Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot - 8(?)/20 hours

The question mark in my time count is due to a weird "feature" of The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot that I recently discovered - apparently, when you quit the game, it continues to run in the background of your computer, and only shuts down when you go into the taskbar and shut it down from there. At first I thought it was a bug, but according to the sources I found online, it was something the developers deliberately put in.

Why it does this, I couldn't possibly say. One theory was that Ubisoft is trying to manipulate Steam's metrics, which strikes me as unethical if true. The other is that it is meant to make loading the game faster, presumably to serve those people who play online games for just a few minutes at a time and then take significant breaks before jumping back in again. However, when I tried to quit and reload the game to test this function for myself, I didn't notice any appreciable difference in performance.

What this means is that my true playtime is somewhere between 5 and 8 hours, and I couldn't tell you what it is. I think I'm just going to go ahead and count it. If they programmed their game in such a way as to have Steam's counter track it as being played even when it's turned off, then I have to assume that it being off is part of the intended play experience. I'm not a complete sophist, however. In the future I will try and be careful about manually shutting it down when I'm done playing it.

When it comes to the non-un-playing playing part of the experience, I am tentatively starting to warm up to it. I like the concept, if I'm not entirely sold on the execution.

The basic problem with The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot's system is that the attack and defense portions of the game require an entirely different skillset, but draw upon the same economy. Now, in a way, this helps to serve the game's theme of conspicuous consumption - your castle purchases feel more "real" because you got the money for them from looting other castles - but it plays hell with the game's difficulty curve.

My castle has been invaded four times, and completely failed to repel the looters. A substantial portion of the reason for this is because I couldn't afford to buy the security precautions necessary to stop them. That's not a sour grapes reaction, though. Because I was able to easily make back the money and more from looting other low-level castles that themselves could not afford the precautions to stop me.

In effect, what's happening with the game is that the players are being conscripted as level designers, but their palette of tools is limited. Which might make sense if it were only the case that high-level monsters and traps were out of reach, but you've also got an arbitrarily limited amount of low-level defenses, so, at least at first, offense is strictly superior to defense. It's possible that in time, this balance would change, but I'm still not sure of the wisdom of enabling (and indeed requiring) underpopulated levels. The ones I've been to (and some of them have been good) have all either been very sparsely populated or needlessly cramped (the amount of defense you get increases with the size of your castle, but not linearly, so a small, dense castle can be more effective than a big one).

The other big flaw with this idea is that because you lose money whenever someone beats your castle, you're given an incentive to make your castle as deadly as possible, meaning that providing your attackers with an enjoyable play experience is not even a glimmer on the agenda. I've not yet run into any extremely annoying and frustrating levels, but that's almost certainly because I'm still in the low-skill area, and as I advance up the ranks, more experienced players are going to be able to shut me down without breaking a sweat.

A difficult game is not necessarily a problem in itself, nor is an easy one, but the big draw of the castle-defense portion of the game (for me, at least) is that it is a creativity toy, but you aren't given the tools to build a high-concept castle (unless you want to be recklessly extravagant at the real-money shop) and all your incentive is against trying things that are kooky or amusing or thematically relevant, because anything that is not an optimized killing machine is a good way to loos money. I'm sure, as I advance, I'll see some cleverly arranged deathtraps, but I can't help feeling like, personally, I'd rather design a fun action-rpg level.

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