The One Game Week 10: The Final Showdown

I’m dedicating time to one game in order to try and master it. I’ve chosen The Banner Saga to be that “One Game”. Each week I’ll be reporting on my progress within the game, as well as things I’ve learned outside of it. You can follow my progress via this tag.

Week 10.
Total time played (according to Steam): 11 hours.
Matches Played / Won: 8 / 1
Achievements unlocked: 2.
Rank: 1000+.
Rating: 984.
Team Power: 1.
Renown: 53.

I’ve missed the last two weeks, but I’ve been thinking about this series a lot during that time, and have decided that this will be the last one. There are many reasons for this, but I went back and had a look at the very first article on the subject:

I came up with a list of criteria for the ideal game to master, and found it quite easy to whittle it down to just a few possibilities.

It should run on a Mac. Naturally. But it should also run well, on both a desktop and a MacBook. Crusader Kings II was out.

It should be predominantly skill-based. Roguelikes have a tendency to have a little too much left to chance.Dungeons of Dredmor and FTL are out.

There must be objective ways to measure ability and progress. This is very important. In-game achievements, for all their faults, actually provide a good way to do this. Online leaderboards are even better. This rules out most RPGs.

There must be significant complexity in the game. I could invest in a game that relies purely on twitch, but I want something that has a variety of mechanics that intertwine, so that there’s room to read up on strategy when I’m not actually in front of the game, and allows for some degree of creativity in the gameplay. Super Meat Boy was out.

There should be no upper level on skill. In other words, it should be possible to just keep getting better. Games with a strong competitive multiplayer element are therefore a must.

There should be a strong, active community. Being able to discuss (and play!) the game with others, and knowing the developers are taking an active role in maintaining and adding to the game is important to a game I will be spending a long time with. I want to know people will be playing the game in a year’s time. This rules out Black Ops.

Gameplay should be fairly quick. A typical match should last around 20 minutes. This means that more iterations of games are possible in the same amount of time, and less of that time is spent waiting for others. Civilisation V is out.

It should not be team-based. I want to build up my own skill and not be dependent on the skill of others (not to mention it’ll be hard enough to manage my time every week for this, let alone other peoples’). Awesomenauts and DOTA 2 are out.

The Banner Saga: Factions still hits most of those criteria. It’s safe to say it doesn’t run particularly well on the Mac (the Steam overlay is still broken), and it is most definitely skill-based (evidenced mainly by the fact that I can consistently lose, even though I’m learning new tactics each time).

There’s one criteria that I should have added, but in truth didn’t even consider:

It should be enjoyable. I’m going to spend a lot of time playing it, and if it feels too much like work, there’s little point in playing it.

The Banner Saga: Factions is out.

I’ve complained several times about game mechanics I don’t like over the course of the series, but the increasing feeling I’m getting is that the game simply doesn’t stimulate me enough. I’m ok with it being hard (in fact, this is what I’ve enjoyed most about it), but I’ll stand by my opinion that there’s simply not enough variety in the gameplay for it to appeal to me. I realise that’s a deeply personal choice though, and doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on the game itself; indeed many people play it regularly and have a good time with it.

But for me there’s not enough novelty factor, and not enough choice, certainly beyond positioning of units, for it to be an engaging experience, and certainly not one that I relish writing about each week. This combined with the arguably uphill Renown grind just to get units that have abilities, especially compared to when it was in beta (not to mention the often utterly unbalanced matches that seem to be the norm), and the general unresponsiveness of the interface has made the game feel too tedious for me to continue.

Interestingly enough, it’s in playing XCOM recently that has driven the point home. XCOM offers superficially similar turn-based gameplay of positioning units and having them take actions. There are two important things that XCOM does better (there are several things that it does badly, but that will come in a future review). Firstly, units feel very different from each other during a battle. Each unit will have multiple options during a turn for movement, and weapon and/or item use. Secondly, unit progression is much more interesting. Units are regularly upgraded with new skills and (independently of their skill level) new equipment, and it’s done in such a way that you don’t have to pump points directly into stats.

So I’m off in search of a new One Game, but there’s time for one last battle.

Ninja Foodstuff vs. Corpus Luteum

For a change, you get to watch the entire battle. It’s a good one.