Thursday, December 21, 2023

Crisis? What Crisis?

A couple of days ago, I logged into Once Human and opened the map to see if I could teleport from my house to Deadville. I was out of food, a very common occurence, and I was wondering whether any of the vendors there sold anything I could eat.

Next time I complete one of those surveys and get to the part where they ask whether there's anything I don't like abut the game and if I have any suggestions on how it could be improved, I must remember say something about the Survival mechanics; specifically, eating and drinking. 

I'm generally fine with survival gameplay. I don't mind having to eat and drink and sleep and make sure I have ammunition and all the other background, housekeeping tasks that serve to make a gameworld feel a little less artificial, a little more organic. The key word in that last sentence, though, is "background".

So long as it's a minor element, something that adds texture but doesn't get in my way, then I'm broadly in favor. When finding something to eat and drink starts to become the focus of every play session, though, I'd say the dial's drifted too far towards simulation and too far from fun.

That said, the survival mechanics in Once Human aren't even all that consistent or convincing. You get hungry and thirsty much faster than I would consider realistic and yet you never seem to get cold, even when you're running around in your underwear. You can stand out in the rain as long as you like without seeming to get wet. There's not even any requirement to put a roof over your crafting stations, as there is in  both Valheim and Dawnlands. You can whip up a batch of roasted hawthorn berries on your stove, outside on the patio, in a raging thunderstorm. I know. I did it last night.

Fine night for a cook-out.

I was reduced to dry-roasting berries to eat because I've been finding it extremely challenging to keep myself fed. I've managed to solve my hydration problems by building a raincatcher next to my front door, along with a water barrel to hold the overflow, but my attempts to dry and cure all the meat from the many deer I've slaughtered have so far been unsuccessful, due to a severe lack of salt.

Salt, apparently, comes from the sea. You heat the sea-water on the stove and once the liquid boils away you're left with a salty residue. Sounds simple, only I don't know where the ocean is. I seem to be right in the middle of a swamp and the water there, foul as it may be, remains resolutely fresh, at least in the context of salinity.

Even if I did have some salt, I still wouldn't be able to cure my meat. I know that much because I had a little salt once. I have no idea how I got it. It was just there in my pack. I don't remember picking it up but I guess I must have. 

I put the salt and the meat in the drier but I couldn't get it to dry the meat. Then I lost the salt somehow, fiddling around, trying to make something happen. Now I just have raw meat.

You can eat your meat raw if you want. You can eat raw berries too. I've been doing both but it sends you crazy. 

Being crazy, as I discussed in another post, isn't that bad but it's generally not ideal and beyond a certain point it does become problematic. Still, it's easy to get sane again - a good nap will do it every time - or, if you're far from your bed, just pop a handful of sanity gummies. Best of all, a nice bottle of beer will have you thinking straight in a moment.

The only game I've played where I'm positively happy to see it start raining.

(It's endearing, isn't it, that someone would think drinking beer was the high road to good mental health. I laughed a lot when I read that tool-tip.)

The real problem, though, the single survival mechanic I would pick out as one that has to go before this game goes live, is the insanely fast rate at which good food spoils. Both raw ingredients and cooked food, or at least the few examples I've been able to get my hands on so far, go from fresh to spoiled in just twenty-four hours. That is ridiculous.

It means you pretty much have to find and eat the food as you need it. Every single day, when I log back in, any food I had from the day before has gone off. Strictly speaking you can still eat it spoiled food and I have, when it was that or starve, but just a couple of pieces give you gut-ache and more than that pretty much finishes you off for anything more than lying in bed, groaning.

Just give me the snacks!
Fortunately, canned and bottled food doesn't spoil. I've had access to some of that from login rewards and, I think, as loot from storage chests. Unfortunately, the rate at which you become hungry and thirsty is also overtuned, so I go through tinned Spam like an unsupervised toddler with a packet of Haribo.

All things considered, eating and drinking is a royal pain, at least at low level. I'm hoping it gets better as you level up. That's how it works in most games. 

Leveling in OH is a lot slower than I'm used to in modern games, though. It's a design choice of which, once again, I'm broadly supportive but it does mean that the subsistence lifestyle seems to go on forever.

I'm hoping all of this will get tuned in future updates to be less frustrating and more entertaining. I can only assume the feedback they're getting will be pretty negative, where some of the harsher survival mechanics are concerned, unless I'm completely out of tune with contemporary tolerance for this kind of fiddle-faddle. Maybe survival specialists demand this level of micro-management but I bet no-one else does and I think NetEase are going for as mass-market an audience as they can get, so I feel reasonably confident it won't be this way forever.

Anyway, getting back to the point of the post, which I realise I haven't even gotten around to mentioning yet...

While I had the map open I noticed a big, red icon I hadn't seen before. I clicked on it for information and it opened a tool-tip that told me there was some kind of public event happening at the indicated location. It was enticingly entitled something along the lines of "The Return of Disco", which immediately made me want to go see what what was happening. There was an option to click on the icon and teleport directly to where the action was. So I did.

I had no idea what to expect but luckily, when I arrived, some instructions appeared in the Mission tracker at the top of the screen. Unfortunately, I don't speak Chinese so I couldn't read them. There are still elements of the game that have yet to be translated and this turned out to be one of them.

It's Studio 54 all over again.
There were a couple of things I could understand: a counter that currently stood at 0/40 and a timer that had just under half an hour to run. I knew how long I had and how much I needed to do in the time. I just didn't know what that was.

Accepted strategy at this point would usually be to watch everyone else and try to copy them. Only there wasn't anyone. I was the only one there. I was in a sprawling complex of quonset huts, portakabins and bizarre, makeshift wooden towers with various zombies, Deviants and floating monstrosities milling about all over the place. Right in the center, beneath a huge mirror-ball, stood the thirty-foot tall, ghostly figure of the same boss I'd fought in the tutorial.

With no better idea in mind, I tried attacking the ghost but predictably my bullets went straight through him so I gave up on that and started investigating. Ok, looting. I spent a very enjoyable twenty-five minutes or so, as the timer inexorably ticked away, exploring every building, climbing all the towers, killing all the creatures and taking everything that wasn't nailed down. It was hella fun.

In all that time I never saw another player but somehow the item count for the event went from 0/40 to 2/40 so I guess I did the thing I was meant to be doing at least twice. I still have no idea what it was.

If I could figure out how to drop that disco ball on his head we might get somewhere...

Then, five minutes before the end, two players showed up. They clearly had a plan. They zipped around all over the place and the counter began to tick over. I'd have helped if I could have figured out what they were doing but I was still none the wiser so I concentrated on keeping the Deviants busy.

As the count increased I noticed the ghostly figure beginning to fill out and take on material form. I figured whatever we were up to was meant to bring the creature to a sufficiently physical state so we could take it on and that turned out to be the case. The only problem was, by the time we could hit the thing, there wasn't much more than a minute left on the clock.

The three of us gave it everything we had. The towering monstrosity soaked up our fire and occasionally let loose with a powerful AE attack that sent a wave of energy rippling out around in all directions. I failed to get out of the way of one of those and it took me to about ten per cent health so it was just as well it didn't happen too often.

I was using my pistol, for which I had plenty of ammunition for a change, having found a stash in one of the storage crates, but I also picked up a few oil barrels and lobbed them for good measure. They explode on impact and do considerable damage. 

I was too busy fighting to take a picture of the boss so here's one of a creepy cult den I found while I was looting exploring instead.
Like many games, Once Human lets you pick up objects from the environment and use them as weapons but unlike most such games I've played, it's actually worth the bother. At these levels, some of the ad hoc options do better damage than my own arsenal and they don't need to be crafted, repaired or reloaded, either.

The seconds ticked down. It looked like we might make it. The boss was big but he didn't have a ridiculous health pool. Continuous fire from three handguns was more than enough to finish him.

Or it would have been, if we'd had another five seconds. When the timer hit zero the boss was on less than 2% health but that was all he needed for the win. I was optimistic there might be some kind of consolation prize for paricipating but no, it seems the test was Pass/Fail. At zero on the clock the boss just vanished, along with the event instructions, the circle around the settlement that marked the limit of the event area and the icon on the map. All was as it once was. The event might never have happened.

The two players ran off to do whatever they were going to do next. I stopped to look in my bags and see what I'd looted, which was when I realised that, for me at least, there was a consolation prize after all. The whole time I'd been there, the event instructions had been taking up the space where the regular Stronghold details would be. There were three sets of things I needed to do to complete the Stronghold and I'd unwittingly done all of them. So that was nice.

Nicest of all, though, was the drop I got at some point. I'm not sure if it came from a mob or if I looted it from a storage chest but either way it set a precedent I found exciting. Somehow, I'd found myself a sign-board.

Just don't ask me to check your tires.

I love it when games include house items as drops. It always makes for a pleasant surprise when I get one unexpectedly and I'll go out of my way for one if I know it's there. It makes sense to put in the effort. I frequently get more use and pleasure from furniture than I do from gear. I mean, you never level out of an oil painting like you do a pair of pants, do you? 

The sign I got comes from a gas station. It shows the price of gasoline and diesel in an unspecified currency. Diesel is cheaper than petrol, which is the opposite of where I live, these days, although it would have been true a few years ago. 

I hung it up on the outside wall of my house and it looks great. I just hope I don't get any customers. They're going to be mighty disappointed.

As a first experience, I was very impressed with the event. It seemed to run smoothly and it was nicely tuned for a handful of players of the appropriate level for the area. I suspect, had I known what to do, it might even have been soloable. It felt like it might have been scaling. 

All it really lacked was instructions in English and I'm sure those'll come soon enough. It certainly made me keen to keep my eye out for more such "Randomly Triggered Public Crisis Events". Maybe next time I run across one I'll be able to beat it and find out if the rewards are any good. 

When it comes to public events, though, it's not the rewards. It's the taking part that matters, isn't it? At least that's what I learned from a decade playing Guild Wars 2...

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