Category Archives: Other PC Games

The Steam Summer Sale of 2020 Slips Away

Yesterday the annual Steam Summer Sale wrapped up, the mass of discounts were reduced to the usual state of something on my wishlist always being on sale, and whatever sticker collection game they had going came to an end.

Summer 2020

The ongoing pandemic, which is especially acute in the US where wearing a mask is now seen as a political testament, seems like a good time to have a sale on video games.  I’m coming up on four months of working from home and not going anywhere on weekends. There is only so much television I can watch in a day, so gaming seems a likely outlet for me.

The timing of the sale was poor for me.  It landed just as our group was having a bit of a resurgence of activity in WoW Classic, when the new Minecraft world still seemed fresh (and there was a new Minecraft update which I have yet to go into), and then a war began to brew in EVE Online.

The latter, the war in New Eden, has actually eaten up most of my gaming time since it started to boil last week.

Given all that, my need for, and bandwidth to deal with, has been somewhat restricted.  Anything I purchased from the sale was likely to go into my library and sit unplayed, and I have enough titles like that already.

Still, I did end up making two purchases.

The first wasn’t a new game but some DLC.

Space empire building of another sort

I saw that Stellaris had its addons marked down so I figured I would grab those.  I like the game and have played it quite a bit.  It is one I will likely go back to at some point when things are slow.

The second was another remaster.

Retro RTS Remaster

The Command & Conquer Remastered Collection, which came out just over a month ago, was marked down a bit, so I grabbed a copy.

I am still a fan of the RTS genre and willing to play some classics.  I have not, however, played any of the Command & Conquer series before.  Skronk, who has, said we ought to give it a run, and the price, even without the discount, was not too dear.  And, it had been on my mind anyway as Honest Game Trailers did a video about it.

So I have those two to dig into when the war settles down in EVE Online.  Until that happens though, expect more posts about space battles.

Further Thoughts on Minecraft Dungeons

I think people are mostly in agreement that Minecraft Dungeons isn’t a very deep game.  The question, for me, is more whether it was worth the price.  If it had been a full price, $60 game, the answer would have be a clear negative.  But for just $20, is it worth getting mad about?

It is Minecraft and Dungeons

I’ll give that a firm “maybe.”

The game itself is light and easy.  Despite the hurdles of purchase, it runs smoothly and well with only the rare rough edge. (The delay between closing the in-game map and having the game respond to inputs is just long enough to be annoying.)  There is little to object to when it comes to how the game plays.

The game is short.  The thin story… defeat the Arch Illager… took me a little more than six hours to work through, and I spent some time experimenting with gear and enchantments (and setting up screen shots) along the way.  By the time I got to the final boss I was level 23.

The last fight in the story

I am pretty sure a more focused run could knock it out in much less time than that.

Who are those people in the end cinematic?

Once I’m done with the story in most games I am generally done with the game.  While finishing the story unlocked a new difficulty level, that seems a bit less than compelling.

After the story, do it again

Going back to replay levels isn’t bad.  As noted, the mechanics of playing are light and easy and fun in a simple sort of way, and I found on my first run that notching up the difficulty in order to get better drops did open up some more side-dungeons in the various areas.  But you don’t get anything new, just the same ten areas you just finished.

I had to crop and merge to make this one map

There is a marker there for “Island Realms,” but that is some DLC that has yet to be released.  We will have to see how soon “soon” really is.

No islands for you yet

Replayability is also hindered by the fact that there are no classes, just the default Minecraft adventurer.

There is a hint of classes in the gear.  The armor you choose to wear corresponds to class roles that you see in MMORPGs.  It would be interested for a group who plays together to focus on specific roles via the armor they choose.  But for a solo player there isn’t a lot of point.

So it might be worth $20 to the right person, but as I noted in my first post, it seems a bit thin for the price otherwise.  Not that it isn’t fun, but if you had $20 to spend on an ARPG, there are other options.

For just $10 you can get a copy of the original Diablo over at GoG.com.  It feels a bit raw these days, but it has atmosphere, story, and three classes.

For the same $20 you can get the remastered Titan Quest Anniversary Edition on Steam.  It sprawls well beyond Minecraft Dungeons in content, and has expansions if you want more.

And for just five dollars more, you can get the Grim Dawn base game over at Steam, which has a lot more depth and content than Mincraft Dungeons will likely ever have and is more recent than the first two suggested alternatives.

Then there is Diablo III and Torchlight II and Path of Exile, the latter of which is free to play, if you want more ARPG options.

But, if you’re like me and have played all of the above and want something in that vein that is light and easy and fun, Minecraft Dungeons isn’t bad.  (And if you have the Xbox Game Pass for PC it is free.)  Just know that there isn’t a lot of “there” there when it comes to the game… though being able to have a pet llama that attacks your foes by spitting on them is not nothing.

Me, my llama, and my bat

As for the coming DLC… I feel like I might skip that unless they really step up their game.  We shall see.

Starting Off with Minecraft Dungeons

As I mentioned in the month in review post, I bought a copy of Minecraft Dungeons last month and actually found some time to play it this past week.

It is Minecraft and Dungeons

I am going to get my negative vibes out of the way first.

It is kind of a pain in the ass to buy the game on PC.  That you have a Mojang account cuts you no ice, you have to have a Microsoft account.  You probably have once if you have Windows 10, since they require it, but you may not remember that the login for that is probably in your password managed under a URL that doesn’t have the word “microsoft” in it. (Look for “live” on the list.)

Then there are three different versions, a Windows 7, 8, and 10 version, a Windows 10 version, and a Windows 10 Hero version, which will get you the next few DLC packs they push out.  But otherwise, I couldn’t really tell the difference between the first two… the descriptions were paltry in the extreme, so bought the first one because… more support is better?  I don’t know.  Maybe I made a mistake there.

And then there is the fact that the game has its own launcher, which may sound like a nit pick, but there is a button for it on the damn Minecraft launcher that, before you buy the game, gives you a link to the store page and, which after you buy it, comes up with a button to launch its launcher.  I mean, WTF?

That button is a lie

Minecraft Dungeons is also clearly a console game that they also brought over to Windows.  The opening page starts in with all the controller buttons you need to activate this or that.

My keyboard does not have most of those

That also probably explains why there is no built-in functionality to take screen shots.  I had to hit print screen and tab out to paste images into Paint.net to get what you see here.  I tried to use the nVidia GeForce experience to take screen shots, but the game is too new to be supported in that yet, and I didn’t want to go dig up my Fraps account just for this.

After 45 minutes of buying then trying to install it some place besides the default location… and being warned not to uninstall for heaven’s sake… I was perhaps not all that favorably disposed towards the game.

And, in the end, it isn’t actually Minecraft… you cannot punch trees or build or whatever and it is click to move as opposed to first person perspective.  But if you’re making an action RPG Diablo clone, being able to build a redstone sugar cane harvester probably isn’t a requirement.

That is what it is after all, an action RPG with a Minecraft skin on it.  And the game meets expectations there.  Zombies groan, skeletons rattle, creepers go “sssss… BOOM,” and so on, while you and your blocky avatar move through the game.

A skeleton and a baby zombie!

The UI will be familiar to anybody who has played a Diablo or Torchlight or most any action RPG, with perhaps the arrow count standing in for the mana bulb, as there isn’t any magic casting classes… as there are not really classes.  You’re just a Minecraft protagonist.

Once you play through an intro that sets the story, you end up in a base from which you will head off on your adventures.

The center of the base

The base is pretty sprawling, and I assume  you end up unlocking things as you go along to make some of that space meaningful, but as you start out there are mostly just a chest here and there you can open to collect some of the game currency, which are emeralds of course.

Unlike Diablo, Minecraft Dungeons is mission based.  You go to the mission table in your base, click on it, and choose from some of the missions currently available to you.

Some early missions

Each mission has its own story which ties it into the over arching story of the game, and each has its own set of discreet objectives, bosses, and what not you need to overcome in order to finish.

This is not a bad thing.  While you don’t get a sense of a world as you are teleported into each mission and return back to your base, it isn’t a giant leap away from something like Diablo and its waypoints and quests.  It works.

And there are, of course, chests and loot and upgrades to be found as you run through missions.

Some new stuff!

You can find better gear, and there is an system of enchantment points that let you improve the gear you have.

The thorns enchantment

That gives you the whole optimization element where you have to decide on gear, the benefits it provides, and the enchantments it offers, the latter of which can be different for items that are otherwise the same.

And you can salvage gear you do not want for emeralds and a refund of the enchantment points you have spent on a particular item.

Things start our light and charming, the game play is easy, and it was quite the delight.

Look, a gelatinous cubes!

The missions have a map that shows you where you are and what areas you have yet to poke your nose into (because chests are always a possibility in every side path) and little arrows point you towards every objective, so you are unlikely to ever feel lost  Even death has a light touch.  I did a jump roll into some water and died… no swimming here I guess.

It was bound to happen

You get a set number of lives per mission, but when you die you get dropped back at a safe spot and can just carry on.  But if you die to many times you get sent back to your base to start over again.

After a couple of missions I was pretty happy with the game.  I showed it to my daughter, who liked the idea, and considered getting a copy for my Switch Lite.  It seemed like it might be a good title to play on that.  There is no cross platform play… or even cross platform saves/accounts… but I wasn’t so dug into the PC version that I felt I couldn’t change over.  You can play with up to three of your friends, which on the PC side is controlled through a friends list, though how that really works I haven’t seen yet as I have nobody on my list.

And then I got to the content gating mechanism.

While you have levels… because levels will never die… and gain enchantment points with each level, you also have a power measurement based on your level, gear, and enchantments.

Each mission has a recommended level of power you ought to have to take it on.  After the first few missions I ran though I was at power level 6 and the next range of missions were suggesting 10.

It isn’t a hard barrier.  You can run the missions with a power suggestion higher than your actual, but they are tuned for that suggestion as a minimum.  Still, you might get a gear drop that will boost your power as you go through.

Or you can re-run past missions.  You can actually dial up their settings from their default to something more challenging, which gets you better drops.

Mission settings

I am less enthused with that option because, with all the charm and cuteness and Minecraft feel to the game, none of the levels were really interesting enough that I was thinking, “I want to do that again!” when I was done.  I was far more, “Okay, let’s get the next mission going!”

Still, it feels a bit thin so far, though I need to measure that against the $20 price.

And I am also not that far into the game yet, so perhaps I have not hit the more interesting missions.  It is light and easy to pick up though.  It just needs to clear the “compelling” hurdle for me.

Where is the Scenario Mod for This?

Due to the absolutely staggering lack of leadership currently at the federal level, regional groupings have begun to form in an effort to coordinate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The internet being what it is, people are tracking and mapping these groupings.

Regional Groupings

There are even people working on flag variations for things like the Western States Pact. (Though, now that there are five states in it, the flag needs a re-think.)

And, because I am what I am, my thoughts immediately go towards a mod or scenario or whatever to reflect this, if not break up, then regional grouping of these re-United States.  Civilization or Crusader Kings or Hearts of Iron or Europa Universalis, in one or all of these somebody has to be brewing up a scenario.   Who has one?

Friday Bullet Points from Gamasutra

It is Friday and time for some bullet points about things about which I could not muster full blog posts.  This week the common theme here is that they are from the Gamasutra blogs, which are opinion pieces submitted by their community.

Gamasutra focuses on the video game industry from a developer’s perspective, which can give the site its own flavor.  This includes an often used outsider submission system for blog posts.  These posts can range from esoteric to down in the nitty gritty technical, but enough of them interest me that I keep the blogs section in my RSS feed.  So I thought I would share a few recent items from there that I enjoyed.

This is the article that made me think about doing this post.  A lot of blogs are retros about how things worked out for a particular game.  In this case, it is a pretty deep view into how the game Cultist Simulator did on Steam, diving into so pretty specific details you are unlikely to find elsewhere.  To an outsider it provides information both about how well the game did and how things even work when you’re a developer on Steam.

A developer side view of the impact of microtransactions and cash shops in video games and how they can be a good for a quick buck up front but may ultimately end up losing you player support over the longer term if not well thought out.

A look at another item that I think about now and then, the daily login rewards and such that games use to tempt players to keep logging back in.  Fatigue is such a good word to describe how I feel about them after a while.

I mentioned the game play loop idea in a comment recently, as it is something that comes up in Yahtzee Croshaw’s video dev diary series about developing twelve games in twelve months. (I recommend it. You can find it on YouTube under The Escapist.)   This is another look at the importance of this aspect of game design.

This is actually from the news section of Gamasurta, but I thought I would end with it as a bit of an illustration.  I think the headline is a good look at an insider view of the Project Nova announcement.  The gaming press largely fell over itself in a rush to declare the game cancelled, despite there being evidence against that and even a question as to whether CCP or Pearl Abyss even said that during the investor call.  And the focus of the post is about how CCP will handle project announcements going forward, a very different tack than the gaming press took.

Anyway, that is what I have for this Friday in early March.  If you live in the US in an area that does the semi-annual daylight savings time dance, this is the weekend we “spring forward,” so I look forward to everybody at the office being sleep deprived on Monday.

CCP and the Transition of Project Nova

One of the news items that popped up while I was away for the last week… the last few posts were written in advance… was about CCP and Project Nova.  I saw multiple headlines saying it has been cancelled but, as with everything around this project, it just isn’t that simple.

Project Nova, the FPS game that CCP has seen as something of a successor to the late DUST 514, has been kicking around as an idea or concept or plan for quite a while now.  We even had a blog banter topic back in May of 2016 about Project Nova, which pre-dated the actual end of DUST 514. It isn’t a new thing.

It was even said to be “closer that we think” back at Fanfest in 2018 and we were shown demos and allowed to sign up for alpha at EVE Vegas later that year.

And then about a week later it was announced that the whole thing had been postponed.  Nothing like building something up at a convention only to pull the rug out immediately afterwards.  Of course, that was just after the Pearl Abyss acquisition closed and things were going to change.

Since then there has not been a lot of news about Project Nova.  What there has been is a series of job postings for a CCP project in the UK.  Then, in the Pearl Abyss earnings call it was apparently mentioned that Project Nova had been cancelled, so the headlines were based on that.

But we got the following announcement over on Reddit to clarify the situation.

We’re continuing to develop our sci-fi multiplayer shooter game concept, actively evolving it beyond the original scope for what was formerly codenamed Project Nova. Development efforts on this concept are now the full focus of CCP’s London studio. Project Nova team members based in Iceland have been moved onto other projects at our Reykjavík studio.

This decision was taken because Project Nova’s gameplay experience as presented at EVE Vegas ’18 would not have achieved our ambitious goals for this concept. Moreover, it is very common for games in active development to evolve over time, often substantially. We remain committed to offering a rock-solid, action-oriented gameplay experience with stellar visuals, but due to significant changes in the scope and direction of our sci-fi multiplayer shooter game concept, it also made sense to update how we refer to this project internally. So, we are no longer using the codename Project Nova for this game concept.

Furthermore, we are moving away from publicly announcing our internal project codenames and will wait until we’re ready for a full reveal. We want to show you rather than tell you how we have evolved this concept and we’re looking forward to doing so when the time comes to present this concept as a fully-fledged game.

So there is still an FPS under development at CCP.  The development is now being done in the UK at CCP’s London studio.  It isn’t clear if integration with EVE Online is still a goal of the project.  And, finally, the whole thing is no longer called Project Nova, but they are not going to tell us what the new code name is for it so we’re all going to either refer to it still as Project Nova, or possibly The Project formerly known as Project Nova.  I am not sure either is exactly an improvement.

However, it is probably a good thing for them to stop telling us about things that aren’t anywhere close to done as they can’t seem to keep themselves from giving estimated ship dates that are nowhere close to reality.

Anyway, “cancelled” didn’t really seem like the right word.  They didn’t say they were throwing away all the work and starting again from scratch.  But it makes for a catchy headline.  And, as with Titan over at Blizzard, we may not end up getting something that lines up with past visions of the project, but which may still contains elements of earlier plans.  We shall see.

Related Posts:

Warcraft III Reforged

Earlier this week we got Warcraft III Reforged, the remaster of Blizzard’s 2002 RTS Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its follow-expansion Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.  The remaster was announced at BlizzCon 2018 and was in beta late last year.

The return of RTS again

I pre-ordered this back during BlizzCon 2018… we were only mad at them about Diablo Immortal that year… and have been looking forward to giving it a try.  Warcraft III was the last step before World of Warcraft for Blizzard.  WoW was very much a mash up of EverQuest ideas (the whole MMORPG thing), some Diablo II mechanics (itemization, skill trees, health pots, and so on), and the Warcraft III lore.

I went back to play Warcraft III a ways back to experience a bit of the pre-history of WoW and it was, with the hindsight perspective, a prototype of what WoW would become.  It is a key part of the Warcraft franchise, which according to SuperData Research, has earned $19.2 billion in digital revenues over the last 25 years.

Includes Hearthstone as part of the franchise. Does not include physical retail sales

Given all that I am keen to carve out some time to see what Blizzard has done with the remaster.  That will probably happen next month at the earliest, given that we’re at the end of the current month.  That will also give Blizz a chance to fix some of the bugs that have been reported already.

Of course, being the immediate predecessor of WoW is not the only the only thing Warcraft III is famous for.  It is responsible for kicking of another genre whose revenue no doubt eclipses that of the Warcraft franchise.

With the the Defense of the Ancients mod, the whole MOBA genre that would lead to League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Blizzard’s own Heroes of the Storm was created.

Who made $1.5 billion in 2019 alone?

Blurb also from SuperData Research.

Given that Heroes of the Storm is the distant third place runner in that race… and that Valve managed to grab control of the DOTA trademark which meant changing the games name from Blizzard DOTA to Blizzard All-Stars and later to Heroes of the Storm… Blizzard is no doubt still smarting at some level about all of that.  I mean, having to have this up on the Blizzard main site has to irk them.

DOTA USAGE
DOTA is a trademark of Valve Corporation and used under license. By making use of the term “DOTA” in any content posted on any Blizzard website or battle.net, you agree that use of this trademark is subject to Valve’s trademark guidelines found at https://store.steampowered.com/legal.

Not that I think having the DOTA name would have made Blizzard the MOBA winner.  They were almost six years late to the party, only launching Heroes of the Storm in 2015, by which time LoL was already king.  DOTA 2 rolled in two years ahead of HotS and was able to grab the “lesser alternative to LoL” spot in the genre.

But all the same Blizzard isn’t going to let that happen again.  So in there as part of their “Custom Game Acceptable Use Policy,” basically their mod rules, they make it clear up front in the first bullet that they own every aspect of any mod you make for the game:

Ownership: Custom Games are and shall remain the sole and exclusive property of Blizzard. Without limiting the foregoing, you hereby assign to Blizzard all of your rights, title, and interest in and to all Custom Games, including but not limited to any copyrights in the content of any Custom Games. If for any reason you are prevented or restricted from assigning any rights in the Custom Games to Blizzard, you grant to Blizzard an exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, unconditional, royalty free, irrevocable license enabling Blizzard to fully exploit the Custom Games (or any component thereof) for any purpose and in any manner whatsoever. You further agree that should Blizzard decide that it is necessary, you will execute any future assignments and/or related documents promptly upon receiving such a request from Blizzard in order to effectuate the intent of this paragraph. To the extent you are prohibited from transferring or assigning your moral rights to Blizzard by applicable laws, to the utmost extent legally permitted, you waive any moral rights or similar rights you may have in all such Custom Games, without any remuneration. Without limiting Blizzard’s rights or ownership in the Custom Games, Blizzard reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to remove Custom Games from its systems and/or require that a Custom Game developer cease any and/or all development and distribution of a Custom Game. Please note that your Blizzard account can be subject to disciplinary action in event that you do not comply with Blizzard’s request or this Policy.

Nobody is going to create a whole new genre with their product and then walk off to another company like Valve to get it developed again.  Of course, this policy isn’t a huge incentive to spend time developing something new in the Warcraft III editor, but there it is.  The company has protected itself. (The statement applies to all mods for all Blizzard games, but was updated just before this week’s launch, so people are taking it specifically as a Warcraft III thing since the old version wasn’t so draconian.)

And so it goes.  I’ll still play it.  The MOBA thing doesn’t interest me in any case.  But I’ve already seen people grumbling about this pre-emptive land grab on Discord and Reddit.

Now we just need that Diablo II remaster, the third of the three promised remasters, though some of the original teams says that Blizz cannot make a remaster due to said team’s near disastrous mistake back in the day.  But this could also just be sour grapes as the Blizzard North team seems to be bitter about how things turned out for them nearly 20 years down the road.

Related:

The Passing of the 2019 Steam Winter Sale

The new year has been rung in, we’ve had a day off, and now it is January 2nd and reality has to kick in for some of us.  Not me.  I’m not going back to work until Monday.  But not everybody has that luxury or that much vacation time back logged.

And so it is with Valve.  By the time this posts another Steam Winter Sale will have come and gone.

Holiday 2019 Edition

Lots of things were on sale.  I got the traditional email letting me know that just about everything on my Steam wish list had been marked down.  And yet I got through almost the entire sale without buying a thing.  It looked like another dry year for me.  I didn’t even log on to play the store event game, which seemed pretty dry… dry enough that they had to revise it mid-way through to drum up some interest.  You think Valve would have that nailed down by this point.

The reasons for my lack of interest in buying new games are not much different than most years.  That something is on sale at Steam is no longer reason enough to buy it.  The novelty is gone there.  I have a list of unplayed games in my Steam library which acts as a deterrent.  And I am invested in playing something at the moment.  When I am not logged into WoW Classic I am logged into EverQuest II and playing the new Blood of Luclin expansion.  Expect posts about that to start next week.

So until yesterday it looked like my only purchase was going to be a Steam gift card for my daughter’s boyfriend as a Christmas gift.

And then we binge watched The Witcher, wrapping it up on New Years Eve, which got me to check if the original game was available on Steam.  And, sure enough, there it was, The Witcher: Enhanced Edition, in the store and on sale for $1.49.  So I bought that.

Toss a Coin to Your Witcher

So op success for Steam?  I guess.  I didn’t even end up paying the $1.49.  Because I bought that gift card I ended up with a $5.00 discount, which I applied to the game.

No coins for your Witcher

One more item in my library.  We’ll see if I end up playing it.  But now it is there.

As usual, Steam had its own lists and such to share.  There were the top revenue earners of 2019.

Top Revenue Titles for 2019

The ranking… since there are no numbers… include in-game purchases, which is how the aging Warframe and  Grand Theft Auto V stay up with the newer titles.  Warframe making the top spot is quite a coup.

Then there are the most played games, which has its own ranking structure.  Still, there is some overlap between revenue and being played.

Most played titles for 2019

You can find more such lists on the Steam Blog entry about 2019.

Then there were the Steam Awards, the user nominated and elected “best of…” designations.  It wasn’t a surprise to even me that Beat Sabre won the best VR game, since it is literally the only new VR game I can recall hearing about.  VR isn’t dead, but it is a lot more aspirational than real still.  And Grand Theft Auto V crept into another winning position.  How does that game keep going?  I guess I might know if I played the copy I bought during the Steam Summer Sale.

And so it goes.  I have one new game in my Steam library and six months to go until the summer sale. (I don’t count the spring and autumnal sales, they don’t get nearly as much press.)

My Games Played for 2019

I realize that we’re only a few days into December at this point, leaving almost 8% of the year left to go, but there are also only so many days in a month and I had nothing else brewing for a post, so I am going to run with this a bit earlier that usual  This is where I look at, in a broad sense, which games I ended up playing in 2019 relative to what I thought I might play.

Back at the start of January I wrote a post about what I thought I might end up playing, so this is the nearly end of year follow up to that post.  There is something of a tradition around here with this sort of post, going back years at this point.

The list used to be largely about new games that I was going to play.  And then at some point it became clear that I don’t really play that many new games anymore.  But that is the essence of MMORPGs, that they want to keep you playing for years.  Op success for them I guess.  So now it is more about which stale old title I am going to linger on for yet another trip around the sun.

Back in January I broke my picks out into a few bands of likelihood.  Up first were the safe bets:

  • EVE Online
  • WoW Classic
  • WoW Battle for Azeroth
  • Lord of the Rings Online

And, I was pretty bang on with that list.  EVE Online got play time through the whole year.  WoW Classic has been a big play time favorite since it launched in late August.  WoW Battle for Azeroth was not neglected, though I still haven’t unlocked flying for the expansion, the measure of whether or not you really played by some accounts.  And I did kick off the year still invested in the LOTRO Legendary server idea, though that faded at some point in Moria.

After that there were the “somewhat likely” titles, which were:

  • EverQuest II
  • Project: Gorgon
  • Minecraft

EverQuest II was a last minute winner, getting more play time last month than anything else.  And I did dive into Minecraft when searching for stuff that came with the Village and Pillage update.  But Project: Gorgon, that remains unplayed.  I think it might be time to admit that I am just not going to find the time for it.

Finally, there were the wildcards, things I thought that might find their way into my rotation.  That list was:

  • EverQuest
  • Atlas
  • Torchlight Frontiers
  • Camelot Unchained
  • Destiny 2
  • Diablo III
  • War Thunder and/or World of Tanks
  • Something Else New

Out of that list I played EverQuest.  I jumped in and played on a live server for the 20th anniversary in March, explored some new places, struggled with the layers of interface options the game has accumulated over two decades, and generally had a good time.

And that was it.  I never touched AtlasTorchlight Frontiers and Camelot Unchained remain as yet unrealized.  I am at the point where I’m wondering if I should apply for a refund on the latter.  It doesn’t seem like it will be a thing anytime soon.  Activision gave me a free copy of Destiny 2 and then it went away before I could be bothered to even launch it.  Diablo III I’ve played enough of.  War Thunder I am just so terrible at that I couldn’t be bothered to install it again, and I thought about Word of Tanks, but never pressed the button.

As for “something else new” I must have been making a joke, right?

Well, as long as we get away from MMOs and such, I did try a couple of new items.  On the other games list I said I would probably play the following:

  • Civilization V
  • RimWorld
  • Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings

And I did, in fact, spend some time playing all three of those.  But I also played:

  • Path of Exile
  • Diablo (via GoG.com)
  • Microsoft Solitaire
  • Defense Grid: The Awakening
  • StarCraft (original)
  • Dota Underlords
  • Teamfight Tactics
  • Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin

Those all came and went in short bursts of activity, usually centered on some event.   Path of Exile had a new season and some friends wanted to play.  However, the people in the group who were into it raced ahead and those of us who hadn’t touched the game for a few years ended up somewhat lost in the new mechanics added over time.  For me PoE isn’t as compelling as Diablo III or WoW to play solo, so I let it drop.

The original Diablo got a GoG.com remaster, which means they made it work on Windows 10, so I ran through that.  It was good fun.  StarCraft got a Carbot skin, which was enough for me to drag it out and play with it for a bit.

Microsoft Solitaire is pre-loaded with Win10.  I tried it for a bit as something to do while waiting for an op to get going in EVE Online.  It wasn’t all that special, and when it started prompting me to pay, I was done.

Then there was the late summer Auto Chess/Auto Battler round up, where I tried out Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics.  They are kind of fun, but in using the heroes from their respective parent games, DOTA 2 and League of Legends, remained a bit too close to their core player base to interest me.

I got Defense Grid: The Awakening, a great tower defense game, during the Steam Summer Sale to earn a badge by unlocking an achievement.  I think that explains a bit of Civ V as well, though you can never play just a “bit” of Civ VAge of Empires II HD probably came in as part of that as well, though there was also the launch of the Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that might have sparked some interest there.

And every once in a while when I feel like something akin to old school table top war games I drag out Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin, perhaps the best game in the Combat Mission series.  I’m not a fan of their new engine and they no longer sell the old games, support being an issue.  But my copy still works.

With all of that, here is that annual chart that shows what I played and when.

2019 games played by month

I tried to shade partial months when time played was lot.  Also, this is clearly not the hours played evaluation that my usage of ManicTime has made possible.  I will have to wait until the new year to sum that up.  What I played is easier to do early than something based on real numbers.

EVE Online I played some every month.  There is some pressure to get credit for the corp by going on some ops every month, and I help out with that.

I am a bit surprised by how much retail WoW I played.  I guess I did get into the new content and leveled an alt to 120 and all that.  But that pretty much fell off a cliff when WoW Classic hit.

LOTRO also fell off a cliff once I got into Moria on the Legendary server.  I loved the original content, even in its modern form, and even Moria isn’t so bad, but everything after that is pretty much dead to me.

I figured I would play some EverQuest II, but I wasn’t sure if I would find some way to enjoy EverQuest during its 20th anniversary.  But I found a way.

RimWorld remains a solid time eater when I pick it up.  However, it does suffer a bit from the mid-game problem.  You hit a point where things are pretty balanced, you have supplies to last you through downturns and your defenses are good enough to thwart attacks and you’re just kind of waiting for research breakthroughs.  I started a primitive tech game… well, I started about a dozen until my group didn’t die out in the first two years… but that just pushes the mid-game back some, so eventually there is refrigeration and defense turrets and assault rifle production and you’re just working your way to the end game.

So that is what I played in 2019, for a specific definition of the word.  I decided not to bring mobile into the mix… Pokemon Go would just be another 12 month bar and I don’t record when I play anything else… and I left off a few where the play time was so small as to fall below my own mental threshold what ought to count.

Teamfight Tactics vs Dota Underlords

I have now spent several hours playing both games and I am here to break it down for you, to give you the full and detailed exposition as to how Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords are different.

It comes down to one thing and one thing only.

In Dota Underlords, you place your heroes on squares.

Dota Underlords is squared up

In Teamfight Tactics you place your heroes on hexagons.

Teamfight Tactics will put a hex on you

That is it.  Otherwise the games are literally so similar that if you didn’t know better you would swear that one of them copied the other wholesale.

Of course, we do know better.  We know that both of them were copied from the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2, which is what launched the Auto Battler genre.

But seriously, the game play is exactly the same.  You’re matched up in groups of eight, you earn gold to buy heroes, buying three of the same hero yields an upgrade, you put your heroes on the board and watch while they fight some NPCs for a couple of rounds before being matched up against the other players you’ve been grouped up with, and so on and so forth.  Heroes are also part of two or three groups, and having multiples of those groups on your team give them boosts.  Battles play out before you and, at least half the time I cannot really tell why I win or lose.

So most of what I wrote last month about Dota Underlords applies to Teamfight Tactics as well.

Right now neither is monetized, but that will change soon enough, and both feel like they need some tuning.

Anyway, that is about all… what?  What are you saying there?

Okay, stop your howling.  There are, in fact, some other differences between the two.  I’ll tick off a few of the differences… and maybe even help you choose which one you ought to try.

Teamfight Tactics is somewhat hidden in the League of Legends client, so you need to have that and an active LoL account, and the ability to find the game therein.  There are a couple of things that seem to be telling you it isn’t available on the landing page.

The hub is down, but the game is there

You need to click the play button, then select PvP (because nothing else in LoL is PvP? I don’t understand?) and you’ll find the button to launch TFT.

On clicking the button, then another, you’ll get grouped up with seven other people, at least one of which will forget to click the accept button, and the grouping thing will have to run again until you finally get into a group five tries later.  I don’t know why you have to click an accept button.  You cannot see, to my knowledge, who you are even playing.  This is why I assume people are simply forgetting to click rather than hitting the reject button.  I don’t know.  It seems like an unnecessary step.

Dota Underlords is on Steam, which means you need the Steam client and an active account, and is early access, which means it is effectively hidden from view more so than TFT.  But at least there is nothing telling you some aspect of the game is down.

DU launches as a stand alone game using your Steam account credentials.  You click the PLAY button, decide between tutorial, bots, and players, then wait a while while it matches you up.  Then, for a brief moment every single time it does something that looks like the whole process is about to fail, then suddenly you’re matched up.

TFT uses the champions from LoL, DU uses the heroes from DOTA 2, so if you play one of those already you are a step ahead of random people like myself.

TFT also has an odd start point where a bunch of champions are marching around in a circle and everybody has to run out and grab one.  That is your starter champion.  However, the champions do not have names visible nor can you click on them to get more information, so unless you know all the LoL champions it is something of a crap shoot.

TFT also, for reasons I do not quite get, gives you and avatar on the battlefield.  By default it is a little ghost that looks to be straight out of the Mario universe, though you can earn other versions.  I saw somebody who had a penguin.

My little ghost avatar

The ghost is what you use to grab heroes during what I am going to call “the circle jerk.”  Champions walk around in a circle and you jerk them onto your team.

Everybody grab your champion

You also use your little avatar to run out and grab drops from the NPC rounds.  Otherwise, your guy has no impact on the battle so you can run around during a fight to be annoying.   Sometimes I will accidentally right click on something which will send the avatar wandering off, sometimes off the board, which will drag the camera with it.  Annoying, but not something I would claim should steer you away from the game.

On the plus side, TFT does seem to be a bit more free with gold.  I never feel quite as cash constrained playing that as I do in DU.   Also, the pace in TFT seems a bit quicker, though that is in part because you seem to lose bigger as the game goes along so you are rarely lingering along in way behind in 8th place for many rounds.

That bigger win factor also means the tide can turn pretty heavily.  One match I won the first 9 rounds in a row.  I still was at 100 while the next highest player was at 56.  And then my advantage faded and I lost the next 6 in a row and was in sixth place and the lowest ranked survivor with only 4 points left.  And I managed to hold on and end up in fourth.  Wild turns of fate happen, and make the game interesting.

When it comes to Dota Underlords, one of the primary problems is that it isn’t as far along as TFT.  Neither feel done yet, but DU has been changing up quite a bit every week.  For example, even as I started writing this DU was updating to add a competitive ranked mode, something that TFT already had in place for a while.

But DU has what I feel are two big advantages over TFT.

First, DU is available on mobile.  I am rarely in a match where there isn’t somebody who has the cell phone icon indicating that they are playing on mobile.  I haven’t tried it myself yet, but my daughter says it is pretty good.  It might be a decent iPad game to play on the couch for me.

And second, and more important to me, the UI in DU is dramatically better.  It is more clear, more helpful, and much more informative that the TFT UI.

For example, if you look at the two game screen shots further up the post, it is easy to see which units in DU have been upgraded.  Normal units have one star above, the first upgrade has two, and the second upgrade gets you three.  Easy to see.  You need to click on units in TFT to see their status.

When buying units, if a unit in the list pops up that will complete a set for an upgrade, DU highlights that unit in an obvious way.  TFT doesn’t give away such hints.

Not getting a hint might not matter if the units in the buy list were easy to discern.  They are in DU, where they use the same avatar in the buy list, the reserve slots, and on the game board.  There are a couple that looks a little too similar, but I am able to discern most of them pretty easily so I know what to buy.

TFT on the other hand seems to want to punish you for not knowing all their champions by heart.  In the buy list TFT doesn’t use the field avatar.  Instead it uses a dramatic graphic of the unit, which doesn’t always look a lot like the champion on the field.

Units in the TFT buy list

I spend way too much of my time between matches trying to figure out if one of these champions on the list matches somebody on my team, which means matching names.  It is just a lot more work.  And then there is the above mentioned “circle jerk” event, which comes up every so often during a match, where you have to pick a champion based on no information at all… unless you know them all by heart.

And just beyond that, the UI in DU has larger, clearer text consistently throughout the game when compared to TFT.  The UI clarity is probably related to the fact that the game also runs on mobile, but even on the PC this is actually important to some of us old farts who now have to wear glasses to read text smaller than a certain size.  I don’t have to wear my glasses to play DU.

So if I were to recommend one these games to a new player who was not invested in LoL or DOTA 2, it would be Dota Underlords.

If you’re already invested in one of the MOBAs, then you play the spin-off that has the units you know.  If nothing else, deep knowledge of LoL champions will give you a marked advantage in TFT.

Of course, there is still Auto Chess Origins, the stand alone game from the team that made the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 that kicked all of this off.  And, given the buzz that the Auto Battler genre has been getting, I expect we will see more knocks offs, so there is still the potential for a Fortnite-like entry into the field with some special twist that will steal market focus away from the first round of games.  We shall see.