Battle Brothers is the low-fantasy mercenary company management game I always wanted.
I started Mass Effect: Andromeda last Friday with every intention of finishing it, or at least finishing the majority of it, by Sunday night. Based on my experience with other Bioware RPGs this seemed perfectly doable; my completion times for all three previous Mass Effects clock in at under 20 hours and I had nothing else to do that weekend, and they’d all at least been fun enough for me to blitz through them in a similar timeframe. It’s not Bioware, but when Alpha Protocol came out I completed it three times in a single week1. What I’m trying to say here is that I have absolutely no problem smashing my way through an RPG in a very short space of time, and I’ll usually enjoy doing it unless the RPG in question is Dragon Age 2.
On Sunday morning, faced with the choice between playing more Mass Effect: Andromeda and doing literally anything else with my time, I instead elected to clean my fridge. I took all of the shelves out, washed them in the sink, dried them, thoroughly wiped down the inside of the fridge to remove some pretty gnarly hidden stains, replaced everything, and then went on to clean the microwave and the easy parts of the oven for good measure. Doing a proper job of it meant enduring a couple of hours of the sort of mild intellectual tedium that accompanies all housework, but you know what? It was an infinitely, infinitely more thrilling and satisfying experience than playing Mass Effect: Andromeda.
For the last week or so I’ve been making the joke that Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world game whose major innovation is that the towers that you climb to uncover the surrounding area on your map now walk slowly around the map themselves. This crack is only slightly unfair. In terms of mechanics there is almost nothing surprising about Horizon Zero Dawn as it fuses bits and pieces from the rest of the genre together into something that developers Guerilla Games are clearly hoping will turn out to be more than the sum of its parts, and my initial impressions of the game were somewhat unfavourable. It looks absolutely stunning, to be sure1, but aside from the robot dinosaurs there didn’t appear to be a huge degree of difference between it and Far Cry Primal. Does the world really need another fairly standard open world game, even one as pretty as Horizon Zero Dawn?
I have something of a bone to pick with the Numenera setting. By extension I also have something of a bone to pick with Torment: Tides Of Numenera – as is implicit in the name, this is a spiritual successor to the immortal Planescape: Torment that replaces the oddball worlds of Planescape for the even weirder reality-bending madness of Numenera. Planescape: Torment is considered by many to be the Best RPG Ever; I don’t go quite that far and merely consider it to be the best-written RPG ever, but nevertheless these are extremely large shoes to fill for Wasteland 21 developers InXile. The strategy equivalent would be trying to make a spiritual successor to Alpha Centauri or Master Of Orion, and I’ve completely lost track of how many contenders have shattered themselves trying to ascend those heights over the last couple of decades. Doing something like this is all but setting yourself up for a fall, in other words, and so I’m not all that surprised that Torment ultimately fails to attain the lofty goal it has set for itself. What is interesting here is the manner of that failure, however, as it hasn’t fallen down quite the way I expected it to.
I’ve not dabbled with mods for many years. That might sound a little strange considering the high volume of PC games that I get through, but it’s partly because of the high volume of PC games that I get through: I usually play games with an eye to reviewing them, you can’t review them fairly if they’re plastered in mods, and over the last few years I’ve had little time to revisit games I’ve already played to see how they change. With the slightly more relaxed (or less obsessive, anyway) attitude I’m taking this year, though, I have the opportunity to do ridiculous, time-expensive things like reinstalling XCOM 2 along with the recently-released Long War mod for it to see what all the fuss is about.
(About video games.)
For a medium that’s been around for a good 35 years at this point there are surprisingly few books that do a good job of exploring the various facets of videogame history. I’ve always found this a little bit odd; modern videogaming has found itself inextricably linked with the rise of the internet and so you’re far more likely to find retrospectives on games and developers somewhere online, but the catch here is that anything published on the internet is going to be 1) superficial by its very nature (and I don’t mean that as a slight at all, it’s just that the amount of effort you’re going to put into researching even a long blog post or news article is always going to pale in comparison to what you’d do for a full-on book1), and 2) distressingly hard to find unless it’s got really good search engine optimisation. No, I much prefer the old-fashioned approach of sitting down with a book that’ll do an in-depth exploration of one specific area, even if the authors can’t seem to resist giving them cliche titles like Game Over or Insert Coin; the act of reading a book has a permanence that scrolling down a webpage lacks and which leads to my assimilating the information far more readily, and as I like reading history books in general I’ve ended up reading rather more books about the history of video games than a normal person should. As I’ve hit something of a slow period when it comes to writing about games, I thought I’d change things up slightly by writing about writing about games instead. Here are a few books that I liked (or didn’t), and why.
If you follow UK news at all you’ll know that recently there was a bit of a brouhaha over the Royal Navy’s failed Trident II missile test just off the coast of Florida. Some of the more hysterical accounts of the incident have the missile veering towards the US mainland before self-destructing; these sound a little dubious, but there’s at least a sense of irony to the idea as Trident is a US-developed weapons system. The UK abandoned its own nuclear weapons development program back in 1958 in favour of simply buying the technology from the Americans, and there are some very good reasons why this is so. One of them is Violet Club.