Sifting the Chaff: Paradox and the Next Generation

Paradox Development Studio is coming at us on two fronts. They’re flanking us!

The most immediate approach is Stellaris, their intergalactic grand strategy game – due out May 9 and is now available for pre-order. I’ve been skimming the dev diaries and youtube videos, and am generating marginal-to-lukewarm interest. Paradox will be implementing some very interesting ideas about the structure of every playthrough, but overall what I am seeing doesn’t really blow my skirt up. (In fact, if to the stars we must go, I’m actually leaning towards taking the Distant Worlds:Universe route.)

However, I will be following very closely the game’s reception upon release. Scrutinizing, even. (There is an overarching purpose for this course of action which I shall explain later.) What I will be looking for is this: How complete is Stellaris? By saying ‘complete’, I do not speak of game-stopping bugs or graphical spasms. I want to know how fulfilling is the gameplay? Does it seem like there are voids that future DLCs will gladly and conveniently fill? How will the UI – admittedly not Paradox’s strongpoint – withstand the use and abuse of a broader gaming populace? In other words: How sound will Stellaris be and how badly will players bounce off of it?

The future of the company requires that Stellaris be rock solid. Not only is the hype through the frigging roof, but now that Stellaris is available for pre-purchase, if there is anything less than smooth-sailing the backlash will be severe and demoralizing. Bitter nay-sayers will pistolwhip Paradox, citing the company’s history of ugly new releases and will identify the mountains – and hundreds of dollars worth – of DLCs that are available for Europa Universalis 4 and Crusader Kings 2, claiming (somewhat erroneously, though not completely) that each expansion is just another patch job that gamers should not have had to pay for. The peasant rabble will swell and be foolish to ignore.

But let us have hope. The company has grown and matured these last few years. And, at least in respect to the condition of newly-released games, matters have improved since the days of yore. EU4 and CK2 were, for the most part, able to stand on their own two feet. Let us hope that Paradox has learned from history as they plan to move forward…

Indeed. The time has come for the company to pass the torch. Stellaris is one of the newcomers. It is garnering tremendous attention. Message board and comment sections are buzzing.The hype train is real. Paradox seems to be capitalizing on the fact that this game breaks the traditional Paradoxian mold. The marketing has been tasteful… and fun! Space aliens and pew-pews have a broader acceptance compared to hard historical settings. And now, in this, the new generation, it looks like Paradox will have both.

Which brings us to the discussion of the second – more important – newcomer: Hearts of Iron 4.

Where Stellaris looks to the stars and is dictated by scope, campaign structure and a dash of RNG, Hearts of Iron is very much grounded, very much logistically detailed, and very much akin to the mold of a Paradox game.

The Hearts of Iron series – three titles in all, each with varying number of expansions – is known for being notoriously complex, dense, and difficult for newcomers to take on. Despite this, the framework for the games is interesting. They operate in the narrow window of time that leads up to and plays out through World War 2. Conquest isn’t always the goal. Because the time frame is so short and the details are so concise, objectives can take on a more ahistorical flavor. Knowing that a world war will break out, the player can build a campaign around this determination.

Hearts of Iron 4 looks to intend to follow this same formula but with a greater emphasis in streamlining the in-game logistics. I’d say ‘simplify’ but that would send tremors down the spines of veteran players. But it kind of looks like this is what Paradox is doing: Cutting the crap and interconnecting many of the mechanics. The process has been a slow and deliberate one. HoI4 doesn’t have the luxury that Stellaris currently has; It can’t get too wieldy with (re)defining itself.

And come June 6, the game will have all sorts of players shoring up, with many others reconnoitering from perhaps their empires in Stellaris.

That’s the rub: How do you gently onboard new players to this game with a reputation without turning your back to the veteran players of the franchise?

There has already been talk of streamlining and creating, essentially, mutually exclusive military profiles. This method seeks to focus the player’s attention to certain aspect of the game and not just throwing a wall-of-game at him. Another way to onboard new players has been put in effect already. Paradox sponsored a 3-part video series at the Extra Credits youtube channel. This series gives an overview of the economic and industrial factors behind WW2. It is a great attempt to, at the very least, orient new players to the historical goings-on that are at the foundation of Hearts of Iron 4.

But to veterans of the HoI series, the historical goings-on of WW2 is old news. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. Because of this, there’s a good chance that many of them will chafe against all this talk of streamlining, favoring the wall-of-game of previous HoI iterations. So, to ease the low-level player rumble, Paradox, sticking to a proven game design model, is basically coding the game to easily facilitate modding. Paradox is leaving the game wide open and is practically daring modders to have at it. Nary a ten minutes will pass in the preview/gameplay Twitch VODs when a commentator will make an observation or answer a question from chat and respond with, “I’m sure someone will mod that in”.

Whoever that ‘someone’ is could be someone who has followed the Hearts of Iron series from the very beginning or it could be someone who is new to the Paradox fold, perhaps even drawn in by Stellaris. And that is exactly what has me so excited: To see just what can materialize when this motley crew of players coalesces upon Hearts of Iron…

And that is exactly why the initial release of Stellaris needs to be a smooth one. The next phase of Paradox is hinged on this. It’ll be interesting to see how many of the newcomers from Stellaris also make the leap into HoI4. Even more so, how many of these actually stick around. Hearts of Iron 4 has the potential of not only being a great game with a diverse player set who may or may not mod the shit out of it, but it also provides many philosophical and theoretical platforms to explore – And that, in and of itself, is reason enough to stick around.

Paradox is taking a rather aggressive stance with flanking us with two strategy games that are nearly polar opposite. But I see it as quite an adroit maneuver: reap a huge audience with Stellaris and let Hearts of Iron 4 sift out the chaff, so that a new player base, tempered by wisdom yet eager to move forward, may carry the company into this next generation.

Weekend Gaming – Victoria 2

I can’t stop thinking about Victoria 2. I can’t. I just can’t. The game is just so interesting and logically constructed! Part of the joy in this game is figuring out how all the systems work and work together, and I learn so much with every passing campaign.

So, check it out:

My first campaign was as the U.S. I clicked on a few things here and there and was then promptly overwhelmed. After which I abandoned ship.

My next attempt was as Belgium. It is smaller and a little more manageable. I clicked a few more things here and there and gained a rudimentary understanding of just what the devil I was actually doing.

Like a Sir

Like a Sir

Next, I gave another shot at playing the USA because, you know… ‘Murica. Acting from what I learned as playing Belgium, I set off to create a solid infrastructure through my own resources as well as tapping into the global economy – easily one of my favorite aspects of the game. It was during this campaign that I learned the intricacies of influencing the political leanings of the populace. My people never really seemed to recover from the civil war and rebels were popping up everywhere all the time. And that, as they say, was that. Campaign = Over.

Learning what I learned. With what little wisdom I had firmly in my pocket, I gave Italy a shot. Technically, started off as Two Sicilies but with the intention of forming Italy. I learned about quick ways to rise to Great Power status and what is available once you attain that position. Not to mention, I also drank from the bitter cup and experienced what happens when you are surpassed by another rising nation (JAPAN!) and are pushed back to Secondary Power status – of which includes the inability to FORM ITALY!

Forgive me if this post reads like a dry history lesson, but it is hard for me to contain my enthusiasm for how Victoria 2 is framed and constructed. The game operates within a relatively narrow window of history (the Hearts of Iron franchise has Vicky2 beat. More on this in a later post) and it seems like more opportunities arise in closer succession. This is because the world between 1835-1935 was in fact a time of change and of opportunity. The world was becoming more global. As a player, I take a step back to see how that works. And I see that that is really cool!

This weekend, I reckon I shall give another shot at playing a secondary power with the intent of unification in some manner.

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Awesome News is Awesome: Hand of Fate 2 is Happening

Gaming news has not really been part of the regularly scheduled programming here at ButtonMashing – or, for that matter, neither has regularly scheduled programming.

But this news is too great to pass up.

Defiant Development recently announced the existence of Hand of Fate 2, sequel to their 2015 deckbuilding-RPGish-brawler hybrid. It is projected to be released around this time next year. Details are scarce at this point, but what is known sounds very, very promising.

Destructoid speaks of things like new weapon types, an improved success-fail card draw sequence, new opportunities and limitations in deck building, companion warriors.

Kotaku was privy to a few more juicy details. Here we read about a greater emphasis in varied deck building, as opposed to min-maxing your way to the top. Defiant plans to address the brawl sequences hoping to make them far less buttonmashy as the first game’s – as they, admittedly, can tend to be. Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo, in speaking of game director Morgan Jaffit, explains: “The impression Jaffit gave about the game is one of improvement rather than reinvention.”

Further investigation shows that Defiant are focused on the right things.

Indeed. Both of the above links, in varying degree, touch upon an improvement that I am most excited for. As a primer to this, I draw your attention to the trailer below.

Yes. The Dealer is back from the abyss from whence you’ve banished him. Half a scared face is evidence of his determination – “… to this mortal realm,” he spats. The table has changed as has the setting. Whereas before, the two of you sat inside a grand hall, light failing to reach the distances of the corridors that surround the table. Now, the setting is a little more cozy, perhaps as humble re-start to the dealer’s efforts of flaunting life & death. I mused in a previous post about the dealer’s steely eyes looking into mine, how mine compared to the others who have sat in this player’s chair. Now, it seems the player may have the upperhand; we may gaze into his eyes and see glares of defeat, of spite, of vengeance.

Hand of Fate’s presentation is remarkable. The setting. The dealer. The music. It is a mysterious place I loved being inside. The themes of games, life, death, and power permeate in nearly everything you do, punctuated by the dealer’s own quips and criticisms – if he is not directly dealing you cards or handing off tokens, he is in the shadows spectating your every move. Hand of Fate operates on different planes of reference, some more obvious than others, all of which may or may not cycle through each other. There is an undeniable presence of mysticism. And then there are the fundamental questions such as: Who exactly is this dealer? What was that vortex that swallowed him up at the end game? Why does he spite this mortal realm so? Is he a slave to it or the fabricator? Or both? What exactly is at stake?

Who is the dealer? What is that vortex? And where is the Vortex leading to?

Who is the dealer? What is that vortex? And where is the Vortex leading to?

Plus, I would be absolutely remiss if I do not mention the fantastic compositions of Jeff van Dyck. The music is a primary element to the setting of Hand of Fate. Tracks can elicit sensations of contemplation, thoughtfulness, foreboding, wonder, determination. The music works in fluid harmony with the rest of the game, enhancing the situation through atmosphere or a driving tempo, and never overextends itself.

All these things considered, the game is a compelling experience in that there could be so much more under the surface, in the shadows, in the words left unspoken..

… Or not.

And that uncertainty is, at least in my head, utterly intoxicating.

Unfortunately, the journey that the player takes in Hand of Fate does little for the game’s setting. Though there are distinct storylines buried in the cards, each with its own affects and rewards, there is a definite lack of cohesion between these stories and the one-off situations that may be drawn.

The improvement mentioned, in varying degrees, in the Kotaku and Destructoid links that has me most excited is the proposal of quests and storylines. There seems to be planned a more call-and-response approach to the player’s actions and decisions, instead of the player just hopping from one downturned card to another. Totilo explains, “… Defiant Development can tie the different possible outcomes of those battles to different branches of a mission.”

The cards of Hand of Fate 2 may have that longed-for cohesiveness in line with the mysteries of the game’s tiered setting. Each card may a vignette that could either answer some of these essential questions listed above, or, more preferably, enlarge the cloud of mystery – to answer a question with a question.

I could very well be flying off the rails with all this pondering. Again, as stated above, there could be more to this mystical setting or there could very well be not. But, Jaffit explained something to Kotaku that I find tremendous comfort in. When speaking of intended improvements, Jaffit gives an example whose implications tell me that Defiant’s thinking is on the right level.

Some of Jaffit’s ideas for changes are charmingly specific. It bugged him, for example, that players of the first game could buy cards in the stores that they could encounter from turning over a shop card while playing through a deck. “The shop system is wrong,” he said, “not that anyone has called on it.” Since the game showed the player’s character walking into the shop, players were essentially seeing something from the card level come to virtual life, as they did the cards that spawned real-time battles. By that logic, he lamented, there shouldn’t be cards within the shops. There should be rendered items that the cards would have represented. “It’s the wrong philosophical layer of abstraction and it actually bugs the crap out of me.” It sounds like he’s going to address that with his team in the sequel.

This is not a ‘charmingly’ specific attention to detail. I perceive much more gravitas to this example than it being merely charming. It shows that Defiant see the necessity of creating a multi-layered setting with stronger, more convincing continuity. And I can only hope that this line of thought extends out to the quests and storylines.

Weekend Gaming – Victoria 2, Etrian Odyssey Untold 2

Paradox Interactive, well-known for their historical grand strategy games, is certainly abuzz at the moment. The hype train is so very, very real for their new spacey space 4x-ish strategy everything-but-the-friggin-kitchen-sink title Stellaris. This is especially noteworthy as it is Paradox’s first foray as a developer into the cosmos. And judging by the dev diaries and the previews trickling in on YouTube, this is definitely one giant leap, and Paradox fanfolk will be at the game’s heels the entire trip.

While not on the game’s heels, I have kept a measured distance. Stellaris is shaping up to be perhaps much of what I loved about EVE Online but without PDoxInthaving to deal with other players’ stupid, backstabbing, sociopathic crap. Though, I do have reservations about Stellaris, at least its initial release (not to mention its overall accessibility). History has shown that Paradox games need some TLC right at the onset, for various reasons. Reading about how big Stellaris is proclaimed to be, I can with surety expect some part of the game to go bellyup or house some void in the mechanics.

But Paradox are the masters of following up – the Masters! And don’t you ever forget it. Whatever is wonky about Stellaris upon release will be patched up and eventually buried under four years’ worth of DLC. For good or ill. Just look at Crusader Kings 2! Every time I load the game after a new DLC/Patch, the UI is all different and there’s new mechanics and limits that stop me in my tracks. The same intrusive behavior can be said about EU4; some DLCs have been proclaimed to be game breaking. Staying up-to-date with these games is work, son – for both developers and the players.

All the while, Victoria 2 is just sort of there minding itself. It is not the most contemporary Paradox game but it is nonetheless a very integral part in the patchwork of the company’s history – And recent enough that it continues to have a healthy player base and modding community. It is also somewhat of an exception to the habitual addition of DLCs to Paradox games. Vicky2 only has two major DLCs. The game operates in a narrow window of time and hasn’t spiraled out of control as its younger siblings have. Vicky2HOD

Because it is ‘contained’ like this, I found an appeal. I tried playing CK2 recently, but the Conclave DLC (which I haven’t bought yet) and accompanying patch (which everyone gets regardless) rearranged stuff and I quickly lost motivation (non-aggression pacts? C’MAAAWN!). Personally, I have to get amped to initiate a grand Paradox campaign. It takes days to mentally prepare. And within the game, I need to know where my tools are and what they can or cannot do. The slightest change from what is familiar and I have to walk away. Petty, I know – but truth.

Anyways, with only two DLCs, I perceived Victoria 2 to be far less impenetrable than, say, to take a step back and see what EU4 is right now. I like that the focus is on industrialization and a global economy. The sociopolitical aspects are relevant to the game’s time period (1836-1936) and promise to keep the passage of those years interesting and varied, as opposed to just using time to make your military numbers higher. Industry, Prestige, Military – These are equal factors in determining a nation’s rank, and they all influence each other. Indeed. Each nation isn’t just an island rushing and crushing for numerical superiority. There’s competition, absolutely, but because of all the industrialization there’s a bit of a co-dependency nations have on each other. An internal and external balance must be sought in order to climb the ranks. I can dig on that.

This weekend I shall be developing a wicked case of vertigo as I continue to tread the infamous Paradox learning curve.

… Oh, and playing Etrian Odyssey Untold 2. I’m slowly making my way through the labyrinth and devising all kinds of oddball recipes for the populous to eat. I sort of regret playing in story mode bcs I want to try out different classes. I might make use of the extra save slots and start a game in classic mode just to see what it’s all about.

What are you playing this weekend?

Weekend Gaming – Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight

There was that time just a few years ago when I was looking into buying a Nintendo 3DS. A very thorough article on Kotaku caught my attention. Its enthusiasm for the innovation of the StreetPass system was convincing. Likewise were the testimonies of nearly every single 3DS owner I spoke with. There was a delight in voice and sparkle in the eye, as well as an inability to articulate just why they love their DSes so. I had never seen such tickled affection for an inanimate object.

I didn’t understand the sensation at the time, but now, as a 3DS owner myself, I do. And I too can only attempt to articulate the delight in knowing my DS is so near. It is a low-pressure mobile gaming device, but unlike other mobile devices, I do not have a compulsion to check up on a notification or text or any other countless distractions. The DS just kind of hangs out, always on standby and is ready when you’re ready.

The intensity of said delight may ebb and flow but it is nonetheless always there, and right now it is pretty stinkin’ high. Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight is the reason. Yes. What began as an inquiry into the new Fire Emblem games now sees me nearly 15 hours deep into EOU2 and still getting my sea legs.

Like many other 3DS owners, Fire Emblem:Awakening was my first exposure to the franchise. And, like the majority who played FE:A, I could not and would not shut up about the game. It is fantastic and made a great impression. The follow-up games, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest were released in the US a few weeks ago. Naturally, I was interested, especially at having to initially choose one title over the other. I did some investigating and came to the conclusion that, despite the differences between Birthright and Conquest, they are more or less ‘Awakening 2.0’ with a focus on either character matchmaking or aggressive tactics.

The thought of playing a familiar game held zero (0) appeal. I was feeling adventurous, ready to branch out. The 3DS, being the low-pressure, mobile platform that it is compliments this longing. EOU2

Etrian Odyssey is another franchise with a solid reputation. Untold 2, being the most recent release, is reported to uphold this high standard – And, get this: you actually utilize the touchpad! Not just to cycle through inventories or pan maps, but to create the maps! The game has a strong emphasis on exploration. Plus, it has both a story mode and classic mode as well as its own little sim building mechanic. A crafting system that, so far, is not arduous. AI that can’t be baited. Anime aesthetic and a great OST. Dialog between characters that doesn’t get too gabby…

It is a conglomeration that is all so wonderful and new to me. This, combined with the inherent, unspeakable delight of owning a DS, has me excited to take the time to play – which cannot be said about my steam library.

Alas, part of the motivating factor for choosing EOU2 was to get me away from habitually booting up my desktop and vacantly scrolling through my game library or, most recently, convincing myself load Diablo III. It’s time for a hiatus, son. The weather is breaking and the world beckons us forth from our winter shelters. So, why not grab the DS, trade some Grimoire stones via StreePass, and see what this spring has in store?

What are you playing this weekend?

Weekend Gaming – Diablo III

I wish to speak about plateaus.

Not the land forms, nor the pun that they are the highest form of flattery. I wish to speak of the emotional plateaus that can form when playing games of the video variety.

There comes a point when we discontinue our time investment in a particular video game and turn our attention to another. The motivations behind this transition are varied. Sometimes it may be a lethal ragequit. Sometimes it is a victorious completion. Sometimes we can bounce off a game before getting too far into it. Sometimes the game design just kind of shrugs, stops offering new challenges and variety, forcing the player to do the same things over and over again – plateauing.

I forsee myself plateauing with Diablo III. It is inevitable. I will plateau hardcore. Sure, difficulty levels can increase, enemies can hit harder and I can tank more; these numbers increase with every increased difficulty level (in all honesty, is there cap to greater rifts?) And, sure, there are a plethora of builds to experiment with. But in all the game boils down to click > kill > loot > repeat. Loot is needed to create stronger builds, even if loot drops are random. So, aside from escalating grifts levels, and the blind hope for sweet loot drops, there really is not all that much to strive for. This method will not hold my attention forever and I will turn my sights elsewhere.

But not this weekend! No no no. My wizard is finally at a point where she can hold her own in Torment 3. At first, I admittedly had no idea how to build a wizard, trying to make her play like a crusader. But as the orange items starting trickling in and my Kanai’s Cube library filling in nicely, I’ve been able to make her a bringer of fire and vengeance. Likewise, my crusader unleashes havoc no matter what he’s doing. Brother could be standing still and he is bringing the pain.

It has been awesome to create builds that have so many different components, so many different kinds of synthesis. Doing what you can with what you’ve got. Though D3 is maddeningly obscure with its numbers and mechanics in some places, sometimes you’ve just got to observe what is happening in the playing field for the best evidence of a build’s performance… Unless you’re in a set dungeon – at that point it’s like your playing in a quantum level Twilight Zone.

What are you playing this weekend?

Weekend Gaming – Diablo 3

All aboard the loot train!

…Say that again? The loot trains left years ago? The most recent one left last week? Well, I shall walk the tracks.

Indeed. I am late to the party. But considering how Diablo III has had years to evolve into the game it is now, I’d say now is as good a time as any to jump in.

I can’t pinpoint why I hadn’t committed to D3 sooner. The timing perhaps never felt right. Maybe I was waiting for the price to come down. I don’t know. The game was always in my sight, always a possible buy, but its favorable particulars went noticed…

That is, until last Friday when PC Gamer posted the news of D3’s new patch (which it declares to be ‘a biggie’) and the launch of season 5. I watched the embedded video and my interest finally flared. What in the Everlasting Mother Love is all of this, I thought. Rifts, Seasons, Set Dungeons, additional map zones, adventure mode. Clearly, Blizzard has addressed D3’s end-game problem – reports of which was another snag that kept me from buying. ROS

After I watched the embedded video, I watched the embedded video again. After I re-watched the embedded video, I sat in silent meditation, reflecting on the gamer’s doldrums I felt myself drifting into. Could D3 be the necessary shakeup? And then I discovered that Blizzard now sells the vanilla and the Reaper of Souls expansion together for $40. Welp, that pretty much sealed the deal.

Now, one week later, and almost finished (I suspect) with Act IV, I am still driven by my Everlasting Mother Love ignorance. A line of inquiry about what this game is continues to piece itself together the deeper I investigate and the more I play. There is a giddy excitement resulting from the fact that I don’t fully understand what rifts are, where they are or what they do, or what happens during seasons and what happens when they conclude. And just what exactly can I do with my Death Magnet Monk once I complete the campaign? The meta-inventory for my loot works… how? Greater Rifts? Scaled Torment Difficulty?

Conversely, I find it interesting to learn about this iteration of the game and how it compares to its three years of evolution. Doubly so to hear about it directly from other ButtonMashers as they re-visit the game, having moved on before RoS was released.

The game feels familiar from my time with D2 all those eons ago, but still something very fresh. To my eyes, Diablo 3 is now far more arcade-y than I previously thought. And right now, I so need it.

What are you playing this weekend?

Weekend Gaming – Thea: The Awakening

I didn’t even know I needed Thea: The Awakening in my life. Up until a two weeks ago I was doing just fine with what I had – doing just fine with getting tilted while playing Chaos Reborn and then releasing that rage on the endless Uruk population in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. But then Thea sort of wiggled her way into my field of view and batted her eyelashes at me. ‘Hey baybay,’ she wooed, ‘don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?’

Yes. I was tempted by the fruit of another and I yielded. Thea’s game descriptions and screenshots and reviews were very appealing. Rock, Paper, Shotgun just yesterday posted a full review declaring that the game “breaks the mold by doing a lot of different things at once. It just needs to do all of them better.”
Now some 15 hours in, I am, admittedly, not all the way sold on Thea. But the more that I play the more I get a feel for the game. It reveals itself gradually. This is exciting as I see that I have barely scratched the surface. But I still have reservations because, at least from my semi-n00b perspective, I wonder how systematic the game will become, how repetitive will campaigns become in order to unlock new gods?

I do not agree that all of the ‘different things’ in Thea need to be done better. (I likewise do not think the RPS review does a sufficient job of analyzing the rest of all those ‘different things’. Although, Rob Zacny’s initial drafts may have included them, but because of space had to do some surgical editing.) Let not the downsides of the clumsy UI and the occasional unfair, campaign-destroying random event eclipse the big picture. If the player approaches this like he is going to play an open world 4x, he shall therefore have a Thea: Rude Awakening.

Thea: The Awakening is not assembled to be a 4x. Its cogs are designed and manufactured by disparate groups who deal in different genres. The player must find his own way of working within this menagerie. Part of this methodology is entering the mindset involved in, say, playing a roguelike/lite. The expectations of Roguelikes/lites is that survival will be difficult, perhaps even unfair, but any progress made, however piddly, will be applied to an overarching mechanic that can be made available for future play-through. With new and stronger gods to play as, Thea: The Awakening grants a more sure, confident opportunity to expand in proceeding campaigns. At that point the player can then approach Thea with the mindset (and wisdom) to conduct a 4x-like-ish game.

It is the players responsibility to learn and act accordingly. I’m getting the sense that the player’s approach to Thea evolves overtime. And that’s really cool.

But, frankly, the above words could all be a bunch of hooey hocus pocus. In theory I have hope; In reality I’m going to continue forward and deal with the toils and trials of each day/night cycle, be prepared for the harshest unexpected event the best that I can, and always keep a keen eye on the horizon.

What are you playing this weekend?

Dodging Uncertainty: Teleportation in Chaos Reborn

“The goal that led him on was not impossible, though it was clearly supernatural: He wanted to dream a man. He wanted to dream him completely, in painstaking detail, and impose him upon reality”
– Jorge Luis Borges

True to itself, Chaos assumes many different forms to many different fields of study. To science, chaos illustrates just how disorderly our universe can be. We see how randomness is the lack of decipherable patterns, of uncertain behavior, unpredictable outcomes. Chaos is used in cryptography to harness all that unpredictability in order to mask the cipher and the message’s true order. In Mythology, chaos is the abyss from which the matter of our current world was fashioned. This act of creation was accomplished by demiurges who are not quite supreme deities but nonetheless wielders of great supernatural power.

Chaos Reborn (Snapshot Games Inc., October 2015) confidently grabs hold of chaos in its variety of forms and balances it on a needlepoint.

Lords of Reformation

The lore of Chaos Reborn puts the game’s setting in a world that once was one but now is fractured. Within the center of this swirl is Limbo. “Limbo,” explains the game’s lore, “is existence waiting for something better.” It is from here that players assume the role of wizards who come from elite bloodlines and are charged with going forth out of limbo to recreate with matter that is leftover and to repopulate… to become overlords.

Using the same magic that was responsible for tearing the world apart, players compete for dominance by materializing beasts and activating offensive spells from the aether chaos. Herein is the challenge because chaos is slippery. So very slippery. Spells can and do fail. Some don’t fail, but should. Very little is certain in Chaos Reborn.

These spells and creatures consist of the player’s hand. Each card has a designated percentage which dictate the likelihood that it will be successfully cast. There are many ways of influencing this number, of teasing it up some to increase the likelihood. But, nonetheless, the player is still uncertain of the cast’s outcome before it is complete; the beast may materialize within a glorious beam of light or break apart before it is fully formed and disperse back to the void.

To heap chaos on top of chaos: Offensive spells like magic bolts and lightning strikes, not only have a percentage to cast but, depending on specific variables, also have a percentage to successfully hit their targets. Slippery, indeed.

One of the few certainties out there in the battlefield is that of movement. Each turn allows the wizard 3 actions: Movement, spell casting, attacking. So long as the wizard or creatures are not detained by spider webs, blobs, or the stone stare of a hellhound, movement from one hexagon to the next is 100% guaranteed.

Movement across the battlefield is therefore slow and calculated.

Sidestepping Uncertainty

One way to flaunt this slow movement is by using the Teleport spell. The spell is of a neutral alignment and comes with a 90% chance of successful cast and is guaranteed to place the wizard someplace within 8 hexes of his current position. Successfully using Teleport exhausts your movement and spell actions for the turn.

Similar to the offensive spells mentioned above, Teleport can be parsed into two actions: casting and function. The uncertainty of a successful cast, though generous, maintains the idea that chaos still reigns. But the sweet certainty of landing on the hexagon of your choosing completely unaffected otherwise contradicts the laws of this universe.

This is a perversion in the face of almighty chaos. Consider what the wizard doing: He is choosing to dematerialize himself, to remove himself from this plane, mix his corporeal form back into the chaotic soup, in an attempt to re-materialize. The wizard is assuming the same chaotic state of the very creatures he has thus far attempted to bring to pass. And yet, unlike the fate of some of these creatures, after a successful teleport cast the wizard is guaranteed a successful re-entry.

The game’s lore explains that the wizards who pass through the portals of Limbo out to the fractured realms are far from all-powerful deities. While still able to wield the power of creation many have yet perfected their abilities. This frustrates the guaranteed flawless teleport re-entry all the more. If there is a chance of a wizard failing to produce a simple rat organism from chaos, there should be an even greater chance of failing the second half of a self-teleport.

Indeed. This is an advanced spell which readily transmutes chaos into complex order. Not only is it just any complex order; it is the self. And it should not be flailed around by novices the way it currently is.

A wizard of the lore warns: “Those who exceed their positions, always face consequences.” As with all other actions a wizard makes, chaos should play a factor in the outcome of a successful teleport cast. And it should affect the makeup of the wizard himself. Perhaps a random selection of cards in the player’s hand should be shuffled back into the deck. Maybe a staff’s inherent mega-spell should change (until the end of the match if playing in Equipped). Maybe talismans should reset. Maybe talismans should change function. And maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that nothing will be altered.

And yet, what guarantee should the wizard have that he will even rematerialize at all? Perhaps there should be a greater percentage of failed reassembly based on the distance traveled from the point of origin. Likewise, maybe each opposing wizard can have vectors of passive influence; the penalty of teleporting further away from yourself is negated if you are placing yourself closer to an opponent. However the uncertainties are calculated, if the re-entry fails, the match is over.

Trumped by Chaos

Chaos is multifaceted, and Chaos Reborn knows this. Like a master wizard the game spins chaos into a wonderful tapestry of lore and gameplay. Let there be no enmity between player and the unpredictability of outcomes. Chaos is a state of nature and is without guile. But its nature conflicts with ours as we strive to have our designs realized.

Nearly every decision a player makes in Chaos Reborn must be thoroughly thought-out, executed and, if chaos so dictates, amended. Nearly every action has its chances for failure – as it should be. This is why Teleport in its current state is far too wieldy. The spell contradicts the facets of chaos which the game so adroitly uses.

Weekend Gaming – Chaos Reborn (again)

The lack of media exposure of Chaos Reborn befuddles me. Rock, Paper, Shotgun gave the game some love while it was in early access, but, strange enough, ever since official release two weeks ago there has been nary a hint of coverage – no major reviews, minimal youtube presence, and maybe an occasional person playing on Twitch.

Chaos Reborn deserves – nay, requires – as much love as possible. Admittedly it’s a tough time of the year to establish a foothold as an indie game. However, the game merits to stand alongside the big names of this holiday season. Sure, the UI is a total mess and the single player realms are a bit convoluted… These matters are minor and will be resolved in due time. Regardless of the current state of the aforementioned, the true power of Chaos Reborn is in the PvP, whose systems are drum-tight and responsive. All that is needed is bigger population of players. RUAWizard

Personally, this past week and upcoming weekend will be one of exploration, to investigate the different game modes and to steadily build my confidence and skills in vying for dominance in a place where so few things are certain and the tides of battle can shift in a single turn.

Yes! The RNG. The percentages. The chaos. It is a thing of beauty. And Chaos Reborn balances it on a razor’s edge.

I am finding that my view towards the uncertainties inexorably tied to each action within each turn are shifting. I am now thinking more offensively. Whereas before I would approach each turn with the mentality of something like: These hits are not guaranteed, so I better turtle up while I try to establish more board presence. This same strategy was utilized by many of my opponents. And when you have two wizards cowering behind structures and defensive creatures you therefore have very long and tedious and boring matchups. Nuts to this, I concluded, I’m going in for the kill, and I’m gonna do it with my bare hands. It was a risky endeavor but the payoff was a sweet victory.

That specific match set forth a change in how I view the RNG of Chaos Reborn. I use the percentages as assets not as impediments. I want to improve on playing the odds and knowing when to push, when to run and when to bluff my way into board dominance – but not get pissed when the RNG royally bones me. Chaos Reborn truly is a state of mind.

What are you playing this weekend?

Indeed, Mr. Christmas. There’s always a chance.