Yearly Archives: 2022

The record shows I took the blows

I wrapped up my first play-through of Cyberpunk 2077, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending. There’s a point where you have to decide how to proceed, and I’d avoided reading too much to keep it fresh (and will be vague in this post to avoid major spoilers). One choice was to let Keanu Reeves take over and do things his way, often a perfectly sound course of action in life, but the game had done a fine job in putting me in the shoes of the protagonist; previous missions with Keanu’s Johnny Silverhand to the fore somehow felt a little off, obviously it was still me (the player) in control, but it didn’t quite feel like me (the character), presumably the intent, and a testament to the power of storytelling in the medium. Very quantum, baby.

I was going to bring in some allies I’d made along the way, but it was pointed out that things would get messy and there would be probably be casualties. I was sufficiently worried over my NPC chums that it swayed me to go solo and agree to a corporate plan. After all, who was the real sick man in this so-called society, the rebel who’d nuked a building, or the businessman in his suit and tie? (It’s both of them, Rich.)

In my mind I was just playing along, and at a critical moment would reveal my true intentions and stick it to the corpo-man. The game gave me no reason to be certain it would be possible, there wasn’t a dialogue option of “Very well, I agree to your plan. ASIDE: I do not really agree to it and have my fingers crossed, aaahhhh”, but that was my hope. Turned out I never got the chance, I played it straight and stuck to my in-game word, hence the rather disappointing ending, things fizzling out somewhat, with most of the friends I’d made along the way expressing their dismay at my choice over the phone before the credits rolled. Nobody’s fault but mine, but after 100+ hours of thoroughly enjoying Night City it was a bit of a shame. Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again that’s what save games are for. At some point I’ll load things up from just before that final decision and give it another shot.

Not just yet, though, I think I need to let things settle for a bit. With Mass Effect Legendary Edition in the Humble monthly bundle it’s Commander Shepard’s time to save the galaxy, again. Can it really be fifteen years since the first game came out? Even with the graphics and gameplay updates it shows its age a little, but it’s still very playable, the trilogy should keep me going a fair while.

There’s also SongPop, proving to be highly diverting with its themed events especially. I did pretty well with film music for the Oscars, less well with the nominees for the Grammys. Best of all was the April Fool event with my perfect playlists – stand up comedians, comedy songs, Weird Al, Monty Python. There were also some fun musical variants like That’s Not My Name, where the answers were what songs could/should have been called (e.g. “Woo Hoo” for Blur’s Song 2), and Anagrammed Artists providing the dual challenge of firstly identifying a song is by the Imagine Dragons, and then discounting Pig Slicers, The AWOL Monk, and Sweaty Ken as possible answers before selecting Raiding Mangoes (the others being Spice Girls, Walk The Moon, and Kanye West; I’m not sure if there’s a Kanye tribute act called Sweaty Ken yet, if not that’s a definite missed opportunity).

The SongPop Remains the Same

A few months back I started playing Wordle, lured in like millions of others by mysterious coloured squares appearing in my Twitter feed. That ability to share the results of a game without spoiling it is really smart, combined with the simple core mechanics and once-per-day limit to stop you binging until sick it’s become the first game that my entire family have all been on board with, pinging results through on the family WhatsApp group of a coffee or lunch break. Variants, knock-offs, and deliberate rip-offs inevitably proliferated like green and yellow algae, and I dabbled with a few; Quordle, guessing four words simultaneously, was an interesting version, mutating into Octordle and Sedecordle for 8 and 16 simultaneous words, and presumably by now someone’s constructed a version where you get 160,000 guesses to try and complete every single five letter word from the dictionary at once, though the replayability might be a bit limited there.

I saw a post about Heardle, an audio version where you guess a song from progressively longer clips (more Name That Tune than Wordle, but still) and thought I’d have a go. I heard a snippet of guitar vaguely reminiscent of Van Morrison’s Wild Night, so I searched for that in the possible answers and hit upon the slight snag. Apparently the songs are taken from popularly streamed artists, and my post-2000 musical knowledge is appallingly shoddy (how amusing and eccentric!); I didn’t even recognise half the artists that popped up, let alone any of their songs. It did tickle a faint memory, though, of a Facebook game called SongPop, which apparently I was playing back in January 2013 when I first fired up War Thunder. Turns out that closed down, but SongPop 2 lives as a standalone application including a Windows version, so I installed that; it even carried progress over from the Facebook version, including matches that had been awaiting my turn for 452 weeks (sorry about that, PopDude 68).

Each match consists of rounds where you have to identify five songs, with players taking it in turns to select the playlist used. Playlists are bought with in-game currency, and where I seem to recall they were pretty limited, there’s now a vast selection of genres, eras and artists – rock, pop, country, blues, reggae, TV and film themes, nursery rhymes, even (to my great delight) Monty Python. When looking for opponents the game pops up two or three suggestions where you seem to have some commonality, but there’s also the option of picking a random opponent, which I’ve used a fair bit. That’s resulted in some good matches with both players having a good shot at the other’s playlists, and some definite mismatches. I generally try and start fairly broad (something like Rock Classics), but if the other player gets specific, so do I. I’m currently in a drawn-out battle of attrition with somebody who picks K-Pop or BTS every time (not a hope), so I retaliate with Monty Python and UK TV Themes. You can finish a match at any point, so I presume they’re just as amused/stubborn as I am about the absurdity of it.

On the face of it there’s not much similarity between guessing songs and a Second World War deck building game, but there are some parallels with the way I’m playing KARDS. As with many card games you can build a fairly generic deck where most cards have some value in most circumstances, or very specific decks built around certain mechanics – discarding cards is usually a bad thing, but some cards kick off a positive effect when discarded, for example. Climbing up ranked play the decks that really employ synergy (or cheap gimmicky decks, if you’re on the receiving end) are more common and can be rather frustrating to encounter; I thought I was in a pretty strong position against one opponent until suddenly he slapped down two cards and played a whole bunch of cheap infantry – one card damaged each of his new units as they were deployed, normally a Bad Thing, until the second card damaged my HQ every time one of his units was destroyed, and that was game over.

The devs seem to do a reasonable job of subtle adjustments when a particular deck is really dominating, and ensuring there are ways to counter particular tactics. Of course sod’s law says that if you gear up with a bunch of cards that are good against hordes of cheap units then you encounter a deck that massively buffs one or two powerful units (on top of the general sod’s law of card games when you have the perfect card in your deck but don’t draw it when you really need it). On the flip side I know that if I adopt a particular deck that’s always easily beaten me, every match I play will be against opponents perfectly tailored to deal with it. Still, I thought I’d give it a bash so had a browse of the user-submitted decks on the main website. A lot of them need a bunch of rare units, so require either incredible luck with random rewards or some real-money investment. One jumped out, though, that mostly used cheap common cards. It’s an ‘aggro’ deck that tries to get a bunch of low-cost units onto the field and buffed before an opponent can deal with them. It’s very much all-or-nothing, if you haven’t won in the first few turns there’s no Plan B, so at least it’s quick either way. It’s been pretty effective, I’ve climbed the furthest I’ve got to in ranked play, but it gets a bit stale doing the same thing every game so I mix things up with unranked matches using various decks that are more interesting to play, if less optimal, and draft games. Maybe if I had to identify military marches from brief snippets while attacking and also guessing five letter military words it would be a one-stop shop for all my gaming needs…

Do you feel lucky, Cyberpunk?

Cyberpunk: 2077 is going strong; nudging up to the 100 hour mark and it feels like there’s a fair bit more to do, with at least a couple of strong side missions chains in progress alongside the main story. I haven’t been rushing; some evenings I don’t feel like delving too deeply so I’ll noodle around clearing up a bit of crime or doing some clothes shopping, others I’ll settle down and push on with the plot. Noodling feels a little wrong considering there are somewhat pressing matters to deal with, but it’s a very RPG matter of life and death that allows for plenty of chasing after rogue taxis in between preserving your own existence.

It took me a while to find a decent sniper rifle, but a crafting template and sufficient perk points got that sorted, so that’s my weapon of choice for starting most encounters. An array of hacking skills to confuse, blind and generally irritate foes can generally keep me stealthy, and if all else fails a shotgun makes for a pretty sound Plan B. With gear pretty well sorted the old RPG Rainbow of Excitement has reached its inevitable conclusion; a splash of green used to be cause for celebration, then only blue was enough to quicken the pulse, eventually purple barely raised an eyebrow and orange is worth a quick glance, though usually no more than that. Another old RPG standby, Getting Captured and Losing Your Stuff, made an interesting change for a bit; I was a little surprised that my captors had fitted an entire arsenal of weaponry and fourteen spare outfits into a single locker when I recovered my gear, but probably not as surprised as they were that I’d somehow carried it all in the first place.

It feels like a long time since I’ve been pulled into the story of a game, and I’ve been having a browse to see if there might be something else once I’ve wrapped up Cyberpunk. The remastered Mass Effect trilogy, perhaps, with Baldur’s Gate 3 still in Early Access. Then again I might have had enough of story for a while, so waiting for its full release might work out after all.

Buddy Holly Never Wrote a Song Called We’re Too Cyberpunk

It’s been a while since I really sunk myself into a new game, but Cyberpunk 2077 has properly hooked me. Melmoth gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up so I picked it up in the Steam sale; about 30 hours in I’ve just hit the title card having spent plenty of time pottering about Night City tackling random criminals and side quests before cracking on with the main story.

It feels very Deus Ex, more so than the actual sequels in many ways (which were fine in themselves, but didn’t really capture the sprawling openness of the original). It’s comfortingly familiar in its systems; stealth, tech/hacking and a variety of firearms presenting different ways of tackling problems from tiptoeing around piling up unconscious bodies in wheelie bins to silenced sniping to the more straightforward shotgun to the face. It’s comfortingly familiar in setting as well. I never played the pencil and paper RPG but have enjoyed plenty of similar media like Blade Runner, Neuromancer, and Altered Carbon; having been around for the first two editions of the RPG, set in the wildly futuristic years of 2013 and 2020, the cyberpunk genre seems oddly retro in many ways now, even with the subsequent updates.

It seems to have absolutely hit my Goldilocks spot. The city has the open world elements so there’s always something to do, but with distinctive enough side missions so it doesn’t always feel like you’re just doing yet another instance of the same activity. Combat is challenging enough that I can’t just wander around blazing away with impunity, but not head-smashingly frustrating (mostly; the level based nature of it meant I inadvertently got into a couple of scrapes with nigh-invulnerable opposition, but the good old RPG standby of coming back a few levels later sorted things out). The main story is strong enough to pull me along, but loose enough to allow for meandering diversion. It feels like there are choices to be made in that best RPG way, where you know you’re going to end up in the same places but with subtle enough differences that it feels like your own version of the story. There’s plenty of loot to be had, and crafting and upgrading if the things you find aren’t quite right, but it’s not the be-all and end-all, it’s not like you’re repeating activities solely for the chance of an almost-identical-but-very-slightly-better gun. As many have pointed out the armour system does force a bit of a choice between selecting the item with the best stats in each slot versus not looking like you’ve clothed yourself from a charity shop reject dumpster, but I haven’t found that too much of a hindrance (there’s usually something decent looking that’s not too far off, stat-wise, or you can just avoid mirrors if it really comes to it). The stats and perks system seems intuitive enough with a plethora of interesting-looking options, I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to ultimately acquire but I’m looking forward to trying out a few different options.

I’m also greatly appreciating the single player offline nature of it, particularly after Fallout 76. I’m not missing a cash shop or season pass goals or daily login rewards at all, they have their place, but not everywhere. Being able to pause at any point is quite the blessing; I was playing a PvP match of KARDS, which only allows communication via a limited series of emotes. That’s a thoroughly sensible system, cutting through language barriers and removing the possibility for the usual online unpleasantness (you can even shut them off if someone starts spamming them in a desperate attempt to be mildly irritating). The downside is the absence of a “My dog’s been sick on the carpet!” emote (understandably, it’s a bit specific), so I could only use the more generic “Sorry!” after I’d inadvertently let the timer run down on a couple my turns.

Of course this all comes with the caveat that I’m still early on in the story and entirely reserve the right to fundamentally change my mind as things go, but so far it’s looking good. I’m sure things will get a bit stale after a while, but I’m hoping the combination of narrative and gameplay will at least see me through to the end of the main story; plenty of previous games with similar open world/RPG elements (Red Dead Redemption 2, Far Cry 5, Assassin’s Creed Origins etc.) have fallen at that hurdle, maybe there’s something about an SF setting I need (the (offline) Fallout and Mass Effect series being cases where I did actually finish the story).