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).
I finally let too much time pass between logins to my favorite Conan Exiles server and my base decayed and vanished. (I can't remember if this is my third or fourth character I've taken up to level 60.) Closing in on 700 hours in-game, Exiles is going to find a place in my Top-20 list. I just haven't decided on a ranking yet. I also continued to rack up hours in Quake Champions, currently just shy of 400 hours. It will never scratch the multiplayer-arena itch the way Quake 2 did back in the day, but I suspect Champions will find its way into my Top 20 as well. 2019 delivered some good sales where I picked up several new games that I had been wanting to play. Northgard, a casual, real-time, 4X game took me about twenty hours to finish and was a delight. I also recommend Surviving Mars, a city builder set on the red planet. Ubisoft dropped The Division 2 and Anno 1800 this year, both which I felt were quality games but nothing special. I had fun with them, but not like earlier titles from their respective series. Division2 also netted me a free copy of Far Cry Primal, which was not bad at all. I've reviewed all of these games separately, which you can find in the monthly entries below.
On a much more sour note, my fifth most played game of all time (almost 2000 hours) continues a developer-induced death spiral and most definitely will not be joining my top twenty despite how many hours I've logged. On top of taking away our ability to select the map we want to play, Player Unknown's Battlegrounds refuses to deal with rampant cheating in a meaningful way. The playerbase is on its knees begging for a region/ping/VPN lockout which would solve 90% of the cheating problem, or they could simply force people with absurdly high K/D to play with each other, but the dev refuses. IMHO, the future of online player-vs-player games is in real jeopardy because the attitudes of this developer are not unique. The technical solutions are there, but the studios ignore them...because reasons. Personally, I don't see much hope going forward unless there is a move away from cloud instances and a return to dedicated servers under the direct control of admins who care about the experience had on their server.
My personal favorite of the year goes to the early-access title Satisfactory by Coffe Stain Studios. This game had two big strikes against it going in. One, it is an early access title which I generally avoid. Two, it's exclusive to the Epic game store which is muscling its way into the distribution-platform arena atop a mountain of Fortnite cash -- I'm not a fan, at all, of platform exclusives. Nevertheless, after watching a few videos of gameplay and catching it on sale I decided to try it. Instant favorite. Satisfactory is one of the most highly-polished early access titles I've ever played. Developers take note, this is early access done right. Coffee Stain put gameplay first and will work on narrative/lore after the heavy lifting is done. If I could take my $50 back from Star Citizen and give it to Satisfactory, I would.
Combining the spirit of Factorio with the immersive 3D first-person perspective of Infinifactory, Satisfactory has the perfect formula for the factory-building genre. With a deep tech-and-resource-tree, a beautiful alien world to explore, and a very minimal emphasis on combat (against hostile alien beasts) the game delivers everything I want in a factory sim. The user interface is intuitive and you can tell they've worked hard to get object placement and conveyor belt connection working smoothly and glitch-free. I did encounter some bugs when playing with a friend, and the multiplayer netcode still needs some work, as desyncs are common especially when driving. If you like loosely structured sandbox games, factory building, and can't get enough of conveyor belts - Satisfactory is for you. It's absolutely worth holding your nose and giving Epic your credit card.
I'm fairly excited for what's coming in 2020: Bethesda is going to drop DooM Eternal, the sequel to DooM(2016) which quickly became one of my all-time favorites. Amazon is working on a survival MORPG called New World which is currently in an intermittent closed-alpha. If there's a PvE mode I'll almost certainly play, if it's strictly PvP then I won't play it if there is no region lock. 2020 might be the year (I say this every year) that I finally buy a VR headset. The Valve Index looks to be the right buy for me, and when Half Life: Alyx drops that might finally be the catalyst. At $400 it would be a no-brainer, but right now this is still a thousand dollar proposition, which gives me pause. I'm excited to see what Blizzard does with Overwatch 2, and I'm hesitantly optimistic that it will be worth buying when it comes out -- they seem to be putting some thought into keeping the playerbase from fracturing. I'm really looking forward to the new content in Path Of Exile II, and hope that doesn't push out to 2021. I'm a bit guarded, however, as the game has grown in complexity quite a bit since I last played. Hopefully Diablo 4 (just announced) is so far off that it won't compete with PoE2, I want to play both.
I have to admit that I thought both the Battlefield and CoD franchises were being a bit lazy with yet another rehashing of WW2 shooters, ala the early 2000s, but this 2017 title was well done. The campaign was short, taking me only six hours of Nazi-killing-fun to complete, but that was all I wanted to spend in a game like this so it was perfect. The story was well written, and the cut scenes were well integrated with the live action. Following CoD protocols, the story occasionally moves you away from the main protagonist and gives you a chance to fly fighter planes and command tanks. With plenty of satisfying sniping, and unleashing hell with mounted guns, the play is varied and engaging. The D-Day landing in the first chapter is particularly well done. The multiplayer is typical CoD as well: small maps, lots of camping, and immense fun for about twenty minutes. Overall, a great pick-up in Humble Monthly.
Factory Town is a chill factory game that features typical base-building, resource exploitation, and tech development mechanics. There is no combat whatsoever and the only time pressure is what you put on yourself. The only real way to "fail" is to neglect to deliver goods to your housing zone, which will run down your reserves of currency which is needed to expand and keep building. This game has been described as "3D Factorio without combat." I got a solid 20 hours of play out of it, and would recommend it for purchase at around $10. My only major gripe is that it's fairly tedious to go "full 3D" with your factories. Elevating goods and crossing conveyor paths is a nightmare; dedicated lifts and conveyor poles are badly needed -- something Satisfactory absolutely nailed. The hackey work-around using silos is fairly lame. What Factory Town did wonderfully is infinite, procedurally generated worlds. Replayability will be off the charts if you fall in love with this game.
This is the latest installment in the Anno series, which is a city-building and resource management simulator. Like its predecessors, 1800 features deep and interesting production chains, satisfying sea faring exploration and goods transport, and diplomacy and combat if you want it. Unfortunately, the game introduces some annoying mechanics like per-island workforces, radius effect crop fertilities, and production rates expressed in counterintuitive time units. Anno1800 finally came off of new-release pricing and I picked it up for about $30, but I recommend waiting a bit longer if you're considering it. It's a ten to fifteen dollar title, in my opinion, and you're better off playing Anno 2070 instead. There are at least two major bugs in the campaign which require restarting the entire campaign, and have yet to be fixed by Ubisoft. One of these bugs struck me about five hours in. After abandoning the campaign, I played a sandbox game that was quite enjoyable and captures the essence of the series. This is a fine game, but 2070 is really the gold standard Anno game and topping its near-perfection is the tallest of orders.
Quake II is my second most-played game of all time, with an estimated hours-count over 3000. This did not stop me from playing through the game again, adding another six hours to the count, with the recent release of Quake II RTX. It started as an indie project to bring ray-tracing to the old title, and was eventually taken over by NVidia to showcase the RT capabilities of their 20 series cards. I was stuck with software support for ray-tracing on my 1070, which was utterly unplayable, but turning off RT I was still able to thoroughly enjoy the new support for high resolution screens. I had an absolute blast playing through the campaign in 2560x1440. I haven't tried multiplayer yet, but I plan to hop on tastyspleen soon. The full version of Quake II RTX is free on Steam if you own the original game. Whether or not you own a ray-tracing card, I recommend checking it out if you were at all a fan of the iconic 90's title.
I played about 20 hours of Elite Dangerous and felt a minimal sense of accomplishment...but I did play for twenty hours. That's the most generous endorsement of this niche title that I can give; I can't say that I really fit the niche. If you want a flight simulator in space, the core of the game will appeal to you. The progression in the game is "a mile wide and an inch deep." The major channels of gameplay all suffer from some serious monotony. The combat falls just short of being "arcade-y" enough to be fun, the exploration is all the same, the cargo-hauling is tedious and requires the use of external web sites and tools to work, and the mining is one-dimensional. I have a suspicion that this game is significantly more fun with multiple, fancy input devices. As it stands, the ship has just enough axes and controls to exceed the capabilities of a standard XBox controller for the most basic operation of the ship. If you go in expecting 20 hours of value you will feel OK about your purchase.
Surviving Mars is a city builder with resource management, and just a faint hint of an econ sim. The game takes place on Mars, where your "sponsor" company has sent you to establish a colony and mine for rare metals. The only real economic challenge is keeping enough rare metals for your colony while selling enough to generate sufficient income for re-supply rockets from Earth. Other than that, it's a city builder -- and a pretty good one. You manage a small army of drones who do the heavy lifting and construction, while preparing domed habitats for human arrivals who will do other jobs. You have to keep your population stable in numbers, employed, housed and fed. I also bought the terraforming expansion Green Planet which adds a very satisfying element to the game of (slowly) making the climate on Mars habitable. Once you have enough vegetation, atmosphere and water your domes can open up and the inhabitants can enjoy a green planet. I give the game two thumbs up, definitely a game to grab on sale.
Satisfactory is an instant favorite for me. It's a first-person factory building game with deep and interesting production chains, a beautiful map that is fun to explore, and a well-tuned user interface. For an early access game it's extremely well polished and optimized. I've played both the base and experimental builds of the game, and look forward to the full release. This is the game I wanted Factorio to be. Combat is minimal and only serves as an admission ticket to new areas of the map, whereas in Factorio it seemed a constant nuisance and an integral part of the game's plot. Satisfactory's resource management, production chains, and nearly-optional combat are much more akin to an Anno game. It's like a mashup of Anno2070 and Infinifactory, two of my favorite games. I picked it up for $20, from the Epic game store, and it's easily worth twice that. I think if the developer hadn't gone exclusive to Epic this would have been a smash hit. It still might, but it will be that much harder. I also look forward to trying out the game's co-op mode.
Northgard was on my Steam wishlist for a long time, and when it appeared in the Humble Monthly I was thrilled. It's an RTS game that borrows the best elements of turn-based 4X games like Civilization. Everything happens in realtime, there are no turns, but territory is accumulated in parcels. It's not on a hex-map, and parcels can vary in shape and number of bordering territories. However, each parcel has a structure limit and only generates certain types of resources. Combat units are also limited by available training structures. In that regard, it's more like a 4X. For me, Northgard is perfectly executed. I have a general disdain for turn-based games, so I really enjoy the realtime exploration and combat. At the same time, there are just enough resource types and structures to keep things interesting as you manage them. Combat unit management is also kept easy with a great UI. It doesn't take an eternity to finish a game...I can't stress how happy that makes me in this style of game. I finished the campaign in about 20 hours, and will revisit it soon to try the skirmish mode.
If you're familiar with Far Cry games, imagine one set 10,000 years ago. Far Cry Primal has all the familiar elements of the series, an open world with story and side quests, outpost liberation, territory discovery, resource gathering, a small skill tree and basic crafting, while adding a pet system with beasts that help you fight. The stealth and "takedown" melee system is also very, very Far Cry. You are a member of the Wenja tribe, helping liberate the land of Oros from the cannibal Udam tribe. One game element that is slightly different than other, recent Far Cry games is that you have a "home base" that slowly gains Wenja population as you complete quests and discovery. There are unique Wenja out in the wild that you recruit to your village, and they unlock specific parts of the crafting/skill trees. The base and the huts of the unique Wenja can be upgraded as well. I got this title free with my purchase of The Division 2, and I'm definitely having fun with it. I would not pay full price for it though.
I spent a few hours this month in each of Zombie Army Trilogy, Steel Rats, and Warhammer:Vermintide 2; all Humble Monthly titles that I'd picked up along the way. Zombie is like a cross between Sniper Elite and Left4Dead, which sounds like something I'd really like. But, it only held my attention for a few missions. There was too much tedium in looting for ammo all the time. Steel Rats is a side-scrolling 2.5D motorcycle game with a lot of interesting controls and mechanics. I probably would have played a lot more of it had the game been a bit more action-adventure oriented, and less "super meatboyish" with how death and level-restarting works. Warhammer was a fun little hack-and slash FPS where you get to mow down hordes of rat-men in Left4Dead style levels where the objective is to get to the end of a chapter. Again, sounded like something I'd really like -- but I ended up wishing it was more of an adventure-campaign style of game. This is probably the only game I've ever enjoyed playing the single player prologue over the mechanics of the actual (co-op) game.
I played the open beta of The Division 2 earlier this month and went ahead and bought the full game. It's really just an upgraded version of the first Division game, set in a different city. Mechanically, if you know how to play the first game (cover-based tactical shooter) there isn't much to learn with The Division 2. It's a decent shoot'n'loot RPG set in post-apocalyptic Washington DC. The visuals are stellar, and the 4-man co-op is well done. I finished the main campaign and side missions in ~10 hours, so it's a short game -- but it has a rich post game designed to absorb as much of your time as you want. The PvP Dark Zone also functions similarly to the original Division, and offers its own leveling and looting scheme. I recommend the title if you have friends to play with, otherwise wait until it dips below $20 to pick it up. Along with this title I scored a free copy of Far Cry Primal, which I'm looking forward to playing.
I picked up Late Shift as part of Humble Monthly and thought I'd give it a try. It was billed as a game, but was really an interactive movie similar to Bandersnatch. I enjoyed it, but did not put in multiple viewings to discover as many choices as possible. I enjoy this style of CYOA filmmaking, and I think it's a pretty good idea to release on Steam and other game platforms -- as long as the price stays around a couple bucks. I also delved into my backlog of games and played a few hours each of Ashes of the Singularity, Offworld Trading Company, Tower Unite, and Metal Gear Solid 5. None of those titles really did much for me, however, and I won't be revisiting them. Offworld Trading Company almost had me hooked, but it's a little dated and I'd rather buy Surviving Mars and play that if I get in the mood for a Mars-based builder/econ sim. Plus, the new Anno will be out soon...
I've developed a large backlog of games I intend to play, but I've been spending an insane amount of time in Conan Exiles. My cumulative hours are closing in on 500, and I'm considering the game for my Top 20. The more I play this game, the more I realize that Funcom has really pulled off something great: a complete adventure/survival RPG integrated right alongside a builder that's every bit as addictive and creative as Minecraft ever was. All while having depth and sophistication (not to mention graphics) that aren't even in the same league as something like Minecraft. I wish this game had been a bit more polished and well-rounded when it was first released, I think it would have had a larger userbase; another beautiful baby stunted by the rotten crib of "early access."
I was patiently waiting for Civilization 6 to drop in price and, fortunately, they had a free weekend. I put about ten underwhelming hours into it, finishing the tutorial and one brutally long game. It was a bit of a let-down, and I don't intend to purchase the title. The AI seemed clumsy and aimless - not for any individual AI player, but in a multiple-AI game. The computer opponents were constantly declaring war on each other and then making peace two turns later. They'd denounce me one turn and offer a trade deal the next. After hundreds of turns not a single AI had eliminated another AI, and my territory seemed stagnant and unable to grow larger. I also lagged far behind some in development, and was far ahead of others -- having no idea what I was doing wrong to not be able to keep up with the leaders. Civ VI gets a big "meh" from me.
I spent a good deal of time with my NES Classic playing two of my favorite classics, Metroid and Castlevania. Both games are in my all time favorites list, and I really enjoyed getting back in to them. The original Metroid is amazing to me, in that the game has no built-in map. Compared to games of today, there is a lot to remember -- even though the map is not particularly large. Playing Metroid on the NES Classic is vastly superior to playing it on the original system for one reason: you can save at any point. The Classic can simply save off the state of the entire system into under 2MB of storage (a trivial amount by today's standards) so that you can leave/resume your game at any time. No more tedious entry of savepoint codes. I used to be able to finish Castlevania on one life back in the day. I'm struggling to get back to that level of performance, but I can still finish the game in 3-5 lives.
I spent a bit of time playing the official video-game adaptation of the popular board game Carcassonne. It's a tile and worker placement game based on completing roads and city regions, and using workers to "farm" field regions. The version I bought also included "The River" expansion. I rarely even write about board game adaptations because most of them are so awful, but I put multiple hours into this one. It's well done. It's not only faithful to the board game, but the AI opponents are fun to play against. They're quite good, beating me easily for my first few games. I picked it up in a Steam sale for just a few bucks, and I'd recommend it to any fan of the Carcassonne board game.