Under New Management

Best described as a hostile takeover.

Despite what the corporations might suggest, Halcyon has issues with everything from providing basic necessities to an infestation of aggressive wildlife. Starvation and sickness plague those within settlement walls while lawlessness and indecency plague those outside of them. Due to the incessant mismanagement, it’s time for a change, and I can think of no better candidate than a recently defrosted colonist. They couldn’t do any worse at least. The Outer Worlds is a delightful narrative-driven RPG which tasks you with uncovering the truth behind the colony of Halcyon.

Which is exactly what I did.

I didn’t get immediately distracted by numerous side quests and miscellaneous objectives. Or by aiding companions in their personal quests. Or by revisiting the Groundbreaker to acquire new equipment. Or by repeatedly looking for the UDL Lab Weapons Terminal Keycard. No. Not at all.

I certainly didn’t revisit (and search) the facility multiple times to no avail, only to discover that the UDL Lab Weapons Terminal Keycard was on the table upstairs the entire time. That’d be silly. Definitely not something that the captain of the (aptly named) Unreliable would do. Exploration is where The Outer Worlds is at its best, though. Travelling from planet to planet and discovering new locations, then obsessively searching those locations for their secrets. I wasn’t anticipating the experience to be as content-dense as it was, and I was pleasantly surprised by how Peril of Gorgon seamlessly built upon its impressive foundation. Seldom does the opportunity to become wholly absorbed by an open world present itself, but the developers’ dedication to this nightmarish universe have made it possible.

I’d be lying if I said otherwise.

Companions have a similar prominence. Not only are they surprisingly useful, but they have distinct personalities and motivations which help them feel like they’re a part of this universe. They’ve often got contextual dialogue to share when encountering factions, visiting locations, and making decisions. Supporting them during their personal quests will unlock additional benefits, further improving their effectiveness and developing (or altering) their personality. They’re reasonably capable in combat, too. Despite their proclivity to mindlessly soak up incoming damage.

But you’d expect them to do that.

They’re also customisable and can be developed much in the same way as you develop the protagonist. However, the character development mechanics are underwhelming, and you’ll rarely find anything that fundamentally alters a build in the assortment of skills and perks available.

I had hoped for greater depth to the character development mechanics and for a wider variety of equipment, but the lack of either doesn’t detract from the experience. The Outer Worlds isn’t your typical adventure, though. It leans on its narrative-driven approach throughout the main campaign, and is defined by its action-orientated combat, and it favours build diversity through skill checks in dialogue, but the majority of character builds lack individuality due to uninspiring mechanics. It might not have been exactly what I’d expected it to be, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. It was just, at times, an overly simplified one. And I’d still wholeheartedly recommend it to those who enjoy first-person narrative-driven RPGs but are looking for something refreshing and unusual.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Space Farin’ Capitalist

Cue an appropriate corporate jingle.

Alex Hawthorne, the principled captain of the Unreliable, who was most assuredly not dismembered in a horrific accident, believes in the stability of corporate leadership. Even if their employees are paid abhorrently low wages, have no job security whatsoever, have even less personal security, and are as likely to be eaten as they are to retire. But it’s better than the alternative. Living in the wilderness in a mostly competent self-sufficient society unshackled from the chains (and woes) of capitalism, only for an aspiring captain to arrive and destroy all that you’ve built.

Not exactly his finest moment.

But if you can’t dismantle capitalism you might as well embrace it. Martin Callahan can attest to the rewards afforded by a lifetime of corporate servitude, as he wearily advertises numerous Spacer’s Choice products while confined to his spherical prison. Not that he’d escape if he could.

Irreversibly altering the lives of the general populous is the ambition of any decent protagonist, though. Often without prior consultation with them. And usually while considering what’s best for you- or what yields the best rewards- rather than what’s best for them. The Outer Worlds does this particularly well, with the majority of decisions not necessarily resulting in a good or an evil outcome. There are (often significant) repercussions for your actions but they’re subtle. You’ll need to revisit locations, speak to NPCs, and consult your companions to fully appreciate your decisions. For those reasons, exploration is arguably the most enjoyable aspect of this adventure. Combing desolate ruins for abandoned equipment, exotic technology, or valuable information may help you to resolve quests in unexpected ways.

If you’d met his mother you’d understand.

However, character development is not nearly as impressive, and what appears to be comprehensive at first, is fairly shallow upon closer inspection. Flaws should appeal to me, but I don’t feel that weakening my build (in certain circumstances) is worth an extra perk. Especially when the majority of perks are unexciting statistical adjustments. Skills (and skill tiers) aren’t incredibly exciting, either. But I’d rather have extra skill points instead of an extra perk. I had expected better from The Outer Worlds but they’re still functional mechanics, even if they’re not inspiring ones.

Companions are equally perplexing.

I’m not sure whether they gain any benefit for equipping weapons that best suit their abilities. Or whether their proficiencies are adjusted by wearing equipment with appropriate statistical bonuses. Or whether I should just favour defensive statistics and equip them all with heavy armour.

The Outer Worlds is a competent narrative-driven RPG if not a simplified one. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the experience is pleasant enough. Despite not having an abundance of planets to travel to, and revisiting those planets with new landing locations, exploring each new planet is delightful. I’ve scarcely enjoyed picking through desolate ruins as much as I have here. I just wish that the character development mechanics were as impressive. Especially when modifying and upgrading equipment, which becomes so absurdly expensive (even with Science) that it encourages you to replace your equipment. Thus nullifying the bonuses from tinkering it. But my criticisms shouldn’t dissuade anyone, as I’m certain that everyone can find something that they enjoy about it.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Space Cowbots

Time to scrap the Scrappers!

SteamWorld Heist is an incredibly enjoyable tactical RPG offering the same charming art direction and quirky personalities present in SteamWorld Dig, but a departure in mechanics, presenting an adventure through turn based combat in mission sized bites, which is just as fun as the prior instalment but definitely more challenging. It’s the sequel that isn’t a sequel, which builds on the story of the SteamWorld universe but doesn’t require any previous experience to be immediately playable. It’s actually surprisingly intuitive in every way.

There’s a simple complexity in many of the mechanics.

Such as the characters themselves. Each is unique and named, with some sharing classes, but few sharing bonuses, and each has a signature ability that defines their role in combat. Every character has the capability to fight, but support and healing abilities are evenly distributed to help you develop effective party compositions to meet the challenges you’ll face.

Besides their innate abilities, characters can be equipped with a weapon and two utility items to provide statistical bonuses and further improve their effectiveness in combat. Utility items cover all sorts of bonuses such as bolstering health, providing retaliation damage, increasing damage, restoring health, or even some quirkier options like improved jumping. There are some that are best suited to certain characters which provide bonuses that fit their signature ability. Weapons come in a variety of destructive flavours, with everything from your standard revolver to an incendiary cannon which wouldn’t be out of place in the Worms universe. They’re enjoyable to use, too. They also feature ridiculous trick shots.

I feel as though an ancient evil has been unearthed.

Unlike other tactical RPGs which rely on calculated percentages to determine a successful hit, these weapons require you to manually aim (often with sights) to land a hit which make them a little more skill based than you might expect. With this comes ridiculous ricochet angles that allow you to land nearly impossible shots. These mechanics and varying mission objectives prevent repetition and stagnation in later missions. You should always keep a few extra weapons on hand, though. Some are definitely better suited to certain missions than others.

Be sure to stock up on Storage Units when and where you can, too.

Those will be important for carrying all of the equipment you’ll need to explore Deep Space. Which is a scary place. It really is. Levelling your crew will also be crucial to your success, which is handled via standard missions or particular solo missions which are designed to help you farm experience. Not to mention loot. So it’s a fairly comfortable experience overall.

One of the greatest successes of this title is the flexibility in everything from difficulty settings to optional content. It’s rare to have such control over how, where, and when you’ll progress with the story or with the optional content. Unrestricted access back and forth through maps gives you the opportunity to level up, recruit companions, visit vendors, and more at your own pace. Without fear that it will be locked out when you move to the next portion of the story. It’s refreshing to have options. I’d best describe Steamworld Heist as memorable and enjoyable. Something that’s fun to play, with an interesting story, and a unique cast of characters which are equally useful in the myriad missions you’ll encounter.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Interstellar Blues

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Rasputin.

Derelict, rusty, lacking in every way, and liable to fall apart before we reach the next space station. By the power of duct tape and holding our breath in zero gravity we shall prevail! Either that or we’ll suffocate. Imagine going into warp and seeing your rear engine float away tethered loosely by a strip of duct tape, realising you’re now tilting heavily on one side, and that if anything should hit the other engine you’re stranded in this harsh abyss. I wonder if we have some kind of suit to fix exterior errors. Or if we even know how.

Sweet baby lambs- the Rasputin is a floating death trap! I’m not a qualified anything!

Even my pilot license expired four years ago. That said, no-one has asked to see my license yet. Then again- no-one has asked to see anything- they’re usually too busy trying to pepper me with missiles or tear a hole in my hull with their lasers. It’s a good thing I installed those deflector shields. Else, I would be the space debris that I frequently crash into.

Rebel Galaxy is a relaxing space adventure that has provided quite a different experience than I was initially expecting. It’s quite tough, too. The above account is a literal description of the ship when we first get it- no deflector shields, no tractor beam, no secondary weapons, and an engine that barely runs. Not to mention the random events range from slightly annoying to absolutely brutal. Within seconds you’re descended upon by a dozen ships, each with better ordinance, and each with the capability to weave in and out of turret fire. However, this is one of the reasons that Rebel Galaxy is growing on me. There’s a lot at work which isn’t readily apparent when you’re getting this ol’ rustbucket from mission to mission.

We drove a long way for ice cubes.
We drove a long way for ice cubes.

There are also a lot of different ways to play it out. You can be friendly, you can resort to piracy, you can smuggle resources between stations, you can join guilds, or you can simply float around the universe doing who knows what. It’s definitely got a very laid back feel to the progression. Sure, there’s a story- but who has time for a story? There’s a distress beacon over here, a delivery over there, a small trade convoy carrying valuable cargo to the south, and a few stations between here and there. It’s quite the change of pace for me.

Which is the entire reason I decided to pick it up in the first place.

I wanted to do something a little different. RPGs and ARPGs have always been the two staples of my library, with many of my favourite titles, such as Chrono Trigger or the Final Fantasy series, falling into one of those categories. But I’m looking to add more staples to my library.

Staples, unlike glue, also tend to keep things held together. Glue usually degrades over time and things fall out all over the place. I can’t say that I’ll always enjoy the different titles I try, nor can I guarantee I’ll play them multiple times in different ways- but I value the experiences. Playing different things. Having to learn whole new sets of mechanics because you’ve never played something like this before. It also helps when I’m not in the mood to play a particular genre as now I have so many genres to choose from. In any case, we’ve had a lot of creative posts recently and I figured I’d do something a little different for those getting burned out looking at my scribbles.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Vast Technological Superiority

You are now contractually obligated to populate the stars (efficiently)!

While the meat of the game is that of taking colony and scout ships across the galaxy looking for new star systems, new colonisation opportunities, or generally just to see what’s out there in hopes of finding the other player(s) there are several paths to victory to consider. You can win the game in a variety of ways including: a point victory, conquest via military power, achieving scientific excellence, diplomatic freedom, economic boon, and so on. These are things that you must always keep in the back of your mind as you can have as many as seven players with you. Either real players or AI controlled players (who thirst for blood).

Why is this so important? Well, the AI (and hopefully other players) will also be looking to achieve a victory of some kind.

There are so many things happening on this screen it's ridiculous.
There are so many things happening on this screen it’s ridiculous.

While it can be very relaxing to listen to ambient soundtrack and casually build your fleets of death, or research new technologies, you are on the clock as it were. There is little time to waste and with that comes the somewhat gruelling challenge and/or difficulty level to playing this kind of game for the first time. So, don’t feel too bad if you’re first shot goes awfully awry.

The bulk of your time will be spent colonising new worlds which is a two step process. The first is having a scout ship find the star system and the second is having a colony ship land, populate, and get the ball rolling. There are many different resources available in the game and some planets have better gains than others. There are also rare materials which can appear on planets (I do believe at random), as well as natural and unnatural anomalies which make some planets highly profitable or not so, and you have to think about the happiness of the population on each of your planets. Not every planet type is initially available at the beginning of a game so you’ll need to unlock some things through research to get that going on.

The four core resources are Food, Industry, Dust, and Science (FIDS for short). Food and Industry are star system wide while Science and Dust are empire wide.

What this means is that if a planet is producing a lot of Food (for population growth) or Industry (for building time reduction) it only affects that star system. While if a planet is producing good Dust (global currency) or Science (for research time reduction) it goes into the entire pool for the empire. So, rule of thumb, don’t produce more Food and Industry than you need and produce as much Dust and Science as you can. It takes a bit of time to get the hang of it but once you do you’ll be fine.

If you’re a fan of combat, as you really should be, as you never know what the other players will be doing, you can also spend some time outfitting ships with neat things.

Initially the number of ships you can have in a fleet, the variety of upgrades, and so on is all fairly small. But through research you can have many more ships and much more powerful upgrades as the game progresses. Therefore, regardless of strategy, research and use of Science is crucial. While all of your ships will have a Dust upkeep cost so that’s just as important. There is an awful lot to do with the fleets as well (such as assigning heroes) so that is a pretty big, encompassing, and viable strategy if you so wish.

Speaking of, heroes are individuals you can hire at different times in the game. I do believe that through military research you can get more in a shorter space of time. However, they’re not just for combat- they can be assigned to star systems as well. When covering a star system they have different benefits for you to invest in to those available when leading a fleet.

As you can probably tell the game is huge and has an incredible number of things to do. So, unfortunately, I can’t cover that all here- but I do recommend it. Highly.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie