Thoughts: No Man’s Sky

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I have a philosophy about the necessity of playing bad games. Without knowing what a bad game is, you lose sight of what defines a good one; if all you ever play are good games, then your perception becomes warped to the point where you’ll probably end up hating some perfectly decent titles. It’s harder to spot what good games do well without some context for how bad games do the same thing badly. I won’t expose myself to things that are deliberately bad — I think there’s very little to be learned from the likes of Bad Rats — but I’ll happily play games that look like they might be interestingly bad, which try with all their might to succeed and fail in spite of it. It’s this philosophy that led me to play SimCity on launch, and it’s also responsible for my sporadic efforts to understand the CoD series’ repeated attempts to remain culturally relevant.  And now, too, it has led me to sink 20 hours into No Man’s Sky.

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Thoughts: Pillars Of Eternity – White March

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The first part of the White March expansion to Pillars of Eternity was released almost a year ago. I bought it, downloaded it and tried it, and bounced straight off almost immediately – partly this was down to a… questionable design decision that I’ll talk about in due course, but mostly it’s down to the game world. PoE’s fantasy universe succeeds in being more complicated and more nuanced than the entry-level D&D world of Baldur’s Gate, but that comes at the cost of accessibility and it turns out Pillars of Eternity is a damn hard game to get back into after six months, especially since the expansion does an absolutely terrible job of onboarding you into its content. I tried again in February on the release of part two of White March and got a little further, playing for an hour or so before I unaccountably lost interest; it turns out that you need to both be in the correct mood and have a sizeable run-up before you can really pick up White March with a seasoned adventuring party.

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Thoughts: Assassin’s Creed – Syndicate

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I think Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate marks the point where I’m starting to get extremely bored of Assassin’s Creed games.

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In Praise Of: Civilization – Call To Power

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A funny thing happened to the Civilization licence in the late 90’s. It started with Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds – designers of Civilizations I and II respectively — upping sticks and leaving a waning Microprose along with several other key staff members to form Firaxis Games in 1996. While Firaxis had the talent, though, what they didn’t take with them were the rights to the Civilization name, which remained firmly in Microprose’s clutches – not that Microprose could do a whole lot with it, seeing as their premier strategy game developers had just left the company. Enter a pre-CoD and WoW Activision, who nevertheless signalled their future bastardry by seeing that there was perhaps some money to be made by capitalising on the Civilization name and acquiring the rights to market PC games called “Civilization” from board game manufacturer Avalon Hill, who had been making a moderately-successful board game with the same name for decades.  Avalon Hill and Activision’s next step was to claim that they had sole rights to the Civilization name and sue Microprose for copyright infringement. Microprose were more than a little annoyed by this since they’d already licensed the Civilization name from Avalon Hill back in 1991 before releasing the first game in the series, and so they countersued. Judging by the results this did not go well for Avalon Hill, who had to settle out-of-court and acknowledge that it was Microprose, not Avalon Hill, who had the right to make computer games called Civilization. It didn’t go so badly for Activision, though, who came out of the whole sorry business with a licence from Microprose to publish their in-development historical 4X title under the name Civilization: Call To Power.

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Thoughts: Kingdom

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Kingdom is a lovely-looking side-scrolling pixel strategy game somewhat in the vein of Majesty. You control a monarch – king or queen, randomly determined when you start a new game — perched atop a horse. The game starts with the monarch fleeing past a huge set of stone letters spelling out “Kingdom”, which crumble into nothing as he/she passes; apparently you’re fleeing some unspecified threat to set up a new kingdom that can withstand the beasties that presumably tore down the old one. You have to do this with a grand total of just four controls: moving left or right, holding shift to make the horse run, and pushing down to drop a coin from your bag of gold.

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Thoughts: Overwatch

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With over 10 million copies sold (and counting) Overwatch might just be the most successful game launch Blizzard have had in the last decade. Strange, then, that from all of Blizzard’s output during this period Overwatch is probably the Blizzard title I like the least.

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Thoughts: Batman – Arkham Knight

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Played on an Xbox, so only publicity screenshots for this review with the usual caveat: the game they portray may appear to be more interesting than it actually is.

The idea that game design is just as much about cutting bad or unnecessary features as it is adding new and exciting ones is one that I tend to bang on about on here a lot, but for good reason: Arkham Knight is a fantastic cautionary tale of what happens when you spend a full trilogy of games just piling on more and more features without taking any of them away — you end up with a bloated mess.

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