The Outlast Trials is Worth Buying

Outlast has made an invariable impression on my horror taste buds, and I’m well and truly addicted to the gameplay loop it offers. I haven’t bothered to touch the second game, but I DID recently pick up The Outlast Trials on Steam with a friend of mine. In short, the game is worth buying. Try it out.

Aside from satisfying the itch I have for the surprisingly fun Paranoia Place, The Outlast Trials has been a solid experience that provides intriguing and rewarding progression. A strength that is coupled, and surpassed, by its ability to pull the Outlast formula from its predecessors and lather it into a series of short-lived trials that have great replay value and a fun ranking system to boot.

When played alone, I imagine even outlast vets will find the first few hours a horrifying experience, at least. But when paired with a friend or, sides forbid, three, the game quickly becomes a (fun) clown fiesta that pairs teamwork with trying to screw over your partners in crime. If you haven’t heard your friend’s reaction when locking them in a room with a psychotic murderer, then you owe it to yourself to pick up The Outlast Trials.

As far as gameplay goes, you can’t really go wrong with the formula here: Stealth gameplay mixed with inventory management and the apprehension associated with the ne’er-do-wells of the day. Objective hunting ala Dead by Daylight combined with resource hunting is the name of the game, and you’ll be beating a sweat while accomplishing your tasks.

Afterwards, The Outlast Trials offer up engrossing rewards for their players; Rig upgrades to be used in-game, passive upgrades that can be bought with the in-game currency, and aesthetic changes for your cell, which other players can come visit.

Progression aside, all you really want to play this game for is either the horror repetitive aspect of nailing a specific trial with an A rank or to mess around with your friends in a clown fiesta. Either way, you can’t lose (unless you die.)


Console Gaming is Dying

In 2005, the newly released Xbox 360 marked a reasonable progression in gaming power over its predecessor and gave the impression of newness that gamers could look forward to. In the same likeness, the Xbox One pushed things forward into the general entertainment niche, which padded the overall weaknesses the console faced in relation to the home-built PC.

The same logic and progression can be applied to Sony’s PlayStation, from 2 all the way to 4. And now we’re at a place where the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5, the two latest models from these companies, are remarkably weak from a technical perspective compared to their PC peers, but also leave a strong sense of regret on a large chunk of their consumer base after purchase.

Let’s go over the biggest weaknesses of the modern console and why I think that, despite being a huge market currently, the writing is on the wall for the convenient gaming square.

Simply put, the hardware sucks, is overpriced to use, and isn’t nearly as versatile for the average user as a simple PC running on Windows.

The Xbox Series X is currently running on Zen2 AMD microarchitecture. Naturally, Microsoft couldn’t include the Zen3 upgrades that were to be released five days prior to the Series X. But you, the PC user, could have.

This should go without saying, but if you plan on playing video games then you should be aware that stronger hardware will result in a better gaming experience. And up to this point, Microsoft and Sony have been able to circumnavigate this weak hardware problem by forcing developers to curtail their products for the consoles.

This solution, while profitable, is unsustainable: First, because the consumer base is no longer unaware of how weak their hardware is compared to the price they’re paying for it. When someone drops 500 dollars on a console, 60-240 dollars on new controllers, 70 dollars for each game they want to play, and then another 80 dollars annually to play said games over the internet they already pay for, they are more likely going to feel a searing sense of regret over where their money has gone than they used to.

The idea that a PC might cost more than a console, too, isn’t a good excuse for this kind of purchase when you look at how those expenditures are adding up. Take, for instance, a home-built PC that features a 3060Ti GPU and a 5700X CPU. These two purchases add up to $430, roughly speaking. Throw in all the other necessities for a home-built and you’re likely going to be sitting around 800 dollars, if you’re cheap. That’s 800 dollars in total vs. the minimum 630 dollars for the PS5, not including the online subscription.

That 800 dollars gives a marginal increase in GPU performance over the Series X, but gives a huge performance increase in the 5700X CPU, which functions one full generation ahead of the custom-made CPU featured in the Series X. Then, it must be said, that the PC offers users a ton of extra longevity in its lifespan over the Series X. If your memory goes bust on your PC, you can just buy another SSD and stick it in an M.2 slot. Or buy a cheap SATA drive.

But what happens if your Series X dies out? Are you going to rely on external memory for all of your gaming needs? Most likely not, and that means you’ll need to send it in for repairs, which means extra time and money out of your pocket. All the while the PC community would have their hardware replaced in no time at all and with ease. (And did I mention that they wouldn’t be paying for the right to play their games online all the while? Well they wouldn’t be.)

This principle goes for any other part of the PC that might need to be replaced: you can do it yourself with nothing but fifteen minutes and a YouTube video. Not so with an Xbox.

The second reason this is unsustainable is down to developer resources. Because developers are tasked with spending more resources to make their product accessible via console, they have less resources to actually develop a universal standard for their games.

I’m sure we all still remember the release of CyberPunk. And I’m not trying to argue that 2077 would have been a better game outright had CDPR been allowed to focus on the PC release, but it’s impossible to say that by delegating resources to create different ports for CyberPunk, CDPR somehow had a better product overall on release day.

As games become more and more expensive relative to their single purchase (and DLC additions or battle-pass-esque micros), developers are going to be looking to cut corners to save on cash. Right now, that corner tends to be gameplay-related, and that probably won’t change. BUT, imagine a world where the brunt of that cost saved is simply refusing to spend more time porting their game to a console that doesn’t make up a huge market share of the customer base?

That isn’t the world we’re living in right now, but from my perspective, all we’re missing is one good-at-advertising prebuilt PC company to come through with a “basic PC package” campaign to steal up the plug-n-play crowd and BAM, you suddenly have the console experience on a cheaper and more versatile machine (that doesn’t cost anything extra for internet use.)


An Ode to The Last of Us

I was fifteen when I first played The Last of Us. The remastered version for the PS4 was the bread and butter of the hours spent post-surgery after tearing my ACL. That meant for just about an entire month, I played through the game roughly four times, taking breaks in between every few chapters to rewatch the “behind the scenes” footage that came with the title.

I had completely fallen for the characters and the story, and each time I finished the game, I felt a little more whole than before (and much more sad). Something about Joel and Ellie’s relationship just called me back to the start menu any time I was conscious. It’s not like I had much to do in the early days of recovery, anyway. But I could have been playing other games, or reading, or writing. Ultimately no, I really wasn’t interested in any of that. I just wanted TLOU.

Watching the actors deliver their performances, watching Gustavo Santaolalla walk me through his creative process, and seeing Neil Druckmann explain the nuances between his vision and commanding a whole studio of animators, audio designers, writers, and other artists made playing the game seem all the more enticing. And playing the game made learning more about seem all the more rewarding. And this cycle repeated itself until, finally, it was easy to say that I simply loved the game.

It is the first title I can say that I truly loved, even before Dark Souls found its way into my library. I haven’t touched TLOU in years, but that vault is best left closed. On the one hand, I’d be enthralled with the idea of another game reaching the near-perfection TLOU did, and in quite a similar fashion. On the other hand, I don’t know if I have the energy or time to be grasped by a title like TLOU grasped me way back when.

It’s a shower of brilliant art, and I’m lucky to have been here to witness it.


I Both Love and Hate Leveling in Oblivion

Oblivion’s leveling system, although just about exactly the same as Morrowind’s, is pinned into an area of dissatisfaction thanks to the game’s punishing enemy scaling. Where Morrowind saw the player character become godlike whether they wanted to or not, Oblivion’s player characters stay, at best, equal with the world around them and only when messing about with lower difficulties as the game progresses.

This is only true, of course, when you play the game naturally. If you take the tedious time required set up a class that’s going to be leveled efficiently, Oblivion suddenly becomes a very fun game of hop, skips, and careful jumps through levels. Very fun is subjective, of course, and actually pretty inaccurate some of the time, but I’d be lying if I said that the idea of starting up a run right now just to rush 100 endurance wasn’t at least in part enchanting.

Despite loving Morrowind infinitely more than my passing affection for Oblivion, I like the games for two different reasons. I don’t care for Oblivion’s story, or combat mechanics, or dialogue, or roleplaying opportunities. All of that love goes straight to Morrowind. With Oblivion, I just love trying to optimize characters and the world they live in. That’s it.

It’s actually a pretty shameful reality to acknowledge, but if Oblivion had a much more lenient enemy scaling system, I’d probably like leveling much less, but everything else about the game much more. And, somehow, I don’t think I’d make that trade.

You see, Oblivion occupies that space in my mind that doesn’t want to be tampered with. It isn’t perfect, or even above average most of the time, but it serves its purpose for someone like me who wants to learn to optimize a game in an extremely punishing and tedious environment. This is the same kind of fun that can be had in a game like OSRS or Dark Souls (though neither game is comparable to Oblivion in very many ways).

Morrowind and Skyrim have better leveling systems, and yet I find neither of their leveling systems as satisfying as Oblivion’s leveling system. It’s backward, it’s unintuitive, and punitive. And I love it (and hate it.)


Why You’re Addicted to Skyrim

The nature of Bethesda games is a bit strange. I went over the details in a recent post, but the gist of it is a matter of evolving game design and trying new things. At least, that was the case in the era that Skyrim came out.

Skyrim was wholly enraptured in its ability to keep the player trained on a fixed amount of activities. The entire game revolved around that principle: one quest will open the doors to a couple of other quests and/or activities/locations. It gave the player a rather self-indulgent amount of mindless roaming to enjoy, and did so at the cost of a difficult and grounded world, a tried and true leveling system, and a level of writing that bothered the mind for more than a couple seconds of “yeah whatever’s”.

Despite these sacrifices, which are about as close to objective downgrades from previous iterations of the Elder Scrolls formula as you can get (aside from the leveling system, which beat out Oblivion’s by a huge margin), Skyrim managed to strike a perfect balance between involved world and mindless leveling/gameplay. The equilibrium between these two forces was so perfect that Bethesda, as a profit-first studio, is still banking on making another game that matches it (and it won’t).

But this equilibrium stands the test of time and proves to be the right variable in creating a game that is just so mindlessly entertaining to play. You don’t have to think, you don’t have to pen and paper your way through it, you don’t have to do anything but swing away and gear up your character. It’s just so satisfying.

Image via Bethesda

Satisfying, of course, doesn’t equal quality. But that’s really the point, isn’t it? A game doesn’t need to be quality to be satisfying, and sometimes high-quality games are less fun to play than comparable games of lower quality with a more relaxing gameplay loop simply because they don’t require any work to understand.

I’d compare this phenomenon with movies to better understand it: a three hour piece of high art is, for many of us, harder to commit to watching than a one and half hour comedy about XY or Z precisely because it wasn’t made with the intention of requiring any work on the part of the viewer. This is true even if everything you know about the former leads you to believe that it is, in your opinion, simply better as a film.

The same is true for books, music, and, yes, video games. Skyrim is that one and a half hour (unintentional) comedy. A game like Morrowind is the piece of high art that simply doesn’t beckon a player back with as much fervor as its younger brother. And that’s fine, I don’t hold that against or for either game, but it is the way it is for most us for a reason.

I’ve started so many playthroughs of Skyrim. I’ve tried just about every playstyle at every difficulty, and have done all of the major quest lines the game has to offer a few times over. And yet, despite this, the game still calls to me. I don’t even consider it to be that great of a game. I think, all things considered, it’s fine. Good. Decent, etc. And yet, here I sit. Typing away just to keep my mind off the game like it’s an addiction (because it is.)


Riot Games to Get Rid of Unique Summoner Names

Riot Games, developer of League of Legends, Legends of Runeterra, and Valorant (among others) will be getting rid of their player base’s unique summoner names. This change comes, seemingly, out of left field, and has been met with overwhelming backlash.

On Nov. 20th we’re phasing out Summoner Names and shifting exclusively to Riot IDs. We’re committed to making this transition smooth and keeping you connected to your gaming identity.”

-Riot Games

The studio announced via twitter that the change would be taking place as a means to bring the naming system across all of their games in line with the lore of the League of Legends universe. That is, summoners, which players represent, don’t actually exist, and so calling their IDs “Summoner names” is counter-intuitive. That’s the reasoning Riot gave the community, at the very least.

In all likelihood, this change is the result of Riot needing to bring a new level of consistency to their methods of tracking their playerbase beyond a summoner ID. Why they’d need to do that is beyond me, but clearly, the reasoning they gave the community is corporate dog water that people are refusing to lap up.

If the issue was a level of lore accuracy, then Riot could have just changed the name of “summoner names” to “riot names” or something similar while keeping the same unique naming system. The fact that they didn’t and instead opted to make in-game user names no longer unique is evidence that the uniqueness of a username, and the inability for others to make that exact same name, is somehow causing trouble for their future plans.

Whether or not the studio will give more detailed (and hopefully accurate) information on the subject remains to be seen. But as it stands, the vast majority of the Rito community is collectively losing their minds. (R.I.P. Hide on bush)


Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord is an Unfun Grind (That I Enjoy)

There’s little more that needs to be said than “smithing” when talking about the absolutely strange design choices seen in Bannerlord that lead the game to become a tedious walk of trying to break the game instead of playing it naturally. But that’s only true when talking to veterans of the Mount and Blade series, so I’ll pretend you know nothing about it and explain myself.

Bannerlord is the second installment in the Mount and Blade series. Its ultimate goal as a game was to refine the gameplay offered by its predecessor, Warband. The meat of which amounted to roaming around a kingdom divided, offering your warband’s military prowess to various lords in return for cash, favor, and, ultimately, land. Acquiring land and becoming king of your own kingdom, too, was the ultimate goal of the game, generally speaking. In Bannerlord, the name of the game is just the same. Roam the lands, get into fights, and build up a reputation that can back a King.

The problem with Bannerlord in relation to its predecessor, in my opinion, is that it mars this gameplay loop with a collection of outrageous design choices that benefit grindy tactics as opposed to leaning on the strengths that it has as a medieval battle sim. Where Warband annoyed players because of its dated combat, troop control scheme, and limited diplomatic features, Bannerlord annoys players because of its intentional design: Clearing bandit camps is a tedious and needlessly long game of sending your troops while alt-tabbing to do something else, grinding out skills and controlling the development of your own family and companions is unbelievably taxing on the fun to be had in the moment to moment fluidity of Bannerlord thanks to the perk system and steep XP curve, while the quest system, in some cases, finds itself wanting with groups of easy-to-accomplish and lucrative quests that one completes on repeat while others are borderline cheese with their impossible-to-fail, easy-to-bore design, such as the “Inn and out” quest which gives the player no opportunity to scale up skills, but still requires a rather large time investment for what amounts to beating poorly designed AI in a game of Calradic Checkers.

The Second-Worst of it is the Skill System

Image via TaleWorlds Entertainment

The almost most egregious of the problems aforementioned is the skill system. When grinding out skills in Warband, the player character didn’t have to worry about the perk system. That is to say, the player character did not need to make perk selections at every meaningful juncture in XP gain. Instead, the player would update their favorite skill, assign some weapon points, and be on their way. Bannerlord took this system and added perks on top of it so that when each skill hits a certain milestone, the player is offered the choice between two choices that give respective bonuses.

Ignoring the fact that these bonuses, in most cases, are wildly different in power levels, the most annoying thing about this is that each of these decisions has to be made for family members and companions. And before you say “You can enable the auto-perk selection options!”, remember that these perks are wildly different in power levels. That is to say, one is going to be useful, while the other is going to be useless.

This means that rolling the dice on whether or not an important companion gets a perk that does not affect the weapons they use isn’t a viable option. A system that could fix this would include giving the game a learning system for perk selection that opts to select perks that benefit an NPC’s habits, but even that wouldn’t solve the severe power discretion they suffer from. And even a fix to that doesn’t change the outrageous grind being asked of players to cap out their skills.

Take trading, for example. If you google “how to get 300 trading Bannerlord“, you do not get a collection of responses telling you to trade effectively. Instead, you get responses detailing how to exploit the game because the actual methods for XP gain are both painfully slow and dreadfully boring. You’d think a game about leading parties and kingdoms would reward the player with trade XP for conducting all kinds of business ventures, but instead, you only get XP for trading at a profit within your own party. No other forms of business matter, which means your caravans and businesses, even when operating at massive profits, yield no XP. You’ll be spending the entirety of your characters 50-70 years trading at a profit in tedious fashion just for the option to buy a few settlements that you could have just taken via combat.

And that leads us back to smithing. Another skill that turns the game into an absolute nightmare of tedium and balance issues. Smithing, conceptually, should have been a way to let the player roleplay as a tradesperson. Instead, it functions as a means to buy out the entire wealth of kingdoms. No, seriously. If you make a weapon that is moderately sharper and longer than other weapons you can find on dead looters, the whole of Calradia will go bankrupt trying to buy it.

It’s goofy, and while I like developers taking chances on outrageous balancing, this feels like an oversight more than it does a legitimate, immersive way to play the game. This feeling doubles over with the boredom factor as it asks you to manually rest your character in between smithing and smelting items to simulate the passing of time instead of just passing the time in relation to how much you’ve smithed. That sounds like a non-issue, but anyone who has tried leveling smithing knows how tedious it is to hop back and forth between the various UI just to facilitate smelting down one skirmish’s worth of loot.

The Actual Worst of it

The worst part of all this is that I like it. The strengths of the game, that is, the combat, sieging, currying favor with lords, and watching your Warband grow in size and quality, are stronger than the game’s weaknesses are annoying. It puts the player in a strange position of loving the game when the game is good and absolutely dreading it when it’s fucky, for lack of a better word. I honestly find myself having a better time playing Vanilla Warband over Bannerlord just because the former does not seek to waste my time in ways that Bannerlord chooses to.

I give credit to TaleWorlds Entertainment where it’s due: They’ve been consistently updating the game and making improvements to the basic functions found within, so I can count on some of these issues being addressed. That said, I have only so much patience. And at the current point in time, I’d much rather spend my days with something that I don’t have to make exceptions for.


Bethesda Won’t Make Another Decent Game

I’m not speaking in any form of exaggeration when I say that Bethesda, as a studio, won’t make another decent video game. I mean that quite literally. I waited on Starfield before writing an article such as this, but that game has come and gone, and my suspicions were confirmed: The studio is now too big to produce unapologetically groundbreaking titles.

Between Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, there is not a single person on earth who could have predicted what one of these games would have been like solely by playing the game that came before it. That’s in part due to developing technology, but even factoring that out of the equation, each of these games tried things that weren’t necessarily new, but definitely innovative on The Elder Scrolls’ formula.

Daggerfall an was overwhelmingly audacious title that put its faith in the players’ intellect and the maps’ auto-generated content. Morrowind kept the respect for the players’ intelligence, but swapped the auto generated content out for a handcrafted Vvardenfell. Oblivion kept the handcrafted world, but swapped the respect for the players’ intelligence for a streamlined (and deeply flawed) leveling system. Skyrim kept both of those, but leaned heavily into an even more refined, hand-held leveling system and an evolved, highly satisfying combative gameplay.

And like I said, one couldn’t take any of these Bethesda creations and predict what would come after them. In all likelihood, a player wouldn’t even come close. Can the same be said for predicting what TES6 will be like by looking at Skyrim? I don’t think so. I think even the most casual of Bethesda fans will be able to get an accurate picture of TES6 by simply inferring what might come after Skyrim.

Go on, try to imagine it. Do you see what I see? Why, It’s TES6! And it looks like Skyrim, with slightly smoother graphics, a much clickier-clackier third-person perspective, and some weapons from Morrowind have been brought back (because I’m an optimist). The perk tree might be reworked and more interesting, but guess what? It’s Starfield as seen in Tamriel. No new innovative ways to play, no reworked perk tree, and no improved (and more demanding) graphical development is going to make that shell of a game worth playing. In short, TES6 won’t be decent because to be a decent Bethesda game is to compete with the quality of Bethesda games that actually tried to evolve the formula, which includes risk, which is a no-no for developers who answer to Zenimax (who answer’s to Xbox Game Studios (who answers to Microsoft, ha!)).

I hope for the sake of my RPG fixation that I’m wrong and Bethesda takes my opinion and shoves it, but honestly, my money is on the Indie developers of tomorrow, not the big B.


Convince the Women in Your life to Play Stardew Valley

I don’t think there’s any real barrier that blocks women from enjoying gaming aside from the early cultural brigade that is the remnants of 1990s advertising. Between my love/hate relationship with League of Legends and the love/love relationship with all of the other games I play, including Stardew Valley, there isn’t a single personality trait that could attach itself to my passion for video games that women don’t also have. Call me a baffoon, but I really think the canyon that segregates the sexes in the video gaming community could be as simple as early exposure and expectations. After all, boys game, and girls don’t really like to, right? So get your son a console and your daughter a fuckin’ thingy that’s not a video game. And that kind of logic is probably as pervasive as it is seemingly innocuous.

In any case, I can sit here all day long and theorize the could-be’s for why things are the way that they are, but instead, I’ll stick my neck out and provide a solution: Stardew Valley. For years this game has been my go-to recommendation for a specific type of person: She who does not play video games. Not He who does not play video games, not They who play video games already, but, specifically, she, and a she who hasn’t touched games in any real sense throughout life. Don’t ask me for a peer-reviewed study on why, but Stardew Valley always comes through and manages to hit right on target with women who don’t usually like video games. And that’s objectively a good thing.

But Why Should Anyone Want to Play Videogames?

Video gaming, for all of you out of touch so-and-so’s, isn’t the largely portrayed teenage boy sucking down Mountain Dew at 4 in the morning (although it can be that.) It’s a storytelling medium, a book, a movie, a puzzle, a competition, a cooperative project, and a way for developers to connect with their audience and for said audience to connect to each other. Stardew Valley, in particular, proves to be an aid to relaxation and helps with compartmentalization on top of all of the aforementioned dimensions. The game revolves around socializing, and activates that part of the brain that makes you want to get up and meet someone. The aspects of Stardew Valley that make it fun are the same aspects that make it feel like a mature, well developed creation that doesn’t relish in having an endgame, but, rather, enjoys having each moment at any point in its stages be a reward in it of itself.

Stardew Valley
Image via Eric Barone

I’d wager the hardest part of socializing is moving beyond the fact that any one encounter is unlikely. The hardest part of work is moving beyond the fact that any one day of hard work is but a small percentage of what now needs, and will need, to be done. The hardest part of anything is wrapping one’s head around the small nature of everything we do. It can be demotivating, and it can rob us of our day-to-day experiences that provide life with a sense of punch. It can numb us.

Playing Stardew Valley is like taking a lesson in observing the exact opposite effects. The small things you do are incredibly meaningful for your own self and the people you surround yourself with in the long term. And not only do they make great changes that lead to greater outcomes, but said outcomes won’t even be that important, since the act of making that change, and with whom, is of a grander meaning than whatever they could lead to, even if what they lead to is what we think we ultimately want.

Of course, Stardew Valley is, indeed, just a video game. It isn’t required to understand any of this or to live in a way that incorporates its timeless lessons into its makeup. That said, the necessities that make up the great part of a whole person, and their life, are so often discarded or otherwise undervalued in the modern world that playing something simple (but of quality) like Stardew Valley is an easy way to fall back in love with the days, people, and work we fill our lives with. Find a woman you know (or don’t know) and tell her to play Stardew Valley.


It’s Time to Upgrade to an SSD

Solid State Drives, or SSDs, are computer hardware designed as storage that functions quicker than Hard Disk Drives, or HDDs. The age-old experience of seeing your computer slowly “die” isn’t a very difficult problem to diagnose or fix, since this is a product of a HDD being present in a system instead of an SSD. When equipped with an SSD, a PC can boot up quicker, load programs quicker, and when an SSD ages, it doesn’t slow down (though it will still inevitably die).

Most people make the mistake of assuming that storage devices don’t affect gaming, but in today’s age, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Moment-to-moment fluidity in gaming is largely defined in modern AAA titles by CPU and GPU performance, but the ability to load all of the data required for play in the background is now being shoved, increasing demand, onto the storage devices on a PC. And these days, the HDDs are just not cutting it.

And this is no arbitrary fortune-telling. CDPR just recently updated their minimum spec list for Cyberpunk 2077 to include an SSD. This isn’t an industry-wide standard quite yet, but the fact that games are trying, with increasing fervor, to oust loading screens from the experiences they provide means that we’re soon to be just there: in a world where HDDs are simply used as redundant arrays of disks for mass storage and SSDs are used for everything else.

Another large AAA title, Starfield, also came out with a minimum spec list emploring users to play the game with an SSD rigged onto their system. It should come as no surprise to use, then, when every other developer trying to chase that stardust these two companies enjoy follows suit.

The HDD is soon to become a redundant relic of the past for all but the most storage hungry of professionals. Better get ahead of the game and upgrade to an SSD, any SSD, soon, or feel the burn of being left in the dust.