Tag Archives: thoughts

Thoughts: Disco Elysium

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Disco Elysium is a text-heavy narrative RPG in which you play a cop with amnesia trying to solve a murder case in a sci-fi city. Because of these themes — and not least because of the amnesia — it has been described as a successor to Planescape: Torment, which is one of the most powerful curses in gaming1. If anything, though, that description is hugely underselling what Disco Elysium is trying to do. Planescape is nearly 20 years old now and was unnecessarily constrained by the relative infancy of the story-driven CRPG, while Disco Elysium is a game that’s fully aware of what it is and where it’s coming from. It knows the player is probably going to have expectations on how it’s going to work based on their previous experience of the genre, which is why it immediately sets out to subvert them.

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  1. Right next to “successor to Master Of Orion 2”.
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Thoughts: Destiny 2

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All MMOs end up fighting a constant battle against entropy. The bulk of MMO development takes place after they are released: new content and systems are added, existing systems are streamlined, and some aspects of the game are rendered entirely obsolete. This rapid and constant change inevitably produces more than a few evolutionary dead-ends. Fire up any popular MMO and you’ll instantly be confronted by the signs of a game at war with itself; your journey up the levelling ladder will invariably take you past the corpses of game mechanics that were really, really important for one expansion before being discarded by the designers in favour of the next big thing. The longer an MMO is released, the worse a problem this becomes; World Of Warcraft is the unquestioned barnacle-encrusted nautilus champion of abandoned and now-irrelevant expansion features1, but even the younger examples such as Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy 14 are starting to groan under the weight of their own history.

The good news is that this entropic decay is usually a gradual, creeping process that takes years to fully manifest. Most MMOs have at least one or two expansion packs’ worth of breathing room before their design and structure starts to become obviously unfocused.  And this makes Destiny 2 a deeply impressive game, in a way, because where it took half a decade or more for entropy to start claiming other MMOs, Destiny 2 has managed to develop itself into a state of almost total incoherence in just two short years.

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  1. Hey, remember the Garrisons in Warlords of Draenor? The legendary weapons from Legion? Blizzard would really rather you didn’t.
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Thoughts: Outer Wilds

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Outer Wilds is a tricky game to review. It’s all about the thrill of exploring the unknown and the joy of discovery, and in order for the unknown to remain unknown and the discoverable to remain discoverable anyone playing Outer Wilds has to go into it almost completely blind. I knew almost nothing about it going in save that it was a game about exploring set in space, and I ended up being blown away by the scale of its imagination and its capacity to surprise me. If you end up playing Outer Wilds I’d very much like you to have the same experience. And you should play Outer Wilds, I think, as it’s an exceptional game, capable of eliciting feelings of wonder and delight and danger and terror in equal measure. I experienced all of those and more during my time with Outer Wilds; I visited a host of exotic locations and gradually unravelled a mystery and I was utterly enraptured almost until the very end of the game. But I can’t really talk about why without spoiling at least part of what made playing it such an outstanding adventure for me.

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Thoughts: GreedFall

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There’s a term used to describe a certain flavour of RPG: Eurojank. These are RPGs developed by European developers — usually German or Polish — which have some decidedly unconventional ideas about how RPGs should be put together. No two eurojank RPGs are the same: some go in heavy on the stats crunch that gets streamlined out of other western RPGs, some demonstrate completely new and experimental combat systems, and some have you collecting sex cards for every woman your lecherous mutant protagonist manages to bang. What unites them all, though, is that while their off-kilter nature is often the very thing that appeals to an audience that’s increasingly bored by the bland, repetitive fare churned out by most AAA developers, they almost never have the resources to actually realise their ambition. Making games to AAA quality is incredibly expensive, after all, and the developers that make eurojank RPGs are inevitably smaller organisations with a fraction of the manpower required to do so. This is what results in the “jank” part of the game; they have interesting ideas, but they’re also incredibly unpolished, full of rough edges and bugs and design dead-ends because there simply hasn’t been enough time or money to iterate that stuff out of the final experience.

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Thoughts: A Short Hike

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A Short Hike spread through my online community of friends like some sort of viral plague. The first person to buy it posted their initial impression to our Slack: “Wow, this is lovely!” Shortly afterwards a second “X now owns A Short Hike” popped up in my Steam activity feed, and the person responsible posted their initial impression: “Wow, this is lovely!”1. Things snowballed, and pretty soon the activity feed was nothing but people on my Friends list buying A Short Hike, and then gushing about it in Slack: “Wow, this is lovely!” I’m a cynical curmudgeon at the best of times and am naturally disinclined to loveliness in all of its myriad forms, and treated these descriptions with the appropriate degree of scepticism; calling something “lovely” always seemed like it was one step away from calling it “nice”, which is the word you use when you really want to damn something with faint praise. When those same people started seriously talking it up as the best game they’d played this year, though, I decided I might as well spend a few hours seeing what all the fuss was about.

So I went and bought A Short Hike. Booted it up. Started playing it.

And immediately thought: Wow. This is lovely.

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  1. I’m paraphrasing somewhat here, but the sentiment is accurate and one person used those exact words.
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Thoughts: Control

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Take one part X-Files, one part Twin Peaks and one part Stranger Things. Mix them all together with some Mass Effect, some Dark Souls, even a little Metroid, and what do you get?

Well, you don’t get Control, that’s for sure. Control is just a big disappointment.

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Thoughts: Amid Evil

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Despite the marketing blurb, Amid Evil doesn’t feel much like Hexen. It doesn’t feel much like Heretic either — I played both of those games back when they came out1 (or the shareware/demo versions, anyway), and they were considerably slower than Amid Evil’s breakneck combat pace. No, the game that Amid Evil most reminds me of is Quake, despite — in fact, precisely because of — its dark fantasy trappings.  Much of Quake’s art and enemy design famously came about from an aborted attempt to adapt id Software’s long-running D&D campaign into a video game, and so it had gothic castles and undead knights rubbing shoulders with grimy firebases filled with shotgun-wielding grunts. Similarly, Amid Evil has plenty of evil mages, stone golems, and vine monsters, but it also has a few levels which are inhabited by robots and lit by lasers. The mix of technology and fantasy is a little different, but it’s there, and when you combine it with nearly all of the player movement and a little bit of the weapon design being lifted directly from Quake, you end up with a game that feels like a direct successor to it.

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  1. A mere 23 years ago.
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