What I’m Playing Wednesday – West of Loathing

It’s been many years since I had even thought about Kingdom of Loathing, never mind having actually played it, when I saw that West of Loathing was coming out. Intriguing, sure, but not something that would skyrocket to the top of my Must Play List.

I downloaded it on a whim from XBox Game Pass for PC, and since I’ve been kind of struggling to find the next thing to play, I decided to fire it up a couple of nights ago.

Having absolutely no clue what I was getting into, I decided to play through as a Beanslinger. Before I knew what was happening, a couple of hours had passed, I’d giggled at the absurdity more than a few times, and I discovered that hey, this is actually pretty fun.

I’m currently undecided if I’m going to push through to the end – I have probably about 6 hours into it so far, which means I’m more than halfway to the end. However, I’m already finding myself somewhat underpowered, and I don’t know how much of that is due to skipping things – not having a dedicated quest log or journal means I don’t really remember where I left off when I fire the game up.

That said, it’s reasonably priced, and if you have fond memories of Kingdom of Loathing or really really like puns and referential humor, it might be worth picking up. For me, it’s been a lovely little palate cleanser while I debate what to dive into next.

What I’m Playing Wednesday – Sunset Overdrive

I thought I might have gotten wanton mayhem out of my system for a little while by playing Dead Rising 3 last month, but apparently not. I installed Sunset Overdrive from XBox Game Pass for PC on a whim. It was nothing that had been on my radar at all, but it looked bright and violent and weirdly fun, so why not? Even if I didn’t make it through the intro level, I had nothing to lose.


I’m a good chunk of the way through the story content, and I’ve wandered off a few times to do side quests. What I haven’t done much of are the challenges – there’s one that’s required to progress the main stories, and I’ve steadfastly ignored all the others so far because if we’re being completely honest – I feel like I’m playing the game very badly.

While I’m sure the game would still be a lot of fun if you had, y’know, actually skills, it’s also really enjoyable to just flail around and hope for the best. Sure, I die a lot, but death doesn’t feel overly punishing. In fact, when I was stuck on a particular parkour sequence three-quarters of the way up a tall tower, I kept dying repeatedly. The respawn point was very close to the spot I was having trouble with, and the character even says something to the effect of “Thanks for not making me start at the bottom!”

I love it.

Sure, the self-aware meta-humor might not be for everyone, but I think it’s fantastic.

If I rush to the end, I could probably wrap the game up in another 3-4 hours. However, if I decided to go for all the challenges, collectibles, and side quests, I probably could play for another 10-20 without running out of things to do.

What I will likely do is something in the middle. I have quite a few things I would like to poke at this month, and since I can see myself replaying this one in the future, I’ve added it to my Steam wishlist and plan to pick it up next time it goes on sale (or maybe before, if I don’t find a discount before the end of the year).

What I’m Playing Wednesday – Dead Rising 3

Games where you can slaughter masses of undead with whatever is handy are kind of a guilty pleasure, especially when they’re not particularly difficult. Dead Rising 3 is not particularly difficult, at least not on the story mode – I haven’t touched the Nightmare mode, and I don’t really plan to unless I’m really DYING for some more zombie slaughter once I finish the main game and DLC chapters (and maybe do some ridiculously grindy achievements).

The thing I liked least about the first two Dead Rising games was how punishing the time limits felt – I’m not about optimization and efficiency when I play these games. While Dead Rising 3 doesn’t do away with time limits, they are so very very generous. Which is good, because the world is also chock-full of opportunities to save random people, collectibles to find, and distractions like trying to get gold medals on Survival Training activities.

Combo weapons – which were always part of the allure of the Dead Rising series – feel more powerful than they were in the preceding games, which makes some of the psycho (boss) battles feel downright trivial. Which is fine by me – psycho battles were never close to my favorite part of the games.

I’ll be honest – it’s not a great game. Good, sure. Fun? You betcha. And I love the fact that I’m not struggling, but for people who love a challenge? You can play that way. I’m just going to keep cutting swaths through hordes of zombies with ridiculously overpowered combo weapons, and running them over with equally overpowered combo vehicles.

What I’m Playing Wednesday – Aven Colony

Ok, I know I said I was frustrated. I was. I took a day off, played some Ode, and went back to it fresh.

And then:

Sure, half the colony was unemployed, and crime was rampant, and we were running out of food, but I did it. I saved all 1000 colonists in time.

There’s just three scenarios left – I probably won’t play the sandbox mode (if I need to build more colonies on alien planets, I have other games for that). I find I rarely enjoy this type of game without very specific goals and win conditions (although an open ended colony builder like Rimworld really works for me).

Maybe when I finish this up, I’ll be ready to get back into something story driven. Yesterday, I cancelled all my active subscriptions (ESO+ and Utomik) until I see how much time & energy I’m going to have for gaming during Day Job’s busy season.

It’s not like there aren’t plenty of things in my Steam library I can play without paying for services I’m not using.

What I’m Playing Wednesday – Albion Online

I wasn’t looking for another MMO, really, but a friend of mine recommended Albion Online and since I had never actually played a true sandbox MMO and it was free to download and play, I figured I’d give it a shot.

The character creator is as basic as it gets – there’s no classes or races or any of the usual MMO tropes. You pick a preset, adjust the cosmetics if you like, and plop in a name. Much to my surprise, I got the first name I tried.

There’s a tutorial that took me a little under an hour to get through, but shortly after leaving the tutorial island, the quest flow just stops. It’s not that you have to hunt for new quests – there just aren’t any more. They give you the very basic basics and leave you to it.

What Albion Online does have is a somewhat weird and confusing destiny board. I opened it up, and immediately noped right out of there. Too much to think about. Instead, I started concentrating on the smaller list in the upper right hand corner. I wandered around doing the things listed there, and watched my percentages go up.

Mostly, so far, I’ve gathered things, refined them, and used them to make tools. If there are vendors who buy your junk and give you money, I haven’t found one, but I have discovered that tools sell on the player market. Am I getting ripped off just selling them for whatever pittance I can get? Yes, I probably am. But I don’t need a dozen novice axes, so off they go.

I have managed to hit my first goal of being able to craft a fishing pole. Why did I want a fishing pole? I DON’T KNOW. Now that I’ve made myself one, I’ve started hunting for fishing spots and trying to figure out how to get the fish out of the water and into my bags.

What I’ve learned so far: You click and hold to cast; the longer you hold, the further out the line goes. You can cast the line right off the damn screen if you’re not careful. Once you get a bite and the bobber dunks, then you start a new little minigame. You have to keep the bobber in the green bar as the fish proceeds across the blue bar from left to right. It’s fiddly. It’s perfect for Albion Online.

I’m coming up on three hours now, and I still have almost zero idea what I’m doing, but I keep coming back, staying to the lowest level safe areas. I realize that soon I need to go further out to get higher level materials to do higher level crafting. Albion Online is horrendously grindy, but I’ve been satisfied by watching my itty bitty percentage bars increase, and have been trying to do enough every day to get my daily activity rewards.

Apparently, a big allure of the game is open world PVP, but I don’t even really like having to kill snakes for leather. This is probably not a game for me, and I say as much to myself every time I log off. And then I find myself opening it up over and over again to play just a little more. It’s not really clicking, but at the same time, it’s not quite scaring me away.

What I’m Playing Wednesday – House of 1,000 Doors: Serpent Flame

On the rare occasion that I actually finish games, I usually like to play something very casual right afterwards as sort of a palette-cleanser. Since I’m still seeing how much value I can get out of a month of Utomik, I figured I’d download a hidden object game. Serpent Flame is the third game in the House of 1,000 Doors series, and I have already played the first two, so it seemed like a decent choice.

Now, for me, the story is the least important part of a hidden object game, which is what I think enables me to keep enjoying them – almost all of them have stories that range from the mildly absurd to the completely nonsensical. The story (at least as far as I’ve played) is pretty ridiculous here: solve puzzles and find objects to go into portals to other times to help banish the giant snakes that are destroying the world.

No. I didn’t make it up. That’s the plot.

So onto more important things – at least to me. So far I’ve encountered only two types of hidden object scenes – ones with words and ones where you put part of an object or collection with like items. Serpent Flame hits the sweet spots where the hidden object scenes are cluttered enough to make finding everything a challenge, but not made overly challenging with cheap tricks, like flickering lights or an abundance of shadow.

Also very important – you CAN travel by map, which cuts down on a lot of exceptionally slow moving around. The map will, by default, show both locations with available actions and with undiscovered collectibles, but both can be turned off with a simple checkbox. Since I prefer to move swiftly between hidden object screens and puzzles, and don’t care overly much for pixel hunting, I usually make frequent use of the map, and really appreciate the set-up of this one.

I’m about an hour in, just having completed the first of four portals, so I expect I’m probably slightly more than a quarter done with the game (since there was some pre-portal set up work that needed to be handled). For me, the puzzles are perhaps a bit too simple, but I’ll take that any day over frustratingly difficult. There are many kinds of games I like to play when I want to challenge myself – hidden object games are not one of them.

I’ll be surprised if I don’t finish this before the weekend – and I’m unlikely to do a full “Game Over” on it because my experience with hidden object games is that if I haven’t bounced off of it for having one more major issues for me within the first hour, I’ll enjoy it through to the end.

What I’m Playing Wednesday – Startopia

The cinematic trailer for Spacebase Startopia dropped this week (you can watch it below), and instead of getting me all excited for this reimagining, it just made me want to replay the classic.

I have, for as long as I can remember, loved all manner of city builders, colony builders, space station builders. Heck, if you can give me the right toolkit, I’ll happily just build stuff for hours. Give me a resource or two to manage, and I could easily lose a whole evening. I spent a lot of time with Startopia when it was new, but unlike some other games of its generation, I don’t revisit it regularly – honestly, I just like knowing that I can.

This is one of those games I own on both Steam and GoG. I started with the Steam version, futzed around with it, trying to make windowed mode work. Then I tried the GoG version, the unofficial 1.02 patch, and got into a super-extra-bonus-fun crash loop for a little bit. Then I decided I didn’t really need windowed mode and got on with it. I think the fact that I still wanted to play after all that boded well.

Let’s be real – I expect a game that’s old enough to vote to feel a little weird. The controls are actually a little too simple – everything you can do has multiple buttons assigned to it. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can actually do all the things you want to – there doesn’t appear to be any way to rotate furniture, which I found exceptionally offensive to my sense of symmetry.

I did skip the tutorial missions, diving right into the start of the campaign, and it was as wonderful as I remembered. The sound & the voice acting were particularly enjoyable, and obviously, the graphics were showing their age, but not as badly as I might have expected.

I had a good time rolling through the first couple of missions – I feel like I remember it getting harder later on, but I didn’t struggle at all, and was frequently energy-capped during the second. Honestly, the biggest struggle was waiting for the grey aliens – who are the only ones who can work in a sick bay – with any modicum of skill to show up.

Since I’m still playing my way through Little Dragon’s Cafe, and still trying to remember to log into ESO everyday (hey, I might even go back to leveling characters eventually), I don’t know how much more of Startopia I will play, but it’s been a delightful romp down memory lane. I love revisiting games I played obsessively in my younger days, when I had to put a lot more thought into my gaming purchases – and let’s be honest – there were a lot less choices out there.

What I’m Playing Wednesday – Little Dragons Cafe

Well, I was right about Utomik not being great for my backlog. Little Dragons Cafe has sucked me in. I’ve been struggling with motivation for a few days, so allowing myself a day or two of play (which is usually only 15-30 minutes) has been ideal for a mini-reward as I tackle other real life tasks.

You play as one of a pair of siblings running a cafe after their mother has fallen ill. Turns out, whatever is wrong with mom is due to the fact she’s half dragon because obviously. So while you’re making sure to keep the cafe going, you’re also raising a dragon, also because obviously.

And the dragon? Is adorable.

This game is about as far from fast-paced as you can get (although once you reach a certain point, the work of actually serving customers can feel just a little hectic) – you wander around the island, exploring and gathering ingredients and recipe parts. Sometimes you fish, but it’s the easiest fishing “mini-game” I’ve ever seen.

Cooking is a two-step process – first, you need to select appropriate ingredients, then you need to complete a rhythm game. The first part is really just balancing quality versus quantity. Ingredients that you find early on in the game will be plentiful, but ingredients that you find as new areas open up will be of better baseline quality. Ingredients also come in four qualities each, so there’s a lot that can go into each dish.

It feels like higher quality ingredients (as well as adding extra ones past the minimum requirements) make the rhythm game more difficult. However, sometimes a dish you prepared less successfully will still have a higher rating than a dish prepared perfectly depending on what goes into the dish. There is probably some min-maxing that can happen here, but as long as you have some pretty decent dishes on your menu – which can only hold 10 dishes at a time – it doesn’t seem to much matter.

Which brings me to the thing that will make some people hate the game – it really doesn’t seem to matter at all what you do, if you participate in the daily work of the cafe, or even if you go to bed as soon as the story beat for the day has passed. There are no real fail states. Sure, you can stall the story by running out of food and treating customers horribly and only serving the very worst of the worst food. You can also stall the story by ignoring the requirements for satisfying each story customer. But there doesn’t seem to be anything you can’t recover from just by playing.

This is an immensely casual game that someone felt good about sticking a $60 price tag on, and therefore, nothing I ever would have played if it hadn’t be available as part of my subscription. However, since I started it, I find I’m having a good solid relaxing sort of fun with it, and over the past several days, have managed to put in quite a few hours and get about halfway through the story.

Of course, I stumbled across this gem on Reddit, and I felt that it was too perfect not to include it.

Apparently, I’ll see you all in a week with a nearly endless supply of cooking ingredients that never seem to spoil, and, oh yeah, A DRAGON. No strategy required – good on me for playing a game you can’t die in.

What I’m Playing Wednesday – The Elder Scrolls Online

Since I’m still muddling my way through Gray Matter (a game I thought I’d easily blow through in a day or two), I figured I’d use this What I’m Playing Wednesday to talk about my current “main game” and only MMO I’m actively playing, The Elder Scrolls Online.

Having been a huge fangirl of all thing Elder Scrolls since Daggerfall, there was no question that I was buying this game when it released in 2014. In fact, it was one of the rare occasions that I pre-ordered, splurging for the physical Imperial Edition with the Molag Bal statue and the beautiful book.

I played pretty obsessively for about six months after release, but then money was tight, and time was tighter. I was a guild leader in World of Warcraft at the time, so I stopped my subscription to focus on that. Just a few months later, it went to a subscription-optional model, but I didn’t get back into it for real until February of this year.

Every other time I’d gone back to it, I’d been overwhelmed, unable to remember how to spend my character’s points, and probably spent more time downloading it than actually playing. This time, I decided to start fresh – I deleted all but two of my old characters, and created a new one to relearn the game on.

Now, I have 6 characters that are level capped, and although I occasionally dabble in trials with a couple of them, nothing I have leveled so far feels like the right class for me at endgame.

Recently having had to take off most of a month while my husband recuperated from back surgery and playtime was highly limited, I’ve decided that I’m going to take a step back from my fully leveled characters, and spend some time trying out the magicka specs of the remainder of the classes, and unlike most MMOs I’ve played in the past, I’m genuinely excited to be leveling again.

Despite the hefty amount of time I’ve spent just questing and exploring, I still have oodles of content I haven’t finished, and quite a bit I’ve not really even started. I do keep up my ESO+ subscription, so I have access to all the minor DLCs, and I have purchased all the chapters, including Elsweyr. I still have so much to do.

My plan is to take it slow, to kick back and enjoy the story lines I haven’t yet experienced, as well as revisiting some of my favorites. I’ll mostly pass on crafting, and some of the grindier skill lines. I even want to take the time and play through some of the level appropriate dungeons instead of just speeding through them later.

I’m really looking forward to this soft restart, and just enjoy the world of Tamriel more or less on my own for awhile.

What I’m Playing Wednesday – Gray Matter

Gray Matter – Estimated Length 11-15 hours.

Since finishing Danganronpa 2 (and the prequel/sequel anime), I’ve been kind of floundering around, trying to find something else to fill that niche. I soared through both Danganronpa games in a matter of days because I had to know what happened next. A mystery-focused point-and-click adventure seemed like a good choice to keep that story-focused delight going.

Enter Gray Matter, a point-and-click adventure game, written by Jane Jensen (who also wrote the Gabriel Knight series in the early 90s).

Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve played an old school style adventure game, and I had forgotten just how frustrating adventure game logic can be. I didn’t even make it through the first chapter before I was hunting for a walkthrough (which is now just hanging out on my second monitor, waiting for me to desperately need it again).

Over the past few days, I’ve put in about 2.5 hours, some of which was trying to get the persnickety thing to run smoothly and not like a scratched up DVD. After an uninstall – reinstall – reboot loop, I was able to actually watch the opening cutscene, and kind of revel in how glorious the artwork is.

A still of Samantha Everett from the introductory cut scene.

Music and sound, at least so far, is pretty fantastic. Voice acting ranges from decent to really really good. The puzzles themselves are satisfyingly challenging but not obtuse, at least as far as I’ve played, although at least a couple felt entirely too simple. Since your player character is a street magician, I thought the addition of the “magic trick” interface was brilliant, although it initially felt needlessly fiddly, once it clicked for me, I realized it was quite well put together.

I even like the dual story aspect, at least so far. Seeing how (or even if) the stories come together as I progress through the game may or may not change my mind on that one.

Gray Matter also has an interesting progress meter, which would be more useful if it gave you any real way to know what activities encompassed each section title. Since I’m not the type to admonish myself for using a walkthrough, I don’t see myself struggling too much to complete this game.

Gray Matter’s Progress Meter for Chapter 2.

Other than a few niggling grumps (like long cut scenes that aren’t pauseable and are key to understanding the story), so far, I’m content with my choice. It’s certainly not the most difficult point-and-click adventure game out there, and it’s holding my interest.