Monday, July 10, 2023

Review(?) of: Duskers, Offworld Trading Company, Oxygen Not Included

I took a week off work in late June (and had some additional time off work in early July) to spend “vegging out” and playing video games. To this end I picked up Duskers, Offworld Trading Company, and Oxygen Not Included on Steam. As is my wont, I feel very guilty of spending maybe 40 hours on these three games and about zero hours writing, so now I’m going to write about gaming. This is sort-of a review, but mostly a way for me to not feel as if I’ve “wasted” a work week. Don’t expect anything mind-blowing.

Duskers (2016)

The idea behind this game is you’re a sole survivor on a spaceship trying to investigate the universe / what in the world happened. I really, really didn’t care about the lore - I’m sure it’s interesting and deep, but I couldn’t find it in me to care. Maybe I’ll give it another go in the future.

The gameplay loop of this game is probably the best of the three - you dock with a spaceship / space station and direct a number of little robots (drones) to do certain tasks. Sometimes this is done by a command prompt where you type in the commands, though you can take direct control of a drone to give it specific directional (as in “go left”) instruction. All commands such as “generate power” or “gather resources” must be typed into the command prompt, which added a lot of drama to the game - I cannot tell you how many times I typed an ‘s’ when I meant ‘d’ to close a door as an enemy chased me.

Without giving too much away, there are four enemy types that each have their own traits / tells and you have to avoid (or confront) them as you gather materials to keep your ship and drones working. At some point you will inevitably fail and all the drones get destroyed or you run out of fuel or some other mishap befalls you and you’ll be forced to reset. It’s a roguelike, so there’s no hard feelings, though bad luck and having to reset on the first ship can be frustrating.

The only big issue I have with this game is that this loop is all there is to it. Stay alive until you can’t - maybe accomplish a completely optional objective while you do. There’s no end game that I’m aware of and getting to the fifth, tenth, or twentieth galaxy on a single run plays the same as resetting and starting out fresh. I realize not every roguelike can be FTL or Spelunky or Hades or whatever, but I do wish it had a bit more to it. With that said, I spent $10 on it and played for more than ten hours - a bargain however you slice it.

I will probably put a few more hours in the game - again, the loop was a lot of fun - but I’m not going to invest more than “oh, this’ll be fun for an hour while I’m bored” energy into it.

Offworld Trading Company (2016)

Of the three, this is probably the one I will be playing the most. It’s a real-time strategy game that focuses on running an extraction business on Mars. Yes, this whole post is space-themed.

Unlike other RTS games where you have to learn the micro and know shortcuts and actions per minute rates to get your dudes to kill the other dudes, the interaction with other players is limited and you’re mostly focused on base-building and optimizing production. That’s not to say there’s no interaction - you can sabotage other players’ efforts - but it’s perfectly reasonable to not do that and spend your money on an upgrade or something. I tended to keep my head down and not use the black market options - I don’t care if pirates are looting my silicon if it’s $10/unit anyway.

While I’ve only played this solo, it is something I’d be willing to try with friends - it is set up so this is the primary playstyle. In fact, there’s a big warning if you try to do the single-player campaign mode without having won a skirmish! I will have to set up a playdate… someday.

The campaign mode (a series of four, seven, or ten? skirmishes) is lacking in payoff - while it “handicaps” you by narrowing game choices at the start, by the end of a campaign the miniscule benefits you have accumulated mean the last skirmish feels like a slightly worse version of playing a single regular skirmish. Additionally, as you progress, you unlock other corporations, meaning past the first “week” or two you don’t have to even play as the corporation you picked!  I’ll probably keep playing campaigns, of course, but it’s so underwhelming that it doesn’t even have a page on the wiki.

The only downside is the same as, say, Northgard: how many times can you take the same actions on a random map when the goal is “win”? (For whatever reason, Dusker’s “survive” seems more compelling.) I’m sure it’s more fun with human players. While I will probably play much more of this, I’ll be surprised if my total hours comes close to, say, my playtime on Surviving Mars (which I should have looked up before posting this - edit: 94 hours). Another bargain on my end - at least fifteen hours for $12.

Oxygen Not Included (2019; DLC 2021)

Full disclosure: I was addicted to Dwarf Fortress for at least two years. I thoroughly enjoyed Factorio and spent many many hours in RimWorld. I know the “look it up on the wiki” lifestyle of playing a colony sim. I just couldn’t really get my footing in this game.

If this is your first or second colony sim and you’re someone whose brain is wired for them, you’re going to love this game. With a (mostly) clear tech tree and skill leveling, a lot of the gameplay makes sense. But then you hit roadblocks and it’s time to open the wiki. Does it matter if my water has germs as long as the Duplicants wash their hands? Should I bother to figure out ranching? What the fuck is a Puft and should I get one or skip this delivery round (I certainly don’t want another Dupe)? Of course, much of the wiki has only technical answers and lacks advice, so then it’s off to dozens of hours of YouTube tutorials. I’m not saying this is bad - again, Dwarf Fortress addict here - but I’ve already been down this path. I am well aware that mastering this game will take an equivalent amount of time and energy as a college course. And I’ve got better things to do with my life (at least in theory).

I had about fifteen hours of fun (bought the $15 bundle) spread out over three or four colony attempts. My most Dwarf Fortress “fun” moment was undermining a cistern that I didn’t notice had sand on the bottom, losing the water supply, moving all the “unbreathables” into the base, flooding equipment, and, of course, breaking the plumbing. I actually solved that problem - the “fun” is fun! - but the slow starvation death of the Duplicants because farm yields are opaque (just tell me how many whats-its to plant in your farm tutorial pop-up, like every other game, so I can get on with playing instead of tabbing over to the wiki) was less enjoyable to deal with.

Unlike Duskers and Offworld Trading Company, I probably won’t put any more hours into this game. I already know about Plump Helmets, Cave Wheat, Rice, and Nutrifungus; I don’t want to learn about Mealwood and Nosh Sprouts. I know I can make clothes out of Pig Tail or Devilstrand and I’m never going to learn how to make clothes for Duplicants. I’m glad I played it, and would recommend it if you’ve never played anything else.

Of course, if RimWorld ever gets z-levels, I am never leaving my house again.

No comments:

Post a Comment