The Awesome 2D Adventure of Starbound

Starbound is a solid game despite the changes made by Chucklefish.

Starbound is a solid game despite the changes made by Chucklefish.

After a 5 year long early access run, Starbound is now a fully fledged game. Amidst the concerns that the game had died, developer Chucklefish finally released Starbound as a fully released title, and it sure has made huge changes since it’s first release in early access.

When I first played Starbound, it had barely released its first early access patch, and all there was to the game was the barebones exploration, mining, and crafting elements that you see in its final release. However many things, such as tentative story, questlines, and customization were still just concepts to be implemented later, so we were left with the foundations for what would later become the complete game. It’s early access run felt a lot like how No Man’s Sky gameplay feels currently, as it has a lot of interesting and engaging mechanics, but leaves the player wanting more. After finally reinstalling Starbound to try it’s full release, everything felt completely different. Originally being thrown into a damaged ship and forced to land on the nearest planet, Starbound’s final release provides the player with a story arc, exploring your custom made player and his or her graduation ceremony from the Terrene Protectorate, an intergalactic peacekeeping organization. The game’s story there on takes you on an adventure to find out the cause of the events that take place in your graduation ceremony, taking you around the procedurally generated universe of Starbound. This alone amazed me, because I wondered for years how Chucklefish was planning on integrating a capture worthy story to motivate players to explore and uncover the secrets of the game’s universe.

Gameplay wise, Starbound has improved upon the base mechanics from early access, as well as take much inspiration from the modding community as well. One of such inspirations was the implementation of both ship customization and crew integration. The ship customization allows players to expand their ship’s size, allowing for more crafting stations to be implemented as well as allow the player to store more into their ship, eliminating any potential storage issue. Your starter ship upgrades aren’t the only thing that Chucklefish added to the final release of the game, but they also added alternative modes of transportation as well. Hovercrafts can be purchased for a premium at the social hub and allows players to zip through planets much more efficiently than on foot. Another great addition to the final release was the implementation of multiplayer. The multiplayer experience is near seamless, as players are able to join their friends simply by joining their session. The incorporation of multiplayer doesn’t make the game much easier, however, as there will be areas that will be teeming with difficult enemies and being in a party with your friends will help increase survivability.

The most important feature that I felt Chucklefish really improved upon is adding more life to their procedurally generated universe. Often times when exploring planets, you will come across small settlements and the like that will be teeming with NPC alien species that may at times hold information on that particular species. They kept this, but further adding on a social hub of sorts, full of shops and side quests that can further enhance player effectiveness when exploring. Although the NPCs have limited dialogue options, with the addition to a centralized story, NPCs play more an integral role in unraveling the secrets to the plot in Starbound. Small settlements and towns now play a more important plot progressing role in the game as uncovering the origins of various alien species become a core component to the game’s storyline.

Some users have felt that the final release of Starbound is a much watered down version of what the early access progressively provided throughout the years, mainly due to the fact that Chucklefish decided to remove several abilities and features that were in the early access versions of the game. That being said, the changes made to the game still capture the general feel of what Starbound is meant to be. Some features however, such as the significant reduction of other alien species’ story is a bit disappointing. Although these species do tell important story related details that do contribute to the overarching story, the species’ original origin stories felt much more fleshed out and even had darker undertones. Much of this was possibly reworked to accommodate the newly reworked story line, which unfortunately somewhat heavily emphasizes the Human race’s story. The changes to the skills, weapons, ship accessibility, and vehicles have of course upset many fans who were anticipating the final release of Starbound, with many arguing that the game was ruined with the significant reductions made. Despite this, I believe the game still holds up on its own with what it offers the player, as the sense of wonder in exploration is still not lost, and many unfamiliar with the series will definitely enjoy the still evident variety of weapons, armor, vehicles, and customization available for use.

Starbound ultimately encapsulates the wonder of space travel and exploration through its quirky but fun 2D  adventure. You hardly ever feel the game feeling barren or lifeless, as the color palette used for the different worlds is lively and colorful. Not just that, but the worlds you explore are always full of mysteries and secrets if you explore enough. The NPCs also add to that sense of mystery and exploration, with small but insightful tidbits to the history of their origins. The combat and customization are intuitive as well, so you’ll never get tired of fighting for your life to not lose your precious resources. Check out Starbound on Steam, it’s a very fun and affordable game and offers a huge universe for you to explore and enjoy alone or with friends!

Black Desert Exodus: Recent Additions to the Game Has Led to Risks of Mass Player Loss

The No P2W image floating around the BDO Forums as a response to a troubling issue in game.

The No P2W image floating around the BDO Forums as a response to a troubling issue in game.

Kakao Games/Pearl Abyss’ Black Desert Online has been under a lot of scrutiny lately by the community due to recent additions to the MMO’s premium market. I recently wrote an article referring to this issue being the supposed pay-to-win items that were being released for players to use and how it was not necessarily going to affect the game as would a traditional pay-to-win game. However, a recent patch had been made since the posting of that article that unfortunately further teeters the game towards the pay-to-win model, which Pearl Abyss had originally promised to never lead the game towards. This recent patch essentially allows players  to sell select items from the game’s pearl market, which is their premium store, into the in game marketplace. Pearl Abyss attempted to curb any potential abusers of this system by limiting sales of these items to 5 per week. This ultimately led to massive market inflation, as it was now being flooded by several premium items being sold at very high prices.

Obviously the Black Desert Online community was not pleased with this decision to add the feature. Many communities within Black Desert Online protested against this patch, adding the “No P2W” banner to their tags on the forums. The official reason to have implemented the pearl item integration into the marketplace was the following made by Pearl Abyss:

Regardless of the region, there will always be players who, for whatever reason, do not get to experience all the features Black Desert offers including Pearl Shop Items. Adding a mechanic that grants access to Pearl Shop Items with in game currency will allow more players to enjoy such content more easily. For the same reason, the players of other regions like Korea, Japan and Russia are preferring those features since it allows them better accessibility to Pearl Shop Items. We are open to the community’s feedback and we encourage you to share your thoughts and concerns in a constructive manner on this change.

Despite claiming to consider community feedback, Pearl Abyss was non-responsive to the community backlash regarding the premium market update. What is problematic about the addition of premium items into the in game market place is that it destabilizes the market, causing everything to sell for much higher than what a median range of players can afford. It also brings the concern that this option is essentially a sanctioned Real Money Trading (RMT) ring that allows players to essentially burn cash to make in game cash. Your typical Black Desert Online costume will run about 20$USD, which in turn could sell upwards to 20 million silver in game. This has caused some items to hike prices to ludicrous amounts. Others, such as myself, find the problem not so much with the increase in market prices, but with the fact that Pearl Abyss may have potentially laid the foundation for even worse pay-to-win features that will completely ruin this seemingly amazing game.

A major error on Pearl Abyss’ part was assuming that their western audience were open to a pseudo pay-to-win model on the grounds that their eastern audiences are fine with its implementation. Within the western gaming audience, the notion of pay-to-win is widely regarded as a bad element in any online game and will often be shunned, unless premium items are limited to purely cosmetic items. Because of this oversight, many players have threatened to, or already have, quit Black Desert Online entirely. Some have even claimed to have asked for a refund from Pearl Abyss as they argue that the developers have gone against their word in never implementing the pay-to-win model in the game. This is an unfortunate turn of events for Black Desert Online, as it showed much promise as an MMO with its intricate systems for combat, trading, and gathering. Another patch scheduled to go live soon plans on further expanding the new Valencia region as well as release the much awaited Awakening Weapons. I am not sure if this update will keep the community satiated or alive for that matter, but if Pearl Abyss does not begin listening to its game’s community, it may be doomed to fail with its western players.

Microtransactions: The Growing Concern for the Gaming Community

Microtransactions are problematic to the video game community Image Source: steamgames.com

Microtransactions are problematic to the video game community
Image Source: steamgames.com

To a certain degree, we all understand that development and maintenance of games will cost money. That is why certain games such as MMORPGs tend to either go for a subscription based model or free-to-play model with premium item transactions to help keep up with server maintenance and help fund future content. Other single player titles tend to charge for additional content like expansions and content rich DLCs to try to keep up with the costs of development. They’ll even throw in smaller content that adds a level of uniqueness to the game such as character costumes, weapon skins, etc. However, other games-mainly mobile games- provide microtransactions that really serve no purpose other than to give users an easy way to play or “beat” the game. Sure, microtransactions can help upkeep development of these games, but more often than not do these microtransaction options hinder the gameplay and almost force users to make purchases to advance in any way. Typically these microtransactions are limited to the mobile market, but lately there has been a disturbing trend with games on consoles and PC receiving that microtransaction package, most recently the newest installment of the Deus Ex series, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided as a game is enjoyable, but the microtransaction options that appear in the game feel so out of place for a mostly single player game. These purchasing options aren’t for your typical aesthetic items such as costumes or weapon skins, but deals for purchasing in game currency, ammo, and upgrades. They aren’t necessarily glaring at your screen to purchase them, but for Square Enix to condone the practice of adding a microtransaction market to a single-player game only adds further concern to the issue of downloadable content and microtransactions in gaming. Players ultimately made a full purchase for this game and expect to receive a full gaming experience, but the existence of microtransactions hinders that experience because it ultimately feels that there is more to the game that may be blocked by a potential pay wall. Not only that, but the “consumable” microtransaction purchases are all one-time items that only apply to a single save. These issues effectively ruin the experience of a critically acclaimed game, as players become increasingly frustrated with the notion that Square Enix is simply attempting to monetize a fully completed single player game.

Destiny followed this model when it released its base game while harboring almost complete files for its expansions on release. Many players felt that Bungie deliberately left out huge chunks of the game in order to capitalize on the DLC market, only further adding controversy with having two season passes for their content. On top of that, their player boosting services were ridiculously reminiscent of a pay-to-win model popularly seen in free-to-play games. That all combined with their “premium” emotes that play as their aesthetic premium purchase options. Destiny’s premium options, unlike Deus Ex’s, made more of a lingering impact with the community, as buying pre-leveled characters was a huge step to a dangerous zone of microtransactions bordering the pay-to-win model, something that a AAA title that players paid a premium to play should not have to worry about.

The microtransaction trend is not a new one, as many publishers are endorsing this model through their game releases. This is a problematic trend, as these purchases do not serve any function than to give players the option of receiving instant gratification and receive items easily accessible in game. What becomes concerning is the fact that developers will be forced to make their games work around these microtransaction options, making particular resources or currencies that much harder to obtain so that the microtransactions will become more a necessity than  a nuisance. Hopefully future titles will forgo the use of this model or at least make it a functional and worthwhile purchase and not core items easily accessible through progression of the game.

No Man’s Sky Review: Struggling Past the First Few Hours Is Worth It

Amazing Landscapes but uncoordinated gameplay: Is No Man's Sky Worth the Buy?

Amazing landscapes but uncoordinated gameplay: Is No Man’s Sky worth the buy?

I initially wrote a review that heavily criticized No Man’s Sky to my disappointment. I was one of the many people hyped for the release of the game. Like many other players out there, I have experienced the same level of repetition and blandness that constitutes the majority of the criticisms this potentially awesome game faced. However, I started putting in more hours to the game, I explored much further than what my 20 hours around the same system had me experience and I slowly began experiencing more and more of the game. Sure, the same issues still exist, but there was much more hidden behind No Man’s Sky than I could have thought, and that ultimately led to me reevaluating my review.

No Man’s Sky’s near infinite universe should make for a unique experience every planet. I spent at least 20 hours in one planet simply exploring and learning more of that system’s occupying species (for those curious, I was learning more of the Vy’keen species). Although there are intricate cave systems and massive land to explore potentially spanning several hundred kilometers, my particular planet got dull fast. The problem stemmed from several user side issues as well as gameplay issues. My decision to explore this single planet four hours since launch proved to be problematic as it was a wasteland type planet with no eye catching foliage and no living lifeforms other than the occupying Vy’keen. This particular area also had an abundance of Emeril, a material that can sell well in the market. I began mining this precious resource, enjoying the simple mining element of the game because of course, mining contributed to the trading aspect of No Man’s Sky. However, I started to mine more and more as the inventory expansions for both my exo suit and ship are dependent on carrying loads of units, the in game currency, on my person to purchase these upgrades. I began dreading this mechanic, because it felt that No Man’s Sky emphasized this feature much more than the other features and even watered down essential features, such as combat. While mining, the Sentinels, the main policing body/antagonist of the game, would periodically attack me for over mining some resources and I would easily dispatch them through the use of the game’s plasma grenade. I never had to fire a single shot from the multi-tool’s bolt caster setting, I simply lobbed a grenade to the mechanical thread and it would be killed in one shot. I was now faced with trying to explore as much of this planet as possible while mining this resource for more cash, but exploration became pointless as most of my money was simply mining.

There was the combination of issues involving me not having the right crafting recipes to create warp cells to travel to other systems on top of the game’s RNG not providing me with these recipes. To have obtained these recipes, I needed to find a factory and unlock the terminal inside for a chance to obtain said recipe. Unfortunately for me, the game would provide me every other recipe minus the ones needed to create a warp cell. Traveling then became another hassle, like mining, because I was now forced to ignore all the other aspects of the planet I was on in order to get these handful of recipes to further explore the other worlds in the massive universe. It felt like a massive chore unlocking terminals and farming the resources for the warp cells. This was all done while also juggling mining sessions that would sometimes take hours in order to maximize profits. Three of the game’s elements- crafting, trading, and combat- we’re already feeling less of an integral mechanic and more of a tedious chore.

However, when I finally made my jump to other systems, things started feeling different. Sure, I still had to deal with annoying mining sessions in order to get more money, but I was now finding planets that were rife with resources I could use to simply repair crash landed ships, which would always be an upgrade to swap out because you would always receive a ship with one more inventory slot than your previous ship. I was also experiencing more wild life, some of which were hostile enough to attack me, forcing me to manage both my health and ammunition. Even the mining, to some extent, felt more enjoyable purely because I was doing so in more luscious environments. Some people have critiqued the game for simply copy/pasting different color pallets for the planets, but every planet I have experienced thus far in the 30+ hours of gameplay have fully been a unique experience. Survival, the fourth integral feature of the game, also felt more exhilarating albeit somewhat annoying on many of these planets. The upgrade management has always been a hassle, but there’s a certain sense of thrill in making sure you down melt, freeze, or radiate yourself to death.

The biggest issue with No Man’s Sky is that it offers several enjoyable mechanics, but there is no unity between them. You have amazing exploration capabilities, but the automated feel of it removes the immersion of the flight. The crafting, mining, and combat elements are all enjoyable features within a broad spectrum of players, but some specifically mining- have such a massive priority over the other features that the game feels extremely unbalanced mechanically. The game has massive potential for a gripping narrative, as each alien species gets their ancestry told through the enigmatic monoliths, but these monoliths are overshadowed by priorities in crafting and mining. I felt less inclined to learn more about the Vy’keen language and history than I was making sure I had the 10 million to upgrade my ship (FYI the Vy’keen are pretty badass). However, when I did take the time to learn more,the brutal history of the Vy’keen or the crazy oppressive narrative of the Gek captivated me. Despite having rejected Atlas in the beginning, I was able to accept its story arc as well, and so far it looks very promising story-wise. Unfortunately all these rich historical tid bits feel underwhelming as the NPCs relating to the stories often feel plastic-like and lifeless, only barely moving to show they’re animated creatures. They also serve very little to the story other than providing some small scenario that, if solved correctly, can yield some rewards such as multitool upgrades or blueprints. Despite all that, I still yearn to learn more, and I do so by exploring every planet in detail to learn more. However, I wish they added more details to the civilizations of these species to immerse myself in each of their cultures (edit: they might have more to offer, I may have yet to experience it mainly due to the sheer massive size of the universe).

Overall No Man’s Sky is a lovely game, especially for enthusiasts of the space simulation/survival-crafting genre. Depending where you start in the universe, the game may have a very bad start or a very amazing start, as the randomness of where you spawn can lead you to an almost completely dead planet, a beautifully bizarre planet full of life, or somewhere in between. The game provides much promise in terms of its core features, but they unfortunately do not synch up in harmony as you progress further in the game. All in all, if you’re ok with some of the repetitive elements and are a huge fan of exploring and space, No Man’s Sky is your kind of game. It’s also worth noting that Hello Games plans on releasing new content and mechanics such as base building as free updates; they try to appeal to their fans as best as they can!

A Defense Against an Active Multiplayer in No Man’s Sky

The Beauty of No Man's Sky Lies in Its Isolation

The Beauty of No Man’s Sky Lies in Its Isolation

No Man’s Sky is finally long after a 2 year wait and I have to say, it is a gorgeous game. While a review for the game will be out next week, I do have one major complaint with the game, but it’s not actually on the game itself. Many players have had mixed responses to the game on launch, mainly citing the lack of a multiplayer experience. In fact, many have argued that Sean Murray essentially preemptively highlighted the game’s failing for emphasizing to not come into the game thinking it would be a multiplayer experience. Is the lack of multiplayer really the downfall of No Man’s Sky, a procedural space simulation survival game?

When we consider similar genres in gaming, specifically the survival/crafting genre, you can see the near impetus for a cooperative multiplayer experience. Games like 7 Days to Die and Minecraft augment their gameplay with the presence of other, real players. However to claim that No Man’s Sky fails at launch because of any active multiplayer seems to be hyperbolic rhetoric. No Man’s Sky almost literally offers the player an infinite universe, with over 18 quintillion planets to explore! That is an unimaginable number of planets players can explore, with unique landscapes, creatures, resources, structures, and more. The game is meant to make us feel small in the infiniteness of the universe, so the idea of the game is to capture that isolated experience and magnify it through its intricate and bountiful gameplay.

Many can of course site that other space games such as Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen obviously support a multiplayer experience, with Star Citizen aiming to pass more as an MMO experience, but what differentiates those two games and No Man’s Sky is the narrative each game tries to convey. With Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen, the exploration element is indeed evident, with both game also emphasizing elements of mining and trading, however the experience they are conveying is an active universe teeming with people through fast pace combat and interaction. That isn’t to say that No Man’s Sky is without action, the combat in the game is extremely entertaining and satisfying to experience. However, No Man’s Sky doesn’t market itself for its enjoyable combat; it emphasizes the wonder of being the first to discover worlds that literally no one else has ever found or seen. The ability to name planets and forever have your claim of discovery makes the player truly feel like a pioneer in the vastness of space.

That is the idea behind No Man’s Sky; it is the idea that we are all lone explorer’s making claim to unexplored territory. The limited multiplayer offered in the game honestly feels like enough to play up this idea that, although we are alone as explorers in the game’s universe, we are also aware that there are others sharing our experiences of curiosity, wonder, and even fear. That isn’t to say we can’t meet other players in real time. Although there was that incident where two player managed to actually be in the same planet and location but couldn’t see each other, Sean Murray responded to this claiming that normally we should be able to see other players, those two merely couldn’t at the time due to the massive number of players actively playing. Imagine being on a planet all alone only to find another player right in front of you? That eerie and uncomforting thought is exactly why the isolated gameplay of No Man’s Sky fits perfectly with the series. Hopefully as players continue to explore what the game has to offer them, they will begin to see the beauty of the isolation in No Man’s Sky.

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