This is where I track the games that I'm currently playing. I try to update it once per month if I've been playing something new (to me).
My gaming blog is mostly for me -- it's a kind-of diary of my hobby. It's about gaming, not the internal dysfunctions and politics of the gaming industry, but this year I feel that the gaming experience has suffered for it. My hobby is manifestly diminished by it, so I think it warrants mention. It feels odd to write about games that I didn't buy, but merited since I would have bought them under different circumstances. The good news is, I've hidden my rant if you don't want to read it.
I'm in the middle of a second game of Conan Exiles, this time playing with a friend. Despite mixed reviews on Steam, I find this game highly entertaining. You do have to look past some glitches, but the core gameplay in Conan is very satisfying for me. Playing a locally hosted game probably insulates me from many of the problems the playerbase complains about. Part of what I like is that it's a fantasy/RPG but there is no magic to ruin the immersion/believability. The barbaric world feels very human-iron-age but is host to impossible beasts great and small for you to slay. The game is structured into a "journey" with steps for you to complete, but it's a survival game at heart and you basically define your own criteria for success. I've browsed the DLC with the intent of buying, but I didn't find any of it compelling. Conan Exiles was released as early-access last year, with official release this year, and was generously featured in Humble Monthly. I'll probably hit 200 hours in another week or two, and I'm naming it my top title of 2018. It's definitely going in my Top ~100.
My other top title of 2018 is ID's arena shooter Quake Champions. Another 2017 early-access release, Champions went free to play for everyone in 2018. I've racked up 283 hours in-game, not including the few months I participated in the closed beta. Bethesda pushed out a large update this December, completely restructuring the game's progression/cosmetics system among other changes, and the update has hit some major snags. Overall, though, ID has done a good job of introducing new champs and maps over the course of 2018. The December update also (finally) gave us a capture the flag mode, filling that hole in your heart that's been empty since Quake Live. I also feel like ID did a pretty good job with skill-matching, given how insanely good a large chunk of the playerbase is. My win ratio and KD are about 1.15 across modes, which feels about right to me. I feel like I get more challenging matches the better I get. It feels good to have a Quake game to play after years with nothing new.
Three other games deserve a specific mention in this year's re-cap. I finished Far Cry 5 in about 50 hours and started a second playthrough, co-op with a friend. It's a solid title that merited the purchase price. I hit 282 hours in Stardew Valley, with two complete play-throughs this year. Those replays were thanks to new content and a co-op mode that lets you farm with your friends. Another co-op experience that I highly recommend is Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands. That game is also solid as a single player venture, taking about fifty hours to complete. You can read more about it in my November entry immediately below. I've added a few games to my Top 100 list, and I've also shuffled around a few titles in my Top 20, notably boosting Stardew Valley up into the #9 spot.
There aren't any specific releases that I'm looking forward to in 2019, save for the delayed Anno 1800, but I have no shortage of games to keep me busy. My backlog currently includes Zombie Army Trilogy, Metal Gear Solid V, and Kerbal Space Program. I still haven't delved into ATrain 9.0, as I'm slightly intimidated by the complexity. It's on the list, though. When Surving Mars and Rimworld drop in price, those will get played. Another price drop I'm waiting for is Civ 6 to hit the $15 mark, which is when I'll dive in. I have a lukewarm desire to play Red Dead Redemption 2, but the model of "console exclusive first, then PC a year later at full price" really rubs me the wrong way. File that one under maybe-when-it-gets-cheap-maybe. In the meantime, I'll still play Steep, PUBG, Conan, Quake and other favorites of the past few years. My biggest hope is that some kind of military shooter will come along to freshen up the stagnant scene in that genre. The Division 2 is a possibility. I'm also curious to see where the battle-royale genre goes, as it seems like a passing fad that's currently burning the candle at both ends. I think the barometer will be the success of the inevitable sequels....Fornite II anyone?
You and up to 3 friends are elite "ghost operators" deep in the Santa Blanca drug cartel's territory, somewhere in Bolivia. You carry out the CIA/DEA's dirty work against the cartel while also doing battle with Unidad, the area's corrupt military force. You can play solo and the game furnishes 3 AI teammates, who aren't bad at all, but it's better with buddies. The map area is the largest Ubisoft has ever built; at roughly 500 square kilometers it dwarfs the maps of massive games like GTA5 and Witcher III. The seamlessly-loaded terrain spans biomes from high plains deserts to thick, humid jungles -- and everything in between. The jungle is where the game really shines, though. The AnvilNext 2.0 engine (Steep, Assassin's Creed Odyssey) renders the most realistic, thick foliage I've seen in a game and manages to hold a consistent 60fps while doing it. Play without the HUD, at night, and it gets intense. Even after finishing the game I've gone back into the jungle covered hillsides just to look at the scenery. Did I mention that The Predator is lurking somewhere in that jungle, and he wants to fight you and your squad?
This is a WWII game set in Italy where you are an elite American sniper sent on various missions to kill Nazis and blow things up. This is my first experience with this series, and it was pretty good. I picked up the game for next to nothing and got a solid five hours out of it before I got bored. The game's signature is that each of your kills has an animation showing the internal damage being sustained by the unfortunate victim of your wrath. The game action enters slow motion and you see the bullets shattering skulls and teeth. Satisfying. I don't know if I'd buy another Sniper Elite game, but this one was pretty fun. I didn't finish it, but I don't really feel the need to.
I played a free demo weekend of Surviving Mars which is a city-builder sim game set on Mars. You start off with drones as you build basic infrastructure and eventually you end up with domes that humans live in as they arrive. It was fun enough, I'll buy the game when it gets cheap. I also played 30-40 hours of Diablo 3 in adventure mode which was pretty entertaining. It's too grindy to hold my attention much longer, but 30 hours is a good run for this title's post-game as far as I'm concerned. I hadn't delved into the post-game prior to this, but it put the game back in my good graces after the mediocre Reaper of Souls expansion act.
Helldivers is an overhead game with a dungeon crawler feel, but the controls are traditional WASD fps style. It's an interesting combination, and far less "hack-and-slash" than Diablo or Torchlight. You have to be much more precise, as friendly fire can hurt your teammates. The theme is somewhat Starship-Trooper-ish with a bug world and a cyborg world to conquer. However, as far as I can tell, the game is completely randomly generated and the maps are somewhat monotonous. It also seems to lack a well-defined path of easy planets for a starting player to get going on. The colors are a bit washed out and much of the games interesting graphics end up severely muted. I'm not sure how much more I'm going to play, but it's a fun little game.
I had high hopes for Little Nightmares, a game similarly styled to Limbo or Inside. It falls far short of those titles, however. Side scrolling puzzle games don't need to be 3D, and full freedom of movement adds nothing other than depth/alignment frustrations in this title. The save points are too far apart, the puzzles are fairly lame, and there is way too much twitchy-platform jumping for me; not what I'm looking for in a game like this, at all. I want to sit back, think through some puzzles, and enjoy the (admittedly great) artwork of the game. But instead I quit after four or five reloads trying to time a switch-throw and a split second jump onto a moving crate. All with a load point forcing about 60 seconds of running and climbing to get back to the location where I keep dying. Maybe I'm doing something wrong? Nope, checked YouTube... it's a twitchy-jump. Pass.
My online gaming group decided to try CoD Black Ops 4, which features a battle royale mode, as an alternative to PUBG. It was a fairly disastrous experiment, as we played about five hours and haven't touched it since. It's simply not a captivating experience and the only map is way, way too small. I rarely shell out full retail, new release pricing for a game -- much less one with no single player / campaign experience. So, this disappointing purchase packs extra sting for me, and I'll be that much more hesitant in the future to buy a game just on the whim of my gaming group. Bottom line, $50 down the toilet.
Standing in stark contrast to that experience was our playthrough of Stardew Valley's new co-op mode. It's every bit as fun as the single player experience, but your friends are there helping you out on the farm. We had some real trouble with the client/server connection about 3/4 of the way through the game, which resulted in me playing by myself for fall and winter of year 2, but that seems to have resolved itself now. I added a heap of new hours to my Stardew total, and enjoyed every one of them. There's not much new content, but just enough to keep it interesting, and the novelty of having your friends in-game made our playthrough fly right by (2+ in-game years).
I hadn't played any of the Tomb Raider games before, but this one came with Humble Monthly so I gave it a shot. It's absolutely gorgeous in terms of graphics, but the story and gameplay didn't do anything for me. It tries to be too many different types of games. It's like a Far Cry game with a much less open world, a more linear path, and way more "puzzleish." At times it seemed more like a graphic adventure of old, and even had moments that reminded me of a 1980s laser disc game where you had scenes that were almost pre-rendered and required specific key presses at exact moments. All this, while trying to be an RPG with crafting mechanics. Bottom line is it just didn't pull me in after four hours of play. If I hadn't just played an open world RPG that was done really well (Conan Exiles) I might have had more tolerance for Rise's clunky loot and craft system. The skill tree also felt like an afterthought, and the whole interface had a very console-ish feel to it.
Capture thralls and break them on your Wheel of Pain, then put them to work at your compound! Conan Exiles is an open world survival game with online player vs. environment and player versus player modes, as well as a very satisfying single-player experience. Set in the world of Conan The Barbarian, you start with nothing but your bare hands and explore the world, slaying monsters and gathering materials to craft your home and weapons. The only flaw in the single player experience is that some of the boss creatures are too difficult to solo, and require a party to attack. This led to me quitting the game at about 80% completion after 84 hours of play. There are one or two resources that are way to grindy to farm, and the game's fast-travel mechanic is crippled and tedious -- but it will probably still be in my top 100 games list. I really enjoyed exploring the game world and checking off milestones in the story, which is neatly divided into 10 chapters with 10 accomplishments each. I tried starting an online character, but quickly became disinterested.
Terraria was the only game I picked up during the 2018 Steam Summer Sale. It's a side scrolling, 2D game with 8bit-ish graphics that can best be described as a 2D Minecraft in survival mode. The player explores above and (mostly) below ground, digging through a block based world and collecting resources from the mined blocks. Those resources can then be used in typical crafting mechanics in a hierarchy of crafting stations. There are NPCs to interact with; vendors, healers, etc. and an endless assortment of monsters to battle -- and bosses. I probably wouldn't have played more than a few hours if not for the game's stellar reviews. I'm glad I stuck with it a little longer, and ended up playing 13 hours. It's a game that people sink thousands of hours into, but accelerated too slowly for me to really get in to. I doubt I'll revist it, but it was worth five bucks.
I picked this game up with a subscription to Humble Monthly which gives you a handful of games every month for $12, usually including a AAA title. I'm taking a cautious approach to maintaining that subscription, but Destiny 2 was worth it. The easiest way to describe the game is "a more polished Warframe." It's a futuristic, sci-fi shooter/RPG but there are some weeb elements to it, with swords and ninja-looking attire. Weapons and gear pickups aren't as exciting or compelling as other RPGs, and the game is very grindy if you really intend to get into it. I played co-op with two other friends, and we got about 10-12 hours into the campaign before we were all tired of it. I liked Warframe quite a bit, it's in my Top 100 games list, but ultimately Destiny 2 isn't near as good -- despite being more polished. I just couldn't get into the story, and the inventory system is just clumsy enough to make looking at your pickups a "meh" experience. Still, I'm glad I played it. For twelve bucks, I got value out of it.
The latest installment in the Far Cry series was perfectly paced with an ideal duration, taking me just over fifty hours to complete the campaign and all side missions. The game designers make slight tweaks to the mechanics of how the map's locations are revealed, allowing access to the entire map at the start while locations are discovered through adventure and talking to NPCs. They also introduced two slots for NPCs to fight alongside you, recruited from a pool of specialists and fighters. The game takes place in Montana, USA and features the incredible detail and high caliber graphics you'd expect from the franchise. The plot is the usual band of hostiles (in this case a cult) that must be defeated and the areas they control liberated. The ending is classic Far Cry in the sense that they strive for a shocker that you won't see coming.
Axiom Verge was another game that I was just waiting to pick up on sale. It has the feel of an old 8 bit Nintendo platformer, built in the style of Metroid, but has features that exploit a modern controller. Think Metroid but with a greater variety of weapons and special abilities. The game's story isn't spectacular. It's a little vague, and fails to draw you in the way that Metroid or Castlevania did - but the game mechanics make up for that. I estimate I'm about 50% done with the game, and I don't know if I'll finish as the map exploration is getting a little tedious. The map and bosses are also designed for good speed-run videos, which is a bit annoying. But all in all, I'd say you get out of Axiom Verge what you put in to it.
I had this game on my Steam wishlist for a while, and it finally went on sale. It turned out to be a great value, providing me with over twenty hours of entertainment before I got tired of it. I think I only made it through maybe half of the game's "campaign." It's more of an amusement park simulator than a coaster-sim, which I appreciated after finding that building custom coasters isn't as fun as just placing pre-built ones in a well-planned park. There are many other rides to put in your park other than coasters, and you can ride all of them first person when you are done. The foot traffic simulation of humans in your park is very well done, but the micromanagement of the park staff is somewhat tedious. Overall, a very well done game and some people will get hundreds of hours out of it.
I grabbed this 2010 title during the Steam holiday sale for just a few bucks, and I'm pretty pleased with it. It looks surprisingly good for a title that's eight years old, and it does right by the Alien and Predator franchises. The game has three distinct campaigns: Colonial Marine, Alien, and Predator. I found the human campaign to be the most fun, followed by the Predator. The Alien mechanics suffered a little from the limitation that you are a creature with no technology or weapons, just lethal biological capabilities. The game re-uses map areas between campaigns, but does so in a unique way that doesn't feel cheap. I did not try any other game modes, and it took me about eight hours of play to finish the three campaigns...just right.
I picked this game up in a Humble Bundle a while back for a buck, and honestly that's all it's really worth to me. I finished the entirety of the game's content in about five hours, and it was somewhat amusing but nothing special. It's a physics puzzle game where you control a floppy doughboy, navigating your way through cleverly designed maps. The problem with this game is you spend more time wrestling with objects and character control than you do thinking about the puzzles. This can be somewhat entertaining at first, but it gets old. I did stick with it through the end, though, so that's something. I will give the game props for level design, and allowing more than one way to solve/navigate some areas.
I broke a rule of mine when I played this expansion for The Talos Experiment: always play a puzzle game's DLC right after you finish the main game. When I lose momentum with a puzzle game and then try to jump back I never enjoy it as much as I think I'm going to. Especially when the puzzles are more advanced than the ones in the base game, which is generally the case here. I found myself disinterested in gathering stars (optional, harder puzzles) in order to unlock an additional level and see alternate endings. That's in stark contrast to the base game, where I strived for 100% completion. Nevertheless, I did finish this DLC and enjoyed it for the most part. Talos remains one of my top puzzle games of all time, right behind Portal and Infinifactory. You can read my mini-review for The Talos Principle here.