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!

Mini Impressions: January Humble Monthly + More

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I’ve been subscribed to Humble Monthly for several months now. As a service, it’s a heck of a deal. For $12/month, you get a bundle of games and for the most part, the value of the games bundled is at least ten times what you paid. That’s the major upswing, while the downfall of the service is that you don’t get to choose what games you receive and if you’re an avid game collector slash over-spender, you will likely end up with extra copies of games. Great for your friends, but takes away from the overall value a bit, in my opinion. Overall though, I can’t complain because that $12 investment is usually more than worth it. The remaining issue is having the time to actually play the games that are thrown at me each month. Much like with my Playstation Plus subscription, I get too many games each month to give them all their proper due. I will try them all, but few will be played as much as they deserve, and others won’t be played at all due to not falling in line with my interests. But I will never complain about free games, and instead will aim to give you my initial impressions of the titles that I’ve given some time to from this month’s bundle which contained the following games:

Warhammer End Times: Vermintide + 2 DLC
Mother Russia Bleeds
Neon Chrome
Project Cars
Jotun
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
HoPiKo

It goes without saying that I already owned the fantastic Vermintide game, as I have talked plenty about that in the past year. There are actually a few DLCs for the game that have released that I have purchased without playing, and that is something I hope to rectify, as I gave my sister this extra copy of the game and hope to do some co-op in the near future. One of the DLC’s packed in this bundle is for some fancy new hat, so I took that bit for myself, but haven’t checked it out just yet. It also came with the mouthful of a name DLC Schluesselschloss, which was released at the same time as the survival mode. Eri and I played that a bit, and it was challenging to say the least. The other two DLCs are additional story bits that I really need to go check out. Hell, maybe I’ll play it today. I should also notate that I won’t be giving an impression of the final two games on that list, because I haven’t tried Trails in the Sky yet as it’s a traditional JRPG and those eat up a lot of time. I’m too busy playing Destiny right now for that. HoPiKo didn’t look like a game I’d even remotely like, so that key is collecting dust until I find someone to dump it on. With that said, let’s jump into the rest of this list.

Mother Russia Bleeds

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If you’re somewhere near my age, you likely played or saw a Sega Genesis played. This game is so much an homage to old school side-scrolling beat-em-up games from the 80’s and 90’s. Think games like Streets of Rage, or even titles like Golden Axe. Those types of games were in their heyday on 16-bit consoles, and I loved so many of them. As tastes changed, so has the technology and gaming has trended away from this style of game, but if you even so much as mildly enjoyed titles like that, you’ll enjoy Mother Russia Bleeds. It’s fitting that the PG-13 rated titles from my childhood can now be recreated to appeal to 34 year old me. MRB takes everything that worked in those old games, and applies it to a modern gaming platform. This is still pixellated goodness, and has the same basic control scheme, but ends up being backed by a far more mature storyline and all kinds of gore.

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If nothing else, it’s pretty easy to run through, and I’m certain that you could beat it in a few sittings. There’s also co-op for up to 4 players, so that’s a bonus as well. I give it an 8/10.

Neon Chrome

I didn’t play this one much, admittedly. The description appealed to me; a twin stick shooter with cyberpunk elements. The graphics were definitely low-poly, though animations were smooth and fast. I wasn’t instantly turned off there. However the mouse and keyboard controls felt a bit wonky, and I played a lot of Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon with this control scheme with no issues. I assume a controller can be configured, but after a few minutes of not being impressed with it, I just farmed out the cards and deleted it from my PC. No thanks. 4.5/10

Project Cars

This game looks to be a great racing entry on the PC. To be fair, I’ve played almost every racing game I’ve ever enjoyed on consoles. Lack of good controller support in my formative PC gaming years led me to believe that racing games were simply better on console. The Gran Turismo and Need for Speed series held most of the titles I enjoyed the most, and for different reasons. Gran Turismo was the ultimate driving simulator, and I loved how long it took to complete your career. The Underground portion of the NFS series also holds a special place in my heart, due to my interest in the street racing scene at the time, and the customization and equally lengthy career mode. Project Cars looks to be the first racing title I’ve played on PC that actually feels like it gets things right. It defaulted to a controller input, and the controls felt on par with the technicality of Gran Turismo. Bonus points there. It’s also very pretty, and runs smoothly on my PC. I’ll be putting some time into this one, for sure. 9/10

Jotun

This one came out of left field for me. I don’t recall ever seeing this game before, and it has a very nice hand-drawn style in the vein of The Banner Saga (though not quite as pretty in my opinion). It’s an action RPG sort of affair, and feels similar to titles like Bastion. There is some narration, some basic puzzle-like sequences, and some low level action combat. Overall it’s an intriguing game if nothing else than for the beauty of it. I don’t have much else to share save for some pictures, but I intend to see this one through to its end. 7/10

That’s it for my thoughts on this month’s bundle, but there were some games that I also received recently I wanted to touch on as well. I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I was astonished that I made it through the entire Steam Winter Sale without spending a single red cent. Impressive as that is, given my track record the past few years, it’s sort of a lie. See, I didn’t spend any money during the sale, but my father was kind enough to gift me a few games for Christmas, and that means I did still benefit from the sale. The past couple of years he usually just buys me one of the full price games on my wishlist and calls it a day, but this time he picked a bunch of the smaller titles that had discounts so I ended with four new games to check out, which I did after I recovered from one hell of a cold. So here’s impressions of those as well:

March of the Living

This is a title that I had on my wishlist for quite some time. It appealed to me because I’ve always enjoyed Zombie games (though I am starting to tire of them from over saturation), and it had that same sort of Oregon Trail meets Faster Than Light feel to it. I enjoyed both of those games, and games like The Banner Saga that used the Oregon Trail formula. This is sort of get from point A to point B scenario, but has the element of choice that Faster Than Light excelled at. Picking branching paths can be more direct but more dangerous, and supplies run short rather quickly. Random  events can be rather brutal as well. Honestly it’s not a bad concept, nor is it a bad delivery, but in the end I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing. It felt like an exercise in futility, but perhaps that’s just how it goes. A for effort, but my final score is 5/10.

Grimm: Dark Legacy

So this was one of those titles I saw in my discovery queue and it looked interesting enough to add to my list. I had no idea that it was tied into the TV Series Grimm, which I have seen a time or two and consider complete garbage. There were cutscenes at the beginning with characters from the TV show and I already knew that was going to affect my opinion of the game. However, I still ran with it. This is an action RPG at heart, but has some rogue-like elements, though I’d call those optional. See, you can set the game to give you the ability to respawn at the last check point after dying, which is more like a traditional ARPG, or you can put on settings that will kill you permanently if you fall during battle. Otherwise it’s pretty generic. The art is pretty, but nothing spectacular. I wasn’t overly impressed, but I’m not overly impressed with much these days. 6/10.

Killing Floor 2

You may recall some of my play time with the original Killing Floor. A couple of years ago I hosted a gaming event and invited a bunch of blogging community members to play a few rounds as it was a free to play weekend on Steam. It was a great game, and we all had fun running the missions. This game takes the same formula of the original but has better graphics, and some differences in delivery. I played through some tutorial missions and did a few rounds solo and it felt much like the original, but was still enjoyable. However, when I tried playing multiplayer, I wasn’t finding matches no matter how much I messed with the settings. I checked Steam Charts and it seems like there’s a semi-healthy population of players, so I don’t know what the deal is. So I can’t really rate the co-op experience fully, but it still looks like a good game. 7/10.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Another random discovery queue find, this game seemed interesting in that it is based off of the old Fighting Fantasy books from way back when. Those were choose your own adventure books, complete with stat sheets and inventory that could be used throughout the story. What a great concept this was back when I used to read them in the early 90’s. I was fascinated. This is apparently the first even book that was written by the guys responsible for Fighting Fantasy. From what I’ve read, Deathtrap Dungeon was the most popular book in the series, but that was made into a video game already. So this team aimed at recreating the first book in video game form. Illustrations from said book are thrown in from time to time, and I assume the writing is either copied word for word or is similar enough. Aside from making some basic choices and generally following along with the story, there are dice rolls for particular checks, and breaks in the story for combat. That’s the weakest point of the game, in that the combat is a bit wonky. You basically play a guessing game and hope for the best. This isn’t too frustrating until you get to later portions of the story and fight some enemies that are a bit overpowered, particularly if you are unlucky in your selections. Outside of that one weakness though, this is my favorite of the bunch that I was gifted. 8/10.

That’s all I have for now. Happy gaming everyone!

The Steam Awards

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Coinciding with the annual Steam Autumn Sale (not to be confused with the annual Steam Summer Sale or Holiday/Winter Sale) where discounts are aplenty, this year there was a new activity to partake in: The Steam Awards. Apparently Valve have decided that we should be able to nominate games of any age for various categories, and rather than restrict the categories to “best-evers” they have created ones with a little more character. I’m not sure if this will be a new annual tradition, but I assume that this is a lead up for the Xmas sale, and those games that get the most nominations will be put up for votes during that sale (or perhaps before). Then, we’ll see discounts on those sorts of games. This sort of defeats the purpose if we are in fact voting for games that will get discounts, because to nominate a game we probably should be familiar with it. Perhaps they will make sales revolve around that publisher or that game series if it is a part of that sort of thing. Or maybe they’ll just let us give some games awards, and then do it all over again next year. It’s interesting though, that there isn’t any sort of age restriction. The categories lent themselves to picking older games, but at the same time, the reason there are awards given each year is because they only judge games created or released during that calendar year. If we do this again next year, what would motivate us to nominate something else unless it was completely separate categories? Perhaps I’m overthinking this. Let’s talk about the categories:

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There are a total of 9 categories to vote in, and you can either search through your library or browse the store to navigate to each game’s page. From there you will nominate that game for whichever category you want to plug it into, and there you have it. There isn’t any sort of monitoring going on with the submissions, as it seems that you can willingly vote for things that you do not have in your steam library (but hey, maybe you played it elsewhere) and you can take liberties in putting things where you want them to go. So if you feel like the game that best stands the test of time came out in 2016, well you can go ahead and vote that way. I took the categories quite literally, and since there is no explanation given in these screen shots, I thought I’d break them down for ya.

From the top, we have the Test of Time award which I gave to Skyrim. I have played this game off and on for a few years now, still haven’t really touched the mod scene, and really want to jump into a special edition campaign but haven’t just yet. I still feel like I’ll be coming back to this one for years to come.

For I’m Not Crying, There’s Something In My Eye, I nominated the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, mainly because it was the only game from recent memory that had some tear jerker moments in it, though I probably would have gone with The Last of Us if it wasn’t a Playstation exclusive.

Next was the Just 5 More Minutes award, which was a gimme. I could have easily chosen Civ V, but since Civ VI is newer I gave it the nod.

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For Whoooaaaaaaa, dude! I had to go with this year’s rendition of DOOM. id knocked this one out of the park. Loved it.

My Villain Most In Need of A Hug nomination went to Borderlands 2, because I absolutely loved Handsome Jack.

It was a hard choice to make, but I ended up going with a Call of Duty game for the Game Within A Game award. I really don’t want Call of Duty games getting much credit for anything these days, but I have to admit that Treyarch make a hell of a game within a game with their Zombies mode. So many easter eggs, puzzles and challenges to overcome. I love it.

For I Thought This Game Was Cool Before It Won An Award I gave the nod to Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. I absolutely adored this game and put quite a few co-op hours into it with Eri. We had a blast. We seriously need to go give it another whirl because there have been new DLC additions that I have installed but have not tried. Will be back for more. Does this really fit the category? I don’t know. But you should play this game anyway.

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In the weirdest category by far, there is the Best Use Of A Farm Animal award. I’m thinking they were leaning towards games like Goat Simulator or some of the other farmy-crafty games but I just took the literal definition and gave a nod to a game I’d love to see get more recognition: Nuclear Throne. Where’s the farm animal angle you ask? Well, one of the characters is a chicken, and that happens to be one of my favorites. A chicken is a farm animal. So there.

Last but not least, was our own custom category. The FAQ points towards the most nominations for similar categories will win, or they will all be put into a hat and drawn from. I seriously doubt someone at valve is going to print out millions of suggestions and throw them into a hat, so it will likely be done electronically with some RNG. Either way, should be interesting to see what comes out of that. I was bland and boring, just wanting to nominate my most played Steam game to date: Awesomenauts. I called the category “Best MOBA,” and it’s likely the best MOBA (outside of maybe DOTA 2 — which I don’t play) on the Steam platform.

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Of course, as with most activities on Steam, this one comes with a checklist of tasks to complete to level up your badge. 1 Nomination, 9 Nominations, reviewing a Nomination and playing a Nomination earns you 100xp and a level 4 “Steam Awards Nomination Commitee” badge.

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Did you participate? What games did you nominate?