Tag Archives: crafting

You gotta swim to survive in Subnautica

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Subnautica from the Humble Freedom Bundle back in February of last year before they ran out of keys for it. However, I didn’t even install it until two weekends ago, kind of waiting for it to finish up treading water in Early Access and release as a full-as-full-gets-these-days game to play. This way I don’t know what has improved or changed or stayed the same, and all I see is a crashed spaceship and an endless amount of ocean to explore, same as you or your brother or your brother’s mother, most likely your mother too. Right…I’m ready to dive in, even if my lungs are not.

Subnautica begins with a bang. Well, more accurately–a crash. You have smash-landed on alien ocean world, and the only place to explore is down beneath the waves. In the distance is your spaceship, on fire and full of radiation, and though the game never explicitly says you should go back there, one feels the need to get inside it and see if there is anything salvageable, figure out where things went wrong. But first, you’ll need stuff, like food and water and gear, if you are to survive Subnautica‘s shallow coral reefs, treacherous deep-sea trenches, lava fields, and bio-luminescent underwater rivers. You’ll also need to manage your oxygen supply as you explore kelp forests, plateaus, reefs, and winding cave systems, and the water is teeming with life, both helpful and harmful. No one ever said swimming was easy.

So far, I’ve put about two hours and change into Subnautica and don’t have a whole lot to show for it. That’s okay. I’m in no rush, so long as I can continue to catch plenty of bladderfish and peeper to sustain myself and various meters. Actually, I have made some better oxygen tanks, fins to swim faster, a repair tool, and a radiation suit, but there’s plenty more to craft via the fabrication panel inside your still-floating escape pod and I haven’t really left the safety of the initial area.

Here’s the problem I am dealing with: I’m not certain exactly what I should be going after and why. I mean, like Minecraft, which is perhaps the only other “survive” style game I have an association with, the goals are sometimes up to you. Clearly, you want to survive as a general rule of thumb and keep your health, food, and thirst meters healthy and high, but after that…you decide. Maybe you also want to construct a better submersible craft to explore the ocean depths or are interested in cataloguing the various fish and underwater life you come across using your scanner to learn more. Ultimately, I do wish the breadcrumb trail was clearer as even a quest log of sorts would help; right now I feel like I’m stumbling my way to progress, and even that is coming about through mere happenstance and not any specific action I took. For instance, I knew that creating a repair tool was important because there were two things inside my escape pod that couldn’t be fixed without it, but then I struggled to find cave sulfur and had to look up a guide outside the game for it, which was frustrating.

Visually, Subnautica is delightful and terrifying. Granted, again, I’m still only in the starting area and suspect there is much more to come, but the variety of underwater alien life balances itself well between recognizable sea creatures and straight-up weirdness. Every new fish or piece of coral is a fun surprise, and you can generally tell whether something will bite you in the face or not. Exploring at night is extremely unnerving because, not surprisingly, it gets dark, and you only have a flashlight and flares early on. The game runs well enough on my laptop, with just a little pop-in here and there, and I’m thankful that you can play it with a controller too.

I recently tried to get ABZÛ running too on this new laptop of mine, but it seems like that one is real heavy on resources, even on the lowest settings I could find, and so I’ll just have to wait until I magically get a copy on Xbox One or something. Surprisingly, when you search the keyword “underwater” on Steam, you only get a handful of games covering this topic, and most of them are horror titles or VR experiences, which, look, I get. I’ve seen enough of Sir David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet to kind of know what lurks in the dark depths of our planet’s oceans. Still, I like exploring underwater areas in a more leisurely fashion, like with Treasures of the Deep, or the time my sister Bitsy brought home a copy of Endless Ocean: Blue World and played for a bit, and it was so relaxing–not boring–that I dozed off.

So I’m going to stick with Subnautica a bit more because it is definitely my speed, but also in hopes that it really opens itself up more and dangles some carrots before my face to keep me pushing forward for reasons. Besides, I’d really like to see one of those time capsules for myself that are all the topics of discussion these days.

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Another garden to tend to in Earthlock: Festival of Magic

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Currently, I’m juggling a lot of gardens. There’s the one in Disney Magical World 2, which is where I’m looking to harvest some rarer fruits, vegetables, and flowers, such as spooky carrots and solar sunflowers. There’s the one in Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s Skyhold castle, which seems to only grow plants after I’ve traveled between a set number of regions to recreate some actual passing of time. There’s the one in Stardew Valley, which is your biggest means to making money through the four seasons, and I now have the game also on Xbox One, resulting in double the work if I plan to continue with my PC save as well. All of that is to say that there’s now one more place to grow and cultivate plants in Earthlock: Festival of Magic, a colorful RPG from Snowcastle Games, as well as a monthly freebie back in September 2016.

I’m about nine to ten hours into Earthlock: Festival of Magic, just around the 50% completion mark, and, alas, I don’t think I can sum up its plot easily from the top of my noggin. Not because it is extremely deep and layered, like multiple seasons deep into Game of Thrones, but more that it is not extremely clear or focused. I’m going to have to resort to the developer’s own words and see if it stirs anything new from me:

Embark on a journey to save the beautiful world of Umbra, a harsh planet that stopped spinning thousands of cycles ago. What started as a mission to rescue Amon’s uncle from the clutches of an ancient cult, soon spirals into an adventure that was centuries in the making. You must bring together this group of unlikely heroes to stop the ruinous past from repeating itself.

Yeah, sure. That’s kind of being descriptive without providing any actual details. At this point in the game, I’m in a town called Suvia, lurking through sewers after the bad dudes that stole some machine. A machine that may or may not be connected to a relic that Amon and his hammerhead uncle stole at the start of the game. I don’t know. I’m kind of moving from place to place, fighting enemies every few steps and talking to a minor amount of nonplayable characters for some background lore. Oh, and there’s a boy in a frog suit that has given me a special, magical area, almost like Bastion‘s Bastion, to grow plants, craft ammo, and create talent upgrades for my team, and it’s where I have been hanging my hat the most, as the actual towns in Earthlock: Festival of Magic are not many, nor are they all that interesting to explore.

This is very much a throwback to the adventure RPGs of the late 1990s with a heavy focus on turn-based combat and character progression, such as Chrono Cross and Tales of Phantasia. I’m going to dig into the combat first. Speaking of first, enemies are always present on the field, and you can gain the advantage of attacking first if you press “A” before the enemy runs into the party. I don’t know if I’ve missed this chance once yet. It’s probably hard to miss. As previously mentioned, combat is turn-based, with a list of turn order on the far right of the screen. Each character has different stances, which determines what attacks they can do, such as ranged or up-close melee or dancing between support spells and attack magic. For instance, Alon, the protagonist–or, at least, my assumption is he is, though you can switch to play any other character if you want–can either get intimate with a knife or use a gun to attack from a distance. Switching stances costs a turn, which I personally think sucks, and so I’ve been sticking to one stance per character for most of the fights unless the scenario obviously calls for a change.

Upgrading each character reminded me of how it worked in Final Fantasy XII with the License Board, which consisted of a tiled board with hundreds of squares. Each square represented an ability, spell, equipment piece, or augment, and these could be unlocked after earning LP. Here, in Earthlock: Festival of Magic, you have a similar board for each character, with some predetermined abilities (passive and active) locked in place. As you level up, you’ll earn Talent Points (TP–hee hee), and you can build each character’s skill tree as you wish using a mix of talents to boost stats like strength, defense, accuracy, magic, and so on. Defeating bosses gets you access to special tiles that do things like help reduce the time it takes to switch stances or even see hidden ghosts on the field. I really like this system as it does offer a lot of control and personalizing for each character. Also, you can pair each party member with another to grow a stronger bond between the two to unlock more stat upgrades and abilities. Phew. There’s actually quite a lot going on with the combat, though to be fair, it doesn’t go much deeper than this, and the secret to beating tough bosses like GobKing and Mushriga is simply grinding.

In terms of graphics, I’m conflicted when it comes to Earthlock: Festival of Magic. Everything is cartoony and colorful, with a looseness that is both stylish and on purpose, reminiscent of Broken Age and Tales of the Abyss, which I’m all about. In fact, its look, from the few screens I saw of it and not knowing much else about the title, was enough to get me to install it. Unfortunately, the overworld map is severely dull and bland, and by that I mean it is lacking textures for the ground you are running on, which makes it feel unfinished. I also think some more love and pizzazz could have gone into the location titles (see Final Fantasy IX for inspiration). Sound is a different subject, and the soundtrack is quite good, a mix of upbeat, battle-appropriate tunes and relaxing notes for watching plants grow, though I did notice a lot of effect noises missing during a few battle sequences. See, conflicted.

Earthlock: Festival of Magic is an indie RPG with dreams of being big. Extremely big. You can see what it wants to be by noticing where it is lacking. For instance, there’s not a lot to discover in this fantasy world, other than a hidden treasure chest or two. Towns are tiny and only hold a limited number of people/things to interact with, and the interactions are slight at best. The story seems to have fun, unique characters, but no one is really standing out currently as somebody to champ for, except maybe the hogbunny Gnart. I plan to finish it and hopefully pop every Achievement–most of which are labeled rare because not many people are playing–but thankfully this RPG is only as big as Costume Quest 2 and Dragon Fantasy…and not Dragon Age: Inquisition, which might not ever end at the pace I nibble on it. As always, that’s a different post.