Author Archives: Chris Bro

Humble Freedom Bundle Quick Games Review (All 60 Games)

Holy crap there’s a lot of games in the Humble Freedom Bundle. I’ve taken a short break from MMOs to play all of them this week. I’m glad to say that there aren’t any bad games in the bundle, but sad to say there’s not enough time to play everything fully. As we live in a time of plenty for video games, I’ve sorted all of the games into four tiers to help bundle buyers figure out what to play.

Platinum Games

Everyone should try these out.

the witness

The Witness – WOW! In the Witness you learn how to solve puzzles by completing other puzzles with no instruction. Often times you’ll need to be very observant of your surroundings. Never seen a puzzle game like this.

Stardew Valley – Sandbox builder with dungeon crawl and relationship simulator elements. It’s a better and more modern version of Harvest Moon. The game’s not very challenging, but it is without equal in its genre.

Mini Metro – At first it doesn’t seem like much of a game. After you lose your first game you realize how incredibly deep and challenging the simple gameplay is. It’s essentially a logistics simulator that can be played in a number of ways at a pace that’s right for you.

System Shock Pack – System Shock is a good game but more of a “Silver” quality nowadays. System Shock 2, however, is still perhaps the best FPS/RPG around (with mods). The FPS part hasn’t aged well, but this game holds up due to a great antagonist, fantastic character customization, and tons of atmosphere.

Gold Games

Genre fans definitely should play these and most people probably should.

invisible inc

Invisible Inc. – Showed me that stealth is way better as a tactical RPG than an action shooter. The turn based nature removes waiting for guards to finish their routes and lets you get to core enjoyable element of stealth games. Tons of puzzle solving and creative/critical thinking. Rogue-like randomization provides a ton of replay.

Super Meat Boy – The gold standard for platformers. The levels are short, interesting, and diverse. It’s tough as nails but the deaths rarely feel unfair due to slick controls. Very funny cutscenes to boot.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch – This game sounds incredibly dumb but is actually hilarious. Performing mundane tasks with no dexterity (because you’re an octopus) is surprisingly fun. Great dialogue too. You’ll love it or hate in 10 minutes so give it a try.

Subnautica – Not everyone got this, but those who did and like builder games and exploration need to play these. There’s some Early Access issues (bugs, sound quality, endgame content, etc.), but it’s worth playing now.

Super Hexagon – Do you like testing your reaction time and awesome techno chiptunes? Play this.

The Stanley Parable – Choice as a gameplay mechanic. There’s a lot of freedom that’s not immediately apparent. Discovering that en route to 20 different endings is a unique experience in The Stanley Parable.

The Swapper – Puzzle platformer with genuine horror elements and a good story. Honestly, one of the best atmospheres ever in a 2D side scroller. Cloning puzzles are rarely this good, but everything is well thought out in The Swapper.

Guacamelee – Play as a luchador in this metroidvania brawler with co-op. It’s a unique concept, as long as it works. Luckily, Guacamelee puts it altogether in a package complete that oozes theme at every corner with its dialogue, visuals, and music.

Hand of Fate – In Hand of Fate, players build their upcoming adventure through a deck of cards. The player then encounters these in a random, board-game-like layout. The brilliance here is that players can then adjust decisions based on what they know is left in the deck. The action combat is pretty generic, but the short fights don’t drag the game down much.

Silver Games

Genre fans probably should play these, while others will install just for a rainy day.

guns of icarus online

Guns of Icarus Online – Unique team-centric FPS of manning a Steampunk gunship to bring down opposing airships. The downside is you really need everyone working together so it’s not great for pubbing. The population is also very weak for a multiplayer game.

GRAV – Sci-fi, survival builder game with randomized planets. Sadly doesn’t get updated much but has a good base. Hopefully developers will come back and re-focus on the game’s strength: building more dangerous co-op encounters and tools to combat them.

Song of the Deep – Metroidvania submarine game with a cute story. The narrator is fantastic, and the story moves at a good pace. Map markers keep you from getting lost. It’s a very solid lighter metroidvania, but doesn’t do quite enough awesome things to make it a must play.

Day of the Tentacle Remastered – Do you like old school point and click games? This is one of the best, and the remastered version is great. If you don’t like point and click adventures, this won’t change your mind though.

VVVVV – Challenging platformer with very cool gravity mechanic. Some deaths can feel unfair because of how little of the map loads at a time and going back through the map can be a chore. If it looks fun, you’re the right audience to play it.

Nuclear Throne – Very good roguelike bullet hell shooter. It’s fast and frantic and crazy (all in a good way). The lack of automatic fire on beginning weapons is annoying though considering how many bullets you fire in a bullet hall game. Ultimately, I feel Enter the Gungeon is similar but better.

Mushroom 11 – Neat puzzle anti-platformer that’s hard to put into words. Players move goo through landscape based physics and erasing goo to reform elsewhere. Definitely worth playing if you’ve enjoyed puzzle platformers in the past.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP  – There’s not a lot of actual game here. The music is great and some people will definitely love the experience. Just don’t expect to DO a lot here.

ROCKETSROCKETSROCKETS – Really, this is a local multiplayer only game. Use missiles, bombs, and shields to kill up to three other friends in this aesthetically pleasing, arcade arena game. It’s not a great comparison, but it reminds of Smash Brothers with rockets.

Human Resource Machine – High production value programming puzzles. I love the art style. People who like logic or programming puzzles will love HRM.

Spirits – Remember Lemmings? This is it. If not, it’s a light strategy puzzle game.

Tower of Guns – Frantic Quake style shooting with randomized levels and a number of unlockables. I thought I’d love this but the music and sound effects are way too light to really engage me.

Waking Mars – The voice acting and writing is surprisingly (mostly) good for the mediocre visuals. I guess I’d classify the genre as metroidvania puzzler, but that doesn’t evoke the right feeling for this game. Where Waking Mars earns high marks is its good pacing and continuous evolution of relatively simple core mechanics.

AI Fleet War Command – A high learning curve and a bad UI belie what is a fairly deep 4X-ish strategy game. If you have the patience and want a suitably refreshing and epic strategy game, give this a whirl.

Q.U.B.E. – Good block puzzles. Never gets repetitive. Short game with enough of a story to help things move along.

Rituals – This feels like a graphical version of Zork. If you don’t know what that is or you didn’t like Zork, you probably won’t like Rituals. Otherwise, it’s a decent and short adventure game that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

Beat Hazard Ultra – I kill two birds with one stone here. Beat Hazard is my go-to rhythm and shoot ’em up game. This game has been around for a while and is still fun to play in short bursts.

Chroma Squad – The Power Rangers tactical RPG with business management elements. I’m not sure yet if the script is intentionally as bad as Power Rangers, but that’s not really the core element of the game. Skip the story entirely and play this for its solid turn based squad combat.

Bronze Games

Dedicated fans of the genre might want to play these, and everyone else can skip them.

world of goo

World of Goo – Physics bridge building puzzles. You either like them or you don’t. This is more of them.

JumpJet Rex – SNES feeling platform. Where it sets itself apart is in it’s mobility and accessible short level. Players can jump infinitely, dash, and rocket jump all from the get go.

Monsters Love You! – A multiple ending, choose your own adventure monster simulator. I never found myself really caring about my choices, but there are a lot of them that slowly flesh out your monster’s character. This then plays into monster/human interaction and the ending.

Overgrowth – For as long as this has been in development I expected a bit more. Still feels like a tech demo. If you love fighting games, this is worth playing for the limb attack freedom. Otherwise, there’s just too many higher quality fighting games out there. Likewise, there’s much better parkour games available as well.

No Time to Explain Remastered – Platformer and sometimes side scrolling shooter. Nothing innovative except for the hilarious voice acted lines in their relation to the plot.

Thirty Flights of Loving – It’s 10 minute (or less) interactive story. It does a pretty good job of telling a lot in such a short time. But it also ends before you can really care about any of it.

2064: Read Only Memories – Visual novel masquerading as a point and click adventure game. If it’s immediately appealing then go for it. Otherwise, you can pass this up.

A Virus Named TOM – Amusing backstory aside, this is a puzzle strategy game that just isn’t that rewarding to play. I never got the “oh that was really cool” moment found in better puzzle games.

7 Grand Steps: What Ancients Begat – Board game that wanes quickly as you realize its lack of depth. Might be worth playing until you “figure it out”.

Sproggiwood – Classic feeling rogue-like that was once pretty good but has been surpassed by numerous entries into the genre. Town sim aspect is vastly underutilized.

Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora – Dat name doe. The presentation and dialogue is good, but the platformer and puzzle elements are mediocre overall. The controls can also be frustrating.

Retro Game Crunch – A multigame pack that hearkens back to the old NES days. If you grew up in that era, this is worth playing for a fresh sense of nostalgia. Most of the games are solid, but nothing in here is a must play.

Secrets of Rætikon – The art style and the first 30 minutes of this game are the best part. Afterward, things start to get repetitive pretty quickly.

Girls Like Robots – More puzzles! Like A Virus Named TOM, none of them really feel really rewarding. But if you can’t get enough puzzling in your life, here’s more of them.

Ellipsis – Feels more like a time waster tablet game. That’s not to say this minimalist fast moving puzzler is bad. It just doesn’t feel particularly fresh.

Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball – The name really says it all. I encourage everyone to try this game for 5-10 minutes. Hard to recommend playing more except for some silly multiplayer fun with friends.

Ballistick – I felt like I was playing a high quality Kongregate game here. Ballistick does stealth better than action so that’s who should really play this. Regardless, there’s better games available in both departments.

Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble – A board game with some interesting concepts that ultimately dulls fairly quickly. The graphics and basic UI in this one don’t help the cause. Don’t let the theme keep you from playing though – it’s fairly irrelevant.

Super Galaxy Squadron EX – It’s a vertical shoot ’em up. If that’s what you want to play, this will more than get the job done.

TIMEframe – Walking simulator to explore the rise and fall of a civilization through time’s rapid lenses. Conceptually sound with good music and atmosphere, it’s disappointing because you never feel like you do much. The distances between locations adds heft but also kills the pace.

Dusty Revenge – A beat ’em up with nice boss fights but regular stages that generally last too long.

Luna’s Wandering Stars – More physics puzzles! Some of these are pretty tricky so it’s certainly worth a play if that’s what you like.

Team Indie – A platformer that takes elements of various indie games to try and create several experiences in one. It works to a degree but not enough to be an enticing experience for people who don’t regularly play platformers.

Streamline – This game relies on a large Twitch community, which it does not have. Some fun parkour elements if you can actually get a game going.

Shutshimi – A horizontal shoot ’em up. It’s OK, but other than co-op doesn’t play differently enough to warrant specifically picking it over all the others.

Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken – Platformer shooter that does everything perfectly fine. There’s obvious silliness, but I wouldn’t say it adds a ton to the game.

Potatoman Seeks the Troof – Clearly not a game to be played for the visuals. It’s a challenging platformer where you jump to avoid things. Nothing fancy.

Ninja Pizza Girl – The platform, parkour speed running parts are good. The rest of the game just detracts from that. Has wider appeal than most “Bronze” games, but I don’t think anything will fall in love with it.

There’s a lot of games in this Humble Freedom Bundle. I have no doubts that somewhere your opinion will differ than mine. I shot for as an objective take as I could make, and I’ll stick by these rankings. Either way, $30 for all of the above has been a great deal. Knowing that money is going to worthwhile charities is all the sweeter. The Freedom Bundle ends 2/20 at 2 pm EST. A few of the games reviewed above also are sold out. Check the full listing before purchasing if certain games will sway your decision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Press 3 to Cast Fireball for 2 Hours to Gain 1 Level. No.

Why, oh why must I perform repetitive tasks for hours on end to achieve things in MMOs? Quest and mob grinding, I hate you. You punish my optimism for great adventure by sending me on a carousel of tedium. MMORPG grinding is all the same even if developers fluff it up. Completing tasks that are only enticing for their extrinsic value is a surefire way to turn my mood sour. The pain of grinding is only exacerbated by old school hotbar style combat. It’s really not that complicated to rotate the same abilities for every fight until an enemy dies.

hardcore mmo grinding sucks morpheus image

Like a sucker, I keep trying out new MMORPG releases expecting something different. To be fair, I’m sometimes rewarded. However, more often that not I latch onto a unique feature with the hope that it will cascade into a compelling progression system only to see my dreams crushed. Riders of Icarus, the most recent MMO to penalize my hopes, turned out to be no different. Four hours later, I’m uninstalling it after mindless kill quests and repetitive hotbar combat melted my brain.

Riders of Icarus even had some ideas to get away from generic hotbar combat. There are combos different classes can pull off, but ultimately they fail to change the game plan. It’s yet another MMO with an obvious rotation of skills to maximize efficiency. This is my problem with generic hotbar combat. It’s easy to learn and easy to master. I ascribe to the theory that well designed games are easy to learn and hard to master. It allows a game to flourish and peel back deep layers of gameplay without overwhelming the player. From this the player is always learning and experiencing something new. It’s a big reason why MOBAs like League of Legends have grown to such prominence. Admittedly they aren’t easy to learn, but even pros still strive to master League of Legends. That helps make it great.

When I defeat a challenge in an MMO I want to feel like I played well, not that I didn’t play poorly. But unfortunately MMOs feel more like the latter than the former. Even most PvP is decided before combat begins, with high importance placed on gear and levels that can only be acquired via more grinding. Outside of the highest end raids, the majority of MMO gameplay is an exercise in repetitive tedium. I’m not learning. I’m not improving. I’m not thinking. I’m just going through the motions. How is that a grand adventure?

world of warcraft repetitive quests

#mmoquestlife

I know some people actually like the grind. Even the horrible grinds typically found in older MMOs or most modern Korean MMOs. Fine, people like what they like. What I don’t like is when grinders get mega elitist about their ability to mindlessly repeat tasks. It’s aggravating to read forum posts demeaning those who hate grinding as “casual” or “lazy”. They call for a return to the old days when MMOs used to be “hard”. What if I told you that spending time does not equal challenging? When I think hardcore gaming, I think of Dark Souls testing players’ patience and reactions. I don’t think of Lineage II’s million hour grind to max level. If you enjoy grinding then have it, but it does not make you a better or more skilled gamer.

Now look, to eliminate or lessen the pains of grinding developers don’t have to change both quests/mobs AND combat. Just one or the other. An MMO with both would just be too revolutionary now (he says sarcastically). Changing mobs with our current combat would almost necessitate a return to group centric leveling. It’s doable with a system that encourages a return to low levels, such as Final Fantasy XIV’s job system. Monotonous kill quests could be replaced with multi-step quests that result in a giant public quest. The public quest could even be influenced by performance or choices players made during their private quests.

Combat is my other point of contention and even hotbar combat can work here. I equate hotbar combat to turn based strategy and free targeting to real time strategy. They both have their merits. The game simply must create situations that force players to adapt instead of repeating combat moves. Limiting resources such as healing, time, or abilities like a D&D adventure would also alleviate the MMORPG genre’s joyless successes.

I’m tired of pressing 3 to cast fireball for 2 hours to gain 1 level. Repetitive abilities, repetitive quests, repetitive AI, repetitive combat. They need to go. MMOs can suck my time without being a time suck.

 


If MMOs Were Board Games

It’s that time of the year where we all happily (or not) spend more time with our families and close friends. For us gamers, that time isn’t very conducisve to sitting in front of a monitor or TV screen. Those of you who happen to play World of Warcraft with mum or dad though, I’d love to hear about it. The rest are you out there are probably looking for alternative activities aside from listening to Uncle Frank’s conspiracy theories. Though 2016 may be a particular entertaining year for that…but I digress.

Board games have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance and many online gamers are finding joy in them. For almost every massively multiplayer game, there is a good offline replacement. If these popular MMOs were board games, what would they be?

The Secret World would be…

mansions of madness the secret world

Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition)

This one was easy. Let’s list the number of features these two games share in common. Occult magic, mysteries to solve, modern(ish) weaponry, great cooperative play, immersive storytelling, Lovecraftian enemies, and intriguing missions. The same things that keep people hooked on The Secret World will make Mansions of Madness a hit.

In MoM, players explore a mansion, solve puzzles, and fend off supernatural threats en route to fulfilling the victory conditions of one of a variety of scenarios. There’s a nice RPG character building aspect with a wide array of skills, weapons, and spells. In addition to unique scenarios, random events will occur with a ton of flavor text to set the mood. The immersion level is  similar to that of a tabletop RPG experience. Players are also tasked with not just physically surviving the mansion but guarding their mental state too. Going insane is a real threat in Mansions of Madness. And as much as players will want to avoid it, some of the best stories result from insanity. Honorable mention goes to Eldritch Horror which moves the scope from a singular location to worldwide (and is half the price). However, the missions and storytelling aren’t quite as tight so I gave the official nod to MoM.

The biggest change from the first edition is the inclusion of an app that facilitates the role of the bad guy. The app makes playing Mansions of Madness less fiddly than most other board games while maintaining all of the randomness that keeps them so replayable. The app also provides an easier transition to those going cardboard for the first time. Most importantly, it turns Mansions of Madness into the fully cooperative experience to which it’s better suited.

 

World of Warcraft would be..

runebound world of warcraft

Runebound (3rd Edition)

Yes, I’m aware of the World of Warcraft board game. It’s fiddly, clunky, slow moving, and overly long with a poor decisions to play time ratio. Seriously, raids can take less time than a full session of World of Warcraft: The Boardgame. I’m also aware of the Warhammer games like Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game. It’s good, but it’s also too limited to dungeon crawling for me to recommend to WoW players. Enter the latest version of Runebound.

OK, I might be doing overdoing it on reprints, but I guess board games often behave like long standing MMORPGs. They adapt to the times and continually refine their formula. That’s what’s led to the best version of this board game first released in 2004. Where Runebound will most appeal to World of Warcraft players is in it’s preeminent solo play, overworld, leveling through quests, relatively simple rules, and fast play time. Players will gain experience through these quests (which may not even include combat) in order to vanquish the end game boss. The pacing is strong, and there’s enough variety that most players will not encounter replayability issues. The one downside is that there is no official cooperative mode. Amateur game designers might be able to find a way to fix that though as they did with the 2nd edition. There’s a lot to love about the fantasy world that is Runebound.

 

FarmVille would be…

cottage garden farmville

Cottage Garden (backordered)

Board game veterans might point to Agricola as the obvious complement to Farmville. I’d say let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Jumping from FarmVille to Agricola is like following up the Magic School Bus with War and Peace. Agricola gives players the opportunity to build up their family’s farm/ranch, but it’s about as complex as actually farming. It’s a fantastic game, but Cottage Garden is a better suited for FarmVille fans. It’s also by the same designer.

In Cottage Garden, players take turns adding a Tetris-like piece to one of their two farm boards. Points are scored based on how many pots and shells are showing once all empty spaces are filled. Then the player grabs a new board and does it again. A limited number of kittens are also given to players to fill spaces and finish boards. Each turn, 2-4 pieces will be available for the active player to select from.  Players can plan about one turn in advance and can sometimes make moves to shift which pieces will be available to them. The gameplay is about using the biggest pieces possible to finish as many boards as possible without covering the point scoring spaces. It’s light, fun, fast, farming(ish), interactive, and social. FarmVille fans best option for cardboard fun is none other than Cottage Garden.

 

Eve Online would be…

twilight imperium eve online

Twilight Imperium (3rd Edition)

On the other end of the complexity scale is Twilight Imperium. The game has a nice quick rulebook and is bound to lead to a few wrong rules in game one. But if there’s one group of MMORPG fans best equipped to play it, it’s Eve Online players. More importantly, it’s a game I most of them will really appreciate.

Twilight Imperium places players in the ruler seat of a burgeoning intergalactic empire. In order to win, players will need to manage warfare, tech development, and diplomacy. Sound familiar? There are a ton of strategic choices to make, each with far reaching consequences. There’s no safesec for players to hide in Twilight Imperium. This game is extremely interactive and negotiation will almost certainly be at the center of any victory. Eve Online succeeds because of it’s freedom, large scale, and memorable events. All of that is to be found in Twilight Imperium.  And the game gets as epic as the recent World War Bee. With the Shattered Empire expansion, up to eight players can play. No matter the size, the game doesn’t feel too bogged down thanks to a role selection mechanic similar to that in Puerto Rico. It still takes about 1.5 hours per player to finish a game though. Plan to set aside a full day to finish Twilight Imperium. It’s certainly worth it.

 

Star Wars: The Old Republic would be…

star wars imperial assault swtor

Star Wars: Imperial Assault

Finally, I can recommend a board game set in the same universe as the MMORPG. Granted, The Old Republic and Imperial Assault take place many, many lifetimes apart but at least we’re getting somewhere. And let’s be honest. For all but the most hardcore Star Wars, they’re close enough.

Imperial Assault is a cooperative dungeon crawl set after the destruction of the Death Star. One person will control the Empire and another 1-4 players will control the rebels. For those who want a fully cooperative experience, a highly recommend variant exists on Board Game Geek. Players will control or fight alongside iconic heroes in a story driven campaign with branching scenarios. Yes, much like Bioware’s MMORPG, Imperial Assault provides players with choices that will alter how the story plays out. It’s not a game that will be finished in one sitting either. After each scenario is completed, players will be able to advance their skills and make use of new rewards. The character advancement has a very MMORPG feel to it, without any of the messy grinding. Star Wars: Imperial Assault provides a top tier campaign experience for anyone, Star Wars fan or not.

 

Aion would be…

arcadia quest aion

Arcadia Quest

Aion and Arcadia Quest both do something that very few other games in their space do well: PvPvE. For those who haven’t played Aion, the endgame is all about grinding mobs in a two faction PvP area. For those who haven’t played Arcadia Quest, gameplay is all about fighting other players (directly or indirectly) for monsters’ valuable loot.

Arcadia Quest doesn’t do a lot aside from that premise to really differentiate itself from other dungeon crawls. However, that simple design decision makes for a very refreshing experience. Players each control a guild of three heroes and will alternate moving, fighting, using special abilities, and resting. At the end of a mission, things carry over, and another mission is played. Eventually the campaign resolves with whoever has run the best guild. Players can fight monsters to complete quests or fight each other to prevent said completions. There’s tons of dice rolling and the rules aren’t so bad compared to some meatier dungeon crawls. That does make for some random feeling combat at times, but the sheer fun of PvPvE in board game form cannot be understated. The standalone expansion, Arcadia Quest: Inferno, may be preferred based on price and availability.

 

League of Legends would be…

mechs vs minions league of legends

Mechs vs. Minions

Alas, there is one more board game recommendation that directly ties in to it’s MMO counterpart. Possibly even more so than Star: Wars Imperial Assault does with SWTOR, Mechs vs. Minions incorporates the general feel of playing League of Legends. But unlike League’s PvP gameplay, Mechs vs. Minions is fully cooperative.

Players will take control of one of the video game’s four Yordles: Corki, Tristana, Heimerdinger, or Ziggs. They’ll then work together to overcome each of the game’s unique ten missions. The core gameplay involves players “programming” multiple moves and resolving them all simultaneously. Unlike the frantic nature of a MOBA, Mechs vs. Minions is more like a puzzle. Each mission is extremely unique, and it would be no surprise to see groups fail a few times before their “Aha!” moment. However, the same intensity and excitement from seeing how the programmed moves play out matches like a LoL game. The geek in me also loves seeing miniatures number in the triple digits. The picture above doesn’t do justice to MvM’s sheer beauty on the table. Mechs vs Minions looks great, feels enough like League, and offers some really tough decisions.

I’ll also give an honorable mention to Rum & Bones. It’s actually structured more like a MOBA than Mechs vs. Minions. Players control an individual hero allied with a group of automated minions. Between player attacks, cannon shots, and minion pushes, each side tries to sink the other team’s ship. Unfortunately, it suffers from a number of issues that result in a game with too few decisions for it’s length. I would rather play a game that takes half of the MOBA formula and successfully ports it to board game form than one that takes the full formula with only middling success.

Update Jan 5 2017 – Like these? An eighth MMO/Board Game combo can now be found over at Meeple Mountain.

MMOs as Board Games

Playing an MMO or video game might not be entirely acceptable when going home for the holidays. Your family probably wants to spend time with you, and you may only see some of these friends once a year. Board games are an awesome way to bridge your hobby with your social circles. If you’d like any further board game recommendations, feel free to ask in the comments. MMOs and board games are two of my favorite hobbies so I’ll happily do my part to grow the population in either category.