This Week I Played Star Wars Battlefront 2 (the second one)

Friday before Labor Day I woke up to a glorious surprise. That surprise was that Star Wars Battlefront 2 was for sale on Steam for less than $15. I remember a huge amount of grumblings when the game first came out. I remember most of this being about how loot crates work. I wanted to just play the single-player.

Since its initial release in November 2017, Star Wars Battlefront 2 has had no shortage of trouble. Shortly after going public, it was embroiled in a legal battle over whether or not its absurd approach to loot boxes constituted online gambling. Since then, the game has had multiple large updates and some light overhauling after a lashing from Disney. When it was for sale, how could I pass it up?

Rey over looking a forested planet. Marketing image from DICE/EA
The maps do actually look this good.

As stated my interest in Battlefront is mostly for single player or LAN play. As a child, I would play hours of the conquest mode in the first Battlefront 2 (because screw naming) with my friends. We’d set the whole galactic map up and shoot at each other for hours. I was pretty certain that they hadn’t brought that mode back, but I was excited to see what they did have for a campaign mode. Nothing could have prepared me for what I found though.

I remember the campaign mode being advertised as focusing on an Imperial Commander who leads a special forces squadron. Which I can’t say I was excited for, because we all know how things work out for the empire, but Solo: A Star Wars Story showed us how grungy The Empire was. I welcomed a perspective from someone who might not have the opportunities the main characters of the movie have. Which is to say someone who isn’t in tune with the force, or is offered to join the rebellion like once every couple of minutes. I was looking for someone who was trapped. A person shoveling coal in a steamship has little choice of whether or not they’re going down with it. This is not what I got.

From this point on this post is going to get super spoilery. You’ve been warned.

The campaign in Star Wars Battlefront 2 follows an elite team of stormtroopers called Inferno Squadron. About 8 minutes into the campaign, the Death Star 2 goes kaboom and your character makes fun of the concept of hope, a whole bunch. Then a secondary character has a life-changing meeting with Jedi Master Luke “The Hand” Skywalker and catches a case of “the feelings”. When Admiral Your Character’s Dad tells you to help facilitate the destruction of your homeworld, that’s enough for you too and you go full rebellion. 

All of this is fine and it’s good to see people doing bad things realizing the errors of their ways, but we’ve already seen the story of a stormtrooper joining the light. But we have gotten that in a more nuanced way, especially if the game is to take place after The Emperor dies (or did he). Instead, we get a group of people who go full true believers in one thing to full true believers in another over a very short period of time and it feels entirely too much like the same Star Wars plot we’ve seen a few times now. Which is tolerable, I guess. because all the shooting parts are still fun. 

The battle of Jakku mission is far to short.

The blasters are weighty and nice. There is a certain franticness in the firefights that make them enjoyable. The starship battles, which are giant aerial deathmatches, are fun, exciting, and filled with delightful sound effects. Even if there are no longer soft “objectives” (such as destroying capital ships) during them, I think flying a Clone Wars era ARC 170 in the middle of a starship fight is its own reward. I haven’t been able to find a B-Wing though. You can fly the Millennium Falcon and several other hero ships. Although in my opinion, the heroes suck.

To its credit, flying the Millennium Falcon feels exactly as it should in my opinion. Which is to say you’re flying a cargo freighter in an aerial combat situation. So you constantly crash into everything and in general getting pantsed by starfighters designed for actual combat. Although in fairness the Falcon’s armaments are more designed for it to be a crew ship and Star Wars Battlefront 2 is pretty much an “every person for themselves” kind of affair. Other hero ships are more capable since most are powered up starfighters. The heroes themselves are rough though.

In Star Wars Battlefront 2 you have two basic types of heroes. Shooty heroes and laser sword heroes. Now the shooty heroes are like playing as normal infantry but you’re stuck in an over the shoulder camera in a game best played in first-person and you just shoot harder. The characters are really floaty and agile because I think they use the same movement as the laser sword heroes, which doesn’t work. The other problem is you’re stuck with sets of skills that would fit the characters archetypes in the lore of Star Wars, but kinda suck. Every time the game made me play as a shooty hero, I just wanted to go back to being infantry. Which was nothing compared to what the laser sword characters made me want to do.

Get ready to slam your body against mine in a display that isn’t as sexy or fun as that sounds.

The laser sword heroes suck, from a gameplay standpoint. They ruin the gameplay and made me want to stop playing altogether. They’re really floaty. The game gives them huge hit allowances on their abilities, otherwise, they wouldn’t ever be able to hit anything. They’re relatively slow considering nearly everyone you’re trying to kill has a blaster. When you run into another laser sword character, it feels exactly like when you played Star Wars with your younger sibling with your lego figurines (not Lego Star Wars, which is awesome). What I mean by this is that you’re just slamming your hero into the other hero until an arm falls off or the laser bit falls out of the handle.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 (the second one) has all the fun first-person laser blaster action that you would expect. If they had simply focused on the basics the game could have been amazing. Especially if they had found a way to make galactic conquest massively multiplayer. Not that I know how they could have done it.

All in all Star Wars Battlefront 2 is okay. It’s not the shiny golden past we’ve come from, but it’s miles better than the first remake.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017) is available on just about everything and for sale just about anywhere. The game is currently in long-term support with no new planned content. If you’ve read this far, thank you. Please leave a comment about what you’d like to read about or if there is something you want me to make in your honor on my next cooking stream.

This Week I Played Overland

All you have to do to survive in Overland is keep moving. That is the one rule. While simple, following this rule is seemingly impossible at times. You may find yourself without fuel or supplies, but if you stay still you will die. Overland offers an uncompromising experience for the strategy game enthusiast. It will challenge you. Be prepared to fail many times before you find your rhythm. Just know you can succeed but there is a cost. You must determine the price you’re willing to pay. Are you ready?

Overland advertises itself as a game where you “take care of a group of travelers on a post-apocalyptic road trip” which is remarkably succinct. It has been the first survival game I’ve played set against a road trip that actually manages to live up to that promise. The single most important resource in Overland is fuel. You will find yourself taking many risks to find fuel. Remember though, what good is that full gas-can if the hands that hold it are dead though?

Gas stations are dangerous, which is why you should give your dog a knife.

The basic gameplay in overland will be familiar to anyone that plays strategy games. You start the game with one randomly generated character. They have two action points. Every action costs one action point. Moving, one action point. Attacking, one action point. Searching, one action point. You get the idea. Understanding this simple principle is key to enjoying Overland. My first few tries at the game fell apart because I did not understand the resources available to my characters. I also didn’t understand the characters themselves.

The game is presented over a series of uniquely generated stages each of which makes up a leg of the journey. These stages contain resources you’ll need for your journey. They may also contain companions you can recruit to keep the journey from being lonely, and extending your item storage. You start on the east coast, from there you move into the forest, then the grasslands, and so on as your journey to the west coast where safety is rumored to be. This is where overland starts to set itself apart from other strategy games. The stages themselves are small. You won’t spend much time on them. Your goal is to arrive, grab as much as you can carry and run. At the end of the leg of the journey, you’ll be taken to a special stage with something blocking the road and you have to clear it.

The closest thing Overland has to a metagame.

Developing a sense of what is important in a given stage and what can be left behind is key. You can’t just kill all the enemies and then loot the place. Killing enemies causes more to spawn. On any stage, your first priority should be fuel. If you can keep your fuel stocks high you won’t have to try to scavenge gas stations which can be some of the most difficult stages the game has to offer. Don’t take too great risks or your trip will come to a short end.

Overland is a game that you’ll need to try many times to make any real progress. The key to mastering it is paying attention. You’ll want to pay close attention to your enemies. How do they move? How do they attack? Some enemies have different amounts of action points compared to the characters you control. Learning how the enemies behave and learning how to use your characters will help you limit your risks.

This is fine.

The best piece of advice I can give you for playing Overland is: adopt a pile of dogs. Seriously, dogs are amazing and in Overland, they continue to be amazing. Dogs have as many actions as human characters, but they also have bonus abilities. Some dogs can attack, some can push enemies away, others search without consuming an action point. My best playthrough was one where I had one human character and a van full of dogs. Mind you, since what you encounter is randomly generated, you won’t be able to decide to encounter a dog. If you do encounter a dog, be sure not to leave them on the side of the road. They’ll repay your kindness a hundred times.

I really enjoy overland. I got the game as part of the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. You may have it now too and I suggest you check it out. The game is fast enough that failure doesn’t feel bad. Yes, you have to start over. However, at no point did I feel that my failure was the result of me not playing well enough. Games like X-COM rub me wrong because there is that metagame that you’re playing that slowly builds and any flaws you’ve built in may not make themselves known until it is far too late.

Overland is available on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX, and PC. Presently it retails on for $24.99 which unfortunately feels a little high. A price closer to $20 or even $15 would feel better. That being said, I would not pass this up if you liked Bad North, Overland is a game you’ll enjoy. While you’re traveling Overland, if you see me on the road, please lend a ride.

Seriously, don’t leave me here.

This Week I Played Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

I completely skipped Tom Clancy’s The Division when it first came out, that was a mistake. Like countless people I recently picked up Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 while it was on a 95% sale to promote the release of the game’s new expansion Warlords of New York. I was hooked by the end of the character creator.

Initially, I skipped the first Division game because I was worried the online multiplayer nature of the game would lead to an experience similar to that of Assassin’s Creed Unity. Which is to say, terrible. My experience in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 thus far would indicate that was an incorrect prejudgement.

Viral outbreak, or music festival?

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is largely an open world, third-person shooter. The different regions are somewhat level-locked, but nothing is stopping the player from running through those high-level areas like I ran through Stranglethrone Vale back in my World of Warcraft days. Although The Division’s leveling system is much tighter than other games. There have been times where enemies only a level or higher than me were incredibly tough. Which keeps the game well-paced.

Presently I believe I have about half-way through the PvE story and the game has transitioned in difficulty smoothly. Early on your enemies are armed with clubs, pistols, and SMGs. Later they transition shotguns and assault rifles. Where I’m at in the game now the occasional sniper or special enemy has been added to the mix. There have been times where it seems like I’ve hit a plateau and the enemies become bullet sponges. These periods are shot and generally don’t impact the overall gameplay.

In Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, you play as an agent for the titular agency, The Division. Set in a post-viral-apocalypse United States, your job is to clean up the streets of Washington DC before the rebuilding of the nation can begin. You can do this in real life by not voting for Republicans.

Cleaning up the streets of DC is done by discovering settlements and handling whatever missions and projects they have. You also fight back against the gangs running around the capital by taking their control points, engaging them in skirmishes, and liberating and hostages and supplies they have along the way. This is always achieved through government-sanctioned extrajudicial violence, which is a problem.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 has a strong pro-government message that isn’t carefully examined by the game itself. Littered in optional collectibles and a few story cutscenes and quick quips about how everything is better now that there isn’t any red tape. Really? Everything is better now that most of the population is dead and you can kill whoever you wish without needing to bother to get a warrant or even establish cause? I’m not going to dwell on this too hard because I get that it’s a platform to build the gameplay off of. As far as state-sanctioned violence goes, the game would just be better if it didn’t try to justify your actions as being better than things were before. Because once we go there we have to realize that there is no central government in this scenario and the division is no different than one of the many paramilitary organizations that litter the map. The only difference is that your group controls the White House. While the framing of the game is certainly problematic, it is something that can be forgiven and doesn’t impact the experience once you dive in.

The game features day/night and weather cycles. Some of these make for very difficult situations.

Gunfights and skirmishes in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 are where the game really shines. The weapons feel crunchy and mechanical. While shooting, cover is both needed and easy to transition to and from. This makes gunplay exciting and feels more tactical than many of The Division 2’s competitors. There are some clunky issues with the grenade and gadget controls on PC at times, but usually, you’re opening combat with those so you have time to fiddle with them. The only thing really missing is destructible environments.

See the cooking pot on the right? Details like that litter the world.

Speaking of environments, while playing with my close friends we all constantly commented on how well crafted the environments were. Most games set in cities feel sanitized, this is not the case in The Division 2. Streets and alleys are cluttered with trash. Abandoned vehicles clog the streets, parks, and nearly anywhere a driver could cram it before abandoning it.

Sadly, the 95% off sale has ended so sadly the game has returned to a price that, at the time of writing, is just north of forty dollars. I would still recommend this game, with one caveat. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 is only fun when you’re playing with other people. If you have friends that play you should pick this game up now. If you have friends you can convince to play as I do, you should convince them to play. The Division 2 is by far the best cooperative shooter I have ever played. I regret not playing the first one and I hope you can learn from that regret.

4 Questions From Hitman Absolution That Need Answering

Hitman Absolution was a wildly different game from the rest of the titles in the Hitman series. One of the biggest differentiators is how it’s universally decried as a weak entry in an otherwise strong series. The other huge difference was it was primarily story-driven. Unlike other titles the story was placed front and center for the entire game, there are no levels unrelated to the main plot. In doing this, Hitman Absolution left some questions that need answering. Major spoilers for Hitman Absolution ahead.

What happened to Cosmo Faulkner?

Most of the way through Hitman Absolution we’re introduced to Chicago PD detective Cosmo Faulkner. He’s been trying to track down agent 47 since the incident at the Artemis Hotel. He seems to know enough about what went on at the hotel to have a conversation about Agent 47 where 47 is referred to as “The Hitman”. 

Cosmo’s problem is that the only people that seem to know anything are either wearing tinfoil hats or are covered in bird crap. At the end of Hitman Absolution, he’s seen hanging a poster, that looks remarkably like the wanted poster in Hitman Blood Money, as an informant who goes by the name of birdy walks into the room.

The impression we get is the Cosmo Faulkner is an intelligent and dedicated adversary. How Agent 47 and Diana deal with this problem is never addressed.

What happened to Birdy?

Birdy is a weird dude in Hitman Absolution he functions as a sort of informant who Agent 47 visits early in the story. Later on, it’s discovered his allegiances are more flexible than a rubber band. He pretty much allies himself with literally everyone throughout the game. As mentioned moments ago at the end of the game he’s seen walking into a Chicago Police Precinct looking for a new random group to align himself with. Birdy knows too much about Agent 47 and the ICA to be left alone. His fate is as of yet unknown, but he’s a loose end that needs to be tied up.

How big is the ICA?

The major plot of Hitman Absolution is about an ICA division head named Benjamin Travis. Travis has a lot at his disposal, he has multiple helicopters, a mobile command center, and a robotic arm. Travis has also been doing some shady genetic experiments to create his own private army of super killers. His base for this army is a teenage girl named Victory. Later in the game, it’s revealed that Travis is doing this without the knowledge of the ICA. In an attempt to get Victoria back and kill Agent 47, Travis takes over the town of Hope South Dakota, Sends a squad of sexy nuns to blow up a motel, and occupies a public cemetery. These are the resources at one division head’s disposal and the ICA board has apparently no idea what he’s doing. This causes us to wonder just how big is the ICA?

What happened to Victoria?

Agent 47’s primary drive throughout Hitman Absolution is the care, and then recovery of a teenage girl named Victoria. Victoria was created in a fashion similar to Agent 47 by Benjamin Travis’ scientists and researchers. She’s then kidnapped by Blake Dexter who wants to figure out how to replicate her.

Eventually, 47 does manage to save Vitoria from this fate. Although this isn’t before she kills several people and proves that she’s already more or less become what Diana wanted to save her from.

After killing Benjamin Travis we’re given a short scene that shows Diana is alive and is caring for Victoria. That is the last we see of Victoria without knowing what she chooses or what she wants to do next.

When 2016’s Hitman comes around Diana and 47 are back working for the ICA. Some events from Hitman Absolution are shown in a montage at the beginning of the game, so we know the events took place. There has yet to be a mention of Victoria though.

Those are 4 questions I had leftover from Hitman Absolution. I think each is worth answering in the current Hitman games. If you have other questions left over from Hitman Absolution, or any other Hitman game, please leave them in the comments. If you liked this video please like and subscribe.

I originally wrote this as a script for a YouTube video that I never made. I don’t want the effort to be wasted so I hope you liked it.

This Week I Played Vampyr

Vampyr is a dark and gritty game that combines the action stealth of the Assassin’s Creed franchise with the mind-bending mysteries of a David Cage game. Set in London during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, Vampyr is a dark and moody mystery. You play as Dr. Jonathan Reid a medical doctor and veteran of the First World War. Sometime before the start of the game, through unknown means, you are turned into a Vampyr.

From the start of the game Vampyr makes it very clear that while your character thirsts for human blood, you do not need to kill people. This creates the most interesting difficulty system I have ever encountered. Very early in the game, you are told explicitly the more innocent people you drain of blood, the easier things will be for you.

To be effective in Vampyr you’ll need experience points to buy skills and abilities with. There are very few ways to gain experience points. The most common method is completing missions and investigations. You also earn a small amount of experience by defeating enemies. Draining civilians of all of their blood, and therefore killing them, is a way to earn massive amounts of experience. Doing this can be very tempting because combat is very hard.

The enemies in Vampyr have many options to make your nights on the streets of London a total nightmare. Depending on what they are, as they may also not be human, enemies can reduce your maximum health pool through either fire or draining your blood. That combined with the games love of deadly opponent mixes means you’re normally up against a bruiser while a crossbowman with a torch is trying to drain your health. These deadly encounters constantly tempt you to drink the blood of the innocent to buy more skills to increase your chances of survival. Or it would be tempting if the game didn’t have some serious problems.

Unfortunately, Vampyr’s tempting experience and difficulty mechanic is ruined by a few poor design choices that ultimately led me to abandon the game. There are two major problems. The first is that combat revolves around the idea that you lock onto an enemy. This keeps your character oriented towards them and therefore any attacks you utilize that involve lunging or pouncing will head toward your target. This in itself is fine. It works well. The problem is that you change lock targets by moving the mouse left or right. This doesn’t work. The camera controls are tied to the mouse.

Like most third-person games the direction your character moves when pressing ‘w’ is determined by the camera’s orientation. Meaning as long as you don’t need to adjust the camera, you’ll stay locked to your intended target. The second you move the camera, you lock moves, and not in an intuitive way. It moves to the next target to the left or right of your current one, even if that target is behind you. Which is how you end up “dodging” directly in the very attack you were trying to avoid. This issue can be somewhat forgiven as the result of porting the game to PC if that is indeed what happened, but for me, it made the game unenjoyable.

The other major problem is the game punishes you for exploring. When I say this I don’t mean it in the way that some games try hard to keep you out of areas without explicitly erecting invisible walls. What I mean is you can discover tasks, that are impossible given your level and skills, but you still you need to complete them right now to avoid negative consequences. This happened to me in an unfortunate way.

After completing the first couple of missions I was sent into the next district to continue one of my investigations. On the way through an alley to the point that I needed to reach to find the next clue, I passed an openable door. Most doors outside of safe zones that I’d encountered to this point led to safe rooms where you can rest and refill your supplies. This one did not. This led to a mission area where there was a man trapped by some blood-sucking skals. The game immediately informed me that I needed to save this man or he would probably die.

I charged into battle and then quickly died as the skals were twice my level and made a snack out of my body. This is where the problem became apparent. I could not defeat these skals even if I drained all the civilians in the entire district of blood. Why? Because to level up, you have to rest. If you rest any civilians you discover in danger but don’t rescue die. I couldn’t reload because the game uses an aggressive autosave. The irony here is that during most load screens the game tells you to live with the consequences of your actions. The consequence here was that I stopped playing.

I know it sounds like I rage quit. Maybe I did. I feel that the game unfairly trapped me. It didn’t tempt me, it punished me for opening a door that was along the road I was walking. It punished me for exploring the new area of the map it had just told me to go to. I was excited to play Vampyr. I am still in love with how it seeks to tempt you. Unfortunately, the temptation doesn’t feel fair. This isn’t a challenge where I can see the other side and if I could just jump from a slightly higher ledge I could make it. This is more like getting hit by an invisible fly swatter, one that I had no warning about.

I might play Vampyr again. I really want to see how it plays out. Unfortunately due to the poor controls making combat frustrating and the surprise gotchas I can’t.

If you played Vampyr and your experience was different than mine, please leave a comment below. I really want to hear something good about this game.

5 Reasons Why Hitman Absolution is an Action Shooter

Like many people, I was surprised by all the changes brought to the Hitman series by the game Hitman Absolution. I felt the linear nature of the game didn’t fit well with the series’ history of large, open, choose-your-path style missions and that a lot of effort went into features that the game punishes you for using. Recently I went back and played Hitman Absolution while waiting for new content for the current Hitman game. I wanted to know if I had judged the game too harshly in the past. I had not. What I learned was Hitman Absolution is best enjoyed as an action shooter, not a stealth game. Here are 5 features in Hitman Absolution that prove why.

#1 The cover mechanic

In previous Hitman games if you made the mistake of getting in a firefight you had no choice but to try and kite your enemies around walls and other obstacles as you picked them off one-by-one. Not anymore. Hitman Absolution has more chest-high walls than a Gears of War game and the tutorial is just itching to teach you about them.

Not only can you hide behind these lifesaving barriers, but you travel along them. You can fire around corners, Slap chop enemies from behind, and survive an all-out siege as you toss proximity mines blindly across the room. No more hiding for Agent 47. Now all he has to do is keep firing end eventually he’ll come out on top.

#2 Dual wielding never felt better

Perhaps the most iconic feature of the Hitman series, until 2016’s HITMAN all caps, was Agent 47’s dual Silverballers. In previous titles when 47 was dual-wielding he would fire both pistols simultaneously. In Hitman Absolution 47 will alternate firing the left and right pistols. This allows you to conserve your ammunition and line up more headshots with half the reloading.

If that wasn’t good enough, it isn’t even just the Silverballers that 47 can dual wield. Any time 47 comes across two pistols of the same model he can let loose with a barrage of bullets from each hand. Sadly he still doesn’t reload any faster.

#3 Quick-Time-Event based combat

The first mission when Agent 47 gets to Hope South Dakota in Hitman absolution takes place in a biker bar. As soon as 47 shorts out the jukebox the whole place erupts in an all-out brawl where he is free to beat up as many people as he pleases whatever way he sees fit. This quickly forces you, the player, to get familiar with the game’s Quick Time Event combat.

This a feature that is completely new to the series, and admittedly feels somewhat out of place at first. After smashing in a few heads and braining people with a few beer bottles though, you’ll find it hard to go back to sneaking around.

#4 Linear levels

The biggest problem with Hitman Absolution is the departure from open world levels. All of the levels are small isolated corridors or individual floors of a hotel or similar structure. If you get noticed while trying to murder your targets, there aren’t many places to run and hide. These levels are lousy for stealth but are better utilized for running and gunning. Sure 47 can’t hide but neither can his enemies. When the shooting is done, 47 just needs to exit through the door at the end behind which is another hallway of incompetent guards who are oblivious to the carnage left in his wake.

#5 Point Shooting

Point Shooting is a mechanic that is only found in Hitman Absolution. Unlike instinct vision, snapping cover, or quick-time combat it was not adapted and carried forward into 2016’s HITMAN. That is because point shooting has no place in a Hitman game if you’re playing the game correctly.

For the uninitiated, point shooting is an ability Agent 47 has where he can pre-mark targets and then execute a series of rapid shots to hit them. This uses your instinct meter. This meter can be refilled by completing objectives or shooting enemies in the face. This feature is amazing and it is completely disappointing that the game punishes you for using it because you’ll be hard-pressed to find an applicable moment for it when you’re sneaking around trying to murder your targets quietly.

If you throw caution to the wind, you’ll find that Point Shooting is your best friend. It allows you to quickly clear rooms of enemies in one swift motion and continue on to the next room with maximum health and ammunition remaining.

Those are my  5 reasons why Hitman Absolution is better enjoyed as an action shooter than as a stealth game, even if the developers didn’t intend it. 

I originally wrote this as a script for a YouTube video that I never made. I don’t want the effort to be wasted so I hope you liked it.

This Week I Played PayDay 2

The PayDay series of games ask a frightening question. A question that zombie games have been too afraid to ask for a generation. That question is simply, what if the players tried to rob a bank while fending off never-ending waves of police and paramilitary organizations in an effort to recreate that one scene from Heat? That would be awesome.

I have to admit this was not my first time playing PayDay 2. I’ve been relatively depressed lately so I scrolled through my game library looking for something familiar. I wanted something that wouldn’t surprise me. I wanted a mechanical challenge, not a thought challenge. PayDay 2 met this need.

Heat goals achieved.

Gameplay in PayDay 2 consists of logging into the fictional CRIME.NET to select various contracts for the PAYDAY gang to complete. At its original release, most of these contracts centered around robbing banks, jewelry stores, and retail operations. Later the developers added DLC that began pulling in more and more contracts such as armoured cars, yachts, and mansions.

Once you’ve selected your contract it’s time for your loadout. What your character brings is normally based on the skills you’ve selected. I’ve only ever really played mastermind. My job is to keep the civilians under control and heal my teammates when they get in trouble. When you’re selecting your loadout you need to decide how hard you’re going to try for the stealth bonus. Taking lighter armor and smaller guns make it easier to sneak, but if you get caught you’re going to wish you brought some big guns with you. Then, to quote The Dentist, you prosecute.

Sometimes things go load and all you have is a two-piece suit.

Each contract is different, but they are mechanically similar. If someone sees you and you can’t get them under control, they call the cops. If a bank teller sees you they’ll try to hit the alarm button. If a security guard sees you they’ll try to shoot you. If too much noise is made the cops come to investigate. If the cops come they’ll come in waves. In between waves you’ll have an opportunity to trade any hostages you may have taken to get any teammates that were arrested during the assault wave back. This continues until you escape with the loot, or die.

The early levels of PayDay 2 are some of the best. The banks themselves aren’t complicated, as mentioned, you simply have a lot to do. You have to disable security, usually by finding a key card. Then you have to make sure all the guards are either neutralized or don’t patrol the areas you need to be in. Then you have to either tie up all the civilians or not get noticed by them. You can’t disable the alarm buttons so you need to keep people from getting to them. And once you’ve done all that you still need to drill the vault, get the loot and escape.

You can escape by land, sea, or air.

That is the joy of PayDay 2. PayDay 2 might not be the most polished game, but you always have so much to do you don’t have time to see polish. You’re always doing three things and usually one of those things is just trying to stay alive.

When I first played PayDay 2 in 2013 I had a group of people I could reliably make a four-person team out of. It was truly some of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. You never forget your first stealth takedown of a jewelry store or the first time you crack the vault on the Big Bank level.

Look! It me.

Since revisiting the game I’ve noticed there are several things new. It seems in my time away the PayDay crew has grown to what appears to be twenty-four gang members. It was a good laugh early on when John Wick joined the gang. (An addition I insist is canonical to both universes and is even further established by The Continental DLC). With twenty-four members we see additions such as Tony Montana AKA Scarface and Bohdy from the Dead Presidents. Beyond the expansive cast, the newer heights seem more linear. This started in my time with the Hoxton Breakout and The Big Bank. But all of the later missions seem very different than the early ones. This change isn’t bad, but to date, I think the most satisfying mission is the standard bank job. Others are fun and challenging and very inventive. Nothing can capture the thrill of emptying the vault of the Harvest Trustee without the cops even knowing you’re there.

PayDay 2 retails on Steam for $9.99 but not it goes on sale for upwards of 80% regularly. I highly recommend you get a four-pack and try to get as many friends playing as possible. If you need another player, feel free to reach out to me here or on Twitter.

This Week I Played My Time at Portia

Your first glimpse of a bright future.

Very few things disappoint me more than slice-of-life games. For whatever reason, I am drawn to them. I’ve played many different versions of Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon. I’ve spent days toiling in Stardew Valley. Inevitably, I succumb to boredom before I can really enjoy the fruits of my labor. Inevitably, I’ll buy the next one that crosses my path.

My Time at Portia caught my attention because it described itself as Post-Apocalyptic but all the promo media has bright colors. Normally when you’re playing a post-apocalypse game of any kind you’re greeted to a grey and brown world that hates you. My Time at Portia subverts all of this with hits happy vibe and sunny world. And I don’t know about you, but I need a break from all the bleak visions of the future.

They wanted a name, I provided a name.

Gameplay consists of you arriving in the town of Portia and quickly taking over your father’s abandoned workshop. You then take contracts to build things for the town or individual NPCs. To build things you roam around an open work collecting and harvesting materials. You then put the materials into forges, grinders, and the like to make components. Once all the components are made, you’ll assemble them on your project space. Sounds simple right? Collecting what you need is anything simple.

To collect wood you’ll need an axe, but the first axe can only handle chopping down bushes and the smallest of saplings. You’ll need to upgrade it to cut down mature trees that contain the stronger hardwood you’ll need for many projects. To upgrade your axe and get any earthy materials you’ll be needing you to need to go into the Abandoned Ruins.

The world map is gigantic.

When I first entered the Abandoned Ruins I was surprised. The ruins are an underground mining area that has reactive terrain. This is probably through the use of voxels, but I can’t say for certain. Unfortunately, the novelty wears off when you realize you’re just in a destructible underground cube and spamming the pickaxe is going to be the next ten minutes of your life.

Once you’ve got your raw materials its back to your workshop where you’ll stoke the fires of your forge and wait for an entire in-game day for the bronze bars to come rolling out. This is a truly baffling mechanic to see in a single-player, paid PC game. This isn’t an online game where waiting is part of the balance. Nor is My Time at Portia a game where you can speed up the process through microtransactions. You’re waiting for the sake of waiting it seems.

This is a cute touch, although I’m not sure the localization team got the sentiment correct in English.

I believe the game designers intend for you to build dozens of forges to get your production engine going. But who has the time? Building forges, grinders, and saws require the same resources you need to make the thing you’re trying to make in the first place.

The feeling of “why is this game like this” seems to permeate many of the experiences in the game as well. The game has a leveling mechanic as there are monsters to fight, although they seem more adorable than deadly. Personally, I constantly forget about my level as dodging is easy and the skill trees don’t affect combat nearly as much as your gear does.

To its credit, My Time at Portia has an NPC dating mechanic. One that doesn’t restrict gender pairings. While this is becoming rarer in modern games, My Time at Portia is the first game I’ve seen that has more potential husbands than it does wives. It’s not enough to keep me in the game to the end, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out.

You can marry this tower of muscles.

My Time at Portia’s problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It does a lot well and better than many of its competitors, at the same time it massively lacks focus. While your progress seems fast due to the variety of what My Time at Portia has to offer, all of it has you wondering why you’re doing it in the first place. I suspect the game would be much better if it had some amount of multi-player. The word is huge and there is a lot of work to get done. I wish I had the will to do it on my own.

My Time at Portia was developed by Pathea Games and published by Team17 it is available on Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. For its price, I would recommend getting Stardew Valley and playing with a friend.

This Week I Played Frostpunk

You must keep the flame lit.

There is only cold.

The world of Frostpunk is unforgiving and you are charged with the survival of its people. Frostpunk is a survival game like none other. Your goal is not to wander the wilderness in search of a better home. The city, New London, is your home. You will either survive here, or humanity will perish.

Developed by 11 bit studios, Frostpunk is a game about a world undergoing a climate crisis. One different than the one we will face. The world of Frostpunk is freezing. The game takes place in an alternate history one where it seems the cooling effect from the eruption of Krakatoa never ended. A winter, like none before, is coming.

I want to warn you right now, this article will contain spoilers for the A New Home scenario. Since Frostpunk is primarily a strategy game though, these spoilers will serve to help you on your playthrough should you choose to continue reading.

My first try at Frostpunk’s main scenario, A New Home, started poorly. I began my having my workers harvest the resources of the ice crater surrounding the great generator that was our only source of heat. As my workers gathered resources, they started to become ill. I built more hunting lodges to hopefully provide them more food. I filled medical centers, but nothing worked. Worst of all, their homes grew cold as the global winter worsened.

I started pulling apart their tents and used the wood to build bunkhouses. I later tore down the bunkhouses to build real homes in a desperate struggle to keep the people warm. My population continued to get ill. A survivor of another city arrived and declared the other city’s doom. Hope plummeted.

A faction called the Londoners rose to power. Their desire, evacuate the city. Head south, return to London. Surely things can’t be worse than they are here. The people of New London declared they would remove me from power if I did not resolve their crisis of hope. The church was established. Hope became a religion. Shires were built. Mines dug into the frozen earth where my gatherers had once worked. Miraculously, people started to get better.

For a brief moment they were warm.

That was when I learned the error of my ways. My gatherers didn’t have huts to warm themselves in during their shifts. This led to frostbite and illness. The reason things got better as people started working in the mines was that the mines had heaters. Similarly, I never had to tear down houses to upgrade them. I could have just had a new house built on the same spot. This would have conserved valuable resources and taken less time. By the time I learned these lessons, the damage was done.

One hundred forty-one people wanted to leave my city and head back to London. One hundred forty-one people out of three hundred twelve. Anyone who leaves the warmth of the generator will die. I was left with few choices.

I could not convince the Londoners to stay. Hope in the city had fallen too far for that. I could not give them enough equipment and food to give them a fighting chance; our supplies were too low. I couldn’t let them leave. At the start of the scenario, I promised myself this playthrough was about keeping as many people alive, no matter the cost.

I ordered my religious zealots to keep the Londoners in the city. Fourteen people died. Twenty-nine people were wounded. After the conflict, we were one city, forever.

The cold world.

Things started to look better. I learned how to manage my resources. I started accepting refugees from other settlements into the city. My coal supply was steady and could always keep the people warm. Despite all the trouble things were looking up. I even had too much food. Then a great storm wall was seen on the horizon.

Waves of refugees arrived, telling of doom following them. My scientists reported that a great storm was coming. We ran out of wood. Houses could not be built fast enough to keep the refugees warm. People began dying in the street. On the fortieth day of my rule as Captain of New London, the people once again demanded that I restore their hope. I was ordered to build houses for the homeless, shelters for the sick, and stockpile food for the coming storm.

New London as the storm hit.

Food wasn’t the hard part. My greenhouses produced plenty. I could not build homes or clinics though. Due to a lack of steel earlier I overly invested in steelworks. My sawmills were nearly nonfunctional. What wood came from them went into the kilns to become coal for the generator. Discontent rose.

People became restless. Anyone who lost hope, and therefore faith, was banished. I didn’t have enough beds as it was, their fate would be the same in or out of the city. Weeks earlier, I had agonized over my decision to force the Londoners to stay. The day before the storm wall hit, I was barely phased by my decision to exile nineteen people, five more than died during the Londoner riot.

The storm hit. Hope was still low. I kept the generator burning. The greenhouses froze. We had enough food for the week. The coal, might not last that long though. People began dying in their homes. Despite my best efforts, their walls were not insulated enough from the storm. Three days into the storm over one hundred people had died, twenty percent of my population. That was when my people said enough.

I was exiled.

I did my best.

I did all I could. I did my best. I didn’t know any better when I started. The world only ends once. The people didn’t need a leader who would do better next time. They needed a leader who didn’t need a second chance.

As they left me to the cold, the fires of the great generator still burned. The coal mines still ran. The sawmills spun and the food was still safe. My people had the tools to survive. Too bad I did not see if they would.

Frostpunk is a hard game. It forces you to make hard choices. Which is exactly what I expect from the makers of This War of Mine. Unlike their previous title, Frostpunk is not all despair. When my city had hope, I had hope. If you like city building strategy games I recommend Frostpunk. Be warned though it isn’t mechanically deep, and it isn’t trying to be. Unlike other city builders, you are not some mayor trying to balance a budget or attract tourists. The only number you care about is the number of people you can keep warm and fed.

The game does a good job of gently increasing the difficulty for you. This keeps you always at attention. Just as you think you have your resource engine running and things are looking good, the temperature will drop and you’ll have to work even harder to keep everyone alive.

I was unable to continue playing This War of Mine after my first few attempts. It was too heartbreaking. Frostpunk is the first game in a very long time where I feel it challenged me to complete it. For that reason alone I would suggest checking the game out. But try to avoid looking up strategies. The real impact of the game comes from knowing you did you best and things were still hard.

I will answer Frostpunk’s challenge. I will build a city that survives the storm. I believe spring will come.

Update: Immediately after writing this I sat back down and played the A New Home scenario from start to finish. I could not rest without guiding my people through the storm. I’m not sure what the last game I played that haunted me like that was. For that reason alone I recommend it.

Update 2: Frostpunk is on sale for $11.99 through January 27th 2020. If this is your kind of game, this is an amazing price you don’t want to miss.

Frostpunk is available on PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. Frostpunk retails on Steam for $29.99. Frostpunk is available as part of the Xbox Game Pass for PC.