this column? Want more new and noteworthy games talked about more often? Let me know in the comments!

Codex of Victory

Another gem to come out of left field, Codex of Victory melds several different strategy game elements into a fairly successful formula. A low poly, semi-anime style romp, the campaign boasts 20+ hours of gameplay, of which I’ve experienced a handful of missions, but the core gameplay has made itself known.

Combining three core game modes, there are elements of Real Time Strategy, 4x, and Turn Based Strategy rolled into one game. The majority of your time will be spent on the field of combat, which will be different configuration each time, but will encompass the TBS and RTS portion of the game.

You’ll find yourself on a grid based landscape, where action points (or AP) will be spent to both build units and to perform actions with said units. You’ll capture additional points of interest to gain more AP, and with that AP you’ll decimate the enemy. From there, you’ll spend some time building your base along with upgrading your units between battles.

After sufficiently preparing for the next battle, you’ll jump on the mission screen and fly to the next tactical strike point, completing missions and earning resources to build more stuff along the way.

Clearly the latter two portions of the game cover the 4x strategic requirements by picking up new territories and plotting attacks for various resources. The latter two portions also remind me the most of games like XCOM, but still feel right at home mixed with the other portions of the game. Honestly I’m surprised it works due to the various directions the dev team decided to go in, but it does feel just right. It’s not overly convoluted, not overly focused on graphics or storyline, is easy to pick up and feels appropriately difficult. For fans of really any genre of strategy games, you’ll find something to like here. It’s a $15 price tag on Steam unless you catch a sale (current sale is for $12) and is definitely worth it, should you be looking for something easy to jump into for a cheap price. That’s my two cents, anyway.

State of the Game: Housekeeping Edition

Recently I’ve been doing some housekeeping when it comes to the backlog. As you well know, I have a problem. That problem is being sensitive to sales and bundles; having a subscription to both Playstation Plus and Humble Bundle, and being a frequent shopper when deals are presented. I’m seriously a walking Darth Kermit Meme.

That inner monologue goes something like:

Me: “You shouldn’t buy that game,  you don’t have time to play it.”
Also Me: “But it’s been on your wishlist for ages! You’ll make time! Plus it’s only $10 bucks and  you get all of the DLC!”
Me: “Damn me, you always know how to spot a great deal! I’m in!”

And so it goes.

Because I have this habit, I tend to play games a while after they are new. Occasionally I’ll spill for a full priced game, and in most cases that’s a good thing, but sometimes it’s a bummer. Other times you get a game for a great deal and it sucks. These are all things that have happened recently. Isn’t going to stop me from buying more games I don’t have time for. Me is right, I’ll make time eventually. The thing is, games aren’t making the cut as often as they used to. I’ve honestly bought more games in the past 5 or so years than for the remaining 30 years of my lifetime, and yet I play less of them to completion. It seems I have become more picky, and my time more valuable. As such, some games have been marked as completed, or as completed as I’m going to get them, and other games have been marked for deletion (in some cases I’ll card farm them and then delete). Some games I desperately wanted to like turned out to be not so great. And in some cases the games were simply there to add to the collection, not necessarily for immediate use. I do this from time to time, then kick myself for not playing the damn things. Regardless, let’s move on to the games discussion, shall we?

Mobile: 

I’ve been playing Clash Royale daily. It’s my go to game when I’m not at home. This makes sense because it’s a mobile game, but I do have other titles installed on my phone. A big one coming up is Super Mario Run, which was previously an iOS exclusive. That looks like it will be fun. I’m still playing Fire Emblem Heroes as well, but I typically only play that one when I’m stationary for a while. Clash is something I can run on my breaks at work and when I’m hanging outside of the house. Progress has slowed due to the fact that I’m level 10 and getting to the upper eschelons takes a while, along with being stuck in Arena 8 for quite some time now. I know my deck works, and I’ve tweaked it here and there to make it work even better, but it seems that I’ve hit a wall, and will continue to beat my head against that wall until some of my cards are levelled up. It seems to me that I only lose when someone has a card I don’t (of which there is only a handful at this point) or they have similar cards of a higher level. I know several members of my clan are in the highest arena and have far more trophies than I, so it’s doable, but I’m not there yet. Also, I deleted Tiny Tower from my phone. It was becoming more of a chore than fun.

Console:

During a recent sale I picked up a copy of a few games on PS4. Winkings is a arcade style game in the vein of Joust, but with far more creatures on screen at once. It’s got local co-op that I have yet to try (but will soon), and feels like a fun little time waster. Nothing amazing, but if you enjoy running around and killing stuff with a variety of weapons with a viking themed character, you might enjoy it too. Plus members can get it right now for like $3. Another game that was on sale was Q-bert Rebooted, which is one of those classic titles everyone should have in their library. Not only did it come with a rebooted version of the game, but the original is included as well, and boy is it a tough game. I was interested in picking this one up as I bought a bundle of other classic arcade games including Pac-Man, Galaga and Dig-Dug a few months back, and I enjoy having old collections of games. I have a version of Tetris and of course my Sega collection on Playstation consoles as well. It’s fun for me to go back and play some of these old games once in a while, and it’s great to have on hand to introduce people to some classic titles when the opportunity arises.

Lastly, the closed beta for Paladins, Hi-Rez Studio’s latest multiplayer free-to-play title went live on PS4. I had access to the beta on PC as well, but just like SMITE, I figured I would be more attracted to the game on console. It’s a team shooter similar to Overwatch or Battleborn, but has enough there to differentiate it from the others. I’m a big fan of SMITE on the console and still play that regularly, but I’m hoping that this one picks up steam too. The console SMITE population is excellent, but so far it seems that there might not be as many people playing Paladins. It was a buy in, but with that you instant access along with some perks. I’m sure the population will level out once it’s out of beta and anyone can join in. I liked being in on the SMITE beta and watching the game take shape on the console, so being in on this game from the start should be fun as well.

Housekeeping wise, this list of games are mostly ones that are those that aren’t going to be completed, so they don’t really take up backlog space. I’ve called it quits with Destiny. I had fun making my way through most of the game, completing The Taken King and leveling to 40. But I’m just not interested in the Light grind. With talk of Destiny 2 around the corner, and other games like Mass Effect Andromeda coming out soon, I know I’d rather spend my time elsewhere. I’ll do the mad dash light grinding before Destiny 2 releases, if the rumors about some of your progress transferring over are true.

PC:

I’ve more random tidbits on the PC side of things. I’ve mentioned recently playing Shadow Warrior 2. Within the last couple of days there was a 2nd free DLC added to the game, and this one adds a slew of new content. Talk about DLC done right! I have made about 30% progress through the main story, and plan to try and knock this one out soon. That is if they don’t flood me with DLCs! I’ve also toyed around with the games I mentioned in a recent post called New and Noteworthy. Along with those newer additions, I’ve also dipped my toes into some other games that came with bundles or were otherwise purchased but never mentioned. One game that popped up in my discovery queue was called Disgaea PC. It’s a PC port of a Playstation 2 JRPG. I remember seeing the title in the past but hadn’t played it, and it turned out they ported the sequel to the game as well so I picked them both up. I know of at least two more titles in the series as well, so perhaps those will come down the pipeline. The game looks like a Final Fantasy Tactics style game, but centers around the prince of the underworld rather than a typical hero type. The combat is sort of wonky, but that’s to be expected from an old console title that is just now being ported to PC. I relish these sorts of experiences; being able to take a trip into the past to experience something you missed.

Sometimes, games that you really wanted to love just don’t do it for you. Last month’s Humble Monthly provided a copy of Total War: Warhammer, and I thought I would love the game. I gave it a test run, found it alright, and then plunked down some cash to get all of the DLC. After playing it a bit more, I felt that I didn’t really enjoy the combat, the strategy, or really any facet of the game. Just putting a Warhammer skin on something doesn’t mean you’re going to automatically love the game, and that’s a shame. A painful lesson. Speaking of Warhammer, Vermintide dropped a new free DLC that adds lore page drops to the game. Having neglected to check out any of the DLC since the Last Stand game mode was added, I decided to do just that the other night. 2 new areas were added to the game, both with 3 maps each. I tried finding players to play with, but ended up running around with dumb NPCs and not getting far in any of them. The new areas look cool, but it’s really just more of the same. I’d love to run through it with some friends, had I enough to fill up a party. A shame that the population has died out so quickly, as it was a very promising title.

Lastly, I finally got around to booting up the Skyrim Special Edition. Every time I looked at it, I just couldn’t justify the 100s of hours I would put into another playthrough when I have so many other RPGs that I want to play through for the first time. But one day I had the itch, and I wanted to play it though I wanted to also play around with some mods, as I have only played the vanilla version of the game. I did some research, and though it appears that you can just install mods via the client itself, I went ahead and installed two programs that were highly recommended: the Nexus Mod Manager and LOOT. The former is a one-click install tool for mods for the game. The latter allows you to sort the booting order of mods in case of issues arising. I ended up installing 20+ mods and it ran fairly well the first time. There was a laughable bug during the opening scene, but eventually things were working great. I didn’t get far enough into the game to really see all the mods have to offer, but again, didn’t want to put too much time into it. I intend to revisit soon.

Housekeeping wise, I have put some of the above titles on farm status. They will be uninstalled afterwards. Others are works in progress, but progress nonetheless. Until next time, happy gaming.