Troy’s Reflection on the Last Year
Nate asked the staff to write about games we wanted to play from the last year but couldn’t for whatever reason. I told him, there were no such games. For me, the last 12 months have been a bit of a hangover from the previous 12. From late 2015 into most of 2016, we got a string of great games like Thea: The Awakening, Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars, Civilization VI, and Stellaris. Not since the MoO1-MoM-MoO2-Civ2 era in the 90’s have we gotten a string of games this good.
Then, from late 2016 to now, it’s been rather disappointing. Endless Space 2 is the only flagship game to hit the market, and while I had a lot of fun playing it, the design of the game took a step back from Endless Legend. The MoO-wannabe train really cranked into high gear this past year, which led me to be totally fatigued with the Space-4X subgenre. I’m over it completely now, but we still have games like Predestination, Children of the Galaxy, Lord of Rigel, Interstellar Space, Dominus Galaxia, and Galaxial left to launch. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get much of a reprieve from this sort of game in the year to come.
Sales have been down over the last year as well. While it’s technically still too early to tell, 2017 might be the most disappointing year for 4X market penetration since eXplorminate was founded. That’s a real shame given all the attention our genre was showered with last year.
I might sound like a crusty old grandpa with a “Get off my lawn!” attitude, but I had really hoped we turned a corner in 2014 when Endless Legend redefined what the 4X genre could be. Unfortunately, since then, the only two avant garde games to succeed have been Thea and Stellaris. Other experimental titles like Sorcerer King, Last Days of Old Earth, and Star Ruler 2 failed to meet the expectations set by their own developers, and quite honestly, much of the community as well. Most of the rest have been remakes, clones, or spiritual successors with variable quality. Even worse (for me) The games launched in the last 12 months especially have been lacking in cutting edge design work.
We’ve debated several times on this site and in our forums whether or not we’re in a new 4X golden age. eXplorminate’s second year gave us hope that we were. Our third year, however, has made us question that premise. Will the fourth year resurrect our optimism? Or will the window of a great 4X era finally begin drawing to a close?
I’m not sure. But I do look forward to finding out with our readers and our community. Regardless of what quality future 4X games have, the quality of the people who interact with us on this site and in our forums is unimpeachable. You guys rock! Even when the games we play don’t.
Matt “Nonsense” – The New Guy Who Is New But Not New To Gaming
Nate asked me if I wanted to reflect on the past year despite being new, so now you’re getting bathed in opinions as opposed to just a sprinkling. I don’t know the staff or the community very well yet, but I’ve been gaming for a long time and people seem to enjoy reading what I have to say or listening to me talk about games, so here we go!
I haven’t been along for the roller coaster ride Troy outlined above as a staff member, but I sure have been right there with all of you as a gamer. In the past year to 18 months I’ve switched careers and had a second child, so my gaming time has been light. I’ve had to scrutinize every purchase and try to squeeze the most enjoyment out of every moment. Long story short: my list of “I wish I was playing” games is long.
This is a little gem. The devs really have done some creative things with this one. It really feels like their baby. Northgard is an RTS that’s so slow paced it feels like it’s a turn-based 4X. At the same time it manages to make you feel like your time is short. I don’t usually go for the Early Access stuff on steam, but Oliver talked it up and I took the plunge. It’s a game that I’m really interested in playing more. I know Oliver is planning a write-up when it leaves Early Access, and I’m looking forward to helping out with that. The game is very polished and the pace feels very similar to Sins of a Solar Empire even though Sins and Northgard have little in common otherwise. Keep your eyes peeled.
Hearts of Iron IV
Years ago I was horrified by the complexity of Hearts of Iron titles, but I fell in love with Paradox games after buying Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis 4 in an amazing bundle sale. I watched many hours of Let’s Plays to get the hang of the Paradox-style UI and off I went. As a fan of historical war games and hundreds of hours of Paradox grand strategy experience, I jumped at the chance to play HoI4 and tinker with The War. After three solo campaigns the AI left me sad and annoyed and I don’t have time for multiplayer. There have been a lot of patches since release and it’s time I gave this one another try.
Total War: Warhammer
I’m a long time fan of the Total War series, and I spent many hours in my younger years playing Warhammer 40k, so you’d think I’d be hooked on this one. I put in about 3 hours after getting it on sale and I’ve yet to give it another try for some unknown reason. I think I underestimated the learning curve with the different race playstyles, units, etc. With a sequel coming out, I’m afraid of leaving this one to rot in my library. As I edit this, I’ve noticed Oliver has just fired the game up on Steam. I feel like a failure in his wake.
As for the general state of 4X? I have to say I’m unimpressed lately solely because the space 4X subgenre has always been my weakness. There are some fantastic titles out there right now, but for me to spend multiple hundreds of hours on a game is rare these days. Most recently I’ve come close with Civ VI, and I did it easily with Civ V and EU4, but I often feel like developers have simply played it safe. On some level, I don’t blame them – there’s a new generation of 4X gamers coming on line and they want (and deserve) to play updated versions of the classics.
All that said, I still die inside a little every time I see another upstart title billed as the “spiritual successor to MOO2”. It’s time we started seeing some genre-bending ideas and innovations – especially in the space subgenre. Science fiction in general is far too rich with mind blowing ideas for so many titles to be so similar. How do we break out of this homogenous hell?
Chris’s “Sgt.Shaggy” – Perspective
Talk about stuff I want to play but haven’t gotten around to? Holy crap, Nate, that’s gonna be a long list. My Steam backlog is a big embarassment in and of itself, excluding the games I also have languishing on services like GoG and Origin and UPlay and those many Blizzard mainstays. The latter mainstays are part of the reason I’ve not gotten around to playing as much “new” – I keep playing the “old.” And I’m not just talking about Blizzard games. I consistently find myself firing up gems like Age of Wonders III, DOTA 2, Stellaris, and Galactic Civilizations III (yep, I still dig it). But what do I really want to play that I’ve not yet gotten around to firing up or even purchasing?
Endless Space 2
I really want this one. I really, really want to play it. It’s hovered around the top of my constantly shifting wishlist since it was first available on Steam. I’m not wholly sure why I’ve not yet pulled the trigger and handed Mr. Newell more of my money. It’s essentially his money, after all. I guess I haven’t jumped in yet because I’m still warming up to the original.
I recently fired up a couple games of Endless Space after not touching it for a long while and had an absolute blast, realizing along the way that I just haven’t committed enough time to the first Endless Space to justify the sequel. But its mature offspring is patiently watching from atop my wishlist…
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III
I’ll pile on with the Warhammer love. I’ve adored this series. Warhammer 40k doesn’t always hit the mark when it comes to the different games, but both Dawn of War games hit the mark perfectly, albeit in entirely different ways. The original focused more on base building and larger armies; the sequel relied more on fewer units, less macro, and a heightened attention to small unit tactics and micromanagement.
I’ve read that Dawn of War III has once again mixed it up, tossing in some elements from MOBAs, and it sounds like a really interesting mix – but I’ve just not been ready to cough up the extra cash for its full price. One day!
I’m getting older; my reflexes, they are fading; however, damn it all, I’m not dead yet, and I still insist on some tough twitch action now and again! I recently dabbled with Rogue Legacy – a brilliant little platformer – and the Dark Souls series. My short-lived infatuation with both led me to Dead Cells. A procedurally generated Metroidvania action-platformer with brilliantly animated 2D souls-lite combat? Oh yeah, count me in. But I’m scared. Scared that maybe I am just too old to face a game that will forever mock me from the second level. But I’m coming for you, Dead Cells. There will be a reckoning.
In conclusion, I really just love to bathe in the goodness of the industry as often as I can, no matter the genre. Thus, I offer a few honorable mentions that sit alongside these other three on my wishlist, hiding and watching and waiting: Civilization VI, Grimoire, Hollow Knight, Soma, Aven Colony, Salt and Sanctuary, Stardew Valley, The Long Journey Home, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Pit People, Rimworld, Halcyon 6, Battle Brothers and more. See? Life is good, even if 4x might be in an awkward place.