Review: Offworld Trading Company

From Civ 4 developer Soren Johnson comes Offworld Trading Company.

The game is described as being a 4X game without units, but that’s not entirely accurate.  The game is closer to an economic simulator along the lines of Port Royale, Rise of Venice, or Anno 2070.

The game is based around a dynamic open market.  You buy and sell goods on it.  After you purchase goods an item increases in value, when you sell goods it decreases in value.  With your profits you can buy infrastructure that in turn produces goods.

To keep things interesting the game requires you to have certain resources.  Consumption will draw away some of the necessities of life for your colonists.  Leveling up will require steel and glass.  Transporting goods will require fuel or energy.

As various elements of the game require more of these resources the value will go up, and as they need less the market will flood and lower the price.

Leveling up is an essential part of the game.  You can build so many buildings per level and then you are forced to invest in leveling up.  After Level 5 you are maxed.  After this the only way to build new buildings is by unlocking a black market perk to get a new zone license.

The game is multiplayer and the Black Market is your way of attacking people.  You can shut down buildings by EMPing them.  Or you can cause a mutiny and have a facility begin sending goods to you.  The underground explosion will shut down one building.  But all of these perks cost money that you need to have in hand.  They will scale up in cost over time and although you may be able to hurt one person, you are also taking a small hit yourself which will give you a disadvantage against the other two players.

The way in which you win is all about the money.  The value of your company is decided by your total assets against your debt.  Debt is earned by not being able to supply yourself with your consumptive goods and will automatically draw to your account.  As well there are often auctions being held to try and get goods from the Black Market or new technologies slightly faster.  This also adds to your debt.

Paying off your debt will increase the value of your company.  But money is needed or expansion.  Money is also needed for buying out shares in enemy companies.  Once a company is bought out you gain control of their whole operation and can develop and trade their resources.

Playing the game means balancing off your progress as a company with making sure your value doesn’t fall so low that your competitors can buy you out.

The game is very good.  It does have the early access tag.  The main issue with the game is the balance of it.  The game is set to spend a year in balancing before it makes its official release.  When the time comes it will be worth having in your gaming collection.  Right now though you will have to deal with wonky AI and cheesie play.

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Review: Grey Goo

In the future humanity finds a small keyhole.  The keyhole is not large enough to travel through but large enough to send signals through.  The keyhole hits everywhere in the universe.  A probe program is launched to create a probe small enough to go through the keyhole but that can become large enough to compile millions of terabytes of data and send them back to Earth.  The probe was a self-replicating machine.  It would start off microscopic in size and consume resources of a planet to get larger and replicate allowing the probe to travel to more locations and plot more planets.

But in all the time of the probe, not a single intelligent life was found.  Various countries sent out expeditions to try and colonize various planets, but that only ended with humanity going to war with each other.  So humanity created a permanent peace among themselves and stopped the probe.

But the probe didn’t stop.  It continued on with its mission of finding everything in the world.  But now it had one major directive, Consume, Adapt, and Survive.

The probe would eventually find one alien species, but by this point it was no longer reporting back to Earth.  This group called The Beta developed a whole civilization around avoiding the probe.  They found a way to open a hole in the key and teleport to a new planet, hopefully untouched by them.  They named them “The Silent Ones” mainly because of how you could not communicate with them.

A human ship accidentally falls into one of these holes in space to find themselves where The Beta have called their home world.  As the two factions have a very bad first contact, the probe arrives, except now it has a new hankering for destruction.

The game focuses around the conflict of these three factions on the beta homeworld.

The single player campaign focuses on the misunderstandings between the three factions with 15 missions.  Each faction gets 5 missions in which they are the hero protagonist and the other factions are aggressive misunderstanding aliens.

The game plays very similarly to Starcraft 2, but then you get a sense that Command and Conquer was involved.  And it was.  The founders of Petroglyph Studios were involved in the production of the original Command and Conquer game.  What you get is a vastly unique game with very intricate factions and a well polished campaign.

The Beta are a group of aliens that are the only people who can construct buildings anywhere.  They build hubs anywhere and attach buildings to them.  Hubs increase in size and allow for new constructions.

The Alpha have one central structure of which all buildings are built on it.  Like the beta they build attachments.  Unlike the beta they have the ability to teleport their structures anywhere meaning that attachments can be re-used.

Units in both factions are created by using combinations of attachments.  Maybe you will need a Artillery Attachment and a Stealth attachment to get a Howitzer in one faction.  While in another faction you only need your artillery attachment to get your artillery unit.

Each attachment also unlocks a free tech.  The free tech come in one of each category in which you are limited to 1 tech out of 3.  Choosing wisely is important although some fair better than others.

The Goo however work completely different.  The building structure for the goo is a unit, the mother goo.  The mother goo harvests resources and grows in strength.  It can gather resources by sitting on nodes, eating up units and eating up buildings.  After gaining so much health it can split off into one of three units, small, large, and mother goo.  Small goos build light units.  Large goos build heavy units. The mother goo can also sacrifice health to invest in one research point in 5 various categories.

Each size goo also has a unique combat ability.  The mother goo snares.  The small goo heals.  The large goo applies a attack speed decrease.  This makes these structures also very aggressive in nature.

This all sounds too good to be true… and for the most part it is.

The game launched with very bad network problems.  People were disconnecting from games left and right.  The game was region locked so the population in smaller regions just didn’t exist.  As well there appeared to be a unique bug in which a visual effect that people couldn’t see was being applied to every single unit causing additional graphics lag that would carry across the multiplayer connection.

So the game lost its multiplayer community before it ever had a chance to get one.  You are essentially just buying a single player game.

The campaign is only worth about 10-12 hours of pure gameplay.

The game has some real shames.  It is a very beautiful game with a lot of love put in it.  But it didn’t have an authentic beta testing that could have addressed all of the problems they had at launch.  But unfortunately in its current state it is just not worth the price tag.  Wait for a price drop at the summer Steam sale.

Review: Hegemony Rome Rise of Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was among the most important generals in the history of man.  Much like the greatest generals of man his lust for power became so great that he became the government.  But unlike most in history, he was not lined with failure.  His name “Caesar” would become a title given to all future Roman dictators   The rise of Caesar begins when he pushes deep into Gaul and Germania with nothing but success and absolutely no failures.  He becomes respected among the army, enough to create a coup of Rome and remove his friend Pompei from power.

The game follows the trek of Julis Caesar from his first campaigns in barbarian territory.  In the back drop of the game is the politics of Rome and how every one of his victories leads to the inevitable dissolution of the Senate.

The game features an interesting mixture of Total War and Europa Universallis.  From Total War we get the generic battles.  From Europa Universallis we get an intricate economic system.  While those are mainly turn based games this is all done in real time.  You can zoom in on your units at any time to see what they are doing and all resources are gathering in real time by teams of oxen.

The game was an Early Access title for a few months, and then went live.  It was actually rather weird to see.  But it made a lot of sense.  This is a game that is trying to pretend like it’s an indie title when it’s not.  It’s published by Kasedo Media.  Kasedo Media is a subsidiary of Kalypso Media, one of the largest publishers in the Europe.  The goal was to make a game that feels very indie, but where the profits go to a giant corporation.  As far as I know there were little to no changes in the early access to the main game, the whole experience was just a marketing scheme.  This is something we’ll have to look out for in the future as it will become more and more common.

The game itself is just a campaign, one full campaign.  There is no multiplayer and there is no skirmish.  You have the option to continue a level after you have finished it, but it’s finished by that point.  Truthfully for how the game is designed this is the only way it could function.  Any multiplayer match would go on for far too long as you are expecting each campaign to last between 3-8 hours.

The power of the game is exactly how open it is.  Most games like this are very linear.  You just go down one narrow path and that’s it.  In this game you have a lot of threats on multiple fronts and there are many ways to deal with those problems.  For me it meant capturing all towns and enslaving every single one of my enemies so they wouldn’t return.  But for others there are options for ignoring them and pushing, setting guards around the clock, or pushing into their territories and conquering them.

The campaigns are also very broad in their scope.  You start off with a very small province that might have two cities.  You have to balance your soldiers with your income (how you pay the soldiers).  Your soldiers need to be fed or they will lose morale and become functionally useless.  You need wood in order to build structures.  These are the three resources on the map and these have to be connected to a town in order for you to be able to use them via a trade route.  Forts in turn can be loaded with wood and food to build defensive structures and supply your units with food to aid you in laying siege to towns.  Resource piles can be worked by workers or slaves to give them higher output.

Cities themselves can be linked and as you grow and grow and grow you need to worry about continuously having more resources and dealing with the armies of the enemy that increase in size.

Armies themselves can be very complicated in nature.  You will gain legion forces that only you can have.  Then you can conscript skirmishers from the general population.  Archers and slingers provide ranged support.  There is an anti-archer unit.  There is a cavalry unit.  There are sea units.  There are siege towers.  There are anti-infantry siege tools.  There are spearmen for cavalry.  You need the right mix of units to deal with a large number of possibilities.

Each unit gains experience and can upgrade various support classes that provide large benefits.  As an example one support class is “Hunter” which will provide you with a hunter in the squad to gather food for you.  Another support class the Centurion will increase your melee damage.  Each squad can have a maximum of four support classes.  After each unit dies they return to the place where they were created and slowly regenerate over time.  Even this regeneration is part of the logistics of the game.  You can build structures to increase the rate that they can recruit men into the squad and there are various settings in the towns that will allow them to focus towards this.

Conquering towns and cities is the objective of most maps.  When you capture a city there is unrest.  You need troops staged in.  But you also have the option of building a structure to deal with this or take hostages.

The game does have its dark side, mainly hostages and slaves.  Hostages are built as a military unit and are effective only when you move them out of the city, to hold them hostage somewhere else.  This stops unrest as people are now in terror of someone’s wives and children being executed.  Slaves can be made as free replacements for workers by right clicking on a defeated enemy that has been trapped from escape.  Capturing slaves is necessary as those defeated soldiers will otherwise just retreat to base, regenerate and gain their support support classes to become stronger.

It gets insanely complicated and if anything your downfall will often become your empire becomes too military and not enough resources.  Every single hostage, slave and worker requires food.  Every single unit gains food from whatever area they happen to be.  If not enough food is coming to the front and too much is consumed by the locals, your soldiers will starve and be unable to push any further.

So why is this game not amazing?

It comes with a lot of problems with pacing and time.  You will spend a lot of your time waiting around on things.  You will be waiting on food to replenish.  You will be waiting on soldiers to replenish.  Even if you micro manage every single small aspect about your empire, it still doesn’t leave you with enough to do to fill in the gaps of waiting for real time.  This is one advantage turn based has because it can set pacing right.

In the first you’re looking at a game that crashes quite often.  You’ll be in the middle of a giant battle, and then the game just shuts off.  There is no crash report system.  You’ll have no idea what went on.  It just crashes and unlike most games, there’s not even an automatic start over mechanism.  On the second campaign I crashed 14 times before I eventually just gave up and moved on to the next campaign.  I saw 2 crashes in that campaign and became very sick of repeating over the same tedious stuff over and over and over.

Theses sorts of games are based around large scale tactical battles that in the giant scope of things you’re supposed to feel like a person moving pieces on a giant board, but when you zoom in it should feel real.  Total War and Wargame have done well in the past because when you zoom in it feels like exactly what they are emulating.

You don’t get that feeling with this game.  When you zoom in most of the soldiers are just stabbing the air in front of them and they all have the exact same battle animation.  There is never anything that will feel epic or grand about these battles, they are simplified and not even worth zooming in for.

Games like Total War and Wargame have terrain that interacts in some way.  When you go into a forest, your soldiers are hidden.  When you’re on a hill you gain a range advantage.  Terrain has no impact in this game.  There is no competition for powerful positions in the battle.  This has to do with how live it is.  Since the cities are the objective the only tactical advantage is by being near them… which is completely counter intuitive with the conquest theme of the game.  There should be a reason for both sides to want to go out and trump resources.  Since comptuer’s income and food is also simulated and none of it seems real, there is on incentive to send out cavalry to harass enemy supply lines like they do yours.

The game does offer flanking mechanics but they seem too entirely dominant.  Just one flank can wipe out an enemy from 100% to 0%.

But with that some things are not without their charm.  You can choose to pay for workers who will help your resources produce assets.  Or you can enslave your enemies which will allow you to gain a free work force.  Now of course no one’s enemies were slaves, Roman enemies died.  It was the populace that was enslaved.  And I dare not think that the Roman Empire would have given people the option of just being workers.

But it is an interesting mechanic.  It is also a core part of the game.  Fleeing enemies need to be tracked down by cavalry and turned into slaves, otherwise they come back stronger with more veterancy.

The campaign is four chapters long and represents anywhere from 12-30 hours of gameplay depending on difficulty setting.

Is it worth buying?  Probably not.  The game is designed to more or less scam consumers into thinking it is some indie game that is supposed to have flaws that give it charm.  Instead it’s a game that could have actually used a lot more time in early access.

Review: Neocolonialism

The trend of the early teens (2010-2019) in video gaming may just be dominated by hipster bullshit that sacrifices making great and entertaining games in favor of making a point.  It almost makes you want to join the mass movement #GamerGate that seems to just go in all directions.

Imagine you were a child playing hide and seek and all white children were told they were only allowed to hide in within 1 meter of the seeker and told, this is how racism feels.  I mean, yeah you’ve succeeded in making children feel like shit, but you’re really not winning the fight with whatever point you were trying to make.

That’s modern games in a nut shell, they’re all about the feels instead of having something to lose yourself in for the next few hours of your time off from your dreadful life.

Neocolonialism is a board video game (like Risk) in which the goal is to be the best corporation at destroying the world.  After 12 turns the world is ruined, regardless of what you do.  The goal is in 12 turns ruining the world as much as humanly possible.  How do you ruin the world?  You ruin the world by making money.

You start off by purchasing votes in a country.  Your votes in that country act as controlling interest in the country and allow you to gain a percentage of the profits generated by whatever industry is in that country.  With your vote you elect a Prime Minister represented by one of the corporations.  Whoever becomes Prime Minister makes all of the decisions for that country, but all partners equally benefit from the decisions that Prime Minsiter makes (proportionate to how many votes they carry that is).  If no Prime Minister is named none of the corporations make money, so there is an incentive to elect someone.

Once you become Prime Minister you can propose three pieces of legislation, build a Mine, build a Factory, and create a Free Trade route.  The mine gives static gains.  The factory’s gains are based on how many mines are linked to it.  The free trade route links trading blocs together.

As you get more money you can buy more votes in more countries creating more industry and making even more money.

You win by stealing the most money.  Stealing money relies on being Prime Minister in a country and liquidating all of your votes.  This means that near the end of the game you want to be Prime Minister or no one to be Prime Minister.

What I don’t get is how any of this stuff is particularly destroying the world.  The 3rd world would KILL for investment with factories and mines from corporations.  That infrastructure helps everyone.  At the end of the game no one is bankrupt, no one is ruined.  All that happens is you hit Turn 12 and you get a scoreboard proclaiming that you’ve ruined the world.

It seems like the world itself is ruined, at least, in the way a leftest ideology would portray ruined.  The world is already full of free trade trading blocs.  The politicians are all already corrupt.  The world is devoid of industry and is nonresponsive to crises.  If anything you’re coming along and improving the world.

The single player mode is quite easy because there are no difficulty levels, just easy.  I spent maybe 20 minutes total on that for one victory.  I looked at the multiplayer on launch day and found absolutely no one to play with.  I tried several times throughout the day and found absolutely no one was playing multiplayer.  I came to the decision that a multiplayer game with no multiplayer community is just a single player game with a moderate online functionality.

Unfortunately the only price that makes sense for this game is $1.  It’s over priced and the limited experience isn’t THAT fun.

Review: Civilization Beyond Earth

Civilization is one of those safe franchises.  Because of this reviewers tend to underplay it and overrate it.  When you look back at Civilization 5 it launched with broken multiplayer and really bad AI.  The reviewers gave it a 100% rating however because of the potential it would have.  No one wants to look foolish and the Civ franchise is just the kind of game that could make a reviewer feel foolish for giving a review that doesn’t match up with the time.

The thing about Firaxis is that they support their games for a very long time.  Civilization 5 launched in 2010 and since then has seen 15 large DLCs, two expansions, and a large number of patches that improve the game.

When you look at Civilization 5 Complete, it is a master piece.  Had it launched like this it would be the greatest game ever made.

And I think that’s the problem with Beyond Earth.

It has to be compared to Civilization 5, and in that way it will always lose.  Civilization 5 for the same price gives you 10x the number of factions.  If you’re stuck choosing between Civ 5 and Beyond Earth, Civ 5 is the way to go.

But let’s slide Civilization 5 out of the picture for now, pretend it doesn’t exist.  Because if you don’t own Civ 5, buy that instead.

Having said that Civilization Beyond Earth changes the formula ever so slightly.  Instead of going through history you start in the future and have to settle through the colonization of the alien world.

Unlike Civ 5, the game progresses at a standard time pace.  You do not move through any ages and all of your interactions are taking place on a year to year basis.  A 250 turn game represents 250 years.

Since you’re starting off at basically the end of Civ 5, you get all of the fancy weapons they had.  You can start off with really early fighters, artillery, ranged, cavalry, melee, ships, and cruisers.

The game features a unique way of getting new units.  You might get a sea fairing gunship, and it is the only kind of ship in the entire game.  However when leveling a new stat called “affinity” you can also upgrade these units into new units.  The gunships turn into cruisers, and then into dreadnaughts, and then juggernauts, and so on.

Affinity is earned through research and optional missions.  The three affinities represent the personalities of the leaders.  A purity leader is sort of an ultra-nationalist nazi type.  A harmony type is a borg-like hippie.  Then you have supremacy which don’t fit into much of a mold.

Missions are gained while you are playing and can direct how you play the game.  The missions are designed to challenge you and introduce you into various parts of the game.  An early worm kill for example will give you a giant resource lead, however worms can take quite a lot of effort to kill.  Others rely on building things, finding things, and moving to places.

Research works in a tech web rather than a linear connected manner.  Each technology is a parent group of three technologies.  After researching the parent you have the option of researching these junior technologies that require less time to research.  Some of them contain buildings, some contain units, some contain affinities, some contain wonders, and some contain tile improvements.

However the web is very bland and is all one color.  It’s very hard for a newer player to tell exactly what does what.  There is a way of filtering out the tech web into what you want, but even reading it like that is very difficult.

Another important change is the explorer unit.  In Civ 5 it just explored and grabbed treasures.  In Civ BE they grab treasures and can excavate ruins and crash sites.  These take time and can represent risks and rewards.

Another important change in Civilization Beyond Earth is the spy platform.  Instead of simply spying on the enemy you can now level up your spies and accomplish specific tasks, Steal Energy, Steal Technology, Incite a Coup d’etat, your choice.  Alternatively they can just sit in your HQ doing nothing and give you a static bonus per spy.  The game has a huge emphasis on spies and you can get up to nine spies via missions.

Much like the Civ 5 launch however, the game has some pretty terrible AI and really unplayable multiplayer.  If it was its own game, that would be fine.  But it is so close to Civ 5 that there’s no point in getting this game.

In several months perhaps after some patching the game might become playable and worthwhile.  But currently it’s not worth anyone’s time.

Review: Company of Heroes 2 Ardennes Assault

Company of Heroes 2 was no doubt the most anticipated game of the century.  And when it came out, it was the biggest disappointment of the century.  Okay maybe that’s some hyperbole.  But everyone knew Company of Heroes 2 had some serious problems with it.  When it launched you only had two factions to choose from for multiplayer, super awesome Nazi death ball, or Soviets who run into bullets.

The game was also not without controversy.  Russians turned on Metacritic and made consistent low ball scores to bring down it’s total rating.  This was due to the implicit racism in the game.  It was the first Company of Heroes game that wasn’t about heroes, but was instead focused on horrors of war.  The game often portrayed the Nazis as the victims and the Soviets as anti-human aggressors… despite them trying to liberate their own country from the Nazis.

To this day Relic has not issued any sort of apology for what is clear racism.  For anyone who still disagrees, consider the over exaggeration of Canadian and American forces in the war, and the focus on a very small segment of the Russian army’s effort.

But this is about the Ardennes Assault.  Does it make up for the failure that was Company of Heroes 2?

It’s worth noting that there are three other DLCs, of which two add new factions.  However the new factions should have been free.  Adding in really powerful new factions adds a buy to win element to the game that no one should ever except.

I’m getitng side-tracked again, this god damn review is about the Ardennes Assault!

Okay, Ardennes Assault, also known as THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE.  I guess Company of Heroes 2: Battle of the Bulge just wasn’t as nice sounding.

The Battle of the Bulge begins in the winter when the Nazis pull off a stunt no one expected, they attacked in the winter.  Winter invasions have a historically poor precedence, however this one having caught the allies by surprise was very successful.  It pushed the Allies very far back.

Really the only reason we have this expansion is because Company of Heroes 2 is loaded full of winter terrain and probably could not cost effectively do any other battle.  The whole Battle of the Bulge stretches over the period of one month.

So just to put this in perspective, main game takes place over four years, this campaign involves 30 days.

There are a little over 100 battles in World War 2, winter is the only reason we have this one.

Okay, I’m roughly done complaining.

The Ardennes Assault is really good.  I still find it questionable that they added a company from the campaign as DLC.

Okay I’m done complaining I swear to God.

The Ardennes Assault begins with the retreat which is the only scripted event.  After this you play as three companies behind enemy lines that are trying to push back the Nazis.  The campaign goal is to push the Nazis out of France.

You get a campaign over map that may remind of you Total War, Wargame or World in Conflict.  However the size and scope is much smaller than any of these games.  You only get three companies.

However, these three companies can all level up and gain new abilities.  My favorite are the airborne units who when deployed can be given a free gun and an extra squad.

How you level with these RPG elements changes the course of battles.

The most important aspect of this campaign is the actual dynamic elements.  It’s something that all developers aim towards but few are able to accomplish.  Every single play of the campaign is going to be a unique experience played very differently.  Every single level can spawn random objectives and random secondary objectives.  One time you load up a map and it’s a tank graveyard in which you use the dead tanks to kill enemies.  In another of the same map you might get tanks every 3 minutes while the enemy gets consistent tanks.

If there was ever a problem with this game, it’s a  very limited one… it’s too expensive.

At $40 it is easily one of the most expensive expansions ever released.  If it added more to your multiplayer experience or some challenges that’d be something, but it doesn’t.  It’s only one campaign.  But despite being very good, it’s just too expensive for how little you get.

 

Review: To End all Wars

To End All Wars is a World War 1 based Grand Strategy game.

Grand Strategy is that hyper intelligent genre that requires you to look at very specific strategic details and deal with problems entirely in terms of a turn-based format.  It is a really difficult genre to grasp, it’s popularity however… has not dwindled because of it.

To End all Wars is mediocre in terms of a genre domianted by Europa Universalis and other Paradox titles.

The graphics for the game are dated and poor.

Information is represented in a very poor manner.

The tutorial is pretty terrible.

But does the gameplay carry it?

No, no it does not.

You start off with certain generals and gain certain generals over time.  The territories you control give you resources including conscripts to join in your army.  As you wipe out platoons they’re gone for the rest of the game.

There is absolutely no management aspect to the game.

World War 1 was a time when new technologies were emerging. You literally had the first tanks and the last horses fighting on the same battlefield.  Why is there no technology management aspect to this game?  Why doesn’t it have that sort of depth to it?

I wouldn’t mind this game so much if not for the fact that it just doesn’t feel like you’re doing that much.  The strategy is in the battles which all unfortunately have an auto optimize feature if you choose to use it… which everyone should of course.

The game is very slow paced and does drag on.  This is something that’s probably true of most Grand Strategy titles.  The difference is that there is very little level of customization in this game.

The game is also full of bugs.  In between turns you may experience the game freezing, screen black outs, and the game crashing.  It can take 30 seconds to a minute for a turn to take place.  The logic for this is that the game has a sophisticated AI that is calculating and making important decisions.

But much like a good chess AI if you have no idea what you’re doing and are making really weird moves the computer will not know how to respond and will take even longer.  I just left my base wide open… and the game crashed.

The thing that scares me most about this game is that the developer has made 3-4 titles like it before.  They’re almost identical in almost every single way, except different setting and time.

If this was at least good I’d say buy it at $10… but it’s not even that good.