Quick Look – Craftopia

Craftopia is, perhaps, what happens when someone tries to smoosh together too many other popular games. It borrows heavily from Breath of the Wild, then tosses in bits and bobs from other survival-focused crafting games, takes a little taste of monster-catching games, before finally adding just a pinch of insert-your-favorite-farming-game-here. Let’s be real – it even sounds like a bit of a hot mess. Still, I have been a little bit fascinated for awhile about just how it all comes together, so when a “Game Preview” showed up on XBox Game Pass for PC, I had to give it a whirl.

No, really, they’re trying for ALL THE GENRES!

I’ve given it about three hours now, and managed to level up my tech era twice and travel to a new island. My character is level 16, and just about the only things I feel like I have down are mining, chopping wood, and shooting arrows. The rest is all kind of hit or miss.

Character creation is currently super basic and a little buggy, because hair colors really don’t match what’s shown. Once you create a world, you’re presented with a big red button to push. Pushing it blows up earth, and then you get a cut scene where a pretty lady knows what you did. I’m not sure this is one that’ll go over big with the story focused gamers among us.

Then you’re on a deserted island – well, deserted except for like 10 tutorial humans and a bunch of animals. The first time you do something, quests start appearing willy nilly in the upper right hand corner of your screen, for you to either work on or ignore. Really, you can do pretty much whatever you want – hunt treasures, chop trees, craft some basic tools, murder some farm animals. The world is your oyster.

That said, at least if you choose to play a female character, it’ll look like you’re doing it all in your underwear.

I am playing on the easiest difficulty currently available; there is a pure “creative mode” planned to release around the end of the month, but so far, nothing is terribly hard. I did almost get eaten by a bear early on, but since acquiring a bow, I’ve noticed most things won’t chase you if you shoot them from far enough away. You level up by doing absolutely everything, and you’re given points to spend on skillssin whatever way most suits your playstyle.

There are dungeons on each island, although I think using the term “dungeon” is a bit of a reach, at least for the first island. It’s a long corridor with some stuff to break, some stuff to kill, and a boss fight at the end. They probably get harder, but I am not sure if they get any more complex or atmospheric. Honestly, my entire experience with the game over three hours has led me to keep my expectations low.

But it’s also kept me playing. I am the type of gamer who loves ridiculous checklists that contain items like “Chop 10,000 trees”. If you feel like you don’t know what to do, the mission list is there to guide you (although the auto tracker could use some help with prioritizing). Usually, you have to make something to progress. There’s tons of stuff to craft, and the interface is pretty simple, so crafting feels like less of a chore than it does in some games. Building doesn’t feel great yet, but it also just dawned on me that I need a furniture factory for complex items like doors.

I have, however, discovered that you can put cows in a toaster and milk comes out, so there’s that.

Craftopia is definitely not a finished game, and I’m fairly certain it’s trying to do too much and is therefore also not very good, and yet, I still want to keep playing. It’s pretty, it’s not very demanding either mentally or physically. I like to have a low-mental-effort game that can be played in short bursts, and I’m thinking I’ll probably pick this one up next time it goes on sale.

Some Blaugust (After)Thoughts – Lessons Learned Week – #Blaugust2021

Now that Belghast has posted the official Blaugust 2021 wrap-up, I wanted to tidy up some of my thoughts on Blaugust in general, and talk about my experience with this year in particular. I reluctantly made the decision before the beginning of August that daily posting was probably not something I was going to be able to attain this year, and attempted to adjust my expectations accordingly. I hate backing down from any sort of challenge, and Blaugust is precisely the type of challenge that works well for me.

But I had to balance my desire for productivity and shiny internet awards with the knowledge of the toll that productivity can take on me. I set my sights on achieving silver, and managed to – just barely – eke into the next category up, hence the lovely gold Blaugust 2021 award.

I also made the choice to focus more on keeping up with my gaming interests than keeping up with the community, and in retrospect, I think that was not the best choice to have made. I made this years festival about me, and I’m not even sure that I can say it made blogging easier. Over the course of August, I spent almost 90 hours gaming, and as a result, managed to make posts about eight different games over the course of the month.

However, since I didn’t dedicate a whole lot of time to reading other blogs, and interacting with other bloggers much past dropping the occasional like on a post here and there, I definitely feel like I missed out on a significant part of what makes Blaugust so great. I didn’t even realize this until I read Pete’s final #Blaugust2021 post. Despite there being so many more blog posts to read, I read less in August than any other month in recent memory. Because of this, I missed out on being able to build posts of my own on the back of posts from other Blaugust participants.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the interactions I get from blogging and social media and Discord with like-minded folks, but I don’t need it. It’s not a goal for me. Getting my thoughts down and sending them out into the world like baby birds is the goal; everything else is just gravy. I forget that for many bloggers, connection is the whole point, and I did not give back this past month the way I would have liked to do.

Community is the point of Blaugust after all, and this year, I just completely missed the point.


However, in my own way, this month was a huge success for me. I managed to carve out space for myself in my life, and that’s something I am forever struggling with. I didn’t waste gobs of time unable to decide what comes next. I (mostly) proceeded cleanly from idea to execution. I made time, and then I made damn good use of that time, and as ridiculous as it sounds, that’s huge for me. Even though I think I didn’t necessary succeed at Blaugust in its own intention, I needed this as a kick in the pants to remember why I do this, and why I love doing this.

I feel like this has been an issue in my life for a long time now – balancing the things I do for my own edification, joy, and recharging my batteries with the mundane life stuff that needs to be kept up with, and the things I do because other people need or want me to to do them. Living with a basically completely unmanaged (and therefore unmitigated) chronic illness, both mental and physical energy feel like scarce resources, and I don’t always use those resources in the best way. No matter what I decide, I almost always am looking back and worrying about missed opportunity costs.

I won’t try to say there weren’t a couple of times over the last four weeks where I pushed when I should have rested, or when I wasted time I could have manifested just a bit more energy and made better use of. Overall, I did pretty okay finding the balance, and I’m counting that as a win.

Nerd Girl Goals – September 2021 (#Shmuptember)

How the heck is it already September? I cannot be the only one for whom times has gotten very weird. The days are long, but the weeks fly by. The months are either eternal or over in a flash with nothing in between. I find myself using the phrase “just the other day” and then describing things that happened weeks or months ago.

As someone who is deeply connected with the ideas of planning and scheduling and then actually adhering to those things, the ever-moving goal posts in both my personal life and the world at large are giving me some epic fatigue. I don’t know when I am or what I’m supposed to be doing and it’s really starting to wear me down.

In response to all the things I have no control over, I am very likely to over-schedule my leisure time, which will either prove immensely satisfying as I check things off my list, or lead to a nasty case of burnout.

Most likely, with nothing in between.

GAMING

Play to Satisfaction - For me, saying "Play to Satisfaction" gives me explicit permission to drop a game that's not working for me, but also to grind away for nerd points if I'm really loving something.  I'm trying to make it a policy for myself that I will always play to satisfaction - no more, no less.

World of Warcraft

I definitely spent more energy over the last month or so debating whether or not to re-up my subscription than the cost of the subscription warrants. You see, for the past few expansions – almost as long as the option has been available to me – I have “paid” for my game time with in-game gold instead of my credit card, and found it very satisfying to do so. However, my nearly non-existent interest in WoW for anything other than our bi-weekly raid nights means I’m not making much in the way of gold, and will need to spend actual real life money in order to continue on.

Ok, typing it out sounds ridiculous. It’s $15 a month, which might have been a significant amount of money during some of our leaner years. However, this is somehow not one of our leaner years, and the fact that we’re still not going out to do things means we have ample space in our somewhat generous entertainment budget. So I can certainly afford the sub cost, I just wanted to make sure I was feeling good about this decision.

The bottom line is this. I am enjoying our team’s raid nights. While that should be enough in and of itself, the things that really pushed me over into spending the money (and gladly!) was the tragedy of losing two members of the WoW community in the past week. Neither was anyone I had any personal connection to, but I definitely have personal connections to people who were close to both @Epic_Insanity and @Rades. I’m not going to let my cheapskate tendencies keep me from spending time with people who bring joy to my life.

Community Game-Along – #Shmuptember

I frequently need to look up what exactly constitutes a given genre in order to prepare for a new month’s theme, and Shoot ‘Em Ups (or shmups, as they are sometimes abbreviated) was no exception. Although I’ve managed to accumulate more than a handful of games in my Steam library that have the tag, this is really not my genre. So I’ve decided that I’m going to go as old school as I comfortably can, and dive into Atari Vault this month. There’s bound be a shoot ’em up classic or two hiding in there, and I think it’ll make for an interesting hit of nostalgia. Probably.

Subscription Gaming – XBox GamePass for PC

I’ve done that weird thing that never seems to work well with a monthly structure – I renewed my GamePass subscription mid-month in anticipation of the release of Psychonauts 2 on August 24th. While I anticipate hitting my satisfaction threshold with that title sometime before my renewal date, I think I’m going to keep my subscription for another month, as there’s still more than a few titles of interest I have not yet had a chance to try out. I don’t think there’s anything left I’d call top tier must plays, but since I feel like I got a ton of value out of the mid-August to mid-September subscription, I’m willing to cut myself a little slack on the next one.

Other Gaming

Although it is by no means guaranteed, I am anticipating that my weekly co-op Stardew Valley game will have wrapped up before September does, and we’ve already decided the next game we’re planning to dive into together is Factorio. I bought this one ages ago, loaded it up, and played for approximately 10 minutes before getting completely overwhelmed. I always intended to give it another go, but … well, it’s not the first game I bought and then forgot I owned.

I’ve actually done very little co-op gaming outside of MMOs over the years, and while it’s also been just a good time and a nice way to make sure we hang out once a week, I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying actual cooperative gameplay.

I still have my list of games I’ve pulled to the front of my library that I want to give at least an hour to, which has gone basically untouched for two months now, as well as some more recent purchases I’d like to dive into. Still, I’m most likely to prioritize the games of interest on GamePass since my personal library isn’t going anywhere. Any of these titles could be on the table for this month, but clearly, the theme here is that I want to build something.

Miscellaneous Nerdery

This has not really been a great year as far as reading is concerned, so because I thought I was back into it, I am even further behind than if I hadn’t upped my goal. Ooops. I’m also seriously behind on The Pike Cast, and I’ve been adding a bunch of audiobooks to my library, so I feel like things will pick up as soon as I’m able to make some progress towards having a quiet space again. In the meantime, I’d like to read through something this month, but I have no idea what just yet.

I’ve also signed up and bought the materials to do a Halloween sampler-style Stitch-A-Long, so I’d like to finish up the last bits of the project I have in progress to free up my frame for that when the pattern parts start dropping mid-month.

Honestly, as much as I liked working through multiple games and all the Blaugust shenanigans last month, I’m looking forward to some diversity in my leisure time in September.

In Review – August 2021

Data pulled from ManicTime.

August felt like an eternity. In fact, when pulling up my gaming numbers, I was sure there was some kind of mistake because surely that long ago had to be July. But no mistake, real life has conspired to make this month draw out seemingly forever.

I did manage to complete – like actual cut to credits complete – four different games this month, which is a lot for me. It was actually good timing too, since this was Blaugust and all, because that was four more posts on the way to hitting the Gold Award. This is the first time I haven’t gotten the Rainbow Diamond, but I did do more than my original goal of 15 posts for Silver. Once I hit publish on this post, that’ll be my 25 entries for the month. I realize that’s just barely squeaking by, but I’m satisfied with it considering how much else is going in my my orbit right now. I’ve done far worse with far more available time.

I only made a handful of Blaugust-themed posts, but I also managed to write up a bit about what has and hasn’t worked for me during the life of this blog, as well as a Have You Ever? and a Would You Rather? question and answer style posts. I filled out the month with some Quick Looks, Game Overs, a little bit of the MMO life, and sure, a few filler posts.

I’m not sure that this is going to lead to more regular posting – I will admit to being pretty burned out on anything that even looks like it might be tangentially related to responsibility at the moment. I don’t, however, put that down to my increased writing output this month, but rather to have been running at full throttle in the rest of my life for most of the past month as well.


The one place I kind of failed and kind of didn’t is that I never even launched the game I had originally selected for #SciFiGameMonth for the Community Game-Along. I did however play both Ticket to Earth, which was deeply and completely sci-fi, and Psychonauts 2, which in my opinion also definitely fits the theme. I may very well hold off on Eliza now until #VNNovember.

In the next week or two, my co-op play through of Stardew Valley should be wrapping up – we’re working on the Perfection Tracker now, and the list of things still undone is getting fairly short. I’m also still working my way through the Sanctum of Domination raid in World of Warcraft, although I’m doing very little else in game, I’ve decided to see it through at least another month’s sub. We’re currently 5/10N, and pounding our faces against Painsmith for the past two raid nights. Considering we only raid one night every two weeks, I’m pretty pleased with the progress we’re making.

Blaugust Lessons Learned – Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Done

I wasn’t entirely sure what (if anything) I wanted to bring to Lessons Learned week for Blaugust 2021, but then this tweet came across my timeline this morning, and it was like I got hit over the head with a giant lightbulb. Please excuse the mixed metaphor, but the takeaway here is huge as a blogger, especially as a hobbyist blogger (as opposed to one who is trying to make a revenue stream happen).

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of done.

It’s a funny sentence, in it’s own way, but I think it’s a conflict that just about every type of creative faces at some point. Everything you have ever done? Probably could have been done better. But how much better and what would it have cost you?

Sometimes, I have the barest glimmer of an idea, and I think, man, I need to ruminate on that. Or I just push it aside because I don’t trust my ability to make that idea into a compelling post. I think it’ll be too short, or worse, far too long. I have no graphics. I’m not ready to write it.

And that, friends, is why I have so many months where I post less than half a dozen times. I don’t want to put in the effort unless I think it’s going to be perfect.

But you know what? Perfect never happens, and done can be immensely satisfying.

I identify far too strongly with this Hiraffe from Alekon.

I continue to be grateful to Belghast and the Blaugust community because revisiting blogging at the start of a blogging marathon meant that, if I wanted to win, I didn’t have time to get bogged down in the details. I didn’t spend months looking through layouts, trying to find something that was just right. I picked something that I didn’t find visually offensive, slapped a name on it, and got down to doing what I was there to do, which was writing.

And it’s stuck for over two years now. Sure, there have been fallow times, but I’ve – more or less – kept up with my oh-so-meager planned posts. I’ve tried a lot of things I otherwise wouldn’t have, and I’m getting words onto the screen and sending them out into the world.

It’s not perfect, and it hasn’t transitioned into other projects in the way I had hoped, but man, it feels good every time I hit publish on a new post.

Quick Look – Psychonauts 2

I always feel a little left out when people talk about the games from their formative years (whatever that means for them). Mostly, they’re going to be console games, probably Nintendo, and I had almost no Nintendo experience at all until the past 6 months or so. Since I was already a diehard PC gamer from my teenage years, the games that I remember really grabbing hold of me are usually off the beaten path of most people I know, even when we’re similar in age. I fell in love with Tamriel playing Daggerfall, and have picked up every Elder Scrolls title since on release day. I spent an obnoxious amount of time puzzling my way through The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour. I oversaw the rise and fall of great empires in Zeus: Master of Olympus, and watched people plummet to their fiery demises due to lax safety inspections in RollerCoaster Tycoon. And I got my introduction to the wild world of 3D platforming collectathons playing the original Psychonauts.

Despite platformers being one of my least played genres, since I’m awful at them, Psychonauts stuck with me. I held onto those discs for years, until finally re-purchasing the game twice – once for the XBox 360, and again on Steam. Now, mind you, I didn’t actually finish the game until 2018. Even if it did take me 13 years to complete, it’s still one of my proudest gaming moments.

So, obviously, I was a little bit excited about the sequel finally releasing.

And boy, was it a sequel worth waiting for. DoubleFine took everything that made the original Psychonauts so memorable – the characters, the story, the absolutely bonkers settings, and turned it up a notch. They then looked at all the things that were … less great … and made adjustments so that both returning players and folks new to the world could enjoy it even more than the first one.

Obviously, not all gamers were thrilled with the fact that the game would feature an Invincibility mode, and I am firmly in the camp of any game developer who decides to include a stress-free option for people who want to just enjoy the world and the story.

In fact, there are multiple difficulty toggles (listed under Accessibility in the options menu), for people who want less of a challenge than offered by the base game, but a little bit more than God Mode. You can choose to enable an easier mode for combat (where you do far more damage to enemies) or one that negates falling damage, if the platforming is what’s holding you back.

Despite the fact that I am struggling hard (I spent approximately 3 hours redoing a boss fight until I beat it), I have not yet elected to mess around with these options, but it’s good to know that I won’t have to leave this one unfinished for a decade or more.

I’m closing in on the mid point of the game’s main quest, just under 8 hours in. I have spent a minimal amount of time just exploring because I am really caught up in the story. Which leads me to another great change from the original – there is no point of no return. If you’re the type who likes to play through the story and then run around picking up collectibles and looking for secrets, you can absolutely do that. However, once you are past the midpoint, you will be locked out of certain areas until a future point in the story, and the game warns you very clearly about this.

I’ve had to take a bit of a break due to hand fatigue from the being unused to playing for long periods of time with a controller, but I honestly haven’t been this excited to play a game in a long time.

Getting Ready for Super Squirt Day

My interest in World of Warcraft pet battles comes and goes. I enjoy the collecting part, especially pets that can be caught from wild battles. The leveling part is somewhat less enjoyable for me, mostly due how long it takes and how very many pets there are that need to be leveled. I currently have just shy of 750 pets, and just over 200 of them have been leveled up.

If you’re like me, and you’re a somewhat casual pet battler with some catching up to do, and you played enough in Warlords of Draenor to have gotten a level 3 garrison up on at least one of your characters, then you might want to set aside some time this Thursday, August 26th. On this date, not only will the pet battle weekly buff be available, but Squirt will be the daily challenger in your garrison, a combination of event that the pet battle community has dubbed Super Squirt Day.

On Super Squirt Day, you can level just about any pet from level 1 to level 25 in two battles, provided you have two appropriate support pets already leveled up to 25. I use my Enchanted Broom and Boneshard, but if you are looking for alternative strategies to fit your stable, Xu-Fu’s Pet Guides has 43 other team options that you can check out.

If you use the add-on Rematch, you can save teams, and also set up a leveling queue. If you make your third pet in your Squirt Team a leveling pet, Rematch will automatically pull the first pet in your leveling queue onto the team once the previous pet reaches max level. This saves a ton of time sorting through your pet journal and deciding what to level. If you have specific goals, like leveling the pets you need to conquer the Celestial Tournament or the pet battle dungeons, it’s worth taking the time to do some research and make sure you have the correct pets queued up for leveling.

Once reset happens on Thursday, Squirt will be available in your garrison to battle all day long, so put on your favorite podcast or start up an audiobook, and settle in for some serious battle pet levelling. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t give your character any experience, but it’s still a great way to get a lot of battle pets leveled in a short period of time without needing any consumables whatsoever.

Identifying Your Stumbling Blocks – Staying Motivated Week (#Blaugust2021)

I’m going to make a bold statement here: every person who has ever started a project of moderate to large magnitude has hit a stumbling block at some point in time. They may not have realized it at the time. They may have simply decided the project was no longer worth pursuing and quit. Or they may have gone full out steam-roller mode and just plowed through regardless. Maybe it slowed them down a lot, maybe it only stopped them for a second, but we’ve all been there. We’ve all done it. We may have kicked a pebble or ran face-first into a brick wall, but every one who has done anything worth doing since the beginning of time has most definitely stumbled.

I stumble a lot. Too much maybe. But I think it’s more about what you do when you stumble than the actual stumble itself. And for me, identifying my stumbling block is the first step in getting back on track. Now, when I sit down to blog and I feel like I cannot possibly get myself to write a single word, I look to see if I’m struggling with one of the following issues.

I have absolutely nothing to talk about.

This happens to me most frequently when I’m struggling with things outside of the nerdisphere. Either I’ve been too busy and haven’t touched a game in days, or I’ve been feeling poorly (either physically or mentally) for a prolonged period of time, which wreaks havoc on my ability to concentrate. Sometimes, this feeling also comes from a bit of imposter syndrome, when I cannot fathom why anyone would care about my thoughts on any given subject.

Honestly, this is probably my least favorite stumbling block, and the one I come up against most often.

Normally, my way of dealing with this is to close up WordPress, open up Steam, and just start downloading anything that looks intriguing. One of the benefits of having a large library spanning many genres is that something, eventually, will catch my interest, and although it might take a few days to get back to my blog, at least I stop worrying about it for a little bit.

Alternatively, I go seek out what others are doing for inspiration. Sometimes that means reading other blogs, or creeping my activity feed on Steam to see what my friends are playing. Sometimes, that takes me to Discord or to Twitch or to Reddit. I seek out people actively pursuing the hobby that I’m struggling with. Sooner or later, something will pique my interest, and before I know it, I’ll be back in the game, both figuratively and literally.

I have no visuals to support my content.

More than once, I’ve been tempted to write about something I played on the Switch, but I still haven’t bothered to figure out how to get screenshots from that machine to my PC, and that’d only be helpful if I had remembered to take any in the first place. Or I get deep into a game and sit down to write some first impressions and realize that the only screenshot I took was the title screen. Oops.

Of course, those are irritating, but easily remedied with a little extra time investment. Worse, for me, is when I want to write something that’s not specific to a certain title, and I get nervous because I tend to ramble on, and no one likes a giant wall of text. Do I spend the time creating custom graphics? Do I go hunting through PixaBay for something that kind of sort of fits what I want to talk about?

(The answer to that one is almost always yes, by the way. PixaBay is a gift.)

The irony of me getting caught up here so often is that, mostly, I don’t care if there are images throughout the blogs that I read. I’m holding myself to a standard that I’m not entirely sure even exists. Obviously, having relevant pictures is great, but I’m not sure it’s really required. There’s also no reason I cannot add images after doing the writing work, but … I don’t actually ever do that. I always feel like I need to have all my ducks in a row before I sit down to actually write, so when this one hits, I go find some ducks before I can proceed.

I have no idea why I’m bothering with this blog anyway.

Oof. This is the doozy. This is the one that hurts when I run into it.

Naithan of Time to Loot did a great post that sticks with me about finding one’s motivation to blog. Now I want to stress the importance of reminding yourself of that motivation when you feel like your struggling. Maybe the writing you’re doing (or trying to do) is no longer serving your purpose. Maybe your interests have changed, which has turned keeping your blog into a chore. Maybe the schedule you set for yourself is too limiting, or not structured enough to really work any more.

Do not be afraid to change something that’s not working!!! This is double extra bonus true if your primary audience is yourself. Sure, if your blog is an important income source in your life, maybe you won’t have that freedom, but if you’re a hobbyist? You absolutely do. Embrace that. Write something totally outside your normal flow, even if you don’t actually hit the publish button. Revisit your motivation, reexamine your structure, heck, redesign your layout if you think that might help.

If it feels like work, and it’s not work, then you probably should stop treating it like work and go do something that sparks joy.


Bonus Blaugust prompt idea: Are you familiar with the common stumbling blocks you tend to run into most often? Do you have a strategy for combatting them? If you haven’t really thought about it, consider figuring out your common stumbling blocks and brainstorm the best methods for you for dealing with them.

The In-Between: Gaming Gaps

It’s been a slow few days around here, at least as far as my engagement with nerd stuff is concerned. After three days in a row where there were Many Things That Needed to be Done, Sunday was spent in full on recovery mode, and today was mostly about playing catch up. This pattern actually has a lot to do with why I normally have so much time to spend on hobbies – my limiting factor is almost always my energy, not my time.

Now, it’s Monday evening, and perhaps there’s enough time to start up something new, but since I’m also very aware that I have a few small commitments over the next few days, and that I should be able to dive in Psychonauts 2 sometime tomorrow, I don’t really want to start something new.

These weird “gaming gaps” aren’t really that uncommon for me. I’ve finished – whatever that means for me – the last thing I was playing, and I don’t really have the energy or mental bandwidth to jump into something new. However, during a Blaugust where I’ve already missed a couple of days, they’re awfully inconvenient.

Quick Look – HUMANKIND

Full disclosure – I would have been perfectly content to just let HUMANKIND slide right on by me until either there was a complete edition at a rock bottom price or it ended up in the Humble Choice or something. Not because I was completely uninterested in it, mind you, but merely because I’m not the type of gamer who needs multiple 4X titles in my life. In fact, I wish they’d stop reinventing the wheel in the Civilization series, but that is a completely different post.

However, since I do have an active Game Pass subscription, and since Psychonauts 2 isn’t out for another 5 days, and since I blew through Boyfriend Dungeon in around 6 hours, I had some time to kill, and figured I’d give it a shot. I played for about three hours over a couple of days, and while I don’t hate it, I also don’t love it.

If you’re coming into it with no previous 4X (or as HUMANKIND calls it, historical strategy) experience, you won’t have any habits to unlearn that won’t serve you well here. However, as someone who’s been playing Civ games since the second iteration, I had many, and I am almost as slow at unlearning as I am at learning. This did not serve me well, especially in my first game which dropped me in with more opponents and a higher difficulty level than I would choose for myself.

Bombarded by systems I didn’t understand, and frustrated by my glacial pace compared to that of my AI opponents, I quit that game, poked around until I found the settings, and got myself into a game that looked a little more my speed.

I’m perfectly fine admitting that the game systems are probably not as obtuse or complex as they seem to me; despite having years of experience, I fully admit that I was never actually good at this type of game. The biggest thing that sets HUMANKIND apart seems to be the ability to evolve into different civilizations, which may completely change how you proceed with your empire based on their special benefits and bonus fame type. So I was more than a little confused to discover that not only can you choose not to change, but that you get a flat bonus for choosing to transcend (stick with the culture from your previous era) rather than evolve. I’m sure I’m missing something, and that bonus is not actually as beneficial as it seems, but it feels counter-intuitive to the concept to let you keep right on doing what you’re doing.

You can settle a new territory (which is called an outpost) with any type of unit, and the area you gain control over feels huge. You can also send your scouts and warriors out to just randomly explore the map and basically forget that you have them if you want to. Most (all?) battles that come up will give you the opportunity for Instant Resolution, or you can do a Manual Battle if you’re more tactically inclined than I am. For someone like me who just wants to handle building, research, and a little diplomacy and trade, this is pretty great, although probably not particularly efficient.

Each era provides a list of objectives that can earn you stars, with objectives matching your cultural type giving a larger benefit than all the rest. Once you get a set number of stars, you may advance to the next era, although you can delay that if you want to. I’m not sure if it’s the only victory condition, but at least it’s the primary one – get more Fame than everyone else on the map to win.

HUMANKIND is not a simple game, even at lower difficulties. There always seems to be a lot of things going on, the tech tree is sort of similar to genre expectations, but of course, not identical. It’s definitely pretty to look at, when it’s not forever spamming you with notifications. Those notifications (which require the player to click “Acknowledge”) often felt like something I should have been worrying about, but rarely like something I had any idea of how to deal with.

Fans of the genre will probably enjoy the tweaks to the formula, more casual players might be as overwhelmed as I was. If you’re on the fence, a month of Game Pass is far less of a commitment than a $50 purchase, and I feel like most people won’t know if they really like it within the 2 hour Steam return window.