Sunday, September 6, 2015

Big Pharma: Review

Version Reviewed: 1.00.04 (steam)
What I like: Setting up complex production lines within the space allocated. Having multiple ways to deal with some problems. Some tense moments provided by the AI competitors.
Not So Much: At times some clicks don't want to select an item. Ingredient discovery was a little bland.
Other Stuff You May Like: Free build mode and custom game setups.
The Verdict: Seems like a good choice for anyone interested in setting up and tweaking production lines in a confined area.
About my reviews

Official site: Big Pharma

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by Positech Games and Twice Circled.


As a child, didn't you dream of finding the right natural products in forests and deserts and developing them into effective treatments for the world's maladies? Well, neither did I - but that doesn't mean it can't make for a good game! The main draw of Big Pharma is solving logistical and spatial problems, slightly similar to SpaceChem. Big Pharma requires the player to layout machinery and conveyor belts within a limited space to transform a drug's ingredients into a profitable (and hopefully effective) drug. Layered on top of this is managing a simple research tree, finding new drug ingredients, protecting your products with patents and managing cash flow. The game is presented as individual scenarios with varying goals, separated by difficulty, which can be played in any order. Additionally you can create a customized game, adjusting many parameters, including setting multiple victory conditions. For those who like to build without worrying about managing their money, Free Build is probably for you.

Each scenario has 3 victory levels to give the player different goals that they can shoot for. Since the scenarios aren't locked, there isn't a penalty for failing other than hurting your pride. Certain aspects of the game are randomized, so replaying a scenario isn't the same exact experience even if the overall structure is the same. This could make a given replay more or less difficult than others, but I never found it to be unfair. Big Pharma could use an online leaderboard for score chasers like myself.

Getting Started!

Big Pharma's tutorial does a good job illustrating most of the game's mechanics. I felt prepared to tackle the game's first scenario, finishing with an expert victory. The tutorials don't cover the more advanced equipment, but it isn't difficult to figure out how to use them. Even though the game's rules aren't that complex, it could use a manual or in game help so the player could refer back to the concepts covered in the tutorial without replaying it. Most items do have the relevant information within the game, but a manual would still be helpful.

Let's Play

Deciding what disease to treat can be based on different factors and the goals of the scenario. Available cures are determined by what ingredients your company has discovered. Simple cures only require one ingredient, while more complex cures can require multiple ingredients and more advanced instruments. Complex cures require more work, but can offer greater monetary rewards.
At the beginning of this game I have the ingredients to treats coughs or diabetes.

How to decide where to start? Well, each of those treatments have some values associated with them. It appears that treating coughs will bring in more revenue since its value is higher, driven by the demand for the treatment. It's not quite as simple as that because your revenue will also depend on how effective the treatment is. Profits will also be affected by how efficiently the ingredients can be processed into the drug, because each instrument in the assembly line increases the product's cost. It isn't always obvious what the stumbling blocks might be before trying to discover a new cure, kind of like real life I guess. Pharmaceutical companies have to go through a lot of drug discovery before finding one they can bring to market. The game captures that a bit.

Ingredients also have side effects which can hopefully be mitigated. An ingredient that soothes coughing may also cause nausea. Side effects can be avoided, or at least mitigated by adjusting the concentration with instruments, or combining ingredients in different ways. More advanced techs in the research tree open up more ways to overcome obstacles.

This drug didn't take too much processing because its concentration only needed to be slightly reduced so it would treat coughs. The result was put into pill form and shipped out of the factory. Ingredients and products can only enter and leave the factory at particular locations, and space is a precious commodity. How the equipment is laid out really matters. The game probably won't appeal to those who don't enjoy solving these logistical and spatial puzzles. I find them interesting. Ultra efficiency isn't required, at least to achieve the easier victory conditions.

When the game isn't paused, time ticks by in daily increments. Ingredients are imported and move along the conveyor belts and processed by the different equipment installed on that product line. Each of those actions costs money, which is deducted from your company's cash. When the product leaves the factory the company collects the income. Keeping an eye on your cash balance is necessary because you don't want to run out in the middle of creating a production line. Loans provide a quick influx of cash in a pinch.

Things get more interesting when cures require adding multiple ingredients.Ingredients can have up to 4 different effects. When two ingredients are combined and have an effect in the same position, one effect will be preserved and the other thrown away. The player can choose which ingredient is the base and have its effects preserved. This is one way negative traits can be removed from a drug. One of the instruments even lets a drug's effects be shifted one position to another to help engineer the desirable traits into the drug. More powerful options exist too.

Getting Some Feedback

Once a drug is in production, some time is needed before determining how effectively the ailment is treated or how prevalent any side effects are. Crikey! A little less than half of the customers using the product below get any cough relief and more than 20% are nauseated. This adversely affects the cure rating which results in less money collected for each unit shipped. Adjusting the concentration can affect how much our drug helps the ailment, or how frequently our customers get nauseous. At this point the best concentration isn't known, but we can find out with some research!

Over time with more data collected, the cough suppressant was even worse than initially feared. It only helped about 33% of the people who took it while still making just as many nauseous. It earned an E rating cutting into its profitability even further.

Expanding Your Knowledge

Hiring scientists costs money and keeping them on payroll drains profits, but they are necessary to get access to better equipment. They can also reduce your operating costs. In the early game it's easy to overextend yourself by hiring too many people. As CEO, you decide when it's time to pursue more advanced technologies. The analyzer tech helps solve the problem with the cough suppressant above and maybe find a concentration where coughs are better suppressed while making the customers less nauseous. 

In this case, utilizing the analyzer revealed that the concentration the cough suppressant works best also makes the most people nauseous! There are ways to mitigate this after researching the proper tech, but it's not always wise to increase the cost of making a drug since it's not always profitable. The resources can probably be better utilized for pursuing other treatments.

Some cures are more financially rewarding than others. Higher tier cures require more processing to bring to market and may require some equipment that must be unlocked with research. Researching an agglomerator enables me to transform my cough remedy into a more profitable asthma treatment.

You Are Not Alone

We're not talking about aliens here, but other companies. While you're busy developing your own products, they are too. They'll fulfill the demand for treatments and buy ingredients (which affects their price). Hey! They're also producing a cough remedy. I'm not sure if the other companies are actually playing out the game with the same rules as the player or if they're more of an abstraction since they operate in the dark. With some espionage tech more information is revealed about what they're doing.

Placement Does Matter

Most of the challenge resides in processing the ingredients efficiently to produce the desired effects and then getting the instruments' inputs and outputs lining up in such a way the ingredients can be moved along the production line from the points of import to the place the product is exported from the factory. Conveyor belts can't cross over or under one another so it's quite possible to paint yourself into a corner. The instruments can be rotated, but they can't be flipped, so it can be difficult to align the inputs and outputs in a way that keep your design neat. These situations may be able to be fixed by adjusting the instrument layout, or researching equipment so fewer instruments are needed to process the drug. Instruments can be moved around at will, but the conveyor belts must be sold off for a loss. It's a small amount of money in the grand scheme of things, but it would be nice if the player could lay out their plans to experiment before committing to them and paying the money. Sometimes these situations can be frustrating, but it's just part of the difficulty and the rules of how Big Pharma works. It may just be that I'm spatially challenged.

After researching more powerful instruments to adjust drug concentration I was able to bring an asthma medication to market. Unfortunately my competition beat me to it. Using the analyzer I was able to determine the concentration the drug will be most effective, without any side effects! Without researching the new instruments, I don't think I could have fit the asthma product line within my current building. Now it's time to expand my factory.

Decisions, Decisions

One of the things I like about the game is that I always seem to be considering something - the next cure to pursue, how to improve the cure grade of an existing product, when should I research the analyzer so I have more insight into the products I'm creating. Should I borrow money so I can afford another product line or some researchers. 

For the most part the interface supports the decision making process, but there are a couple places it falls short. Scientists can reduce the cost of running a particular type of instrument. To make that choice, it is helpful to know how many of each machine is in use so it can be determined what will save the most money. The only way to do this is to count them manually. Ingredients are handled a little better because that screen shows how many units your company purchases, but there isn't a screen that aggregates that information, so you need to do quite a bit of clicking.  

Even on a beginner scenario things can get pretty involved. I think my slow starts are preventing me from getting the Master ranking, so even the beginner levels can provide a challenge when going for the harder victory conditions.

The game really shines when playing the advanced scenarios. The higher tech equipment leads to more interesting ways to combine and process the ingredients.

Some Other Minor Complaints

In the beginning and middle of the game, the play speed isn't much of an issue because I'm usually involved managing the business in some way, but there are times I wish I could make the game run faster. It can run in the background, so it's possible to take a break and do some web surfing, but having the possibility of a faster game speed would be nice. Big Pharma should take a cue from a game like Europa Universalis that have very speedy fast forward levels.

The game also pops up some world events, which seem to just increase or decrease the demand for particular cures. Sometimes they don't really last long enough to make product line adjustments based on them, so they more or less just feel like random perks or penalties to a company.

The music is upbeat and perky, but either the tracks sound similar or there aren't a lot of them. Each time I pay attention to the music it feels kind of samey. It's not a big deal since the music can be muted once you get tired of it.

Technical Performance

I didn't encounter any major issues, even with frequent alt-tabbing out of the game. The game does seem to have problems registering clicks on items sometimes, such as it I'm trying to select an item on the conveyor belt. The icons at factory import and export points also get it the way at times and make it difficult to select what's near them.

My specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i& 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 7870.


I went into Big Pharma expecting to enjoy the game and I wasn't disappointed. The game focuses on setting up the production lines - it really isn't a business sim, but I don't think the game suffers because of it. There is plenty to think about. It can be very satisfying to tweak a production line to operate more efficiently, or to engineer out one of the pesky side effects. Probably do to my inability to think ahead, I'd have to re engineer my plans to overcome an obstacle I didn't anticipate.

On the first advanced scenario, money was much tighter and the game provided a tense challenge. Sometimes competing against the AI feels arbitrary, maybe because they're mostly just messages that pop up. I don't feel like they're going through the same process as me. They are effective though - I would curse them when they patented a cure that was on my production line and they provide for some interesting moments.

My two main wishes are more fast forward levels and an online leaderboards so I can chase my friends' scores. Another nice touch would be to have a 'random' setting for each parameter when setting up a custom game. Many times games are more enjoyable if the player doesn't know quite what to expect and have to adjust their play once they discover what's going on.

I've read some people's complaints about the amount of content included in Big Parma and I don't get where they're coming from. There are many scenarios, taking hours to complete. Setting up a custom game offers more play for those who want it too.

So, if you enjoy setting up and tinkering with production lines, my guess is that you'll like Big Pharma.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pillars of Eternity: Review

Version Reviewed: (steam)
What I like: Story and dialog. Attractive world. Some aspects of combat.
Not So Much: Combat has too many mobs. Pretty easy on hard difficulty. Not all features fleshed out.
Other Stuff You May Like: Lots of options to tweak how much info is presented.
The Verdict: A RPG worth playing due to the world building and story. Should appeal to fans of Bioware's Infinity Engine games such as Baldur's Gate. Combat can be enjoyable and tactical, but difficulty is uneven.
About my reviews

Official site: Pillars of Eternity

Disclaimer: No disclaimer. My copy was purchased for me by Desslock. Thanks!

This review was written by myself and first published on


RPG fans have been eagerly awaiting Pillars of Eternity's (PoE) release since its successful Kickstarter campaign. It's familiarity to Bioware games, such as Baldur's Gate is unmistakable and not accidental. Obsidian Entertainment made it clear from the get go that those games were a huge inspiration for PoE. Back in the day some of those games were among my favorites, combining interesting stories, characters and fantasy combat. Obsidian took that formula and added some modern sensibilities. Did it capture the same magic, or did it roll a 1 on the ol' 20 sided die?

Birth of a Hero

Like most games of its ilk, PoE starts the player off giving birth to the persona they will be channeling as they explore the new world. There are many ways to tailor your character right from the start. Each of the 6 races have various strengths and weaknesses and also grant perks - such as wood elves' affinity for ranged attacks, or the death godlikes' ability to ratchet up the pain on wounded foes. Selecting one of the 11 classes has the largest influence on how your character will perform in combat, providing an assortment of abilities. For some reason I always feel the need to play as a fighter in most RPGs, even though some of the other options are more interesting. Since your party can also contain up to 5 supporting characters, getting to experience other classes isn't a problem. Control freaks can hand craft each companion, or you can invite some of the people you'll meet on your journey to join your party. Even though I tend to be a control freak, I went the latter route and wasn't disappointed, as Obsidian did a great job imbuing them with personality and their own interesting quests to complete.

Flog the First, pensively considering what may lie ahead.

This Ain't Your Grandpa's RPG

For better or worse, PoE is based on a brand new system created by Obsidian. Those familiar with games based on Dungeons and Dragons will have some learning and unlearning to do. The in-game information is a pretty reliable source. Many elements have tool tips, open information windows when clicked, or are covered in the Cyclopedia. The manual however was out of date. Is it really that hard to provide up to date digital manuals? 

I think the system works well enough and provides several areas for tactical consideration. Create tanks with high constitution and deflection to weather attacks, a squishy wizard with high intelligence to lob spells from the back lines when not firing his pistol, or a chanter who buffs your party constantly while gaining access to spells over time. There really is a lot of variety between classes. At times I had the feeling that the effects of attributes in combat were too small, and the random number generator too large. Just a feeling I had.

Beginning Your Journey

Obsidian makes their world come alive with beautifully detailed environments and music. The story is told through narrative, rich conversations, and detailed lore found throughout your travels. There is a lot of reading for those who want it, but most of the detailed descriptions and background lore can be skipped if you'd like. Still, there is a lot of dialog, some voiced and some not. While the majority of the voiced dialog was done well enough, it was awkward to follow along with the text at times. The text often contained unvoiced descriptions, so you'd either have to skip them to keep up, or try and read them as the speaker moved on without you. It's a small problem, but was annoying. At times I found the writing a little too flowery, but in general it did a great job of building up the world and history. I'm not qualified to critique the technical aspects of the writing, but I consider it one of the game's strengths.

Slash, Crush, and Pierce Your Way to Victory

Combat is typically one of the major aspects of a computer RPG and it won't be long before your first encounter. Like the games that inspired it, PoE offers real time pausable combat. Even with the many options to automatically pause the game during combat, I felt it was too fast paced - and yes I did turn on the option to automatically slow down the game's speed while in combat. Sometimes attacks are going on simultaneously. I frequently wanted to examine the results of each attack. The combat log (which can be turned off) shows quite a bit of information, but unless you're pausing frequently you won't have time to examine it.

The combat log is a great tool to analyze your performance. Utilizing the tool tips it's easy to see if your fighter is missing because his accuracy is less than his target's deflection. Maybe your rogue is connecting with his bow, but not causing much damage because that skeleton is resistant to piercing damage.

One nice touch is that as you defeat more of a particular enemy, information is added to your bestiary. This can be consulted before a battle to try and plan for the strengths and weaknesses of your enemies. These enemies don't scale with your party, so the information is always applicable for that particular creature.

A lot of skeletons fell before my party, so the bestiary contained complete information.

Greater flame blights weren't so common my bestiary is sparse.

Much of combat is about controlling the battlefield. Fighters excel at engaging multiple enemies, preventing them from doing an end run around your front lines and getting to the squishy types in the back. Some of their special abilities allow them to occupy more enemies, which is useful against the large groups you'll encounter. When fighting indoors it is much easier to retain control, choosing to engage in a narrow doorway. It can be more difficult outdoors where spaces tend to be wide open. Some spells and abilities need a clear shot to the enemy, so working your wizard around to the flank is necessary to avoid blasting your front line. Others can be lobbed over the top. The UI works well for managing these attacks.

That's not to say there aren't some frustrations. Sometimes units can't reach their target and it isn't obvious that the space is too small to navigate through. At times characters don't respond to commands and it isn't obvious why. In general these don't happen so frequently that they spoil combat. Since there isn't any scripting, battles do tend to require a fair amount of micromanagement - if the encounter isn't easy.
An opening volley against a large group of undead

Things start to deteriorate when the enemy wizard charms my priest and wizard.

As I lose my squishier allies and my fighter moves to take care of the enemy wizard, the battlefield becomes more chaotic. Note the combat log tool tip showing attack rolls.
In the battle above, my plans became disrupted when my 2 party members were charmed. Most abilities and spells can't be cast out of combat. My priest has a spell that helps protect against being charmed, but I have to wait until combat begins to use it. This limits what can be handled during pre battle planning. You could try to fire your spell of quickly to protect the party in time once hostilities commence.

Other than the positional challenges, the main focus is deciding who to target and bringing attacks to bear on the enemy that will be effective. A heavily armored enemy might be very resistant to slashing damage, but weak against lightning. Some abilities can be used a number of times per combat, while others can be used a number of times per rest. This system is supposed to force the player to make tough choices. Do I need to use this ability for my current fight, or should I save it for a more difficult one? I feel that this is really only a convenience tax because the player can rest anywhere (if they have the camping supplies). If they don't it just means a trip back to a store to buy some, or a rest in the tavern. It is only slightly tedious to make runs back to an inn since travel can be accomplished pretty quickly. I don't know what a good solution to this problem is, other than balance the game so abilities can be used a number of times per combat.

For me the biggest problem with combat is the uneven difficulty. I completed the game on Hard (only Path of the Damned is more difficult). While the early game provided frequent challenges (the first 5 out of 12 levels or so), most battles became a cakewalk where I could just group select my characters and target an enemy. Once they go down, click on the next one. I don't envy Obsidian, because it has to be a difficult thing to balance. Maybe Path of the Damned would have been a better choice for me, but I didn't want to switch it mid review. Another option could have been to only use 4 characters in my party instead of 6, but I wanted to hear what the other characters had to say as I progressed through the game. So, with some experimentation perhaps a better balance could have been found. If you're a veteran of this type of game and like more of a challenge, I'd recommend trying Path of the Damned.

I actually preferred the action point system in Divinity Original Sin, but didn't like Divinity's over reliance on environmental effects and exploding barrels. So while I think Divinity's system is better, I feel PoE's actual content was more enjoyable.

Practically all experience points came from completing quests, so there is no need to grind through combat just to gain skills. Once an enemy is cleared it doesn't re spawn.

Let's Talk it Over

The dialog system is another area that shines. I've already mentioned how it is well-written, but it also adapts to your main character. Some dialog choices are only present based on meeting some attribute or skill value. Sometimes it may be your race or class that provides more choices. It's hard to tell on a single play through how much it actually affects the game, but it sure feels like it is personal. Dialog choices can even affect how people perceive you - such as being honest or aggressive. You can even configure whether you see dialog choices your main character doesn't qualify for - and yes, it does only consider your main character. At first I was a bit disappointed the entire party wasn't considered, but I decided having this limitation makes your choices more meaningful. There were many conversations where I agonized over what choice to make.

Some Other Minor Complaints

In general I found weapons and equipment to be too similar to each other. It was rare that I got excited for a new find. Also ranged weapons seemed pretty powerful, where a single volley from my back row would turn an enemy into bloody bits. Many times I didn't even bother casting spells or using abilities since the ranged weapons were so effective. Maybe this is related to how easy much of the combat became on Hard and spells and abilities would be more important on Path of the Damned. Don't get me wrong, there were still difficult battles, but much of it was trivial.

This isn't really a criticism, but more of a preference. After playing games such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I loved despite the weak combat, exploration from an isometric perspective just doesn't have the same impact as being immersed in a beautiful 3D environment. While Obsidian did a great job with the artwork, I wasn't wowed, like I was exploring in Inquisition. Exploring a map in Pillars is kind of like scratching off a lottery ticket. I slowly move back and forth across the map, revealing interesting locations along the way until the entire contents are revealed.

Some of the systems didn't seem fully fleshed out. The stronghold you acquire is essentially a money sink. There is a long list of improvements that are essentially meaningless. You can build upgrades that give perks when resting there, but the paid rooms at inns offer better bonuses. Shops can also be added to provide more options for buying equipment, but I never found them to be worth visiting. It felt like a feature that was added because they had to, but didn't have the time or resources to put a lot of effort into.

The enchantment system was also pretty limited. It could have been more interesting had there been more choices, if some of the equipment varied in the amount of enchantments it could hold, or allowed multiple enchantments from one of the three categories. 

Technical Performance

I had one freeze when a new map was loading, but no other big problems. Even on a SSD drive, loading times were a little annoying, especially since it occurs whenever a building is entered and exited.

My specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i& 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 7870.


Despite some of the issues I had with the combat and other features, Pillars of Eternity is well-worth playing. It would be hard not to recommend it to fans of the old Bioware games. The primary strengths are the story and dialog, allowing the player to put their own stamp on how it plays out - or at least giving the appearance of doing so.

I feel the combat shined in the early game. There was a particular encounter when I was still a party of one where I had to scrape by, by using some consumables. Without them I would have lost, but I was rewarded with victory by intelligently using the resources at my disposal. These types of occasions were more common in the early game. I'd also prefer fewer, but more powerful enemies then the hoard of creatures frequently encountered. The details of the combat system get lost when the battlefield is too chaotic. If you can find the right level of challenge by adjusting the difficult level or the number of members in your party, combat is a rewarding part of the experience.

The  isometric presentation feels limiting after playing a game such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the environments were attractive to discover. I think many RPG fans would find aspects of Pillars of Eternity to enjoy and the strengths outweigh some of the weaker elements. Pillars of Eternity isn't game of the year material in my estimation, but it doesn't need to be to enjoy it.

A big thank you to Desslock for providing me with a copy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter: Review

Version Reviewed: 1.0.10706.0 (steam)
What I like: Wow it's beautiful! Nice ambient sounds and music too. Several fun puzzles.
Not So Much: A lot of walking around and searching for items to examine.
Other Stuff You May Like: About the right length for this type of game.
The Verdict: The presentation is top notch and the few meaty puzzles that are in the game are enjoyable. The story is interesting enough to pull you along. Worth playing if you can handle a lot of walking through the environment not doing much at times and can appreciate the above strengths.
About my reviews

Official site: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Disclaimer: No disclaimer. I purchased my copy.


Call me shallow, but I was attracted to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for her looks. Before I started playing, I'd heard a little bit about the game. I knew people praised it's looks - who wouldn't! I knew that there wasn't a lot of game play in the game - also true. What I didn't know is if it was a game worth my time. I'm not a big 'adventure gamer'. I used to be in the days of Sierra Online - King's Quest and the like. This was the perfect type of game for me to pick up on sale, because I didn't know what to expect.

Looks Aren't Everything, But They Sure Do Help

I stepped out into the forest, a light fog slightly obscuring the trees in the distance. Beautiful. Even with anti aliasing turned up from the defaults the frame rate was good. Through out the game I kept my eye on performance and other than an occasional stutter it remained a pretty solid 45-60 fps. Since there isn't any action in the game this was more than sufficient.

Later when I emerged from the forest, the view was equally breathtaking.

OK, so we kinda new she was going to be a looker before we even met her. Does she have anything of substance to offer?

Examining What's Below the Surface

This is primarily a game about discovering the narrative, piece by piece. Information is gradually revealed through notes, newspaper clippings, narration, and other information you discover as you move through Ethan's world. As you'll soon discover, much of the game involved finding objects to examine and sometimes placing them in a particular location. No, you don't really have an inventory and these aren't intended to be tricky. It's pretty obvious what to do with an object if it has a place to use it. 

Some of the areas are wide open, and it isn't always obvious where to go. Having this freedom of movement makes the environment feel more real - but it does lead to some wandering. Eventually there is an invisible barrier that let's you know you're straying too far. Early on in the game, I didn't know if I had discovered everything I needed and ended up backtracking. I was right, I had missed something. Objects related to a given puzzle or narrative sequence tend to be in the same general area. Knowing this would have saved me a little bit of time, but there isn't any guidance in the game. This never caused any major frustrations as things are mostly straight forward.

After an hour or two, I was afraid the entire game would be like this. Strolling through the landscape, examining items, getting bits of story and moving on. The story had me interested, but typically that isn't quite enough to keep me going. I like to do stuff. I need something to solve, if nothing else. Luckily there were several puzzles that fit the bill and I enjoyed them a lot. The first puzzle you encounter really isn't so much a puzzle as a little series of interactions. So don't get discouraged, there are some better ones to come.

Parts of the game can be a little gruesome and I was OK with that. The game didn't really throw it in your face and it never seemed out of place. 

The game saves automatically after you've solved a particular set of clues or puzzle, so there is the potential to lose a small amount of progress. Since the game only took me about 5 hours to complete this was never really an issue, but if you know you will be quitting soon you probably want to do it right after an autosave.

Taking time to enjoy the sights.

Technical Performance

Other than some occasional stuttering, which was generally after alt-tabbing, the game ran smoothly.

My specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i& 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 7870.


I'd put The Vanishing of Ethan Carter as a close relative to Dear Esther (which I didn't like at all) and Gone Home (which I thought was pretty good). The game is definitely more about the narrative than puzzle solving, but 3 puzzles or so were quite enjoyable. While I was wishing I had more to actually do, the beauty of the presentation, the story and smattering of puzzles made the game worth playing. At 4-6 hours it neither wore out its welcome nor felt too short for the type of game it is. I think if you enjoyed the other two games I mentioned The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is worth a look. Having a little more 'game' to it may also make it worth playing if the thought of wandering around examining things doesn't turn you off too much. As a whole I'm happy with the time I spent with it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Child of Light: Review

Version Reviewed: 1.0.31711
What I like: Unique combat system, artistic style and music
Not So Much: Story starts off dull, rhyming feels painfully forced sometimes.
Other Stuff You May Like: Several characters to switch between in combat, light crafting
The Verdict: A beautiful looking and sounding game with a unique feeling that has some weaknesses. Not for everyone but I'm glad I stuck with it.
About my reviews

Official site: Child of Light

Disclaimer: No disclaimer. I bought my copy.


Child of Light is a difficult game to characterize. Starting off it seems like it could focus on being a platformer, but after extended play the platforming aspects of the game are fairly light and lack difficulty. The game has a significant amount of storytelling and beautiful music. There are RPG elements - attributes, combat skills, leveling up and some mild crafting by combining gems (Oculi in game terms). These combat skills are put to use in a very unique combat system. These elements combine into a game which is beautiful, unique, tactically challenging and touching - but also sometimes tedious with a narrative that feels forced. I almost quit halfway through, but am quite pleased I stuck with the game.

The game offers two difficulty levels Casual and Expert. I tend to like games that challenge me in some way, so I played through the entire game on Expert. Casual exists for those wanting to take in the story and artistic presentation without needing to worry about the difficulty. Since I only played on Expert I can't comment on the difficulty of Casual. 

The World of Lemuria

Your journey through Lemuria will take you across various beautiful landscapes, accompanied by atmospheric environmental sounds. The artistic appeal of Child of Light never disappoints. Some areas are somewhat linear, others a bit more open. Not all paths are easily noticed as you pass on your way. Attention to detail is rewarded with loot chests and power ups, so it's wise to keep your eyes open.

The start of an adventure in the forest.

Platforming is simple - move a crate to reach a higher ledge, time your moves to avoid thrusting spikes. At times you need to utilize Igniculus, a helpful elemental, to disable obstacles in your path. Even making a mistake during these sequences never really spells disaster since Igniculus can heal any damage taken. I never took enough damage that it lead to my death. It seems the platforming is there to provide some sense of danger without ever really making it so.

As you move through the world, Aurora (the little girl you control) or companions you meet along the way reveal comments inspired by their surroundings, parts of the main story, or tidbits about their own personal plights. At times these are welcome and well done - sometimes touching or otherwise contributing to the storytelling in a positive way. The dialog and story bits are always presented in rhyme. In many places this works well and gives the tale a storybook feel. Other times they feel forced, with awkward words which makes the narrative harder to follow - even disjointed.

Even though the backgrounds are essentially 2 dimensional, Aurora can take some paths that have some depth to them.

Have a Little Help from My Friends

As mentioned earlier, you'll meet some companions along the way - the first being a firefly (elemental) names Igniculus. Igniculus is different from the other companions you meet. Other companions only participate in combat or appear to tell parts of the tale. Igniculus remains on the main screen with you as you explore the world. He'll follow you around automatically, but at times you'll also take direct control of him to reach an area Aurora can't reach or to assist in some other way. I played with an XBox 360 controller, but mouse and keyboard controls also exist. The controller felt natural. The mouse and keyboard felt OK too in the small amount of time I spent using them.

Aurora, meet Igniculus.
Igniculus can glow, which has different effects depending on the situation. While exploring, he can heal Aurora or even blind enemies so combat can either be avoided or let Aurora and her friends start with the upper hand. Wishes found along the way recharge his ability quickly, or they can slowly recharge over time.

Lemuria is not a Safe Place for a Little Girl

There will be times when enemies will block your path. Using Igniculus to blind them will let you avoid the combat, which may be OK if playing on Casual. Skipping too many encounters would lead to trouble on Expert for sure because the experience points gained from combat allow Aurora and her companions to level up so they are prepared for more challenging enemies.

Get him when he's not looking!

Attacking enemies from behind gives Aurora an initial advantage in combat. It's also possible for enemies to gain the advantage, but in general if you're paying attention this probably won't happen a lot. 

It's Like Choreographing Dance, but More Deadly

Combat takes place on a tactical combat screen, pitting up to 2 of your group members against up to 3 enemies.

See that bar along the bottom? You'll want to pay attention to that. Each participant moves along that bar based on their speed. When they reach the red area, it's time to select their action. This can be a physical attack or a spell of some sort. These actions are unlocked as they level up. While there aren't a huge number of different skills, they are varied - single and group attacks, healing, paralyzation, speeding up, slowing down and more. These actions also take up a different amount of time and here is where the dance begins.

When someone is attacked while they are in the red portion, their action is interrupted and they are moved towards the left on the bar. Interrupting actions is a great way to gain an advantage in combat. Since Igniculus can slow down an enemy's advancement, deciding when to use this power is an important tactical choice It isn't always advantageous to slow an enemy down because then they may not be in the red area when the attack is executed. Juggling Igniculus between enemies, planning which attack to use, deciding what ally to swap into battle are all part of this intricate dance. You do get a chance to stop and think since time pauses when it's one of your characters turn to attack. This combat system felt different from any other game I have played.

While I could generally stick with the 2 characters I liked the most in combat, they all had their uses. This could be due to their different skill set, or due to the fact that injured allies could be replaced during combat. One more step in this intricate dance.

Add the use of potions to buff, debuff and heal and combat provides many options. Enemies were varied enough to require new tactics, but there were times when there were more encounters with the same type of enemy than I wished to fight. Since I needed the experience points, I felt obliged not to bypass the combat. Luckily I never needed to grind and fight the same enemies repeatedly. I obtained enough XP by winning each encounter once. Even on Expert difficulty most of the combat wasn't that hard, but there were difficult encounters that tested my mettle.

Well, it is Tagged on Steam as an RPG...

Leveling comes pretty frequently, coming with attribute increases and a skill choice. Character advancement wasn't one of the more interesting parts of the game. Attributes level automatically. The skill tree is essentially just a progression down 1 of 3 paths, either unlocking a new skill or improving an attribute. I generally just picked 1 branch and stuck with it, but there were times I went partway down another branch to unlock a skill I wanted. Each character has their own unique skill tree, but there is some overlap with the skills.

Another RPG element is some basic crafting and equipping of Oculi (gems). Most of the gems provide some type of elemental damage or protection, but there are some more varied effects. Since some enemies are more susceptible to certain types of damage it pays to try and get beneficial match ups.

Visuals and Music

Child of Light excels in both areas. Each environment has touches of detail that bring them alive and are a joy to travel through. The music is one of the few soundtracks I'd listen to outside of a game. Check it out here and you can buy it here.

An ominous looking area.

Happy after looting a chest.

Much easier to get around when you can fly.

Stopping to have a chat with a friend.

On unsuspecting enemy keeps guard on the left.

Technical Performance

No crashes or any other hiccups experienced - even with frequent alt tabbing!

My specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i& 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 7870.


For me, the strengths of Child of Light were the unique combat system, visuals and music. I almost quit playing after tiring of forced rhymes, and a story I wasn't that invested in. Around the middle of the game, I started enjoying the story a bit more. There were times when the story touched an emotional chord. 

Combat could become a little repetitive, but a new challenge usually wasn't too far around the corner so I persevered during those times. The music in the final battle was like a reward for my persistence. Controlling the flow of combat with Igniculus was rewarding in its own right, just as much as selecting the right characters for a particular encounter and making smart skill choices.

A new game+ mode exists for those looking for more, but I think it is a 1 playthrough type of game. A playthrough which I enjoyed more than I first thought I would.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Cities: Skylines Review

Version Reviewed: 1.05
What I like: Solid basics, how traffic is handled (for the most part), large areas to build, no online requirement!.
Not So Much: Some aspects of simulation too simple, bland buildings from a gameplay perspective.
Other Stuff You May Like: Modding support.
The Verdict: A promising city builder with some holes. Creative types will probably get more value from it.
About my reviews

Official site: Cities: Skylines

Disclaimer: No disclaimer. I bought my copy.


Players are attracted to city builders for different reasons. Creative types enjoy making their cities look pleasing to the eye - a curved road here, a nice copse of trees over there. Less creative types - like me, are building with a purpose. There needs to be challenges of some sort, otherwise we think, 'What's the point?' Of course some people straddle these two groups with their weight shifted more or less to one side, and which group you favor can radically affect how satisfied you are with a game. Disclaimer - while I enjoy playing city builders, I do tend to tire of them quickly. They tend not to offer up new challenges to keep me interested long term.

Cities: Skylines is a city builder along the lines of SimCity, not the resource management games like the Anno series. Roads are laid down, zones defined (residential, industrial, and commercial) and services are provided. Fortunately the Cities: Skylines release was much smoother than the newest SimCity - most definitely due to the lack of a forced online requirement (other than just connecting to Steam). There must have been a pent up demand for such a game, because Skylines broke the Paradox Interactive sales record for a game hot off the press.

The Right Tools for the Job...

       ... But the Toolbox Isn't Always Complete

For the most part, Skylines provides an easy to use set of tools to build your city. Laying down roads is a simple process of selecting the type of road you desire and with a couple clicks - bam, you're done. Gravel roads, various sizes of paved city streets and highways all exist. Use 1-way roads to try and handle troublesome areas. Some roads are decorated with trees to increase land value. The game automatically displays the area that can be zoned so you can immediately see if you're using the available space wisely. Unfortunately you don't get to see the guidelines until after you click, so at times there is some clicking and canceling going on until you hit the spot you want. I can't remember another city builder that makes it easier to create elevated roads with entrance and exit ramps.

The handy shaded area is the land that can be zoned- along with the gray grids already present.

Running utilities is an area that could be more streamlined. In theory I enjoy control, but running water pipelines is just busywork. There isn't any real challenge to it or strategy necessary. On the other hand, power lines are a bit annoying. Buildings in close proximity automatically pass power access to their neighbors - which is good. Unfortunately when buildings pop up in freshly zoned areas they may not have access to power - so you wait and hope some more buildings pop up close enough to power access or you need to run power lines within your zone to reach the new buildings. Doing so de-zones those tiles, so it won't develop on its own until you manually destroy the power lines and rezone the area. Neither of these are a huge deal, but it could be better.

Building placement on the other hand is a breeze. Once the new building is hovered over a valid location, its effective area is highlighted along the roads. Since Skylines is developed by Colossal Order, developer of more transportation-oriented games, it's no surprise that it's easy to draw mass transit routes. As long as you don't need to edit them life is good, but I could never figure out how to effectively tweak and existing line. It was always easier to delete it and start fresh.

Just about to add a school

The newly shaded green area will now be able to get an education!

There are some other niggles as well. I've always liked putting parks in the center of some residential buildings. It's always nice to walk to a park when the weather is nice. Since parks need road access in Skylines, I can't lay them out how I like to.

Some other UI additions that would be helpful:
- the ability to show the color coded zone grid, even when I'm not actually zoning.
- be able to select a residential building to see how the occupants travel to work (like Simcity 4)

Let Me Check the Data

There are plenty of useful data overlays within Skylines, similar to the latest SimCity, which let you answer questions such as
- who has proper service coverage? (power, water, police, fire, garbage, etc)
- am I going to run out of capacity soon?
- where are there traffic issues?

The basics seem to be well covered, but sometimes you want to dig a little deeper.
- Why isn't that household at maximum happiness?
- Which residential buildings have available space?
- How many people died from getting sick?
- What percentage of people are overeducated for their jobs, or jobs available at various education levels, the education level of those unemployed?

Sometimes you can get this data for individual buildings by selecting them, but having more sophisticated data overlays to look at areas from above would be helpful.

Some traffic trouble spots

Driving Merrily Along

Traffic modeling is both the high point and source of some of my bigger gripes. Traffic occurs at logical locations and watching the routes cars take can be very informative. In fact, my favorite aspect to the game is creating additional roadways and watching to see how the traffic patterns adapt. In the majority of cases it makes a lot of sense to me. I enjoy adding some really crazy highway layouts and watching to see who chooses to use it. I can get mesmerized by the little vehicles, selecting one now and then to see where it's going.

There are times where the illusion of having tiny people travel through my city is dispelled. Sometimes a line of cars will crowd into one lane when others are available. In some cases you can feel the consequences of having traffic issues, dead bodies start to pile up at houses, and sanitation workers can't collect the trash in a timely manner. Good stuff. Unfortunately there aren't any consequences when workers can't reach their places of employment. If stuck in traffic for too long, they will magically teleport back to their house. Their workplace will continue on as normal, even if none of their workers can reach them due to traffic. The citizens will happily move on to other tasks, never getting upset that they couldn't reach their destination. This issue is being discussed on the forums, so hopefully this area of the simulation can be strengthened.

Industrial and commercial buildings do require a supply of goods, which is more completely modeled. So there is some good and bad aspects to the game's logistics.

I created some crazy highways, well, because I could.

How Can I Help You?

Providing services to your people is one of the important aspects of most city builders and I briefly mentioned it above. Fire engines travel from station to house to put out fires, cemeteries send out hearses to pick up the dead, and more. Everything I expect to be included is. My one complaint is that there really aren't any interesting choices to make. In the latest SimCity buildings had cool additions you could add to it. In Skylines there really isn't much to them. Just plop down the building of which you want to improve coverage.


As expected, wanna be mayors can tinker with tax rates, tweak budgets, and take out loads when low on cash. Pretty much what one might expect in a game like this. Other than taking out a couple loans, increasing the education budget, and decreasing some taxes, I didn't really need to visit this area often.

Some Innovative Ideas

Colossal Order (CO) included the ability to add districts to your city, which can be combined with city policies to give areas their own flavor. Don't want your city center to burn down? Create a district and give them free smoke detectors. Ban high rise buildings in certain locations. There are a couple dozen to choose from. In practice I didn't really use districts except to take advantage of the resources on the map - creating timber industry and ore mining. There are 4 special resources in all to take advantage of, each with slightly different characteristics. I think with some more interesting effects districts could be an interesting addition.

My starting location is now the Empire District

Another feature that is interesting on paper is that CO modeled the flow of water. Pumping wastewater into the river causes the pollution to travel downstream. Sean Sands at Gamers with Jobs wrote about an interesting effect of this feature.

It should also be noted that as your city grows, new land areas can be purchased, unlocking new areas for your city to expand. The available area is so much larger than the latest SimCity. This will be a big plus for many people.

My city has expanded to 6 out of the 9 possible tiles...

... which gives quite a large area to build.

Many mods already exist on the Steam Workshop so you may want to see what's available. There is even one to disable the chatty bird Chirpy that likes to sputter annoyingly frequent messages about nothing of real importance.

Visual Appeal

Skylines is an attractive game and also performs nicely. Buildings are detailed and tree lined streets seem like a fine place to take a walk. The only downside I can think of is that art assets are repeated pretty frequently. It doesn't bother me too much personally, but if you like a lot of variety you may be at least a little disappointed. Mods may help the game out in this regard.

Notice the nice view of one of my bridges in the background

A street level view

Technical Performance

No crashes or any other hiccups experienced - even with frequent alt tabbing!

My specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i& 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 7870.


If you've made it this far, you can see that while Skylines is promising, I'm not totally enamored with it. I feel bad for saying this because the people at Paradox Interactive seem like a cool group of people. I'm pleased it has done so well for them in such a short period of time. I hope it leads to further improvements! CO seems interested in gathering feedback on the forums.

Skylines does many things right - ease of road construction, traffic modeling, and the city builder basics. By far the aspect I enjoyed most was building roads and watching the traffic. I don't get into the creative aspect of city building, so my contentment comes from overcoming challenges provided by a detailed simulation. I need to feel like traffic problems matter more than they do in Skylines. People should be mad when traffic prevents them from arriving at their destination. Businesses should shut down if their workers never arrive. I didn't really have money issues, which maybe would be solved by using the hard mode mod. It is a pretty beginner-friendly game, so don't expect a great challenge out of the box.

I think creative types would get more out of the game then I do, and beginners to the genre are given a warm fuzzy hug. My negative comments aside, I do think it is the best of the 'traditional' city builder type of games - the new SimCity and Cities XL. It's also kept my interest longer than Banished due to the interesting road building in Skylines. By their nature, city builders can get repetitive and I don't have a high tolerance for that.

I hope the game gets a lot of post release support, and Paradox has a great track record when it comes to that. Maybe after some updates my opinion will be a little more positive.

Edit 3/17/2015: Karoliina at Colossal Order said that they are working on a solution to the 'workers not reaching jobs have no consequences' issue. She isn't promising anything, but that it is an important issue to them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2014 Year in Review

Wow, I haven't reviewed anything since April 2014. I've definitely played many games since then. My favorite gaming forum (Quarter To Three) just started their annual vote for best games of 2014. This got me thinking, a year in review post would be an easy way to get me writing again. I've meant to write some reviews several times throughout the year, but it never quite panned out. Playing a game with the intention to review it is quite a different beast than just playing for enjoyment. If you've read my reviews before, I tend to be more detailed than the average review you'll find on mainstream sites. My reviews probably aren't as entertaining as those written by more skilled writers, but hopefully they're helpful. Without further ado, below are the games released in 2014 that I've played enough to form an opinion on.

Best of 2014 

1. Dark Souls 2 

Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 are simply my favorite action / RPG games that feature melee combat. Combat is more about reading enemy animations and learning their moves than having ultra quick reflexes and memorizing complicated combos. The environments are great to explore. I typically don't get involved with multiplayer, but I had so much fun participating in PvP combat in the Bell Tower, both as a guardian and trespasser.

2. Dragon Age Inquisition 

For a game that had many things I didn't like about it, Dragon Age: Inquisition managed to overcome its weaknesses and break into my top games of 2014. For me, DA: Inquisition was all about the story, character banter and exploration of the beautiful world that Bioware crafted. The world was huge for a game of this type, with many locations to stumble upon. The combat was somewhat disappointing. It just wasn't as tactically involving as I would like, revolving around abilities that have cool down periods. There wasn't any detailed scripting of party members behavior either. The mouse and keyboard controls were absolutely horrible, but luckily using a controller provided a much smoother experience.

3. The Walking Dead Season 2 

The Walking Dead games are more about participating in a story than about the gameplay (which is limited). I didn't get as attached to the characters in Season 2 as I did in Season 1, but it was still a great ride. Lee + Clementine in Season 1 were probably my favorite duo in any game, but Clementine still shined in Season 2. I think any fan of the TV series would enjoy the storytelling in the Walking Dead games, just don't expect great gameplay.

4. Hexcells Plus 

Hexcells, Hexcells Plus, and Hexcells Infinite are interesting puzzle games. Basically the player needs to figure out which of the hexes are the marked ones by using logic to put the clues together. For example, there can be clues to specify how many within a column are 'marked', or how many of the surrounding hexes are marked. There are a variety of clue types that need to be assimilated to figure out the puzzle without making mistakes. They start off pretty easy as they introduce the concepts, but can get devilishly difficult by the end. No worries though because the game just tracks your mistakes but you can continue to make progress.

5. Endless Legend 

Endless Legend is a fantasy-themed 4X strategy game that isn't afraid to stray from the norm. It is this willingness to try new things that makes it stand out. The world is comprised of regions, which can only host 1 city, so city spam isn't a problem. This also provides some interesting decisions about where the city should be located. Each faction is more varied than in many 4X games. Factions are more than simply applying some bonuses. Each has a unique faction quest that can be followed as one of the victory conditions, along with some unique mechanics. Research is more open ended than in many games too. At release I did find the game a bit too easy, but hopefully the AI has been improved in the meantime. I also had some harder difficulty levels to try. Endless Legends is worth a try if you're looking for a different 4X game.

6. Lords of the Fallen

As a fan of the combat in Dark Souls, Lords of the Fallen is a natural fit for me. In many respects it plays very similarly to Dark Souls - but without multiplayer and it's more forgiving. I found the environments to be not quite as interesting as the Dark Souls games, but some areas were a bit complex to explore. Lords of the Fallen also lacks some of Dark Soul's character. There were also some stuttering of the graphics engine, but it never really compromised the play.

7. Age of Wonders III 

Age of Wonders III is a 4X game that focuses more on the tactical battles than the more traditional aspects of 4X games. Sure it has exploration, city development and research, but those features exist to support your war machine. The tactical battles are well done. The game suffered from some weaknesses on release, as I discuss in my review, but it was still a good game. From what I've read, the updates and expansion really have improved the game but I haven't gotten around to trying the improvements out. Otherwise Age of Wonders III may be higher on this list.

Worth Playing

The following games may not have cracked my tops for the year, but they are still worth playing if you have an interest in the genre.

8. Defense Grid 2

DG2 is a solid follow up to one of my favorite tower defense games. I think the towers may be a little better balanced and there are more upgrade options, so there is a bit more variety. Some maps can actually be changed mid scenario by spending some energy to do so, but it was rare that I did this. Each map has a leaderboard to spark some competition among your friends. The first DG grid had a lot of character in the story mode. In DG2 the characters are mostly annoying. Still very solid tower defense gameplay.

9. Wolfenstein :The New Order

The New Order provides solid action and story from the long running franchise. The story takes place in an alternate timeline where the Nazi's won World War 2. The dialog can be a bit cheesy at times, and I found the handful of missions that take place at 'home base' to be a waste of time, but worth playing overall.

10. Space Run 

Space Run provides an interesting twist on what is basically tower defense gameplay. Each mission starts with ship design by placing components on your ship. Weapons have different firing arcs, so placement matters. Success is based on how fast you complete the delivery, so you have to balance engines (for speed) vs survivability (weapons). The ship design also has to keep the cargo safe. Missions can get hectic as some components have abilities that need to be clicked to activate.

11. Out of the Park Baseball 15

For those who aren't aware, OOTP Baseball is a baseball simulation that focuses on decision making. There is no action / arcade game here. OOTP Baseball has been around for a long time and is the best choice for players who want flexibility with how they approach their baseball world. The player has control over the size of their league, what era to base the league on, whether to use fictional or historical players, and so much more. The player can take on various roles that interest them - making draft choices and trades, setting the pitching rotation, depth charts and lineups, and even making managerial decisions during the game. In my youth when I was a baseball fan this would have been awesome - replacing my All Star Baseball and Strat-O-Matic games.

12. Wasteland 2

Wasteland 2 is a RPG set in a post apocalyptic world. It's hard to decide where exactly to place Wasteland 2 in this list. I've only put about 10 hours into it because when it first came out I heard there were problems with broken quests, so I postponed my play. I enjoyed the story and tactical combat up to where I played, but there is still a lot of game left. Wasteland 2 is chock full of stats and abilities in the old school RPG sense. Combat is action-pont based, which I tend to like. Before buying I'd look into whether the problems were fixed. If so, there is a good game here.

13. Might & Magic X: Legacy

Here's another new take on an old school RPG. This one set in the fantasy world of Might and Magic. Legacy features tile-based movement like the old games - take steps in small increments, turn 90 degrees, etc. Gameplay is typical - explore the world to complete quests, defeat enemies in turn based combat, collect loot and level up. But, if you have a hankering for a classic RPG of this type, I think this one mostly satisfies despite some quirks.

14. The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga is a highly story driven RPG with turn based tactical battles. Without saying too much, the player leads their clan away from their homeland because of an approaching enemy. There are story based decisions to make and tactical battles to fight. The battle system does have a quirky design in that each side alternates moves regardless of if one side outnumbers the other. So whittling down the enemy doesn't reduce the number of attacks the enemy gets - until they are down to 1 unit. The Banner Saga has a unique artistic style and pleasant music throughout the game.

15. Warlock 2: The Exiled

Warlock 2 is a more focused follow up to the original, which streamlined the city management and research aspects of a game like Civilization and set the game in a fantasy world. It's very combat based. If you're familiar of Civ V's 1 unit per hex system, this will be very familiar with Warlock. Warlock 2 improves on the end game slog of the original by breaking the world into smaller shards. As more cities on the front lines are founded, others can be turned into specialized cities that don't require any management. This is one of those games where I did enjoy my first playthrough of over 20 hours, but I never really felt the desire to go back. Depending on what you pay it can still be worth it even if 1 playthrough is all you do. It is designed to be replayable - like most 4X games.

16. Door Kickers

Tactical battles that you plan out ahead of time and intervene when your plan starts to fall apart. Plot your squad's movement and actions, then move time forward to see it in action. Door Kickers reminds me of single player in Frozen Synapse, but I think the controls and feedback in Frozen Synapse were a bit more polished.

17. SteamWorld Dig

A simple game of exploration and loot finding with some very minor platforming elements.

18. Divinity Original Sin 

For some reason this didn't impress me like it did many people. It was basically an OK party based RPG with tactical battles. It didn't capture some of the humor from their other games and the story just didn't interest me much. Combat felt too gimmicky - relying too much on environmental damage and things like exploding barrels. The city quests were too tedious and required running back and forth. You could do worse but I wouldn't consider it a must play.

19. Tropico 5

I haven't played enough to form a well informed opinion, but I've played the first 2 or 3 missions in the base campaign. I've always liked the core city building mechanics of Tropico - people walk  and drive to the various locations to fulfill their needs. I prefer this to the radius-based system some city builders use. I've gotten pretty tired of the attempted humor and the music. I set the difficulty to hard and so far the campaign has challenged me more than Tropico 4 did. The lack of challenge in Tropico 4 was my main complaint.

21. Rise of Nations: Extended Edition

I'm not a big fan of RTSs anymore, but this update of Rise of Nations is pretty well done. Even though it is slower paced than many RTSs, it can get too fast paced for me. If you're a fan of the genre you should definitely give it a try.

22. Gridiron Solitaire 

This is a simple solitaire-like game with a football theme. It really does a good job capturing the feel of football. It might not be enough to occupy yourself for hours and hours at a time but a nice little game for smaller moment of downtime. My review is here.

Games I Wish I Skipped - Starting with the worst

1. Always Sometimes Monsters

After a couple hours I just didn't care about the story or dialog. It should have grabbed me by then if it was ever going to.

2. The Last Federation

After about 8 hours, there just wasn't anything making me to want to play this game. Could it have been due to a lack of understanding? Maybe. The game just felt like I was tweaking numbers by small amounts to see what happened. The combat system was interesting enough, but not enough to hold the game together. Applauds to Arcen Games for always trying something new, but it just didn't work out for me.

3. Banished

Very attractive city builder, but after building my first city up to 100+ population, it just felt like the same process could be used to continue to grow the city. I'm sure disaster could have struck and wiped out most of the population, but I don't think it would have made the game more interesting. Lots of positive reviews on Steam, but it seems more of a grind to me.

4. Last Knight: Rogue Rider Edition

A very simple action game where you joust your way through a cartoony landscape. I didn't like the feel of the controls and to me it wasn't always easy to see whether I was lined up to hit the enemy. It probably was a game that accomplished what it set out to do, but I just don't find it worth the time.

5. Diablo III + Reaper of Souls

It's not that I thought Diablo III was poorly done, I just think Diablo's gameplay doesn't appeal to me anymore. I got bored of the click to kill gameplay and messing with my character build to see how efficient I could make him wasn't interesting to me. So, it wasn't you Diablo, it's me.

6. Shadowgate

A tough adventure game with a unique clue system based on the difficulty. Environments are attractively done. I didn't always find the puzzles to be completely logical and required some guesswork. I think hardcore adventure game fans may enjoy this but it wasn't for me.

7. Thief

I found navigating through the city to be repetitive and a chore. Some of the missions themselves were good enough. Suffered from some framerate problems. 

8. Civilization: Beyond Earth

I didn't play Alpha Centauri until after I played Beyond Earth, so it wasn't nostalgia that was interfering with my enjoyment. Admittedly Civ V is my least favorite Civilization game, but I was hoping the new setting would liven things up. Beyond Earth lacks any personality, is poorly balanced and has many tedious gameplay elements - like trade routes. There are some good ideas buried in the game - like the tech web and little decisions to help customize your faction, but on the whole it's just a bland, bland game.

9. Bit.Trip.Flux

Bit.Trip.Flux is like a crazy version of pong that played too much beer pong. Things are expanding and shrinking, dots coming at different angles, very busy. But my biggest problem was moving the mouse up and down to control the paddle as sometimes very fast, precise movement was needed.

10. Shadow of Mordor

Mordor made a good first impression. It had a nice looking world to explore and Batman:Arkham City-like combat - except with a sword! The mobs can get very large, and combat repetitive. The Nemesis system wasn't enough to keep it fresh. I know this is many peoples' game of the year, but the mid and end game fell apart for me.

These lists vary so much from person to person that I'd expect many people to hate the games I love and love the games I hate. Hopefully 2014 was a great gaming year for you and 2015 will be even better.