Rob Zacny

Three Moves Ahead 513: 2020 in Review

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Three Moves Ahead 513:

Three Moves Ahead 513


2020 in Review
Rob, Rowan, Jon, and Len discuss the year in the rear view. 2020 was a year we'll never forget. But can we say the same about its strategy games? How good was Crusader Kings 3, really? What could our modern leaders learn from Soviet Concrete Simulator? Is RTS back, baby? Tune in and reminisce with us.

2020 in strategy games

 

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Great discussion about all of those smaller tectics/roguelike games. It's true they feel exhausting. And it's funny how you talk about them as "casual". A lot of complex tactics I've played gave me a lot of busywork or trap choices boiling it all down to an easier game that Into the Breach. Say, Disgaea uses a lot of numbers, but it's not a hard game, especially cause it doesn't have ItB forced iron man all the time.

 

Rowan mentioned Final Fantasy X and those games knew how to balance those exhausting all-or-nothing puzzle fights with a relaxing grind. Dao is the goal, not just the way, so in a good JRPG combat is interesting as in what skills your characters use and develop, what items they "steal" or if they can use some other mechanics like eating or taming monsters during the battle. It's never stressful cause you can always grind more. But it turns a trashfight into something more than a nuisance on your way to victory screen with loot and xp.

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Game mechanic I continue to be baffled by your love for Crusader Kings. Fundamentally, this is a game which you would think would require a robust diplomacy engine and yet I sounds to my astonishment that there is no way at least in the default scenarios to set up formal treaties, to threaten or even to do duchy swapping Etc. All I have to work with aside from brute force is marriages and dirty tricks. I can't even easily find out which of my neighbours or potential enemies dislikes which of the others so I can set them off against one another. Why isn't this even in the reviews? 

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I'm convinced that the reason CK3 hasn't hit like CK2 is because of the writing.

The game has systemicized so many things that were previously handled by cleverly written event blurbs, and in theory that provides more interactivity, and we love that from CK, but the lesser sung essential component to CK in my opinion is the game's own baked narrative beats that serve to keep you inspired.

CK2 is renowned for it's humour, yes because of the moral questionability of so many strategies you are the agent of, but heapingly also because the writers on the team were in on the joke of how absurd your alternate history would get, and deliberately scripted events that enable you to install your horse as chancellor, or have your daughter be the spawn of hell.

Obtuse game mechanics and a UI that took hundreds of hours to penetrate were forgivable and worth the investment, because the narrative fantasy being delivered was so irresistible. I think CK3 is right to have focused heavily on revamping and streamlining the mechanics and UI, I just think there isn't enough inspired narrative in the form of writing.

The disparity here between the two games can be attributed easily to the length of content development, given CK2's obscene number of expansions, but I think even for a base game CK3 was released super under-baked in the narrative department. I get the feeling it's release was rushed, and it makes sense that the narrative content would be the last part of the game to be developed after the systems were solid, so that's what suffered, both in quantity, and in quality. I can't imagine anyone on the dev team could be proud and consider it the right move to have events that set up something potentially narratively interesting, allude to varying potential outcomes to how you respond, and then, once you've made your choice, discreetly enact one of the potential mechanical outcomes while unpausing the game, coldly leaving you to infer what may have actually happened.

I think I can understand how a panel of mechanically-minded strategy game enthusiasts might overlook this, or not understand what they're missing, but as far as I'm concerned, all the systems in the game are merely tools to immerse us in the fantasy of being a medieval ruler, and provide us with a narrative experience that is both uniquely a product of how we play, and, even more essentially, rich. I don't think CK3 delivers that narrative richness we ultimately crave, because it hasn't been written into the game in the same way it was into CK2.

It's my hope that ongoing development can rectify this, but for the game to really come alive I think they should do a pass over all the existing writing in the game, and write outcomes to all the events etc.

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