September Not So Mini Reviews

Sid Meier's Endless Legend

Humankind (Amplitude/Sega, 2021)

Humankind is Amplitude's take on Civilization after making a handful of games (Endless Space 1 and 2 and Endless Legend) that were clearly inspired by it. It makes quite a few dramatic changes, but by far the biggest is that you don't play as a single civilization. Instead of picking the Huns or the Maya at the beginning of the game and then sticking with them until the end, you pick a culture at the start of each era and your aesthetics, bonuses, and special units change to match them. You might start out as the Egyptians and finish as the Swedes and pass through five other cultures on the way.

The other change worth mentioning in a short review is that instead of winning, say, a science or diplomatic victory, you instead accrue Fame Points for all sorts of different achievements and, failing someone achieving one of the much more difficult win conditions, the final winner will be whoever has the most. That victory comes around either at the game's turn limit or a set amount of time after someone reaches the final cultural era.

It's always hard to review a big 4X like this after just a playthrough or two, but my early thoughts are that it's a promising new direction for Civilization-likes that has a ways to go before it will really be on the same level as Firaxis' darling. I like its increased focus on diplomacy and domestic policies, but building your empire just isn't as fun as it is in Civ. It's much too easy to run out of things to build, and the grand sense of scale when building a wonder or researching a new technology just isn't there. I still enjoyed playing it and will be going back for more, but, as is often the case in this genre, it will likely need an expansion or two before it can really shine.

This might look dangerous, but neither the shotgun nor the katana is likely to hit very hard

Cyberpunk 2077 (CD Projekt Red, 2020)

Neither this game nor the debacle that was its launch need any introduction, so I'll cut right to why I'm only finishing this now: I gave up on it after about 20 hours of play in January and didn't come back until the 1.3 patch. Originally, I quit because I'd gotten tired of its repetitive and flat side missions, confused world building, practically non-existent RPG mechanics, and unlikable characters. I came back because I wanted to play an FPS and assumed it would at least have gotten less buggy.

And it did! Granted, I played on a PC that is much stronger than the recommended specs, but I only saw performance issues in a few particularly dense areas of the game and rarely encountered any non-cosmetic bugs. Unfortunately, my other problems are still there. Start with the side missions. I've spent most of the time since The Witcher 3 released wondering why hardly any other RPGs were even trying to match its surprising and meaningful side content. CP2077 fails even harder than most by providing dozens and dozens of quests that rarely give the player any choices at all and often have no story beyond a brief opening voiceover and some optional datapads you might read at the end. The character-specific sidequests are much better, but they're also a drop in the ocean of indistinguishable fixer quests that all follow this pattern.

Next, the world building. Night City itself is wonderfully designed and deserves the praise its received for being beautiful, but it's also nonsense as a place people would ever live. Almost everyone in it is a complete jerk for no reason at all, and your options for interacting with them are frequently limited to being a jerk yourself. There's a whole history here from the RPG that the game just isn't interested in explaining at all, so I have no idea if the gaping omissions in explaining why we're supposed to dislike certain factions or what is even happening in the world are because CDPR blew it or if the original TRPG world just isn't fleshed out. Regardless, the result is a confused mess that's impossible to be immersed in because it falls apart if you think about it for more than two seconds.

You might think that a game based on a TRPG would be a good RPG, but you'd be wrong. CP2077 is best thought of as Borderlands with less interesting skills but much better moment-to-moment writing. Going in guns blazing is almost always the best option and there are almost never any consequences for doing so. The dialogue trees take a similar route in that there's usually a required line to advance and a bunch of meaningless optional questions you can ask that won't change anything. Options for roleplaying a specific sort of character are almost all limited to main story quests, and even then they usually don't amount to much.

All that said, the characters are least got a little better after I came back. Johnny Silverhand is still, despite being such a focus of the game, an egomaniac alcoholic with hardly any redeeming qualities, so it's really great that he has something derisive to say about everything you do and there's no way to get rid of him. The other major characters, though, are better. I actually got attached to a couple of them, and their character missions can be really well done. The ending giving them wrapups that make no sense at all for my playthrough put a bit of a damper on that, but they're still probably the best part of the game.

I also thought that my particular ending went to some cool places in the last few hours, although that was dragged down by an epilogue that lasted longer than it needed to in order to make its point and then ended with a lame choice that, naturally, made a lot of what I'd done pointless. And that was followed up by the aforementioned bad character wrapups.

So, where does all that leave the game? It's a pretty good looter shooter mixed with a bad RPG mixed with some pretty good character side stories that would've worked in a visual novel, and finally mixed with some elements from 2016's Prey. I like the occasional looter shooter, love a good VN, and am always happy to see creative use of psychology. But, despite all that, it's impossible to ignore just how badly CP2077 fails at being an RPG. From boring skills through meaningless choices and on to awful world building, it trips over every hurdle on the course and brings down any other redeeming qualities the game has. Taken as a whole, it's a wildly uneven product that averages out to, well, average. It's the sort of jumble of inconsistently baked ideas you'd expect from middle-tier developer on a limited budget, and even though there's still fun and cool concepts to be found, it's impossible not to be disappointed when you're actually getting it from one of the most hyped video games ever made. I enjoyed most of my time with it and would recommend it to certain very specific types of player, but at the end of the day, it's impossible not to call it a failure.

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