Update 26 Brings Endgame Part II to Deep Rock Galactic

Late February, 2018 marked the initial release of Deep Rock Galactic as an early access game on Steam. Almost 2 years later Ghost Ship Games has been hard at work forming the game into the compelling, original game that it is today. With so many early access indie titles on steam (and more coming out every day), it can be hard to know which are worth your time. Though Deep Rock is currently not finished, update 26 ads a satisfying amount of endgame content that can be enjoyed alongside the previously implemented endgame activities. Here is everything you need to know about the current state of Deep Rock Galactic, if you should wait to play the game till it’s release, and what the newest update brings to the experience. Grab a hardhat, pickaxe, and a shotgun, you’re gonna need them!

For those who have never set foot into the giant alien-infested caves of Hoxxes IV, I’ll give a brief primer on how to play here before diving into the endgame content and the recent update. Deep Rock is a game that is built around a simple premise; You are a space dwarf working for an indifferent capitalist mining corp, which the game is named after. There are lots of different types of missions, but the base game is essentially about dropping onto the planet with a team of 1-4 players, mining veins of minerals and gems, navigating and traversing difficult landscapes, and fighting through hordes of alien bugs to make it back to your space rig. When the game originally launched in early access it was just simple runs in simple caves looking for veins of “Morkite” a fictitious mineral of huge importance to all dwarves (they make beer out of it). There were few enemy types, one loadout per dwarf class, and a handful of simple environments.

The current state of Deep Rock Galactic 

Log in to Deep Rock today, and you will find a satisfying amount of content added, all of which serve that original addicting gameplay. Now there are 8 unique environments to explore each with unique enemies, rewards, and environmental hazards. You can choose from dangerous ice caverns, molten lava tunnels, a dense biozone, barren radioactive caves, and more. Each environment also now has a dangerous rare unique creature with special attacks and movements. Alongside the mining missions, now players will now take on Egg hunts, Salvage Operations, Point Extractions, and boss encounters called Elimination missions. All missions have a random secondary objective, and there are several tough mini-boss encounters that can also occur randomly in any of the previously listed activities. Though new game modes have been implemented, all of them still have players doing the core activities that made Deep Rock an addicting and fun challenge from the start: navigation, teamwork, mining, and combat.

Meet the Employees

The 4 player classes remain the same: Driller, Scout, Gunner, and Engineer, but now all classes have an alternative weapon to unlock for both their main and secondary gun slot, along with 3 completely unique grenade options bringing the total grenade type count to 12. Cryo grenades, battle axes, landmines, neurotoxin canisters, debuff grenades, energy weapons, and several high damage variants are now all available to unlock.

What to Expect from Beginning to Endgame

Deep Rock does not have a traditional storytelling format or campaign, but this does not mean that players don’t have a goal or destination in mind when playing. The game can be thought of as existing in 3 stages, (Beginner, Promotion, and Endgame) and players who progress intentionally through those stages will likely have the most satisfying experience playing. I’ll lay them out here for you

Beginner – When you step onto the mining rig for the first time as a young green beard you have no resources, though you will have access to all 4 classes. After picking a class, pick a mission, and get to mining! The holographic globe is the console that players can select their next mission at, and you should get familiar with it. There is a rotating set of missions available, which are procedurally generated and always different, and regions will pass in and out of scanner range on a 30-minute rotation. Any assignments selected at the assignment terminal will highlight the required mission on the map with a black and white diamond on it. There is also a brief tutorial that can be accessed at a panel in the space rig, though it is not currently super detailed. (According to the current roadmap towards the 1.0 release the final version will include a full tutorial that on-boards new player more smoothly and in segments, showing relevant data when needed and hopefully explaining all mission types not just mining).

After you get the swing of things, and you settle into a class you like, the activities terminal next to the mission select globe becomes more important. This is where most of the game progress can be tracked. These assignments are mainly to unlock new weapons and promote your dwarfs (more on that in a second). This terminal is also where you can complete a weekly priority assignment that awards bonus credits and materials, take on the “Breach the Core” assignment to unlock higher tier weekly challenges called Core Assignments, and unlock the terrifying 5th level of difficulty “Lethal“. The main goal at this stage should be to level up the dwarves you want to play with the most and unlock all their various gear modifications, weapons, and perks. The next goal is to hit level 25 with a character.

Promotion – When a dwarf hits level 25 then they are eligible for a company promotion. Think of it as a nice reward for not dying at work, and making a dwarven CEO somewhere very rich. When ready, select “Promotion Qualification” for the desired level 25 character at the assignment board. This will trigger a multi-mission task as many of the assignments do. By this time your dwarf should be quite powerful and you will have all weapon and gear modification unlocked, make sure to purchase them all and pick combos that compliment your dwarf’s strengths. Once the whole promotion process is finished, you will have access to a whole new set of activities and powerful loot. You are now ready for endgame!

Endgame – Endgame in Deep Rock Galactic is in many ways more like the halfway point. Having a promoted dwarf means each of their weapons now has a powerful final modification available called an “Overclock”. Overclocks are collected by completing challenging missions called Deep Dives (only playable by promoted characters), which is made of 3 consecutive missions with random mutations applied to them. These missions are locked into an increased difficulty level, and there is an “Elite Deep Dive” also available for the most powerful and coordinated teams to tackle.

Promoted dwarves will also now notice they are able to interact with those strange machines they have undoubtedly noticed in the regular missions randomly. These are called “machine Events” and are fun but difficult mini-missions that start when the key is inserted (awarded to all promoted dwarves). If the team wins the challenge then they can ALL receive an overclock or cosmetic item if they have picked up a blank matrix core to infuse at the console. (NOTE: if no one on the team has any blank matrix cores there is no reason to play the machine event, as access to the infusion console is useless at that time.)

All 4 classes are very unique powerful characters and it not unlikely that you will want to promote at least a few of them, so playing the regular missions and just doing weekly core hunts is still very fun and engaging even after reaching the endgame. Play around with using different overclocks with different modification specs, some of the overclocks can change the whole feeling of a particular character. For example, the image below is an overclock for the M1000 (a powerful precision weapon that can be unlocked for the Scout which replaces his usual Assault Rifle). Overclocks can do everything from adding elemental effects like poison or fire to changing weapon stats, to influencing character mobility like the upgrade featured here. Modding weapons become very interesting at this stage in the game, even if it can be a bit of a grind.

Worth Playing Now?

That’s the current state of Deep Rock, but is it worth playing now? For players who want a very smooth polished product, there may be a reason to wait for the 1.0 release simply due to the lack of tutorial and introduction. A few minor quality of life features will also be added at some point in the future, like being able to save multiple character loadouts, which will more likely than not add to the game rather than changing it drastically. But if you don’t care about the “gift wrapping” and just want to jump into a fun co-op shooter, Deep Rock is a great game to play now. Though more additions are coming, the game in its current state already has a ton of charming details, like a huge beer menu with unique labels and effects, tons of silly (and profane) voice lines, the option to press (V) to salute each other (gives a toast when holding beer), and a working jukebox and mini-game in the pub. The main gameplay components feel like a finished product, and while some aspects of the game may be polished more in the future, the game has a strong core with plenty of goals to chase from day one.  Deep Rock Galactic is also a game that does take a bit of time to grind for materials, credits, and XP, so if you are a new player starting now, you will likely still have new things to do as new updates continue to come out, so if you already know you want to try it, it’s a great time to get started.

Bonus Seasonal Update:

Happy Holidays! It’s all snowflakes and ornaments in the space rig till the New Year! The team working on Deep Rock is great at adding little updates often so that the community has stuff to play with as the bigger changes and additions are still cooking. However, this season we got the endgame part II update AND a winter seasonal themed update shortly after. Now you can make your dwarves look like Santa! Environments also now have Christmas gifts you can find. busting them open usually spawns a few swarmers, but sometimes a delicious loot bug comes out instead! (these are small slug-like creatures that like to eat valuable minerals like gold, kill them for extra materials and cash).

There is also a new assignment available for a limited time! this assignment is fairly long and gives high-level rewards at each stage of completion including rare minerals, beer crafting materials, overclocks, or matrix cores. (HINT: The final mission reward is particularly lucrative). 

Deep Rock Galactic is still in Early Access technically, but with the last update bringing in the last of the endgame activities for the base game, it feels like a finished, well-made product, only missing a few finishing features around the edges.

“May your beards be thick and your gold satchels heavy!” Happy Gaming Dwarves!

Sky: Children of the Light Does Everything it Can to Only Leave Room for Positivity


If you have spent any time on the internet at all, you already know that it can be hard to get away from negative and toxic content, video game communities included. Hate speech, trolls, unwanted aggression, intolerance, and so on continue to poison many digital gathering spaces. One element to the creation of toxic digital spaces is the anonymous nature of the internet, but ThatGameCompany seems to have designed Sky with that cautiously in mind. Sky proves that anonymity itself doesn’t have to be fuel for negativity, but rather can exist in a system where everyone is uplifted. In this IOS exclusive the main way players progress through the game is by interacting with others in an anonymous format, and yet I was genuinely uplifted emotionally every time I logged on.

The gameplay goal of Sky is simple, the layout is somewhat similar to Journey The classic indie adventure from the same developers. Players progress simply by traveling the distance from the start to the end, while looking for Spirits and Ancestors to open each new area. Levels are made up of simple puzzles and large play areas that offer exploration and sightseeing as the main activities generally. Players spread their wings and fly through the open sky and narrow wind tunnels, through forests in the clouds, and into ancient temples and ruins. The players only resource/HP to really manage as far as world progression is the light that fuels your flight ability, which can easily be gained by standing near any fire, candle, friendly creature, and even other players. Players must locate ancestors in each level which somehow brings life back to the lost souls and allows for the next level to be explored. All Ancestors and Spirits found move the player closer to gaining new cosmetic items and allow the option to build relationships with other players and spirits themselves. This loop of gathering light to fly, flying to explore, and exploring to “rescue” the spirits and ancestors on each stage make up the body of the game. The game is certainly best experienced with companions, and many of the obstacles to success in Sky such as the flame draining rain or getting lost are also alleviated with a friend or two to help.

I wanted to enjoy Sky a lot when I discovered it but was concerned that the beautiful landscapes and scenic skies would clash with my player-to-player interactions. I was delighted immediately as I started my adventure, and quickly found I could not have been more wrong. Not only did the developers find a way to keep player interactions focused on the positive, but they built player reciprocity and giving into the actual progression mechanics of the game. It is clear that Sky is doing something great, and other games could take a note from it’s successful focus on positivity in it’s handling of multiplayer interactions.

Here are some of the mechanics that created such a positive a beautiful experience:

  • You name others, not yourself

When you encounter another player in the environment they are grey and without distinction, like a colorless ghost. Offering friendship to them is shown as you offering a candle to them, and rather than showing a name they picked for themselves, you will give them a name that is only for your reference. The grey melts off the shadow as light illuminates your new friend, and all their cosmetic items and chosen style are no longer hidden. This is when the player is prompted to name their new partner. No more immersion breaking names made of crass middle-school humor between the numbers 420 and 69, now the only names you see are the ones you give others. Sure if you wanted to you could fill your screen with silly and wildly inappropriate names, but if you did it wouldn’t bother any other player’s scenic pleasant experience. Names are only visible to those who named them. in a small way, this feature also has the secondary benefit of giving a small amount of creative control over their game of Sky. Someone who wants their world to be more mystical may name players based on fantasy names, or name friends based on the context of meeting (which is what I do). If I am playing and I meet someone in the rain who gives me fire when mine is out (a wonderful mechanic also just put in there to be nice and promote cooperation), I may name that person something like “Friend in Floods”, or “Shrouded Healer”. All friends are added to your progression menu (shown as constellations in the sky), and you can then freely boots all your friends light levels when you log on.

  • Giving and receiving is mutually beneficial, so everyone benefits from sharing the light

Though it does cost a lamp to friend another players (an item crafted by collecting lots of light), this is still essentially paying a small amount of candle light now to get more in the future, as boosting friends light is free and is the best way to get people to send you light back.

  • You can offer to help others by letting them tag along for a ride by holding hands

If you are having trouble finding some of the more well hidden spirits and candles you can always offer to take the hand of someone else and both characters will hold hands. One person is in control then and is free to fly or walk around the map without worrying about their new friend getting lost or falling behind. The ability to hold strangers hands and to fly around in an incredibly beautiful environment with someone else is magical. I’ve had a lot of good experiences just hanging out with new friends and bringing light to other players we come across. There seems to be no limit to the number of players who can hold hands and at one point I had joined a group that had 5 players all soaring and adventuring across the landscape together.

  • Actual player to player chat is always consensual, opt-in, and you must be friends first

Another feature that seems to help greatly in making sure that chat and social interaction is as positive an experience as it can be is that chat is only available to friends, and you actually have to sit on a bench in the game together, and both opt to have a conversation. This small barrier that requires consent and intentionally leaves little reason or room for harassment. It’s more about letting people talk one on one if they have spent time in game together and want to communicate, rather than a message board for anyone in the game to shout through. It’s more spontaneous and intimate, because the players have to find a bench first surrounded by natural beauty. Again, of course people can still inject negativity into another players experience, but if desired players can opt to just not see messages and just enjoy the music and scenery.

  • The setting of the game is clearly about wonder, beauty, collaboration, and sharing

With all the helpful steps that the developers took to ensure that players feel deep positive feeling while playing their game, the setting might be the strongest influence of player behavior. Though the various game mechanics make it harder for people to be a jerk while playing, it’s really the visuals, music, and story that make the player want to be respectful and kind to others. It is true that the specific themes in Sky may not always translate well to other more competitive games, but the concept still works. Things like being able to vote for teammate medals at the end of an Overwatch match are a great example of devs giving players opportunities to opt-into positive interactions in a competitive game. If the future of gaming is to reach bigger and more diverse audiences incorporating intentional mechanics and themes of positivity into future games is a vital element. Sky is a great example of how relaxation, collaboration, and entertainment can all exist within one game, bringing those who engage with it, closer to one another, and can even encourage compassion and other positive emotional skills that are vital to our national and personal prosperity.

If art is powerful, as I believe it is, interactive art has a particularly impactful influence on those who engage with it. I’m grateful to have a place as peaceful and simple as Sky to visit at the end of a day full of stress or anxiety.  Interactions with others are usually focused on exploring together or simply exchanging simple gifts, and demand little from players with social anxiety. And while the visuals and music are incredible and would make for a peaceful experience by themselves, the ability to experience the seamless immersion of Sky with other players is the most magical part of the journey. We are all in this life on Earth here together, let’s work to make physical and digital spaces both places that welcome all and encourage cooperation and creativity.

As always, Happy Gaming Friends

Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare Review

Indie Studio Mobrite returns with a followup game to their original zombie hit Dead Ahead. Fight rather than flee in this combat focused squeal. 

Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is the follow-up game to the mobile game simply titled Dead Ahead from developer and publisher Mobrite. It is available on IOS and Android and is free to play. Dead Ahead is a simple game where the player is tasked with escaping the zombie hordes that are chasing them in a side-scrolling, obstacle-filled driving game for mobile. Zombie Warfare features the same unique visual charm, with a huge array of new characters, enemies, weapons and locations to enjoy the apocalypse. As the name implies, Zombie Warfare’s gameplay is focused on combat, but with a heavy coating of micro-transactions it’s hard to focus on its interesting gameplay and graphics.

Setting and Graphics – An Expanded World for Dead Ahead

One of the main ingredients that made the first game a joyful experience to play was the game’s graphics and subtle world building. The first game’s opening cinematic creates a sense of dread but also shows a glimpse of the world the player will be inhabiting. Its characters are hand drawn and have a cute, almost chibi quality to them. The player drives a pizza delivery scooter, and most of the zombies have cute (even mildly sexy) designs, making Mobrite’s apocalypse a fun, playful and unique world to survive in. This followup game features even more of the same high-quality pixel art, and creative character and enemy designs. There are a large collection of survivors to unlock from civic employees and civilians like the shotgun-wielding farmer and the armored Fireman to fully armed military and police units. There are plenty of new zombies and even human enemies as well. Your squad will occasionally go up against roaming gangs, some of which are half infected with the zombie virus and brandish ranged weapons or special armor.

Overall the art style and environment in Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is high quality for what is there, but does seem to be lacking a bit of the charm that was present in the first title. This specifically is felt with the game having no cartoon cinematic into, and the campaign feels very much like a set of levels, not a continuing journey, and there is no story at all. This would be fine but it seems like the game is trying to have a larger scope than the first title, though it really is just in level variations and not in an overarching story. It’s hard to not be a bit disappointed by this, as it seems like a missed opportunity, especially as the world map gives the feeling of being in a whole world of zombies to explore. This is not a major mark against the game though, as the levels feature a high variety of enemies and visual palettes.

Gameplay and Mechanics-  The Game has Good Bones, with Flawed Execution

Pushing any non-gameplay issues aside, there are great things to say about the backbone of the game.  The concept of a PvZ style strategy game in the universe of Dead Ahead works well on paper. Seeing the small pixelated characters running off their battle bus into the zombie hoard is great. The basic game rules are that the player has 2 main resources to manage: “Courage” (blue meter) and “Rage” (Red meter). All units and abilities cost one of these resources and the player will have to choose a “hand” of 6 units/abilities out of their total unlocked (or bought). As the level timer ticks on the player slowly builds courage, while every kill builds rage, both of which are used to drop units and objects onto the battlefield. all units attack and move automatically, and the player must deal a certain amount of damage to the enemy barrier to win. Unlike PVZ though, units behave somewhat as if they are in lanes, but there is no way to control which of these invisible “lanes” they will move to attack or defend it. The player units have AI behavior that is designed to have them respond to threats ahead of them or when enemies are in close proximity, but sometimes the AI is not very responsive, which is a huge problem in a game where taking ANY DAMAGE to your battle bus at all will cause the player to lose their 3-star score. This has lead to many frustrating times of my units allowing a single weak zombie to run past, or to not fire at the most critical target because they moved to another lane automatically. This could be fixed with set lanes, or with the addition of manual focus fire or move orders, but neither of these are in the current build.

 

Price and Micro-Transactions – Mid to Late Gameplay is Very “Pay-to-Win”

The promising qualities of great art, a good gameplay premise, and the pedigree of an enjoyable first game make Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare all that more disappointing when the whole product is taken into consideration. In order to actually enjoy the positive game elements, the player will be loaded down with having to watch a lot of ads that remind them that the game is going to be unbalanced if they don’t start paying real money. I will say that when playing this game to review it for this article I did not pay any money but rather just relied on the daily login bonus and set out to grind for any currency I lacked. This made the experience start off as a fun game with a simple loop of fighting and upgrading my units. As with most games that feature an XP or currency-based upgrade system the amount of currency or XP required for a level up or upgrade is increasingly high for each new tier. This increase in upgrade prices is unreasonably steep and causes players who are not using micro-transactions to essentially be soft-locked out of the higher level units and even the final worlds of the game. At this point in the game’s progression, it is becoming obvious that the game is designed to have players pony up more than just a few bucks now and again to be able to continue playing.

Is having to pay for a mobile game really that absurd? Well no, it would not be if there was a way to pay one time to remove adds, but there is not. It wouldn’t be so bad if the paid products where at least priced well so that $3.99 (what I would pay for this title if the progression was balanced) got you enough gold to buy all the “base” units, but it is not. Not even close. For example, if someone pays $2.99 they get 500 coins. Several of the low power units cost around 700 coins, and the ones you’ll need halfway through the game’s progression are usually 3,000 – 15,000 coins. See? Not even close… Also to really put the nail in the coffin, the most interesting units are not only super expensive, but they can ONLY be bought with real cash, like the pic below of the super OP SWAT unit bundle, demanding $30.

All the extra bits – everyone loves bonus content!

The development team did seem to add some clever extra bits to the game that are worth mentioning. These extra features are not particularly robust or game-changing but are still worth mentioning. Elements like a simple auto battle PvP mode to get a few extra coins, a bonus game mode that cycles through several options a month, and a community discussion board in the game app that allows people to post fan art, and discuss strategy are all good ideas that add just a little extra content to the game. The bonus game modes and the PvP game show the differences between paying players and free players very obviously, and it is unlikely that non-paying players will be featured on any high score boards.

Conclusion

When considering that the game is soft-locked at higher difficulties unless players pay a unwarranted amount of cash, combined with the clumsy inaccurate nature of the enemies and units, along with essentially all resources being on timers rather than allowing for meaningful or satisfying progressing, Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is a game that has many compelling gameplay elements, but in the end is more frustrating to play than it is fun.

Final Score: 5/10

If you have an experience with this game you want to share, positive or negative feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. As always…

Happy gaming friends!

My Time with Florence

Florence is a game that possesses a level of elegance that is rare in a mobile game. This is of course not the first mobile game to have high artistic aspirations, but it is not often that a project is created with such a pure and simple execution.

Florence is a beautiful mobile game developed by Mountains Studios, and published by Annapurna Interactive.

Equal parts digital comic, and interactive game, Florence tells a story of love that is relatably human, and beautifully artistic. Paired with an incredible soundtrack (which is done by Kevin Penkin) Florence is a truly beautiful piece of art. Deep and moving melodies sweep over the player and transport them into a world where the music takes the place of words, and communicates the experiences and events to the player absent of dialogue. The story is presented to the player through digital comic like frames that feature numerous opportunities for players to interact with the story.For instance when Florence wakes up, and you are able to move a toothbrush around the screen to help her brush her teeth. In one frame she is commuting to work on a bus and the player is able to interact with her social media app on her phone. Little puzzles and interactions like this make the experience of playing Florence fun and whimsical. It should be noted that there is no “losing” in Florence as the story will come to the same conclusion no matter what the player chooses to do. There are a few short puzzles that the player will need to complete in order to move forward, but nothing prohibitively difficult.

My only complaint about Florence is it’s short length. At the end of the game I found myself desperately wanting more of the great experience that I had just walked through. I enjoyed the whole game in one sitting with my wife, which took about 30 minutes or so. Brevity in itself is perhaps not a mark against it, but rather an indication of it’s well executed presentation. It is a short game that wastes no time, and every image and song is a rare form of simple magic. Florence is not one noted as it might seem to be at first glance. Florence explores many aspects of love, self discovery, and the emotions around real decisions that people must make as they grow up. The tone of Florence could be compared somewhat films such as Begin Again, or La La Land, featuring both happy and melancholy moments backed by an exceptional and moving cello soundtrack. Florence is an exceptional example of what great storytelling can be in a digital experience. The specifics of the story are not particularly important as much as the settings and emotions surrounding them.

Because the experience is relatively short it’s hard to talk about the game without giving away too much of the story or showing all the game mechanics. The best thing I can say about it is go get the game, and enjoy it for yourself. I personally really hope that Mountains Studios decides to make more short stories in a similar style but with different settings. Whatever else we get from them in the future, short story or otherwise, I’m sure it will be great.

Florence is currently available on IOS for $3 and coming soon to Android. Next time you want to get lost in a great soundtrack and story, drop a couple bucks and get this great game! The soundtrack is available on Spotify, though I would wait until after you’ve played the game as the songs are listed as all the chapter titles and contain minor spoilers. I’ve been listening for a few days now and thoroughly been enjoying it (seriously, it’s so good!).

Have an awesome day, and Happy Gaming Friends!

Want to help make a game? Join Stormbound’s Create a Card competition!

Stormbound is a game I wrote a review for a while ago when it first came out. Stormbound’s development team even since then has been hard at work making the game better with new cards, performance updates, and new campaign missions. They even added the one thing I criticized them for in my review which was adding a private matchmaking mode! I’m personally still having a great time with it and now the developers want to know what card the community would have added to the game! The coolest thing about this probably is that new abilities and custom art are being taken into consideration for this competition. I personally was hoping for this competition to pool good ideas from the community and produce a new card pack or at least a handful of cards, but it seems that there will only be one new card when the contest is over. The cool thing about this though is that the community gets to submit then vote on ALL aspects of this new card, and therefore will be a product constructed from all the most voted for ideas. There are also various prizes to be won, which according to the contest web page (which you can find here) are as follows:

ALL PARTICIPANTS – When you vote, be sure to include your Player ID number! All participants will receive 1 copy of the new card when it is added to Stormbound. 

CARD ABILITY – Players who submit a Card Ability that makes it into the voting round will receive 100 Rubies! 

CARD NAME – Players who submit a Card Name that makes it into the voting round will receive 100 Rubies! 

The schedule for voting/submissions are here as well. As of now, the first vote has already been cast, but there are still tons of categories to get your submissions in.

DATE(S) VOTING/SUBMISSION ROUND WINNING RESULT(S)
FEB 16 – 19 Vote for Card Type Unit
FEB 20 – 26 Submit Ability Ideas
FEB 27 – MAR 1 Vote for Card Ability
MAR 2 – MAR 5 Vote for Movement Speed
MAR 6 – MAR 13 Vote for Art Sketches
MAR 14 – MAR 19 Vote for Mana Cost
MAR 20 – MAR 26 Vote for Art Coloring
MAR 27 – APR 2 Vote for Strength & Ability Values
APR 3 – APR 9 Submit Name Suggestions
APR 10 – 13 Vote for Card Name

Submit entries and vote on the Contest Web Page.

Good luck everyone, and Happy Gaming!

6 Frantic Multiplayer Indie Games for Your Next Party

It’s been over a month since Christmas and New Years Eve, and all of January I’ve been thinking about how games can bring people together. If your family and friends are anything like mine then you often spend time playing games together. Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, reunions, vacations, etc… Card games, board games, video games, we love them all. It’s true that people tend to think of “party games” as being restricted mainly just to card and board games like Apples to Apples, Exploding Kittens, Cards Against Humanity, and so on. And though those are all great games to play with friends, there are so many video games which are great for entertaining groups of friends and family as well. This last Thanksgiving I even got my grandpa to play Mario Kart 8 on my Switch, which was an amazing and fun experience. He wasn’t that bad actually.

I wish that more people knew about the great wealth of multiplayer indie games that have been developed recently. Not only do playing games with friends make for a fun night because of the social aspect of gathering, but there is something powerful about experiencing interactive media with others that is absent in solely visual entertainment like cinema. Even today in 2018 video games often get the stigma “time wasters” or they are at least seen as  less valuable than film or other forms of art. However much research has gone into studying how games really affect us, and it’s pretty crazy the good things that games can for us. In fact, a friend of mine named Helen Nichols has a great article about “27 Science-Backed Benefits of Video Games” on her site Well Being Secrets, which I totally recommend you check out. I have gathered a list of particularly frantic and chaotic games that are guaranteed to bring your gaming party some big laughs. For your next party instead of breaking out one of your old board games people have played a hundred times, give one of these games a try for something a bit more unique.

There are a lot of classic party hits like Mario Kart, Smash Bros, or whatever COD game is lying around at the time. This list, however, is comprised of games that are a little less well known and have a certain element of frantic cooperation/competition that makes them both amazing couch multiplayer games, and a kick to watch for those who prefer to sip a cocktail and laugh at their friends. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites:

Overcooked

Overcooked is a hilarious, audacious, and generally ridiculous take on a simple teamwork cooking game. Players will be forced to scramble as their food orders pile up, causing them to communicate and strategize to discover the most efficient way to tackle the culinary tasks given to them. Supporting up to 4 players and devoid of any combat mechanics, Overcooked makes for an amazing multiplayer couch game when people want to play something a bit on the silly side. The cooking is pretty normal, it’s the worlds that get weird. Players will be asked to cook in moving cars, pirate ships, on ice floats, volcanoes, during earthquakes, and even in space! Different maps bring different mechanics that the players will have to deal with, for extra zainy fun. Overcooked is probably the most accessible and crowd friendly game on this list. It’s also available on a lot of platforms, being playable on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and through Steam.

Crawl

Crawl is somewhat comparable to Smash Bros, not so much in the match time, structure, or mood, but rather that one player always comes out on top, there are temporary alliances, crazy frantic arcade action, and everyone starts off equal every time. Though playable with 2 or 3 players, Crawl is at it’s best (and deadliest) with all 4 players battling for 1st. Arcade paced action with full controller support makes Crawl an amazing couch multiplayer game! Teams are constantly changing, and even when you “lose” by dying, you then re-join the other specters to torment the new survivor! This revolving door of alliances makes the already chaotic battle game that much more frantic and fun. Players struggle and race for the good shop items in an attempt to gain an edge against the overwhelming odds stacked against them, making the game fun for spectators to cheer for their hero of choice.

The pixel art in Crawl is simply amazing, and the whole game is a joy to behold (well, it’s also incredibly dark and ominous in presentation, but in that chilling, charming kind of way). Will the top player make it to that last dungeon room to fight the boss and win, or will they fall, leaving room for another t0 rise to the challenge? Crawl is relatively easy for new players to jump into. The game difficulty comes not in learning the controls, but simply with practice, as basically all creatures/weapons have no more than 2 attacks. Players who have played other combat driven games will obviously do better than those who don’t. Even so, it’s not too hard to learn the basics. With a relatively easy entry,  4 player controller support, and fast chaotic action, Crawl is perfect for groups big groups.

Crypt of the NecroDancer

Crypt of the Necrodancer is one of my favorite discoveries of 2015, and even though the game is a few years old now it still remains to be one of the most unique and fun multiplayer game experiences I’ve enjoyed. Though the game is only playable with 2 players at a time, it still makes for a great party game as the rounds can be fast (especially when death comes fast for inexperienced players). The overall vibe of the game is so wacky and fun it makes for a fun spectator game. NecroDancer is effectively half rhythm game, half dungeon crawler, empowering players to dance and fight to the groovy beats. This one is a bit harder for newbies to get used to, but can be very compelling to pass a few controllers around on death, due to the short round/level time. The frustrations that can accompany a unique and new game such as NecroDancer are somewhat relieved by the fact that the game is cooperative. What better way to dance battle against hoards of groovy undead than with a friend to struggle through it with. At any rate, whether you are a master at this odd DDR/D&D mix or a rookie scared to try to moonwalk, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a hilarious, creative, and fun game to share with friends. The sounds track is killer and should be enjoyed with that volume knob cranked up. It should also be mentioned that it’s a roguelike and the levels are procedurally generated, so even for veterans, the journey is new every time.

Invisigun Heroes

Invisigun Heroes is one of those games that didn’t seem to make as big of a media impact as it deserves. Though one could argue that operating under the radar is what Invisigun Heroes does best, as all the characters in the game are invisible. Even with the extended clip of gameplay, it’s a little hard to make out what exactly is even happening on screen. To really get the hang of Invisigun Heroes you really do have to just try it. This is certainly the game with the hardest level of entry on this list, but that is kinda one of the things that makes it so good. Essentially the game is a simple shooter with the one exception that everyone is cloaked until they fire, which briefly reveals their location. Players are all essentially just guessing where they are will inevitably bump into things causing trees to shake, leaving footprints in sand and snow, splashing water, and even sometimes run into each other. It’s kinda like playing tag in the dark in a small room, but in a good way!

The pixel art and level design is great, and the creative list of playable characters put unique and interesting abilities in the player’s hands. Invisigun Heroes works just as well with 2 players as it does with 4, and the map list is actually quite impressive, allowing for tons of variety in what is otherwise a fairly simple and straightforward game. As in Overcooked, the different worlds bring crazy obstacles all players will have to be wary of. In Invisigun Heroes though players can use these environmental elements to help them find, trap, trick, and kill other players. Ice levels have yeti’s that will pop out of caves, Egyptian themed levels have switches that toggle obstacles, and some factory stages even have cameras that will reveal players locations making them easy targets. A well-placed shot or trap is hard to master, but so satisfying when you do.  Though tricky to get used to, this game is perfect for parties as a match can be over in as little as 30 seconds. Line up 10 matches in a row, or surrender your controller after each kill to keep the action moving. Invisigun Heroes is available on Steam and itch.io.

The Bug Butcher

The Bug Butcher is another game that is only playable with up to 2 players, but it makes for a great heart pounding, high score chasing experience. Quick gameplay and level based challenges make for an easygoing controller passing experience. It’s probably better suited for playing with just one other person and working through the levels in order, but because the levels are so short (under 5 min to beat usually), and the game is so good I thought it deserved a mention here. This game is actually available on mobile devices which is where I played the majority of the campaign, but as far as I know, the multiplayer experience is only available on PC. The hand-drawn style graphics and visual design are awesome. I sincerely hope there is a Bug Butcher 2 at some point in the future.  The Bug Butcher is a simple but incredibly fun game, which you can read my full review of here.

Genital Jousting

And finally, we end our list with the crowning gaming creation that is…yes, Genital Jousting. This game is exactly what it sounds like, a game about dicks. It is hilariously irreverent and not at all ashamed of what it is. This game will at least be a hilarious conversation starter if nothing else. I do know this game can be a little bit divisive however as you really kinda have to know your audience with this one. Many people are likely to be offended, awkward, or even just grossed out by Genital Jousting (which is fair, cause it does get pretty gross). But that’s also part of the fun of it; It’s a crazy game where silly dick things play a ton of silly dick games that are somehow simultaneously sexual and routine. Maybe you want your willy to walk his/her dog (and yes, it’s a wiener dog). Perhaps you and your phallic friends will be racing, or playing soccer, or picking flowers, or a number of other preposterous competitions that real world wieners should never do. This game is awesome for parties because it’s not very technically demanding, and it’s playable with up to an insane max of 8 players! This weird and creative game is admittedly, very gross, but also in the same measure, strangely endearing.

That’s my list of 6 frantic multiplayer indie games for your next party. I hope they bring joy (and a little chaos) to your next Friday night gathering. If you have other great couch multiplayer games you like, let us know in the comments! And as always…

Happy Gaming Friends!

New info about Darkest Dungeon’s next DLC: The Color of Madness!

As a huge fan of the Gothic/Lovecraft RPG Darkest Dungeon, I am PUMPED to hear that Redhook Studios is hard at work on yet more content for the already amazing game! This new DLC is set to release Spring of 2018, and is introducing totally new themes and mechanics which appear to be a direct reference to the H. P. Lovecraft story of the similar name: “The Colour out of Space”. So far we know that the DD version of this story will focus on a cosmic evil crashing to earth, bringing new and terrifying enemies (and new cosmic trinkets) to the Hamlet. Lovecraft stories are often centered around ideas of infinite space and the unknowability of the universe, and I feel this is a theme that DD has actually not represented visually very much. There are the overall themes of insanity, Eldritch powers of evil, and hopelessness in the face of infinity, but visually we have nothing like The Dreamlands, Moon Beasts, or the space dwelling Outer Gods. The one exception I can think of is the Shambler fights in the void, which I actually loved as a nod to some of Lovecraft’s more galactic settings. Darkest Dungeon so far seems to focus more on the inner fight between evil and virtue in the game’s heroes, as well as dealing with righting the wrongs of another human. I’m excited to see the game deal more with outside and alien evils assaulting The Hamlet!

So far the other DLCs and updates have all been great, especially the insidiously creative campaign in The Crimson Court, which was SO GOOD! (Though extremely difficult at times).

According to the Darkest Dungeon Website, the new DLC will include:

  • “A New Quest Type: Get lost in time and space as you confront unending waves of enemies, new and old, pushing ever closer to the crash site of the Comet.  Survive as long as you can stomach, and compare your highest kill count with friends and rivals alike!”
  • “A New Enemy Faction: The husks of the Miller and his farmhands roam the area around the windmill, spreading the all-consuming influence of the Comet’s light.”
  • “Powerful New Trinkets: Visit the Nomad Wagon and spend Comet Shards to purchase trinkets with new and powerful functionality.”

The introduction of new enemies and new trinket powers sounds great. And I LOVE the idea of having an aray of cosmic or glowing enemies that look different than the gross grimy monsters we’ve had to slay so far. Darkest Dungeon has always drawn heavily from Lovecraft stories, and I’m super pleased (and a little scared) that this expansion appears to be a more direct retelling of an existing Lovecraft story. Redhook studios will announce the price next year, and hopefully (please, please, please) drop a trailer.

If you have not played the base game yet, and it sounds at all compelling to you, I highly recommend you try it. The game is brutally hard and can feel even unfair at times, but deep game mechanics and intense setting make the game hugely rewarding. Darkest veterans, keep up the good fight, and keep those blades sharp; We have new horrors to slay this Spring!

Happy Gaming Friends!

Does Stormbound have what it takes to become huge?

Stormbound is a unique battle card game emerging in a sea of competitors. Though it has nowhere close to the amount of content as something like Hearthstone, it has one unique trait that could possibly help it find it’s own dedicated audience, and that is that the whole game is played out on a 4×5 chess like board.

Developer: Paladin Studios

Publisher: Kongregate

Stormbound feels as much like a board game as it does a card game, implementing equal parts deck building and tactical strategy. I’m sure that initially, it is possible that many trading card veterans could be put off by Stormbound’s simplistic look and (relatively) small card library. The addition of units that move and battle on a physical board, however, makes its strategy different enough from similar games to stand out. The only question in my mind at this time however is; Does Stormbound have what it takes to be as fun and compelling for experienced players as it is right now in it’s beginning?

I’m happy to make it no secret that I personally am having a great time with the game. I have a few reservations that I will discuss, but generally speaking, the beginning of this game is really cool. I appreciate the style and execution and find it generally fun, but also challenging to master.

One of the biggest things that Stormbound is missing in its current state is a way to square up against specific other players. There isn’t a pass-and-play option or private online matchmaking. The matches are ranked, but they are always against random players. The campaign is relatively short and is essentially just to help new players learn the game and gain some helpful cards, while also getting a taste for the different play styles of the 4 factions. The bulk of the game is all about online battles; about testing your skills and decks against other players. Since the main hook of the game is competitive online play it seems only natural that the excitement of head-to-head fights would only increase with private matchmaking. Everyone wants their friends to play the same competitive games as them, usually, so they can crush and destroy friends and family, as we all like to do from time to time. That being said the game has ranked matchmaking so that at least you square up against people of a similar strength deck/player level.

 

Like pretty much any other mobile deck building game these days, you can spend currency (in-game “coins”, or premium “gems”), to upgrade cards, so having ranked matches is important. The loop of winning coins and cards to enhance, customize and upgrade your deck gives Stormbound a feeling of progression; an important quality in any trading card game for sure. The player ranks are all reset every month so everyone ranked at #1 will be reset to 30 (which is really much higher as each level has several stages), giving everyone a chance to work towards rank based rewards each month. The downside to all this is that as is the case with most free-to-play games in this genre, the progression can be a slog. Grinding for coins/gems can take forever. The third currency (fusion stones) are used for crafting new cards, and are earned only when players reach higher ranks. This can be difficult for low-level players as the grind for coins is slow and without at least some upgraded cards reaching those higher ranks is much more difficult.

I so far have not spent any money playing Strombound, and am finding that I can still enjoy building relatively diverse decks. There was at one time a welcome card pack you could purchase which if that was available again I think I would consider buying that, but otherwise I feel the game does not force players to spend currency to win, but rather rewards players for spending time with the game, and offers the option for purchasing cards to quickly expand the range of deck strategies available.

Even better news is that the game seems to have a team behind it that are continually adding balancing and quality of life updates. Recently there have been many free gifts to players (Halloween gift, loyal player thanks you, etc…) which is helping with the previously mentioned currency problems. I think that though it might have a slow start, if Paladin Studios continues to add content and support, Stormbound could do quite well. The combination of card collection and tactical army strategy is actually done really well. I’m still having fun playing it, and I sincerely hope that soon we get new cards that further develop the currently implemented gameplay mechanics. If It is going to be able to stay fresh and alive in a competitive market I think continued content additions are necessary. For now I’m gonna keep chasing that 1st place rank with my favorite decks! “Long live the Ironclad Union!”

Strombound is currently available and 100% free to play, and is available on IOS and the Google Play store. We would love to hear your thoughts about Stormbound, please feel free to let us know what you think of the game in the comments section below. And as always…

Happy Gaming Friends!

Happy 5th of November Everyone!

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot!”

I hope that November is finding you warm and with some great videogames to play. There certainly is a good selection right now with the release of Assassin’s Creed Origins, COD WWII, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Damn a lot of cool AAA games are all coming out now!

Today is of course the 5th of Nov, so I will be watching V for Vendetta tonight myself. For those who have never seen it, you absolutely have to go watch it ASAP. Though the film can at times seem more like a gritty bizarre superhero movie, the depth of truth in it’s themes are possibly even more relevant now in the USA than they were when the movie was released. Similar to the classic novel 1984 the film captures such a great example of how tyranny can grow and develop even in a modern western nation if it’s people are not cautious. Aristotle’s work “Politics”, specifically the section about the signs of an oppressive leader are all portrayed in V for Vendetta with a modern adaption, showing how it’s just as true now as it was in the ancient world. The movie is not perfect and of course, and there are many different ways to solve problems without violence. V for vendetta will still be a personal favorite and it’s depth of subject matter deals with so many things that have happened in history already (oppression of homosexuals, secret police, government censorship, loss of religious rights, etc). Let us not forget history, that we may not repeat it.

Hope all is well and that you enjoyed your Halloween. I highly encourage you to watch V for vendetta tonight and enjoy all of it’s cult-classic glory. If you’re not feeling it now, at least enjoy the best movie monologue ever.

Happy 5th, and happy gaming friends!

Find Death in 1,000 places in Badland 2!

For those who seek visceral death in bizarre, creepy fantasy lands, look no farther! Badland 1 was a great journey through a machine infested forest, and if you liked that then Badland 2 is the experience you’re looking for!

In 2013 Frogmind released the incredibly fresh and sharp game Badland. The original was compelling, surprising, eerie, and exhilarating. With the Game of the Year Edition bringing the single player level count to 100, I thought I probably didn’t want more Badland. After a few levels of Badland 2, I quickly changed my mind.

It should be noted that Badland 2 has been out for well over a year, but I personally hadn’t spent much time with it until just recently, and I think that it is well worth a mention here as a great indie mobile game recommendation. The game is a little old but still stands up incredibly well and is just as amazing as some of the better mobile games of this year.

Setting: Bizarre lands, familiar and new. The setting of Badland 2 starts off pretty much the same as the original. The unmistakable whimsy of Badland is seen through all the eerie and beautiful levels. The small fragile creature you control flaps through a twisted quiet forest that has been infested with machines. The sharp contrast between nature and metal starts as a familiar, yet effective mood. As the levels continue however the biome of the levels changes, introducing more realized versions of past level variations. Snow levels have new environmental challenges, like ice beams. Fire levels have lava flows, heat lamps, and lasers…so many lasers. And finally the hero (and their many clones) find themselves in an all new sort of void environment, with floating green plasma, new gravity mechanics, and puzzles.

No matter the color and style of the environments and puzzles, Bandland 2 is still very much the same game as the original at heart,  which is perfect. Any large departure from the original game mechanics would likely be a loss. The squeal feels much more like a natural progression from where the first game left off.

Gameplay: New Layers of Paint on the Same, Wonderful Game. For those who have not played the first installation, essentially the objective of any level is to get at least one of the flying (or rolling) creatures that you control to the end alive. Though there are other objectives, which i’ll talk about in a minute, this all the player needs to do to win any given level. There are of course always a gauntlet of spines, explosives, lasers, waterfalls, pits, and lava (to name a few) which the player must carefully avoid on their way to the goal. The controls are super easy to use, just tap the left or right side of the screen to move in that direction and keep from falling for a second. This creates a simple but challenging task as flying through levels usually demands a lot of avoiding things.

Some of my favorite times with Badland 2 (and 1 for that matter), are levels that incorporate a lot of the pick-ups that change speed and slow time. These are often combined with cloning pick-ups will split and duplicate the little creatures. There are some incredible moments in Badland 2 particularly that give the player a brief feeling of being out of control. Having  50 clones tear across an open map full of saws at super speed, then dramatically slowing time just before they all die is an example of the kinds of things that this game will impose upon it’s players. One new addition to the squeal is the occasional ability to stop time, which makes for some amazing moments. There are also pick-ups that will make the clones sticky, bouncy, fat and heavy, or tiny and fast. This makes for tons of crazy combinations that are tricky but always fun to experiment with.

Difficulty: Change your goals to change difficulty. Though the main goal of any given level is always to get at least one clone to the end, levels always have secondary objectives like getting a certain number of clones to the end, losing no clones, or finishing the level in one try. This challenge based objective system allows players to progress through most levels simply attempting them multiple times, while also allowing experienced players to challenge themselves by aiming for more specific (and much harder) goals. This allows Badland to be what the player wants; An atmospheric immersive experience, or a tight difficult set of challenges.

Badland 2 is not really new anymore, but it still holds up as one of my personal favorite mobile games. If you decide to get into the greatness that is the Badland games, bigger screens if available are recommended along with headphones. The game’s soundtrack is subtle but all the sound design blends together to make for a great audio experience. Badland 2 is available on Android and IOS. I believe that the only difference is that the IOS version is $4, while the Android version is free but plays ads unless you pay to remove them. Badland 1 Game of the Year edition is available on Steam for $10, with controls and levels adapted for PC. This Steam version also features a 4 player mode to play with friends!

The Badland games are some of my favorites for playing in my spare time and I defiantly recommend them to anyone at all interested!

As always, happy gaming friends!