My Five Favorite Games in 2021

My tradition continues: below are my five favorite games that I played in 2021.

1. Red Dead Redemption 2

I only started playing RDR2 in the latter half of December. I’d heard great things for a long time. I expected to find it enjoyable, probably better than the first Redemption. I’ve in fact been absolutely blown away by this game. It’s an incredible balance of Western simulator and heartfelt narrative vehicle, and I can’t get over how well that balance is maintained. Rockstar games typically favor the simulation side, creating big open worlds with tons of activities and locales, densely packed with AI inhabitants, awaiting you to create your own stories through the dynamic interactions with that world as you sow chaos or simply walk through it. Those games are often paired with stories about Big Ideas and memorable (and occasionally even complex) characters, but the story and gameplay often undermine each other. I’ve written about this before. But RDR2‘s open world and story don’t feel in contrast; they feed off each other. Your choices matter. Small choices create ripple effects, in and out of missions. How you act in the larger world determines to some degree how Arthur acts in missions and how the story plays out.

A lot of this is the richer Honor system pulled in from RDR, but not everything is simply tied to morality mechanics. The constant presence of characters who matter to the narrative helps, as well. You spend a lot of time at camp, and there are rewards and incentives for doing so. You get to know the camp members, who are well-written and well-acted; all but one or two of the most despicable have redeemable characteristics, and there are characters I found easy to relate to and care for. There’s a real sense of community, and that helps guide my actions as protagonist Arthur Morgan. But there’s always enough nuance in Arthur’s demeanor to justify a more honorable or more dastardly version of the character, and all versions feel within a reasonable range for this character as he is depicted.

There are also optional systems that provide additional depth to the stoic and gruff (though far-from-silent) protagonist; for instance, Arthur updates a journal to sketch places he’s visited, animals he’s studied and hunted, and interesting personalities he’s encountered, while providing his perspective on events in the game and his own (partially player-guided) actions. That journal feature is omnipresent, and when there’s an update, a notice briefly appears, but one never need spend time in the journal. I love to view it whenever it’s updated, though, as it adds much greater richness to the game’s story, providing a window into the inner life of a protagonist who isn’t always particularly inclined to tell people how he’s really feeling. Arthur’s defined personality traits but broad range of reactions has allowed me to find my own version of the character, one who tends to help those in need, who looks after women and children, who can be a bit too trusting, but who is also quick with a gun, willing to rob and loot, willing to turn a profit especially if it helps his outlaw community, and not out for blood but never afraid to get into a fight or even to kill if it serves his goals. He’s an interesting gray character–genuinely interesting, and not just the erratic set of disjointed choices that might normally define a “chaotic neutral” type of character.

The simulation side has engaged me far more than RDR, GTA IV, or GTA V, as well. I enjoy fishing and hunting. I enjoy seeking out a great buck, slowly stalking it, attempting to cleanly and mercifully kill it, and then collecting its carcass for a ride back through mountains, valleys, forests, plains, and rivers to share it with the outlaw camp’s quartermaster/cook for the benefit of the community. I enjoy simply riding my horse down wide roads and up narrow, winding paths. God, do I love the horses. There’s a button prompt to comfort/praise/reassure your horse, and I abuse the hell out of it. We’re closely bonded. And you can praise (or scold) cats and dogs, so I of course praise them when I can. You can pat dogs, so I do that often too. I suppose you could shoot them, but why would you? There are plenty of rewards in being a good person and treating the world like a real place, and I imagine there are rewards for those who want to play a far more violently aggressive personality as well, though I seldom see them.

There are also systems to punish wildly out-of-character behavior. There are harsh penalties to crime sprees. It’s inevitable–simply following the game’s story will get you involved in at least some criminal behavior, and my Arthur isn’t a saint. But the Wanted system combined with the lingering Bounty system and resultant posses of bounty hunters and lawmen that will follow you in territories where you’ve wreaked havoc provide for additional experiences to test your skills but also remind you that you shouldn’t push things too far, that the game’s “society” has clear rules and will demand you adhere to them or face dire consequences, locked out of most of civilization and on the run.

There are a lot of fascinating random events and strangers to run into. One time, I saw a fight to the death between territorial bucks. I’ve helped escaped prisoners and women captured by marauders. I’ve been ambushed by rival gangs. I’ve gotten swept up pursuing an impressive pronghorn buck or elk, or a legendary beast whose territory I innocently wandered into, ignoring for a while whatever my immediate goal had been. I’ve been invited to search for dinosaur fossils (an awesome acknowledgment of the rapid expansion of paleontological fieldwork and the wild characters involved from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). I’ve collected some treasure for a quest and stopped by a nearby abandoned cabin late at night, only to find skeletal remains everywhere and a message from a cult, with a sudden green glow and eerie thrumming to throw me off even further, my brain sounding alarm signals of fear before I realize I’m being buzzed by a UFO overhead just as it takes off. It’s a wild game.

There’s so much to do, and so many of the situations in the main narrative and the random encounters can be shaped by your personal input. While this could easily reward replay of the story, the game is just so damn big, the choices so many and varied, that I imagine I’ll see the completion of the game as the completion of the story for My Arthur; no replay would be needed. (Plus, if I still want more when I’m done, there’s Red Dead Online.) I’ve played for just over thirty hours and appear to be just under a third of the way through the story, so there’s more than enough game in the single-player mode alone.

There is so much to RDR2, but the nature of the game, its story about a struggling community and the efforts to find safety and purpose on a fading frontier, allow for such a wide-open story. Unlike the first game, I don’t get a feeling of bloat (which is really crazy when I complained about completing RDR in 46.5 hours, compared to my 31.4 hours for less than a third of the story in the sequel). There are certainly excessive systems, but the game wants you to live in it, and the story is about living in this community. There is no burning rush for revenge, as in the original. Instead, it feels like a story in which you’re simply trying to hold out as long as you can with the ones you love and the ones who rely on you, even as the noose slowly tightens around you and your found family. (Oh, also unlike the first game, RDR2 has so far provided a quite diverse cast of characters, from some of the central figures to the many background parts, and they’re provided much greater nuance and, at least for the main characters, individuality and complexity than in any other Rockstar game. I’m really impressed by this development.)

Finally, the customization options for accessibility and UI appearance are quite welcome. I like keeping a minimalist overlay presentation, inviting greater immersion into the game. The one feature I often keep up is some version of a navigation system in the lower left corner of the screen. If I’m moving through familiar territory or not particularly concerned about direction, I turn it off. If I’m heading toward a goal, I keep a simple compass on so I know that I’m at least not riding south when I need to be going west. If I’m in a territory where I’m wanted, or if I’m on a mission, I tend to turn on the normal or expanded versions of the minimap with its associated markers and route guides. All of this can be done without even pausing the game, pressing a couple of button prompts the same as you would to rotate between your weapon options. It’s impressive.

Then again, this whole game is impressive.

2. Jurassic World Evolution 2

This shouldn’t be a surprise. I loved what Jurassic World Evolution evolved into with its DLC. I was eagerly awaiting the sequel. It has not disappointed. I’m sure I’ll be returning to challenges and sandbox modes for quite a while yet. And I’m hoping for some further story developments post-Dominion!

3. Book of Travels

Another title that shouldn’t be a surprise on this list. This is a game that focuses on the things I like most about roleplaying. I haven’t given it the attention it deserves, but the time I’ve spent in it has been delightful.

4. Halo: The Master Chief Collection

I got into the co-op with a friend toward the end of this year. I also started playing solo playlists of missions. Maybe I’ll get into the multiplayer? Then again, I imagine most people have moved over to Halo Infinite. Either way, it’s been a fun and nostalgic time.

5. Star Wars: Squadrons

This was a go-to toward the start of the year, but my friends and I slowly burned out of this. We’ve idly talked about getting back into it. It really brought the sense of cinematic Star Wars space battles to life and personally invested you in it as a starfighter pilot caught up in the middle of it all. Multiplayer matches were chaotic and intense. We had one really strong player (not me–I was maybe the worst), but matchmaking unfortunately veered toward unbalanced rounds against incredibly skilled players or players who clearly didn’t know what they were doing at all, so we oscillated between fantastic victories and crushing defeats. I never got very far into the story, and the limited multiplayer maps could feel repetitive. But all that said, it was a way to socialize with friends during some of the worst of the pandemic while experiencing authentic Star Wars.

Have you tried Book of Travels yet?

I’m very sad to hear about the layoffs at Might & Delight. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of the studio prior to the Early Access release of Book of Travels, but this game has charmed me so. While I appreciate the transparency from Might & Delight, this news did bring a lot of questions to my mind. Did their launch so underperform? Has the indie video game industry, at least on PC, become overly reliant on Early Access-type experiences? Were there other troubles that were simply exacerbated by a perhaps disappointing launch of this tiny multiplayer RPG?

I hadn’t actually logged into Book of Travels for several weeks (whoops), but I did hop back in the other night. The experience feels more polished than last time, and I had fun exploring some new-to-me areas and continuing my fishin’-and-tradin’ routine. I do worry, though, that there won’t be enough new content for a long time, especially in light of the smaller team, to keep me eager to come back with a high frequency. Not a knock against the game or a lack of interest, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed most logging in and playing casually in a relaxed setting for as long as I want, somewhat aimlessly. I like the lack of an urgent quest or progression cycle, but the quiet teasing out of more information out of the world doesn’t give me an incentive to log in every day–or even every week. That’s fine! I like the quiet and the peace! But maybe it’s ultimately hurting regular player numbers in the game. Then again, surely player numbers couldn’t have been that crucial since there’s no subscription fee and this is Early Access–unless they were relying on potential investment that fell through because of low engagement figures. I hope that’s not the case. I want to see this game thrive for years to come, and we’re just a couple months out from release.

What I’ve been trying to do off and on for a while now is to persuade some friends to get the game. I think playing with some buddies with voice chat through Discord, getting involved in group endeavors and chatting as we wandered over a beautiful and peaceful land, would be an ideal way to regularly interact with the game. As much as I’ve loved the spontaneous, quiet moments I’ve had with strangers in the game, it’s still a social-lite experience in a setting and playstyle that seems ideally set up for in-depth roleplaying. (Alternatively, having a more combat-focused experience could easily mix up the gameplay, so I might roll a new character just for that.)

Anyway, with the Steam Winter Sale going on, and in light of the apparent financial woes at Might & Delight, I picked up much of their back catalogue of games. I’ve heard good things about the Shelter series while reading about Book of Travels, so I’m interested in trying that out. Plus, if it helps to support the studio while they continue to build out Book of Travels, I’m on board with that. They’ve also released the soundtrack to Book of Travels, and it’s truly beautiful music in that game, so I got that as well.

If you haven’t checked out Book of Travels, as part of the Steam Winter Sale and through January 5th, you can pick it up for 20% off now. Yeah, it’s weird to push this game in light of a setback, but I really do love it, and I really do want other people to experience it. Please, please, please consider checking it out.

(This isn’t a promoted post. I’m getting nothing for it. This is a small personal blog. I just really love this game and want to see more of it, and I think most people would like it too if they gave it a chance!)

Arena Reboot, Part I: Returning to the Arena and starting out in Reich Parkeep

I see no reason to recap the introductory materials of the game. Those descriptions, and my thoughts related to them, are still available through my older series of Arena posts. Please do consider taking a look.

For this time around, you’ll see I went with the same name and image for the character, but already the adventure’s been different, not just from a stats perspective but from a flow perspective, and I think that boils down to my choice of Spellsword this time around.

This suits my apparent playstyle quite readily, and I had a fun and easy time mopping up rats and goblins in the sewers. I’m tentatively optimistic about this attempt–I haven’t been bored or frustrated at all yet. For now, I think that to the extent that I write posts about the game, I’ll present them as an ongoing narrative, an extended fan fiction chronicling my character’s exploits, cutting out some of the more nuts-and-bolts discussion of the game that my previous series had. To the extent I engage with that out-of-universe stuff, I think I’ll keep to separate posts from the main series.

Now with that said, I’ll just jump right into Aizen’s adventures.

Imperial Battlemage Jagar Tharn’s coup had been quick and overwhelmingly successful. Emperor Uriel Septim VII and Talin, leader of the Imperial Guards, were transported to a pocket dimension. Tharn assumed the visage of the Emperor and surrounded himself with his own loyal followers. He killed his own apprentice, Ria Silmane, when she learned the truth and refused to cooperate with his scheme. With a few careful and covert imprisonments and executions, his power was cemented, and he felt confident that no one could uncover his scheme or stop his plans.

Aizen awoke from his dream vision of his old friend, Ria, in the moldy depths of the abandoned Imperial prison, realizing he might be the only one left able to thwart Jagar Tharn. It was a matter of simple luck that he had been provided an imprisonment instead of execution, as a minor member of the Imperial court, a Dunmer in the Imperial capital and thus an outsider among Imperials and Dark Elves alike, who had known nothing of the actual coup until Ria’s ghostly appearance. He presumed he had been left to die in here, surely, but now it seemed this was merely the first chapter in a greater story. The first problem was determining whether he could actually escape from his cell. He found a ruby key sequestered away, just as Dream-Ria had promised, and he was quickly able to make his way through the labyrinth of this old, abandoned section of the Imperial prison, following half-remembered instructions from his vision to escape. Arming himself and equipping a buckler and some magic items hidden among the refuse and rot to aid in his defense, he stepped through the portal Ria had told him of and found himself in the town of Reich Parkeep, in northwestern Morrowind, in the middle of the night. The jump had successfully gotten him away from the heart of the Empire and out into the provinces, it was true, but this was a less-than-ideal time and place.

He spent way too much time wandering the dark, empty streets and alleys of the town, noting the excess of churches and apparent lack of stores and inns. He did not find undead, but he did encounter plenty of goblins and rats, a couple thugs, and a lizard-man, fighting more perhaps on the town’s streets than in the depths of Tharn’s dungeon.

He came across a few good-hearted people who still found a reason to be out in the night–an unusual jester, a prostitute, some devout monks on their temple grounds–and eventually found his way, with the help of their vague directions, to an inn hidden away behind a hedge wall: the Gold Griffin.

Ria had suggested that only Aizen could stop Jagar Tharn, but she had also promised that he could safely set himself up in the provinces. The messages were somewhat contradictory, unless of course she intended him to train and equip himself in comparable security until he was ready to take on the Imperial usurper. While he planned to simply take a room for the night to think things over, an “aggressive” figure cornered him and asked him to retrieve a lock of ghoul’s hair from someone at the Mages’ Guild within one day. He pushed himself back into the night, figuring perhaps he could discover this knick-knack on his own within the sleeping Guild hall. No luck–upon breaking in, he found a couple small bags of gold, not worth the break-in if that had been the goal, and the shock of another thief who eventually cornered him and forced him to fight to the death. On his retreat from the guild, he came across yet another thief in a nearby snowy square, perhaps the partner of the former, and once more defeated his human foe.

Aizen returned to the Gold Griffin at last, for a final time that night, a little past four in the morning. He drank some ale–allegedly the best in the city–and rented a room, waking not-quite-fully refreshed but eager to complete the task bestowed upon him. He set back out into the city, not straight for the guild but rather heading to a weapons store he’d passed and marked accordingly on his map the night before. Once there, he offloaded the goods he’d acquired on his journeys so far, save for the weapons, magic items, buckler, and leather armor that he’d looted from his foes and procured from heaps of old treasures in the dungeon. He’d managed to collect a silver helm, ill-suited to him, but that went for over 300 gold, and he bought a few cheap leather pieces, including a helm, to complete his set.

Returning to the Mages’ Guild at last, still nearly vacant, he encountered a mage hidden away among a stack of books who offered him the lock of hair. He collected the hair and returned to the aggressive fellow at the inn, receiving a measly 45 gold for his troubles but the gratitude of this stranger.

Life fell into a comfortable routine for Aizen for a few days after that, handling basic fetch quests–back to the Mages’ Guild to deliver a note, for instance–and exploring the countryside surrounding Reich Parkeep. To the south, there were open fields and farmlands, and winding country roads, all coated in snow. The city itself had a series of canals running through it, and to the east and north was a large lake with an island set out in the middle of it. Aizen found dungeons to explore in both these places.

The south fields were interrupted at one point by a small inn and at another by an isolated fortress. No soldiers appeared to staff it, and the interior was barren. Aizen found some loot, but also quite a number of thieves and scoundrels just as willing to slit his throat and take what he found. When he’d had enough of exploring the crumbling stone corridors, he would take a brief break to try to infiltrate a low-slung, newer building, but he never succeeded, inexplicably drawing the presence of armed guards. It was a mystery to him, but he wasn’t sure it was worth finding the answer.

The lake’s island had a strange earthen den with a wooden door set into it. That door led down into narrow, dimly lit tunnels set into the bare soil, with strange open gaps suggesting precipitous falls into darkness, frequent patches of blood staining the ground, and wooden doors set off at seemingly random locations that occasionally had some bit of loot left behind. This warren was crawling with burglars and beasts, and Aizen fought off his fair share of thieves, rival spellswords, minotaurs, orcs, rats, and even a couple of mages. Aizen’s curiosity got the better of him, and he pushed too far and too fast, unnecessarily risking his life, but he eventually got out with several valuable odds and ends.

Aizen found himself in the magic trade after that, briefly. He had already discovered that several trinkets were protective when worn, but he had them and several strange potions identified. What he couldn’t wear, or what didn’t seem clearly useful to save to drink, he sold off. And he bought himself a couple spells: a better healing spell and an Open spell to improve his future chances with locked doors. By the end of his trading, he had a full set of chain armor to supplant his still-fresh leather gear.

There were two inns in Reich Parkeep. The Screaming Helm was good for the odd job, but it was the Gold Griffin, Aizen’s first sanctuary, that became something of a home. Whether he had simply been out and about town or delving deep into a dungeon, he always welcomed the moment he could enter the cozy inn, stamp the snow from his boots, and rub warmth into his fingers. Yet he felt oddly detached from those who also seemed to make the inn their home. He talked little, and when he did, he found most disinterested in him. The barkeeper was friendly enough, but seldom had anything to say. The arrangement worked for the short term, but Aizen knew that Reich Parkeep would not be his home forever.

On one of his first nights of freedom, Aizen dreamt of Ria again, who told him to seek out Fang Lair, where he should find the first piece of a broken relic of power, the Staff of Chaos, that could undo Tharn’s plot. According to legend, Fang Lair was built by the Dwarves of Kragen, who were driven out by a Great Wyrm. But Ria could not say where Fang Lair could be found. If Aizen had not already had tangible proof of the reality of the visions, with the manifestation of the ruby key and the portal that had dumped him in Reich Parkeep, he would have questioned whether he was simply going mad. In truth, he did anyway. But for the sake of Ria’s spirit, he knew he would follow this lead in time. While he adventured and quested, he did take time to ask the local residents for any information about this lost locale. Some believed it was simply a legend. Others suggested the temple for information, but the temple knew nothing. Still others suggested the Mages’ Guild for information, but the guild knew nothing too. One person Aizen spoke with suggested that Fang Lair could be found in Hammerfell, and then another, and another still. Aizen knew that if the place was regarded as a legend by most, his best chance of tracking down more information would be Hammerfell–if that was even the right part of the continent. So he squirreled the piece of information away, until he felt ready for a trial of that nature, and a journey that would take him to the other side of Tamriel.

On his next adventure out into the wilderness, Aizen found the small inn again but couldn’t locate the old fortress. He did, however, stumble onto a remote, small graveyard with a single mausoleum.

Exploring the mausoleum.

He crept into the funereal chambers within, expecting perhaps his first encounter with the undead, but the rooms were barren, save for a few valuables. To enter those rooms was its own challenge, as they were locked, and his first Open spell failed while nearly depleting his magic reserves. But in frustration, he swung his sword at the old wood, and the locks on each door yielded to his onslaught.

Pressing on further, he came across a small, unnamed settlement with a temple, an inn, several houses, and bustling residents in the snowfields outside.

After strolling through the woods outside the settlement, Aizen found a low-slung, oddly angled compound with a massive barred wood door. He crept inside, finding a winding maze with sheer drops and halls that led to nothing. And, as expected, he found his share of monsters and men eager to try to slay him. He even encountered a couple skeletons, and just as he was about to leave, a zombie set upon him, nearly pummeling him to death before he could flee into the frozen overworld.

On return to the small settlement, he rested up at the local inn. The local innkeeper told him that the “prophet” he spoke with said that Hammerfell would be decimated by plague early the next year. Aizen didn’t know the “prophet,” presumably some sort of simple soothsayer, and he had already heard many spurious rumors about suspected plagues and poor or rich harvests, but the news was dismaying given his likely final destination. In that moment, he made a decision. It was time to move on, to leave the region of Reich Parkeep behind. It was time to begin his trek across Tamriel to determine if the legendary Fang Lair was real–as his vision insisted–and could be truly located. He set off on the main road toward the adjoining state of Skyrim, stopping in the border town of Cormar View.

Here, the news of Fang Lair was fresher–couriers had arrived just the day before, speaking of the locale. Aizen could not ascertain further details, but it seemed that Fang Lair was real, in Hammerfell, and somehow making its presence felt once more.

He knew he was on the right path, and his journey seemed increasingly urgent. He would press on soon.

Bethesda Launcher

Hey, did you know that Arena and Daggerfall are both available through the Launcher? And that when you install them through the launcher, they also install a DOS emulator? And that you can smoothly launch the games from the launcher? Hm…hm

Well, I’m still playing Jurassic World Evolution 2‘s challenge mode (and capturing some novel-inspired images in sandbox mode that I plan to eventually share here–fun little side project), and I’ve been playing co-op with a buddy in old Halo games from The Master Chief Collection (Infinite? Come on, I’m typically years behind the times, no way I’m touching that soon), and it’s been a little while since I played Book of Travels despite regular updates so I want to get back to that, and god do I need to get back into Ring Fit Adventure, and then there’s my larger backlog of games that’s not getting any smaller any time soon, and that of course is just discussing games

All that said, I can’t imagine that I’ll actually get back into Arena any time soon. But the convenience of it makes it more plausible, makes it a little bit of a glimmer in my mind’s eye once more. And hey, maybe you didn’t know about its availability through the launcher, and maybe you’ll give it a try.

UPDATE: Oh, why not.

Aizen 2.0

Alternate-alternate histories for Jurassic World Evolution 2’s Chaos Theory

At this point, I’ve completed Jurassic World Evolution 2‘s Campaign and Chaos Theory missions, and I’ve tested the waters with Challenge mode, completing the first challenge on easy. The handful of Challenge levels suggest that it’s actually reasonable to try to complete them all on Jurassic difficulty–and it might even be fun. At just over 50 hours of game time, this has proven to be a robust game with enough content to make the price tag worthwhile, and there’s still more to do.

Nodosaurus in nature.

On top of that, compared to the original, the dinosaurs are better-looking and have more realistic behaviors, guests are more varied in interests, and park-building is a deeper and more customizable experience. (Really, the only gameplay elements I wish were different are the still relatively short lifespans of most of the dinosaurs and the lack of breeding in the wild–the latter means you’ll never have an authentic dinosaur preserve, and it’s also a glaring absence given the importance of breeding in Planet Zoo and the significance of breeding and natural survival in the books and films.)

Dilophosaurus death leap.

All that said, there’s something that still feels “light” about the whole experience. If I had to identify a single factor, it would be that there’s very little connective tissue between levels. As I discussed in my original review, the campaign is incredibly short, easily completed in about five hours, with little development in plot or the handful of characters you’re interacting with. Then each Chaos Theory level is its own isolated experience: build Jurassic Park, build Jurassic Park San Diego, capture dinosaurs from Site B for Jurassic World, build Jurassic World, tear down Jurassic World and help the dinosaurs go free. Each is in its own separate alternate universe, so your successful Jurassic Park has no bearing on San Diego or Jurassic World. And there’s very little to explain just how the timelines changed, beyond just your involvement–for instance, why exactly is Ian Malcolm on board with San Diego and why is there no Peter Ludlow in sight? This disconnect between the movie timeline and the isolated alternate universe tales was maybe strongest felt in the Jurassic World level: the Indominus rex is created, and so long as you did a decent job designing a secure pen and catering to its environmental needs, it’s never really a threat to the park as a whole (meanwhile, my “Rexy” died of old age and was replaced just before the Indominus was released). But every level embodied some level of detachment–for instance, in the Jurassic Park III level, the mission runs as a plausible prequel to Jurassic World, as you collect dinosaurs for the new park and witness the death of the Spinosaurus at the hands of a raptor pack, but it decidedly cannot be part of the official continuity because the Spinosaurus still has the ringing phone signature and the Dino-Soar sail can still be found caught in a canopy. The “alternate universe” nature of the level almost seems to be that all the Kirby party survivors died, or were rescued without mention earlier than in the movie.

The end of the Spinosaurus in Chaos Theory.

It’s true that these levels certainly taught me again and again that it was difficult to make an excellent dinosaur park–I had to restart a lot from a hopelessly bankrupt state in the first mission, I never got San Diego to five stars (unnecessary to complete the mission), and I had to fire scientists and hunker down in a slow recovery when I overinvested in synthesizing the Indominus and a replacement Tyrannosaur just as Rexy passed away. But these problems are not the big problems of the movies. It’s true that John Hammond and Simon Masrani had some more mundane management problems, like Hammond’s no-shows and a sick Triceratops or Masrani’s lost and sick visitors, overly rambunctious Pachycephalosaurus, and perpetual need to rekindle visitor interest, but these weren’t the issues that sunk their parks. Hammond claimed to spare no expense but relied too heavily on automation and low-bid contractors who didn’t share his vision. Ludlow never had any vision of his own and rushed into things without fully understanding the risks he was taking. Masrani let Wu take the genetics into even more questionable places without caring to understand the science and allowed the creation of fantastic hybrids with too little oversight. And these three men were all betrayed, not just by park whims, but by deliberate human actions. Hammond was betrayed by Nedry. Ludlow was betrayed by Hammond (and his eco-saboteur). Masrani was betrayed, not deliberately, but by the at first rushed and later panicked actions of the Indominus guards and park staff.

Things going sideways in Chaos Theory.

In short, the problems that they failed to overcome were not ones of simple management, and with Ian Malcolm’s chaos theory messaging, the suggestion is that regardless of what they had done, the control they were attempting over such complex and unpredictable systems would inevitably lead to failure at some point. Therefore, to really feel like you were stepping into their shoes, it would have made more sense to have experiences catered around reacting to unique crisis points. It’s easy to avoid overworking your staff and thus avoid sabotage, so what if the game put more pressure on you to push a little too far? What if you had to design a Jurassic Park that was actually closer in design to Hammond’s vision, with park tours aligned with the map of the park from the film? What if you had ample money, with regular new income from investors, but your problem was not dwindling income streams but rather a deadline? Hammond’s investors were wary and ready to shut down the park close to opening, so you could have had two competing priorities: efficiency versus security. You could be racing to open the park with a test run of the park tour attended by scientific consultants by a certain deadline (with all planned exhibits and attractions in place) without having more than x number of fatalities. Then you’d really be living Hammond’s vision, where the issue wasn’t simply a matter of draining money before opening but dealing with competing demands from investors and employees. I also would have had a set limit of scientists that you have to work with at the start of the game–have to keep the park secret, after all! No extra staff centers to increase scientist count. And you could even have set staff specifically for this level–the “scientists” could be Wu (genetics), Harding (welfare), Nedry (logistics, and with the Entitled Salary trait, of course), and Muldoon (generalist?), for instance. Just because Nedry betrayed Hammond in the film doesn’t mean he’d be the bad actor here, if you happened to keep him more rested.

Jurassic Park Chaos Theory

This process of reconstituting the levels to be better tailored to their respective films could be extended to the full Chaos Theory mode.

The Lost World is challenging because, outside of the promise of San Diego (which is clearly signaled to be a bad idea), there isn’t a clear “park” to deal with here. But Frontier had two Chaos Theory levels that avoided dealing with park-building, and perhaps they should have applied this to The Lost World. I think I would have split this into two levels, with an overarching story: first on Isla Sorna, and then outside San Diego. The big thing is that Frontier never clearly explains why Malcolm has come around on San Diego–it seems like InGen maybe listened to him in this timeline and thus didn’t do the snatch-and-grab, but they still decided to monetize the Isla Sorna dinosaurs anyway. I would make the turning point into a whole level, in which you play as Malcolm’s research/sabotage team. In this alternate timeline, Hammond makes the full team aware immediately of InGen’s plans, and Malcolm agrees to go with Harding, Carr, and Van Owen to get documentation of the dinosaurs to bring to the world to derail their plans. Van Owen makes his sabotage play before departure, the InGen hunter team’s expedition is resultantly delayed, and your team gets to the island with time to spare and a clear deadline once more: you have to get enough observation and footage in within the time provided, or else the InGen team gets to the island. (And if that team gets to the island, you get a losing cinematic in which things play out largely the same–sabotage of the hunter camp, destruction of the research team camp, mass death, and a Tyrannosaurus loose in San Diego.) The mission could be very simple, locking you in to a ranger Jeep (something the game experiments with on some levels already) and having you drive across the island, scanning the dinosaurs and photographing particular behaviors within some species before the hunters arrive, then driving to the old InGen compound to broadcast out your findings. That would launch the second, interconnected level: InGen’s mission was shut down, the dinosaur preserve was established, humans were amazed by the dinosaurs, and there was no big chaotic event like the San Diego attack. Years pass, and InGen executives persuade Malcolm to come on as a consultant once more as Jurassic Park San Diego is set to launch. Rather than importing dinosaurs from Isla Sorna, which again is an untouchable preserve, InGen has restarted its genetics program under Dr. Wu. Wu and Malcolm become opposing narrative factions–Malcolm encourages moderation and a focus on natural preservation and herbivorous species, while Wu pushes the envelope, gradually recreating carnivores for the park that could peak with the return of the Tyrannosaurus. Much like in the existing version of Jurassic Park San Diego in the game, the challenges could be more oriented around the unique environment, the gradual acquisition of more land, and the mundane problems of park management, rather than the unique risks of the prior scenarios. There could be a big final challenge of corporate sabotage–by BioSyn, of course–resulting in the release of the carnivores and a frantic effort to protect the guests, secure the paddocks, and recapture the dinosaurs before fatalities get high enough or dinosaurs get far enough away to shut the park down for good.

The Lost World Chaos Theory

I rather liked what Frontier did for Jurassic Park III, having the level serve as a canon-adjacent backstory for the creation of Jurassic World. But a couple of the nods to the third film–the hang glider and the ringtone–just add confusion as to the when/where/how. Plus, Jurassic World always had dinosaurs from both Isla Sorna and Isla Nublar, so it’s not a definitive story to show the importation of dinosaurs from Site B. I think you can give an alternate timeline to III that acts as both an alternate prequel to that movie and to Jurassic World by changing the focus to InGen’s unauthorized cloning and release of animals on Isla Sorna shortly after Masrani Global’s purchase of InGen. As the Dinosaur Protection Group materials made clear, these new animals included Ankylosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Corythosaurus, and Spinosaurus. This mission could have seen you working with Dr. Wu yet again, this time without a sympathetic foil–the closest, perhaps, being the misguided and na├»ve Masrani himself. You could set up a small research facility on Isla Sorna, ensure that it is secure from dinosaur incursions, send teams to dig sites to specifically target the creation of these four species, and then create habitats for them that met their needs. Perhaps this climaxes with a unique disease that you have to identify and treat (pulling some inspiration from DX in The Lost World novel, perhaps) that is further complicated by an unusually bad storm. If you get through this with the dinosaurs contained, Masrani decides to export them to Jurassic World right away, rather than allow them to be abandoned, and the mission ends.

Jurassic Park III Chaos Theory

Next up is Jurassic World, and I think that’s another one that’s fairly well-served by its current incarnation. I would have liked a more curated experience of building this park, though–as I suggested with Jurassic Park, it would be nice to be guided in building a park that more closely matched its on-screen counterpart. This could also have a little more guided mission structure, starting with the capture of the Isla Nublar dinosaurs, then the importation of the Isla Sorna dinosaurs, the creation of the Mosasaurus, and the creation of the Indominus. Since Jurassic World collapsed because of the Indominus’s tricks, I think the mission should climax with a scripted sequence in which the gate is opened by a fleeing guard checking on it, resulting in the Indominus getting loose in the park and removing its tracker (so you couldn’t see it on the overhead map or check its status–you’d need a visual confirmation of its location). You could be more aggressive in taking it down quickly, and you’d have the added benefit of using a capture helicopter from the start, so you’d probably be able to contain the threat much more easily than your film counterparts–once more, the goal would be avoiding excessive guest fatalities and restoring order.

Jurassic World Chaos Theory

The last Chaos Theory mission, for Fallen Kingdom, works just fine as is: in this timeline, the volcano is not about to erupt, so Claire is able to clear away the old park and let the dinosaurs loose. I think I would tweak this one only a little, to allow for the development of a more permanent dinosaur preserve without the commercial focus of the preexisting park.

Fallen Kingdom Chaos Theory

I also would have liked more Chaos Theory missions–and I think easy additions would have been updated versions of Return to Jurassic Park, Secrets of Dr. Wu, and Claire’s Sanctuary, offering up alternative sequels/events to Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, and Fallen Kingdom, respectively.

Return to Jurassic Park

I certainly threw out a lot of ideas above, but I recognize that these aren’t the only ways to have offered more expanded alternate stories, and they’re almost certainly not the best ways. I nonetheless think they’d offer more narrative experiences that better suited the stories they’re adapting. I had hoped that Chaos Theory would play more like the original game’s Return to Jurassic Park or Claire’s Sanctuary, which offered some of the better narrative-focused campaigns in the game. Instead, the final implementation feels more “inspired by” the movies rather than directly responding to them. What does exist is not bad. I wouldn’t have already played for over 50 hours if I didn’t like what I was doing. But the overall experience feels detached, narratively light and fluffy, just a series of out-of-context anecdotes oriented around building up or tearing down park after park after park. While the levels are varied, it feels a step back from where the team had been going with the original game’s DLC content. Despite this criticism, at the end of the day, I suppose this is all a testament to the quality of the game, that at 50 hours in, with several Challenge levels left to go, my biggest disappointment is that there is not even more.

The dream of resurrected dinosaurs flourishing on Site B.

Review: Jurassic World Evolution 2

I’ve played a little over 20 hours of Jurassic World Evolution 2. That’s seen the completion of the campaign, the Jurassic Park Chaos Theory mission, three-fifths of The Lost World Chaos Theory mission, and 19 of 44 Steam achievements. That also means that I haven’t touched three of the Chaos Theory missions or any of the Challenge or Sandbox modes. My time with the game has not been brief, but it still feels a tad premature to offer a definitive review–certainly, it can’t be a final impression.

That all said, I’m liking what I’ve experienced so far, and it appears that Frontier have improved upon basically every issue I had with the original game–without entirely resolving those issues. There are more prehistoric creatures, including an array of pterosaurs and marine reptiles, and they look more lovely than ever, with more unique and lifelike behaviors; on the other hand, I’ve watched a Triceratops starve to death, locked in a perpetual state of panic, as its companions grazed peacefully around it. “Too stupid to eat” hardly seems an authentic experience. Much of the busywork has been streamlined; on the other hand, now, instead of manually restocking animal feeders, I’m manually restocking food and fuel for ranger and medical stations. There are more things to do and more unique choices to make; on the other hand, you’re still pulled out of the flow a bit too often by storms, disease, and injuries. And there are some dynamic animations with social behaviors or release of new animals that don’t quite work right at times.

There are some things that are simply better, without exception. You no longer have to constantly placate the frustratingly feuding divisions of the original game; now, you just have to manage your team of scientists, avoiding overwork that can lead to the risk of sabotage. There are more plausible pathways to a five-star park, and there are many areas of research that you can choose to focus on, making even the narrative-focused modes I’ve been playing feel refreshingly open-ended at times. I can’t confirm it yet, but I suspect that the open-endedness should make Challenge modes far more replayable now.

After as much time as I put into the first game, and with the great fondness I felt for it despite its flaws, I followed this sequel pretty closely since its announcement. That means that my experience with the game has been heavily influenced by expectations, for good and bad. The developers often emphasized a more interesting campaign experience with a greater focus on character relationships, but that’s not really here at all, and the campaign itself can be completed in about five hours, so that was a bit of a letdown. What was there was good, focused on ensuring the safety of dinosaurs, people, and other wildlife by setting up nature preserves across America. There just wasn’t very much of it. I get the impression that the developers have more planned, for three reasons: (1) they released DLC with more dinosaurs to reflect Fallen Kingdom content in the original game; (2) the original game had several narrative-focused, alternate-universe stories that were released as later expansions, including one that built on the plot of the base game; and (3) the story that exists so far in the sequel hints at secret goings-on that Claire and Owen don’t yet have insight into. I wonder how much of this will get fleshed out, how much will go unfulfilled, and how much might actually connect to Dominion. If The Secrets of Dr. Wu are any clue, though, I would expect that the story won’t ever end up being that meaty here. The great expansions in the original game, Claire’s Sanctuary and Return to Jurassic Park, were alternative histories of sorts and offered more compelling stories; the same is the case here, as the sequel really shines in its much deeper Chaos Theory modes. I expected to be a bit bored with the San Diego mission because we could see so much of it in promotional advance-play videos, but actually playing it, I’ve had a tremendous time. Its skeletal architecture built out around that iconic amphitheater establishes a clearly defined basic infrastructure but still allows you to build the park out as you wish, especially as you buy more land and expand the area you have to operate in. I love the park I’ve built so far. It was startling to discover how much fun this mission was because the Jurassic Park mission was more of a slog for me. Since the main campaign was focused on nature preserves, Jurassic Park was my first real introduction to the refined park management in this game, and while this sequel benefits from systems that are deeper and more complex, that also means that things aren’t as simple and straightforward as before; some things were more opaque, and I made some bad choices and ran into a lot of bad luck. While I got to five stars eventually, the experience made clear to me that, without the ability to reload, I would have fared no better than John Hammond in opening that island attraction. But by the time I got to San Diego, I understood systems better. It’s funny that the “introductory” experience does provide adequate training, but more through trial and error than a basic guided tutorial.

I think that after maybe a patch or two, at least some of the minor issues I still have with Jurassic World Evolution 2 will be resolved. Even if those fixes never came, this game is already an incredible experience for a Jurassic Park fan and a considerable improvement over the original. Reviews emphasizing the iterative nature of the sequel are not wrong, but I have found my time in the game refreshingly different from the original nonetheless. My main concern is, will this game be able to keep holding my interest when the Chaos Theory missions are done? Will I stick around for the Challenges? Will I reach a point where I’ve exhausted them and have run out of things I want to do? And how many hours in will it take for me to reach that point? I hope that we will see more expansions, as with the original game, to broaden the campaign further and add more features that might add more hours of gameplay. But until I spend more time with the game as it exists now, it’s hard to say how long the base game will continue to engage me.

For now, I’m having a good time. It’s a good dinosaur park management sim, and more robust than the original even if not as deep and customizable as Planet Zoo (another Frontier title). If that’s your thing, or if you’re a fan of Jurassic Park, then you’ll probably like it too.

Finding a way to finish Alien: Isolation

I’ve written before about my mixed experience with Alien: Isolation, and my abandonment of the game after too many failures in the medbay level (only Mission 5 of 18!). That was, amazingly, over four years ago, which was even then almost three years after the game was originally released. My brief attempt to return to it quickly shriveled into nothing as well.

Yet enough time has passed that I’d let go of my frustration, and I was far more curious about experiencing the rest of the story. And after all, I get into a certain mood starting about a month before October anyway. Watching Alien and Aliens again, I wanted to see the story of Amanda Ripley in full, to understand how it connects and adds to those classic films.

So I started again. I prepared myself for a potentially grueling experience, went with the lowest difficulty of novice, and started the game again. And I found myself really enjoying the game! It was very tense, but that was appropriate for the content of the game. I appreciated the atmosphere. I held my breath in adrenaline-pumping games of cat and mouse. I cursed and gasped in fear. I marveled at the considerable attention to detail the designers invested in every prop, every nook and cranny of the space station and starships you encounter along the way. I abused tactics that wouldn’t work on higher difficulties, becoming over-reliant on hiding spaces like cupboards, lockers, and the leg room beneath desks and tables. I advanced slowly and steadily. I had a lot of scary fun. The alien became less intimidating, more of a mechanistic gameplay challenge than a horrific creature, but that was fine. I enjoyed teasing out elements of the story. I enjoyed how the fate of the Anesidora and its crew provided an explanation as to why W-Y never sent its colonists to track down the derelict ship before Ellen Ripley could verify its location decades later, even as they settled on the same world that it was located on. (I don’t need a lot of explanations in space horror, but that was an unusual gap that was filled well here.) And I cared about Amanda Ripley, Samuels, and Taylor.

Yet I didn’t finish the game, and I don’t think I will. I ran into what seems to be the other section besides medbay that frustrates a lot of players: the long hallway connecting cluttered rooms that you must move back and forth along to power a generator, go back to flip a switch, and then return to the generator once more when the power goes out. Suddenly the xenomorph was acting much smarter than it had at any other point in novice play, and it was angry. It was always willing to hop in the vents, to open every cupboard, to creep around the room insistently. I was low on flamethrower fuel and couldn’t just flame my way through–plus, my conservative, over-cautious playstyle always backfired as I waited out useful opportunities and was too nervous to inch around tables to keep Ripley separated and just out of sight from the alien. Even after I decided to take a few days’ break, which became over a week, I still felt sick to my stomach thinking of forcing myself through the same anxiety-inducing hallway creeping and repetitive macabre death sequences. But I also felt horrible about giving up entirely because I really wanted to see the story through, and rather than less than halfway into the game, I was on Mission 17, the second-to-last mission!

This is the last screenshot I took, in Mission 16. That accurately reflects the end of my experience being able to actually enjoy the game. The next mission was just too much for me.

Thankfully, there were some ways I could still experience the story. My first option was to watch IGN’s Alien: Isolation web series. Unfortunately, this brief, seven-part series was inferior in basically every way. For starters, it was incredibly rushed, with no sense of horror, let alone mild fright, throughout. The alien was over-showcased. The character beats were stripped of meaning. There was very little breathing room. Important plot points were rushed or skipped entirely. Two skipped sequences were especially annoying. First, a scene shows the Anesidora‘s crew discovering the egg room on the derelict freighter and being attacked before anyone went off to shut down the beacon, and while they mention that they want to make sure no one else can find the discovery before this happens, there’s nothing to suggest they’d waste time searching for and deactivating the beacon when the captain’s wife has just been victimized by a life-threatening parasite. Second, Ripley is shown to purge the reactors to wipe something out, leading to the release of the surviving aliens onto the rest of the colony, but the series doesn’t bother to show or explain that she discovered the alien hive nestled in the reactor, thus making her choices incomprehensible. Outside of plot, atmosphere, and pacing issues, the animation is crude, coupling together still-good-looking game cinematics with very awkward machinima segments with poorly chosen camera angles that really let you notice the characters’ untimed, floppy-mouthed animations during dialogue that otherwise would have been obscured by various elements of a first-person video game experience. Side-by-side, the difference in quality is exceptionally jarring. Then there are some changes that seem downright unfortunate: Amanda’s discovery of her mother’s final message to her is powerfully delivered by Sigourney Weaver in the game, but the series must have had difficulties licensing the use of the voice again or something, because the context of delivery is slightly changed and this time it’s a combination of warped digital voice and Amanda’s own flat recitation of the dialogue, stripping the sincerity and much of the emotion from the moment. That’s true of the larger project, though: this condensed series plays like reading a Wikipedia plot synopsis.

The second option proved better: finding a YouTube series of playthroughs. I found an impressive walkthrough with no player reactions, just gameplay footage, and watched the one-and-a-half videos that showed me the rest of the game that I hadn’t played. This was tense and sometimes terrifying, even when I wasn’t the one having to get Ripley out alive, even when I knew that the purpose of this video was demonstrating a successful run through the game. I can honestly say that this was an ideal way for someone like me, someone with a low tolerance for the game’s punishing difficulty coupled with its sense of dread, to appreciate the other things it really excels at, like story, mood, atmosphere and visual aesthetic, voice-acting and sound design, lighting and textures, and so on. Given that it looks like most of the missions can be beaten around 30 minutes, I would even recommend that someone who has not been able to beat the game, or who has otherwise avoided it because of concerns about being able to successfully play through the content, just go out and find a good walkthrough series to watch like a single-season television series. For anyone who otherwise would enjoy the setting of the game or who is a fan of the franchise, of sci-fi, or of space horror but who would struggle to play the game to completion because of skill/patience/stress-tolerance issues, a walkthrough series is the way to go and worthwhile.

Having now seen the conclusion of the game, not just via rushed cinematics but through the experience of the final two levels, I feel at peace with my experience with Alien: Isolation, and I’ll remember the story, setting, and characters fondly and without regret.

(For the record, all the screenshots included here are from my own playing of the game. Also, amazingly, even with an incomplete novice playthrough, I managed to earn 40 of 50 achievements. I’ll take my small victories!)

Update on my time with Book of Travels

It’s been just about two weeks since the game launched, and I’ve been playing Book of Travels for barely over a week. I’ve tried to log in on the weekday evenings that I’ve had a little extra free time, but play has mostly been limited to the weekend. I’m continuing to have a great time with the game, although I acknowledge that I’m still not all that far along. I wanted to post this update because my few big problems with the game’s bugs are largely resolved after the implementation of the first patch. This Saturday has seen my first extended amount of time in the game since the patch, and a lot of troubling issues are gone. Transportation by vehicle seems to be entirely fixed, no longer causing random location warping or getting a player character stuck (though the transition time with vehicle transport is still rather long–a minor complaint at best). [Update: a few hours of playtime after I wrote this, I did have an incident in which my character got stuck next to a dock after arrival, so this is not fully fixed.] I’ve been consistently able to locate my character in servers within my set geographic region over the past week. Sometimes actions can be a bit delayed and moving away from an action can cause the player character to sort of slide in place over the ground for a couple seconds, but overall I can do what I intend to do and without resistance. I haven’t had to log out or exit the game at all to fix any issues. I have had no game-crashing problems. At this point, the only disruptive bugs I’ve noticed at all are of two sorts. First, sometimes characters will have the text “[CUSTOM POEM]” instead of their intended dialogue. Second, with longer play sessions, sometimes status effects don’t dissipate or activate like they should. In other words, the game is already rather stable, and if that was a reservation about playing, I would say that you can set those worries aside and give the game a try now.

That said, I want to also update a little bit about what I’ve been up to in the game. Most of this has been helping locals with small tasks, delivering the occasional message/package, fishing and foraging, and trading. I have a larger goal of trading up to eventually getting a Master Iron Cog, since it’s a high-value item and in demand on the docks of Myr. I keep getting sidetracked by useful, novel, and/or quirky skills offered by certain vendors, so my hoard of goods is at times greatly reduced by a splurge on some skill or another. I’ve also barely dipped my toe into the combat mechanics. After my Mosswalker character, Eno, got a little too close to scary-looking supernatural creatures and was once chased across the countryside by some bandits, he finally purchased a blade. But he had no proficiency in it, wasn’t prone to combat, and felt a little awkward carrying it, so he stored it in his pack. On one of his trips through Myr, he remembered a warden who offered some combat training. And so this warden taught him armor and weapon proficiencies, then suggested they have a duel. Anxious, Eno accepted. They paced out and drew swords, and while the match was close, the warden bested him. Eno felt that he’d had a narrow defeat, despite it being his first attempt, and so challenged the warden again. The warden again drew his blade, but this time, Eno more carefully timed his strikes and actually won the duel! Now he feels emboldened to wear his half-sword at his waist, but outside of occasionally taking up non-lethal sparring matches in the form of duels, it’s unlikely that he’s actually going to engage in combat anytime soon. His laid-back attitude, spiritual nature, and mechanical interests mean that he’s not looking for action, adventure, and excitement, and he’ll still be inclined to avoid a fight.

Combat is very interesting, and I am contemplating a combat-focused alt. When you want to fight someone, you select a battle stance, and you’ll engage with your opponent as you both pace out and size each other up. Factors like speed inform your initiative, and whoever’s initiative bar is depleted first takes the lead. You select an attack button to fight, but there’s a lot of strategy and luck in the actual fighting. The longer you wait before attempting a strike, the higher the probability that your attack will actually land. Striking quicker means a lower probability of success, but if you land your hit, you disrupt your opponent’s increasing probability of scoring a successful hit in turn. Additionally, a hit decreases your opponent’s ward by the amount of your force of attack. Whoever depletes ward to zero first wins. You can flee combat in a blind panic, without control, and with a resultant morale loss, but you avoid a risk to your life. It’s an interesting system that gives weight to combat, allows for a sense of samurai-dueling artistry, and balances the high stakes with a fast-paced resolution. Hopefully I’ve explained all that right, but there’s more to it, with more skills like magic knots that can be employed. And of course, my two duels were in a safe environment, did not require fleeing, used just the single attack option, and did not cause a loss of life petals. Life petals are a whole other thing and, if I understand correctly, a character can permanently die if their life petals are fully depleted. Life petals are also difficult to restore. I’ve made sure Eno hasn’t been in a situation so risky that he’s lost any yet, so that’s another system that I don’t fully understand yet.

I think it’s safe to say that there’s a lot to this game that I don’t understand yet, because there’s already a lot to uncover with time and patience. And of course, some systems are not even fully implemented yet. I’m really eager to see more content in future updates. I’m excited for later updates that should add more creatures and characters, allow access to new regions, and build out existing experiences (like giving stakes to playing the card/dice game Passage). Figuring out what happened with Kasa, and getting to the inevitable reopening of that great trading city, will be cool. But there’s plenty to do now, as the game exists. I could see someone getting bored at this stage because the game is structured around giving yourself things to do, setting your own goals and direction, rather than being guided by more and more quests. I, however, remain satisfied as my notebook continues to grow with notes about hints, rumors, and goals.