Saturday 26 August 2023

I can take him to your house but I can’t unlock it

I do like unlocking stuff in games. New characters, weapons, titles, cosmetics, commemorative tea towels, set me any old task and I’ll jump to it if there’s some geegaw to be had. The village is being threatened by an evil necromancer? Eh, I might try and save you all if I have the time. Someone’s offering a t-shirt with the slogan “I defeated 1,000 skeletons and boy am I BONE tired! BONE! Because skeletons are BONES, do you see?”, I’m off to the graveyard before you can say “we understood perfectly well, there was no need for a contrived example to demonstrate”.

When used well tasks/achievements/unlocks are a nice hook to keep playing a game, often a nudge to try something a bit different. Vampire Survivors has a raft of unlocks for playing various characters, using particular weapons, killing specific mobs, and they’ve kept me coming back, taking different approaches to the various levels. I’ve only got a few left to tick off, the final fireworks and a couple of secret characters, once those are done I’m not sure I’ll keep going; the core gameplay is enjoyable, but perhaps I’ve become too conditioned by gamification that I need something to work towards as well. Still, at less than a fiver I’ve more than got my money’s worth several times over. I’ve just started on Halls of Torment, a similar style of game with a little more control over aiming/attacking, which should keep me going just as long.

Of course unlocks alone aren’t enough, there has to be a strong enough game to support them. War Thunder has just launched a mobile version on Android and iOS, and is offering rewards that also unlock in the desktop version for playing the mobile game. A good example of a nudge to get me to try something different, I wouldn’t have bothered downloading the mobile version otherwise. There’s an impressive amount of detail squeezed onto a small screen, but I won’t be sticking around. Trying to drag the screen to aim (without hitting the other controls) and using a small directional pad to move is incredibly finicky on a phone. If it’s your primary, or only, gaming platform and you’re particularly keen for a Second World War vehicle combat game it might be worth a look but it’s not for me. Still, I’ve contributed to their mobile stats, presumably the goal to bump things up in the listings around launch.

My mobile gaming tends to be killing a bit of time when out and about, puzzle and card games work well for that, like Marvel Snap. It’s taken over as my primary card game of choice; KARDS had a big update a while back that retired a bunch of cards from standard play and introduced others, and I just haven’t found a deck that really clicks since then. In Marvel Snap, on the other hand, I’ve got a few options that seem to work fairly well. I may not be playing enough to really see it but there don’t seem to be any particularly dominant decks; you’ll get a popular flavour of the month, but that usually means you can gear up with specific counters, and the developers do a good job of shifting the meta around with new cards and balance tweaks if something is really overperforming. The game does nudge you to try different things with regular missions, some of which are based on particular card actions like destroying or discarding; though I’m usually all in favour there can be a conflict in a competitive game where your rank suffers when you lose matches, not an ideal environment to experiment. Fortunately a new game mode, Conquest, has an introductory level with minimal consequences, ideal to try out new decks or play particular card types.

Marvel Snap is moving in the opposite direction to War Thunder – from mobile to PC. There’s been a beta Steam version for a while but it wasn’t terribly well optimised, a nice shiny widescreen-supporting full version has just launched complete with a few giveaways for logging in daily and is well worth a look if you fancy some quick card action.

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