A (real) sense of pride and accomplishment

You probably remember how Electronic Arts tried to talk themselves out of the Star Wars Battlefront II disaster back in ’17 by claiming the game’s lootbox-centric design was actually beneficial to its players. Yeah, that went down as well as expected.

However, greedy nonsense like that aside, video games obviously can make players feel proud of themselves for accomplishing certain goals or overcoming hard challenges. During the past few months I was reminded of how that actually feels like.

Arknights is, at its heart, a tower defense game. It’s a gacha game too, with everything that that entails, good and bad (which is a topic for a post of its own though, I’ll get to that soonâ„¢).

I actually didn’t anticipate to like it as much as I do because the few tower defense games I’ve played over the years got boring pretty fast – and they all weren’t very engaging to begin with.

This is a completely different beast however. First of all, the game has tons and tons of story and lore. You get to actually know the world and the characters, which gives the gameplay quite a different feel from just placing some generic units in whatever stages.

The gameplay itself is where Arknights really shines though. Holy crap, has this a lot of complexity and depth to it! Most of the time you can freely choose up to twelve of your characters (called operators) to make up the squad for the mission at hand, and there’s quite a selection. After only a couple of weeks I already had about 80 units to choose from, and right now, after three months, I’m at 107. Why do we need so many? Because there’s a plethora of different roles to fill and tasks to perform.

Here’s a look at the eight main archetypes:

Doesn’t look overly complex, does it? Defenders tank, Casters deal magic damage (called arts damage here) from range, Medics heal, and so on. Right?

Well, yeah, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as you’ll find lots of differences and specializations even within the same archetype. Take Guards for example, the game’s melee DPS units: there are Dualist Guards, which can only block and attack one enemy unit at a time, but usually deal a lot of damage and are quite sturdy; by contrast, AoE Guards can block two or even three units and attack just as many; then there’s Ranged Guards, which can attack from a distance and also deal damage to airborne units; Arts Guards deal magic instead of physical damage; and quite a few more.

It gets really crazy when you look at the Supporters and Specialists. There are operators that can pull enemies towards them, others push the baddies away. Some can slow or stun, others buff their allies or debuff opponents. Summoners are also a thing…the list goes on. In other words, the possibilities are nearly endless.

It’s no surprise, then, that choosing the best operators for a stage and utilizing them to their strenghts is the key to victory. Which isn’t to say that there’s only one “correct” way to do it. Quite the contrary, in fact. As the developers don’t know which operators each player does or doesn’t own they obviously can’t design any stage to only be winnable with a certain combination of units, therefore it’s always up to each player to figure out a way that suits their roster and playstyle.

And boy, this is so much fun! Actually it’s even more than that. I can’t describe how satisfying it is to beat a tricky stage by going in with my allround-squad first, failing, and then gradually figuring out the solution by substituting operators, placing them elsewhere or in a different order, until I finally get it right and am like “Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”.

Wait, you know what? I actually can describe that feeling: it’s one of pride and accomplishment, that’s what it is. Turns out that succeeding at well designed, challenging and fun gameplay can satisfy in a way that grinding mindlessly or swiping your credit card never could. Who knew?

It’s been quite a while since a game gave me this kind of experience, and frankly, right now I’m quite addicted to it. And I’m not even very good at playing strategy games. When I started out in Arknights I kind of assumed that it wouldn’t take long for me to quit out of frustration or impatience.

It’s so bloody motivating though, and fortunately there are various means of support when I can’t for the life of me figure a stage out. Due to the game’s RPG mechanics I can always try and level up my operators some more to brute-force it. If that also fails – which it usually does if the chosen approach is just bollocks – there are some very good content creators on YouTube providing walkthrough videos that usually help me “get it”, enabling me to beat the stage even if I don’t own all of the operators that were used in the guide.

So yeah, I’m having a blast, and I haven’t even talked about the game’s great soundtrack, its nifty base-building system (including a little bit of actual housing!) or how generous and rewarding everything feels.

These four rooms are my operators’ dormitories. Once built they can be furnished by the player, which I have already done here. In the game you can zoom farther in of course.

To my knowledge there isn’t a native PC version, so should you want to give it a try you’ll have to either play it on mobile, or install it via an Android emulator like BlueStacks, which is what I use.

Now, I do realize the irony of taking EA’s stupid claim I talked about in the beginning and applying it unironically to a gacha game. But, believe it or not, in my opinion gacha games – at least the ones I know – are actually a lot less unethical than what many western publishers try to get away with these days. I’d prefer Arknights’ or Genshin Impact’s monetization schemes over FIFA Ultimate Team, SW BFII’s “progression” or legacy ArcheAge’s P2W cash shop any day.

That, however, is a discussion for another day.

Still dreaming of a white Christmas

We’re coming up on the eleventh Christmas in a row without even the slightest trace of snow where I live, so I’m once again going to accomodate myself – and you, if you like – by posting a bunch of winter-scenery screenshots as a consolation.

So put on your virtual mittens, it’s going to get cold.

I’ll start off with Black Desert Online once more, because damn, does snow look good in this game. I love how it even covers the appropriate parts of my character.

In the real world there is no ice or snow on Venus, but in Warframe there most certainly is. It’s not my favourite planet in the game by a longshot, but that’s mainly because of the enemy faction that’s residing there. The planet itself, especially the open world zone Orb Vallis, is gorgeous.

Space is always cold and dark? Cold yes, but definitely not dark, at least in EVE Online it ain’t.

I’m not certain whether this has something to do with the currently ongoing holiday event, or if metaliminal storms can look like this all year round, but seeing it basically snow in space was a sight I sure wasn’t expecting.

Dashing through the snow in ArcheAge. No sleigh though, just one horse.

Star Wars Battlefront wasn’t a very good game, but the graphics (and sound too) were pretty amazing. It really felt like being in the middle of a huge battle on Endor or, in this case, Hoth.

This is what a winter’s night in 14th century France looked like, at least according to A Plague Tale: Innocence. Really makes one crave for a hot mug of mead at the bonfire, doesn’t it?

Arknights has its share of winter stages too. I especially like how even the enemies’ clothing fits the theme.

My operators always look the same however – luckily for them this game isn’t one of those bent on skimpy outfits, as you can see. SilverAsh (the guy with grey hair and cane) even wears a coat with fur collar, so all is well.

One of the great things about Genshin Impact is that pretty much nothing you see is just a backdrop – if it’s there, chances are you can actually get to and set foot on it.

The same is true for the mountain you see in the background up there. You can even climb all the way up to the top. It’s not just a mountain either, it’s actually a whole region with its own quests, puzzles, treasures and enemies.

It’s also the only place on this list where the cold has an actual effect on the player: staying there and not being near a heat source fills up your cold meter. Once that’s full you continuously take damage and will die if you don’t act on it. I admittedly don’t like mechanics like that very much, but hey, at least the snow isn’t mere eye candy this once. Also, you can cook and eat goulash, which halves the rate at which your cold bar fills up for a while. I like goulash!

And there you have it. Merry Christmas, everyone!

What I’ve been up to lately

As you might have noticed I haven’t been posting a whole lot as of late. Or more precisely, even less than in previous months.

The main reason is that I’ve been looking for a new home. In real life, that is. Finding a place in Cologne – or any other major city, really – that’s nice, located somewhat conveniently and affordable is quite a challenge, and it took about six weeks and almost a hundred applications just to get viewing appointments for a mere handful of places that weren’t complete crap.

In the end I found the perfect apartment though. Still a bit more expensive than I would have liked, but I feel it’s worth it. I’ll definitely show off some pictures once it’s all done.

Which it isn’t yet, of course. Far from it. Tomorrow the keys will be handed over to me, then the real work begins. Out with the flooring and wallpapers, new wallpapers in, painting the ceilings and walls (maybe also the doors and/or radiators), replacing part of the kitchen, in with the new flooring. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget shopping for furniture and of course the move itself. Le sigh…

No, this is not it. Despite what you may have heard we have actual buildings and stuff in Germany

In between all of that I still got a bit of gaming done though, because of course I have.

My main game right now is Arknights, which I stumbled upon a while ago when I went through my favourite Genshin Impact content creator’s backlog.

It’s a tower defense Gacha game for mobile platforms, and it’s surprisingly great.

Why are we beating up a giant tentacled flower, you ask? It’s evil, that’s why!

It’s by far the most complex and motivating tower defense game I’ve played. Not that I’ve played many. Anyhow, I’ll go into more detail in another post; for now all I’ll say is that it’s a lot of fun and also fits my current schedule perfectly because it doesn’t require a big time commitment.

For the record: No, I technically still don’t play mobile games, I use the Android emulator BlueStacks to play it on PC. 😉

The one time we both weren’t dressed like complete lunatics

I initially didn’t intend to buy New World because not much of what I’d seen and heard about the game up until launch made me feel like it’s a game I’d enjoy.

Lakisa and a couple of our friends were pretty keen on playing it though, and once Amazon Game Studios had assured us that we’d eventually all be able to transfer our characters to our friends’ servers I ultimately got on board so Lakisa didn’t have to play on her own until then.

Well, let’s just say it’s a good thing that the server transfers indeed worked out as planned for our whole group, because otherwise Lakisa would now be playing on her own regardless.

It’s not the queues, bugs and exploits that bother me. I mean, sure, those were/are huge problems, but stuff like that can and hopefully will be fixed. The game just doesn’t manage to make me want to play it, is all. Which is kinda weird since, on paper, many of its individual design aspects do seem right up my alley after all. Only, as it turns out, it doesn’t do any of them in a way that appeals to me.

As you know I’m a huge fan of virtual worlds. Having to get to places on foot never bothered me in other games – it even enhanced the experience more often than not – but in New World I got sick of running back and forth while questing well before reaching level 20. I like action combat, but here it feels clunky and cooldowns are too long for the few abilities we have. I like tanking, but aggro management in this game is a complete clusterfuck. I like gathering, but the long gathering times and severe weight restrictions suck the fun out of it. I like the idea of players fighting over towns or regions, but being at the mercy of other players regarding whether or not I can craft certain stuff in “my” hometown and how much taxes and rent I have to pay isn’t something I appreciate.

This could almost be a real photograph though, couldn’t it?

The world of Aeternum looks exceptionally good, I’ll give it that. However, right now that’s pretty much the only nice thing I have to say about it, and that’s obviously not nearly enough. Lakisa and our buddies are having a blast, and I’m happy for them, but I’ve called it quits for now.

Behold the Argonath! Err…no, sorry, wrong game

The title I would be playing the most right now had its launch not been delayed is, of course, Lost Ark.

I didn’t want to spoil the actual launch experience by playing last week’s beta too extensively, but at the same time I was too curious to not play at all. In total I got seven hours in and played two characters to about level 14 or so, the Striker and…err…a gal with two pistols, a shotgun and a sniper rifle. I can’t remember most of the classes’ names, now that I think about it. There’s a Bard on offer though, should you be so inclined.

To be honest, my first hour playing the Striker was rather boring. After that the game fortunately picked up the pace and I started to have quite a lot of fun. Combat, obviously the heart and soul of any ARPG-like, felt pretty good once I’d gotten used to it, and had me coming back for more. I chose to skip the prologue with the second character and consequently had fun with her from the get-go.

Strangely zoom levels are either very far out or very close, nothing inbetween

Had it not been for the fact that all progress was going to be wiped after the beta ended I certainly would’ve tried to get some more hours in, so I was clearly enjoying myself a lot. Can’t wait for the actual launch.

At the end of the day nothing beats the classics

Lastly, we’re also still playing Diablo II Resurrected from time to time. Our duo of Fireclaw-Druid and Frozen Orb Sorceress has just defeated Baal on normal difficulty, and my solo Skellymancer has arrived in Act II on Nightmare, which means that he now finally has a mercenary with the damage-boosting Might aura under his command.

Baal kicking the bucket never looked this good

And there you have it.

As I said in the beginning, posts will most likely continue to be thin on the ground around here for the forseeable future, but once things have settled down a bit I’ll not only be the annoying acquaintance who can’t shut up about his fancy new place with the great view, I’ll probably also have ample time for gaming and thus more stuff to talk about again.