Life — Upgrade!

So, I’ve finally gotten my new computer, and it’s a pretty interesting experience. All my life has been spent playing the hand-me-downs as far as video games are concerned. Usually, this means getting the old computer when my brother made a new one for himself. That is to say, the systems I had available could usually play all the newest games, but just barely. They would run poorly and the frame rate would be terrible— and this would already be at the lowest graphics settings possible.

So yesterday was the first day of an entirely new experience. When I played Overwatch, for example, there were many heroes I simply could not play. I couldn’t use sniper rifles because it required too much precision on a fast paced game. So I stuck with characters that didn’t really have to aim, and I was usually fine.

This new computer has literally transformed the way I play a game like that. I can do whatever I want, regardless of the circumstances, and now the only thing holding me back is my own skill. It feels great to be able to try new things and test my boundaries.

So, while I’ve only had it for a few days, I’m already super stoked. For me, the concept of opening a YouTube video and having the automatic quality adjuster playing HD without having to buffer is insane. My old computer wasn’t able to play seamless videos on high settings even if you gave it time to load!

One interesting thing to note is the fact that I couldn’t really even perceive graphics well enough to be jealous of other people. I would see one of my brother’s playing on his computer with high graphics and I wouldn’t notice much of a difference between what his game looked like and what my game looked like. But now that I’m doing it, I can feel how drastic the change is. It’s not even the visual aspect that I even care about. In a game like Heroes of the Storm, there were particle effects I had never experienced because of the graphics barrier. Little things like adding a targeting reticle on the ground as opposed to a highlighted circle.

As I wrote this blog post, in fact, I opened up the game. I entered practice mode, changed the graphics, restarted the game, and did it again to compare the two. This process took less than three minutes. With my old computer, it would take up most of that time just getting to the start menu!

The best part about all of this, is that it’s mine. As I said, most of my life has been spent with hand-me-downs, and indeed that’s pretty true in all aspects as I’m the youngest of six. But not only is this relatively high quality, but it’s also something I did entirely independently of anyone else (save the putting it together part). There was no charity here, nobody offering to help pay for a new computer because my old one stopped working. Just me deciding that enough is enough, and I can do this thing for myself for once.

That said, I probably won’t be doing a whole lot for myself again for a while. Computers are expensive!

Story — Blowing Off Steam (475)

(This is the first fanfiction I’ve written in over a year, and it was actually inspired by one of the Destiny 2 ads that came out recently. This ended up being far more indulgent than I usually write, as I’ve never written actual people I know into my writing before. I intended to make one ‘Destiny veteran’ version and one ‘less familiar’ version where I leave out a lot of the names, but the content ended up so game-specific that it doesn’t really work if you’ve never played. So if you’ve never played it, be warned that a lot of names are thrown out that aren’t explained.)

 

“Hold position,” Aria said, using her scope to scan the field from the outcropping they stood on. It was doted with small craters, and there was sporadic gunfire throughout the landscape. “I’ve got sight on the shooting. Looks like Vex and Cabal.”

Zul rolled his eyes. “It makes sense for Vex to be here. This has been their territory for decades. I still don’t understand why we’re here. Especially all four of us. Isn’t this a little overkill?”

She shook her head. “It isn’t necessary to know why. We just follow orders. The Red Legion started a drilling operation here just before the attack on the Last City.” She returned her focus to the battlefield, where the Cabal was defending against a Vex assault. “We need to stop it before it continues any further. The Vex don’t have enough presence to do that.”

“I don’t know. Seems like we could be a lot more useful defending Earth than coming all the way here.”

“I’m not sure a few more guns will deter the Red Legion,” P-2 chimed in. “Their leader seemed pretty set on claiming the Traveler for his own purposes.”

“Either way, we should wait for the Cabal to clear out the Vex before we engage,” Aria said. “The fewer we have to face ourselves, the better.”

The sound of a gunshot blasted next to them. Aria aimed her pistol to face the threat, only to see Nex-52 crouched down, aiming his sniper rifle down into the battle.

“Nex, did you hear what I just said? Do not engage,” she scolded.

“Yeah,” he said, still looking through the scope. Another shot rang out. “But if we pick off a few of the Cabal, the Vex won’t be taken out as quickly. Easier for us this way.”

“Not if they engage on us now that they know we’re here.”

Another gunshot, but this time to Aria’s right. She turned to see Zul also aiming down his sights with his rifle. “He’s got a point,” he shrugged.

She groaned. “The Hunter going against orders is understandable, but you, too?” P-2 patted her shoulder and shrugged.

“Wait a minute,” Nex said. “The Cabal found a new toy.”

“You mean the giant drill? The one we knew about before we came here?” P-2 asked, sarcasm coloring his tone.

“No, of course not,” he replied. “They’ve got some new dog with them. Maybe half a dozen down there. Running in to attack the Vex head on.”

“I’ve got sight on them,” Aria replied. “Don’t shoot. Watch how they move and attack. We should know what they’re capable of before we–”

A gunshot to her left, and the beast she was looking at immediately fell to the floor, dead. “They don’t seem very durable,” Nex concluded.

“Damn it, Nex, can’t you at least try to follow orders?” She sighed. “I’m suddenly very glad we don’t work together very often.”

“Well, technically,” P-2 said. “The only official orders are over comms. Like Zavala advising us. All the Guardians in a strike team are often the same rank. It just makes sense to have a leader on the field, so that’s how it’s usually done.”

“Can we cut the chatter and get a move on?” Zul took out his empty magazine and replaced it, turning to the rest of the group. “It looks pretty safe to go down, now. There’s only about two dozen left, both Vex and Cabal.” Without waiting for a response, he leaped off the precipice, still shooting on his way down.

P-2 jumped after him, and Nex-52 pulled the sniper rifle to his side to pull out a hand cannon before following suit. “I hate you all,” Aria mumbled. After making sure her weapons were loaded, she joined them.

The battle was already fading when the Guardians landed. With the Vex cleared out, the Red Legion turned their attention to the new arrivals. While Zul and Nex fired at the Centurions in their backline, Aria and P-2 charged in, taking on the enemy Phalanx and War Beasts. A few well-placed shots staggered the Cabal, exposing the massive bodies behind their shields, and a solid punch was all it took to bring them down.

The strike team made quick work of the squadron, but out of one of the bunkers shambled a giant, hulking frame. Armed with missiles and a minigun, staying in sight of it would be a death sentence.

“Colossus!” P-2 shouted. “Get down!”

The team dove to cover inside the many craters that dotted the landscape. “You guys distract it,” Aria said over their comms. “I’ll go around and flank him.”

“You remember what happened last time you did that?” Zul replied.

She ignored it. Racing out of the crater, she sprinted parallel to the Cabal, getting further and further away from whatever he was shooting at. As soon as she was behind him, she rounded the bunker and jumped onto it.

With a breath, she pulled out her own minigun, Sweet Business. “Surprise!” she yelled before unloading into him.

As soon as he fell, a bullet whizzed by her face, almost grazing her helmet.

“Whoops. Sorry about that,” Nex called. “I wanted to steal the kill.”

“You could have killed me with that, you idiot,” she scolded.

“I’ll try harder next time.”

“This isn’t all fun and games you know. People are counting on us.”

Zul sighed. “Relax, Aria. There’s no reason to be fighting. Let’s just move on.”

“Tell you what,” Nex said. “Why don’t we have a little Crucible match here and now?”

“What?” she asked, incredulous. “Why? We’ve got a job to do.”

“And we’ll get it done, don’t worry. But let’s raise the stakes a little bit. You beat me and I’ll follow your lead from here on out. I win, you take a chill pill and we can all get this over with sooner.”

Aria’s eyes squinted from inside her helmet. “Just me and you?”

“I don’t see why the Warlocks can’t get in on the action, too. What do you say? Last man standing? Like the Trials?”

Zul nodded. “No Shaxx and his useless commentary.”

“Think we can beat these two?” Aria asked P-2, who was pacing up from behind and picking up some ammo the colossus had left.

“Maybe. I think we could all benefit from blowing off a little steam, though. We haven’t really gotten a break since the Red Legion came.”

“Alright, Nex. You’re on. Rules?”

Nex was walking away, getting some distance on the two of them. “Anything goes except your stupid shoulder charge.” She rolled her eyes. “Last team standing wins.”

“Alright,” she nodded. “On my mark.”

As she said this, the four of them got into place. Zul ducked into a nearby crater, out of sight of his adversaries. Aria pulled out her sidearm and looked to P-2, who already held a shotgun at the ready.

“Three! Two! One! Go!”

The two of them rushed into motion, charging out opposite sides of the crater to flank them. P-2 blinked across the battlefield just as Zul held up a fusion rifle aimed at Aria.

His reaction was immediate. He ducked down and turned to face the other warlock, pulling the gun up and firing. A charged bolt of purple energy shot into the air, barely searing P-2’s robes as he aimed and shot.

The blast tore through the armor, a haze of void energy dissipating as Zul’s shield was shattered at the impact. Aria held her gun up to assist right as a familiar shot whizzed by. Cursing, she dove for cover instantly. Whether Nex had genuinely missed or was just teasing, she could only guess.

But she couldn’t leave P-2 unaided. She ran back out to see the two warlocks continuing their struggle. They extended their palms out, and the blasts of blue and violet that shot out rippled through the air and distorted the light between them.

Aria pulled out a grenade and sent it towards the crater Nex was holed in, then ran in to help P-2.

Despite his initial lead, he seemed worse for wear. She shot at Zul, but soon ran out of ammo. Upon seeing he was outnumbered, he leaped into the air and pulled his hands close to his chest.

P-2 shot again, but at this distance the shotgun’s range did little. Aria jumped up to meet the warlock just as the mass of void energy was leaving his palms.

She hammered a fist into his gut as hard as she could, enforcing the blow with her own void power.

A loud slam sent a shockwave through the air. The strength of the blow was just enough to take Zul out, and the two landed back on the ground as the echo subsided.

Aria glanced towards where she thought Nex might be, then turned to P-2. “Nice one,” he nodded in approval.

As soon as he turned away, a knife embedded itself into his helmet, a ripple of flame streaking along its path. He fell to his knees, and Aria swiveled around to see Nex at the crest the crater.

“Game over,” he said.

He grabbed for his gun, channeling solar energy into it as his entire body erupted into flames.

No time. That gun had three shots, and any one of them would be fatal.

She called her own strength, summoning all the void power she had stored up and sent it outwards. A bubble formed around her, shrouding her in a field of glowing purple. His gun couldn’t shoot through that.

A crack like a cannon igniting, and the purple haze shimmered as fire spilled around it. The light bent as the gunshot tried to push its way through, but it held firm.

Nex fired again as he descended into the crater. Again, the streak of fire slammed into the shield, right in the same spot. The void energy curved against it, but the second shot was too much, and the purple glow cut short.

Her protection faded, and she was met face to face with a Gunslinger in full power. Aria pulled the trigger, and only then realized that her sidearm was still out of ammo.

He fired again.

The flaming cannon went off, and the bullet left a trail of fire, burning the air as it soared past her head, missing by a hair.

Aria halted, dropping her guard in her confusion. She had been standing still, and he was right in front of her.

She caught the sound of burning and growling, and turned to see one of the Cabal war beasts writhing on the ground behind her, incinerating into nothingness from the shot that, she assumed, had missed its target.

Nex-52 was already using his Ghost to help the warlocks back on their feet by the time she turned to face him.

“So, what does that mean?”

He shrugged. “I got the extra kill I was looking for. We’ll call this one a draw. Besides, we’ve got work to do, and by my count I’ve still got fifteen kills on you. You’ll have to step up your game if you want to catch up by the time we face whatever is down there.” He nodded towards the giant drill that still spun in the distance.

“I got cocky,” Zul muttered as he palmed the place Aria had hit him. “Thought I had enough time to take you both out at once.”

“I wouldn’t have charged right in if I realized we would be going all out,” P-2 said, laughing.

“By the way,” Nex said. “I’m going to need my knife back, P-2.”

“What? No way. You gave it to me fair and square. It’s mine now.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” Zul replied.

Aria couldn’t help but chuckle as the three of them kept bickering. The stress the Red Legion’s assault had brought seemed to have melted away. Blowing off a little steam was just what they needed. Maybe she’d thank Nex later.

Review — Hammerwatch

As far as fun little couch co-op style games go, it can be hard to find ones that work these days. There’s a lot of choices, to be sure, but the abundance of choices can actually hinder the decision making process because while there are so many games, it isn’t easy to find the one that works for you and your friends.

For me, Hammerwatch is a great example of a retro dungeon crawler. It is a Gauntlet style co-op hack and slash. You each have a different class with different abilities, and you run through dungeons killing all manner of little monsters, solving puzzles and finding secrets. If you’re not careful, however, you can die instantly, so there is a risk factor.

My favorite thing about the game is how unforgiving it can be. There are different sources of threats that are more or less difficult for certain classes. There are challenging monsters that run fast and deal insane amounts of damage. Ranged classes deal with these best, usually, because they don’t have to get close. There are also swarms of enemies that shoot from a distance which are also hard for melee classes to deal with because at that point the game is a bullet hell. But the melee guys excel at dealing lots of damage to nearby enemies, so if it’s relatively safe, they can delete swarms of enemies in one blow if you time it right. Of course, there’s also traps. Spike traps kill you instantly in this game, and for whatever reason, I am really bad at maneuvering around them. They kill me a lot because I’m an idiot.

The levels aren’t random, but there are so many secrets it lends itself well to replay-ability simply because there’s bound to be loads of stuff you missed last time. The more you play, the better you’ll get, naturally. But there are also plenty of difficulty modifiers. There is the basic “Easy, Medium, Hard” settings, but you can also adjust more specific settings. You can make mana regenerate faster, or make health naturally regenerate slowly, for example. You can also make it harder, adding a shared health pool or setting everybody’s health to a maximum of one, meaning taking any damage at all will always kill you (or everybody, if you have shared health!)

My favorite thing about this game is the upgrades. As you go higher up the tower, you collect money and find stronger vendors that sell upgrades such as increased armor, increased damage, or increased life pool and movement speed. There are lots of things you can buy, and finding more secrets can make upgrades cost less in addition to giving you more money to pay for them, so its incredibly rewarding. (You can also unlock new abilities for your specific class as you get further into the game!)

As usual, I do have issues with this game, but they are sort of nit-picky. The first is that there is no random generation. I get that it’s difficult to implement secrets if the map is always different, but it feels like the sort of game that would have randomly generated levels and enemies, so the replay-ability is less in the novelty of the experience and more for the personal challenge of increasing the difficulty. As an unrelated side note, it can be almost impossible to tell what secrets do sometimes. You can press a secret button that says “A passageway has been revealed!” but there is no indication of where that might be, which will force you to backtrack all across the map in the hopes that you discover some new place. That part is a little frustrating.

My second real frustration with the game is that the “good” ending is reserved for people that know all the secrets. In order to escape the tower once you beat the final boss, you have to use “strange plank” items that you found in various places in the tower, which at first serve no discernible purpose. But, if you find all of them (you have to find all of them, too,) you can escape the castle and beat the game. And as far as I know, there’s no indication of how many there are in the dungeon in the first place. There’s twelve one for each floor of the castle.

Is the game worth it? Certainly. Full price, it’s currently worth $10, and a successful run-through of the first campaign will take over three hours, though it’ll probably take you a few tries to even get that far int he first place. I recommend it for anyone that likes hardcore games that try to kill you and your friends. It isn’t the most insanely difficult game, once you get the hang of it, but you can certainly modify it to be.

Review — Iron Brigade

Iron Brigade is one of those games that has a unique charm to it that, even if it’s not super polished and the team that worked on it isn’t very large, it’s still got a very strong theme, and they hit their mark well.

But I’d also doubt that many people have ever even heard of this game, let alone played it. Basically, it boils down to a co-op tower defense game as well as a third person shooter. You defend your base against waves of monsters (called ‘Tubes’ because they are all cords and television themed), and as you call down turrets to defend points, you can also set up your own mech to fight them for yourself.

This game has a lot going for it. It has half a dozen different types of weapons, but there are also different chasis you can use for your mech that enable different amounts of guns as well as different turrets to place. You can fix two giant sniper rifles on your mech and sit at base blasting away from afar, or you can throw six shotguns in and get a quick mech that rushes into the frontlines, or you can have a tiny mech with few guns whose purpose is to call down a bunch of turrets to fight for you. There’s also lots of different paintjobs and costumes you can put on your mech/character, so in addition to having different chasis, all of your friends’ mechs will look very different from each other. It reminds me of Front Mission in that regard, because everyone’s characters look visually suited to their job.

My favorite thing about this game, though, is the loot system. It’s nothing special, really. You level up and earn money as you play, and reaching higher ranks unlocks more powerful guns and turrets. What it doesn’t tell you, though, is that as you’re playing, you can find weapons that aren’t sold in the store, and some of them are crazy strong and fun to use. With some tinkering and lots of luck, my brother had a loadout that could kill bosses in two seconds (literally) because he was lucky enough to find two super rare sniper rifles that did an insane amount of damage.

It isn’t without its faults though. Overall, I have two main issues with this game. The most glaring of which is the online aspect. Hosting games and letting your friends join only works some of the time, and a friend of mine can’t play this game online for reasons because he disconnects too much, and we have no idea why (he doesn’t have this issue with other games). It sucks because we often have to strike this game off the list of things we can play together for no real reason at all. (It is plausible that it isn’t the game’s fault, but I haven’t found any evidence to the contrary, so it seems the most likely.)

The second problem isn’t as bad, and that is the fact that it’s too easy. I don’t even know what happens when you fail a mission, because we’ve never come close. Even when it gets hard, we’re only at risk of losing points, not the game. In addition, when a friend starts playing for the first time, we have to start the campaign over again for their sake, and while I am totally fine with doing the same mission repeatedly, I’d love for there to be some way to challenge myself. I suppose you could simply be competitive and see who can get the most kills, but that’s not the way my group really plays things.

Overall, though, it’s a solid game. I would recommend it to anyone that likes tower defense games, especially since it’s played in third person, giving it that unique feel, since most games like it only involve placing turrets and upgrading them from a bird’s eye view the whole time.

Review — Starcraft: Legacy of the Void (430)

Starcraft has always had a special place in my heart. I know it’s not accurate, but I do consider it the beginning of Esports and gaming on a competitive level. I never was very good, though. I was probably only about twelve years old when the second true installment of the game, Wings of Liberty, came out. This game has had an enormous impact on the gaming community as a whole, and while I’ve talked about it before, let me give my thoughts on the latest version. Even though it’s already two years old at this point, I hadn’t played through the last chapter until this past month, so cut me some slack.

Protoss is my favorite race. Between the goopy, brooding, and infesting insectoid swarm of the Zerg, the mechanical, sturdy, and militaristic might of the Terran, and the advanced, noble hierarchy of the vengeful Protoss, I’ll take the latter. I don’t like the bug or the hardbitten war aesthetic much, but an ascended race of people who think they’re better than everyone else? Yes please.

So, I think it goes without saying that since Legacy of the Void was the Protoss chapter of Starcraft II, it was definitely my favorite. I have the strongest handle on what my capabilities are with that faction, so I can try a little bit harder and pay more attention to the story than I could before.

And man, Legacy of the Void has some awesome characters and stories. I won’t spoil anything here (though the statute of limitations is definitely over), but it definitely has a lot more character than anything I really felt in the other two campaigns. The previous two objectives were: “save my x-girlfriend”, followed by “figure out who I am then get vengeance”. This time it’s “unite your fractured people, then take down a god”. This campaign felt a lot more impactful than the previous two, even if it is because it’s the “final chapter” of Starcraft II. Obviously I can’t really give credit to the writers here. It’s pretty much comparing the climax to the beginning and middle of a book, which isn’t fair at all.

All that being said, my favorite part about the single player is that it’s totally okay to give the player incredibly powerful abilities because it doesn’t have to be balanced. You’re supposed to win. The way that Legacy of the Void achieves this, through giving your character choices of unique units as well as adjustable in-game abilities (like ‘giant_lazer.exe’). Being able to upgrade and customize the way your character(s) go into a fight is one of my favorite game mechanics, and the fact that the things I’m choosing are all incredibly powerful makes my decisions feel extremely rewarding.

And, of course I can’t talk about Legacy of the Void without mentioning Alarak. (Minor spoilers ahead, but nothing too pivotal to the actual plot.) As far as I know, this character didn’t even exist in the Starcraft universe before this campaign, but he quickly ascended (see what I did there) to one of my favorite characters. You don’t get a lot of ‘Lawful Evil’ characters in any franchise, and even the ones that are aren’t on the good side. Alarak is a good guy, but he would never be mistaken for a good guy, if you know what I mean. Plus, he’s amazing because he’s so condescending, and the way he does it is so funny it’s amazing.

So, is Legacy of the Void worth getting? If you’re a Starcraft player, absolutely, but if that’s the case then you’ve probably already bought it. If you’re new to the RTS genre and want to know where to start, it’s great for that, too. All the complicated strategy stuff is easily tossed aside for new players. It’s mostly there to give veterans a way to amplify their abilities even more.

But, as old as Starcraft II has gotten, I’d imagine the next major installment for the franchise is due somewhat soon. I’d be willing to bet that the next big game release will happen before 2020 ends. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it was announced by the end of the year, but I don’t expect it to be. Whatever might be the case, this game is great and is very compelling for an eight/nine hour experience!

Review — Heroes of the Storm

As far as the MOBA genre goes, there are quite a few high-end competitors out there. While I’ve never played Dota 2, League of Legends was like the only thing I played from 2011 to 2015. Every popular game (especially on this side of the gaming world) is going to have pros and cons.

Heroes of the Storm isn’t my favorite game. My largest problem with this genre is that the time investments in each individual match is huge compared to other things, and because mistakes are so punishing to the player and their team, it’s very easy to get frustrated (or have teammates hate you every single game).

The single largest reason I didn’t play League of Legends competitively much is because the community in the MOBA genre is so resentful. They will find your mistakes and attack you more viciously than your enemies because you’re bringing them down. It’s absurd to me that many of these people will give up and be hateful rather than being cooperative and working together. This criticism goes for the entire genre, and it’s the main reason why I don’t play these types of games as often as I used to. It tends to make losing very difficult to enjoy, and I prefer games that are always fun rather than the polar opposites of hating it during a defeat and loving it when I’m winning.

This game in particular is a bit better in that respect. Games in HotS tend to be around twenty-ish minutes long (rather than the average League game of thirty to fifty minutes), so each game isn’t as much of a commitment. You also cannot communicate with your enemies, and I think this makes it much easier for the toxicity of teammates not to spread. In my experience, if a teammate is bad people will vent their anger towards the enemy team, telling them how bad their ally is. Since there is no “All chat” in Heroes of the Storm, people can only talk to their teammates and this reduces both the rage from the other team and the potential for your ally to rage at the other team about you.

The biggest problem I have about this game over League of Legends is that when a team starts winning in Heroes, it’s very difficult to turn the tables on them. You will usually be able to tell which team is going to win five minutes into the game, but in League, comebacks are more prevalent and the advantage isn’t established so quickly. This is probably due to the difference in the match length for both games.

My favorite thing about Heroes of the Storm however is something relatively unique for the MOBA genre, and that is the talent system. Rather than accruing gold by killing minions and players to buy items that change your stats, you gather experience to gain levels and earn a choice of talents. Now, the “level system” isn’t exclusive to HotS, but gaining levels and upgrading your abilities to account for the playstyle you want for that match certainly is. Rather than buying different items to counter the enemy team’s characters and abilities, you’re changing your own abilities to have a better control over what you want to do in that game.

Aside from that, the fact that this game has several different maps to play on really adds to the dynamic of playstyle. In a  game of League everything is completely, one hundred percent skill based because the only thing that ever changes is the characters on both teams. Since the map and objectives fluctuate so much in Heroes, players and their characters will tend to be better in some situations and worse at others, and it adds a lot of replay-ability to the game. Also, since the character roster is so much smaller than that of League of Legends (~66 vs. 134) it’s much easier for people to get into and understand.

Between the two games (not having enough experience to judge Dota 2,) I would say Heroes of the Storm is superior in terms of how enjoyable it is on a match to match basis. Is it difficult for me to enjoy when I’m losing? Absolutely, but in Heroes the game will be over in fifteen more minutes, whereas in League it could end up being neck and neck for half an hour only to have victory stolen from you by one simple misplay.

Review — Sunless Sea

Have you ever played a game where the story was hinted at but never the focus of the game? In many single-player games, like Bioshock, or TransistorPortal, etc., you could get through the entire game without paying any attention at all to the story, regardless of how in-depth or thought provoking it may be. I tend to enjoy those games for the gameplay first, and then appreciate the story later. I’ve never been a huge fan of games that require you to know what’s going on, like Myst, because the story-driven games never seem to have interesting stories to compel me to continue.

Sunless Sea is a different story. It combines a lot of elements I love in games: slow progression and upgrades, a rogue-like “start-over with a push forward” theme, and a merciless drive to bring the player onto its knees through harsh and unforgiving rules. But when I bring up this game to other people, I set all of these aside, because in the end its not what this game is about. Sunless Sea is a story-driven, “choose your own adventure” game in a Lovecraftian setting.

In this game, you can choose the way you want to play. You can be a seafaring pirate that attacks anyone on sight, a wealthy merchant ferrying goods (often illegal and unsavory) across the seas to dangerous lands, or a scholar, trying to discover everything about this strange and vast world.

Very few games have made me feel a sense of adventure: like I’m exploring distant and strange lands, in the same way Sunless Sea does. I can find myself on distant shores and stumble upon vast treasures, only to realize I’ll have to spend most of it if I want to ensure a safe journey home.

This game is all about risk and reward. It forces you to take risks without telling you what’s at stake or even what the consequences will be. In a way this can be a little frustrating, but it adds to the feeling that this place is a real world, and in this place is real and it emulates how we often make judgments and important decisions based on the limited information and resources we have available.

I do have two major gripes with this game. The first is that there is a lot going on. The screen has a lot of information that takes time to study in order to understand what you’re looking at, and the interface is never as streamline as I would like it to be. You do learn what’s going on eventually, but the game doesn’t do a great job at telling you on its own.

But my biggest qualm with this game is that after thirty hours of playtime, I still don’t feel like I’ve made it very far. I’ve explored all these vast and interesting places, but I don’t feel as though I’ve made an impact on the world, and I don’t feel like the time I’ve spent has amounted to anything. For example, the boat I currently have is the third largest one available to buy, and the other two might as well not exist for how expensive they are and how savvy I am with trading and the economy.

I’d imagine there’s something about the game that I have simply yet to learn, but the world feels pretty much as mysterious and unknowable as it did when I first discovered all these islands, locales, and ports. In a way, that’s a good thing. It definitely makes me want to keep playing. The game is beautifully crafted, and there’s so much going on that I don’t feel as though I’ve even scratched the surface of how deep this world is. Depth like that is good, but too much makes it daunting.