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Getting Steamy – Part 1

Steam Games library for PC

So I’ve now entered the hot and moist world of Steam and caught a lucky break: just before I upgraded my hardware (with the help of NHS user Hobbes), the Steam sale was on and I got to grab myself some bargains. I then went on holiday and had to wait another week to play them. Now I’ve managed some screen time with some of my new purchases, so here’s the lowdown on what I’ve played so far.

First is Binding of Isaac with all DLC. This is a fun action game in the proud tradition of Rogue-like games featuring permadeath, and a randomly generated series of dungeon levels to explore. Unlike most games in the genre, Binding isn’t a turn based tactical affair but a frantic shooter. It’s fun, addictive and has a quirky sense of humour, as you might expect given its premise of being the adventures of a small boy locked in the basement while on the run from his fundamentalist mother who wants to sacrifice him to God. On the flip side without a save function I think it’s a little long for single play throughs – I’m guessing it takes 60-90 minutes to finish a game although I’ve not managed that yet. It also – and I never thought I’d say this of a rouge-like – seems to have too many items. Discovering what they do is half the fun of course, but given the relatively simple game mechanics, the vast array of stuff on offer seems a bit repetitive in terms of effects. Overall, a thumbs up though.

Next is Mount & Blade: Warband. I’ve wanted to play this game ever since I first heard it mentioned here. As an open-world game of medieval fighting and feudalism with acclaimed melee combat, it sounded like a dream come true for me. Unfortunately the first thing I discovered when I tried to play it is that you can’t play it with a laptop trackpad. Since I plan you be going most of my Steam gaming with the PC on my knees, I needed an alternative. So I borrowed a trackball from work, which is serviceable but not great. A gyroscopic mouse that you can wave in the air would probably be ideal but they’re pretty expensive. If anyone has a cheap solution for mouse-alternatives when gaming on a laptop, I’d be glad to hear it. A lesser but more surprising issue is that the game is damn ugly. I know it isn’t recent but, unless my memory is failing me, I’m sure there were games on the original Xbox that looked better than Mount & Blade which is pretty poor showing from a 2010 game. Also, I seem to be a real klutz on a horse, getting my camera in the wrong place all the time and, for some reason, trying to hit the wrong keys when I want to turn. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps it’s the trackball. Yes, definitely the trackball.

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Mount & Blade: Warband - so ugly that I dare not show you a character's face

I always swore I’d never play Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion because of it’s stupid, stupid monster scaling system where creatures get tougher as your character advances. So eventually you end up being ambushed by groups of bandits with Daedric Armour and magical swords. It seems near-universally unpopular on game forums, so whoever at Bethesda thought that was a good idea was, I hope, not let anywhere near Skyrim. Anyway, the continuing adventures of Olaf that I mentioned in my last piece, had left me with a hankering for some Elder Scrolls style gaming and when I saw Oblivion with all DLC in the sale for £5 it struck me there might be a mod that removes the scaling. Turns out there are several, the best of which have been combined and balanced in the FCOM Mod. so I bought it. Unfortunately for me I didn’t stop to consider how difficult it might be to install: as a software guy I thought I’d find it a piece of cake. But I’d reckoned without broken download links, diverse and contradictory guides and sources of documentation and frequently unstable user-built mod platforms like Wrye Bash. So I’m stuck just on FCOM without any of the graphics updates or combat mods that also interested me. And there’s no way I’m playing it without FCOM at the very least. Ultimately I’ll probably have to scale back my ambition and go with a single anti-scaling mod like Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul and perhaps a texture pack. So it’s likely to be a while before I actually play, if ever.

Finally we come to Legend of Grimrock. I knew this was an old school dungeon crawler but I was expecting it to be based on a generic flavour of 90’s dungeon exploration games as, indeed, it advertises itself as being. I wasn’t expecting a straight rip-off of the classic Dungeon Master, right down to little alcoves to keep items in, walking mushrooms and a rune-combo based spell system. I am, however, very glad they did draw from it so directly because it’s the best of the genre in that era and has been crying out for a modernised update for years. And boy, does Grimrock deliver! Atmospheric, exciting and full of tough combat, nerve-wracking exploration and brain-bending puzzles from the off. It’s been the most played of the games I’ve tried so far, and has wormed its way into my brain to the point where I find that my meals taste of snail slices, my tea feels like healing potions and my dreams are haunted by communications from a mysterious mechanical entity. I’m staying up late to play, ending up tired at work the next day and drifting off into reveries about frantically searching dungeon walls for concealed buttons. One critique is that although the combat is pleasingly tough, even early on (I’m still trying to live down the embarrassment of having my party massacred by a giant snail), it seems over-reliant on backing off or circling to get out of the way of critters while your weapons recover. It gets a bit repetitive after a while, but it’s a minor issue. The skills system also forces you to make early specialisations in weapons and types of magic that you may conceivably live to regret later in the game when you find super-powerful toys you can’t use. But that’s probably my anal-retentiveness kicking in: so far it’s been an absolute blast. I do wonder why the pregenerated party is a bit sub-par though. They always seem to be in games like this. But I’ve started with them, and I’m not going back and doing the first few levels all again, so there. Definitely not if it means facing down more of those spiders than is strictly necessary.

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So that’s my first bunch of Steaming. For part 2 of this article I’ve still got Witcher 1 Enhanced Edition, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dear Esther, Rome: Total War and Crusader Kings II to even try. I’m regretting the last one a little as it wasn’t all that cheap in the sale (even if massively discounted) and I can’t imagine I’ll ever have the time to devote to it properly. In total, I suspect that’s more than enough material to keep me going until next years’ Steam Sale. But I’m using my shiny new laptop to write this document on, and to be honest, I’m starting to wonder why I’m not playing Grimrock instead. Be seeing you after I’ve sent a few more skeletons back to their graves.

Matt Thrower

Matt is a board gamer who plays video games when he can't find anyone similarly obsessive to play against, which is frequently. The inability to get out and play after the birth of his first child lead him to start writing about games as a substitute for playing them. He founded FortressAT.com and writes there and at NoHighScores.com

23 thoughts to “Getting Steamy – Part 1”

  1. I got the Paradox Pack (EU III, CK2, Mount & Blade) and the Sega pack (several of the new Total War games) from the Steam sale, each for ~$50. So far, all of my gaming time for the past few weeks has been sucked into Crusader Kings 2. I do not think I will need to buy any new games for a while.

  2. I admittedly have not done much googling yet, but I picked up Crusader Kings II, and found it overwhelming, even at the tutorial level. Not the kind of game you can just jump into, it seems. Please, correct me if I am wrong.

    1. You’re not wrong.

      The learning curve of that game is very steep. I went on-line and found various guides and have printed out around 200 pages worth of instructions and what not, that I refer to as “The Tomes.” It took a few months between when I bought the game and finally really tried to engage with it.

      The game is very intimidating. It wasn’t until I had a couple of friends over one night and the three of us decided to try and tackle the game (we hooked up my laptop to my TV). It took the collective work of three of us, as well as constant consultation with the tomes to figure it out. Even then we had to stumble along.

      I have played it quite a bit since then. At this point, I have a pretty good idea of how everything works. I feel like I still don’t know a good 30% of what I should be doing at any point, but I don’t let that get to me. I try to approach the game more as a RPG than, say, a Total War or Civilization conquest-type game. Seems to be more fun that way. The game can spin some wonderful narratives if you allow it to.

      1. ugh. Between, work, and kids, my spare mental capacity is limited. Three people to figure out? i’ll be taking my time with this one…thanks

      2. I knew I should have picked up Crusader Kings 2, but I had already picked up a trove of games before I got to this one.

        I picked up the Bethesda Pack, Dear Esther, and… I don’t remember what else. My head has been in the Fallout New Vegas Wasteland for a long, long while now.

        1. Oh, and balls to Arma2, not going below $20 during the sale. I may have paid $10 for it, but I don’t even want to play the game, just the DayZ mod.

          1. Yeah, I was tempted by it for DayZ (although the base game does sound interesting to me) but ultimately the discount was insufficient.

            Good job too. If I can’t play Mount & Blade with a trackball, I’d have had no chance at all with a shooter. And if I can’t mod Oblivion, I’d probably have struggled with Arma2 as well.

          2. I think the Arma2 base game is really interesting too, because of the ambitions they had with it, some of which they succeeded at, and some they failed at. It is just such a big simulation of infantry, Armored, and air combat, as well as a RTS layer. Each of these components could be a sim game of it’s own. The game also reminds of the times when the PC had a bigger market for sims, because of they Arma supports all sorts of input devices (gamepad, mouse, kb, trackIR, joystick etc.) Then they have this huge story mode and multiplayer, if you can find a group( I played a couple times with people from the RPS forums) its well worth seeing how weird the multiplayer is.
            The games flaws are obvious too. During development no regard was given to “game design”‘, and it’s generally just a very rough experience. Honestly, I never really had fun with the game, but it is a fascinating and unique thing in today’s PC gaming.

            Also, totally skip over M&B and go for CK2; it’s a better waste of your time 😉

          3. Don’t worry about that. If you want the DayZ experience just download Call of Pripyat, install MISERY and play the game on Wizard for the same effect, sans 16 year olds who think they’re edgy playing the game who like to yell at you for being a camper in Cherno.

      3. You would have been better off going to YouTube and searching for “Crusader Kings II tutorials”. Reading text < watching someone play and explain things

      4. There are a wide variety of Lets Play videos for CK2 on YouTube. They have been invaluable for helping me learn how to play.

        What attracted me to CK2 was the narrative you could assign to the game’s actions. It’s not inherently there, but if you try to make sense of what happens, you can find some funny circumstances. Some of the Lets Play videographers do a great job of hilighting this. Watching the videos can be almost as much fun as playing.

    2. It does take a bit to learn, but it is easy to learn from your mistakes. Pick a Duke with a few counties to start with, and play for a bit. Learn how about claims and how to expand. Make sure you have an heir. It is not too easy to end up with an unplayable position, and it is easy to start over. The world goes on without you, so you can mess with a few of the systems while ignoring others, and not have too much trouble.
      I started with the Duke of Flanders. I played for a bit, realized some mistakes, and started over. Next time I was going for a while until another Duke had me excommunicated. I did not realize this allowed my liege (The King of France) to revoke my titles without penalty, so he started gobbling up my territory and I was way too small to fight back. I started a third game, and things really started falling into place.

  3. According to my Steam account, I’ve already put in well over 70 hours into CK2. That’s including having purchased the Sword of Islam expansion and not yet trying out a muslim starting character. Between exploring that new half of the game and the constantly-developing Game of Thrones mod this is a game that can easily last through eternity. Minimum. Talk about value!

  4. Grimrock was so much fun, though you pretty much have to do the monster two-step to survive. Some of the later ones are just capable of massacring the party.

    Brilliant gem of a game though.

    1. Yeah I really like the game except for that fact. I was expecting my warriors to sit there and take it rather than getting ambushed from all sides and getting slaughtered.

      Still a really fun game. I got over the combat qualms fast.

      I tried playing hard mode with the no map and lol, got beat up over and over. Took it down to normal, put the auto map on, and figured out the less intuitive (to me anyway) mechanics.

  5. The best part about Steam is that you don’t have to wait a year for awesome sales. There will be some crazy deals around Christmas time and this week they have the Quakecon special on Bethesda and id games. And no I don’t work for Valve.

  6. Binding of isaac gets faster. I can probably do a run in 30 now. It takes a minute to get to that point though.

  7. Yes, Mount and Blade has always always looked ugly. It’s like they never bothered working on the looks of the game since the first one. You might want to look at BT Mod for Oblivion if you haven’t already to go along with O3. And if you want to push it to the limit you can try out Morroblivion, which is a pain in the ass to set up, but fun to play through.

  8. For anyone interested, tell me what kind of rig you need and I’ll narrow it down to some solid choices, I’ve plenty of time on my hands and as Matt can attest, I know my stuff.

    Right now I’m going stir crazy, the mobile Internet phenomenon passed Britain by I swear, it’s hopeless. I use it more with idiot optimism than any expectation it might work. Dear deities, please get me a solid link by Christmas.

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