Star Trek: Infinite - title

When Infinite was first announced, I (and many others) had assumed that it would just be an official release of the New Horizons total conversion mod for Stellaris. That mod was huge, offering tons of factions and covering the entire breadth of Star Trek canon from the Original Series all the way through Discovery (and even some Kelvin-verse-inspired content). Unfortunately, that ended up not being the case, and Star Trek: Infinite proves to be a major downgrade from New Horizons.

The "New Horizons" mod for Stellaris included all eras of Star Trek.

Despite its title, Star Trek: Infinite is surprisingly scaled back in scope. It only includes the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, and only 4 playable factions: the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians. I understand not including factions like the Dominion and Borg as playable factions. They actually make more sense as a form of "final boss" that invades the Alpha or Beta Quadrants to provide a late-game challenge that could help make the end-game of a 4-x strategy less tedious, less easy, and more interesting. And I also understand not including smaller, "alien-of-the-week" factions like the Gorn, Tholian, or Sheliak as playable factions. Although I wish more of them would show up as NPC factions. But I really think that factions like the Ferengi Alliance and maybe even the Breen should have been included. The Federation is peaceful and diplomatic, while the other 3 factions are (broadly speaking) different flavors of militaristic. The mercantile, yet exploitative trade-based play style of the Ferengi would have been a good change of pace from the other factions.

Worse yet, however, is that Infinite doesn't cover the breadth of Star Trek history that I had hoped it would. The game begins with the Romulan attack on Khitomer, for which Worf's father was framed, and shortly after the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. And [spoiler alert!] the Borg start appearing at the fringes of Federation and Romulan space within an hour or 2 of starting a new game. It takes place entirely within the scope of The Next Generation, and does not contain any content from Enterprise, The Original Series, or the "lost era" between The Undiscovered Country and Next Generation.

Star Trek: Infinite is limited in scope,
taking place entirely within TNG era, and having only 4 playable factions.

Unfortunately, Paradox killed support for this game prematurely, and it will not be seeing any additional updates or DLC. Initially, I had expected to see a lot of DLC that would fill in the gaps, because Paradox has always been known for the ridiculous amount of DLC that they always sell for their games. I expected to see DLC packs that would push the start of the game back to the 22nd or 23rd centuries and include Enterprise, Original Series, and "Lost Era" ships and storylines. I thought maybe we would see factions like the Ferengi, Gorn, Tholians, Kzinti, Xindi, Sheliak, and maybe even the Vulcans and Andorians show up as playable factions. And I had also anticipated expansions that might add Gamma and Delta Quadrant content, such as playable Dominion, Breen, Kazon, Vidiian, Krenim, Hirogen, and maybe even Borg factions, while also expanding the size of the galaxy.

But now, none of that is going to happen, and the only way Infinite will see any new content is if modders decide to take on these tasks. It would be cool if the "New Horizons" modders would move some (or all) of their content into Star Trek: Infinite, as it might give this game a new life, and help it live up to its true potential as an era-spanning Star Trek grand strategy game.

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Pacific Drive - title

I really enjoyed Pacific Drive, but I admit that I struggled a bit in the early hours. The tutorial is decent, but it's a bit of an information overload, and the player doesn't really get much opportunity to practice certain mechanics so that they sink in.

So I wanted to share some of my tips based on the confusions and growing pains that I experienced, so that other new players can hopefully shorten the learning curve and get to enjoying the game more quickly.

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Pacific Drive - title

When I first saw the trailers for Pacific Drive, it was being pitched as a survival horror that takes place entirely in a car. Or at least, that was my takeaway from the initial announcements and teasers. It had me intrigued, such that I immediately wishlisted the game. However, that isn't quite what the game ended up being. Instead, Pacific Drive is more of a survival/crafting/extraction game with light-to-moderate horror elements. There's also an emphasis on logging and cataloguing everything you encounter, which nullifies much of the horror and mystery that it could have, in favor of encouraging exploration and curiosity.

The bulk of the gameplay consists of driving to different parts of the map, scavenging for materials and supplies, and using those materials to craft upgrades for your possessed station wagon. And all the while, you're scanning almost everything you encounter in order to catalogue it (from paranormal phenomena, to resources and equipment, to the different types of wrecked vehicles you find rusting along the roadside, and everything in between). Maybe I misunderstood those initial announcements and teasers. Whether I misunderstood, or the game's concept was poorly communicated, or its design simply shifted over the course of the intervening year or so (which happens), the final game errs much closer to No Man's Sky than to Resident Evil, and might even have tiny hints of inspiration from things like Outer Wilds and Portal.

The crafting focus also means that the gameplay is split almost evenly between driving and scavenging on foot. I'm constantly getting out of the car to search an abandoned building for materials, or using the various tools to break down other wrecked vehicles for their constituent parts. So the idea that the game would be played entirely from within the car also ended up not being the case. In fact, a majority of my opening hours of the game were played on foot, since so much of the early game is a series of tutorials on how to craft various tools and car parts.

Pacific Drive can be serene and beautiful, and almost zen-like.

So Pacific Drive takes a while to really get going. Whether it's the sub-genre-defining horror game that I anticipated, or a more trendy survival/crafting/extraction game with a driving gimmick, Pacific Drive still turned out to be quite good and addicting. In fact, the survival and extraction focus might even have made it a better game than what I was envisioning in my own mind.

Grab 'n' Go

Pacific Drive's core gameplay loop is more akin to an extraction shooter, except that it's single-player PvE (Player vs Environment), and the player uses a possessed, beat-up old station wagon as your primary method of locomotion and eventual escape. You choose an area from a map menu, and the specific details of the area are pseudo-randomized each time you enter (and can change if you return later). You drive around the area, collecting any resources or materials you find, avoiding paranormal hazards, and occasionally finding documents or audio logs that slowly explain what happened to the Olympic Peninsula Exclusion Zone.

But there's also a ticking clock, and this is where the "extraction shooter" influence appears. If you lollygag too long, meticulously avoiding obstacles, and gingerly collecting everything that isn't nailed down, a blaring siren will sound, and a mysterious Fortnite-esque "storm" will slowly engulf the area. If you get caught in the storm, you'll slowly take damage until you either escape or die. And the only way to escape is usually to trigger a warp portal that appears somewhere on the map. These portals can only be activated if you're more than a certain distance away, and once activated, the storm starts to rapidly expand. You have only minutes to drive halfway across the map to the portal and escape, with the storm breathing down your neck.

Each voyage is punctuated by a frantic race to a gateway portal.
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Stellaris - title

Last year, after my initial enthusiasm for Civilization VI began petering out (until the announcement of the expansion), I went on a bit of a space-4x bender. I spent some time with the rebooted Master of Orion. It was good, but I was underwhelmed by its limited scale and casual depth. I also planned on hitting up Endless Space 2. I played the first Endless Space briefly off-and-on, and I liked it, but kept getting diverted to other games and projects and never really allowed myself the time to get comfortable with the game.

But first, before diving into Engless Space 2, I wanted to tackle a game that's been in my library for over a year: Stellaris. This is an epic, space 4x strategy game developed by Paradox Interactive -- the same developer who brought us the infamously complex and detailed Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings series.

A gentler learning curve than Europa Universalis

I was hesitant to try Stellaris because of its relationship to Europa Universalis (and its notorious complexity), but I was surprised to find that Stellaris has a bit of a gentler learning curve. Instead of starting you out "in median res" with a developed European kingdom with armies already mobilized, alliances and rivalries already in place, and wars already in progress, Stellaris starts you out in control of a single planet in a single star system, with just a small fleet of corvettes, a construction ship, and a science ship at your disposal. You send your science ship to explore the other planets in your system, then on to the nearest star, and slowly explore from there at a much more comfortable pace that is akin to a game like Civilization or Master of Orion. Unlike with Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, I didn't feel like I needed to sit down with a history textbook in order to know what was going on at the start of my game.

You start the game with a single science ship to explore your own star system, and work your way out from there.

Don't let this initial apparent simplicity fool you. Stellaris is still quite deep, quite complex, and the galaxy that you'll explore really does feel vast. While the Master of Orion reboot has galaxies with a mere dozens of stars (very few of which contain more than one or two planets), Stellaris features a default galaxy size consisting of hundreds of stars, most with their own planets, which might (in turn) contain moons.

There's still going to be some trial and error, as you'll make a lot of mistakes and miss a lot of opportunities in your first few games. If you left the "ironman" mode disabled, then you'll at least be free to re-load earlier saves and try to play better if anything goes horribly wrong. However, Paradox throws a bit of a curve ball at players by disabling achievements if you disable ironman mode. You won't stumble into achievements in your learning game(s) or by save-scumming; you'll have to earn them in the Ironman mode!

You also won't be able to manually save while in Ironman mode. You have to wait for the game to perform an auto-save (which I think happens every few in-game months, or maybe every year?). This can be very annoying if you don't notice the "saving game" popup and don't know if the game has saved your most recent actions. It's fine to include a single save file for this mode, but they could at least include a "Save and Exit" option in the pause menu!

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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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