Morbid: The Seven Acolytes

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is one of those 2D Soulslike games, in this case taking its cues mainly from Bloodborne. It reminds me a lot of Minoria, not because of the nun fetishism that immediately grabs your attention in Minoria (though the protagonist is a woman, there’s nothing especially fetishistic about Morbid, unless you’re really into gore, I guess), but because it feels like an apprentice-level game created as a learning exercise. This isn’t to say that it has no creative identity of its own. It has original worldbuilding and monster designs and locations and piles on some unique mechanics like stealth and inventory tetris. Ultimately, however, when the game is good, it’s because it’s kinda like Bloodborne, and the best thing you can really say about its innovations is that they mostly fade into the background and don’t get in the way. In fairness, the stealth mechanic might’ve been really good, I never really tried it.

Morbid is a much easier game than your standard Soulslike. There is no penalty for death, except in that your sanity doesn’t regenerate when you visit a shrine (the local flavor of bonfire), so any sanity damage you took before getting kicked back to the last shrine will persist. Sanity regenerating items aren’t that hard to come by, however, and sanity damage is rare enough that you’re not likely to have to deal with it often. Since there’s no corpse runs, if you find one part of the game too difficult, there’s no risk or penalty in trying another instead.

Not that you’re especially likely to run into serious difficulty walls. The only particularly hard bosses in the game are King Cornelius and Bile Toad Putrus. The others I generally beat on my first or second attempt, and it should be noted that my first attempt on most bosses happens when I stumble into them unprepared, with half my resources already depleted, and trying to avoid using anything that doesn’t regenerate automatically when I die so that I can save those for a rematch when I’m better prepared both in how many resources I go into the fight with and having a basic understanding of the boss moveset. And I still got the game’s second to last boss on my first try! I doubt this is intentional, either, since some bosses’ later phases are actually easier than their earlier phases (Bile Toad Putrus, for example, uses his most difficult attacks from the very beginning, which means later phases are easier as less difficult attacks get mixed in, decreasing the frequency of the really hard ones).

While slightly disappointing, a game at this level of craft is defintely wise to err on the side of too easy rather than too hard. You still can’t sleepwalk through it, and making a frustrating game that requires you to beat your head against a boss for hours before getting it is a huge gamble. Sure, it can make the game very rewarding to beat, but you have to make a really good game in order to hold a player’s attention long enough to bother beating it. I liked Morbid, and while I would’ve liked it more if its difficulty had been perfectly balanced to the Bloodborne standard, I would’ve liked it much, much less if it had overstayed its welcome. Besides, if someone really wants the game to be hard, they can always equip rubbish weapons and take all their blessings off to give themselves a short healthbar and low damage. Now every boss is a gauntlet that requires perfect play over the course of (estimating since I haven’t tried this) 15-20 minutes, rather than a blitz where victory is decided one way or the other in about 5 minutes and if you find one particular attack to be hard to dodge/parry, you can probably just facetank it and focus on countering the other attacks instead.

Bottom line, this is one of those games that I recommend to anyone who really likes Soulslikes and has already gotten through all the luminaries of the genre. There’s a lot of luminaries to get through in that genre, but not so many that a fan of the genre can’t get through them all. We’re still talking about 50-100 hours’ worth of S-tier Soulslike gameplay being released per year, which is a lot compared to some other genres but still very easy to get through with six months left to fill with stuff like Morbid.

That’s obviously not the highest recommendation possible, but Morbid came along with Raji and Kingdoms of Amalur in the November Humble Choice (along with Eldest Souls, which I passed on because I doubted the creative vision of a game so blatantly aping FromSoftware, and some others I don’t care about at all), and after Raji was a flop and Amalur I had only picked up out of academic curiosity, fully expecting it to also be a flop, I was concerned that maybe November was a flop entirely and I needed to let some months just have no new games at all. While I do still want to keep in mind that it is possible that there will be a Humble Choice with exactly zero games I am interested in, I do think Morbid saves November from that fate. It’s not my new favorite or anything, but I’m glad I played it.

Morbid’s Seven Deadly Sins?

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is a video game where you are a demon hunter sent to slay seven particularly nasty demons, the titular seven acolytes. From Steam acheivements, I can see all their names in advance even though I’ve only killed three of them (although judging by the Steam achievements for reaching new areas I am something like 2/3s to 3/4s of the way through the game – I’m guessing that while the rest of the game has sprinkled in some lesser demons as boss fights, the last area will feature the final three acolytes as the entirety of its boss inventory).

So here is the list in full:

-Lorn the Blind, Lord of Loneliness
-Lady Tristana, Mother Grief
-King Cornelius, the Heir of Regret
-Maestro Bibe, the Anxious Prodigy
-Vulgus Calia, the Mass of Terror
-Bile Toad Putrus, the Spawn of Disgust
-Inquisitor Odius, the Scholar of Hate

Each one mentions a character trait of some sort, which come together to form a sort of seven deadly sins, though they have little in common with the Catholic set. Some of them don’t even seem to be sins, particularly, like loneliness, grief, and anxiety, but rather just negative emotions that you could have.

But the plot thickens: In the game’s lore, demons need a host, and therefore each of the seven acolytes is a possessed mortal. Demons don’t seem to be limited to just one host, though, as there seem to be only three demons active in the region (if not the world). The traits associated with these three are fear, sadness, and anger. Seven is also the total number of combinations you can have of three unique elements, assuming order doesn’t matter, i.e. you can have fear by itself, anger by itself, and a fear/anger hybrid, but fear/anger and anger/fear are considered the same combination. Does this match up?

Using Hate as the combination of all three is pretty safe, particularly since the ordering of the achievements (on top of the evocativeness of the word itself) suggest the Scholar of Hate is the final acolyte. Grief may well be possessed only by the Sadness demon, and Terror is probably pure Fear, but none of the seven scolytes seem to be keyed exclusively to Anger except maybe Hate, if we remove that from the crossroad of all three. Disgust works pretty well as Fear/Anger. Now we start matching up traits based entirely on process of elimination, though, and it falls apart a bit. Anxiety as Fear/Sadness isn’t terrible, and likewise Loneliness as Sadness/Anger is maybe justifiable, but that leaves Regret as either pure Anger or, if we say Hate is pure Anger, it’s the culmination of all three. And the Heir of Regret is only like halfway through the game.

There’s enough going on here that I do wonder if this is supposed to be an Ultima virtues thing but evil and it just wasn’t communicated well – while the game’s visuals are good, its writing is often clunky, so this isn’t too much of a reach. I might just be seeing patterns in chaos, though.

Vulnerable Characters Make Me Feel Stronger

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is a game where you’re some kind of demon slaying badass sent to an island taken over by a Lovecraftian curse to badassily slay seven powerful demons. Hollow Knight is a game where you are an adorable little bug exploring the ruins of a fallen arthropod kingdom, slowly unraveling what happened to this place and how to stop it from spreading.

Now, I’m biased in favor of Hollow Knight because it is my favorite video game and Morbid is a game that is pretty okay. But I think part of the reason why I like Hollow Knight better is that the protagonist is small and cute and I think this better suits the high-ish difficulty and threatening atmosphere the two have in common. In Hollow Knight, my avatar seems small and vulnerable compared to the world I’m exploring, so if I get my ass kicked by a boss a couple of times, then I feel like that’s a pretty reasonable result under the circumstances, and when I get good enough at a boss to breeze through, I feel like a tiny and adorable god of war. In Morbid, my avatar seems like she should be pretty good at this right off the bat, and while the dodge-roll-and-strike gameplay isn’t unfamiliar to me so I’m able to chew through the early content with only a bit of effort, whenever I do get killed, it feels like more of a failure.

Logically speaking, the odds are pretty equally stacked in either game (and whether you say they’re stacked against me or in my favor has a lot to do with how much you weight win:loss ratio versus which side of the conflict is ultimately victorious – that I get infinite retries is a minor advantage in the first context but overwhelming in the second). But in Morbid, the presentation of the game feels like success is to be expected and defeat is a failing, whereas in Hollow Knight the presentation makes me feel like defeat is to be expected and success means I’m an absolute legend.

There’s People Here

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is one of those games where you wander the cursed landscape of some great calamity, piece together what happened, and clear away the haunted debris so that something, perhaps, can one day grow over the ruins. Your first encounter with another living being is, like, five minutes in, when you find a single mutated acolyte of the demon-slaying order you work for who’s retained enough sanity to get you up to date on the situation (there are seven demonic acolytes causing a ruckus and you should kill them). You sporadically encounter other NPCs as quest givers here and there, but for the most part you are wandering a hostile wilderness, which is usually how it goes in these games.

And then, maybe a third of the way in, you encounter a village. A fully populated honest-to-god village with, yes, a couple of side quests lying around, but also some NPCs with no particular function except to make it clear this place is indeed fully inhabited. As compelling and novel as the “the plot already happened, you’re just discovering it after the fact” concept was when I first encountered it in Dark Souls, at this point it’s actually kind of a twist that there’s a population of survivors, and that defeating the evil doesn’t just benefit some hypothetical future people who might take root here once the menace is cleared away, but will save an actual still-existing community from a terrible fate.

December Humble Choice

It’s December 6th as I write this, and also I’ve mastered the forbidden technique of shuffling my posting schedule around so that this comes out while there’s more than three days left to actually buy this month’s Humble Choice. What’s in the box?

Wasteland 3 is the third game in the series to which Fallout was already a hidden sequel towards. The guys who made Fallout wanted to make Wasteland 2 but were unable to get the rights away from EA, so instead they made their own. 25 years later, with the power of Kickstarter, someone finally got Wasteland 2 made, which I heard about, and then apparently also got Wasteland 3 done, which I did not. I’d want to play at least Wasteland 2 if not Wasteland 1 (it’s a DOS game from 1988, but I’ve had plenty of fun with those before and it’s considered a classic) before Wasteland 3, but it can’t hurt to snag 3 now.

Greedfall is a fantasy RPG that swaps your standard late medieval setting for a more 17th/18th century Age of Sail vibe. Apparently you’re exploring some kind of mysterious magical land in a way that may or may not be racist, I guess I’ll see when I get there. I vaguely recall some kind of criticism about this game at its release many years ago, but I never looked closely enough to figure out if there’s actually some lazy writing going on or if Twitter was just bored that day. Either way, it’s not, like, a Nazi manifesto or anything, so I’ll give it a look for myself (eventually).

First Class Trouble is yet another multiplayer deception game in the Mafia/Among Us genre where some number of people are the Mafia and everyone else has to try and figure out who. This one’s on a cruise ship and the infiltrators are robots. If I had a group I played with regularly, I’ll bet I’d enjoy the variety all the entries in this genre provide, but I’m not, and I don’t think these social deception kinds of games are very good when played with random strangers. Nobody knows each other, so it’s basically just a stereotype roulette where I find out whether this group of random strangers finds my use of statistics to be trustworthy or suspicious.

Backbone‘s pitch starts with “[y]ou’re not special. You’re not a hero.” Which would not be a terrible start if it were one of those video games where the premise is that, other than having unlimited retries, you aren’t any tankier or deadlier than a random NPC and have to get by in a world where three stormtroopers represents an overwhelming threat. That’s not what Backbone is, though, it’s a mystery adventure game with a linear plot. One of its promises is that players will “come to terms with the universal pain of existence and loss,” and it cites Sartre directly, so it’s a game that thinks it has something to say but is threatening to be a treatise on how the aimless ennui of being a mid-20th century French bougeouis academic is a universal human experience, when in fact that is both extremely rare historically and also not something I’ve personally ever experienced anything remotely similar to. You do play as an anthropomorphic raccoon, and weird stuff like that is normally a good sign for creative vision, but I’ve got a huge list of games to get to without spinning the wheel on whether this game’s artistic merit outweighs its pretentious solipsism.

Toem is some kind of adventure puzzle game where you mainly interact with the world by taking pictures of it. It sells itself as a chill, cozy experience. While I appreciate the cozy vibe that indie games have been gravitating towards (I think it might be the next indie phase now that “ruins of a forgotten kingdom which has suffered a mysterious calamity” seens to be wearing off), I don’t think this one has the gameplay to back it up.

Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is a game where you play as a real big skeleton (at least, you appear humongous on the world map – maybe that’s just because it’s the world map, but this isn’t just the scale being weird if you think about it, the game frames you as towering over the landscape) in depression-era America, gathering stories from some people to later retell them to others. It’s got decent visuals and really good soundtrack and voice acting, but its gameplay seems limited to trying to pick which story to retell to which character. There’s actual success and failure in that, but I still worry that this is one of those video games that really should’ve been a short film and stapled some gameplay on because getting short animated films Kickstarted is much harder than getting indie video games Kickstarted, and that the main thing added by the gameplay is that you can make the ending of the story really unsatisfying if you pick wrong.

I love Blade Assault’s sci-fi aesthetic, but it’s another Rogue-lite game. Rogue-lite games are major time investments and you spend a lot of that time re-experiencing the same content over and over again. For a game like Hades, I don’t mind – it’s really good at creating a game where build options are diverse enough that I can sink a lot of time into exploring them all and it doesn’t feel repetitive. But for a game whose main selling point is that it’s cool to watch a girl with pink hair and a trenchcoat slice robots in half with a katana, Rogue-lite means four hours of cool visuals and story stretched thin over twenty hours of gameplay.

Plus, their ad copy doesn’t capitalized the “Rogue” in “Rogue-lite,” suggesting that the genre is based on, like, being a rogue or something, and not gameplay similarity to the game Rogue. This is unconscionable and I am boycotting the game as a result.

Super Magbot is a platformer game where you can use a magnet ray to either attract or repel from certain platforms. This looks and sounds like a Flash game I would’ve played on Kongregate in 2012. It makes me kinda sad that this isn’t good enough anymore. XKCD was wrong. I mean, that comic was published in 2008 at which point it was very much true and it never claimed to be a permanent state of affairs, but here in 2022 browser-based games just aren’t the cauldron of mad creativity that they used to be. Genres that developed out of the limitations of Flash became irrelevant to a world where even cheap computers can run PS3-era graphics no problem. Free knock-offs of bigger games, like Portal: Flash Version or Feudalism (knocking off Mount and Blade, which wasn’t even out yet but which had been announced over a year ahead of the release of Feudalism), aren’t really relevant to me when I have a game backlog that’s currently bouncing back and forth between 165 and 175 games long, with new additions coming in for an average of about $4, plus I’m no longer 16 and working for hours on ChaCha to squeeze out the price of a single last-generation video game from GameStop.

So, yeah, Super Magbot is, to me, a relic of a forgotten age. People who like platformers in particular might dig it, though.

That’s two acquisitions from the Humble Choice, plus seeing Wasteland 3 made me realize I never added Fallout to the backlog because I got it through GoG, not Steam. I did beat the original Fallout, but I skipped past a lot of side content near the end to do so, and I’ve been meaning to go back and give it a thorough playthrough for like five years now. Also, it turns out I never got Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night into the backlog on How Long To Beat even though it was in my backlog category on Steam. So that’s four new games in the backlog, all of which are fairly long, sending me back up to 172. I spent November playing through lots of long games, mostly. Raji and Morbid were short, but also things I got that month and unloaded from the backlog almost immediately. The other games I completed were Project Wingman and Hollow Knight (using my cunning new strategy for the final few DLC boss rushes), and I’m also nearly through with Hades. While I’m pretty much totally cleaned out of very short games, these games were still much longer than games I could’ve been playing. So it’s up in the air whether or not I’ve hit the point where my backlog is expanding as fast or faster than it’s contracting (and it’s worth noting I may never hit that point – this month’s Humble Choice almost certainly added more hours of gameplay than I’ll actually have this month, but I haven’t really been keeping track of whether that’s typically the case).

Fuck You, I’m Invincible

As I discussed earlier, I’ve reached the point on Hollow Knight where I’m more frustrated than engaged by the last few bosses in the Godhome DLC. I’d beaten the Pure Vessel, the final boss required for 112%, in the Hall of Gods (where you can fight any boss as many times as you want for practice), but to get that 112% I need to beat them as part of a boss rush with nine other bosses first. I’d planned on practicing Pure Vessel until I could beat them three times in a row, which gives me pretty good odds of then beating them at the end of the rush. When that was getting more frustrating than fun, I decided I’d hack the game to give myself more health, increasing the bonus health each time I lost until I reached the amount I needed to win the boss rush. But that turned out to require editing save files in a way that 1) required me to close and restart the game between each attempt and 2) left me terrified I might somehow damage my 111% save file past the ability of a backup to restore.

So I adopted a new strategy: Fuck you, I’m invincible. Using this brilliant new plan, I was able to wrap up the game at 112% in about an hour.

Project Wingman’s Conquest Mode Needs To Pick A Lane

My buffer’s running kinda slim, so I’m gonna make this a second post instead of editing the first.

I have realized that the problem with Project Wingman’s Conquest Mode is that it cannot decide whether it wants to be an Arcade Mode or an actual Conquest Mode, and choices made to support one harm the other, so it ultimately succeeds at neither.

If this were a proper Arcade Mode, then you wouldn’t have to pick one of four starting maps and spread out from there, you wouldn’t have to start at alert level 0 and let it slowly build up to higher levels, your choice of mission type wouldn’t be constrained by which happened to spawn into the maps bordering your current territory, and you wouldn’t have to unlock new planes after repeated attempts. The map would just be a fancy level select screen, you’d pick whatever mission type, starting alert level, and plane you like, and you could have a mode that cycles you through every map in random order, starting you at alert level 0 and building up to alert level 30, with an achievement for reaching alert level 10, 20, and 30 in this mode. Since it’s not called “Conquest Mode” and doesn’t feature territory control as a major mechanic, nobody would reasonably expect getting through all 43 maps at once is supposed to be doable in semi-casual play like beating the campaign is.

On the other hand, if this were a proper Conquest Mode, then the lower alert levels would be stretched out considerably and the later ones compressed to make up for it, so that the current alert level 10 would instead be alert level 20, and then alert levels 21-29 would escalate rapidly to catch up. There’d be a difficulty option for perma-death, but it wouldn’t be the default. The rate at which alert level rises would be tied to the number of unconquered territories you currently border, so you’d be incentivized to conquer territories in such a way as to reduce the length of your frontline, instead of the current mode where it’s the opposite, you want to have as much messy bordergore as possible in order to maximize your options for which mission you want to play next. The baseline alert level rise for bordering just one territory would be only 1/4 what it is now (and there would still be a toggle for cutting even that in half), so that with good border management you will generally be facing 1/2 to 3/4 of the current alert level rate, making it easier to reach the end without maxing the alert level out. Enemies would respawn at the nearest edge of the map to the player, or better yet, the edge of the map corresponding to friendly Federation territory, with no respawns possible if you encircle a territory before attacking it.

There’d also be close air support missions where you have to take out enemy tanks and artillery with friendly units on the ground, fortress assault missions where you have to blow up a specific heavily guarded enemy facility, fleet sinking missions where you have to take out enemy naval fleets, and ideally a mission to take out landships since those are already in the campaign, but that’s not as important and I’m already nervous about this proposal, because it so clearly requires expanding the game, whereas I usually try to keep my feedback on this kind of thing limited to what could have been accomplished with the same amount of time, effort, and money as was spent on what we actually got (every game would be improved with an extra six months and $1,000,000 poured into it, pointing that out isn’t really criticism so much as daydreaming). I think the additional mission types really are necessary to the concept of Conquest Mode, though, and if there’s not enough time or money for them, go with Arcade Mode instead. Each territory would have a specific mission type associated with it, so the Bering Strait is always a fleet sinking mission and Yellowstone is always a fortress assault. There doesn’t have to be any plot or unique dialogue associated with these missions, and the amount of enemy fighters, airships, and ground defenses (AA and SAMs and such) can still be determined based on alert level.

Project Wingman Conquest Mode

I liked Project Wingman’s campaign a lot, but its arcade Conquest Mode is more of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it got me to play the arcade mode seriously at all, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before on any Ace Combat game. I think maybe I sunk some time into Air Combat’s arcade mode under the six-year-old assumption that surely adults would not add a feature to a video game if it was not good so surely the fun part must be in here somewhere.

The way Conquest Mode works is that you have a big map of all Cascadia running from Alaska down to Baja California, split into 40-ish territories. You pick one of four starter territories, and from then on you can only attack territories that border a territory you control. Each territory requires completing some kind of arcade mission objective like score attack, AA suppression, or bringing down enemy airships. Whenever you’re in a mission, the alert level slowly but steadily rises. Whenever the alert level increases, more and stronger enemies begin spawning (although enemies are infinite and keep spawning no matter how fast you clear them out, the cap on how many enemies can be in the air at once increases with higher alert levels). The alert level persists between missions, so you want to complete missions as quickly as possilbe in order to keep the alert level down for future missions, even if you’re in no immediate danger.

Winning accumulates prestige, which can be used to permanently unlock new aircraft to fly that persist even if you start a new game in Conquest Mode (there is an option to reset progression if you want to, though), and credits, which can be used to purchase wingmates and airships as backup and which reset if you start a new game, plus the wingmates can theoretically be shot down although even the weakest of them never seem to (the internet says they have some unknown but stupendous amount of HP). If you get shot down, you have to start over, so the only way to win is to beat all ~40 missions in one go.

I like Conquest Mode, and while there’s a couple of tweaks to be made, they mostly fall under the umbrella of “arcade modes are bad and we shouldn’t have them,” which is not necessarily an opinion held by wider audiences. You break from market trends at your peril, and Conquest Mode is already less arcade-y than most flight sim arcade modes.

Continue reading “Project Wingman Conquest Mode”

More Games Should Have Hades’ God Mode

My buffer is getting dangerously low right now, something which happens when I play longer games. A bottomline summary of a complete game is an obvious subject to wring a post out of, but if a game takes 30 hours to complete, then I am not getting through three such games per week. As single-digit hour games start disappearing from my backlog almost completely, multi-post needs to be the future, or alternatively I might cut back to weekly posts instead of 3/week if I feel like I’m getting too much filler.

For now, though, let’s just look at all the games I’m playing right now:

Continue reading “More Games Should Have Hades’ God Mode”