BACKLOG 10/29/21: Eternally Island-bound, genocidal corporations & deadpan auto-haiku.

BACKLOG is a “whenever” casual video game blog feature tasked with checking in on how I’m progressing through video games, old and new, which are typically pulled from an outsized ‘to do’ bin. Here I’ll generally update my progress in any and all games I’ve touched in the past month year. This includes minor updates on video reviews I’m writing, some full reviews, and games I’m looking forward to.

You awake on an island… A full seventeen months have passed since I’d last written a BACKLOG entry and if you’ll recall that’d been about three months into the statewide, nationwide, and eventually globally persistent quarantine due to the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At the time I’d been elbow deep in Magic: The Gathering Arena, finishing up Nioh 2 and hadn’t enjoyed a video game in about a year. Game-breaking bugs and issues seemed to plague every game I picked up, all of ’em at full price. This sentiment has largely eased throughout this past eighteen months wherein I’ve engaged different “influencers”, found better online communities and cut back on pre-release coverage for video games outside of “upcoming releases” lists and trailers here and there. My interest now to circles back to retro video game appreciation but, we’ll get there when we actually get there.

This time around I’ve got a two different backlogs to attend to. First, reviews for “current” games I’ve completed several months ago including Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, and Castlevania: Advance Collection. These have been drafted and will be up in the coming weeks. I am likewise 30-50% on a first playthrough of Tales of Arise. In the interim I have completed six games from my backlog which I feel are generally worth writing about. Short reviews for each of those six games will be the bulk of this column today. No ranting, moderate complaining, maybe a few bad jokes in the photo captions.

Ghost of Tsushima: Directors Cut (2021)

Sucker Punch‘s blockbuster samurai turned ‘dishonorable’ ninja epic ultimately proved itself a strong storyteller and an average video game. Dishonorable stuff in terms of corporate business practices, though, as I’d tried to wait for a sale on a used copy of the original but previously open-market used game vendors like Amazon have long been letting Sony choose resellers by hand. Even a used copy of the original, unless damaged, still goes for nearby retail price unless an independent business decides to post a desperate price cut. I know because I resell video games on Amazon on a semi-regular basis. Anyhow, just as I was ready to approach this game a “Director’s Cut” edition (which includes a DLC island + samurai outfits) popped up and replaced the original version of the game on the Playstation Store. The price shot back up to $59.99 USD. No problem, they got their money and I played the game for about ~70 hours and completed about 99% of all of the tasks available within each of the four major sections of this open-world game.

68:07 hours total

There are two sides to the Ghost of Tsushima experience: Vengeful carnage, justified in response to genocidal “dirty” warfare and the observance of tradition by a penitent samurai caught between worlds. This isn’t me being painterly with mood but, plainly suggesting that there are tasks meant to solidify Jin as a character and center him as a person and then there are story sections which allow his slow morph into someone willing to bend the rules for the sake of the greater good as he sees it. There is no real twist to this, the foreshadowing is comically thick throughout the early hours of the adventure, the only reason I’d bothered advancing the story was because its progress gated my exploration of the full island of Tsushima. Side quests are meaningful if not repetitive, conquering bases and liberating the oppressed is satisfying, and the skill tree available allows the player to become powerful enough to beat the game after “completing” all of the tasks on the first third of the island. Medium difficulty was easy, and not because the game doesn’t have its challenging combat encounters but because Jin accumulates twenty ways to kill and generally only encounters groups no larger than 8-10 enemies at a time.

Combat becomes an annoying diversion ’til the pretty bits of landscape run out and a very empty, dull snow-drenched final portion of the game leaves you running through a razed forest or up a mountain. Ghost of Tsushima wants you to pull the band-aid off quick before you see the sparse butt-end of its exploration and this’d have been alright if the DLC island of Iki wasn’t such a vastly superior experience. Although it is a serious trek to climb that final mountain to imbue your weapon with fire and (eventually) partake in an important siege of a major Mongol fort these activities don’t necessarily hold up alongside similar events earlier in the story. Ghost of Tsushima is so eager to give you all of the tools you need to dispose of the enemy that it overshares Jin‘s advantage to the point that the ‘rock, paper, scissors’ challenge of the game’s combat is eventually easily crushed-out as a concern by stealth kills, poisons, and chainable instant kill actions. How do they stop you from rushing around and beating the shit out of the game since you are so powerful? Several forts in the game are gated off or guarded by an infinite stream of enemies with tripled damage numbers.

Exploration is what’d kept me playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla for 115 hours and by comparison I would say this game offers a prettier world, more enriching questlines, and better presentation overall but the bones of the experience aren’t so different, or superior in any significant way. The valuation of a Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut playthrough, which is thorough and inquisitive of every corner + side-story, is ultimately only “worth it” if you love this world and manage to get (and maintain) some thrill from the combat. I saw everything I needed to see, enjoyed most of the side stories and major characters but I cannot shake the feeling that I’ve played this same open world action RPG game fifty times over. With about a month to think about it, and a couple PC RPGs under by belt in the meantime, as much as I enjoyed some of the dialogue and the Shinto and Buddhist philosophy which delivers the “heart” of the experience, Ghost of Tsushima was a lot of hollow-headed busywork and bloody murder.


Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

This is far from the first “grotesque cleavage event” I’ve experienced in a video game.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (2017)

After completing Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (2021) I’d been recommended the prior numbered game in the series for its comparable combat and presentation. The suggestion given was that the eighth game in the series is arguably the best to date and I’d generally agree but this boils down to a preference for this “mystery island” anime setting, a storyline of community survival, and main characters which are generally preferable to those in IX: Monstrum Nox. The two games are paired well as direct iteration on most fronts otherwise. What is the major appeal? Ability gated progress, consistent rewards for exploration, fast and accurate action RPG combat, storylines that allow for some mystery in the plot, and lots of guitar music with ripping solos.

This was before finishing the game, it was closer to ~61 hours total.

This well-loved Japanese action RPG series has roots that run back to 1987 and these were certainly die-hard/niche products as the industry attempted to innovate beyond the possibilities presented by the original The Legend of Zelda and similar titles beyond. With five sequels released between 1987-1995 Ys had a sort of niche “hardcore” appeal, however funny that sounds today, due to the title’s less accessible qualities and most ports being released on less popular consoles. I tried the first two games via emulation in the early 2000’s, they were difficult and vague in communication of mechanics (“…you literally just walk into enemies to attack them?”) so, I’d never played through any of the series until Ys: Origin (2006) released on home consoles about a decade later. Loved that game enough to play through it twice and since the ninth numbered game in the series was coming out this year I’d more-or-less fallen into the series graces for a couple of months. This has slowed since I am not enjoying Playstation Vita title Ys: Memories of Celceta (2012) thus far. There are references to past adventures in Ys VIII and IX but at this point those two entries represent their own evolution of the series as fully three-dimensional, semi-open world games with consistently shared mechanics. Knowing past games informs us of the charm and visual language of the series but these are modern anime voice-acted action RPGs with a modest budget, a far cry from idiosyncratic 16-bit action RPGs.

You’re Adol, you’re on a ship, you see a cursed island in the distance, you end up on the cursed island, you discover the mystery of the island and build a community to facilitate your escape from that island and in the end you… Save the fuckin’ world from being cleansed by supernatural overseers who collect the cream of the crop over each trillion-year phase of evolution. Right, cool, run around with your sword and kill stuff while guitar solos rip for a while and you’ll get why this game can be pretty fun. Give it like an hour. The mechanics are too simple, think of it as a free roaming version of Star Ocean/Tales of… combat “arte” systems without the auto-targeting that is otherwise generally fast, timing-based, encourages combos, and incorporates both parry and timed dodge systems. None of this is all that deep, though. You start with basic attack combinations, the first notable distinction between a Tales of… game and this being the ability to do standard non-skill attacks to build up meters which allow for more skills to be used rather than picking 3-6 skills and using those exclusively. Special attacks can be mastered and ultimately lead to breakthroughs that amount to new skills, for this type of JRPG this is entirely standard stuff.

You’ve got the upper hand and a solid crew of nerd-ass anime tropes at your side, no question about it this game is easy to a fault. You could mash your way through but there is some satisfaction in mastering the parry/dodge system, firing off skills and tearing through the scant handful of harder challenges the game has to offer. For a short while this ease encourages bold exploration, I found myself over-extending into dangerous higher level areas and chasing after the natural limits of exploration but… Those limits exist and are gated by story progress. I suppose if you have been playing video games since the late 80’s as I have, you’ll understand why the relative simplicity of the action JRPG experience in this context retains a lot of charm but the game itself is not meant to be a brutal challenge. This video game is also for kids, despite a few demented moments and a goddess (literally) with very big breasts.

Since exploration of the island is directly linked to the unfurling of the larger story, you’ll have to find survivors of the initial shipwreck to be able to clear barriers as a group, this search initially perpetuates the larger game loop. The number of people you’ve rescued and sent back to your community provides goods, services, and story opportunities while introducing new mechanics at a consistent rate. Some of these folks end up being supporting characters whom engage in combat when swapped into your party of three, the AI avoids danger to the point of making many fights unlosable since you can switch between characters on the fly. In terms of the story building up numbers and needing them to continue helps provide some extra tension to story events where characters die, turn out to be a serial killer, or won’t participate in the community’s well-being. How do they manage to prevent Ys VIII from feeling entirely too linear? They don’t, the incentives to backtrack are reasonable enough and you get fast travel eventually. Monster hunts, nighttime exploration of certain areas with different enemies/goals, and a quasi-“tower defense” mode which tasks you with fighting off hordes of enemies to protect the village all provide distractions from the linear nature of the main quest and medium-sized, segmented open areas give a sense of biome variety on the island. This tower defense nonsense is even more central to the gameplay in the next game but, we’ll get there in that review. You’ll have to spend resources to beef up defenses/offenses for these waves of attacks, many of which appear in line with story events or you can replay these stages infinite times for supplies, loot, etc. since there is no real consequence for losing.

Didn’t take any decent combat screenshots.

Ys VIII continues to introduce uses for the spoils of combat and exploration for the entirety of the game, giving some purpose to the main loop of the gameplay and encouraging combat with every enemy in sight. You’ve got a blacksmith for armor upgrades, two accessory makers, a materials/special item vendor, and you can pursue cooking for combat bonuses while consulting a chef for her recipes… and there is a tacked-on gardening system… and you can fish. Feeding fish to a bird that stares at you in camp allows for some useful items along the way. Bigger picture? No matter what you do while exploring and chopping up enemies anything/everything you return to the village with has a purpose that will aid combat viability in some way. If you’re keen to this kind of game you’ll be over-powered by the time the captain dies and the difficulty won’t spike again until you’re able to break the defenses of a certain type of enemy.

Sounds like some frickin’ portable console JRPG fluff for idiot anime kids, right? Fans of supernatural high fantasy worlds and the classic Japanese take on them can rightfully suspect there is a world tree involved with this storyline but Ys as a series has always provided its own fairly mature twist upon this formula minus the feigned naiveté which often clouds anime-informed storytelling tropes. Most of the characters are perceptive and inquisitive realists despite their various raw flamboyances and this makes the trek of it all feel believably tight knit compared to the average Tales of… game which tends towards surface level fealty and a “slow learner” syndrome where there is a 1-2 hour delay between the player’s understanding of things and the character’s acknowledgement (and detailed, slow explanation of) story events. Ys VIII sidesteps this sort of idiocy within its characterizations whom finish reacting to the situation in the moment and accept the call to action before the game throws the player into another fray. This means any fealty between the tribe of necessary survival exists for practical reasons and there’ll be a minimum of the “You helped me realize I have the emotional intelligence of a 13 year-old and feelings are for sharing… Now I am willing to die for you.” storytelling which plagues anime and JRPGs en masse. This makes room for a somewhat convoluted dual-temporal storyline in which you periodically control a second main character, Dana, before she joins your party and you can switch between time periods. If you put in the time and go for the “true” ending it is entirely worth it, no need to spoil how things turn out otherwise.

You get it, eh? You show up for an Ys game for an adventure and this certainly is the biggest one to date. I’ve rambled on about it for so long because it took ~57 hours to complete and most of that experience was a joy, if not a bit slow to start. As much as the game itself looks like a budget title that’d maybe crap out ~15 hours of story this one is an ‘epic’ by all accounts. The fact that I stuck with this game that long should be the main endorsement here, especially after spending nearly as much time with Ys IX directly beforehand. A great time to be had for all, though I understand the simplistic gameplay and colorful anime aesthetic of the game isn’t for everyone.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Feeling the fear.

Risen 3: Titan Lords – Enhanced Edition (2015)

The sequel to one of my favorite games of 2017, Piranha BytesElex, is coming out this year and after seeing the announcement of Elex II I’d recalled that I bought the small German developer’s prior game Risen 3: Titan Lords digitally back in 2017. The developer comes with some reputation for what people often describe as “eurojank“, a term meant to convey good games which suffer from developers not having the budget or manpower to realize larger open world PC RPG ambitions. To start, this version of Risen 3 was was poorly optimized, the framerate was below 30fps during the opening scenes of the game, so I shelved it and moved on back in 2017. After giving Risen a second chance earlier this year I’d ultimately dug in and found it to be an enormous and satisfying enough adventure. Yes, it is yet another game set on a semi open-world island but this one is a “western” style third person action RPG tasking the player with the conquer and investigation of several islands. The opening hours of the game immediately gripped me despite the silly-ass pirates vs. natives vs. authoritarian religious gov’t triangle of intrigue because the true enemy of the archipelago was the forces of the underworld. Treasure hunting with your inconsequential sibling leads to a portal to Hell and an encounter with a wraith who swallows your soul and leaves you a sentient husk — The setup for this game couldn’t have been more compelling though the moderate challenge of the game and its lack of substantial quests made for a mediocre experience.

~40 hours since I had to replay one section of an island a few times over.

In the first three hours I transformed into a parrot to reach a treasure chest, fought an alligator with my bare hands, died only to be resurrected by a shaman and swam out to a small island and conquered it of all available loot + deadly ostriches. Exploration was rewarded by stronger enemy types, locked chests, and secret stashes of items around every corner. Combat relied on stamina management and well-timed interruptions via swordplay, guns, or (eventually) magick. For the next ~39 hours of the game chopping my way through combat, finishing every quest available, and searching/stealing everything I could meant the game was generally a breeze in terms of combat challenges but this was only possible because I waited until the very last minute to join a faction. There are roughly 30 hours worth of exploration and questing available to the player from the moment they are resurrected from the dead and this means you can choose where to go first in pursuit of the central goal of Risen 3: Titan Lords — To unite the three factions and stop pure evil from rising up to destroy the world. It just so happens that the starting point I’d chosen, the island of Kila, was one of the largest areas in the game and, though I had no interest in joining the Natives faction on my first playthrough, the jungle biome and its spider-filled caves served me well in terms of getting into the rhythm of the game’s combat, upgrades, questing, dialogue and exploration systems. The Crystal Mages weren’t all that interesting either so, the goals of the Demon Hunters (alongside cool armor and warps instead of combat rolls) aligned with where I’d wanted to be in terms of the central plot as it developed.

There isn’t a ton of use for it, but this is cool.

The combat system in Risen 3 is close to the action oriented combat of Dragon Age II in some regards, you’ve got basic attacks available alongside various choices for evasion and an eight-slotted wheel allows for a custom set of abilities to be hot-keyed to different directional button presses. These abilities are dependent upon cooldowns, stamina and magic points. Standard stuff for action RPGs of this sort and a prime iteration beyond the systems in Piranha BytesGothic series and the two previous Risen games. It will feel far more floaty and momentum-based if you’ve recently played through Elex, though. Gaining new abilities is a matter of putting a certain amount of points (“Glory”) into stats and then seeking out specific trainers around the world who can teach new skills or upgrade existing skills based on what stat requirements are met. You can explore and grind out levels fighting enemies and/or do every available side quest for quick levels towards each stat which are plugged in via Glory points. I chose to generally loop each area several times while completing quests so that I could focus on building up Lockpicking/Thievery, Melee Combat (Dexterity/Melee), and the Influence stat which is very important for passing dialogue checks which often benefit the player in building alliances throughout the game. By grinding for just a few hours and conserving healing items I stayed ahead of the difficulty curve throughout the entire game.

This all sounds pretty standard, where does the developer get a bit too ambitious and not deliver? They’ve not justified the Morality/Karma soul system, which depends on how merciful you are in terms of helping the less fortunate and/or via certain dialogue choices which reveal either a dark soul aligned with the underworld or a merciful soul wanting to be liberated from impending darkness. The only real difference is that some characters will join you and others won’t depending on your soul’s affect. Charisma and its applications to dialogue is fundamental to finishing the game with any hope of helpful boons from your existing alliances with each faction. In truth you don’t really need the help, only the story progress. Risen 3 isn’t all the more difficult if you just fuck around and piss people off. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover and there is plenty of mayhem to be had in the vast monster-slaying areas of the game so, it really isn’t worth the time to fuck with the civilized folk otherwise. The main questline and your interactions with a handful of potential crew/combat buddies are generally great but you could/should just stick with Bones, the shaman who resurrected you in the first place, throughout the entire game and do incredibly well considering he freely casts healing spells as needed and stands out as the most knowledgeable of the lot. Since you rely upon alcoholic drinks to heal during combat you’ll notice the benefit of Bones, beyond his sense of humor, right away compared to the others.

There are a lot of great surprises along the journey to Skull Island to defeat Death Incarnate himself, from hunting leviathan in protracted ship battle sequences to boarding other pirate ships within scripted combat scenarios you’ll get eventually get the sense that if Piranha Bytes had a bigger budget and no time constraints their vision for Risen 3: Titan Lords could have been an even bigger adventure complete with Assassin’s Creed style ship battles and far more elaborately detailed final areas, most of which are quite ugly as we reach the actual final destination. The faction quests are negligible and most of them can be completed beforehand through exploration and item-seeking. Simply wandering around the accessible map, defeating every enemy you see and opening every chest will guarantee a quicker shove through the questline. The only areas which give some serious challenge to start are the ones affected by the corruption of the gates to the underworld. Your first major task is to close the rumored gates at three separate locations, this serves up the most imposing enemies in the game as you enter the cold, sepia-tone realms that have been affected and chop away at various undead monstrosities. Killing off each wraith and busting the portal back to Hell is initially exciting but a short lived task you can kinda rush through. It isn’t exactly The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in terms of an important gameplay loop and the “danger” of these areas does quickly fade but for a brief period conquering them provides a strong sense of achievement while the combat is still challenging.

The main reason I’d recommend Risen 3: Titan Lords is how accessible it manages to be, the shadowy, war-torn and vermin infested archipelago is rad and practically begs to be explored. In terms of the gameplay and narrative coming together, picking a faction had a bit more weight here compared to Elex simply because I could guess what the consequences of each action and alliance would likely be — Nothing, in terms of story, but I was going to get cool armor out of it. Factions exist to encourage replay value otherwise, each one rewards the player with a skill set but this is a permanent choice which locks you out of the other options after picking a side. Doesn’t matter. In the end, you kill the final boss and the game instantly resets to the title screen. You’re done, you did it, fuck off and die.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

About 17 hours total…

Bound By Flame (2014)

There isn’t much worth saying about Bound By Flame. I wouldn’t consider it a finished game. Though it is entirely playable with few technical issues the gameplay experience is that of an extended demo, promising ten times more plot and biomes than you’ll ever see. Although French developer Spiders‘ previous game Mars: War Logs was similarly idiosyncratic the scope of that game was reasonable for its generation. Bound By Flame was ambitious beyond the capabilities of the studio and the game inarguably damaged their reputation for its rushed and largely incomplete end result, a bit surprising since it was their seventh game at the time. The story is decent high fantasy fare with political intrigue, mercenary life, and imposing sorcerers freezing the world over. From the get-go we are presented with the threat of the Ice Lords (immortal necromancers) as an fast-moving, incurably evil scourge decimating the territories they have been invading in the process of… killing all life on the planet. The assumption is that said lords are ours to conquer after discovering fire magick and being possessed by a demon during the first mission of the game.

You’ll hear about one or two Ice Lords and eventually kill one before the game comes to an abrupt end. Unable to realize an ambitious plot for what would have been a 40-60 hour game, every choice made by the developer appears to have balanced the result down to the minimum amount of work that had to be done to make Bound by Flame playable and retain a consistent aesthetic. About 15% of Bound by Flames‘ intent is realized here with consideration for the wild leap taken within the story beyond the first village visited. A handful of small, mazelike areas keep the exploration portion of the game brisk enough, they’re not even semi-open world and encourage long circular loops of mostly avoidable combat with just a handful of enemy types. The mechanics of the game are just up to par yet the combat itself never feels good. The scenario/quest design is decent enough (kill certain monster types, retrieve certain items from the swamp, etc.) but there just isn’t much of a game to play here beyond repetitive combat encounters, buzzing about one and a half towns, and exploring a small section of a fortress. I wanted to like this game and did until the plot suddenly collapsed in front of me, the whole experience was absolutely pathetic.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10.

This is definitely a huge spoiler.

Technomancer (2016)

After buying the complete edition of Greedfall earlier this year and having had a great deal of fun I’d realized it was from the same developers, a French studio named Spiders, whom made Technomancer a third person action RPG which revises and generally acts as a sequel to the setting of Mars: War Logs. This game has been on my backlog since 2017 and despite a few false starts over the years I’d never had the motivation to see it through until I’d experienced the scope of Greedfall. Think of it as picking up a novelist’s most recent book, loving it, and then grabbing their perhaps slightly more amateurish work from several years before just because you’re in a good groove. In fact I’d done myself a bit of service digressing through Spiders most recent games as playing Bound by Flame after Technomancer only made Technomancer easier to appreciate and playing Technomancer after Greedfall emphasized how much better their games have gotten, even if still regarded as middle of the road stuff. Though it is a mediocre storyteller and a mind-numbingly combat focused back-tracking fest for a completionist like me, I found Technomancer did eventually find its janky-ass groove enough to provide a substantial RPG experience.

Mars is post-apocalyptic, somehow, after two hundred years of human colonization. Due to a widespread mutation among its flora and faunae (including humans) the quality of life has eroded for all. There has been no communication with Earth for an undisclosed amount of time and as such a small group of corporations are acting as both government and military operations within Mars. Whereas the setting of Mars: War Logs dealt directly with the War of Water between these corporations, the major goal of this game is to find a way to use “ancient” technology to contact Earth. Zachariah Mancer a snarky, Jersey shore kinda mook-faced soldier who is soon to be the last viable leadership for the Technomancers (an elite magic-capable breed of soldier borne from their own faction) is initially motivated by his duty to protect the major secret of the Technomancers, that they are mutants themselves. This might sound like a weightless plot device in motion but being considered a mutant would mean being subject to violence, slavery, racism, and an early death. The game does a poor job of introducing the main character’s compassion for mutants early in the game in response to knowing this secret, and thusly undercuts the impact of the first mission in the game where Zachariah is indoctrinated and the secret of the Technomancers is revealed. Zach himself recognizes that he is a form of mutant during this early story sequence yet continues to treat them as abominations until one joins the team. Though this isn’t a massive flaw within the characterization it -is- stupid as fuck to sit through for the sake of slightly more player agency in min-maxing faction (corporate and otherwise) fealty.

Technomancer is a leap beyond the unfinished pile of Bound by Flame which, generally achieves a complete third person action RPG videogame alongside a moderately complex narrative. It isn’t much more than a speed bump on the road to the well-polished sleekness of Greedfall and a lesser experience overall. It isn’t any fun to play, shit’s a hassle start to finish. You’ll spend around half of the game trekking back and forth through the intensely grey slums, markets, bars, corporate offices, barracks and undercarriage of corporate city Abundance. This is a shame because it is the most generic of all of the locations available on Mars. The game divides itself into combat and questing beyond a few introductory scenes and a combat tutorial. Combat is stiff, slow to respond, and somewhat difficult to start until you’ve gained levels enough to boost basic combos and movement skills. Enemies re-populate each room upon return, pairing this with backtrack-heavy quest design means you’ll fight the same combat scenarios a number of times and usually against an array of human opponents. This is fine enough, combat is difficult and requires the player takes care with their stamina and retreat when possible. Much of what Zachariah is capable of aligns with a choice of weapon stance/specialty; Upgrading various armor and weapon types is key to survival during unforgiving encounters but picking just one weapon specialty for the main character is the most reasonable course of action since upgrades are limited and you’ll likely want to put some points/resources toward defensive skills or “magic”. This is where Technomancer takes its biggest leap beyond offering larger areas with more quests to be done, the character development options and skill trees offer several viable options for combat specialty and are reasonably paired with any combination of cohorts, AI controlled characters who fight alongside Zachariah. Or, sure, you could just craft a ton of explosive traps and get enemies to run into them like you could in Bound by Flame.

Tried to romance everyone I met but the guy with the missing arm responded fastest.

I can’t wait to stop talking, writing and/or thinking about The Technomancer. It is a decent grab if you just need another futuristic action RPG to keep your streak going but a mediocre video game overall. The worst part of my time with the game wasn’t necessarily the jank-hard combat and limited spectacle produced by the skill tree but this feeling that I was play-acting an sci-fi RPG around a toilet bowl with plastic soldiers rather than becoming immersed in the video game world itself. Not terrible, but it does not pass the crucial “Would I rather play this or Mass Effect: Andromeda?” test.

About ~24 hours total. This was after exhausting all side-quests.

Rating: 5 out of 10.


GreedFall (2019)

GreedFall is the most recent video game from Spiders, shit’s alright. All of the good ideas from The Technomancer made it into Greedfall — Faction approval and/or disapproval lightly shapes the game’s plot, plenty of quests provide moderate variation of task, and real-time combat is still a lightly tactical free-for-all alongside two AI controlled party members. The setting is high fantasy with some steampunk-lite designs and the story features themes which attempt to address slavery, racism, manifest destiny and depict the exploitation and murder of indigenous people by way of several outside sources. The plot itself is intriguing but the same old loop of exploration, combat, loot, improve and repeat is what kept me engaged. Knock heads, kill beasts, deal in diplomacy via thrilling dialogue choices, and generally act as an important investigator in the name of a small colony. This is where you come in handy as the… Cousin of a wealthy trader. You’re a Legate of the port city of New Serene, a princely guy who ends up having key ties to this island of Teer Fradee. The story spells out exactly what you might’ve pre-supposed, that the main character has an ancestral connection to the guardians of this land dating back to an earlier colonization attempt.

The way of the world has aligned in such a way that the native peoples of Teer Fradee are facing yet another attempt from a group of corporations set upon colonizing their brutal lands. The spirits of the planet send plague (the “malichor“) upon the interlopers, it spreads not only within conquered lands but back the original usurper colonies themselves. You’re some guy, you’re getting to the bottom of things, you kill a few thousand things and you’re there at the end with something like three possible outcomes for the story. The inspired low fantasy/period setting of the game allows for a remarkably dull set of combat skills, gunnery and magicks to use out in the field. Encounters are markedly easy and generally avoidable; Combat loses its charm and challenge no matter how hard you beeline towards the end. I’d had more fun exploring each area and looting it than I did fighting beyond a few quest-related enemy encounters. I would recommend this game if you’re looking for an in-betweener, an average action RPG with strong enough voice acting and a compelling setting/premise. The experience is too bogged down by poorly designed cities, unremarkable combat, and far too much work spent maintaining inventory and upgrades which have incremental value increases. Worth at least twenty bucks on sale.

~38 hours total.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

BACKLOG: Next up…

1. Tales of Arise (2021)
Resident Evil Village (2021)
3. Eternal Ring (2000)
4. Dungeon Siege III (2011)
5. The Witcher: Enhanced Edition (2007)
6. Divinity II: Developer’s Cut (2012)
7. Alpha Protocol (2010)
8. Hitman: Absolution (2012)
9. E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy (2011)

10. Cyber Shadow (2021)
X-Com: Enemy Unknown (2012)
12. X-Com 2 (2016)
13. Pillars of Eternity (2015)
14. Red Dead Redemption II (2018)
15. Darkest Dungeon: Ancestral Edition (2018)
16. Shining Force III – Scenarios I-III (’97-’98)
17. Tengai Makyou Zero (1995)
18. Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

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