Monday, March 21, 2016

The Fifth X

Kotaku recently did an article on the ubiquity of video game adaptations of the Warhammer IP.  It's impressive when you consider that since 2014 they have been coming out at the rate of nearly one an month (when you average things out).  Rather than rehash what has already been said elsewhere though I'd like to talk a bit about a genre that is seeing a sudden resurgence this year - the 4X.

If you're not familiar with the term, "4X" stands for "X-ray," "Xmas," "Xylophone," and "Xenophobe"...just kidding it actually stands for this.  Honestly though, the way this year is shaping up you might want to add another "X" that stands for "eXplosion"; Stardrive 2 just got a major overhaul in the form of DLC, the new Master of Orion entered early access, and Stellaris recently got a release date for May 9th.  I should clarify a bit in that "eXplosion" isn't just a matter of timing, but rather a comment on the state of these games.  In other words, they're kind of a mess.  Stardrive 2 has always been buggy, and while the one-man dev team is working hard to stomp out issues the game still retains its share of glitches.  Master of Orion has some really nice presentation, but the programming code underneath is undergoing a lot of revisions in order to address problems with the fundamental gameplay.  Stellaris can't be judged simply because it isn't out yet, but given the pedigree of Paradox Development Studio the game will most likely be a serviceable foundation in need of patches, mods and DLC in order to realize its full potential.

Ultimately, I hope all three games turn out great in the end though.  Each is an attempt to put their own spin on the genre.  Master of Orion is trying to recreate the magic of the past.  Stellaris has Paradox's signature grand strategy elements.  Meanwhile, Stardrive 2 feels like both the natural evolution and a parody of its predecessors.  All this variety makes it a great time to be a fan of 4X games...assuming you have the time to spare for these time sinks.  A popular saying among hardcore 4X players is "go big, or go home."  For me though it has become more like "go small, or go crazy," with an optional extension to the phrase being "...from lack of sleep and social isolation."  Hmmmm...maybe that fifth "X" should stand for "eXpedite."

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