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August was one of my most productive months! During that time, I published ten articles. I have to say, I’m enjoying my renewed focus.
I’ve been working on a schedule for the coming weeks. While health and time will be a factor in getting these out by the end of September, here’s my current list. A couple of them may already be published by the time this one goes live.
1) An article discussing my review process, and a how-to for anyone who wants their game covered for the website. It also covers how I conduct my interviews!
2) A Steam Deck article discussing games I’ve recently been enjoying on the device: Enderal Forgotten Stories and Dread Delusion
3) Discussing battery life on the Steam Deck and my process of pushing it to its limit
4) More of my experiment to test games on the Steam Deck which are currently untested to see how they play
5) Indie Corner Episode 20: I will most likely review Cult of the Lamb and Regiments
6) Starting a new series about the massive Pokemon homebrew community
I’m also preparing more game-dev interviews, so I’ll be fitting them into my schedule. As usual, review copies and interviews will come first, so I have no dedicated release schedule for this month.
Today, I want to talk about more flawed games. I’ve done a few installments of this series this year, and the more games I play, the more I realize how many games out there I enjoy, no matter how many issues they tend to have. Sometimes, they have technical problems and bugs which drag them down, or they just have bizarre design choices. There’s no such thing as a perfect game, as this series has shown. Despite their problems, I often find myself enjoying them greatly. Games such as Elex, Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, Cyberpunk 2077, and even Watchdogs: Legion have brought me hundreds of hours of entertainment, and isn’t that what gaming is about? I’ve got three games today. While one was a 2021 release, two are old cult classics. All three are controversial titles with many problems, but I think they all have some merit.
So I’ve covered Biomutant before on the website. I even wrote a full and rather long review for it, which you can check out here:
Biomutant was an extremely ambitious title with serious marketing weight behind it. Releasing in March 2021, it’s had quite a mixed reception. Divisive is a way to call it. Launching with a full, AAA price tag hurt it; if a game is a full price, it’ll be treated as a full, AAA ‘quality’ title. Biomutant for all of its ambition and quirks just didn’t hold up to expectations, and after a few patches in the summer, things have been quiet for the studio ever since. It’s a bit unfortunate because I liked Biomutant despite its major shortcomings.
One of its biggest problems was the quest design, and I found them incredibly tedious. Most open-world games contain many ‘filler’ side quests like fetching certain items or killing some enemies. This is fine if the game also has more interesting quests as the backbone, but Biomutant solely has these. While it has a ton of quests, I can only think of a few which were genuinely enjoyable. The Tribal war mechanic was among the worst mission design I’ve ever seen in an open-world game. So many repetitive quests in copy-paste locations. Thankfully, the Tribal War can be skipped after a certain point. Alongside bizarre design decisions like scrapping voice acting for a peppy narrator, only average combat, and a lackluster story, it’s easy to see why Biomutant failed to impress.
Despite all these problems, there’s a good reason I include Biomutant in this series. I liked playing Biomutant a lot more than I expected. The world is truly gorgeous to explore and transverse, with several options for moving around. The crafting/looting systems combined nicely with the mutations for some enjoyable combinations, making for a surprisingly solid junk food exploration simulator. Despite the weak story and terrible quest design, Biomutant’s world was more detailed than I expected. Even with no voice acting, the characters are memorable and the lore design is solid. I enjoyed Biomutant more than I expected, and despite its major issues, it still made my 2021 Hidden Gems list. If Biomutant launched with a more reasonable price tag, people would have liked it more. If you see the game on sale, give it a try.
Before I restarted Fable Anniversary on the Steam Deck, the last time I played a Fable game was in 2010 with the rather controversial Fable 3. A trainwreck in development, Fable 3 was a bit of a disappointment, even if I enjoyed what I played at the time. For the controversy of Peter Molyneux’s bullshitting and overhyping his titles, it’s hard to deny how enjoyable the first two Fable games were. Fable 1 was a monster that eventually sucked in Lionhead Studios, snapping them with Microsoft and forever changing the Xbox.
Fable had an extremely rough development cycle, especially the final year as a brutal crunch forced Lionhead into working themselves to the bone to get the game ready. Molyneux’s promises and marketing almost derailed everything, causing a lot of people to get pissed off at him. These promises boiled down to three main things which were talked about by Molyneux, but didn’t make it into the game: Multiplayer, having children, and a magical acorn that grew as the game progressed. Weirdly, the acorn was the biggest criticism, but people used it as a symbol of Fable: instead of being the gigantic, living breathing life simulator, it was a semi-open, well-made action RPG with cute tricks. Instead of Fable being praised for being a great, fun game in its own right, people focus on those promises and marketing: a mistake that’s plagued games frequently. Despite these concerns and backstories surrounding Fable’s brutal development cycle, I loved Fable back in the day, and I still enjoy it in 2022.
Oozing charm from every crevice, there’s a ton of customization, some quirky missions, and all sorts of little interactions which make Fable so satisfying. It’s not a perfect game, of course. The story is a little bit of a mess with some questionable writing, but Lionhead Studios were never known for its deep stories. They lean more towards the comedy side of game writing, and the world is aware of how bonkers it is. It might not match current RPGs, but it’s aged well and is still worth playing. The first Fable has both The Lost Chapters and Anniversary versions, each with its own merits. It’s probably worth picking up both and trying them out. I just wish Fable 2 and 3 were available on Steam.
One day, maybe…
Black and White 2 (2005)
Still, on the topic of Lionhead Studios, we have the Black and White series. The first Black and White was one of the hottest PC games on release, during a high point in the god game genre. Releasing in 2001, it was a massive hit for Lionhead Studios, which quickly ballooned in size as it expanded, investing in multiple projects and games. This eventually led to major problems for the studio and the buyout by Microsoft, but during the early 2000s, Lionhead Studios were still focusing on its cool game ideas. It’s just a shame how history went; and how Lionhead were tied to the Fable series from 2005 until their closure in 2016.
I love the first Black and White with a passion, and it’s still one of the most creative games you can ever play. Even now, there’s hardly anything out there that does what it can, although the indie game Deus Novum is making an attempt at that. Check out that game here:
Black and White 2 was an uneven sequel to the original, and like many games, the development was a mess. By this point, Lionhead was a struggling giant, split between several different games and trying to get Fable ready. The monster took much of the attention of Lionhead, ending up with Black and White 2 and movie mogul sim The Movies being somewhat disjointed.
Black and White 2 came out during a time when the PC gaming scene was overtaken by the massively growing console scene. Cool simulation and city builder titles just weren’t popular enough during the 2000s, and it’s this which probably changed how the sequel felt from the original. Instead of being an open-ended, tricky god simulator, Black and White 2 operates more like a city builder/colony sim with action elements. Being a god is still a big part of it, but things were streamlined with a clumsy, bloated interface. One of the best things about the first Black and White was a complete lack of on-screen buttons, with everything interacting through a hand that could do everything in the game, so this felt like a step backward.
The sequel looks gorgeous even to this day, and there are some fantastic visuals and special effects. Watching your giant creature lay waste to enemy towns and armies is one hell of a spectacle. Despite this, something does feel missing in comparison to the original, and it just doesn’t match the spark Black and White 1 had. Despite enjoying the game greatly, the complete lack of skirmish mode and multiplayer seriously hits replayability.
Even with its major flaws, I still hold a soft spot for Black and White 2. True, it’s not a full god game, but that doesn’t make it bad. I’ve spoken a lot on here about its strengths as a colony sim, and if you imagine it like that, it holds up relatively well. There are a ton of different buildings and paths to take when making a city, and you can make some stunning towns. Coupled with the god-sim elements, casting miracles to aid or hurt the world, and the simple yet still satisfying army system, there’s a lot to like in Black and White 2, even if it was a moderate failure for Lionhead Studios.
Both these titles are abandonware, locked in a permanent limbo of rights between Electronic Arts and Microsoft. We’ll likely never see these games reborn, which is a shame. Seeing how we can’t buy them, I see no harm in picking them up from abandonware sites: game preservation is vital for the future. Both the Black and White titles will require some work to get them running in modern systems, but they are worth exploring.
That’s it for today! I was torn about which games to cover for this installment, as I had a lot to say about Spore. That game probably goes down in the annals of gaming history for ‘Under delivered’. It’s cool to see Spore with such high reviews on Steam though, so there is a silver lining.
I’m not sure what is next on my schedule, but it’s likely to be Episode 20 of the Indie Corner series. In that milestone, I’ll cover Regiments and Cult of the Lamb, two games that are getting a lot of attention.
I’ll see you all soon, and remember to hydrate and stay safe!