Civilization VI - Tomyris of Scythia

"Scythian" is a term that refers to any of several groups of pastoral nomadic Iranians who inhabited Eurasia in areas north and east of the Caucus Mountains between the 9th century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.. The Scythian peoples lacked a written tradition, and so very little is known about them beyond the archaeological finds and the writings from other cultures (such as the Greeks and Persians) about the Scythians. Even the exact origin of the people is disputed. Were they immigrants from Central Asia or Siberia? Or did their culture arise from combinations of earlier cultures around the Black Sea coast? What is known is that they were among the first groups to become experts in mounted warfare, and at their peak, they controlled a span of territory reaching from Black Sea and stretching as far as the borders of China. Though they lacked written word, archaeological evidence has revealed their culture to be rich in metal-worked art and opulent kurgan tombs.

Various Scythian tribes engaged in frequent raiding and warfare against Middle Eastern empires such as Assyria and Persia. Around 529 B.C. Cyrus the Great attempted to conquer the Scythians. He first sent a proposal of marriage to the Scythian warrior queen Tomyris. According to Greek historians (such as Herodotus), Tomyris rejected the offer, and Cyrus then invaded her land to subjugate her kingdom by force. His army laid a trap for the Scythian army, leaving a poorly-defended camp stocked with wine (which the Scythians were unfamiliar with). When the camp was captured by a Scythian war party, lead by Tomyris' son, the Scythian soldiers became drunk on the spoils of wine, and were overrun and captured by the Persians. Tomyris' son, disgraced by his capture, committed suicide. Upon learning this, Tomyris personally lead an all-out offensive on Cyrus' army, cut off the Persian escape routes, and slaughtered the army. The Persian emperor fell, and his head was returned to the Scythian camp, where Tomyris submerged it in a pool of blood, hollowed out the skull, and used it as her personal wine goblet for the remainder of her life.

Civilization VI - Tomyris portrait

Herodotus' account is the most contemporary, and generally accepted account of Cyrus' death. Other historians, however, have disagreeing accounts. In some accounts, Tomyris was the wife of Cyrus, and murdered him. In yet other accounts, Cyrus was killed in a different battle in which the Scythian Sakas were aiding him against the tribal Derbices people. Regardless, Tomyris is one of the earliest recorded warrior queens, and children in Central Asia are still named after her to this day.

DISCLAIMER:
Civilization VI is still very early in its life-cycle. Strategies for the game (and for specific leaders and civs) may change as Firaxis applies balance patches, introduces new features, or expands the game through DLC or expansion packs, or as the Civ community discovers new strategies. As such, the following strategy guide may change from time to time. I will try to keep it up-to-date, and will make notations whenever changes are made. I'll also post links in the official 2K forums and CivFanatics, where I'll also report any changes made. If possible and practical, I will try to retain the original content of the strategy for posterity.

I welcome any feedback or suggestions that readers wish to offer. Feel free to post on the linked forums, or by posting a comment at the bottom of the page.

This guide is up to date as of the Summer 2017 (Australia DLC) patch (ver. 1.0.0.129)

Tomyris is a highly-aggressive leader in Civilization VI. Any neighboring civilization will have to stand the early test of time against Tomyris' massive mounted armies.

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Battlefield 1 - title

Nobody can make a game about World War I. Trench warfare is too boring. Nothing really happens. There isn't a strong, identifiable villain or good versus evil struggle.

Those are among the many excuses that people made for why all the video games are about World War II, and never about World War I. And then the gaming public and journalists got a glimpse of this:

The teaser trailer for Battlefield 1 was a smash hit.

That teaser trailer was damn good. People were excited. I haven't played a first-person shooter since Call of Duty: World at War, I generally hate online shooters, but even I was excited to try out this game! And other people were hyped about it too.

Now, I never really bought into the idea that World War I was "not video game material". I've long advocated for games to look at all periods of history for inspiration, and World War I is a monumental moment in world history that certainly deserves to be examined by games. The indie market certainly realized this, with games like Valiant Hearts and Verdun. But the big publishers have completely shied away from "The War to End All Wars".

This is a shame. The rapid technological advancements and radically new military tactics that evolved leading up to (and during) the war could be great material to examine in the form of a game. The widescale industrialization of warfare, the complicated politics, and the general fuzziness of the morality of the war are also ripe source material for dramatic storytelling. So it's about time to see this war thrust into the mass market spotlight.

I'd prefer to have seen a strategy game along the lines of Total War; but whatever, I'll give DICE and Battlefield 1 a chance.

The futile indifference of war

First impressions were actually pretty damned good. I was actually really impressed with Battlefield 1's campaign tutorial. It's basically a guided tour of the game's various core mechanics: shooting at enemy soldiers, capturing victory points, piloting vehicles, and so forth. It does a good job of introducing each of these mechanics and systems by jumping the player around between multiple characters in a large-scale battle.

But what really stuck out to me was how the tutorial transitioned between these different set pieces, and how it handled player death. This tutorial is actually surprisingly merciless and difficult. As you complete one set piece, the game gradually (and subtly) increases the threat until it becomes overwhelming and your character dies (or they just kill you after a timer expires), which allows the game to teleport you to the point of view of another character for the next set piece. The dying character's name and birth / death years are shown on screen during the transition, granting that character with a certain degree of humanization.

Battlefield 1: tutorial death
The excellent tutorial emphasizes the indifference and futility of "The War to End All Wars".

Depending on how good you are at the game, you'll go through between half a dozen to a dozen different characters, each with a name and an age. And they all die. The tutorial makes this war look brutal and futile. It even has an almost Dark Souls-like indifference to the player character, killing you without a second thought and forcing you to respawn as another poor, dumb bastard who's about to die for his country, rather than restarting you at a checkpoint until you get it right.

I even wish DICE had gone a bit further by also displaying the character's birth place and maybe even a snippet or two of other biographical trivia. Maybe listing some hobbies, or saying that he was on his high school's varsity football team, or some other little detail like that. DICE settled for just the name and birth / death year, but it's still effective and establishes a very strong running theme throughout the tutorial. The point is a bit undercut by the rapid pacing and by how conventional the actual running and shooting feels. But I still walked out of this tutorial excited by what the rest of the campaign had to offer.

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Civilization VI - Gilgamesh of Sumeria

Sumer is one of the oldest civilizations known to have existed. The first permanent cities may have been settled along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) as early as 5500 B.C., and written records date back as far as 3300 B.C.. The Sumerians were among the first adopters of agriculture, as the fertile floodplains of the "cradle of civilization" allowed for an abundance of food that enabled large, urban population centers.

Gilgamesh is an epic hero and king in Sumerian mythology. The Epic of Gilgamesh (transcribed in cuneiform on stone tablets) is the oldest surviving work of literature, and is credited as the world's first work of great literature. Copies of the poem were discovered in the ruins of the royal library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. According to the epic poem, Gilgamesh was a demi-god who is best known for taming the wild, feral man Enkidu and forging a lasting friendship with him. The two adventured together many times before Enkidu was killed by the gods for defying their will and helping Gilgamesh to kill the sacred Bull of Heaven. The death of his friend sent Gilgamesh into depression, and he dedicated the rest of his life (according to the poem) to a futile search for eternal life. Scholars and historians originally dismissed Gilgamesh as a mythological figure, but archaeological finds suggest that he may have been a real historic king of Uruk sometime between 2800 and 2500 B.C.. Whether the stories are based on true events, or are purely myth, they can be seen as an allegory for civilization itself, which Sumer, and Gilgamesh, helped to establish.

DISCLAIMER:
Civilization VI is still very early in its life-cycle. Strategies for the game (and for specific leaders and civs) may change as Firaxis applies balance patches, introduces new features, or expands the game through DLC or expansion packs, or as the Civ community discovers new strategies. As such, the following strategy guide may change from time to time. I will try to keep it up-to-date, and will make notations whenever changes are made. I'll also post links in the official 2K forums and CivFanatics, where I'll also report any changes made. If possible and practical, I will try to retain the original content of the strategy for posterity.

I welcome any feedback or suggestions that readers wish to offer. Feel free to post on the linked forums, or by posting a comment at the bottom of the page.

This guide is up-to-date as of the December 2016 patch (ver. 1.0.0.56).

Civilization VI - Gilgamesh portrait

Gilgamesh might be a very good leader for beginners to the game. Gilgamesh encourages making friends and allies, and his uniques grant early game bonuses that will help new players get off to a good start. The bonus reward for clearing barbarian encampments will also help teach new players to build a sizeable early military and go hunting for barbarians, which is a good strategy for Civ VI in general, regardless of your leader or civ. So I recommend Gilgamesh as a good place to start, and he will be the subject of my first Civilization VI strategy guide!

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Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain

Are you one of the poor suckers who paid $30-40 for Ground Zeroes and were ready for The Phantom Pain to make up for your disappointment with what was little more than a glorified (and over-priced) demo? I wasn't, because I got Ground Zeroes for free from my PSPlus subscription around the same time that Phantom Pain was released. I was obviously disappointed with the demo's short length, and I didn't bother doing any of the side missions. But since I didn't pay for it, I wasn't as enraged as some other players might have been.

I actually really liked what little gameplay Ground Zeroes had to offer. The Guantanamo Bay arena was well-designed and offered some good infiltration challenge that tested my Metal Gear capabilities. The A.I. was surprisingly competent and adaptive - not so much that I couldn't exploit them occasionally, but still good. The graphics, lighting, and weather effects all looked outstanding. It was a fun experience. Not "forty dollars fun", but pretty fun. At least part of the battle at Mother Base should have been playable, and I didn't like that large elements of the story were hidden away in collectible audio tapes, but whatever.

I got Ground Zeroes for free on PSPlus, instead of paying $30-40 MSRP for a glorified demo.

Ground Zeroes gave me flashbacks to the phenomenal classic Sons of Liberty demo that came packaged with Zone of the Enders on the PS2. At least that only cost me a $3 rental, and I got to play Zone of the Enders too. After Ground Zeroes, I was looking forward to getting my hands on the much bigger Phantom Pain, and was optimistic that it would provide an equally good experience that would be worth the purchase price. Phantom Pain is a very long, very complicated, and very uneven game. So buckle up, friend. This is going to be a long review.

Table of Contents

After having written a lengthy blog post about how open world, sandbox game design almost necessarily puts the game's narrative in a state of limbo, I was amazed to start up Metal Gear Solid V and see the very first mission took my criticisms to heart. Of course, the game had already been released by the time I had written that opinion piece, so I can't take credit for having influenced its development, but it was still refreshing and gratifying. Anyway, in the very first mission, Ocelot tells you that Miller has been captured by Soviets in Afghanistan, has been tortured for intel, and has three days - tops - to live. You must rescue him before that time.

Metal Gear Solid V - three days to rescue Miller
Ocelot gives the player three days to rescue Miller...

At first, I didn't put much stock in Ocelot's claim. After all, sandbox games are notorious for saying that something needs to be done ASAP, but they never have the balls to actually walk the walk and enforce that objective. Until now. When checking my map, I noticed something in the corner that I hadn't noticed in other sandbox games before: an "elapsed time" counter. The game was plainly tracking how long it was taking me to complete the primary mission objective. I treated this timer with a certain degree of skepticism. But sure enough, failure to rescue Miller within the allotted time actually results in a "Game Over"!

This is exactly how I feel that priority objectives in open world games should be handled: make it apparent to the player (through dialogue and/or explicit notification) that an objective is being timed or that it is otherwise a priority, and make sure that there are reasonable, perceivable consequences for failure to achieve that objective within the expected conditions. Then design some early-game quests or objectives such that the player is put in a position in which they can (or must) fail; thus, teaching the player that when the game says "do x or else", the game actually means it. I put down the controller and gave Hideo Kojima a standing ovation. But would this opening mission set a precedent that priority missions must actually be prioritized, and would that precedent stand throughout the rest of the game? Or was this just a one-off occurrence that would not be representative of the rest of the game? Regardless, a tone was plainly set for the rest of the game, and the stakes had been raised.

... Failure to rescue Miller within the allotted time results in his death and a Game Over.

Would this refreshing precedent carry over into the rest of the game? Well, sort of...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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