It’s only recently that chatbots have evolved to a state where they could be called truly conversational. In years prior they could really only respond to a line of text in isolation, unable to derive any kind of contextual meaning from the messages it recieved previously. This made them see stilted and awkward, often resulting in them receiting your words back to you in the form of a question. So when I saw Event, which bases the entire game premise around a chatbot, I was intrigued as the idea of having to massage a rudimentary AI into doing my bidding harked back to the fun I had messing with chatbots as a teenager. Whilst it’s far from the conversational AI that powers say the latest Google Assistant or Siri it is an interesting take on conversations as a game mechanic, something I’m interested to see explored more in future.
Event takes place in an alternate version of 2012 where mankind has made siginificant strides in space exploration. You were part of a team called Europa-11, sent to explore the moon from which the craft takes its name. However you were met with a catasrophe and found yourself adrift in space in an escape pod. Just as you were giving up hope that you’d be rescued a transmission from an unknown craft came through. It seems a relic of the past, a luxury space resort, has managed to stay active despite no contact from the outside world for years. The ships AI seems keen to help you get back home but first you need to gain its trust.
Event brings with it that trademark Unity look with passable graphics done in a retro-futuristic style. Since this is marketed as a story first game it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that graphics weren’t the prime focus and indeed they’re a more than adequate backdrop for the game’s narrative. The environments do have a level of detail in them that’s above average for games of similar pedigree which is saying something for a first time indie developer.
Event’s core mechanic is your interaction with the ship’s AI, called Kaizen. You’ll interact with it through the various terminals scattered about the ship, clacking away at the keyboard as you try to convince the AI to do what you need it to do. There are some other, more traditional puzzle mechanics mixed in however for the most part you’ll be trying to figure out the AI’s motivations, the story of what happened to the ship and, most importantly, how you can get yourself back to Earth. Over time you’ll learn how to do things for yourself without the AI’s help, something that you may need to do if you want to accomplish your ultimate goal.
Mechanically Event is a little awkward when you first start off, the requirement for the full use of the keyboard when you’re talking to the AI precluding the use of the traditional WASD movement layout. This can lead to some frustrating moments as you try to move about only to hear the clack of the keyboard. There are many ways that this awkward control scheme could have been avoided, like making a prompt appear when you want to use the keyboard, but it seems this is a design decision made by the developers. You’ll get used to it eventually but it does make the opening moments of the game a little more frustrating than I would have otherwise liked.
The conversation system of the AI is a blend of a traditional chatbot with some rote sequences that are triggered by keywords, actions or in some cases inaction. The rote parts are easy to pinpoint as the AI will just keep blathering on regardless of what input you give it. In normal chatbot mode it’s somewhat conversational, able to pick up on some contextual elements, but it often gets caught up on keywords or syntax that trigger some of its pre-programmed routines. The developers billed the AI as having “moods” and that it would respond differently based on whatever mood it was in at the time. I definitely noticed that, it seeming to want to exploit my naviety about my situation at times whilst at others feeling guilty for doing so. Overall it felt like it was a middle of the road chatbot AI, not quite approaching the contextual sense of something like Siri but definitely a cut above most chatbots I’ve fiddled with.
The story starts off with a Firewatch-esque backstory text selection exercise which seemingly didn’t make much of difference to my experience. I have to admit that the conversational nature of Kaizen did make it more interesting to discover parts of the story, forcing me to attempt many different ways to elicit information from the AI. It was painfully obvious when I came to a block however as the AI would simply ignore most of my requests for further information. It would have been interesting to see what could happen if I could have essentially completed the game from the very first terminal, and maybe that’s actually possible, but as far as I could tell there were a certain set of actions you needed to do to make any meaningful progress. Overall the story was interesting although I think it had aspirations for a greater emotional reaction than it was able to elicit in me. Your mileage may vary and, with Event currently on sale, it might be worth the asking price to find out.
Event is an interesting experiment in exploring new ways for players to interact with games. It may not be the prettiest or most well designed game to come across my desk however the experience it provides is truly unique. The concept of a conversational AI being the main mechanic is something I definitely want to see explored further and Event is a great demonstration of what the mechanic is capable of. It’s a decidedly middle of the road experience overall however; good but not great, one for the fans of experimental games or those who are narrative first gamers.
Event is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 50% of the achievements unlocked.
Back when it was originally released Destiny wasn’t the game that many were expecting Bungie to release. It’s managed to see much success despite that however, attracting some 30 million players, a number that’s grown steadily over its 2 year lifetime. As a long time player myself it’s easy to see why as Bungie has been fervently dedicated to its player base since day 1, working hard to improve the experience and retain its fiercely loyal player base. Rise of Iron, which rumour has it will be the last expansion before Destiny 2 is released next year, brings us more of what made the previous expansion great but I’m not sure it’ll be enough to keep players coming back for another 12+ months.
Rise of Iron explores the history behind the Iron Lords, a group of guardians who formed shortly after the collapse to do battle with guardians who decided to subjugate humanity rather than defend it. After they brought down those early warlords they sought to rebuild civilisation and did so using any tools they could find. Once such tool was SIVA, a self-replication technology developed during the golden age. Despite Rasputin’s attempt to disuade them otherwise (including orbital bombardments on their armies) the Iron Lords almost unleashed a plague upon themselves. It was only through the sacrifice of all the remaining Iron Lords, save for Saladin and Efrideet, that they were able to seal it away. However the Fallen have found their way into the SIVA bunker and are using it to rebuild their machine gods, posing a dangerous threat to humanity once again.
As you’d expect from a console-based expansion Rise of Iron doesn’t bring with it any graphical improvements, looking just the same as it did on launch day. The UI elements have been given an overhaul once again, making things just a touch more usable and intuitive. The majority of the new content is in the Plaugelands which, being right next to the Cosmodrome, means it’ll feel familiar to any year 1 guardians making their return. The aesthetic is very much of the “future technology plague” vibe with vibrant reds and pitch blacks dominating the colour palette. This is a welcome change to the Taken King’s muted colour palette, something which tended to wear you down after spending so many hours trapped inside the dreadnought. All in all it’s still a very pretty game but it is starting to show its age, especially when compared to some of the latest PC titles.
The core game mechanics are unchanged, save for the few tweaks that have been made in the numerous patches since the previous expansions release. You’ll still be running around, shooting things and ducking for cover to regenerate your health. The light level progression remains the same however the routes to maxing yourself out are more varied, making the grind a little more palatable. There’s a few little quality of life improvements which make things a little easier like the infusion system now giving you all of the light level of a piece of gear rather than a fraction, saving on the grind considerably. Other than that Rise of Iron will feel very familiar to long time players and, honestly, I don’t think there’s much wrong with that.
Rise of Iron’s campaign is probably half as long as the Taken King’s was which, if I’m honest, was a bit disappointing. I had managed to convince my friend who originally got me into Destiny to come back for this expansion and we managed to knock the whole thing out in a single afternoon. Sure I’ve definitely got my money’s worth given the amount of time I’ve spent on it since completing it but I felt the Taken King expansion was around the right length. That and the fact that it tied much more tightly into the overall narrative and raid whilst Rise of Iron has it as a kind of aside. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the story has been held back for use in content releases over the coming months to keep everyone coming back.
I have to admit that I felt the light grind was a little harder this time around than when compared to previous expansions. This is possibly because I couldn’t cheat my way to a higher light level with exotics like I did previously. However after talking to my brother he put me onto a few methods to get me the light levels I needed. Sure it was still a grind but at the very least I was seeing gradual progress. Combine that with a few raid runs, completing the incredibly complex Outbreak Prime quest and a few exotic engrams and I’m back to feeling like the guardian I was in expansions past. Of course I’m still very far away from the cap (now at 400 thanks to the recent patch) but at the very least I don’t feel like a guardian running around covered in tissue paper armour with a BB gun.
This expansion’s raid is probably the easiest I’ve ever played through although I think that has more to do with the maturity of the community and game more than anything else. Previous raids were plagued with cheese strategies, mechanics that would break at a hint of lag or mechanics that many people just failed to understand. This particular raid seems to be free of any such things, focusing instead on team work, co-ordination and communication. Sure the raids I’ve been in have still had their share of problems but they’ve all been recoverable, unlike the numerous hours I spent in Vault of Glass.
I also managed to find time to play through the recent Iron Banner which was a much more streamlined experience. Rather than having to get emblems, class items and boosts to make sure you’re getting all the rep you can it’s all done automatically now. It took me a couple afternoons playing to get to max rank which also netted me a few good boosts to my light level. Indeed it seems the theme of Destiny’s latest expansion is streamlining, something that all mature MMORPGs have been taking on board of late. For an old hat like myself it’s a welcome change, allowing me to spend the little time I have left on games and still make meaningful progression.
As always the Destiny told during your play through is only scraping the surface of game’s lore with all the good bits being held behind grimoire cards. For certain games I don’t mind this however I do understand how many would see Destiny’s story as shallow and unfinished. To be sure there are many things Bungie could do to improve it, and honestly should have done by now, like making the grimoire cards readable in game or simply fleshing out more things in cut-scenes or in-game dialogue. Still it’s enjoyable to see more of the world revealed to us, even if that’s through walls of text you can only read on Bungie’s website.
Destiny: Rise of Iron is another helping of what long time fans of the series wanted: more missions, another raid and a bevy of new loot to lust after. The base game which kept me playing for so long remains the same, Bungie intent on not fixing what isn’t broken. The various aspects that have been streamlined are welcome additions, making playing the game of Destiny just that much easier. The campaign could have been longer and more tightly integrated into the overall narrative of this expansion. The storytelling in the game could use some love as well; something that, done right, would elevate Destiny well beyond its current station. Overall Rise of Iron is an evolution of the franchise and time will tell if there’s enough meat in it to keep players coming back until the next expansion, or Destiny 2, drops.
Destiny: Rise of Iron is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $44.95 on both consoles. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with around 40 hours of total play time reaching light level 373.
Ever since I started reviewing one game a week I’ve eternally struggled with managing my time to make that once a week post. As many of my fellow adult gamers will attest to time is an ever shrinking commodity, especially when it comes to leisure. So I started looking for games I knew I could finish in a week, something with a play time of maybe 4 to 8 hours, but the more I looked for play time stats the more I came up short. There are resources out there of course (How Long to Beat being the shining star among them) but for new games, the ones which people are most interested to see reviews of, the play times aren’t known until the games have been out for some time. So I did what any average coder would do, I started building my own solution to it.
Long story short: I’ve been collecting various bits of data from Steam’s Web API for some time now and it’s reliable enough to provide some insight into games that are released through it. Whilst there’s numerous aspects I could dive into I felt a brief, concise infographic done on a weekly basis would be an interesting exercise, one that would hopefully spur on further conversations about why games were popular, what developers are doing right and, of course, what they’re doing wrong. With that in mind I’ve spent the last month wrangling my data into a usable format and putting it into something digestible, the first of which you can see here (and the second of which precedes this post).
As with all infographics there’s a lot to talk about the data I’m presenting and this post will attempt to provide some insight into what you’re seeing, some of the decisions I made in presenting the data and why some things might not exactly line up with your expectations.
The data I’m using is all publicly available from Steam profiles. If you’ve set your profile to private I can’t see anything: not your achievements, your friends or even any kind of play time stat. That being said if you’d like to be excluded from my data collection just shoot me a message and I can ensure you’re not included in any future collection activities.
I’ve chosen to do this retrospectively as it takes around 2 weeks for most games to get good, reliable data.Thus these will always be 3 weeks in the past, giving all games that are released in that window a minimum of 2 weeks of data collection time before I make any results public. Typically this means I have a sample size of around 200,000 players to work with which I think is large enough to be representative of the larger Steam community. Indeed the few sample runs I did before publishing any of them seemed to line up with my expectations although I’ll be the first to admit that my statistical analysis skills have diminished quite a bit since my university days.
The first section contains some quick stats about the week with a comparison to the previous week’s stats. The one part which might get reworked in future versions of this is the “Top Genre” as this is just based on the number of games released in that genre that week. Indie seems to dominate this pretty much every week so if there’s another high level stat that you’d like to see included I’d very much like to hear your ideas.
The second section is the top 5 games, by total hours played (that I’ve observed), that were released in that week. This does mean that Early Access games, especially those that have spent a long time in the program, tend to stand out however I’ve made the decision to include them for a couple of reasons. For starters that does mean the game is popular and most of the time even the biggest Early Access games still lose out to big AAA releases. Additionally looking at other stats for some popular Early Access games that do eventually “release” they’re usually quite popular in their release week as well. If I find that’s not the case however I do reserve the right to remove them in favour of more deserving releases (although that hasn’t happened yet).
The map (which you can only access by visiting the blog) uses the same metrics as the previous section but at a regional level. If you’ve put your country in your Steam profile then its possible for me to see that and I can tag the play time with the region. The data I have is a little more fine grained than I’m presenting here as Piktocharts has around 170 countries listed whilst steam has around 250. There’s also a couple countries for which I don’t have equivalent data so they’re unfortunately blank. However this does serve as a good way to see what games are popular where and how countries differ from each other.
The trending section is the only one which branches out from games released that week (in fact it excludes them from this list). Trend scores are calculated using a Z Score that compares the average players in the game during that week to the month that preceded it. The higher the Z Score the higher they appear in the list. To qualify for the list the game must have attracted an average player base of more than 100 (to filter out games that went from say, 0 players to 10, which gives a massive score) and manage to maintain it for the majority of the week (to rule out games which trend for all of an hour, which isn’t much of a trend). The reason for trend is the most manual part of this infographic as I have to hunt down just exactly caused them to trend which can be rather esoteric on occasion.
The last section is a couple graphs of data that vary substanitally week to week and can speak to how the week’s games are fairing with the wider community. The hours spent playing, for example, shows the relative percentage of time players spent playing. The first section will always be the largest however the sizes of the sections change week to week. For instance I’ve seen the first section in one week span from 0 to 34 hours played whilst others only spanning 0 to 5. Weeks with broader sections would indicate that the games released that week were capturing players for longer. Similarly the last graph gives an indication of which genres were most popular, in terms of play time, during that week.
So, from now on, I’ll be providing these infographics once per week. I’m keen to see what you like about them, what extra information you’d like to see and what changes you’d make to them. If you’ve got any questions or comments feel free to hit me up on Twitter or through my public email address [email protected]
With the holiday season rapidly approaching there’s no shortage of AAA titles to sink your teeth into. It’s at this time of year that people’s allegiances to franchises, developers or publishers becomes clear as they will likely be the deciding factor in what you play, less so the game’s review scores or objective quality. For smaller developers it’s a tough time of year with few even daring to attempt a release within the few months before the holiday rush begins. Comcept and Armarture Studio, both established but small time developers, seem to have no such qualms and recently released ReCore out to the public. Much of the fanfare surrounding this game comes from the designers who brought us Metroid Prime series being involved in the ReCore’s creation and, I believe, the hope for a similar experience.
ReCore is set some 200 years in the future where a disease called the Dust Devil Plague has ravaged humanity. Earth is fast becoming unfit to sustain human life and so an ark project was commenced to resettle humanity elsewhere. Before the first colonists were to arrive however an army of Corebots, autonomous machines that are capable of doing the necessary work to make the new planet habitable, were sent ahead of them. The planet, dubbed New Eden, would then be terraformed over the course of 200 years before the first batch of colonists would arrive. You play as Joule, a kind of care taker sent ahead of the first colonists to ensure that everything is running as expected and New Eden is ready to accept the fleets of colonists that are about to arrive. However you’re awoken from your cryosleep far too early and discover that the world is nothing like you expected it to be.
The dystopian setting of ReCore would lend itself to a drab, muted colour palette but instead you’ll find yourself in a vivid, Borderland-esque world of colour. The style is obviously influenced by the underlying engine (Unity) having that same kind of feel that many games developed on the platform share. It’s certainly one of the better done Unity games out there but the graphics are certainly a few notches below what I’ve come to expect from current generation games. Indeed the engine choice is worth mentioning due to the fact that it’s only available on 2 platforms (Xbox One and PC) with Unity usually being the top choice if you’re targeting 3 or more. Regardless it’s still a decently pretty game, even when you’re in the depths of cave or enjoying the numerous vistas it presents to you.
Where ReCore comes a little unstuck though is in the lack of focus in the mechanics that it throws in front of you. ReCore bills itself as a third person platformer and most of the puzzles and challenges are built around that idea. It also incorporates RPG elements in the form of a levelling system for both you and your companion, loot that drops freely from mobs, chests and bosses and gear upgrades created through a rudimentary crafting system. Combat is a rudimentary 3rd person shooter, lacking any kind of cover mechanics but retaining the now traditional infinitely regenerating health system. The best way to describe it would be as a 3rd person, single player version of Borderlands with platforming thrown in the mix. For some that’s likely to be a draw card however the game quickly runs out of steam as you plough through it with many of the initially interesting mechanics becoming tedious and repetitive after a while.
Combat is a great example of this. Your enemies will be one of 4 different colours and you’ll have to change your weapon’s colour in order to do the most amount of damage to them. Then once you’ve done enough damage to them you can extract their cores through a quick time event, netting you some materials you can use to boost up your companion. However if you do choose to do that you won’t get any of the other type of crafting material, so you have to know what you need before you go venturing out. The problem with the combat system is that none of the fights really play out any differently, most of them consisting of you running away while you get pot shots in and your companion does a good deal of the heavy lifting. Combine that with the core extract mechanic which does not change at all over the course of the game and you’ve got a recipe for very repetitive combat that is not engaging at all. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could clear areas out but all enemies will respawn anew if you leave the area. Suffice to say combat isn’t ReCore’s strong suit.
ReCore does commit what I deem to be the unforgivable sin of showing you things you can’t get to yet, forcing you to re-explore places you’ve already been to once you unlock that particular upgrade. Indeed the worst aspect about this is that you can’t bring all those upgrades with you, ReCore limiting you to 2 bots you can bring with you at any one time. This, again, necessitates you going back and forth to your home base to make sure you’ve got the tools you need to complete a particular section. At the very least the actual platforming is done relatively well, allowing you to explore vast swaths of the world if you know how to exploit the mechanics well enough. For some this might be enough to save the game since so much is built around it but for me it just wasn’t enough, the numerous jumping puzzles just feeling tedious more than anything.
The upgrade system is a little hit and miss as whilst you and your companion level up the main character’s level doesn’t really seem to affect much of anything. The game informs you that Joule’s gun has levelled up but there’s no abilities or upgrades unlocked because of it. Crafted upgrades for your companions will require them to be a certain level however which does provide a modicum of progression but I feel like it should’ve been extended to Joule as well. As it stands the only way to really feel like you’re getting anywhere is to seek out the blueprints for you companions upgrades and that will mean grinding dungeons repeatedly to unlock all the chests since most of them can’t be acquired in a single hop through.
ReCore can only be had through the Windows Store currently and thus it’s a Windows Universal App, bringing with it all the challenges that the platform currently has. Purchasing the game was a bit of a nightmare requiring me to dig through regional settings and other internals Windows settings so that the store would actually let me buy the damn game. I also had a few occasions where the game started up without sound and would only restore it if I alt-tabbed and the switch-to back to it. That’s not to mention the numerous issues it had with being alt-tabbed in the first place, something which I think all gamers feel is a based requirement for any modern game. Thankfully the game itself ran error-free once I got in but the initial experience didn’t endear itself to me.
The story is ReCore’s redeeming feature however the core game just never gives it enough opportunity to shine. Even though I only managed a meagre 5.5 hours in the game I still felt like I’d been playing for far too long, the little snippets of story here and there just not enough to sustain me through the drudgery of the core game. The characters are believable and voice acted well, your companions each have their own distinct personalities and the larger world that’s built up is intriguing, begging you to find out more. It’s a shame really as I’ve played many games to conclusion just because of their story but unfortunately for ReCore it simply wasn’t enough.
ReCore captivated me initially on concept alone, the fact that Metroid Prime people were working on it wasn’t even factored into my decision to buy it. Initially it was a great experience, the various mechanics and progression systems giving me a lot to sink my teeth into. However that rapidly descended into a repetitive experience, the core things that made it great done over and over again until they sucked all the fun out of them. Overall I’d say ReCore was a competent but confused game, one that could have been a lot better if it focused on a few core aspects rather than the smattering it ended up with. I wanted to like Recore, I wanted to play more than I did, but I just couldn’t be bothered to spend anymore time with it when there were so many more promising games on the horizon.
ReCore is available on PC and Xbox One right now for $39.99 on both platforms. Game was played on the PC with 5.5 hours of total play time and 64% of the achievements unlocked.