Rusty's Roundup: Some fun time wasters to get you through our Plague Winter
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Hello citizen! As the cold winds of winter approach, and our federal government continues it's program of spraying down its citizenry with chemtrail deployed COVID cocktails, it's time to store up some rations, wipe down every surface in your house, and curl up with some time waster games to get you through the long dark ahead.
Now normally we talk about multiplayer games you can doof around in and have some fun times with Groons, or non-Groons if that's your sort of thing. And really, that's where the biggest fun out there is in my estimation, so you should definitely find one of those to spend time in as your real life social circles shrink and rot away beneath the withering breath of Papa Nurgle.
But as you continue to work-from-sweatpants until a vaccine mmmmmaybe shows up by summer, you may want to look into some excellent single player games that are deep, involved, hour devouring, or just plain fun. Here's a few that I would recommend for this winter of our discontent.
Project Zomboid (Build 41)
You would be forgiven if you thought that this nearly decade-old Zombie survival sim was done getting updates years and years ago, but on marches one of my favorite little projects that continues to deliver big update after big update, culminating in the most recent beta build 41.
For the uninitiated, Project Zomboid is a very deep and complex Zombie Survival simulator that plays like The Sims: Walking Dead edition. You are dropped into a hostile world with very little, and by the time you inevitably die, you will look like the world's most successful doomsday prepper and maybe amateur auto body shop proprietor. You fortify your base(s), gather and store food and water, survive an eventual collapse of municipal services, and watch as scarcity and a remarkable appetite keep forcing you away from the safety of your home, and out into the wastes, hoping for that next can of beans or textbook from an intro to woodworking class.
This most recent update is big and deep, revamping the graphics system, fleshing out more and more of the many many systems in the game (even adding some, like fitness) and improving the combat system. It is also a big jump in difficulty from previous eras and builds, with Zombie behavior being even more deadly and challenging to deal with than its been since early in the lifespan of this incredible garage project. Zomboid is no stranger to big updates, with recent years bringing a remarkably involved vehicle system, and challenging and formidable weather systems, including a long, hard winter that the player must prepare for as the seasons change. Just like you! Right now!
I really can't recommend this game enough as a fun tinkering project that should live in anyone's steam library to get re-re-reinstalled over the years, instead of delving into your 200+ game backlog.
Kenshi gives you a wide open post-apocalyptic world to survive and a massive amount of flexibility in terms of how you approach the game. Primarily a point-and-click survival game, Kenshi grants you control over a large number of characters that you can meet, buy or even enslave to build out your army or faction.
Every skill is raised and raiseable by everyone simply by doing that action, sorta like UO. You can delve into crafting and even set up shops and a whole commercial enterprise, sorta like SW:Galaxies. You can quest, you can mess with politics and the makeup of the world. You can become a religious zealot. There's just a LOT you can do.
And I think my favorite part is there is no meta goal (that I'm aware of at least) or any impending time limit or doom, so you can just explore the world and make a name for yourself in it at your own pace and inclination.
It really is the sandbox-iest of sandbox games. I'm playing it now and really enjoying the ride.
Full disclosure, I didn't particularly enjoy Wasteland 2. I kickstarted it, I was glad to see it come back cause I loved the original when I was a kid, and I wanted to like it. I really did. And then I played it for about an hour and just couldn't convince myself to play it again. I dunno if this was because it felt dated, or I didn't like the art or interface, I really don't know.
But I really enjoyed Wasteland 3. It's a good, fun, deep game.
This is still a sandbox game like the above two, but a bit more polished and directed. You can definitely see the influence of some publishing dollars and polish in this, beyond just the pretty nice graphics. A good example is how the combat feels updated and more similar to the more recent XCom games. Or the impressive setpiece environment art and locations.
It also has some legitimately funny moments in it, and doesn't take itself too seriously, while still giving you more than enough rope to hang yourself with if you want to go off the beaten path. There are frequently multiple ways to accomplish things, and there are often direct dilemmas that you will face and need to live with the consequences from. And I don't mean purely in a surface level sort of way, where you just decide which of two buildings you'll save and the other will disappear from the map, though it has that too. I mean you can attack the primary faction in the game right off the jump and need to work your way through with them actively hostile towards you from there on out.
It captures some of that old school magic, while being a nice polished update that doesn't feel out of place in todays gaming libraries. Definitely worth a try if you need some meat to sink your teeth into, but without worrying as much about the jank.
This last one is a departure from the above three, but I still recommend it strongly and there is a good bit more depth to it than meets the initial eye.
One part Final Fantasy style combat (but with notable and excellent improvements), one part FTL progression and difficulty, and one part beautiful pixel graphics make for an really solid little game that seems to have flown a bit under the radar.
You build out a Squad of super-soldiers fighting a losing war against a mechanical enemy from space that is invading and attempting to destroy something... might be the universe... whatever who cares! You do your run, die and try again, but with unlocks and more discovered characters at your disposal for the next run. The logic works somewhat along the lines of Day After Tomorrow where you just try over and over again infinitely.
The time pressure and forced advancement borrows a lot from the concepts seen in FTL or Crying Suns (also a p good game that deserves a look), and as you progress from planet to planet you will make choices about what resources or opportunities to chase, knowing you can't get them all. The combat is surprisingly fun, even if you don't like FF style combat. I don't! And yet I found the fights engaging and a challenge, buoyed by pixel art that is just fantastic.
If you've been waiting for that next FTL type game to sink your teeth into, this puts just enough spin on the formula to make for a fresh take that I think most folks would groove on.
I could write about single player games forever and until the sun comes up, but the above four are the ones I wanted to spotlight due to their good fit to being locked indoors for months on end.
That said, let's close out with sort of an endorsement list of indie or lesser-known single player titles (covering the whole spectrum of content girth) which I'd happily recommend to most people.
In no particular order:
Binding of Isaac
The Red Strings Club
The Light Keeps Us Safe
Streets of Rogue
(muthafuckin') Battle Brothers
Risk of Rain (1 and 2)
There are of course many many more, but these all leapt to mind as games to try out if you haven't already.
Be safe out there, it's getting real shitty and dangerous.