Friday, May 26, 2017

Europa Universalis IV - 20/20

Pacifism was actually working out fairly well - until the damned Europeans came. It was completely unfair. They declared a war of conquest on me, and my armies just melted before them. And I outnumbered them! They had just one province on the continent and I had ten. Twenty thousand troops to their 10k. But it didn't matter. My morale broke and the shattered remnants of my forces were quickly mopped up by Spain's native allies. I suppose I should be grateful. Becoming incandescent with rage really makes you feel alive.

I rounded out my time by continuing my United States game, but there's nothing to report. I was already rich and well-developed, and such a powerful presence in the western hemisphere that no one dared attack me (thus I didn't have to throw a tantrum and ragequit).

The lesson I learned from all of this is that if I want to enjoy this game (and I do), then I need to actually get good at it and learn how to pick my battles in such a way that I can eliminate (or at least discourage) my avaricious neighbors and never have anything genuinely important at stake in my inevitable wars. It's tricky, though, because the primary reason I'm so short-tempered at the game is that I know I lack the skill to recover from a major setback. I guess it's just one more reason for me to learn to control my emotions.

If I could change one thing about Europa Universalis IV, it would be to make it more educational. My favorite part of the game was looking at the map on the country-select screen. That's not even back-handed, I genuinely enjoyed it, especially when it came to tracking the changes to borders and place names over time. It was also fun to get country-specific pop-up events. They didn't quite make me feel like I was playing out a living history, but that's mostly because the basic game mechanics are so similar between cultures that you never really forget you're playing a strategy game with its own very specific priorities and biases.

I definitely think I will be drawn back to Europa Universalis IV. Despite not having the sort of robust building mechanics I ordinarily love in a strategy game, its rich historical setting is thoroughly compelling. I've griped a lot over the past few days, but those were more gripes about myself than gripes about the game. If I could somehow get good enough to thrive, I would probably love to play in this vast historical sandbox.

But that's a journey for a different time. For now I will say that I spent most of the last 20 hours feeling pretty frustrated, but I never lost interest in the game itself. That's a pretty decent accomplishment.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Europa Universalis IV - 15/20 hours

I've been jumping around from nation to nation for the last five hours. I played as the United States long enough to win the revolution (call it patriotism, if you must) and as the Yamana Daimyo in Japan long enough to lose what should have been an easy war (somehow, forts get me tangled up every time) and then Castille right up until I was betrayed by Aragon (I ran out of manpower after the Reconquista and got slammed at my most vulnerable moment).

I've come to a conclusion - I don't like losing. I know, a real shocking revelation, but that's the essence of it. I have a thing and then some enemy comes along and tries to take my thing away. And to a certain degree, the trying is acceptable, but only if its doomed to failure. Mostly because I don't want to lose my thing.

I know I should take the loading screen's advice and not simply give up just because I've suffered a defeat in war, but the thought of my enemies using my stuff against me, to steal more of my stuff, it fills me with resentment.

Of course, this is entirely hypocritical on my part. I'm not averse to using the territory of others to take over their remaining lands, but that's because I'm a human and they're the AI, so I'm more important than them . . . right? I'll admit, I do feel a little dirty for being disgruntled about the consequences of a war I started. Not so dirty that I'm going to learn to take defeat with equanimity, but that should go without saying.

My plan for the last five hours is to try and play a pacifist game. No starting wars at all, spreading through colonization, and keeping my fingers crossed that I can stay strong enough to not get attacked. I'll probably still bail and quit when an opportunistic neighbor tries to take a bite out of my territory, but at least I'll feel like my outrage is justified.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Europa Universalis IV - 10/20 hours

I think I'm starting to get a handle on the game, though I have yet to grow attached enough to a particular nation to see their story through to the end. I think it's because I keep making what must be beginner's mistakes. Every time I've had a major foreign war against a serious rival, I've wound up simultaneously having to deal with a domestic uprising. I'm sure that's not a coincidence, but damned if I know how to stop it.

I also think I'm starting to get a feel for the larger ethos of the game itself. It's not so much a "strategy game," or even a "simulation," so much as it is a "story generator." It's a bit like Crusader Kings II in that regard, except where Crusader Kings II generates these highly biographical tales of courtly intrigue, Europa Universalis IV seems more geared towards those dreary 19th century treatises with titles like "On the Destiny of the Race." It's not bad, in and of itself, but it is reminiscent of the bad habits of my own personal history education, and thus I feel like I have to approach it with a certain critical distance.

I want to tread carefully here, though, because I've only seen a fraction of the game and it's possible that the reason it seems so Eurocentric is because the bulk of my time has been spent in Europe (although, with a name like Europa Universalis . . . ), but all of this stuff with "alliances" and "rivals" and "causus beli" . . . Not to imply that African or Native American peoples didn't have diplomacy or inter-group friction or reasons for going to war, but it feels very "outdated high school world history textbook" to me.

Although, I suppose it's come full circle - Europa Universalis IV is a video game based on the sort of history education that makes history feel like a video game.

And I don't know if I'm necessarily okay with that. It's fascinating, taken on its own terms, but, you know, this whole "war is a continuation of politics by other means" thing is actually kind of depressing.

I think the sticking point for me is the way that the game puts its thumb on the scales in favor of Europe. I first noticed this the hard way. I was playing Castille on ironman, but I wasn't getting any achievements. When I loaded up my game, I noticed a tooltip that said achievements were disabled because I had set the "lucky nations" on "none" instead of "historical."  When I saw the setting in the first place, I had just assumed it was purely a flavor thing. Similarly, when I played briefly as Mali, I noticed I was getting a huge tech research penalty for not being sufficiently feudal.

The purpose of these mechanics is to make the game world develop in a similar way to the real world, but in doing so, they can't help but feel just a little bit ideological (or more than a little bit, if you read some of the online debates about the subject - yikes). It's like they're saying that way things played out in the real world was inevitable, but I'm sure that if you replayed human history 1000 times, starting in 1444, in 999 of those timelines, China would be the preeminent global power going into the 19th century. So why not let the game play out that way? Why pretend that the real world outcome is the likeliest or most plausible?

There probably isn't any kind of sinister agenda there, but I think tying the technological and social progress of non-European nations to European cultural markers like the Renaissance (or, for that matter, the calendar year) smacks of a kind of unexamined historical progressivism, perhaps one that puts civilizations on a ladder and judges "lower" civilizations for insufficiently emulating "higher" ones - and that is the sort of thinking that drove the worst excesses of European colonialism.

Which, I suppose, is what the game is actually about. So call this a big, mystified shoulder-shrug on my account. It makes sense for a game about a certain historical period to replicate that period's mindset, but when the period is one of the most shameful chapters in human history and the mindset is the sort of haughty racialist triumphalism that allowed unaccountable despots to despoil continents, is it really necessary, appropriate, or wise?

Part of this is my own personal hang-up, I know. The more strategy games I play, the more I yearn for a game that will decolonialize history. Now, what that would look like, I don't know. In fact, as near as I can reckon "decolonialized strategy game" is close to an oxymoron. Which isn't to say that historically colonized people were angels - they had wars, many every bit as awful as anything in Europe, and those wars surely involved strategy and definitely had the aim of seizing territory and resources. Rather, the very language of statecraft (borders, sovereignty, treaties, statecraft) is bound up in the perspectives and priorities of European aristocracy. And while there are many places (such as much of Asia) that track with that, there are plenty more (such as much of the pre-Columbian Americas) that don't.

And that's the thing, places that did not have large-scale, cohesive social structures were not, thereby terra nullius. The people who lived there weren't simply waiting to be colonized.

But, like I said earlier, I don't know how you make a strategy game out of that, so it's a bit unfair of me to judge Europa Universalis IV by that standard. Instead, I will just say that this game does a very good job at making you think like a villain, and I'm not yet sure whether I'll beat the game by becoming a superior villain or whether I will beat the game by resisting its manipulations to the end.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Europa Universalis IV - 5/20 hours

I want to like this game so much. There are so many buttons and they all look important. It makes me feel important, being able to press them. Only problem is, I don't know what they do.

Oh, I can read a tooltip, so I have a pretty clear idea about the immediate effects of my actions, but I'm at sea when it comes to the long-term consequences. Is prestige more useful than power projection? Is it better to use your Administration points to develop a province or save them to unlock a technology? For that matter, is a technology better than an idea? I have no idea.

I expect that such an intuition for the game's larger strategy will come in time, but I don't think I've had a game with such a brutal learning curve (AI Wars, maybe). I haven't even figured out how to keep my economy out of debt yet. I've started four games (two England, one Portugal, and one Iroquois) and every single time I started hemorrhaging money before the end of the first decade. As near as I can tell, my issue is that sources of new income are pathetically small and expenses are really big. It costs you 200 ducats to build a castle or 2 ducats a month to support a colonist, but sending half a dozen ships to defend your trade routes nets you 0.15 a month.  I feel like my best move is to just not buy anything, ever.

Which is silly, of course. I think if I played more than 45 minutes on a single file, I'd probably start to get to a point that is at least somewhat financially secure . . . except I've yet to go 45 minutes without getting attacked and I'm not sure what the hell I'm supposed to do about. The enemy forces are always bigger than mine, and I never have the money to build troops to match them, even if I wanted to go into the red on maintenance costs.

It's been incredibly frustrating. I just know there's an enjoyable (to me) game inside of all this stuff, but I also know that it will require me to first become competent, and that may be a long time coming (I'm pretty sure it took me a similarly large number of failed Crusader Kings II games before I got a handle on what I was doing).

What I need to do is tough it out. Ride my country's history into defeat. Allow myself to accumulate as much debt as I'm allowed. I usually like to learn from the easy version of the game, but that's not an option here, so I'll have to learn from failure instead.

I hate learning from failure.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Europa Universalis IV - 2/20 hours

Here's hoping the third time's the charm for the Europa Universalis IV tutorial. I remembered most of the basic stuff (setting the game speed, using the various map modes, building troops, etc), but I'm still unclear on the strategy behind things like trade routes and national ideas. I suppose it's not really the place of a tutorial to give you in-depth information about long-term strategy, but even so, I don't really feel prepared for the game yet.

Which is thrilling, in a way. There is a great deal to explore and learn, or, at least, there appears to be. Whatever faults Europa Universalis IV may turn out to have, one thing it absolutely nails is selling its world. I haven't picked my nation yet, but just looking at the map, seeing the unfamiliar names for familiar places, the borders that make no logical sense to my modern perspective, the sheer variety of religions and cultures, it transports me to a far-off and exotic time. I could (and did) spend 20 minutes just looking at the starting map.

It's now time to start a real game and I'm a little torn about my future course. Common sense dictates I should pick a major European power, one that could evolve in a global colonial empire, but I kind of want to upend human history. Maybe correct the injustices of the Columbian Exchange or colonize Europe with China.

I think I'll go with Europe, though. Only because I have no idea how to play the game and thus attempting to flaunt its basic assumptions would be the height of hubris. I'll save that for my second game.

Europa Universalis IV - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Paradox Development Studio is back with the fourth installment of the award-winning Europa Universalis series. The empire building game Europa Universalis IV gives you control of a nation to guide through the years in order to create a dominant global empire. Rule your nation through the centuries, with unparalleled freedom, depth and historical accuracy. True exploration, trade, warfare and diplomacy will be brought to life in this epic title rife with rich strategic and tactical depth.
 
Previous Playtime

4 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

Honestly, I think the name just filtered into my consciousness through general internet osmosis. I'm pretty sure that the game I intended to buy was Europa Universalis III, given that I'd first heard of the series a couple of years before I actually bought it. What I can say with certainty is that I had no idea what I was getting into with this game. "I guess it's about European history" was the extent of my foreknowledge.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I should probably start by addressing the elephant in the room - I once had a goal of completing a full Crusader Kings II game and then importing the map to Europa Universalis IV. I even wrote a whole long post about how that was something I always wanted to do and how I was really looking forward to the challenge. Unfortunately, I underestimated, by quite a lot, exactly how long Crusader Kings II would turn out to be. My old save file still exists, and I did lay it a few times over the last year, but I'm still nowhere near the end date. So my choice is to either take a 60 hour detour or just suck it up and admit defeat.

Maybe I'll do it one day. So long as there's life, there's hope.

Anyway, as for Europa Universalis IV, specifically, I've played the tutorial a couple of times and had two very short and painfully unsuccessful where I attempted to play the Iroquois and China and managed to completely bungle my military. I'm hoping that I've gained enough gaming wisdom over the past couple of years that the learning curve becomes manageable, but, realistically, my hope is slim.

Here's my prediction - I will, against my better judgement, refrain from being aggressive in the early game and try to pursue an isolationist, trade, and infrastructure-focused policy. My neighbors will blob alarmingly and at some point my territory will seem like a valuable prize. I'll lose my first game by being absorbed by some imperialist asshole. And then I'll write a post complaining about it.

That inevitability aside, what it's really going to come down to is whether or not playing as a doomed pacifist feels productive. As long as I have the sensation that my power is growing, I'll be happy.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion - 20/20 hour

The biggest obstacle to me enjoying this war-game was all the war in it. No, no, I know it's absurd, but I dragged my feet on a game I otherwise wanted to complete quickly, and that's more or less the entirety of the reason - the very premise of the game sapped my enthusiasm.

Which is silly. I don't know how it's even possible to enjoy the strategy genre without embracing war, but here I am. I like colonizing planets, setting up trade routes, and researching technology, but I don't like the one ting you're supposed to do with all those resources.

Sins of a Solar Empire was thoughtful enough to include other victory conditions, so I wasn't completely out in the wilderness here, but after my third technological victory, I started to get the feeling that it wasn't the "right" way to play the game. Mostly because pursuing a technological victory is a dire slog where you put the bulk of your research on hold and simply wait out a slow as hell timer. After about 40 minutes, when your last research reaches 100%, you win.

Which doesn't really bother me as much as one might think. No, what really bothers me about the technological victory (and, to be fair, this complaint is not unique to Sins of a Solar Empire) is that it promises you this fabulous, world-changing technology, and then end the game right when you get it. I get that having a fantastical high-tech reactor that gives your civilization near-infinite resources breaks the game's balance something fierce, and I get that most people would prefer to simply take the inevitable curb-stomp as a given and skip over all the tedious mopping up. But I have to think that I'm not entirely alone in my desire to at least experiment with the godlike power the game's flavor text suggests.

Although, more and more I'm coming to think that victory conditions themselves are what bother me. Not necessarily that they're there, but that a game with a victory condition is one that necessarily has an upper bound. It is a game that is meant to end.

And that is natural and proper, of course. It wouldn't really be a game, per se, if its various obstacles and challenges didn't have a point. If it's a game, then you can either win or you can lose, and most of the game's mechanics revolve around getting you to one end or the other.

But what if they didn't?

Some games are like that. There's no real end to Minecraft or The Sims or No Man's Sky. These games, instead, are about a process of living. You set your own long-term goals and then the game provides you with a series of hurdles towards achieving your goals, but the reward for overcoming those hurdles is nothing more than seeing the world or your character's circumstances transform according to your vision. And then you get to set another goal.

And while there may come a time when your accumulated wealth and power become tiresome and there is no longer any thrill in overcoming obstacles because your resources render them trivial, that is more of a soft ending than a firm one. You can still play the game in this world and the basic mode of play remains the same, you just no longer derive the same satisfaction from transforming a world that has already bent so severely to your vision.

I've gradually come to realize that this is exactly what I want from a 4X game. It's a ridiculous thing to want, given that no 4X game has ever promised (or indeed been capable of delivering) such a thing. Indeed, the genre is practically defined by drawing a very concrete border around the things you can and can't do. At it's most abstract, it's just picking items from a menu in a particular order in the hopes of filling all the available slots in another, complementary menu. But even so, the dream is there - that the menus might be large and diverse enough and the opportunity costs high enough that your forced to make your empire your own, to have ownership of a unique thing that you nurtured through its perilous growth.

The innate finiteness of the 4X genre works against this, though. Any empire that endures long enough is going to lose its uniqueness, simply as a function of running out of things to learn and build. And while I'm coming to realize that this is a fundamental flaw, given my particular gaming agenda, I've also come to realize that this horizon is farther away in some games than in others, and it is easily possible for it to be far enough away that it doesn't really bother me.

Unfortunately, in Sins of a Solar Empire, it's too close. Even on a huge map, the time comes quickly when you have nothing left to do but win. Even expansion loses its appeal when the culture system punishes you for having colonies more than 4-5 jumps away from your homeworld. Call me weird, if you must, but my favorite part of any 4X game is the tedious micromanagement, especially if I'm still doing it in the late game. Some might regard the generic planetary improvements, limited number of orbital buildings and strict logistics limits as a boon to the game's speed and playability, but subtle nuances of infrastructure are the only things that interest me in these sorts of games, and they ran out far too soon.

In the end, Sins of a Solar Empire is a decent war-game. You assemble fleets of ships and throw them at other fleets of ships and the back-end of your economy is just complex enough that it feels like your decisions make a difference. It's not the game's fault that what I really wanted was a virtual garden to tend towards no particular purpose. However, I have games that are closer to what I want, so I'm likely only going to play this one for the sake of hanging out and chatting with my strategy-gamer friends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion - 10/20 hours

So, halfway through the game I learned something a little distressing - if you don't manually activate the alternate victory conditions at the start of the game, the only way to win is through eliminating all other factions. It's especially annoying because I'd already spent five hours on a Huge map, took out all but two of my rivals, and forged alliances with the remainder. For the last hour or so, I've mostly been waiting for the diplomatic victory to trigger. It was only when I looked it up that I learned it was never going to come.

I've decided to count that map as a personal victory, regardless.

Although I wonder how far the game would have allowed me to go. I set the map to be deliberately underpopulated, six factions instead of ten (mostly because I don't like repeat factions and there are only six in the game) and managed to destroy my two closest enemies with decapitation strikes early in the game. The other three factions were in a completely separate star system and by the time I started signing treaties, two of them ganged up to eliminate the third. Now, there are three more-or-less empty star systems with dozens of planets between them and plenty of room for all three of us to expand. It would have taken hours for us to even get to the point where our expansion would come into conflict.

Could we have existed in that equilibrium forever? Is there some sort of mechanic that would have forced my hand, sooner or later? I'm almost curious enough to keep playing the same save file, despite the likely pointlessness of such a course.

I'll save that for later, though. Just in case my game with fully-enabled victory conditions doesn't work out.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion - 5/20 hours

Real talk, here - I am learning that my playing Breath of the Wild last time I was set to play Sins of a Solar Empire was, indeed, just an excuse. By "sheerest coincidence" I got back into playing Starmade right around the same time I was set to start Rebellion. I think I may be avoiding this game.

I'm not entirely sure why. It's not unpleasant to play. There's a lot of micromanaging production queues, which I like. And at least on easy mode, the combat is forgiving enough that I almost forget it's an RTS. There's a lot to pay attention to at any given moment, sure enough, but the more I play it the more I get used to it.

I think what it boils down to is that I don't care much for the game's implicit story. It's all about expanding until you run out of room, and then absorbing the territory of anyone who does not seek your favor. I guess that's what the different factions are about. Aliens that more or less hate each other and can coexist only with great difficulty.

Which I suppose is fair enough. The opening cinematic told me I was being dropped into the middle of a war, and I guess the defining aspect of war is that the people involved don't want to be friends. The problem is that I'm not really emotionally invested in the outcome. Obviously I want my guys to survive and thrive, but I don't even know who those other guys are. We're enemies because our ships automatically attack each other when entering the same star system and it's hard to build up enough trust to get them to stop doing that, but since it's automatic, it never really feels raw.

Usually, when I go into a video game war, it's because my hand is forced. I expand as much as feels reasonable in the early game (usually less than is wise, but that's just my way) and then I start to focus inwards. I will build up my society as much as possible and seek ways to advance my technology and economy with the minimum of aggression. Then some bastard NPC will swoop in out of nowhere and interpret my peaceful ways as a sign of weakness. I'll have to hastily abandon my self-improvement to focus on my long-neglected military and if the war happens late enough or slow enough, I wind up striking back at the attacker with overwhelming force.

That's how I like to fight wars, when I have to fight them at all. Starting off at war, as a default, really changes the calculations though. I tend to stop thinking of the game as a high-level abstraction of a human (or alien) society and start thinking of it as a living organism, one that must, inevitably, expand to the limits of its available space.

It's a perspective that makes me a little uncomfortable, but only a little, because otherwise I'd hardly be able to play strategy games at all.

Anyway, I've been going through Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion a lot slower than I wanted to, and that has got to change. I've got to embrace my inner virus - all matter in the universe shall be converted to copies of myself!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion - 2/20 hours

So, taking this long to get to two hours probably doesn't have anything to do with the game itself. I kept falling asleep while playing it, but that's most likely because my last couple of days have been pretty busy.

As far as the game itself, it is a lot like Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity, so much so that I've realized I am completely unclear on the basic structure of the series. Is this a sequel, a standalone expansion pack, or something else (looked it up - Trinity is a bundle of the original game and the first two expansions, Rebellion is a standalone expansion)? There are some new factions, which is nice, though I'm playing one of the originals, and it feels very familiar. There's also some new planet types and new ship classes, but I haven't found any of those yet either.

This wouldn't be the first time that I've played two more or less identical games for the blog. It's always a tricky line to walk, because I want to engage with each game on its unique merits, but I tend to start thinking of the series as a single unit. Sins of a Solar Empire isn't doing itself any favors in this regard, but I'm hoping that there will be more divergence in the late game.

In the meantime, the basic Sins of a Solar Empire gameplay remains pretty solid, if not in a genre I particularly enjoy. I'll probably just keep plugging on . . . provided I can keep my eyes open.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

The Next Installment to the Award-Winning RTS.
While many were hopeful that diplomacy would finally end the war, differing opinions on what should be done, along with the depleted power of the controlling factions, has led to a splintering of the groups involved.

The loyalist members of the Trader Emergency Coalition adopt a policy of isolation, focusing on enhanced defenses to ride out the rest of the war. Those who rebel against the coalition take on a purely militant view, coming to the opinion that the only way to bring peace is by ultimately crushing all who oppose them - especially xenos.

For the first time in their history, the war creates a schism in the Advent Unity. The loyalists seek to continue their policy of revenge against the Traders, and to assimilate all others to the Unity’s influence. However, others amongst the Advent suspect that a corrupting influence from within has diverted the Unity from its proper destiny.

The divide created in the Vasari Empire is less pronounced, but just as severe to their people. With the Vasari now practically frantic to move on to new space, the loyalist faction abandons cooperation and decides to take the resources they need by any means necessary. Having accepted the need to work together, the rebel faction feels that their best chance for survival is to work with the other races and bring them along to flee the approaching enemy.

Take the battle for galactic supremacy to its ultimate level in Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion – a standalone RT4X game that combines the tactics of real-time strategy with the depth of the 4X genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate).

Previous Playtime

2 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

"Oops, Rebellion is the new one and Trinity is the old one, oh well, I've already bought so many games this summer what's one more for the pile." Which is to say, that 2014 Steam Summer Sale got pretty ridiculous for me. I don't quite think this was the nadir, but it wasn't my finest hour either.

Expectations and Prior Experience

It took awhile for me to warm up to Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity, but it eventually grew on me. Not so much that it became one of my favorite games, but enough to significantly mitigate my usual pre-RTS dread. Whatever else happens, I'm sure that I won't be totally miserable.

As far as Rebellion, specifically, though. I don't really know what to expect. I played it once before on multiplayer, but I was on a team with my friend, so I didn't exactly need to learn the game at a detailed level. I'm still entirely unclear on what makes it different than Trinity and what I should focus on to get the most out of the game.

I'm sure it will come with time, though. I feel pretty optimistic and engaged, all things considered. It doesn't hurt that this is my second-to-last game before I complete my original 2014 list. I just know that I'm going to try and rush it as quickly as possible, because I really want that milestone, but we'll have to see what sort of distractions and obstacles the next week throws in my way.

My big hope is that I will proceed briskly and forthrightly, not dragging my feet for any reason, but by similar token not forcing myself to take this game as a time challenge. Ideally, I want to appreciate its unique virtues and come away with the feeling that I made the right decision, all those years ago. Realistically, this is a sequel to a game I liked, but didn't love in a genre that puts me on my defensive. Keeping on the straight-and-narrow is going to be tough.

Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword - 20/20 hours

I should be careful what I wish for. Joining the Cossack Hetmanate gave me all the action and adventure I could want (and then some), but it came at a terrible cost. First, my relations with the Crimeans took a serious hit, then, later, the Polish joined the war, and suddenly in two out of the five factions, I was an enemy. My previous freedom of movement was gone. It made me sad, you know, like I destroyed something fragile and precious for the sake of excitement.

And on a less ridiculous note, I will say that seeing my trading empire hollowed out on account of a single bad political decision has solidified something for me - I really, really like Mount & Blade . . . and I can't stand Mount & Blade.

It's one of those occasions where the game is so close to being exactly what I wanted that the small gap between it and perfection becomes completely insurmountable. I find myself unable to silence the tiny critic and just accept the game for what it is. I keep dwelling on all the improvements (a few big, but mostly small) that would make it into my ideal game.

In my last post, I claimed that gating so much content behind your renown score was a major flaw in the game, but having gone from about 20 renown to nearly 100 in the space of a few hours has taught me that the problem is actually deeper, but more nuanced than that.

The short version - many of the quests are terrible. The long version - the game has only an incidental story, but in that skeleton of a story there is a natural arc. You start as a wandering hero, evolve into a mercenary, then either a political power player or warlord, and possibly from there into an emperor. And as far as I can tell, the game doesn't acknowledge that. And not out of a principled commitment to verisimilitude, either, but just because what it has you do seems to be more or less random.

For example, you could be just starting out, a nobody with no reputation, and wander straight up to a feudal lord (why you're even allowed to see him anyway is never quite explained) and he will task you with collecting a substantial debt from one of his fellow gentry. On the one hand, this seems like an incredibly sensitive task to entrust to some rando off the street. On the other hand, it's implemented in a way that sucks all the fun and dramatic potential out of the event.

Because it always unfolds the exact same way - go to the debtor's home, ask them to repay the debt, pay them your share of the reward money (possibly modified down an insignificant amount pending the results of a Persuasion check) and then deliver the rest back. It's possible to skip the bribe, if you are already friends with the noble, but that isn't going to happen at the start of the game, so why are you even there?

All-in-all, it's something you shouldn't be doing, story-wise, for a virtually non-existent reward, that involves no challenge or interesting gameplay. But what's really frustrating is that the game could potentially ask you to hunt down bandits or slay a fugitive, and those are things that are both thematically appropriate and actually fun to play.

And its because the game assigns you quests seemingly at random, with no respect for your powers, interests, or skills, that the implicit narrative arc never really builds any momentum. You have to hunt for the fun in the game, and it only really comes regularly if you successfully get yourself in trouble. You can't just pop into a random village, because most of the time the elder doesn't even have a quest for you, and while nobles are more reliable about assigning jobs, most of those actual jobs are not things you'd really want to do. Only when you are actively at war with one or more factions are you guaranteed to run into interesting challenges.

But what makes Mount & Blade so uniquely aggravating is that its central vision is so . .  fucking . . . amazing that it almost works in spite of this. It is a living medieval (or in this version, late 18th century) world that allows you to participate in grand strategy and world-shaking politics from a ground's-eye-view. It absolutely nails the scope, but flubs the scale. The map should be 100 times as big and villages should be ten times as far apart, and you should have a dozen random encounters of all sorts (from friendly and beneficial to "omg how am I going to survive this") whenever you travel between them. Providing the logistics and support for your mercenary band should be hard. Individual villages should matter. The supplies-to-party-size-to-speed ratio should be so unforgiving that you'll need to plan out a detailed village-by-village travel route to get all the way across the map. Those pointless quests where a noble gives you a letter to deliver to another noble should be fucking chapter breaks.

And yet, as your personal power becomes greater, you should be able to abstract a lot of that away by acquiring companions and hirelings to take care of the details for you. Your band has a skilled quartermaster and suddenly that detailed list of foodstuffs you carry around in your wagons becomes a weekly purchase with currency that you can still optionally micromanage if you so choose. You acquire a trusty lieutenant and you can fast-travel a set distance based on your officer's skill on the assumption that their scouts and vanguard will automatically clear out troublesome random encounters for you. But the abilities are tied to characters in the game, and if they die, you have to take their responsibilities on yourself until you hire a replacement.

And the NPCs should recognize this. Villages will have plenty for a lone adventurer or small band to do, so much that you could grind for hours without visiting a second location, but then they will know better than to ask trivial favors of a traveler with a lordly retinue. And hell, maybe those warring armies don't let you into a besieged city at all (though you might sneak in if you're alone), but will attempt to threaten, bribe, or otherwise co-opt a powerful military force with no known allegiance.

Of course, designing hypothetical video games is easy. There are almost certainly a lot of technical barriers that would stop my vision from becoming reality, and it is completely unfair of me to judge Mount & Blade by what my wildest imagination can dream up, unconstrained by budgets or the actual difficulty of implementing my desired features. Yet that's what the series does to me. It gives me a taste of a world of incredible depth and potential and then frustrates me with an uneven and unfocused implementation.

On an intellectual level, I know it's unreasonable to ask for a single game that gives me a whole game's worth of action-rpg wandering that seamlessly transitions to a whole game's worth of small-unit real-time action-strategy that in turn seamlessly transitions to a whole game's worth of top-level grand strategy while allowing me to directly control the same character the whole time, maintaining a continuity of resources (ie the noble has the same stuff as the adventurer, just more of it) and letting me lead from the front in massive battles. But that's what Mount & Blade makes me want. I love the game, but it makes me hungry.

So I don't know, I guess I'll just wait for the sequel.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword - 15/20 hours

Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword has two major flaws.

The first is the hats. They are just ridiculous. No one looks good in them and the necessity of wearing protective headgear ensures that most of the time you are looking at your character, any elegance they might have in their design marred by a goofy fucking hat.

The second flaw is perhaps a bit more serious - too much of the game is gated behind your renown totals. It won't even let you join a faction until you're already famous from winning a large number of battles. Which is especially annoying when you consider that you don't get renown if the enemy force is significantly smaller than yourself, and thus it's incredibly easy to build up a force where none of your random bandit encounters is large enough to earn you fame.

I suppose you could deliberately keep a small band in the early game in order to have your battles be more glorious, but it seems more likely to me that the intended way of playing is to either grind away on dozens of side missions until you attract the attention of a lord or to just pick a fight with one of the factions preemptively, so that you can face larger and more powerful enemies and then ally with your punching bag's rivals once you have a few battles under your belt.

What makes the second course hard for me, emotionally, is that none of the factions ever seems to go out of its way to hassle you. You can cart goods from one end of the map to the other and the only people who ever pose a threat are bandits, raiders, and deserters. The nobles are even gracious enough to let you into their castles mid-siege.

I guess I just have a hard time with my only justification for aggression being naked ambition. If I could intervene to stop the looting of villages or challenge unchivalrous nobles to a duel, that would be something. As it is, I just have to wait around staying out of everyone's way until I'm finally famous enough for a king to order me around.

Or do I? For shits and giggles, I cheated myself up a maxxed-out character with a ton of money and learned that it is possible, with a well-armed entourage, to start your own faction by assaulting a random castle. It's still a case of just randomly stealing shit, but at least it's honest in its unjustifiable greed.

All I want to do is buy my way into the gentry and then expand peacefully through well-developed infrastructure. Is that too much to ask?

I mean, yes, clearly it is, because the name of the game is "Mount & Blade" and not "Accounting & Negotiation." Still, my brief time as a renegade feudal lord did teach me that you can improve your territory with money and thus, presumably, expand your wealth with reinvestment. If only I were famous enough for someone to give me a chance . . .

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword - 10/20 hours

I've been pretty successful as a merchant. I just bought a new set of fancy armor, costing more than 15,000 thaler. I have an entourage of almost 60 cavalry. And I still have more than 20,000 thaler in capital. Life is good.

Yet I feel a yearning for something money cannot buy. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, I guess something like "adventure" or "prestige," but somehow without all the inevitable bloodshed that comes with it. Since I know that's not forthcoming, I'm in a bit of a pickle.

Ultimately, the big problem is that I don't want anyone to hate me. I've traveled from one end of fictionalized eastern Europe to another, trading in every major city along the way. I'm used to a certain freedom of movement and I don't want to give that up.

It would help if there were any noticeable difference between the factions. If one of the various states started raiding my caravans, that would be a strong incentive to side against them. Or if one of the rulers seemed especially virtuous and honorable, perhaps I'd want to offer him my service. As it is, the story of the setting is constrained by randomness.

Or, at least, that's how it seems. The one time I approached a noble with an offer to help his realm, he wanted me to sack a rebellious village without flying his kingdom's flag, the better to terrify the populace. I found that pretty gross and walked away, but I can't help but wonder if it would have opened more story missions if I'd gone through with it.

Reading the achievement list, I know that there are main storyline quests associated with the different factions, but ten hours in and apparently none of them activate for the wandering-trader type. If I want to get involved, I'm going to have to start acting like an amoral mercenary.

Which, honestly, is my biggest problem with this series. I always start out wanting to play a chivalric romance (or dull medieval commerce simulator) and wind up getting involved in some morally grimy, but otherwise inconsequential shenanigans on the outer circle of the game's political cliques. Even if I started working for a faction at this very minute, it would undoubtedly lead to hours of me following around a general and/or attempting to train a handful of specific troops before I was ever entrusted with any degree of genuine power.

I'd just as soon keep wandering the countryside trading valuables all over the map, except there's not enough left to buy. I really thought I'd move up an economic tier once I got enough money to consistently fill my inventory with trade goods, but now my profits are limited by the fact that each city only has a limited amount of stuff available to trade. I can afford to haul 20 units of even the most expensive stuff, but it's rare to see a commodity with more than 5 or six units available. So my growth in wealth is strictly linear, with each new haul contributing a diminishing percentage value to my already-superfluous horde.

It's got to be war, then. I just find myself wishing I'd optimized myself for that from the beginning.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword - 5/20 hours

I've been wandering around, doing the merchant thing, and it's been going well so far. I have more than 15 thousand thaler, which seems like a lot, but isn't quite enough for the best equipment. However, that's not really a problem because I've reached a point of power where it's unlikely that my wealth will go down over time.

It turned out not to be too difficult. All it really took was me gathering 15 mercenary troops and then not chasing the various bandits, looters, and deserters when they ran away from me. I'd almost consider it a flaw in the game, but I'm not sure that being a pure merchant is actually an intended mode of play. You don't get experience points from trading goods, for example. And there doesn't appear to be any way to parlay a trading career into favor with nobles or landed property. Also, the AI doesn't seem to know what to do with merchant characters. At one point, I wandered up to a castle under siege and the besiegers just let me through and then the castle garrison opened the gates for me. Obviously, at least one of the three of us doesn't understand how sieges are supposed to work.

It' clear at some point I'm going to have to engage with the game on its own terms - pick a faction to associate with, gather up a mercenary army, and attempt to win renown on the field of battle. However, before that happens, I hope to be ridiculously rich. I'm worried that trade income won't scale up as I grow in wealth, but if it does, I'll probably be doing that for quite some time.

A more realistic prediction is that I will somehow burn out and wind up just doing whatever easy thing is closest to my current location, going from one time-wasting bit of nonsense to another.

Only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword - 2/20 hours

I'd forgotten how dismal the beginning of Mount & Blade games can be. There's a lot of getting captured and having your stuff stolen before you finally get strong enough to defend yourself. But then, once you have a decent force under your command, you have to be on a constant lookout for new sources of income, because good soldiers don't come cheap. And that can be tricky when you're just starting out because if your band is large enough to safely get into battles, it is also probably large enough to scare away the enemy before the battle even begins.

The main thing I've noticed about this game, specifically, is how it is very much like the other games in the series. I guess that's just Mount & Blade's thing, expansion packs that make subtle, incremental changes to the game.

I'm not thrilled that "With Fire & Sword" took out the background questionnaire at the beginning of the game, but character advancement works exactly the same. The loss of the training yards is a mixed bag. On the one hand, they were a convenient way to turn your raw recruits into useful soldiers, but on the hand, now at least I don't feel obligated to do so. Less grinding is probably good, though I didn't mind it all that much.

The biggest single change, however, is the addition of guns. They are impressively powerful, but I feel like a jackass sitting through that excruciatingly long reload animation every time I miss a shot (it's also awkward after I hit, but in those cases I usually have a recent kill to console me). They've certainly changed the way I fight, though. Instead of charging around the battlefield like an idiot, swinging my sword at whatever happens to get in my way, I'm now sitting stock still like an idiot, more likely than not reloading my musket.

I have no definite plan for the future of my character. I'm finding that with each Mount & Blade game I play, my ambition cools just a little. I think, instead of uniting the kingdoms under my rule, all I really want to do is gain more personal experience and thus survive better in random combats. It's a modest goal, but I'm sure the world will have some way of pulling the rug out from under me.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

 In an open sand box world you choose your allies, your enemies, what provinces to conquer, what castles to siege and what quests to embark on. With Fire & Sword builds and expands upon the highly regarded combat system from Mount & Blade: Warband. Firearms have been introduced to the battlefield. Additionally, muskets and pistols can now be used as sidearms in hand-to-hand combat to quickly drop your foes. In addition to the enhanced singleplayer mode, With Fire & Sword also provides a host of original multiplayer content including the new game mode: Captain.

Previous Playtime

6 minutes

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

Well, it was part of a bundle, and this was back in my "why buy the one exact game I want when I could by a whole bunch of games I'll probably never play for only a couple dollars more" phase. I was buying Mount & Blade: Warband, but I'd be damned if I didn't get the whole series at the same time.

Expectations and Prior Experience

This will be my third time playing a Mount & Blade game and so far the experience has been frustrating, but generally positive. I don't expect that to change.

What makes me most uncertain, going into this, is that "With Fire & Sword" is the most recent iteration of the series, but "Warband" is the one that gets recommended most often. I don't know why that should be. Did it take a step backwards? Did it add new mechanics people don't like? The reviews on Steam are generally positive, so I'm not worried, but I am concerned.

It will probably be all right though. I learned a thing or two about fighting effectively when playing the original Mount & Blade, so I should have a little easier time in the early game. The midgame is where I hit a wall last time, but if I dedicate myself to a single character, I should be able to get past it . . .

Ha!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

SolForge - 20/20 hours

SolForge has the same problem as every other collectable-trading-card-based video game since the old Micropose Magic: the Gathering - not enough cards. I don't necessarily need or even want them all up-front, but as an ultimate goal "obtaining the whole set" should be achievable in a reasonable amount of time.

It's not that way with tabletop cards, sure, but honestly I wish it was. That's why I've been moving away from M:tG and towards expandable but limited games like Sentinels of the Multiverse and Ascension, or buying singles of select rare cards at the game shop. I like the collecting, but the uncertainty bugs the hell out of me.

I suppose SolForge is trying, in its own way, to tap into that tabletop collectable trading card business model, where people keep buying randomized packs of cards, hoping to get the exact one they want, making the best cards scarce, but insuring that any individual pack has a chance to strike gold. I've often called Magic: the Gathering booster packs "scratch tickets for nerds" and that was definitely the vibe I got from SolForge's cash shop.

I'll admit, I was almost tempted. And I had fun enough with the game (despite its mostly terrible single-player mode and competitive scene where every single person was better than me, and not just by a little bit) that tossing the makers a couple of bucks wouldn't have been so bad. However, the main thing that stopped me was the very thing that got me playing this game in the first place - I heard that it was going to shut down soon. My five bucks wasn't going to change that, and as nebulous a form of property as digital simulations of collectable trading cards might be, I'd be upset if they suddenly vanished into the ether.

Overall, I liked SolForge because it's a card game, but I enjoyed in spite of  its presentation. The campaign mode was interesting, but it didn't really teach me how to play the real game. Single player mode was more or less pointless, but I couldn't find multiplayer matches near my skill level. The cards were cool and I liked the art and the interactions between them, but without spending money in the cash shop, I wound up getting new ones at too slow a rate to really engage my curiosity.

So, to sum up, if there was ever a SolForge version of Shandalar, I would snatch that up in a heartbeat, but I don't think I'll ever again play the version I have now. It's just too rough, even for a free-to-play game.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SolForge - 15/20 hours

Well, I'm in no danger of falling under the delusion that I'm good at this game, that's for sure. There was a point, after I beat the last two campaign missions, where I entertained the idea that I might be getting better, considering I beat both of them on my first try. However, I then lost an easy difficulty match against the PC and have since come to realize my 0-11 multiplayer record is no fluke.

Although, if I'm trying to salvage at least some of my pride, I could fall back on the excuse that I didn't make my own deck for the easy-mode loss. See, one of the things that bugs me about SolForge as a video game is that when you play single player, you can only play against your own constructed decks. Which is a real pain, because one of the things I like about playing a video-game version of a collectible card game is seeing different preconstructs, especially theme decks that use an implausibly large number of rare cards. It was my favorite thing about Magic 2014, for instance.

And I did play a few matches against my own decks for the sake of killing time, but it got kind of boring, because I knew what was coming. So what I did was have the computer auto-complete four decks, one of each faction. My plan was to play each of the sixteen possible matchups and get a feel for how the factions played against each other.

The first match went as I expected. I played the computer's Tempys deck and handily beat its Nekrium deck. Then I moved onto to Tempys vs Alloyin and got my ass handed to me, twice. I don't know if I just had bad luck with my draws, whether the rng just happened to spit out an especially good Alloyin deck, whether the factions are not balanced against each other, or whether the fault was entirely with me as a player. All I do know is that it is demoralizing as hell to lose to an easy-mode AI.

I will probably try the ill-fated matchup a couple more times, just to see if it's a consistent loss for me, and then move on to the rest of the combinations. My hope is that the either the Alloyin deck will prove to be unnaturally strong (I did draft that faction most often of the four) or that the Tempys deck will be noticeably weaker than the others. It would dismay me greatly to learn that I was still so bad at the game after so long (then again, I never did get good at chess, despite playing it off-and-on for years).

Friday, April 21, 2017

SolForge - 10/20 hours

Well, I'm 0-7 in multiplayer matches. Since five of those losses were in drafts, I'm feeling kind of demoralized. There was a part of me that thought I couldn't possibly be so bad at a card game that I wouldn't win at least 20% of my games purely by chance. I guess that's just how it goes, though.

The only loss that really upset me was my most recent one. My opponent had several opportunities to defeat me, but purposefully held back so they could stack buffing effects in order to get one of their creatures up to 25,000 damage. That's not a good feeling. I probably should have forfeited when I realized what was going on, but I had a slim hope that I might be able to surprise my opponent and make them regret their arrogance.

No such luck, though I did learn that the thing about newbies having no chance in the Constructed format was not an exaggeration (or maybe it is - it's hard for me to tell, considering how bad I am at the game).

The campaign missions are progressing fairly well, though. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to finish, however. The latest mission has me completely stumped - you can only play one card per turn (instead of two) and I don't even know where to begin to solve that problem.

I think my goal for the next ten hours is to somehow learn to ignore the fact that I am not good at the game. If I can just enjoy myself on my own terms without having to compare myself to others, I think I may do all right. I will, however being playing at least six more online games, for the extra cards. And while I hope my future opponents are more generous in victory than my most recent one, I am just going to try and adopt an attitude of equanimity either way.

We'll see how well that works out in the long run.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

SolForge - 4/20 hours

I guess this game is pretty good, considering I've played for four hours already and it seemed like the time just flew by. Unfortunately, I think multiplayer is going to be a bust. I successfully connected for one match in a draft tournament (I hear the constructed format is pointless for newbies, given how essential having the best cards can be). I completely got my ass handed to me, which I should have anticipated, given I haven't played the game in years and had no clear idea about how to build an effective deck, but I enjoyed myself.

The only reason I do not anticipate participating in more online games is because of the frustrating connection issue I ran into in my second game. I had a match lined up, but then the game seemed to freeze in the middle of connecting. Apparently the tournament interpreted this as me forfeiting the match and I was bumped from it entirely (you're allowed to lose twice before you wash out).

I mean, I seriously underestimated the skill of my opposition in the first match, and would almost certainly have been eliminated anyway, but I would have liked to at least play the game one more time. Still, it wasn't a total waste. I got a booster pack and I got to keep the cards I drafted for my tournament deck. I will almost certainly join another draft tournament before the end of my twenty hours, for the cards if nothing else, though I will probably wait until I get a little more practice on single player (I'd get my practice in the tournaments, but each attempt costs you four "event tickets" and I only have eight, though as I was checking the price I found that they also accept a "draft coupon," which apparently I had without realizing it, so I'll be able to get at least one more tournament in as well).

Though I'm unlikely to have a great time with multiplayer, I don't think single player will be all that bad. I've been tackling the campaign and while the tutorial missions are trivial and the proving grounds missions are barely challenging for a novice, the mastery missions have so far been incredibly satisfying to beat (though sometimes demoralizing to play through).

Basically, there are four "factions" in the world of SolForge and each faction has its own strengths and weaknesses. The "mastery" matches are played against powerful enemy decks, but more than that, each one has an extremely unfair special ability that activates during the course of the match. Your foe in the Uterra Mastery mission spontaneously heals about 100 hit points (you start with 120) during the course of the match. In the Nekrium mission, every time your creature does damage to the enemy, it dies. Needless to say, these missions demanded my utmost problem solving abilities, and while I can't say I was always smiling when I played them, when they were over, I respected the puzzles they presented. I'm really looking forward to (slash-dreading) the last two missions.

All-in-all, I expect SolForge to be pretty diverting. My next move is to wash out of the tournament I accidentally entered myself into. Then I'll probably play random AI decks for awhile. Then I'll tackle the remainder of the campaign, and only then will I use up my last draft tournament entry.

I don't anticipate any great problems along the way, but there may be unpleasant wrinkles to the game I have not yet encountered. I've got my fingers crossed that this will go as smoothly as every other digital card game I've played so far.

SolForge - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

 Designed by the creators of Magic: The Gathering and the Ascension Deckbuilding Game, SolForge is a free-to-play digital collectible game in which players construct their own decks to challenge their friends or battle against the computer. There are multiple modes of play, including tournaments, drafts, ranked play, campaign mode, and a variety of new events every week! Players can customize their decks with cards from their collection that they can earn through gameplay or purchase from the store. Try it now for free!

The core mechanic in SolForge is leveling. Whenever you play a card, that card levels up into a new, more powerful version. As the game progresses, you level up, and gain access to your more powerful higher level cards. Some cards start off weak and level up into powerhouses, while others start off strong and don't improve much as they level, presenting strategic and tactical choices that will challenge even the most seasoned gaming veterans.

With hundreds of cards that each transform as you play, SolForge is a game unlike any other. Try it free today!

Previous Playtime

5 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

Well, it's a free-to-play, and in 2014 I was more naive about these things. However it wasn't just the price that attracted me. I was mostly hooked by the fact that it's a card game "designed by the creators of Magic: The Gathering." I was a huge M:tG fan from way back and the idea of a free Magic-like card game really appealed to me.

Expectations and Prior Experience

One thing I've discovered over the course of writing this blog is that it's entirely possible there is no digital card game I will not like. I've played four of them so far and every one is among my favorite games overall. It's been a long time since I played SolForge, but I don't anticipate it breaking the trend.

If I recall, it rather ingeniously uses the fact that it only exists in digital form to do things that would be impossible (or at least rather complicated and tedious) to do in a tabletop game. This appeals to me purely as game-design nerdery, and it would take a simply awful execution to turn me against the idea.

My big regret, though, is that I probably won't get a chance to play multiplayer. From what I understand, SolForge is a bit of a zombie game at this point. They were planning on shutting down the servers entirely, but then they somehow managed to keep a few of them open. In all likelihood, the multiplayer scene is pretty close to moribund.

I did once play this game online with my friend Daniel, but that experience was not a good one. The game was good and the company was great, but actually setting up the game to get two human players in the same game at the same time was a monumental chore. And while this is the part where I say I hope they've fixed it in the interim, it seems likely to me, given the overall state of the game itself, that they have not.

So here's how I see this going - I will play a large number of games against the AI, and be unreasonably delighted to do so, but I will never get the chance to see SolForge the way it was meant to be seen.

I'll try not to be too morose about it.

Neverwinter - 20/20 hours

Neverwinter does one really annoying thing that I'm sure I could forgive it for were I playing it over the course of months, but which is an unbearable roadblock when you're trying to play as much as possible over the course of two weeks - it makes you wait for stuff to happen. Like, there's a crafting system, and one part of that system is that you recruit these various non-adventuring experts to help you out. But once you press the recruit button, it makes you wait 18 real-world hours before that expert is successfully recruited.

I'm sure there's some sophisticated marketing/psychological reasoning behind this. Maybe the knowledge that there's a ticking clock they have to wait out will cause players to come back for session after session, just to collect the rewards that have been delayed. I, personally, have put off removing Neverwinter from my hard drive (and I really do need the space) because I want to finish a quest I started about six hours ago. I know I'm being played, but it's going to bug me otherwise.

Anyway, aside from that, and those damned treasure chests I kept picking up, I enjoyed Neverwinter a lot. I think I may have chosen the wrong class (I managed to be fairly self-sufficient as a character by recruiting a healer as an NPC companion, but every time the healer levels up, he leaves your service for a half-hour, and during one of those half-hours, I decided to try playing a Ranger, and I actually found that class to be more engaging than the great weapon fighter), but it was a minor issue at most.

Ironically, the thing that held me back most from enjoying this game is also its greatest draw - it's an MMO. I'm not super familiar with the genre, but after having played Neverwinter, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Warframe, Guild Wars 2, and EVE Online, I think I have a handle on its basic tropes and from what I've gathered, for a hermit like myself, there are much better options than playing solo content. However, there's always the promise of the MMO that I sometimes convince myself I'm going to realize - grouping together with friends, and making new ones through groups. Handling the hard content together and using your combined resources to make yourselves much richer and more powerful than you could ever be on your own.

The notion of this sort of MMO camaraderie really appeals to me, but for all that I've played these games, I've never actually been able to tap into their distinct cultures (except, perhaps, for EVE Online, if "tapping into its culture" means "accidentally wandering into PvP and having the other players make me cry.") Maybe it's something that takes more than 20 hours, or maybe it's that the quality of character that makes me well-suited to working a night-shift job where I can easily go four to six hours without even seeing another human being is one that also makes me reluctant to connect with my fellow gamers.

It's probably best not to get too into self-reflection here. Let's just say that MMOs aren't a perfect fit for everyone, and I'm probably never going to get very deep into them. That's all right. Not everyone likes tedious strategy games either, but that didn't stop me from playing 75+ hours of Stellaris over the course of blogging about Neverwinter (not to say that Stellaris is tedious, just that some might fin my pacifist way of playing it so).

So, thank you, Neverwinter. By requiring a reliable internet connection and not allowing me to pause, you enabled me to finally get a chance to dig deep into one of my new favorite strategy games without having to simultaneously blog about it. Sure, that's a back-handed compliment, but my sincere praise would also be somewhat tepid. Your gameplay is more exciting than a point-and-click rpg, but not quite smooth enough to match a top-shelf action game and you kept putting the breaks on me for economic, rather than legitimate gameplay, reasons. I'd rate you "good, but not great" - a decent way to waste some time, if, for some reason, wasting time became difficult all of a sudden.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Neverwinter - 15/20 hours

Free-to-play games are always tricky beasts to evaluate. I've generally liked all the ones I've played so far, but only one, Path of Exile, really managed to make me forget I was playing a free game (it is probably not a coincidence that it's also the only one, so far, I've spent real money on, but if I could figure out the psychology behind that, I'd probably have a lucrative career in the game marketing business waiting for me).

This isn't a problem, per se. All of those people who made the game need to get paid for their work and the premium services are how that happens. However, as someone who is going into this tentative and uncommitted, I can't help feeling like a bit of an interloper. This is, of course, silly. They wouldn't have made the game free-to-play if they didn't want people playing for free. Yet, when I see people riding around on their fancy mounts, there's an irrational part of me that feels like, for lack of a better word, a peasant.

I think part of it might have to do with Neverwinter's inexplicable pricing structure. It's a good enough game that I wouldn't feel bad about dropping 10 bucks on some of its real-money currency and unlocking a few pieces of premium content. However, 10 bucks will by you approximately squat. Okay, there's a wolf companion for 8 bucks that sounds pretty cool, but most mounts cost between 20 and 35 dollars and unlocking a new race costs 60 bucks for Moon Elves and 75 for Dragonborn. Call me old-fashioned, but I think if the prices were a tenth of what they are now, they'd sound pretty reasonable.

I guess that's why they're prestige items, though. You buy yourself a gelatinous cube to ride around on to prove you're a Neverwinter super-fan. Fair enough, even if it does trigger my class envy. What's truly aggravating, though, are the functional uses of real money. Look, I won't say that I'm not intrigued by the dozens of enchanted chests I've picked up in my travels, but there's no way I'm paying $1.25 each to open them.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not the sort to object to spending $75 on a video game. And in theory, I understand the argument that you're not really paying 35 bucks for a mount or 20 bucks for a demon to follow you around, you're really voluntarily paying $55 for the whole game, most of which you were generously allowed to preview for free. However, there is some inflexible part of my gaming psychology that just can't come to terms with this. I'd much rather just pay an fixed cost upfront and then play the game without being confronted by any extra-textual gatekeepers.

Call me spoiled, if you must, but I live in a world where I can buy the Fallout 3 Game of the Year edition for five dollars.  From an economic perspective, there is very little room to offer a better value than that. In fact, I'm not sure that it's actually possible. Even if Neverwinter was cleared of all of its cash-shop annoyances and everything was attainable with the gold you find from random monsters, it would not be as good a game as Fallout 3. It wouldn't even be five dollars less good. Aside from already owning it on every platform you regularly play, there's no situation where someone coming around and saying "you know, instead of Neverwinter you can get Fallout 3 for just five dollars more" would not be a tempting offer.

Which I know seems like a harsh assessment of Neverwinter, but truthfully I just meant it as an example of today's over-saturated video game market. Maybe you think I'm being too generous with my assessment of Fallout 3, but I could say the same thing about Borderlands 2, Civilization IV, or Super Mario World. It's something that still continues to blow my mind. If I had picked up the hypothetical feature-complete version of Neverwinter for 20 dollars, I would have no complaints about it. It's easily a solid second-tier game, better than The Last Remnant, but not quite as good as Kingdoms of Amalur. However, I doubt I will ever again be so hard up for entertainment that I'd be willing to pay out that 20 dollars piecemeal, just to unlock those chests the game keeps dangling in front of me, unbidden and unwanted.

I guess Neverwinter had taught me where I draw the line on free-to-play business models. I'm fine with the cash shop as long as its trivial stuff that doesn't make a difference to gameplay, like that five dollar hat I bought for Path of Exile or the 35 dollar unicorns you can buy in this game. However, once mechanical weight is attached to the purchases - if paying real money makes the game easier or less frustratingly random or even just notably different, then I start to lose interest. I want all the widgets up front or I don't want them all.

This isn't a moral stance. I'm not objecting to the companies setting up their games that way. It's mostly an aesthetic issue. I've bought DLC in the past. In fact, it's often been my favorite part of the associated game (I've got one question for you - EXPLOSIONS?), and functionally that's not too different from cash-gated content in a F2P game. It's really just a matter of presentation. Regular games are presented as complete-in-themselves. Even without the DLC Fallout 3 is still Fallout 3, an amazing action-rpg epic. The DLCs, then, are presented as a sort of demi-sequel. "You know that thing you loved, well here's more of it." Whereas with an MMO, you never get that sense of completeness. It all boils down to a single question "how much money do I have to pay to not miss out on anything?" and for most regular games the answer is a finite number that may, in my opinion, sometimes be too high and for most F2P games the answer is "how much you got?" And there's no situation in which I prefer the second answer to the first (it also doesn't hurt that even many of the more expensive "finite" games eventually go on deep discount as they age and a greater portion of their income comes from the long tail, which, almost by definition, F2P games can't rely on).

Okay, long post, but here's the takeaway - I like Neverwinter, I look forward to playing it for another five hours, but its revenue model keeps me at arm's length and I don't think that's a distance I'll ever be able (or perhaps, more accurately, willing) to bridge.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Neverwinter - 11/20 hours

Neverwinter is a good game over the short run - darting around the battlefield using a collection of powers to slay monsters in kinetic action/rpg hybrid gameplay is a lot of fun, but as entertaining as it is in the minute-to-minute hack-and-slash, it doesn't really nail the slower loot-rhythms of the Diablo-esque rpgs from which it draws its inspiration. Equipment drops for any particular slot are rare (I think I've found exactly two swords in six hours of playing this character) and not much of an upgrade when they do happen. I've not yet figured out whether it's for competitive balance or to encourage players to spend real money, but it's kind of a bummer.

It may be that I simply haven't figured out the game's economy, though. There aren't really weapon shops, but there is an auction house and maybe I'll get some use out of it when I start earning Astral Diamonds (another form of currency that runs parallel to the gold you find off of enemies and the "zen" you can buy with real money). As far as I can tell, each of the three currencies is meant to be spent on different things and there is very little crossover between the categories. However, I'm still far too early in the game to entirely understand how it works.

My current character is finding new heal potions slightly faster than I'm using them, so I think I'll be all right, despite not having innate healing powers, though I'm wondering if maybe I wouldn't have been happier playing a more robust class. I guess it's probably too late to change, though, seeing as how I'd have to spend hours just catching up to my current location and have practically nothing left over for further exploration.

So I'm just going to stick it out. I haven't run into anything I couldn't handle, even if some stress-free extra healing would have let me feel more secure in a couple of the hairier battles. It's my hope that something will break in the next couple of hours and I'll start to feel more like a participant in the economy than a wandering beggar, looking for scraps, but I'm worried that I'm running afoul of the game's revenue model and the slow evolution of my gear is meant to mildly frustrate me.

We'll see. In any event, more hacking and slashing is always welcome, and I doubt I'll get tired of that any time soon.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Neverwinter - 5/20 hours

My biggest problem with Neverwinter so far has been the shift key. You use if for your dodge move, sprinting (or teleporting or rolling or whatever) in the direction that you are moving with WASD keys. The issue is that in order to pull this off, I have to move my pinky off the "A" key and subsequently shift my whole hand to move. I'm sure old hands at PC controls find this a natural and comfortable thing to do, but I have to think about it too much. And that's the last thing I need when the situation calls for dodging.

So I spent a half-hour configuring joy-to-key so I could play with my xbox controller. It just feels more natural to me. Although I'm not sure why I had to do it myself. This game is available for the console, so the professionals have already figured out how to make it work with a controller, but for some reason have decided not to implement it as an option on the PC version. It may be that "PC players who stubbornly refuse to grow accustomed to standard PC controls and insist on using the controllers they've cut their teeth on during decades of playing on console exclusively" is a smaller niche than I've been imagining

Anyway, my quixotic jousting with modernity aside, I've been having fun playing Neverwinter. I've tried out all the classes, and they all have something to recommend to them, though my favorite so far has been the Great Weapon Fighter. I love just rushing into battle and laying down massive damage. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if I am going to stick with the class for my larger playthrough. When you go solo, you need some reliable self-healing and this class just doesn't have it. On the other hand, I have been getting potions slightly faster than I've been using them, and if that trend keeps up, I think I'd rather just play the reckless barbarian dwarf (interesting side-note on that - the Great Weapon Fighter's sword is bigger than the Dwarf model, so when it's sheathed across her back, the tip clips through the ground - a bit of an oversight, there).

In other news, I think I've completely tuned out the game's plot. It's probably a side-effect of playing the intro eight times in a row. I've skipped over the opening dialogue so much I've conditioned myself to barely hear any of the game's characters at all. I know there's a missing crown, and worries that it might embolden rebellious political factions, and there was a slightly daffy seer trapped in the dungeons that I had to rescue on most of the timelines. It may all evolve into something later, but I didn't gather enough to even venture a prediction.

Overall, I'm pretty optimistic. Neverwinter definitely has more of an action feel than some other MMOs I've played, but I've found from playing as an aggressive class that there's not a lot of dynamism in that action. It mostly comes down to slugging it out directly. Though perhaps I would feel differently if I were playing a rogue . . .

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Neverwinter - 2/20 hours

This game took more than an hour to update and then another half-hour just to get to work. I've only played it for a little a little bit, but I'm going to count all that setup stuff because, fuck it, I'm upset at the game for making me wait around.

Anyway, my observations about the first few minutes of the game - the opening cinematic is very impressive for the sort of game this is supposed to be, too many of the proper nouns in the game's lore include the word "never" (there's the region, Neverwinter, and in that region is Castle Never, ruled by Lord Neverember - and I think there might be another couple of them that I'm forgetting at the moment), and finally, selecting a class to play is going to be a chore, I can tell.

I went with the Paladin for my first choice, because that's generally the easiest solo class in these sorts of games - the hand-to-hand combat strength of a tank class, but with supplemental healing to smooth out the rough spots. However, I'm now wondering if another class would suit my playstyle better. I'm sorely tempted to run the opening mission with each of the available classes before I make a final decision, but maybe it would be better to just commit to something now and see more of the game.

Choices, choices. I guess it wouldn't be a true crpg experience if I didn't see the first half hour more times than I can stand. Feckless dithering, it is!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Neverwinter - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Neverwinter is a free, action MMORPG based on the acclaimed Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game. Epic stories, action combat and classic roleplaying await those heroes courageous enough to enter the fantastic world of Neverwinter!

Previous Playtime

2 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

Well, it was free, so there wasn't much of a commitment involved, but if I recall, I downloaded it specifically because one of my friends was playing it extensively at the time. I always think it's going to be fun playing online multiplayer and then I rarely get around to it.

Expectations and Prior Experience

Case in point - this game. I played through the first dungeon with my friend and then never touched it again. From what I remember, it was fun. A little bit faster paced than something like Dungeons and Dragons Online, but not quite fast-paced enough to be an actual action game.

My big worry when starting any free-to-play game is the question "what did they hide behind a pay wall in order to try and make people spend real money?" I've had pretty good luck so far in that all of the FTP games I've played have been truly fun games in their own right and not too tricky with the real-money shop. It should be fine if I only have a limited number of character slots or lack access to certain cosmetic bits of flair, but I'd be pretty concerned if there's an essential mechanic locked behind a daily timer or deliberately stingy random drops.

On the other hand, at the very worst, this is going to be a fantasy rpg with a lot of loot and character customization, so even if I hate it, I probably won't hate it, if you catch my drift.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Space Empires V - 20/20 hours

Playing a "real" game didn't turn out to be that bad. Things got a little tense with my neighbors, but eventually we settled into a pattern of benign neglect and they stopped talking to me. The result was much the same as my isolation game, but I had half a dozen star systems instead of one.

I was actually getting really into it until I ran into a bug where my atmospheric converters simply stopped working. I was really keen on having 30 huge planets, all churning out research at an impossible rate. Building a megastructure in solitaire mode is great and all, but there's nothing quite like the thrill of doing it when you actually have opposition to worry about.

Bugs notwithstanding, Space Empires V is almost a contender for my regular 4X rotation. I love the sheer variety of technologies, and the fact that I'm almost always tinkering with build queues. It's very satisfying to settle a new planet, plan out its infrastructure years in advance, and then come back periodically to alter your plan according to new technological discoveries and the shifting galactic situation. And the tech tree isn't just bigger numbers (though there are a lot of those). You eventually unlock things that give you wholly new capabilities, allowing you to make a profound mark on the universe.

Unfortunately, as much as I love all that stuff, after playing the game for nearly sixty hours, I have to admit it's not very well put together. Navigating through menus is slightly less of a chore than it was in Space Empires IV, but still much more involved than it would be in a more modern game. The AI is just flat-out terrible. And you never know when a bug is going to sneak up on you and ruin your day. I can overlook these faults in the short-term, but in the long term, I'd much rather play a game that works, even if I can't research a hundred subtle variations on the standard cargo hold.

So, final verdict - I enjoyed almost every moment of playing this game (with the exception of trouble-shooting my terraforming projects and finding out that they simply weren't finishing when they were supposed to ), but I think, like Fallen Enchantress, the time where I could choose this game over my other options has passed. It's an interesting link in my gaming history, but rendered obsolete by more modern design.

(I am going to miss blowing up star-systems, though.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Space Empires V - 13/20 hours

I finally got to the end of the tech tree. Thirteen hours is a pretty long time for that, especially since I barely had any fleets and didn't do any exploration until I'd already unlocked most of the higher-power stellar manipulation techs. It turns out that the Space Empires V AI is a lot worse than the Space Empires IV AI. It doesn't seem to understand how to handle a one-system empire. When I finally made contact with my rivals, they hadn't terraformed any of their planets, or even settled many of them, and they were nowhere near mastering the technology to open and close wormholes.

This made actually winning the game an exercise in systematically visiting ever star system in the quadrant. I'm just going to declare victory without doing that, however. Not only is the UI for opening wormholes awful (it gives you an alphabetical list instead of showing them to you in order of proximity, or better yet, letting you pick from a map), but it's kind of depressing when you show up in a primitive star system with a fleet of top-tech warships and the inhabitants try and swarm over you with frigates that can't even penetrate your shields. And then get angry at you and refuse to engage diplomatically, despite the fact that they attacked first.

That said, I don't regret it. When you're powerful in this game, you're really powerful. By the time I first met an alien, I had two Dyson spheres and a ring-world. I was research a dozen new weapon technologies a turn and had a fleet of constructor vessels that could turn out an unstoppable warfleet each and every year, from anywhere on the map. It was a little like being the ancient, incredibly advanced elder civilization from virtually every science fiction story out there, except I could never figure out how to be benevolently condescending instead of incidentally genocidal.

Anyway, now is time to come up with a new plan. Obviously, I have to attempt at least one regular game. I'm a bit worried that the needlessly aggressive AI, combined with a more even technological playing field, will make the early game an interminable slog. Which is a shame, because the diplomatic system in this game is incredibly deep. There are so many things available to offer and haggle over and share . . . yet none of the NPCs in my last game seemed even slightly interested in talking. Maybe the power disparity was too great? Maybe if things are more even, they'll act more reasonably.

It seems like a long-shot, but I should at least give it a try.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Space Empires V - 6/20 hours

Well, there's been a lot of clicking "next turn." And, inexplicably, Space Empires V repeats Space Empires IV's godawful "click again to confirm you really want to end your turn" policy. Damnit, SEV, if I wasn't sure I wanted to end my turn, why did I press the fucking button? The confirmation coming up when I have unspent research points or ships with remaining movement is good. Very helpful, and I appreciate it, truly. But the utility of the "feature" in every other circumstance is dubious at best. I suppose, theoretically, that I may forget to perform some action at a higher level of strategy than the game is capable of detecting, like designing a new ship or scrapping some of my old building to refocus a particular planet's mission, but even in that situation, it's more likely that I've gotten so used to double clicking as my standard end-of-turn ritual that I'd just glide past the confirmation and make the exact same mistake the confirmation was implemented to prevent.

Ah well, enough grousing. The Space Empires series has a terrible UI. If that were a deal-breaker, I'd have given up on it long ago. You know what I really like? That's right, optimizing my construction and research orders! And Space Empires V definitely delivers in the tedious micromanagement department (readers who are new to the blog might assume this paragraph is sarcasm, but I assure you, I mean it as the highest of praise). Six hours in, I haven't made contact with any of the AI empires, and I'm utterly engrossed.

See, this game has the biggest and most complex tech tree of any game I've ever played. There's dozens of different technologies, each of which can have up to a hundred different levels (though they run the gamut - some have only one level). And unless you are familiar with the trees beforehand, there's no telling when a particular tech will end, or when it will unlock a totally new facility or component or when it will branch off and give you a completely new technology to research. What is certain is that each level of every tech will at least give you something. All of the buildings and components have their own levels, increasing in effectiveness as you rise through their associated technologies (but you don't get the boost until you manually upgrade the stuff, resulting in yet more micromanagement). What's more, you can actually divide your research up among technologies as finely as 1%, and while I certainly wouldn't recommend trying to research 100 different techs simultaneously, it's nice to have the option.

The only downside to this technology and infrastructure paradise I find myself in is that I'm becoming increasingly convinced that going through the full tech tree on my own will do little to help me in the "real" game. Yes, I'm getting a feel for the general "shape" of a civilization's development, but there are so many branches and paths that I'm not sure I could make the necessary tradeoffs or manage the inevitable risks that would come with having aggressive AI neighbors.

Still, I have a long way to go before I get to the end of the tech tree (seriously, in terms of research points to spend, I think I may be about halfway there - and that's with the research cost set to "low"), and so maybe I'll reach 20 hours without having to give it serious thought.

Space Empires V - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Space Empires V is the latest edition in the Space Empires series. This new chapter completely updates the UI and takes the player into a real-time rendered 3D universe. Watch space battles played out in glorious detail and realistic effects. Expand, Explore, Exploit, and Exterminate in a huge living breathing galaxy. New features abound with political alliances between multiple empires, a top-down ship design system, a hexagonal movement grid, and many more. Due to player demand, the game is completely 'moddable' and even adds a scriptable AI system to the mix. Space Empires V boldly takes the next step in the genre of space strategy.

Previous Playtime

38 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

Looking back at the store page, it's hard to remember what, specifically, inspired this purchase. I'm pretty sure it being on sale with Space Empires IV for only five dollars helped, but the title and presentation are so generic, I'm not sure what about it caught my eye. I guess being a feature-rich space 4X was enough.

Expectations and Prior Experience

That being said, my tepid reaction to the game's Store page is not at all indicative of how much I eventually enjoyed the game itself. The things that leap out in my memory are its massive tech tree, complex game setup, and its truly staggering number of diplomatic options. I also remember that some of the mechanics were pretty opaque and the user interface was scarcely better than its predecessor's.

However, I have to confess that my memories of the larger game are somewhat distorted by the fact that most of my 38 hours were spent playing on a "no wormholes" start and that the time I spent "really" playing the game, complete with alien rivals, diplomacy, and warfare, was probably less than a dozen hours.

And if I'm being super-duper honest, I expect that I will repeat that pattern once again. It's my usual custom to play at least one easy game from beginning to end in order to get a feel for a game's tech tree, and I'm not the sort to get bored just by clicking "next turn" a thousand times in a row. So playing a game where it's basically just me, by myself, is not an issue for me. And if I remember correctly, the game's tech tree is so large that even this optimally fast way of playing is likely to take close to 20 hours.

So strap in for an extremely dull and uneventful ride!

The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom - Gold Edition - 20/20 hours

The plot of the campaign isn't even worth talking about. Suffice to say, I completed the last two missions, humiliated the Kings of two kingdoms, and was crowned Queen of Tandria by a grateful people, going on to rule with justice and kindness for many years . . . for some reason.

I think the problem with the campaign's plot is that it is referencing a sort of prototypical fantasy story, without actually showing any of its work. Like, why are the people of Tandria celebrating Zoe for overthrowing King Balderus? They already overthrew him on their own, then she put him back. Did they just forget all those months where she was marching around the kingdom, defeating the heroes of the rebellion, accompanied by a guy who looked suspiciously like the king?

Achh! It doesn't make any sense . . . unless you view Zoe and Dracorian and Balderus as representatives of common fantasy archetypes - the plucky princess who rebels against a corrupt patriarchal authority, the dashing hero, and the sleazy, decadent monarch. That their actions only vaguely conform to these types is, perhaps, best overlooked.

Anyway, in total I really liked this game. As always, any game where you have to manage long production chains, direct traffic efficiently, and can win through economic prosperity is one that is going to be on my good side. It's definitely on the complex side of the strategy spectrum, but I found it to be fairly forgiving, even if it didn't always explain itself in the clearest of terms (and there was one occasion, at least, where it just plain lied to me - I got an error message saying that my sheep ranches didn't have enough water when, in fact, they simply weren't built on fertile enough land).

Final thoughts - The Settlers 7 is a fiddly, fiddly strategy/resource management game. I think the military aspects probably made it weaker, overall, and I'd have liked to see more trading and peaceful interaction between players. However the victory point system is pretty cool, and was definitely more dynamic than the economic victories of similar games. Overall, I'd say this was definitely a good purchase for me. It's probably a low-priority replay for me, but that's mostly because I have so many other great games I need to replay first. It's staying on the hard drive, though, and that's like the third-highest video game honor in my power to bestow.