Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.
Another month (or two now, I guess) has come and gone. Another handful of weeks filled with gaming and whimsy. Well… to be honest… there hasn’t been much of either. Still, I’ve been playing some quality games in the spare time that I do have.
And yes… I know… I gone goofed and haven’t had a “What’s Metzge Playing” segment for a while but in fairness, I was in the midst of moving and so between that and working, I didn’t have much time to game, let alone write about how little gaming I was doing. Excuses, excuses.
But luckily for you, I’ve got just enough game time in this month to ramble on yet again.
Escape From Tarkov
It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a good shooter. I mean a really good shooter. I’m talking about one that strikes the balance of action, patience, and organic immersion (that is, when you shoot your target, it doesn’t require four .50 caliber rounds to the head to bring them down *cough* Call of Duty). I’ve mostly kept entertained in this arena with the likes of Rainbow Six Siege and Rising Storm 2: Vietnam, but neither has anything on Escape From Tarkov — and it’s still only in beta.
Though this is a gross simplification, EFT is a S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-inspired “hardcore and realistic online first-person action RPG/Simulator with MMO features and a story-driven walkthrough” in development by Battlestate Games. While there’s no nuclear fallout to dredge through nor supernatural anomalies to collect, players find themselves trying to survive in the cordoned off region of Norvinsk, a special economic zone designated within the borders of the Russian Federation.
Players choose to belong to one of two paramilitary factions: USEC, a Western mercenary group contracted by the megacorporations that once inhabited the zone, and BEAR, their Russian equivalent meant to contain the corporations and their influence to that zone. This friction resulted in the Contract Wars whose aftermath paints the scene for the players as they — as the game’s name suggests — escape from Tarkov.
As mentioned, the game is still only in beta, but you can buy into it at roughly $45 for their most basic level. At present, there are only four raid instances available, ranging from sprawling forests and countryside to claustrophobic abandoned factories and warehouses teeming with loot. Your motivation is simple: get in, look for valuable salvage (guns, ammo, equipment, and trinkets that you can sell for a pretty penny), and get out.
If you die, you lose everything you had on you, including the stuff you brought into the zone. Worry not, however, as each player has the option to buy a “safety container” whose contents make it back to your inventory screen outside these instances. You can opt to insure your other equipment, but that’s assuming no one picks it up and the AI scavengers “find” it. There’s no guarantee, but a chance is better than none at all in some cases.
Outside the instances, you have access to various traders where you can buy and sell goods. The more you do business with some of them and the more you level your character up, the more goods these traders have available. These can be new weapons, mods, ammo types, and consumables such as food, drink, and medical supplies. You then manage your equipment from your main inventory and outfit your character before each mission — if you choose to. Some players are ballsy (or desperate) and go into the contest areas with just a knife, a safer wager when you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Even as a beta, the game’s mechanics are pretty polished so far. The guns have a level of customization and detail I haven’t seen in many other games, notably how magazines and ammo are treated as separate things (yes, you must have both for the gun to work right, just like real life). While the idea of micromanagement might turn off some gamers, this adds a layer of strategy unfamiliar to the genre, for instance, manually loading a magazine with different types of rounds of the same caliber. Personally, I’ll load my 30-round AKS-74U magazines with 25 steel core rounds and topped with five AP rounds to chew through any armor first. Each caliber has a variety of round types so you can mix and match as you see fit.
Your weapons and equipment are the only things that you can tailor exactly to your needs. Akin to ArmA 3, you can dial in exactly how fast you’re moving (instead of the regular walk/run/sprint options, you get everything in between) or how tall you’re standing (not all windows are at the same height, so crouch accordingly). In a game where listening for enemies mincing about and covering your tracks and sounds are crucial for survival, these are handy features that can give you the upper hand.
As another wild card, the Fence — one of the traders you have access to — sells random gear that other traders might not have available. Sometimes he’s even got incomplete guns that are missing critical components. These are useful if you want to break them down for parts for your other guns or if you have the missing parts already. From my understanding, the gun modding system isn’t fully fleshed out yet, but it’s still impressive, especially as a beta.
There doesn’t seem to be an official release date yet, but you can check out the closed beta for Escape from Tarkov for yourself or tune into this beginner’s guide below by one of the community’s moderators:
And since we’re on the topic of megacorporations causing a mess of things, that brings me to my next game…
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Granted, I beat all three of Harebrained Schemes‘ renditions of Shadowrun a year ago. Of the three, however, I think Shadowrun: Hong Kong was my favorite, if only because the developers seemed to have hit their stride, both with creative writing as well as the game’s engine and graphics. Also, with my proximity to Seattle (the setting of Shadowrun Returns) and my familiarity with Germany and its culture and politics (the basis of Shadowrun: Dragonfall), Hong Kong provided a nice respite from the familiar, adding to the game’s fantasy element.
Dusting off the game a year later, I was looking for other campaigns to play, though sadly there hasn’t been much UGC (the franchise’s term for user-generated content) out there. While I’m still plugging away at Hong Kong‘s bonus campaign, I stumbled upon a modded campaign called The Caldecott Caper made by Steam user cirion that takes place in the California Free State. The only other high-quality campaign that’s been fully finished is Dead Man Switch – Vox Populi, a faithful import of Shadowrun Return‘s main campaign into Hong Kong‘s updated engine by a team of modders comprised of L0g41n, DaveOfDeath, and wave.of.atla.
Inspired by these fine folks and the shortage of UGC, I’ve been working on my own modded campaign as a fun little side project to challenge my programming, design, and creative writing skills. That and I just love the shit out of the Shadowrun universe as it combines my love of high fantasy with cyberpunk dystopia. Still, all I’ve got right now is just the starting scene: an apartment with a few props you can interact with, event triggers and all.
Admittedly, I’ve been having a lot more fun with that little room if only because it’s my world, having breathed life into it myself. That and as a DM without many people to play Dungeons & Dragons with in real life, creating a Shadowrun campaign is the best I’ve got to scratch that itch. Well… that and Divinity Original Sin 2‘s Game Master mode but… baby steps.
That said, if anyone has any modded campaigns of their own (whether or not it’s something you made) or some good asset packs (because I need more props and stuff), let me know!
That and if anyone from Harebrained Schemes happens to read this, will you ever return to Shadowrun? Because for real… your trilogy is easily one of the best RPGs I’ve played and it’s what got me into Shadowrun at all. Pretty late in the game compared to the series’ beginning in the ’80s, I know… but still. It’s just… so… good.
The Escapists 2
I’m gonna be honest: I wasn’t too intrigued with the original The Escapists. To me, it seemed like a great idea but needed some quality of life changes to make it playable for the likes of me. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve even played it, I just remember it as clunky with a learning curve a bit too steep for my liking — yeah, I need to get out, but I’m not creative enough to figure out how effectively on my own. Luckily, The Escapists 2 helps players like me who need a bit of extra (read: special) attention.
In between the first and second games, I think it was my previous exposure to a similar game called Space Station 13 that helped get me into The Escapist 2’s aesthetic and gameplay. While The Escapists 2 isn’t quite a “who-dun-it” type of game like SS13, it’s the similarities of set schedules and ulterior motives that got me to truly appreciate this new game. I like that it seems faster-paced, more streamlined, and includes co-op so my friends who are just as clueless as I can dawdle along with me. You can even play local co-op if you have controllers which is pretty dope.
To date, the only jail break I’ve managed was Cougar Creek Railroad, but I’m still trying to figure out how to escape from more… stationary penitentiaries. Though I am having a bit of fun with this game, I still don’t know how I feel about it overall. That isn’t to say it’s not a great game; I’m just not sure it’s my cup of tea.
Maybe if I wasn’t so derp and perhaps a bit more sneaky, I might enjoy myself more. I find myself too comfortable making shoes during job time to leave half the time. Obviously, that’s not the point, lest the game ought to have been named The Shoemakers 2.
Age of Empires II: HD Edition
Naturally, I’ve saved the best for last. I will say, though, it’s been difficult for me to get into older games. Not because older games are bad or anything, but sometimes we’re blinded by nostalgia, thinking that the games we played in our childhood were so much better than what they truly were. While that seems true (at least for me) with Age of Empires III, I still love the hell out of Age of Empires II.
Even before the announcement of Age of Empires IV and Age of Empires‘ remaster (to be honest, I am much more skeptical about the sequel than I am the remake), I’ve been playing my fair share of Age of Empires II both with friends and going through the singleplayer campaigns. I figured since I have all the new DLCs, might as well actually slog through the campaigns instead of just using them as extra options in my biweekly comp stomps.
Having grown up with the original’s campaigns and those of its first expansion The Conquerors, I wasn’t sure if Steam was just pulling my leg when SkyBox Labs announced a second expansion over a decade later. Having tried out The Forgotten, I was pleasantly surprised; instead of the RTS-focused scenarios in past campaigns (a novel idea for an RTS), these campaigns focused a lot more on story elements (an even more novel idea, especially with the likes of the Starcraft II trilogy). You can tell the new developers were having fun with the old engine, exploring the use of linear events in a single scenario that included character dialogue prompted by you clicking on certain units — most notably in Dracula’s campaign as he retakes his ancestral lands.
Though it’s fun to have general objectives that simply let you conquer your enemies, these tailored campaigns can be refreshing to players who like RPG elements and good storytelling. Of course, if you’d prefer keeping the talking and theatrics to the narration in between campaign missions, you still have options.
Regardless, coming back to this game as an adult as opposed to a seven-year-old child, I find myself appreciating the history and stories behind significant figures such as Joan of Arc or Genghis Khan. But I know story time isn’t for everyone, especially if you are looking to smack unwitting opponents around in multiplayer.
On the topic of multiplayer, I’m happy to see that it’s still just as fun as what it used to be. Granted, I am too much of a pansy to enjoy playing against competitive human players, but 4v4 matches against the AI can be just as challenging, especially when you crank up the new AI’s difficulty (the original AI seems brain-dead by comparison).
I also enjoy that the factions appear to be rebalanced, favoring different styles of gameplay as well as imparting bonuses onto the rest of your alliance. For example, the Byzantines and Koreans are two of my favorite countries as they’re all about defensive gameplay, allowing me to turtle up and do well doing so (as opposed to the Mayans who can’t actually build walls). Again, I was only seven when Age of Empires II originally came out but I don’t remember having noticeable asymmetry between the factions. At any rate, I’m happy it’s (still?) here.
I’m still curious with how Age of Empires IV will turn out. While Relic Entertainment is at the helm and I enjoyed Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, I truly hope that they don’t intend on creating an AoE-flavored MOBA or take more cues from AoE III than they do II. Putting limits on buildings or having inflation for each unit depending on how many you make are stupid “features” in my opinion. If I want to create mobs of units and line my castles with countless bastions, that’s my business. Arbitrary limits shouldn’t be put in just for the sake of trying to balance things out or not let defensive players thrive. Instead, I hope Relic just finds better ways to suit everyone’s play style, whether that’s through “skill” trees like AoE III‘s home city benefits or even Command & Conquer: Generals‘ leader abilities.
Whatever they do, they better not screw up the franchise. I don’t think my heart can take it.
What have you been playing? Share your recent favorites in the comments below!