The immediate impression Elite Dangerous makes is that it’s a very complicated game. The core of the game, flying a spaceship from station to station, easily becomes lost in the sea of systems the game drowns you in when you begin. What I love about Elite, though, is how accomplished flying is. It’s supremely satisfying to drop out of warp, to request docking permission from station security, to execute the perfect landing, to plot the optimum route to your next stop. Elite is a game of routine so it’s a good job Frontier, the developer, have done such a stellar job making every part of that routine the best it can be. I played Elite Dangerous in 2017 but it was first released in 2014. This year saw the game change dramatically plus it was released on PS4, so I feel comfortable including it here.
I haven’t finished Opus Magnum. When I play most games I finish them quickly if I like them; with Opus Magnum I love it too much to move on. Opus Magnum is a puzzle game. You build machines that combine, transport and transmute elements to solve problems. In most puzzle games, I finish a puzzle and move on to the next, so I can see the challenge and start thinking. Opus Magnum’s changed that. Every machine that does its job can be made more efficient. It can work more quickly using less space and fewer parts. It took about ten minutes to solve the game’s first simple puzzle, Stabilized Water, but since I completed it I’ve returned three times with ideas about how it can be modified and made more elegant. Opus Magnum’s made me play differently, and that’s remarkable.
If you’ve followed this blog for a long time, you’ll have noticed there were fewer posts in 2017 than any previous year. Mostly, that’s because I didn’t have time to play games. I graduated, changed jobs, moved house, and dealt with other life events too boring to narrate here. I haven’t played enough to do a proper top five list, but over the next few days I want to celebrate four of the best games I did play.
Gwent, of course, is cheating. I’ve written about how much I love it here and on Rock, Paper, Shotgun already. I’m not tired of praising it, though, and that’s a testament to just how spectacular it is.
Hey. I’ve been out of the country recently, and while I was gone there was a) no posts and b) thousands and thousands of spam comments. Sorry about that! I didn’t write anything to be queued up for release, as I should have done, and also my spam protection expired and I didn’t notice. It should be fixed now.
See you soon!
Hoplite is a mobile game in which you play the titular hoplite, descending through hell to retrieve the golden fleece and beat your high score. The game is played on a hex grid: each turn, you move one space and when you make a move, so too do all the enemies. If you move into the hex beside an enemy or if you pass them, you kill them, but if you end your turn in a hex beside you they hurt you. When you complete a level, you select one upgrade from a list for your hoplite. As the game progresses it introduces enemies with more complex moves and attacks.
Since I’ve been out of the country lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Hoplite on my phone. For the most part it’s an excellent substitute for PC strategy games, and it’s the first roguelike I’ve really loved. However, Hoplite’s progression and upgrade system are tedious. Bizarrely, your first few games of Hoplite will be the least compelling you’ll play, and the game only opens up after you unlock a few achievements. As I mentioned, you pick one upgrade from a randomly generated list every time you successfully clear a level of enemies.
I have written another article for PC games website Rock, Paper, Shotgun, this time about Gwent. You can find it on their website, with the title “How Gwent has evolved in its journey from minigame to multiplayer gem.” I hope you enjoy it!
Turning my citizens into robots was a long-term project. Just to enhance my population with cybernetics, I had to acquire mountains of Stellaris’ new resource, unity, to invest it in traditions, plus I needed to research advanced robotics technology. Then, to put the cybernetics into effect I had to research a special engineering project so gargantuan it consumed half the lifespan of one scientist. It took decades after that to acquire the necessary technologies, traditions and finally to manufacture robot bodies for every cyborg before I could go digital and upload most of my empire to their new, immortal, perfect bodies. Paradox have come up with a brilliant answer to Stellaris’ flawed mid and late game: take the best thing about the game, namely the way in which you create a species and define it through play, and spread the process out across the whole game. Stellaris’ new free update, Banks, and the accompanying paid expansion Utopia do a superb job of catapulting Stellaris into the top tier of space strategy games.
Hey. I’ve written about Total War: Warhammer’s awful and pointlessly confusing campaign map on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The link is here.
Imperator Augustus is a free additional campaign for Rome II which moves the timeline forward about 200 years. In 272 BC, when the grand campaign begins, Rome is a small city-state. In 42 BC, when Imperator Augustus begins, Rome has just been divided between the triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus. Its constituent parts are still the largest states in the Mediterranean. The change in setting solves some of the issues with Rome II I’ve already complained about and bolsters its strengths. It’s a fantastic campaign which I enthusiastically recommend over the standard grand campaign. Where the grand campaign is directionless even as Rome, Imperator Augustus offers you clearer structure, a more interesting and recognizable cast, and, critically, villains you can immediately identify. As well as improving Rome II’s strategic layer, Imperator Augustus makes battles better. Armies are larger and battles are more climactic. Rome II has always had the capacity to simulate vast battles, but Imperator Augustus takes full advantage of this fact from the start. Imperator Augustus is a clear improvement over the grand campaign of Rome II, and an excellent scenario worthy of your time and attention.
At the time of writing, I’ve just conquered Kent, the last English province on the British Isles. It took 298 years (between the game’s opening in 1444 and the final peace in 1744) but at last Ireland controls the whole of both islands. When I’ve finished integrating the land into my empire I get the message I’ve been waiting for: I’ve earned the ‘Luck of the Irish’ achievement. To get the achievement, you’ve got to be playing the game as an Irish state in ironman mode and you need to own and have cores on every province in the British Isles. It’s tough, partially since Ireland doesn’t exist in 1444. Instead, you choose one of the many independent kingdoms on the island (Kildare for me) and by making a few judicious alliances you conquer your equally small neighbours. Playing as an Irish state means constantly dodging annihilation. If you stab your friends in the back and eat your neighbours too quickly, they’re likely to band together, beat you, and divide you up. If you don’t, though, you’ll be unprepared for the moment England or Scotland decide Ireland looks like a nice place to expand.
Trying to get Luck of the Irish made for a great campaign and it speaks to what makes achievements in Europa Universalis IV so good. They ask you to succeed with states you wouldn’t normally play, or to pursue specific, unusual goals with the major players. Without achievements, EUIV’s immense sandbox is often overwhelming. In the beginning, it’s difficult to find an interesting state to play since the game’s options are so vast. In the late game, it’s hard to stay interested in a campaign without a goal. Achievements solve both of these problems: they allow Paradox, the developer, to highlight cool scenarios and they help players stay interested in their campaigns by setting clear goals.