Steam Spring Cleaning

Starting yesterday and running through the long holiday weekend, Steam presented us with a new platform event that is different than what we’ve come to expect. Usually when Steam has any sort of event it coincides with a big sale — originally there was the Summer and Winter sales, but now there’s sales in Spring and Fall and sometimes in-between. There have been mini-games and collections and other things to do within the platform along with those juicy discounts on games you’ve been wanting but haven’t purchased yet. This time around, I couldn’t find any sale information, it’s purely an event with tasks — sort of a metagame within the Steam platform.

For the four days of the sale, there are Daily tasks. These will rotate out each day, and if you completed them, the little trophy at the bottom of each will be filled in. When you click on the “post-it” it will present you with “qualifying games” from your library (or from a dozen or so that are free to play for the weekend) that you’ll play and then the task is completed. This means you can either actually do what they’re aiming for — getting you to actually play the games in your library — or just start the game and immediately close it just to get the trophy. I did a mixture of both.

Besides the daily tasks, there are projects as well, that don’t appear to change or refresh, you just have to finish these once. As you can see, I ran through these as well last night but in some cases I had to re-download the title just to complete the task. I wasn’t about to go and play Overlord or Torchlight again, but I did a run in FTL and Hellbound, along with firing up Eon Altar for the first time. Honestly it’s kind of silly for them to push you into playing old games you haven’t played much of or hadn’t played in a long time. I suppose that helps their concurrent users metrics, but otherwise doesn’t seem to do much of anything aside from helping you to unlock a new badge for your profile.

As you can see, I completed the tasks for Day 1, along with the project. It seems that you’ll have to do all of these each of the four days in order to get the maximum level badge. I’m going out of town this weekend though, so I’ll likely only get a day or two finished.

The only visible reward so far is this “Mystery Item” that appeared in my inventory after completing part of the tasks. There was a bundle of emotes as well, but I never use those, usually just turn them into gems for use for booster packs later on or whatever. The description says “This item might be useful in a future sale” which tells us absolutely fuck all. I assume that it will be a discount coupon similar to those you can see in my inventory. It’s not very reassuring when it says “might be useful” because that doesn’t really apply to everyone. Perhaps this is all just a waste of time? Or maybe it’s a great idea, I’m not sure yet. Will have to see what happens during the summer sale and what this item really is to judge its worth. It’s still nice to see that the company is always trying new things though, so I guess that’s all we can ask for.

Thoughts on ECHO

My Dad was kind enough to purchase a couple of Steam games for me for my birthday that recently passed. One of them was Echo, a game that had escaped my attention but that he assured me was interesting and that I would enjoy it. Apparently he had purchased the game earlier on and had already played a bit, and he was right — it’s intriguing from the start. You play a woman named En? I’m unsure what her actual name is and that’s the only name that she has been referenced as thus far. You have awoken after a 100 year space flight, where you were trying to find a planet that was almost missed. It is here you were trying to reach, as a message from “grandpa” gave these coordinates. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on or what you’re here for. This is one of those titles that tells you very little to begin with, and reveals bits of the story as you progress. When first landing on the planet, it’s clear that it is not what you would think of when you think “planet” because the entire surface of it is a structure. It’s massive. It looks alien until you get inside. It’s confusing. Who built this thing? Why is it here? Why is it so big? Why am I being copied and my copies are attacking me? I have no idea.

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Clearly you will make sense of everything as you make it further into the game, but at this point I have an impression from only the first couple of hours. I do want to get deeper and learn more, but as these things go – it takes time. The game is gorgeous, despite having similar textures everywhere. The lighting is very impressive, and you’ll notice that most when you first enter “the palace.” Combat doesn’t take place until after you get the power on, and though it seems effective to shoot your enemies, your suit only has so much energy so they almost force you into doing stealth bits. I detest stealth myself, so I typically run past things and shoot when I can, thankfully enemies have an aggro range and you can typically leave them in the dust as long as you don’t corner yourself. I have a feeling that this will get better over time, or maybe they’ll force you further into being stealthy, but if I can avoid it I will.

Overall I think that if you like a mysterious adventure type game you’ll enjoy this. I wouldn’t say you’ll need much in the way of shooter skills, particularly if you go the stealth route, but that element is present so it’s not just walking around, puzzles and exposition. I look forward to getting more time in with this game, but wanted to jot down my initial impressions. I’d recommend it.

Thoughts on the Steam Controller

During the summer sale on Steam, Valve decided to put their hardware offerings on discount, and I’ve thought about purchasing a Steam Controller for a while now. Honestly, I dislike the Xbox controller very much, and always have. I know that is probably the most commonly used controller for PC gaming, but my distaste for it meant that I ended up buying a Logitech controller that was sort of a hybrid of an Xbox and Playstation controller. It has the same A,B,X,Y button layout as an Xbox controller, but instead of the skewed sticks, they are in-line like the PS setup. It was a fine controller and still works, but it is wired and the D-pad is shit. I found that I didn’t use it all that often, but some games simply feel better with a controller rather than keyboard/mouse.

I realize that you are able to use Playstation controllers on PC, but the last time I tried that you had to keep it wired, and I assume that is still the case so it’s not optimal. The Steam Controller is made for PC gaming, and made for Steam specifically (where most of my game collection is found outside of consoles) so I figured it was a good investment, and for $35 (on sale) it’s cheaper than buying most of the other AAA controllers on the market.

The controller finally arrived the other night, and I finally got around to giving it a whirl. It came packed in a nice box that you can see above, and here’s what comes inside:

I swear at some point I read that you are required to have the Steam Link to use the controller, but that isn’t the case. The Steam link is similar to an Nvidia Shield or other streaming device that just puts the display from your computer onto a TV in another room. Great concept, but not needed for me, so I just got the controller. It is battery powered and comes with a USB dongle that enables wireless usability. Installing the batteries was easy enough, and I assume if you use rechargables, you’d be able to charge them via the USB cord, but I could be wrong about that. Outside of installing the batteries, there was no other setup required, just plug in the dongle and start up steam. It will update the firmware automatically and then you’re good to go.

Big picture mode is not required though it makes navigating Steam a bit easier with the controller. Overall I like the construction of the unit and the feel of it in your hand. It feels like a great controller. In practice, it takes some getting used to.

I started off by checking out steam controller supported games in my library, and the first one I tried wouldn’t work with the unit. The second game I tried worked well, but it was a platformer and only used the one stick and buttons. The trackpads feel great, but they are hard to use in the case of FPS games. I tried one, and it didn’t feel very good to move the camera with a trackpad. Apparently you can push on the trackpad and swing the controller in various ways to help with the camera control, but I didn’t really figure that out until watching a video later on. People rave about the controller being great for any game, but I feel like it’s best saved for slower paced games or more simplistic ones. Those that require twin sticks will definitely require some practice, but I want to put in that practice because I made the investment. We’ll see how that develops over time.

My final verdict? It’s worth the sale price. It feels and looks great. Most games that you would traditionally think about using a controller for (fighting, shmup, beat-em-ups, side-scrollers, and platformers) are going to benefit. Those that use twin-stick camera and movement controls might irritate you at first, but I think once you get past the learning curve it can be great. I’d buy it if you dislike Xbox controllers and want something built for the PC.

Thoughts on Elder Scrolls Legends

I remember hearing about The Elder Scrolls Legends a while back, and thinking that it was a game I should give a try at some point. At the time, I was sick of Hearthstone and I had tried Magic Duels but didn’t care for it. I also wasn’t back to playing paper Magic just yet, so I was looking for something to scratch that CCG itch without being one of the games I had already tried or lost interest in. There was a beta at some point and the game has been released for a time, but it recently came to Steam which brought it back to my attention. I downloaded the game and gave it a whirl the other night, and despite some similarities to both Hearthstone and Magic, it stands on its own merits in other ways.

You’ll log in and create an account with Bethesda if you don’t already have one. Then you get to pick an avatar from the familiar races of TES lore and set off into the tutorial where the various mechanics of the game will be explained. Like Hearthstone and Magic, creatures have power and toughness and various abilities that trigger depending on circumstances. Some of the names will sound familiar, others will be new in name only having the same effect that you would expect. Like Hearthstone, you will start with one mana and build up another mana each turn. Also like the coin, there is a ring that will provide you 3 charges of one mana (used once a turn), which is actually pretty damn nice. Most of the enter-the-battlefield effects are what you would expect, but I feel like there are more similarities with MTG in this regard; more effects and spells that do interesting things that I didn’t see during my time in Hearthstone (though I’m sure there are plenty of differences between the game I played and what the game is like now).

The major differences that I’ve seen thus far is the ability to upgrade cards which feels more like the RDA’s I’ve talked about recently — though it doesn’t function exactly the same. In Clash Royale, you collect multiple copies of a card to upgrade it for a small in-game currency fee. Here you’ll earn upgrades for card that then change into different versions of that type of card — you’ll have a lizard creature that will change into a version of your choice, either offensive or defensive, for example. Not all cards can be upgraded, and I’m not 100% sure how you earn the upgrades, but it’s a neat idea. Another big difference between this CCG and others I’ve played is the addition of “lanes” and effects those lanes can have. You can play creatures in either of the right or left lanes, but you can only attack creatures in that particular lane. At one point the tutorial shows a “shadow” lane which gives units played in that lane “cover” for a turn, which makes them untargetable. It’s a neat idea as well, and I assume there will be other cards that will affect those lane rules but I have yet to see that. One of the coolest differences (and something I wish existed in MTG!) is the runes that surround your character. Each time you lose 5 life a rune breaks and you draw a card. In some circumstances, the card you draw can even be played for free!

A story is present through the tutorial battles and is apparently something that was recently added to the game, where you can continue this story and play against AI while leveling your account. It’s a good idea to play single player modes to learn all of the mechanics and perhaps earn some cards along the way. Deckbuilding seems straightforward enough, but it more like Magic because you can have a larger deck than the traditional limit of 50 if you so choose. No more having to cut that awesome card, just go over on your deck size!

The store is set up similarly to the other digital CCGs I’ve played. There is a core set and an expansion for the Brotherhood was recently released. You can buy packs for in-game gold or dump a little real money into the game, which I have yet to do but might if I become a little more invested. Prices seem reasonable. Overall I think it’s a very well done CCG and a great answer if you are like me and got sick of what else is already on the market. You can play for free so if this genre is up your alley I’d give it a shot!

New and Noteworthy

While browsing Steam recently I came across some titles in my discover queue that immediately stood out to me. That’s rare given the steady lineup of greenlit nonsense and semi-porn Japanese games Steam is usually trying to recommend to me. Given the fact that both of these games happened to be on sale at reasonable prices, I thought I’d give them a go. Yes, I know I bitch about my backlog constantly, but such is my nature to go against the grain and such. In one case the game is in Early Access (which tends to come with considerable risk) and the other is an indie project that harkens back to the 8-bit days of my youth. Both appealed to me in different ways, and both would certainly not be for everyone. But as eclectic as my taste can be, you can rest assured that both come with my seal of approval. Whatever that’s worth.

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As a fairly avid 4x fan, Northgard stood out to me as one of those Early Access titles that looks like it has some real work done to it, and appears to have the broad spectrum of the game in place, only allowing players to test things out as they are developed. I don’t see anything wrong with this, as titles such as Darkest Dungeon were played by many through its tenure in Early Access. I’m one of those people who ends up buying into Early Access and then usually only dips his toes til closer to completion (or upon release of a desired feature). So I will probably not dive too deeply but what I saw was very promising. Take a look:

So there are 3 factions with 2 more listed as coming soon. Each has it’s own positive and negative aspects, depending on the sort of focus you want to have in the game. It has the basics of 4x covered, but feels more like a mixture between say, Civilization VI and Banished. Winter is definitely coming my friends. And she is not kind. The 4x similarities are present in the familiar hex grid, and some simple portions of city management; exploring is imperative and you at times need to exterminate some of the local flora and fauna. I assume you too will battle the other AI, and a multiplayer version of the game is in the works, so that’s promising. There is also a planned Campaign, which I assume will have a story line to follow with similar mechanics.

Where the game takes a turn from the norm when it comes to 4x games, is that the resources are sort of a careful balancing act. I know when I was playing Banished I couldn’t make it past a winter or two because I wasn’t “getting” the flow of the game. I came to understand it over time, but it’s not something you usually have to worry about until the citizens start rioting. Each hex has certain resources and an allotment for buildings. This means planning what buildings you need to expand needs to be well thought out, and done properly. You only get workers every so often as long as things are going well, and you can only assign them to certain roles, so choosing wisely and expanding carefully is the only way to go. I didn’t really follow that theme in the game that I played, but it still would be sound advice after learning what not to do myself. I know what to do going into the next game. Lastly, the individual units can be independently controlled, more like a traditional RTS game. So it really feels like a marriage of multiple strategy game subgenres that I enjoy. Can’t wait to see what they add to the game.

This game came out of nowhere for me. To be completely honest, I didn’t play the original game, River City Ransom on the NES. I remember seeing it in magazines and wishing I owned it, but must have forgotten to ask for it for Christmas. Something. Years later I played and loved an emulated version. I don’t think I ever completed that game, now that we’ve mentioned it. Alas. So here comes a spiritual successor that is essentially done up in the original graphical style. If you played the original 8-bit version, this will look immediately familiar. However, it appears that they made the introductory level look spot on, and then you can see some tweaks in the engine (probably a byproduct of much better technology) that make the “new” game stand apart just a bit. I like what I’ve seen, and perhaps you’ll see what I mean in the following screens:

I feel like there’s a difference there, but again, it’s subtle. Overall, the gameplay is just the same as you remembered, though I’m pretty sure there are a few extra buttons available this go round. I loved the combat, it’s stupid but makes sense, and has that same weird AI timing from back in the day. After a few minutes you’ll figure out the rhythm. Perhaps that’s just muscle memory from decades ago, coming back to life. The cool thing about the game is it’s sort of like a dumb teenage fighting anime but then plays like a regular old beat-em-up while also having a touch of RPG elements and even a new game + to keep things fresh. Seems like a promising addition to my collection. I’d recommend checking both of these games out!