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.

 

Dauntless Pass Complete

The good thing about Battle Passes is that they make you play the game.  The bad part is that they make you play the game in such a way that your goals don’t always align with what you find fun.  I hit rank 50 in Dauntless a few days ago, it took about a week and a half I guess?  From a pass perspective, there’s nothing more to get.  From a game perspective, I’m full.

Given that this is the first attempt at card draws for the Battle Pass, I do think it had much more positive than negative.  Where I think there are gaps is in the variety of choice.  Selecting a fight is simple enough, you’re always going to need the materials that drop.  Those cards are always useful.  Stagger and Interrupt cards happen all the time.  Wound… not so much.  Only the War Pike does it naturally, you need to slot a specific item in your gear otherwise.  Not too big a deal.

Where things go a bit sideways is on quests that only allow 1 weapon (or sometimes two).  Because it takes such a large amount of material, you’re not exactly running around with one of every top tier weapon until a long ways into the game.  And due to the number mechanics, if you go into a fight with an underpowered weapon, you have a damage penalty to manage.  Might do 100 dmg to a level 8 behemoth, but only 10 against a level 15.  And not all weapon styles are for everyone.  I an not a fan of the War Pike.  The Hammer and Axe are pretty useless against fast moving enemies.

There are some cards that are all but impossible in a group.  Like break all parts before a kill.  I’ve killed the Shroud a few dozen times and only once was I able to break his tail.

Then there’s the item collection cards, used for crafting potions/grenades.  On the surface they seem simple enough, but in practice you’re going to end up not fighting behemoths and instead scouring the map for 5 of the 50 items you need.  It would be like trying to mine ore in a dungeon run, but the ore is 10 miles from where the enemies are.

Still, the fundamentals are there.  These are more wrinkles that can be set about with a few tweaks.  Some need to be removed, others changed in numbers. Frankly, I’m sure they have heat maps of all the cards and the metric around which are top 10 and bottom 10 would be neat to see.  Even more so if that selection was compared to the average item level of the hunters.  New players would certainly favour easier cards than veterans, if they even knew that they were easier.

Still impressed at all this growth from a relatively small group of developers (Path of Exile is similar in my mind).  If a small company can do so much with relatively few assets, really begs the question as to how large studios do so little with so much.

Training Wheels

A /venting post if there was one.

Two things are providing oodles of stress lately – work and coaching hockey.  There are a surprising amount of similarities between both.

At work I’ve taken on some new responsibilities, and a large part of that is to replicate the culture I put in place elsewhere.  The group I oversee now has their own culture, and one that really is a struggle to understand.  They certainly have their hearts in the right place, but the approach taken is just full of grievances.  Extremely valid ones.  I’ve done a bit of digging and the history behind this is just full of interesting bits.

Coming into this I’m put in the middle of the process and find myself saying “no” on a daily basis, because rarely does it pass the sniff test.  A fair chunk of this can be handled with some simple guides and training.  It’s frankly surreal that I have to train people at this, given their current job titles, but at the same time it seems clear they’ve not had the necessary support in the past.  If I can hit 80% of them taking a “smarter” way to tackle these big issues, that will have significant morale impacts.

As for hockey, we’re in a new league and a different approach to scheduling.  Our first game is this Saturday, and the schedule is still undergoing daily updates.  I have conflicts on Sunday, no practices from Nov until end of Jan, and games across town at 7am.  I coach house league, and if the game is not fun, then people won’t play.

It does beg the question as to why this is so difficult though.  People have been making sports schedules for over 100 years, using computers to do it since the 80s.  It’s entirely likely this is just learning curve, and next year will be 100x better.  Yet here it is also pretty clear that no one seems to have asked anyone how to make this work – checked with other leagues that have done this before.  Previous years, it was all done in a single Saturday with all coaches in a large room.  Somehow this new process is taking 3 weeks.

Enough venting for now.  Time to breathe.

 

 

Fallout in Space

There’s a bit of hyper here.  Or maybe it’s hope.  Stars with an H anyways.

Obsidian Games is on my list of “must play” developers.  There’s something about their games that screams “we’re a small shop but big ideas”.  KOTOR2 and Fallout:New Vegas exemplify that.  Awesome ideas, a whole lotta bugs, some interesting cut content.

I’ve had my eye on Outer Worlds for about a year now.  The concept boils down to Fallout in Space.  You get the equivalent of a SPECIAL system, skill checks, melee/ranged attacks, a mini-VATS system, dialogue trees, companions, quests.  Combine that with a dry/sarcastic humour set as a spacer, and you can have my $$$.

I’m not going to pretend that this won’t launch without game breaking bugs.  I don’t recall any Obsidian game that ever has.  It’s also an Epic Store exclusive for the first year on PC (minus the Microsoft store… since Obsidian is owned by Microsoft).  I already have that client for Dauntless and Outer Wilds.  It isn’t as full featured as Steam, but it does offer cross play for Dauntless, has a lot of games, and has way less overlay than say, Origin.

Game launches on Oct 25.  I’ll have my Dauntless pass complete by then (level 41/50 now), and I’m guessing I’ll have some time set to pay this bad boy.