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.

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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.

Wargame: AirLand Battle Tactics – The Reinforcement Block

Wargame: AirLand Battle is a game of positioning and tactics.  One minor miss-step by an opponent can be disasterous for the army.

In this series I will be showing some basic Wargame tactics that you can use for great results.

The first of these is called The Reinforcement Block.

After spending resources on a units they must travel to said location.  The first point they emerge from is a reinforcement zone.  These reinforcement zones are different from normal zones distinguishable by a white arrow.

Units require vision in order to fire on a unit.  Other than this you can choose to “Fire Position” to blindly target an area.

Each unit that gets ambushed as they are leaving the reinforcement area will in the least get second hit.  If the unit attacking is powerful enough it can just destroy units as they are being made.

So the strategic advantage is to move some units where the units spawn from (these white arrows).

The key unit for this is the infantry unit.  Placing the infantry unit here will mean the infantry with its super high damage will do very well.

For more long term effects you should bring many infantry, some anti-air, some anti-tank and maybe even a tank.

Reinforcement points become huge contentuous fighting zones because of how easy it is to get a lot of bang out of your buck with this tactic.

Better players are going to have units staged at their reinforcement point to prevent this from happening.  This isn’t to say you shouldn’t go, but merely that you will have to bring a larger army to secure this very key location and block reinforcements.

As a player who has no learned one of the key tactics Wargame: ALB has to offer you need to dedicated some resources every game to make sure people are not also doing this to you.

Steam Sales Review #50: Fallen Enchantress

Originally this game was called “Elemental Fallen Enchantress.”  But for some reason (probably marketing) it was changed to simply Fallen Enchantress.

You will find a lot of parallels between this game and Civilization 4.  This is because a Civ4 designer who made a fantasy based mod for Civ 4, was the lead developer for Fallen Enchantress.

So upon loading up the game and before even playing the game I click on options.  The game has more options and customization than any game I’ve ever played.  There are no less than 9 different sound configurations… most games offer 3.

For this reason you will find  the sound quality is amazing in this game.  You will love the music and love the sound effects.

The story of the game is largely unimportant.  But as the story goes there are good guys and bad guys each trying to vye for control of everything.  The good guys often band together but sometimes attack each other to try and unify power.  Sometimes the good guys will ally with bad guys to move up in the world.

There is one giant evil that has surmised the world that if you defeat you will win.

The game borrows from so many different games it’s not fit.  By doing this it creates a brand new game worth talking about.

From Lords of Magic or Heroes and Might and Magic you have the idea of hero units within armies.  Each hero unit can level up gaining specialized traits.  Each hero specializes into one of eight hero jobs including beggar, soldier, and mage

After you gain so many levels you can specialize in a different kind of path including warrior, assassin, mage, and rogue.

Each city can also specialize.  Each city with specialize in either money, army, or research.  Over time as the cities level they will further specialize in these in different ways.

So like Civilization you build cities which build buildings that boost stuff and you get armies and the ability to build more cities.

However unlike Civilization you tie your military units into 3-9 man parties that will go to war together.

With your military you can move around the map.  There are treasures that are either rewards or punishments.  Upon clicking on one of the treasures on the map you might get gildar (the currency in the game), equipment or get ambushed.

The game also has a very unique and chaotic point in which you can do quests.  These quests are offered by NPCs around the map that will tell you to go kill something.  It gets chaotic because often your quests will have you go into enemy territory in which case you can get declared war upon.

Diplomacy pretty much works the same as Civilization.  People declare war on you at the drop of a dime and only make peace with you after you have caused devastation upon them.

In every single one of these games there is a distinct defenders advantage.  In this game it’s not really that big.  Upon attacking a city there are a few extra civilian units pushed forward who don’t really do much.

As well there are constantly aggressive barbarian type mobs spawning throughout the game that you will have to deal with.  Of course you want to engage them because they can level your heroes up.

The game is INSANELY customizable.  The game has Steam Workshop as well.  You can design your own units (based on research you have found).  You can create your own hero (including type, stats, looks, and abilities).

All of this is uploadable to the Steam Workshop… except people don’t seem to be doing it.  Despite all things there isn’t a giant mod community around for this game.  Don’t expect to see any full Warcraft mods or Mario world mods because they just won’t exist (unless you make them yourself).

There are a few clear negatives to this game.

The first is some really odd UI options.  My most hated is how units hide in cities.  I spent about 2 hours missing two full armies having no idea where they were.  The army manager screen vanishes these armies once they enter cities.

Once inside the cities you have to click a + button to individually move them out.  Fine for one character but six is just tedious.

Another major problem is that the game has stablization issues.  Some people report the game crashes.    I had this odd problem where some kind of prompt kept running in the background and disturbing my gameplay.

Steam Sales Review #36: Blood Bowl Legendary Edition

I can’t remember how long ago I picked up this game.  At the time I thought to myself “I don’t own a sports game.”  So I picked up this game thinking it was a football game and long and behold, it’s a turn based strategy game with a dice rolling system.

Well holy crap was that ever a surprise.  So is Blood Bowl a diamond in the rough, poorly marketed…. or is it a heaping pile of poo?

The game was purchased for $5 at 75% off.

The Brief: Turn Based Strategy

The first turn based strategy games were played on a table top.  People envisioned the war room of the greatest generals in the world imagining them moving plastic models across a real map to illustrate strategy objectives.

Over time board games and table top board games began to stagnate.

The reason for this is because the people who often played these were being dragged into computers and away from games.  Today board games and table top games have boomed into popularity again.

He’s got the ball, time to roll the dice

The convergence of computer games and table top games was inevitable.  People started to develop table top games for quickly into the video game market and they took off like mad.

Civilization is no doubt the most popular of the table top franchises.  Ironically it was an independent creation based on a few table top games.  Civilization became a board game AFTER the success of of the computer game.  The board game makers later went on and made a computer game based on their version of Civilization board game.

For a while turn based games were so popular that they actually split between turn based tactical games  and 4X strategy games.

Synopsis

Dwarves and orcs were at war with each other.  After endless days of non-stop fighting a truce is held and peace talks begin.  While peace talks are happening a simple orc starts kicking at dirt.  Soon he starts digging a hole in the ground with his foot.  Thereafter he digs up an artifact with his foot, a book of rules on how to play football.

The dwarves and orcs play the first ever game of football on the battlefield and 100 years later the Blood Bowl forms.  The Blood Bowl is played in the New World, a land full of wild creatures.  During times of war countries have a truce while their teams are playing each other.

The game is turn based.  You can move every single one of your units across the football field once per turn.

With each move a dice roll will happen depending on what you do.  Every time you pass someone they will automatically try to attack you.  You have to make a roll to succeed in passing the person while running.

When you attack someone you have to do a roll, ties are pushes, wins are kills.

When you throw the ball or catch the ball you have to win a roll.

Werewolf cheerleaders? Okay

So with this in mind think of a standard football play.  The quarterback runs to the left passing by a person, dice roll.  T he quarterback has to successfully throw the ball, dice roll.  It has to pass by the enemy, dice roll per person it passes.  Finally there is a dice roll for the receiver to catch the ball.

Different players have different traits that will effect the game.  A Greasy player for example is much harder to tackle and thus requires much higher dice rolls to be successful.  A player that is a heavy hitter can tackle people very easily.  All players can do all things, but some are just setup to do it better.

Your turn can also end before it is time.  This happens when you get a bad dice roll.  The game will ask you if you want to roll again.  If you roll again and lose the roll, you lose the remainder of your turn.  For this reason strategic planning often means doing all of the risky stuff last and all the sure stuff first.

The game actually has quite a few games modes.  The first is multiplayer, no one plays it so no comment.

The second is season play.  You start a season of play against other computer AI opponents and have to build up resources over time.

The third is Exhibition where you control factors.  There are a dozen teams to choose from.

Finally there is story in which instead of winning you have to complete the historical events of the games.  My favorite of these was tossing goblins around.

Strengths

  • Tones of Play Options
  • Easy to Get Into

The game has tones of ways to play the game.  The campaign for the game is very long and will introduce you to so many aspects o the game.  The league play is much like league play in most sports game, that is people who play them will play them forever.

The game is very slow paced and has a UI you can appreciate (other than one thing).  You will get the game very quickly and start seeing how different plays and setups will work in your way.

Weaknesses

  • Bad UI
  • Overly Cinematic
  • Poor Branding

I think the best part about the game is dice rolling.  I think the worst part of the game is how poorly the dice rolling element is shown.  It feels a lot of the time that whether you win or lose is just absolutely completely random and has no baring on anything.  You will get sick so fast of seeing random losses happen.

At first the cinematic features of the game are cool, but after a while it gets lame fast.  Every single play has a cinematic and when it’s not your turn you are just sitting there in a dull stare.  Because it is cinematic you cannot really keep track of the strategic moves the computer player is doing because usually there are only 2-3 types of units on the field… and 11 players total.

TOUCHDOWN!!!!

I can’t help but think the table top game was invented as a transition to try and get Football fans to play nerdy games.  For this reason I feel it’s just branded very very poorly.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who purchased it thinking it was actually a football game, more my weakness than the game’s I suppose.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall the game represents a steaming pile of crap.  I played around with it for about 14 hours and just got bored with the game.  There was nothing really fun about it and the lack of dice roll and bonus points emphasizing decisions makes the game feel more chance and less about some sort of DnD style management.

Steam Sales Review #33: Sanctum

No doubt one of the most on sale games on Steam, Sanctum.  The developers of this game only made this game and a bunch of DLC for it.  Either sales are not going well…. or they’re REALLY going well.

The Brief: Tower Defense

Rampart from Atari Games is often cited as the first ever Tower Defense game.  Released in 1990 this insanely basic game had you building cannons along a wall in order to stop enemies from coming to your castle.

I think it is important to remember that genres have their time.  In the early early 90s the big craze was simulators and  and side scrollers.  Other ‘historic’ releases like Dune would not even be recognized until decades later.

Dune is rather important because here was a game that took elements of Tower Defense and combined them with movable units and an economy, it was the birth of the RTS.  This is of course important because the modern Tower Defense rises out of RTS games.

It’s really not clear who came up with Tower Defense first, mod developers for Starcraft or mod developers for Age of Empires.  What we can say for sure is that the mods were so popular that Age of Empires 2 Kings and Warcraft 3 would both have a tower defense level.

It should also be noted Ensemble Studios (now Robot Entertainment) were the creators of Age of Empires and their new franchise (Orcs Must Die) is a huge hit of Tower Defense.

Tower defense offered a strong opportunity for indie developers.  Here is a game format that is proven addictive and on top of that is very easy to make.  The end result are dozens of browser based tower defense games that take the world by storm.  The most popular of these browser/iOS based TD games is Plants vs Zombies.

Plants vs Zombies was an interesting spin on it because at first it doesn’t even really feel like a tower defense.  In this game you plant plants on a lawn and they fight against various types of zombies.

Tower Defense games are your nickel and dime drawer games.  These are cheap, fun and addictive games.

Synopsis

There is no story.

There is no context.

There is no one but Zool….. scratch that.

In it you are an unidentified unnamed female character who is killing monsters who for whatever reason run towards some sort of orb and the orb dying causes an end to something.

It’s not really all that important.  What is important is that it has a very basic design and is a pure tower defense.  At the beginning of every stage you will get to choose difficulty, survival mode on or off, and other various settings.

After this you will get to choose a load out.  There are roughly six weapons you can choose from (in three slots) and about 10 towers you can choose representing about 4-6 slots (varies per level).  All of the towers are varying in strengths and bonuses and so the perfect assortment of each may be critical to winning the level.

Towers can only be placed where a blueprint market is for a tower.  Once the tower is down it can be modified to add on various weaponry.  Once the weaponry is down it can be upgraded (up to Level 6) for more potency.

Upgrades can also be done to hand weapons.  The game is in first person shooter mode and so hand weapons will add a lot of DPS.

After hitting the Enter key you toggle on the enemies to show up.  There is a neat little meter on the top right corner indicating Tower DPS vs Personal DPS.

The enemies that arrive are varying and themed…. however are typical of tower defenses.  Some enemies fly.  Some enemies run fast.  Some enemies have a lot of HP.  Some enemies are mostly vulnerable.  Some enemies are bosses.  Each enemy has a weak point and while your towers do their job you can add in some extra DPS but targeting down this.

Strengths

  • Really Hard
  • First Person Shooter

It’s odd to find a good ole REALLY hard game, but here we have one.  After about 30 minutes I beat the first level.  2.5 hours later I’m still trying to pack away at the second level.  This game was designed for people who enjoy Tower Defense and really want a challenge.

In some games being too difficult is a bad thing.  In this one it represents a real challenge to people.  Instead of quitting in anger (in games that are too difficult) you find yourself changing your “Equip” to better beat the level.

Following in suit with Orcs Must Die this game has a first person format that will allow you to have something to do while  enemies are running through your trap.  This makes the game far more intense.  It means instead of just watching enemies run into your towers you can do something about it as well.

Weaknesses

  • Not Enough Content
  • Multiplayer Puzzle!?!?!?
  • No Scoreboard

At the end of the day it comes down to how much you are getting for how much you’re forced to pay out.  As far as game content goes you are paying $10 for a mere five levels.  Keep in mind that included in these five levels is two free DLC levels that were added post development.

Worst yet every DLC only adds 4 more levels each.  So you’re not getting a tonne of content here exactly.

I think my newest growingest pet peeve out there is multiplayer in puzzle games.  The end result of this is the same thing as “Team Jeopardy.”  We all know how that ends.  There ends up being one really smart person who answers all the questions and 2-3 other people who bask in someone else’s success.

The glory of puzzle games is that they are things you can do yourself.  Adding in the puzzle element basically means bringing along that bumbling friend of yours who is incapable of doing it themselves.

It’s not to sound all elitist and to be a jerk, but the puzzle genre is something designed to be challenging to an individual.

Time spent on developing multiplayer for this game could have been better spent in making more levels for launch.  However if multiplayer puzzle games for whatever reason are your thing, well it offers multiplayer.

I think with Steam Cloud it’s hard to not have an excuse not to have a global scoreboard.  And in truth… there’s not even really points in this game.  When you look at the ending statistics for each run it gives you no indication at all that something is superior in any way.  it gives it a lot less play value compared to say, Orcs Must Die in which people are constantly replaying levels to try and move up on a scoreboard.

Concluding Thoughts

The game is very fun to play and worth the $5 purchase when it goes on sale.  I would even recommend purchasing all of the DLC when it goes on sale.  At normal price I would not recommend it, it just appears to be too expensive for what you get from it.

It was a very enjoyable game and will most likely have you coming back for more punishment.  I’d say more about this game but I have 9 more levels to beat on insane.

Celtic Age of Empires Online Strategy: Fast Age 2

You will start off with 200 wood.  As shown in the Spearman rush tactic this is enough wood to get you a very fast barracks and start pumping out a lot of units.

It was also noted that with the spearman rush if your opponent also had a very fast barracks up the logical step was to Age up.

Note that this strategy is more of a mindset than a tactic.  With spearman you are chain making spearman in order to gain a position and/or economic advantage.  With this tactic you will be behind economically but will gain access to more tech, more upgrades, and most importantly, more units.

What do I mean?

In going from Age 1 to Age 2 you will not be producing any villagers.  This means that using this tactic you will be behind about 5 villagers and your army count will be about 6 spearman smaller.  So in doing this you are risking having about 11 less supply than your enemy.

What is the advantage?  You will be able to get the barracks upgrade to increase productivity of your barracks based units.

This means that your army count will catch up rather quickly.  It also means that you will have stronger overall units.

Scouting is important here.

Initially you should build three homes and have all of your villagers on bush gathering.  Once you have the 300 food you need for Age 2 make sure the remainder of your villagers are building the remainder of the three homes.

Once the three homes are built you can split up all of these villagers in terms of Wood production, Food production and Gold production.  Gold and wood are going to be very important resources here.

If you scout that your opponent is building a barracks I would suggest moving all of your workers to wood production and try to get up a barracks of your own.  You will only need to produce a hand full of spearman for the only purpose of protecting some of your workers.

The idea is simple, minimize defenses at all costs and maximize food production to get to Age 2.

Once you hit Age 2 you have tones of options.  If your opponent is also going for Age 2 and not attacking you can get unit and gathering upgrades to get even further ahead.

If your opponent is poking around with Age 1 units in large numbers it would be wise to get Long Swordsman to counter them.  After you have 8-10 of these you can get the barracks unit upgrade to make them more effective.

The goal from here is to catch back up using better units and having more productivity.

If your opponent does not Age up his units will always be weaker.

If your opponent does Age up he will fall behind on Villager production as well.

It is important to note that because you have been sitting in your base only using your scout to move around and check the map that your opponent has been given free roam on the map and may have expanded storehouses all over the place.

Make sure your scout is constantly active while you are not doing anything regarding your economy.  When you get enough Age 2 units you can move and shut down any and all storehouses across the maps.

From here the goal is to contain your opponent to this one part of the map.  If the map has an ocean make sure to build a port and take control of the seas as well.  Without access to a lot of stone and wood they will not be able to keep up with upgrades and production.