Outer Worlds – Savior

That felt good.

I am going to try and avoid some spoilers here.  There’s a fair chunk of Outer Worlds that depends on the in-game world context to drive the story forward, and it’s not front and center.  By the time you reach the 3/4 mark, a lot of the seemingly separate threads start coming together, making for a very satisfying conclusion.

After completing it, I thought about world size.  When nearly every bit is meaningful and tied into the larger story, then that feels like the adventure makes sense.  It’s not linear by any means, and there’s a lot of just plan ol’ exploration to be had.  But everything is purposeful, and not just a random checkbox (Fallout 4 irked me about this, and AC: Odyssey took this to 11).  No one said “God of War is too short”.  Outer Worlds clocks in near 30 hours, and it’s a fun 30 hours throughout.

And the entire is a real homage to the Fallout 1/2 closeout.  A stream of stills, with a voice over that goes over your various choices, your companions, and the storyline general conclusion.  It’s enough to say that this story is complete, but at the same time could be rather simply added into a larger galactic one.  Throughout I kept thinking this was an Isaac Asimov storyline…all the way through the punch.  Impressive.

I want to point out the quality of writing and quest building.  While the mechanics of some quests boil down to “go here, kill the bad guys, get the thing, come back” you are presented with multiple options to complete each of those goals.  Take a backdoor.  Break the ventilation and put everyone to sleep.  Lie your way through the front door.  Some quests are interlinked, so that actions in one affect another.  You probably won’t realize it until later too.

Also, do all the companion quests.  The rewards are ok (skill points mostly) but the quests themselves are generally morally grey and reall well executed.

Some housekeeping notes from the playthrough:

  • I didn’t encounter a single bug.  Not one!
  • Max level is 30.  Doing all the quests gets you there easily.  Doing only the main quests will make it a lot harder.
  • Invest in carry weight boosts.  Good golly things are heavy here.  Adreno (health packs) in particular.
  • My playthrough was as a smooth talking sniper.  Dialogue skills were maxed, Lockpick and Hack were pretty close to max, and Long Guns.  Mal?!
  • Almost all the combat is optional, either through sneaking or dialogue options
  • Companion abilities are extremely powerful in combat.  Perks that allow for them to refresh make a big difference.  Plus its fun to see someone drop kick a giant mantis.
  • Regular difficulty is extreme easy-mode, making defensive stats meaningless.  Good idea to boost it.  There are some decent combat mechanics here on Hard.  I died often enough that it felt challenging.
  • There’s a fair amount of weapon variety that will fit any playtstyle you want.  Unique weapons cannot be modified but are generally better than their regular counterparts.
  • A ranged sniper benefits a LOT from Long Guns, Sneak, and Science (with an electric/plasma weapon).
  • Science weapons are quite useful with the right perks.
  • I did not use melee in my playthrough.
  • The max for any skill check is 100.  More than that adds some bonuses (like extra damage), so it’s a soft cap.
  • Lockpick/Hack are used outside of dialogue, meaning you can equip gear to get to the max.
  • Sneak is used for damage boosts (when not detected).  It is useless for pickpocketing (which is too bad).
  • All dialogue skills (Persuade/Intimidate/Lie) are active, you need the skill points before you start talking.
  • Science skills are usually passive, though can open some interesting dialogue choices if you’re in the 60 range.
  • I found no checks for combat (melee, range, defense) or leadership skills.  They are only used for combat.
  • You do not need to allocate skills immediately upon level up.  If your build is working, then only apply perks on level up and save the points for later.
  • Companions add a lot of skill points, more so when they complete their quests.
  • Engineering is an interesting skill.  Tinkering allows you to upgrade items a level (more damage/armor) making them useful for longer.  Mods are interesting upgrades – mostly when talking about adding skill points or changing damage types.
  • My next replay (after the holidays so that I forget some of the details) will likely be a dumb melee grunt.

Given the resources Obsidian has to build something like this, that’s an achievement on its own.  The game is not perfect, but there is so much positive here that it’s a new high bar.  This is a GotY candidate for that alone.

Blizzcon Thoughts

I still find it impressive that a gaming company can put on their own convention and have such a massive turnout.  Tennocon and EvEfest are similar comparisons, but a much smaller scope.  The whole point of these things is to collect money from the most die hard fans.  Fans who should, with minimal push, throw the loudest cheers at the simplest of things (see Apple fans).

Last year’s Blizzcon… not so much.

This year, quite a few things.  Overwatch 2, Diablo 4, WoW v9 (Shadowlands), a new Hearthstone expansion (or rather, a date for it)  and an auto-battler.  The only bit thing with a release window is WoW (2020), while everything else is TBD.  Fully in line with previous Blizzcons, but will certainly conflict with Activision’s mandate to have more games out the door.

The elephant in the room is the Blitzchung ban for the pro Hong Kong statements.  J Allen Brack started the whole ceremony off with an apology of acting too quickly and taking too long to respond to criticism.  Not that they took the wrong path, or that their rules are too vague.  Not that they support free speech (in all forms), or that they put players ahead of corporate values. Just that they acted at the wrong speed.

I will say that the fact that they didn’t take any action on protesters, and simply let people speak out, is certainly the right path.  Now, I would like to hear anyone argue that there was any other option but this approach.  Gamers are notoriously fickle, so by letting everyone say their piece, this will likely blow over.

As for the games themselves, more of a meh.  Overwatch 2 seems more like an expansion.  D4 seems a rebuild of D2 (which is what Path of Exile does well).  Auto-battlers seem more of a fad, but perhaps a quick income stream for Hearthstone.  And WoW is a pack of promises waiting to be cut (‘cept the noted level squish).  Every expansion they say they will reduce the grind and RNG, every expansion they find a way to make it worse.  So again, meh.

I do think this was as good as Blizcon could go, given the circumstances.  No large fires, plenty of fan-friendly announcements, and a general sense of capitulation to the madness of a conference.  They should be treating this as a win, all things considered.

Now the actual hard part.  Delivering.

OW – Couple Planets In

One is a space station, and the other is the same planet I started on.  So…

The larger change is that I am now level 18 and have 4 companions, which means generally more options to resolve the various tasks at hand.  Where the tutorial planet gives you a taste at quest variety (like choosing between Persuade, Lie, or Medical responses), as you progress the requirements to execute those options are higher.  Tutorial wouldn’t need much, say 20 points.  Now, I’m seeing requirements in the 50-60 range, which means that players need to focus on a specific skill set.

My character is a focused primarily on long guns and stealth skills, so I’m using companions, equipment, and meds to boost other skills as needed.  And as a general rule, any optional way to resolve a quest is more rewarding (story wise and actual rewards) than the vanilla version.  One let me solve two quests at once, and avoid having to botch/fail another.  The inter connectivity of the quests isn’t all that obvious to start off, since the quest text is rather high level, but as you get closer to the goals you can see that there are choices to be made that push you in one direction rather than another.  Time will tell what the long-term impacts of those decisions will mean.

One small gripe I have so far is with how pickpocketing works.  In both Fallout 1 &2, pickpocketing was a great way to fill in inventory, and complete some quests.  Simple mechanic, either it worked and you were good, or it didn’t and you ended at the end of a barrel.  Fallout 3/4 had a bit of this, but it included the stealth portion from Elder Scrolls – only worked if you weren’t seen.

Outer Worlds has NPC placement in such a way that you’re almost always in line of sight from someone else, a few times through what are physical walls.  People who lockpick in down, or just try to steal some items thinking they are isolated have seen this.  When you pickpocket, it takes both time (about 5s at medium skill levels), everyone sees you, and you don’t pick from an inventory – the stuff just gets dumped into your bag.  One quest requires you to pay 10,000 credits to get a pass.  There are minor quests to get the money for it, and they can also help apply a discount.  In the meta space, you would think there would be a way to steal this pass (though certainly a convoluted way).  Even when I did get the skill to work, the rewards were less credits than if I had looted a random box in another room.  I am pretty sure the skill is broken… and I’ll see by the end of the game if there’s any use for it.

A note for those who are acquiring flaws in the game (a permanent negative effect that gives a permanent perk point) – since this is a skill stat-based game, unless you are actively trying to build an oaf, don’t take any flaws that reduce your stats.  Taking more damage is much easier to manage than -1 intelligence.

A good point here is that I am having a really hard time putting the game down. The only downtime is when you leave/ land on a new planet and are trying to find out what to do.  Otherwise, there’s always that cabin on the hill to explore.

Also, today is the start of Blizzcon.  Making a big batch of popcorn!

Outer Worlds Quick Notes

tldr; it’s Fallout in space!

First, the elephant in the room.  Bethesda and Fallout76.  There is just a ridiculous amount of “hold my beer” that is seems almost purposeful idiocy.  Fallout 4 was in 2015, Elder Scrolls V in 2011.  Everything since then has been a reskin – FO76 is FO4 w/ multiplayer and no NPCs, you can see source code online about that.  So I get that they are a bit cash strapped with zero income and insanely long dev cycles.  Still, to so firmly, and repeatedly consistent on making FO76 the butt of every joke is it’s own achievement.  To somehow make EA & ActiBlizz look generous with their monetization is insane.

The good news in all this is that FO76’s $100/y subscription for a single player mode put a huge spotlight on Outer Worlds.  So yay!

Character Start

It’s not SPECIAL (due to IP I guess) but the model is still there.  Pick stats, pick perks, pick skills.  Make a character.  Considering you never see your character except in the inventory screen, I’ve never understood this part. (hey Anthem!)

There’s a tutorial level which gives you the basics.  Movement, attacks, stealth, dialogue.  Instead of VATS (full stop time) we get Tactical Time Dilation or TTD (slows down time for a short period).  With the right skills, hitting a body part inflicts a status (blind, cripple, etc..) which are all quite useful.  I’m of the mind that it’s only useful to start a fight due to the recharge rate.  There are perks to increase the rate, but that’s for later levels.

By the end of the tutorial, you enter a ship, talk to the flippant AI, and then get the first big quest to enter the nearby town and get a reactor.

World & Quests

I completed the first planet, in the sense that all the map was explored and all the quests done.  Some of the quests are straightforward – go to this dangerous area, collect this thing.  Others are more complicated – collect money from 4 people who are broke, who will send you on other errands.  A small fraction require you to pay attention to quest text – find an engineering tome based on log entries.  The overarching one deals with socio-political issues.  Support the company-run town that treats people like slaves, or the deserters who are leeching off the town to survive.  It’s an interesting moral & ethical choice, right in line with FO3’s Megaton choice but with arguably more nuance.

The quest text and NPC dialogue is just the right amount of snark.  The ship AI is pretty solid on that.  The dialogue skills (or even some other skill checks in dialogue) add a lot of flavor to NPCs, or open new quests.  A LOT of branching, which is neat.

Quick note on lockpicking/hacking.  No mini-games!  You have the skill and the consumables, you just do it.  Chests are marginal in terms of gains… but doors can open up alternate travel routes or loot rooms.

Complete the planet, move on to the larger map of other locations.  It isn’t an open world map for everything, more like the dozen or so locations are all decently sized and open.  Which I think works better than FO4’s everything-is-the-same overworld.

Combat

There are melee and ranged weapons.  Why anyone would use melee (aside from a single stealth hit) is beyond me.  Ranged weapons have different damage, effects, and modifications (lots and lots of mods) so you can tailor your setup fairly well.  Enemies have their own resistances, and weak points.  It’s a bit of a rock/paper/scissors game.

I died more than once, due to enemy numbers and not really paying attention.  Since there’s no reliance on VATS, you need to use walls/boxes to duck behind.  Running in all blazes gets you a pretty corpse.

Art

I’m liking it.  It does have a Borderlands feel, but without the black outline on everything.  Characters are smooth enough in animation, except a in direct dialogue.  Maybe it’s a homage to FO, but there’s a lot of “dead eyes syndrome”.  It’s inconsistent though, cause some NPCs look just fine.

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Pavarti getting an earful.

Bugs

I’ve never played an Obsidian game that didn’t have game crashing bugs at launch.  Until now.  The entire first planet, not a single one.  I can’t even think of a single one, point of fact.  Wow!

Back to Bethesda here.  That Obsidian could launch this clean with a fraction of the resources within Bethesda… that speaks enough for the state of those two companies.

Forward

I’ve read this is a ~30hrs to complete, and I think I’m about 4 or so in now.  So far, I have only positive to say about it.  Worth buying, and worth supporting Obsidian so they can keep up their solid work.

The Perils of Games as a Service

There are two main benefits for Games as a Service.  Players maintain an investment in the game over time, and it therefore has a very long shelf life.  Companies then can harvest money on the game for longer periods of time.  Very few companies have figured out how to balance those two items.

The more traditional model is simply box games, with a 1 time purchase, and maybe an expansion pack down the road.  With most games being on-line enabled, we got horse armour (and cosmetics in general).  Western players have generally avoided the gatcha/pay-to-win monetization models that dominate the east. Paying a subscription… that lasted about 10 years.  The good/bad of capitalism is that it’s a race to the bottom.  F2P came in, and here we are.

Games as a Service is the new synergy/cloud/blockchain buzzword.  It’s been around for a long time, but in the more explicit sense means a game that continues development long after release, and continues to generate incomes on that new development over time.  The minimum of that time is 1 year (for annualized games), but can go up to an as-yet-unknown number.  You’re looking at something like FIFA compared to something like WoW.

The challenge of this model relates to refresh, or sequels.  In the sports license world, there are arguably minimal improvements from one year to the next (except maybe console generations).  NHL19/20 have marginal changes that could easily have been patches.  The roster updates are already included over the year.  This model is really weird to me – especially FIFA where the MTX only apply to one game, then you need to do the same gambling steps the year following…

Semi-persistent games are the start of the challenge.  Something like Destiny has people sinking a lot of hours of effort to kit up their character, and the developer spending many cycles improving the base game.  After a couple years, the general game is really smooth.  Then a sequel is launched, which always is a downgrade mechanically (more bugs) and erases all player progress.  This is worse when the sequel isn’t easily distinguishable from the original (Division 1/2 here).  This problem gets worse the older the first game gets as compared to the next.  I don’t see how something like For Honor or Rainbow Six could ever have a sequel due to this.  It would have to be an entirely new game.  Ubisoft is public about that learned lesson.  Bethesda sure as heck isn’t.

For fully persistent games, like an MMORPG, it is near impossible to launch a true sequel without cutting your user base.  EQ2 and FF14 are the only ones where this could be considered a success, and for vastly different reasons.  There’s a LONG list of sequels that failed.  It’s not possible for WoW to ever have a WoW2, mainly for the fact that every expansion is in most essence a sequel – 95% of the progress from the previous version is meaningless.  ‘Cept pets – they are forever.  The downside is that the engine behind the game needs either updates or rebuilds (see Cataclysm & Legion), something that’s really only possible on PC only.

Hate on it if you want, but Fortnite here may actually have hit the right spot.  The recent black hole reboot acts as a mini-reboot.  It’s cross platform, rejigged the baselines systems, added new ones, maintained the player identity/investment, and increased players.

Still evolving landscape, makes it really interesting to see how this new game model stabilises.

Back to Arkham City

There’s something about Batman that clicks with me.  A large part of that has to be related to the animated series in the 90s, which still stands shoulders above most others.  Kevin Conroy’s voice is just tatooed in my mind as Batman (as much as Mark Hamill as the Joker).  It helps that there really haven’t been too many clunker Batman video games (hellooooo Superman64!)

I still recall Arkham Asylum when it came out.  I scraped every bit of that game clean, bugs and all.  It had the metroidvania hooks, a decent showing of the Batman villains and setting, and what can only be described as a superb combat system.

If you haven’t played it in the Arkham series, then you may have in the Shadow of Mordor series.  Fast flowing melee combat, quick traversal of distance between enemies, integration of skills, and the feeling of being absolutely surrounded and coming  out on top.  And I don’t mean you’re a lawnmower against grunts.  I mean that you need to pick the targets and pay attention to surroundings.  Dying is always a possibility.  (Side note, if Assassin’s Creed’s engine could put more than 3 people against you, then it would be a close relative.)

Mechanically, there have been some minor tweaks to combat in the 4 Arkham games (Asylum, City, Origins, Knight).  Melee combat stays the same, but the skill sets change, as do enemy types.  The last game added vehicle combat (meh), but the regular fights were much more strategic than the brawls of earlier versions.

The stories inside the games are ok I guess.  Asylum was pretty solid up til the final fight with a super-Joker.  Origins was more like Mega Man in that you’re hunting different enemies without much of an arcing story.  Knight had two stories, only about the actual Arkham Knight destroying things (redemption arc, naturally), and the other about Batman’s psychosis relating to the Joker (this was a knock out).

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Arkham City.  That one was signature Batman.  A puppet villain.  Interesting villains that don’t take up a lot of space. Catwoman.  Vertical gameplay (the floor is lava in quite a few places).  And the Joker twist, all the way to the credits has been etched in my brain for 8 years (launched Oct 18, 2011).  It was also the last time that I considered the Riddler puzzles “reasonable”.

I’ve been somewhat spoiled with AC: Odyssey in terms of game length.  Sure, that’s artificial padding since the content is computer generated, but the minimap icons!  Arkham City’s content is purposefully places, and the minimap icons are pretty much restricted to the Riddler trophies to collect.  The significant benefit here is that the story is paced and managed.  None of this “the end of the world is upon us, but oh, let’s do this 5 hour side quest.”  There’s a sense of urgency, yet at the same time there’s a lot of meat to chew.  In hindsight, it’s a level of balance that’s really hard to compare elsewhere.

The Game of the Year version (with a ton of DLC) is relatively cheap, plays well on any PC, and doesn’t look like/play like a 2011 game.  I’m still a Batman fan, and most games I play will still be compared to this one.

It’s Over, It’s Done

Canadian elections are over and everyone is full sorry.  Liberals remain in power, but with a minority.  There coalition that will form will have two main goals, social equality and climate change.  There are high odds that the 0.1% are going to get a tax hit (estate taxes are bit odd here).

The downside here is that the country is effectively split east/west.  West prioritises more immigration control, and less environmental regulation.  The former topic is way more complex, depending on what part of the country you live in.  This election had only 1 party talking about this, and they didn’t get a single person elected, not even withing voting margins of error.  So yay Canada!

The second issue is the environment and here is a split that is much more straightforward.  The “center” of the west is Alberta, where our oil fields are located.  For 100 years now, Alberta has been a boom or bust location, and nearly all of that is due to natural resources.  This part I understand… when all you’ve ever known is somehow deemed as evil, you get super defensive and confused.  There’s a similarity to the coal mines in the US.  It doesn’t matter if people promise more jobs, people need to be willing to buy it.  And it’s pretty hard to compete with indentured labor overseas in terms of cost.  The fact that Alberta hasn’t diversified, even in the boom years, is a true lost opportunity.

I won’t go into the west’s “less taxes” mandate, which historically has shown as non-tenable.  It gets complicated, so quickly.  Canada’s programs that are “ripe” for cutting are education and health care.  Two programs that if you cut, all hell breaks loose.  A similar aligned party tried it in Ontario… reverted everything.

Now for the good news.  As a general rule, even though we have different parties, we have shared views on nearly all topics.  There really isn’t a dramatic gap between parties, except on election-specific topics.  I say that in the objective sense… of course people between parties have significant disagreements.  But you’ll never hear of main line party rallies being assaulted, or threats from leaders.  There’s some comfort in knowing that at the end of the day, regardless of the political parties in charge, we’re still all Canadians.

Sorry.