Fretting about what games to play!

I have an odd problem, though probably not so unusual these days when people have Steam libraries that number in the hundreds of games as well as consoles full of PS+ and Games with Gold “freebies”: I can’t find a game that I want to play.

I’m still playing Destiny more than is healthy, and I sometimes dip into LOTRO and Star Trek Online, all of which I enjoy, but I feel like I want something different. I don’t think I want another MMORPG, and if I did, I have Guild Wars 2, but never got into it. No, what I really want is a space game.

Some of this came about because Elite: Dangerous became available on Steam, so that got me thinking about the genre. I love the X games from Egosoft, from X2 through the various incarnations of X3. I bought X: Rebirth some time ago, but just couldn’t get into it. I started it again last week, since many patches and expansions have claimed to have “fixed” and improved the game. As far as I can tell, nope. X: Rebirth’s universe seems at once more crowded, yet more tedious than those of the other X games. Travel is done via space highways, which seems restrictive compared to the time-accelerating travel mechanism in the other games. I presume they want to make the universe more connected and continuous than before, but so far, I have the opposite impression. And since stations are now massive conglomerations of modules, you have to hunt for places to dock rather than just approaching the station and asking to dock. Even after I’ve visited a station, finding the docking areas is still a huge pain. Maybe it gets better when I add more gear to the ship, but so far, the game remains almost unplayable.

So looking through my enormous Steam library, I saw that I had bought Galaxy on Fire 2 HD when it was on sale some time ago. I also have it on my iPad, but the controls were pretty bad, so I hoped the controls and graphics would be better on my PC. Well sort of, but it is still a tedious and not fun game. It is basically a space dogfighter with little to no aim assist, with a little bit of trading and mining thrown in. In essence, not much fun. And, frankly, that’s what I’m worried Elite: Dangerous will be like. I would hate to spend $60 for a game that is by all  accounts half baked and have it not be much fun either. The reviews are suggesting that I’d like it, but who knows?

So for a change of pace, I figured I’d try Baldur’s Gate 2 EE that I also bought on sale on Steam. I never played BG2, but I loved Neverwinter Nights, so I figured it would be good. Well, no, I don’t have time to manage the spells and attacks for a whole party through a tedious interface. In Dragon Age Origins, your party members act appropriately for the role you assigned, but in BG2, they seem pretty useless unless you micromanage them. Well, since computers are better at tedious micromanaging than I am, I think the computer should have done more.

So I will not be continuing with BG2 or GoF2 since they are bad at letting the computer do things it should be doing. I may end up giving X: Rebirth another shot, but I don’t think I can justify $60 for Elite: Dangerous when I could hate it.

Oh well, Destiny is calling, as always.

Destiny is Rage Inducing

Is Destiny like an abusive relationship? I ask myself, nearly every day, why I keep coming back to Destiny. I have lots of great games and are more meaningful than Destiny or look like lots of fun (GTA V, Infamous Second Son and First Light), yet I keep coming back for more Destiny. I suppose it is because Destiny is very comfortable and predictable, plus the game mechanics feel about as perfect as I can imagine.

But yesterday, Destiny pissed me off several times. The first and most upsetting was when I jumped to the Tower to turn in a bounty, then promised to rejoin a friend on the Moon Patrol (she needed to kill Hive and I needed to get public events for another bounty). From the Tower, I joined her fireteam and started flying to the Moon. My friend told me that a “Defend the Warsat” public event was starting. I was still loading (covered up by the flying animation). After a minute or so, she said that the Warsat was about halfway done, but I was still loading. After another seeming interminable time nothing changed and my anxiety to get there turned to FURY. I was so mad at the fucking load screens that take forever on modern gaming systems with the game loaded on the hard drive. At that point, I just turned off my PS4 and played LOTRO for the first time in 2 weeks. LOTRO was very relaxing and non-rage inducing.

But LOTRO got boring after I did a bunch of quests in Western Gondor, so I needed my FPS action fix, so I jumped back into Destiny. Then a couple of other annoying things happened, both involving “Kill Target” public events. I didn’t bother rejoining my friend’s fireteam, because I was embarrassed that I rage quit because of the stupid load time. Instead, I found a Kill Target event on Earth. I wasn’t able to kill the target alone, because I couldn’t keep his shields down long enough. In fact, the only Kill Target that I can do by myself is a Servitor on the Moon that doesn’t have shields – it’s an easy one. So I failed and got a “participation notice.” Thanks, Destiny.

Then I went to Mars to kill Cabal elites. There is a circuit there where we can kill between 1 and 4 elites every few minutes (depending on who spawns). I had 3 other people doing the circuit with me, which led to timing issues of someone killing an elite before I could get there, but it worked out. Then another Kill Target event started, while the other 3 were still around, but as soon as I jumped down to engage the target, they all disappeared. Once again, I could hurt the target, but not kill him, because I couldn’t keep his shields down long enough. What the hell happened to all the people competing with me for elite kills? I have no idea, but I was completely puzzled by it.

So the two Kill Target  event-related annoyances are no big deal and part of the game, but that damn forever load screen was just too long and too infuriating. I need to find a way to cut my addiction to Destiny and stop the abuse it does to me. Time to go beat up hookers in GTA V (or whatever the bad behavior is in that game).

On a side note, I got an Xbox One that was on sale at Costco, so I may have to shut down the PS4 for a while and try XBone games, including AssCreed Unity that came with it!

Done with Destiny

After embarrassing myself in Destiny’s Crucible last night and playing a “daily heroic” mission that was quite a challenge for my level 21 Hunter, I finally came to agree with all the critics that Destiny kinda sucks. The story is crap, the gunplay is good, the missions are okay, but there are too few. The Crucible is clearly not for me, so what’s left? Oh, the same old missions, just at punishing difficulty. What will I get if I do that? Some XP and maybe RNGesus will grant you a nice loot drop, but no really great rewards.

Well screw that. I’m going to go back to games that provide story and fun. I haven’t decided whether to actually delete Destiny from my PS2 hard drive, but I have unsubscribed from the Destiny subreddit and will try to avoid going back. Sometime when I’m feeling really good about myself and need to be brought down a peg or two, maybe I’ll venture back into the punishing worldlet of Destiny. I’m glad I didn’t pre-order the DLC…

My current games: Started Final Fantasy XIII-2, Stopped DDO, Playing STO

My gaming life has been fairly hectic recently because of work and real-life issues (don’t you hate it when those get in the way?). So this will be a brief update on my meager gaming recently.

At the urging of a friend, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons Online. It’s a fairly neat game, and certainly has potential, but somehow, I wasn’t enjoying it. I tended to leave every play session a little stressed, which is not ideal when I’m trying to have fun. So for the moment, DDO is on the shelf.

I’ve played a little bit of Star Trek Online. I have 2 active characters, a Federation Tactical guy and and Klingon Engineer. I am impressed with the changes they’ve made to the Fed missions, and generally think the game has significantly improved since the open beta when I started playing. On the other hand, I still think leveling is too fast. I’m already a mid-level Captain and have had do to very few side missions, cluster explorations, or other things typically associated with MMO grinding. I think the rate of progress would be better if it were perhaps 20% slower, to give us more incentive to explore and do all the patrol missions and such. I’m also pleased with the Klingon story line so far, though much of it mirrors some of the Federation stuff. When I last tried a Klingon, there was no story, just PvE and PvP battles.

Both my primary STO characters are in fleets. The Klingon fleet is large, well established, and working hard on building an awesome fleet starbase. The Federation character is in a much smaller, younger fleet, so my character is leader in fleet projects to build the starbase, though a couple others sometimes take the lead. I used one of my established characters, a level 50 admiral, to help someone create yet another fleet, but I haven’t done much with that fleet yet. Maybe someday.

I started Final Fantasy XIII-2 on the PS3 last night and it’s okay. It is surely a pretty game, as one would expect, and so far, the combat is easy. They have added cinematic action, in which you have to hit certain buttons or move a stick just at the right time to land attacks, which is somewhat annoying. Some of the other features appear a little simpler than FF XIII was, plus now they’re trying to sell lots of DLC for companions and costumes and such. Pretty annoying. I’ll probably continue playing, but not very often.

Killing in Games-How Morals and Games Sometimes Don’t Mix

I’ve played many games that involve killing things, from Space Invaders-type games in the late 70s and 80s to today’s Skyrim and Gears of War games. In the early days, you killed spaceships or vague blobs on the screen and it wasn’t terribly personal. Your mind made the games intense and interesting, even if the graphics were blocky. As game graphics improved, the enemies became more and more recognizable as either monsters or people, which has led some whack-jobs to call games “murder simulators.” For the most part, I profoundly disagree with that position, but there are some cases where games and my morals don’t mix well, which is the subject of this post.

Typically, I don’t mind killing baddies in games, mostly because they deserve it. If the enemy is a zombie, or a space monster, or even a necromancer or bandit in Skyrim, I’m happy to kill them, loot them, and move on. If anyone did a real body count during most of these games, gamers would exceed the most extreme mass murderers by a hundredfold. In Skyrim alone, I’ve killed thousands of baddies. Same in LOTRO, Gears of War, etc. Heck in Star Trek Online, Sins of a Solar Empire, and X3, I wipe out huge enemy spaceships with no regard for the imaginary lives of the crew.

The dilemma for me starts occurring when I have to kill innocents or commit cruelty in an up-close and personal manner. In the Dark Brotherhood quests in Skyrim, most of the people who are killed early on are baddies who attack you on sight, so killing them causes no pangs of conscience. Last night, however, the Dark Brotherhood boss ordered me to kill a woman (a relative of the Emperor, hence the mission) at her wedding. I had spoken to the woman on my travels around the city, so I didn’t like it much. I realize it’s a game and she wasn’t real, but it still bugged me. Almost as crazy was that I just had to pay a fine to avoid being hauled off to jail and was out so quickly that I was able to return to the wedding and speak to the groom and parents and all the guests. They didn’t attack me, which was even more surreal. The remaining Dark Brotherhood quests look like they will involve more unprovoked (at least directly) killing, so I will have to steel myself for that.

This is not the first game that has bothered my conscience. I really wanted to like Grand Theft Auto IV and got a few hours into it. I had a girlfriend and a crappy car and a place to sleep, but then I was ordered to go rough up some shop owner to pay some protection money or something. I did it, but didn’t enjoy the cruelty and quit the game. Here was a game that was supposed to be an open world sandbox, but to progress in the storyline, I had to do things I didn’t like, so I decided not to bother.

That doesn’t mean I’m totally opposed so such games. I haven’t played Saints Row III yet, but I have a hunch I won’t mind killing “innocents” in it, because it seems so over the top that I won’t associate them with real people. But in GTA IV and Skyrim, the people and actions are normal enough to give my morals a workout.

I don’t have any good ideas to fix this sort of thing. Sure, I could have avoided joining the Dark Brotherhood in Skyrim, but it’s a significant body of story, so I didn’t want to miss it. I know there are moral choices in many games, such as one of the companion missions in Mass Effect 2, where I could save people (which I did) and let the bad guy escape or kill the bad guy at the expense of innocents. In many games, such as Dragon Age II, the moral choices are overly contrived and forced, but the consequences were less personal, in my opinion. Perhaps game developers should provide a way to move forward in quest lines without having to kill innocents, though perhaps with a lesser result or more work.

On “Freemium” Games

I’ve been playing a lot of “freemium” games lately and have had some thoughts on them. A freemium game is free to play, but builds in mechanisms for the user to pay real money for premium features or goodies. Some of my favorite freemium games include Pocket Legends, Lord of the Rings Online, Pocket Frogs, and ElementZ HD.  In all these cases, the game is free to download and play and you don’t have to put any money in to have fun. There are other games that are very money grubbing and annoying about needing money to play well. Examples of that include GodFinger for iPhone and pretty much all the “farm” and “kingdom” games on iPhone and iPad. In these money-grubbing games, the grind would be made easier if you just had more mojo or power or whatever valuable stuff, and the game maker would be happy to sell you some. In most cases, you can earn mojo or power or gold, but at a pretty lousy rate. I’ll discuss premium features of the games I like in turn below.

Some games, like Pocket Frogs, are freemium, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment one bit. In Pocket Frogs, the consumables are coins, stamps, and potions, each of which can be bought in the store for real money. The good news is that if you play the game “right,” meaning you play to earn experience to rise in level, you spend a bit of time out in the pond with your frogs gaining experience. In the pond, you occasionally come across gifts, most of which are a few coins, a stamp or two, some potions, or another frog. Sometimes, however, you hit a red gift that has 300 coins or a new habitat (usually worth a lot. Never buy habitats — you’ll get all you can use in the pond.). So if you have a modicum of patience and like taming the frogs in the pond, which I do because it is relaxing, then you can play the game without ever putting in a penny. While I really like this model and this game, it may not be making too much money for the game devs.

In ElementZ HD, the commodity is “coins.” Certain special buttons that can provide significant advantage cost some number of coins to use, and while coins are occasionally won during the game, the total quickly dwindles if you use those power-ups. Since my wife and I play ElementZ HD for fun rather than trying to always beat the high scores (which we’ll never do), we have lots of coins and never use the power-ups, so again, not the best business model, but a fun game.

Lord of the Rings Online, however, might have a viable business model. You can have fun without paying a penny, but if you put a little bit of money in, the game will be a lot better. Things you can buy from the LOTRO store include quest packs, more inventory, horse riding skills (and horses), small character upgrades, and potions and such. Some of the items, such as the quest packs, are unlocked for all characters in an account, while specific upgrades are linked to a particular character. The store also has occasional sales, so wait for them to buy things like quest packs, which you will get to later, but probably don’t need just now. I have bought the riding skill, inventory bags, quest packs, and perhaps one minor trait upgrade. You can buy horses in game for 500 gold, once you have the riding skill, but that took me a long time to get as a newbie character (but I did it). The truly lazy can buy horses in the store for somewhere around $8-10. The game awards Turbine Points (the LOTRO store currency) for certain deeds, but it does so at a slow enough rate that plonking down $20 will allow you to have more fun and less frustration (particularly with inventory – buy the bags).

Since Pocket Legends is an MMORPG on the iPad (and iPhone), it too is made more fun with premium features. The items available for “platinum,” the store’s currency, include weapons and armor, outfits, potions, and quest packs. I bought some armor and a good weapon in the store for just a few platinum (less than 5 total, I think, so less than a dollar’s worth) and it made the game a lot more fun. I played with two others few some levels last night and it was terrific. I was a level 7 warrior, and my compatriots were a level 9 magic user and a level 5 archer, which was a great combination. While I tanked, the magic user healed us and blasted enemies and the archer did ranged damage. With my new armor, I was able to handle more punishment from the zombie hoards and my new weapon kicked butt! I haven’t bought quest packs yet, since I’m just getting started, but will do so soon. I don’t yet know if quest packs are account-wide or character specific, but I assume the weapons and armor from the store are character specific.

So the bottom line is that putting some money into premium features makes good sense for the freemium MMORPGs, but perhaps less sense for more casual games. In any case, the amount of money needed is fairly small to make noticeable enhancements to the MMORPG games. With each of these 4 games, the feeling that you need to pay money to play is not prevalent and obtrusive, as it is in some other freemium games that I don’t want to play for that reason even if they were fun.

Evochron Legends

Since I love the X series of open-ended space combat/trading/etc. games, I should like the Evochron series, right?

Sadly, no. I have tried several of the incarnations of Evochron, including buying the latest incarnation, Evochron Legends, on Impulse. Evochron is a space game, like X3, where you start in a one-person space ship and try to build wealth by trading, mining, fighting, etc. I didn’t find the graphics, particularly the cockpit, to be very appealing, but they were fine. The flying around is good, and Evochron adds something important that X3 lacks: landing on planets. Not that you can do anything on the planet, but you can land in cities on planets. The same trading and mission interface is used, so there isn’t any difference between a planet and a space station other than you have atmospheric effects on the planets.

As usual, with these games, you start off mining and trading to upgrade your ship and weapons. It doesn’t look like you can have multiple ships and automated traders, as you can in X3, but perhaps that comes later. You can configure your hull as you like, so you can concentrate on fighting or trading or something in between.

The problems I had with Evochron are somewhat related: you are thrown into a dangerous and unforgiving universe with very little idea what to do. The plot, if you can call it that, seems pretty weak and doesn’t provide any training to help you survive. Preparing for combat is essentially impossible. I didn’t see any places where you could practice against drones or weak enemies. Instead, you prepare your ship the best you can, take a mission to a hostile sector, and get your ass kicked right away. Gee, that was fun – shall I try again? I think not. That was when I quit. I’m sure the Evochron defenders will scream that I should try again a few times and I’d get the hang of it, but, frankly, I have too many fun games to play to spend time punishing myself on one that wasn’t any fun at all. And the navigation system was just plain stupid: fast travel (I forget the buzzword used in the game. Warp?) to a planet and burn up in the atmosphere! How about having the stupid nav computer drop out of warp slightly before the big heavy round thing we are approaching? C’mon, have we stepped backwards in computer capability?

So that’s the bottom line of Evochron Legends – an open-ended challenge in a harsh universe without all the fun.

Why I quit Eve Online

Full disclosure: I changed the title of this post. I didn’t really hate Eve Online, but decided I didn’t want to play it, so I quit it.

I really wanted to like Eve Online. I really did! I was about done with my free trial sometime back and was thinking about starting the paid subscription. I had joined a corporation with a couple of nice guys from Ireland and was progressing through the ranks and through missions nicely. I had just earned enough rank to buy a cruiser, if I remember. Then I decided it wasn’t for me, gave all my stuff to my corporation buddies, and left the game and never looked back. Here’s why:

Eve Online is a massive multiplayer space game, which immediately sounds awesome. But it is also an RPG.That means hits are calculated based on dice rolls rather than your dogfighting skills. In fact, there is no dogfighting at all. But that was OK – I like RPGs. Essentially, you can choose targets, and select an orbit distance so the computer approaches to that distance and then stays that far away. And you reload when your guns are empty. The computer takes care of all the aiming and fighting. But that’s okay, it’s an RPG. I could live with that.

Your ship has a shield, which protects the hull, then when the shield is gone, it has armor, which also protects the hull, then when that’s gone, hits eat into your hull. If your hull goes to zero, your ship explodes and your escape capsule flies off. Your capsule can be shot down, in which case, you’d better have a recent clone in storage or else you lose a lot of abilities. Insurance can help replace your ship, but not what was in the hold or mounted to the hardpoints. You can go reclaim your wreck to recover some gear if you can defeat whatever killed you in the first place.

Eve Online looks pretty. The graphics are on par with most other space games (perhaps X3 is prettier, perhaps not). To get between areas within a system, you warp, which is very fast travel, and it is disconcerting when the game would warp you right through the space station you just left, for example. You don’t land on planets, but on stations near planets and moons. The stations have shops, repair bays, corporations, and assigners of missions. To travel between systems, you use jump gates that connect neighboring systems. And the whole universe is one live universe, though parts of it are “instanced,” so many of the other ships flying around and perhaps shooting at you are people, not NPCs.

For the missions, you generally have to go somewhere, fight a wave of baddies, take an accelerator gate to a nearby area, fight more baddies, repeat a few times, then go report in to get your reward. If you are part of a team, you and your buddies go through this together, which is fun. If your ship is damaged, you can escape (sometimes – the enemy may prevent you from warping away!), but then you have to start the whole chain of gates over, though the baddies don’t respawn for a while.

The reason I dropped Eve Online and never looked back was the travel time. The time it takes to navigate to the next acceleration gate in a mission just got tedious. It turns out that as you get bigger and better ships, they get slower, so the problem gets worse. My destroyer was slower than my smaller frigate, while my cruiser was slower than my destroyer. I realized that it would only get worse and never better as I progressed to bigger, “better” ships. So I quit cold turkey. If they ever change that hierarchy, I would be happy to try again, because I did have fun, for a while, but until then, I don’t like having my time wasted for me.