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The following is a transcript of a video review which can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/2KYZPvAfRaE
In roleplaying games, the central narrative that guides the player’s journey is often colloquially referred to as the “main quest”, while all other branching threads are the “side quests”. Most roleplaying games rely on that main quest to direct the player toward the game’s various objectives, as well as provide the primary thrust to the game’s narrative. Without the main quest, most RPGs don’t even start. It’s the reason Harry is in Revechol, the genesis of the Devourer’s relationship with Krenze, and Enzo’s quest for power would’ve been unnecessary without the Bojaa invasion. But if this central narrative didn’t exist, would these games be considerably worse off? Sure, it’d take some re-writing, but would Shadows: Awakening really be much different if the Devourer simply came to be one day and began working to gain power on its own? Video game players like adventure, they’re curious and ready to delve into any old catacomb if the possibility of loot or a reveal is present. That quest for power is often more than sufficient, and Turkish developer TaleWorlds Entertainment have demonstrated just that. Mount & Blade has no main quest - no primary objective at all. The player is dropped into the fictional region of Calradia and left to their own devices. What they will spend their time doing, who they work for, who they oppose, where they will call their home, and how they will handle conflict are all down to the player. With all of these choices to make and things to do, does Mount & Blade ever feel like it’s missing something?
Mount & Blade takes place in the fictional - yet suspiciously familiar land of Calradia. There are five empires present within what is essentially a single river-valley, and each is trying to defeat the others to become the sole rulers. The player is dropped into this maelstrom and let loose to do whatever they like. They could build a diverse army by recruiting troops from all the different cultures, strictly align with one of the empires and wipe everyone else off the map, focus entirely on becoming famous at the tournaments, or become the world’s most powerful caravan baron - the player can even oppose everyone and go full bandit if that’s how they want to play. The game takes place primarily in this large map screen where the player can travel around, visit the various cities and villages, talk with the generals patrolling their territories, and get into fights. Battles are fought in procedurally generated battlefields determined by where the armies meet on the overworld map, which is reminiscent of something from a Total War game. It’s even possible to auto-resolve battles as if it were actually a Total War game; if the battle seems too easy or if you’d rather play as a backline commander instead of getting your hands dirty, or the situation is hopeless and a few seconds of menus is preferable to watching your character get hacked to pieces, you can just let the game calculate an outcome and move on. Of course, there are definitely reasons to participate in the battles, most impactful of all being the increased experience points gained from landing a killing blow on an enemy. Those experience points are spent on the player character’s massive variety of stats which influence everything from the player’s health and weapon skills to the quantity of soldiers they’re able to command and their ability to haggle over an item’s value. The battles are a strange semi-RTS thing mixed with some action combat that employs its own first-person directional based sword-fighting system. Well, it’s either first-person or you can piggy-back your character during battle. Why anyone would want to use this perspective eludes me, but it’s there as an option. I think it's probably a quirk of the engine since other games that used the engine also have this camera perspective available.
Mount & Blade looks pretty good for a game that came out in 2001. It didn’t; this game’s original release was in 2008, the same year Metal Gear Solid 4 and Dead Space came out. Things looked rough at release, but as time has gone on Mount & Blade’s visual presentation has retroactively become much more palatable, at least to me. It’s an older game, older games look like this, it’s fine. The Calradia overworld map is handcrafted and does a reasonable job of reflecting how a river valley like this would form in real life, but it has some unfortunate restrictions imposed upon it that definitely bring it down visually. The rolling hills and same grass texture desperately need more stuff to break them up. The occasional rocky hilltop and handful of trees just isn’t enough. But there can’t be too many forests since they cause armies passing through them to move slowly and if the player triggers a battle in a wooded area the battle map will be filled with trees that make cavalry and archers much less effective, resulting in really long, drawn out battles. Taleworld definitely noticed how dull Calradia looked and made an attempt to add some more variety to the landscape; the Khergit Steppe uses a slightly different shade of green for the ground and the eastern region of the Vaegir territory has a permanent blanket of snow burying everything. I don’t think the different green is a successful substitute for more interesting terrain, and the white snow makes reading the white text updates about world events and level-ups from training impossible. But all that said, I like Calradia, it’s a big space that adheres to all of our real-world natural conditions when it didn’t really need to. The same goes for the sheer quantity of different weapon and armour models. There are many different styles of clothing that take inspiration from the various Middle Ages European and Central Asian cultures present at the time, and even a set of samurai equipment that makes me think of Morrowind for some reason. The character models are a bit wooden, but it’s much less noticeable from horseback or through the sights of a crossbow.
There are clearly two major sections where gameplay happens in Mount & Blade: the Calradia overworld map, and the boots-on-the-ground battles. Neither of these two modes of play would be great on their own, but in combination I think they both compliment each other very well. As a 4X game only, Mount & Blade would be much too simple, especially before the big changes that came in Warband. The player commands a single army, and even if they manage to earn a Marshall position within one of the empires, they’ll never be properly able to issue commands to those other armies. They just kind of tag along and stand nearby like dad asked them to help with the car. There’s a similar shallowness to the battles; the addition of directional attacks and timed parrying is okay, but horseback combat kind of makes the whole system irrelevant. But as something to do between planning world conquest and chatting with the boys, it’s good enough.
I played two characters during the 60 hours I spent with Mount & Blade. Raez Steppecast was the daughter of a travelling merchant who got lost in a snowstorm after her caravan was attacked by bandits, and Yuzu Ganbataar, a frog-mouthed Khergit man held prisoner in a Nord city for years longer than his sentence. This mistreatment at their hands fostered a deep hatred of the Nord aristocracy who refused to acknowledge their mistake, and Ganbataar vowed to wipe their unjust nation off the continent. Raez managed to use her negotiating skills to earn an audience with the Vaegir king who would hopefully have some means of escorting her back home, but ultimately the Vaegir leadership weren’t very helpful. Raez would have to take things into her own hands, and soon enough she had recruited a small warband that rivalled her family’s caravan for strength and number. Upon finally being released from Nord captivity, Ganbataar immediately travelled home to the Khergit lands to try and raise an army, and while it took a little longer than anticipated, the Nord empire was repelled from mainland Calradia. Now, the game mostly gave me blanks to fill in regards to character motivations and objectives and when to call the campaign complete, which I’m in two minds over. Firstly, I like that the game allowed me to do this. Raez and Ganbataar both engaged with Mount & Blade’s mechanical systems in roughly the same way, but who they talked to and how much was required of each character was significantly different. Raez spent a lot more time speaking to the village elders as a means to earn some money, as well as use her newfound military power for the benefit of the less fortunate. I spent a lot more time herding cattle and training peasants in that first campaign than I did in the second. This was definitely the better path to follow first, though, as Ganbataar wasn’t able to just head to the Khergit lands and have the Khan’s forces at his disposal. He had to earn that, which meant grinding to gain reputation, which is done via lots of boring, menial tasks. Whenever I asked a lord if he needed help with anything, they would often send me across the map to deliver a letter, and then the recipient would say “hey thanks” and that was that. Now I’m multiple days away from the guy I wanted to rep grind, and there’s a good chance he isn’t where I left him anymore and now I need to ask directions. Once Ganbataar had done the legwork, though, the Khan eventually saw it fit to grant him a fief, which greatly increased his earning and ballooned the potential army he was able to field. Before long, Ganbataar was knocking Nord castles over and claiming them in the name of the Khan, which also accelerated reputation gain. Turns out, everyone likes you when you’re the one supplying the empire with new territory. Ganbataar managed to become so popular among the Khan’s lords that he was elected the Marshall twice in a row before eventually being captured, and likely executed by the Rhodoks. The reason I concocted this rivalry between the Nords and the Khergit was completely arbitrary. There are no real differences in management tactics across the various empires, they just have different visual themes. I did find it easier to target the Nords over everyone else - none of their troops ever figure out how to ride horses, which makes fighting them from horseback extremely easy.
The battles in Mount & Blade are fairly straightforward, but there are a lot of quirks that make them interesting to think about. TaleWorlds figured the engine wouldn’t survive them, so the battles have character limits that the player can also reduce if they need to. At a maximum, each side starts with 50 soldiers, even if the armies themselves have more. There’s a “Battle advantage” stat that shifts this balance toward something like 55-45, but that isn’t really going to impact the battles until Battle Advantage +10 or so. The fight begins and most of the time both forces will rush toward each other and fight somewhere near the centre of the map. When one army has lost a majority of their initial troops, a new batch of reinforcements will spawn in to continue the battle, which almost always happens when the player is looking at the place they’re going to spawn. The player typically starts the game with a horse and a crossbow so they can at least try out a few of the different combat styles and pick one they prefer. On-foot melee fights are fast as each participant tries to avoid hitting their opponent’s shield by attacking from different angles. Successful attacks deal significant damage, so a lot of the individual fights revolve around effective shield use. Or you can just swarm the enemy since they can’t block every attack. It is still possible to engage with this combat system on horseback, but doing this forfeits the horse’s real strength in battle. Horses are heavy animals, and in Mount & Blade they can carry some decent momentum on the charge; knocking down opponents and maybe even trampling them a little too. This momentum is also carried into the rider’s attacks. There are hefty multipliers when hitting an enemy while moving at high speed, enough to kill them in a single stroke if the sword finds their head. This is a good way of encouraging the true-to-life hit-and-run strategies cavalry have been employing on battlefields for centuries - smashing into a formation, taking a few swipes on the way through, and then circling around for another charge. Unfortunately the CPU didn’t get the memo. The player can command their cavalry units to follow them closely around the battlefield, but only the player will be making hit-and-run attacks, the cavalry units prefer to wade into the enemy blob and wait for their horses to be killed. The tools the player uses to command their army on the battlefield are very limited, and the interface used to issue those commands isn’t exactly elegant. There are options for things like which weapons the units should be using or how tightly units should group up, but there isn’t much more to it. Units are set to charge by default and they may as well stay in that default state. I only used the hold command to position my ranged units on advantageous hilltops or to have my army wait a little and let my allies take the brunt of the initial damage. Also, I preferred to take battles on the flattest terrain I could find to avoid the mountainous battle maps. These maps are by far the worst thing in the game and I don’t think it's close. Mountainous terrain does not look like this anywhere in this universe. Worms-tier land generations. I actually enjoyed the siege battles far more than these maps, but I can imagine those could be like pulling teeth to some. All siege battles work the same way; the attackers leave behind their horses and climb their ramp to hop into the mosh pit they’re greeted with at the top of the wall. The real test is whether the player can snipe enough enemy archers to ensure the Denny’s grand slam goes off without interference. No unit has infinite ammunition, including the player, so eventually the player has to decide whether to disrespect their surroundings or scrounge around for any bolts or arrows someone else dropped. Fighting through a city garrison regularly takes so much time that TaleWorlds put intermissions into these battles. Whether these breaks were put here to give the player time to refresh or lift some strain off the engine, I’m unsure, but at least the player gets a free restock of arrows when it happens.
I’ve mentioned the engine a few times because Mount & Blade uses a proprietary engine, which was not the done thing by this period in game development’s history, outside of maniacs like Jeff Vogel. The big studios had their own in-house engines, but most smaller developers were using tools like Source and Unreal Engine to reduce the amount of work they had to do in order to create a viable product. Creating a proprietary engine was a common occurrence during the 90s but the practice largely disappeared at the turn of the millennium. Doing this allowed TaleWorlds to tailor their engine to do the specific things they wanted to do with it, but it put a massive amount of pressure on the developers to get it working well, and required a tremendous deal of foresight to include all of the functionality they might want later on. So while Mount & Blade is most certainly a sandbox, the things the players are able to do aren’t nearly as broad as similar products. When the player gains control of a city, castle, or village they can build a small selection of buildings there for some minor buffs or to increase the village’s vision range. Oh wow, more prisoner space, great. The player isn’t allowed to attack any settlements if they aren’t affiliated with one of the empires. But once the player has that affiliation they can just attack anyone else as they like, even factions they’re supposed to be friends with. They can find and meet characters to add to their army which have the same levelling and equipment screen as the player so the player’s army can have access to more skill tree buffs, but there are two distinct groups of companions who complain when they’re mixed with members of the opposite group. They’ll offer small dilemmas which eventually result in the character informing the player they intend to leave the group, but you can just tell them no and they won’t leave. Because if they did leave the player would lose all the gear the companion has equipped. And even if they do leave they’re only a couple tavern visits away from asking to come back.
These limitations were apparent to TaleWorlds and ever since they’ve been expanding on the Mount & Blade base. Two years after the original game, Mount & Blade: Warband was released. Warband rearranged Calradia’s geography, added the Sarranid Sultanate faction, new NPC tasks, expanded diplomacy and empire management options, the ability to establish one’s own faction, and even a multiplayer component. These additions and changes are so expansive that - obviously - I’m inclined to treat Warband as a separate game, and I don’t intend to talk about it much more in this video. Warband is basically a resolution to all of the gripes I had with the original game, at least from what I’ve seen. Two DLCs were released for Warband too, which is kind of like an expansion of an expansion as far as I’m concerned. Both seem interesting though, so I’ll probably be back in future to explore this entirely new package. I’m unsure whether I feel the same about With Fire & Sword. Released back in 2011, With Fire & Sword is another standalone expansion of the original Mount & Blade which makes some improvements over that base, but goes in a different direction from Warband. Instead of retreading the fictional land of Calradia again, With Fire & Sword is based on the Henryk Sienkiewicz (Shen-kyay-vitch) novel of the same name. The Cossack-Polish War is raging and within the tumult the player character emerges to forge their own path. Since the game is based in the mid-17th century, the player has access to a range of firearms and explosives which aren’t quite effective enough to eliminate the use of swords and shields. It’s certainly a fascinating setting for a game, but I think I’d prefer a focussed narrative within the setting as opposed to the Mount & Blade sandbox style. With Fire & Sword also doesn’t feature many of the improvements Warband contains, so I expect bumping up against the game’s limitations to be the same as within base Mount & Blade. And, of course, an official sequel to Mount & Blade was released into early access in 2020, with a subsequent full release in 2022. Bannerlord is bigger, prettier, offers more freedom, and is much more complex than even Warband, and it has been received incredibly well. I’m very intrigued by the sequel and I’m similarly excited to see what TaleWorlds gets up to next.
For now, though, I do think Mount & Blade is worth a shot if the extreme freedoms of Bannerlord or even Warband seem too overwhelming to you. It runs right out the digital box on basically any hardware so the barrier to entry is very low. I think it makes more financial sense to just buy Warband since they’re basically the same price, but I had to know the differences and I didn’t have a bad time.
I think, judging by my ability to blabber on about it for this long, that Mount & Blade’s lack of a main quest isn’t detrimental to the overall experience. Without a list of mandatory objectives the player is entirely responsible for finding the fun, and there is certainly fun to be found. But there are weaknesses that come as part of this design style. The player needs to meet the game on its terms - they need to approach the game with a plan or at least a target, because the game isn’t going to give them one. At the same time, the developers still needed to think about all of the things they wanted the player to be able to do and then implement them, which is definitely a process where having a bunch of people involved would have been helpful, hence the Warband changes. But even still, those changes never involved the implementation of a primary objective or an interruption of the unbroken freedom the original Mount & Blade provides. These games are compelling all on their own, which some games can’t manage even with a scripted plot and specific objectives. Naturally, this kind of sandbox RPG isn’t going to be to everyone’s preference, but I think Mount & Blade embodies the role-playing aspects of the genre so well that it is genuinely a quintessential role-playing experience.
With all this pontificating about what a role-playing game really needs to fulfil that tag, I think it’d be best to play something a bit more traditional.
The following is a transcript of a video review which can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/MgpW1h_XUqg
What makes a video game ugly? Is it the aesthetic qualities? If a game’s palette features too many clashing colours or is primarily grey and uninteresting, or the technical graphics are amateurish and the animation is awkward, maybe the music isn’t produced well or doesn’t keep to a single key, does that make a video game ugly? Perhaps a game’s technical implementation makes it ugly, or its mechanical components. Does it run just poorly enough to be noticeable without being too intrusive, or are the tools the player has to achieve their objectives unsatisfying to use? Could a game’s narrative be the source of ugliness? Are the things happening in the game distasteful or just cruel and evil? There are clearly a lot of variables at play, but I think we’d all be in agreement if there was a game that featured all of these possibilities. That game would rightfully be regarded as truly awful. Well, here it is. After the relative flop that was Shadow Ops: Red Mercury, Zombie Studios partnered with Bethesda Softworks who - after noticing Ubisoft’s successes with their Tom Clancy franchise - decided they wanted a piece of the military fiction money. Bethesda brought author Richard Marcinko on board, and in 2005 development of Rogue Warrior began. Over the next four years, the project would go through a variety of iterations, be stripped from Zombie Studios, and then sent to Rebellion Entertainment who would completely transform the final game. In December of 2009, Rogue Warrior was finally released, to critical savagery. The reception at the time was so bad that Rogue Warrior is often in the conversation as one of the worst games ever made, and I think it is no exaggeration to say that it absolutely belongs in that conversation. The game is short, it’s barely functional, the palette is bland, the enemies are vacuous, the dialogue tasteless, and this story of Marcinko’s murder spree throughout North Korea and North-East Russia is downright villainous. Rogue Warrior is terrible, and it is the ugliest game I’ve ever played.
If you’ve been watching my videos for a while, you’ll know that I like to play a stinky shooter every now and again. Sometimes they’re brilliant, but mostly they’re just fun lay-ups so I can use all the words I know that describe how bad something is. Rogue Warrior is special among these, though, and that’s down to its association with its main character: Richard “Dick” Marcinko. Marcinko was a member of the US Navy SEALs, an elite fighting force that focuses on coastal and riverine combat, similar to the Marine corps but usually more covert. In 1980, Marcinko was given the go ahead to establish his own SEAL Team, Six, who would go on to be known as the most effective fighting force throughout the USA’s armed forces. Despite all that he was afforded, however, Marcinko was jailed for defrauding $113,000 from the United States’ government in 1990, and was subsequently kicked out of the Navy. While in jail, Marcinko drafted his autobiography which was then rewritten by ghostwriter John Weisman and published by Pocket Books in 1992. The book sold well, and Marcinko and Weisman would go on to produce a series of self-help books and fictional sequels to the autobiography until Marcinko’s retirement in 2014. This summary of his life makes Marcinko sound like an intelligent, articulate man, but after reading the autobiography and playing the game, I can say that he was most certainly neither. Marcinko loves cursing, he even makes up his own new curses just so he has more to say. The expression “swears like a sailor” does not do his vocabulary justice. He sounds like a teenager once their parents are out of earshot, and it gets tiresome both in the game and in the book. Additionally, Marcinko’s motivations for the things he does are generally horrific and often unreasonable. Throughout the book, Marcinko makes it very clear that he just wants to kill people. He did three tours of Vietnam and relished the opportunity to kill as many Viet Cong as he was able to, though he wished he could have killed more. Marcinko regularly bemoans the administrative structure of the Navy; they didn’t see his murderous rampages through rural Vietnam as necessary which ultimately hurt Marcinko’s naval career in the long run. Those administrative types would still control where Marcinko would be working and who he’d be working for, afterall. He was moved away from SEAL Team Six in disgrace, hidden away in the Pentagon for a while, but he managed to start another organisation whose purpose was to deliberately annoy Navy base commanders before finally being indicted for fraud. Marcinko would then go on to have his authorial career while also hosting a politically conservative talk radio show - which seems counter-intuitive to me, like, the systems were the problem so advocating for them doesn’t follow, unless he just really hated gay people for some reason. After his final novel was published in 2014, Marcinko spent seven years in retirement before passing away in December of 2021, a period where many old conservatives seemed to all coincidentally die at the same time - wow, amazing. Marcinko led a full life, people threw themselves into frozen ocean water for him, opportunity for success came wherever he looked and he took those opportunities. When the concept of a video game based on his novels was pitched to him, there was likely no hesitation from Marcinko, and thus, we are here today.
Despite the shared title, Rogue Warrior the autobiography and Rogue Warrior the video game contain vastly different material. The events of the autobiography are probably true events, while the video game’s narrative is totally fictitious. The game is set in November of 1986, Marcinko and two nameless accomplices have been deployed to Unggi in North Korea where they are to meet with a CIA informant to receive information about a missile factory. The trio are dropped from a helicopter somewhere outside of town, before making the trek through the forest. They come across a patrol of North Korean soldiers, and while they were able to kill all of them, both of Marcinko’s buddies are killed in a grenade explosion. From here onward, Marcinko is alone, and despite orders to retreat, Marcinko chooses to press on. The rest of the game follows Marcinko’s murderous fantasies of killing as many North Korean and Russian soldiers as he desires, slightly justified by the thread of trailing the manufacture of intercontinental ballistic missiles throughout North East Russia. Each step of this story features Marcinko disobeying his commander’s orders, saying the dumbest one-liners ever written, enacting his own moronic plans that all magically succeed, and providing as many opportunities to kill as many non-combatants as possible. That might sound strange since these are clearly soldiers the player is fighting, but there was no formal declaration of war between the US and North Korea or the Soviet Union during the 80s. While there was political tension between all of these states, East Asia was the only region that didn’t earn any attention from Reagan’s military meddling. And without a formal declaration of war you can’t just roll up to a foreign military base and start gunning people down on a whim, that just makes you a murderer. The missile hunt eventually leads Marcinko to a large Russian dam and submarine base, which he promptly blows up as the game’s finale. The player does this by shooting people, placing explosive charges Marcinko pulls from his magic hat, and watching short movies along the way. Of course, this stuff never happened, but there is a book that features the same title and the same main character that is a record of true events.
Rogue Warrior 1992 is Richard Marcinko’s life story, his memoirs told from his perspective which detail his Navy recruitment in 1958, to his expulsion over thirty years later. It’s a fairly short book at around 370 pages, the language is simplistic when not referring to everything through Navy acronyms, and a hefty chunk of the content is useless descriptions of people who never speak or do anything as well as unnecessarily detailed explanations of whatever mundane activity Marcinko happened to be engaging in at the relevant point in time. The story opens in media res, as SEAL Team Six has been summoned to a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Apparently a Puerto Rican separatist group called the Macheteros had gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon and the SEALs were sent in to retrieve it. On approach, however, Marcinko discovers that the rounds loaded into their magazines are lighter than usual, and sure enough, they’re blanks. The Macheteros don’t have a nuclear weapon, they don’t even have a presence on the island. It’s a training exercise, much to Marcinko’s disappointment. Things then flash all the way back to Marcinko’s childhood, his relationship with his parents, what he did for fun as a kid, his first job, how many of the girls in town he slept with, vital formative details. Marcinko becomes aware of the Lebanese Crisis in 1958 and sees it as an opportunity to go and kill some people. His application to join the Marines was rejected, but the Navy accepted and it all kicked off from there. I actually had a scheme for marking points of interest in the book. Each of the different coloured tabs denotes a different thing. Pink is for things that are just propaganda, some of which Marcinko believes as fact and others he seems to just be saying. On page 49, for example, the Amphibious Force Commander John S. McCain delivers a speech to the trainees going through Hell Week. “We took his words to heart. (He must have been inspirational at home, too. His son, John, (is) now a US senator for Arizona…)” That’s Republican politician John McCain, there, likely Marcinko’s favourite politician and probably explains how he ended up on conservative talk-radio. Green tabs were for strange sentences. Originally I intended for these to be sentences that featured strange grammar or things that you can say in conversation but don’t really work in written form. “A boxer, light heavy-weight division, he’d been to EOD school so he could play with explosives. And he understood CT: he’d taken over Paul’s old job commanding MOB-6. He was big, ugly, and aggressive. Yeah.” (p.254). In the end, though, most green tabs were put beside things that I had to make sure I read correctly because of how ridiculous they seemed. Weird, racist sentences, talking about the Vietnamese people as “a useless class of nuc mam-swilling subhumans who needed two sticks to pick up one grain of rice but used only one to carry two buckets of shit” (p. 166), having his Cambodian houseboy say “You go fuckee-fuckee tonight, Mr Dick?” (p. 188), and creeper stuff like “... he’d married a young beauty named Denise, the girl he’d been dating since she was fifteen and he was eighteen or nineteen.” (p. 255-256). Green tabs were the ones I used the most and it made that line in the game about the Great-leader’s penis much more tasteless than it already was, though at least it was something Marcinko would’ve said. The orange tabs indicate murderousness. Marcinko wanted to kill people and his aggression isn’t limited to the US government’s victims of the day, though they are the only ones who saw the realisation of Marcinko’s fantasies. After returning from that training exercise in Puerto Rico, Marcinko notes “...it might be gratifying for the men, if ultimately unrewarding for our careers, to stage a live-fire hit on JSOC headquarters.” (p. 289). Frustrated by their lack of deployments to Japan or Iran, Marcinko ponders attacking the Joint Special Operations Command headquarters to give himself and Six someone to kill. I think the orange tabs are the most numerous in the book since Marcinko really wanted to end a lot of people’s lives and enjoyed killing the people he was able to. Blue and yellow tabs are by far the rarest, mostly because there isn’t a lot else to the book outside of what I’ve already mentioned. Blue tabs are for unexpectedly good takes and I used three in total. One was for recognising Operation Just Cause was an invasion, another was a Lebanese taxi driver explaining that the Israelis brutalise Palestinian refugee camps - which isn’t even Marcinko’s opinion, and the last one is Marcinko realising how horrific a car bomb actually is. Of course, this realisation doesn’t cause Marcinko to reconsider his own actions in Vietnam but I probably shouldn’t have expected it to. Yellow tabs were my Other tabs and point at things like Marcinko’s baffling Godfather impression - which is nonsensical in written form - as well as his embarrassing interactions with the people who worked at the Pentagon and some pathetic whining about how Six didn’t have enough time to make him a plaque when he got booted. Despite all of its clear failings, Rogue Warrior was the New York Times bestseller during its first week on shelves, though that was probably pretty disappointing to many working at the publication at the time. Writing for The New York Times Book Review, David Murray said “While his story is fascinating, the method of telling it in "Rogue Warrior," written with John Weisman, a freelance writer who specializes in espionage and military nonfiction, is not. Mr. Marcinko, 51 years old, comes across as less the genuine warrior than a comic-book superhero who makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Little Lord Fauntleroy.” (The New York Times Book Review, 1992). Naturally, this quote was chopped up and plastered on the front cover as though it were praise. Too bad Bethesda weren’t able to do the same for the video game.
Rogue Warrior was built within Rebellion’s in-house Asura engine, the same engine used to develop their Sniper Elite franchise, so it should be more than appropriate for Rogue Warrior. Mysteriously, though, Rogue Warrior refuses to run for more than an hour on my PC. Once an hour passes, the program shuts down. The game is only 2 hours long so it isn’t a huge problem, but there are other things I had to resolve. Rogue Warrior doesn’t natively lock the mouse to the window and it has horrible screen tearing throughout most of the levels. Also, the default controls put grenade on the right mouse button and aim on the space bar like some kind of maniac. And the menus aren’t mouse navigable, you have to use the arrow keys and enter which is mostly an annoyance. There isn’t a means to fix the menus, but everything else can be resolved if for some reason you also want to put yourself through this. Firstly, the game seems to have fewer issues when running in Windows Vista (Service Pack 2) compatibility mode. I do not understand why, but doing this prevented some of the hitching I was encountering early on and seemed to prevent a majority of the crashes. Next, there’s a file floating around in the Steam community section that’s part of an unwrapper called WineD3D. Putting both the D3D9 and WINED3D files in the game directory stopped my mouse from leaving the game window and resolved the last few crashing instances compatibility mode didn’t catch. I don’t fully understand all of this, and those older Sniper Elite games work just fine, so maybe Rebellion don’t care about making Rogue Warrior functional today. And honestly, fair call, they probably shouldn’t care for their own sake. With that done, though, we can finally play the game.
Rogue Warrior is listed as a tactical shooter online, which is to say that it moves at a snail’s pace and there might be some kind of stealth section now and again. The stealth doesn’t actually work; so long as you don’t sprint or shoot and you’re outside of the enemy’s field of vision the game considers you to be in stealth. I think there are two or three total sections of a level where the player might get a whiff of stealth gameplay, but this game does not compare to the likes of Splinter Cell at all. The player can just walk right up behind an enemy and press the kill move button at their leisure. If I can compare what the gameplay is actually like, in most aspects Rogue Warrior is eerily similar to Shadow Ops: Red Mercury. The gunplay is basic, with next to no recoil, bullet-spread, or screen effects other than the tearing. A headshot kills an enemy in one hit, and hip-firing is pinpoint accurate so even the highest difficulty level is a breeze. And the enemy scripting does nothing to make shooting them interesting. It seems like every enemy encounter is a mini set-piece event, where the enemies are spawned by the player crossing a trigger point, then they run to their specified cover point, and then they stand there and shoot at the player while occasionally dipping behind cover. It’s like one step removed from a Kim Jung Il whack-a-mole machine. There are a bunch of different guns to try out, though, so there’s a little replayability built in through that. And replayability was absolutely on Rebellion’s mind when they shipped Rogue Warrior. The Steam achievements are all things that can’t be done on a single playthrough as a desperate attempt to drag out the run time somehow. In order to complete the single player achievement list, the player needs to kill 180 enemies in different ways and there are nowhere near 180 enemies in the game. Something that also blew me away after my first playthrough was the lack of a turret section! These games always have a turret section. They were really hoping walking and shooting were all people wanted. Or maybe they were hoping people would just be so astonished by the game’s middling presentation that they wouldn’t notice how bare the gameplay is.
This game is very grey, but I doubt you needed me to tell you that. There could have easily been more green in the palette since these places aren’t as far north as they might seem. Rason, formerly known as Unggi, is as close to the equator as San Francisco, so it isn’t some frozen wasteland. Most of the game takes place in these semi-industrial areas which means a lot of sheet metal walls, workshops, chain link fences, and big pipes. There isn’t an awful lot of variety throughout the environments, and even the Russian palace level quickly transforms into more pipe-lined concrete corridors. The character models are fine for 2009, Marcinko’s mouth looks a little off and the animations are jerky and robotic. I think putting Rogue Warrior next to Uncharted 2, which was also released in 2009, shows what I’m talking about. The Rogue Warrior animations almost feel like stock animations, they’re so lifeless and flat. Even the kill move special animations have no punch. The soundwork isn’t even good. It sounds like nothing, and then Mickey Rourke says a Marcinkoism. Mickey Rourke might actually be the best part of Rogue Warrior - just his voice. The things he has to say are very stupid, and there are some line reads that don’t seem correct, but his gravelly rumble is fun to listen to at least. The only notable piece of music in this project is basically just a drum beat with the Rourke lines arranged over it, which is funny, but it's competing with that “wrap ‘em around your mouth” line.
Rogue Warrior definitely goes all-in on the stupidity but whether it was a conscious decision or not is hard to say for sure. The plot isn’t just poorly conceived, it’s idiotic and kind of despicable. After his voiceless buddies are killed in the intro, Marcinko makes his way through Unggi to try and meet with the CIA informant alone. He’s too slow to save the informant from being killed by a North Korean officer, but manages to piece together the location of the missile factory from notes left in the apartment. His commander again orders him to retreat, an order Marcinko ignores, choosing to head to the factory alone. Upon making it there and after fighting through waves of North Korean soldiers, Marcinko learns that the missiles have almost all been completed, and that they’re being transported to Russia on a train. Marcinko then travels to the loading facility, where he fights through scores more soldiers before diving onto the train. His commander then tells him to keep a low profile, as if that is at all possible after the massacres left in his wake. The train changes hands as it crosses the Russian border bridge. The bridge is rubble shortly thereafter as Marcinko steals a Russian military vehicle and heads to an old palace where the missile silos are being kept. Beneath the palace is a large control room with a display that coincidentally shows a representation of the Soviet Missile Defence system which is basically a targeting computer that allows the Russians to shoot incoming missiles out of the sky. Marcinko decides that the only solution to this is to destroy the palace by retargeting the missiles to hit the building he is standing inside. Not only is he somehow capable of operating a Soviet computer, but the computer is also able to target inter-continental missiles accurately enough to destroy a single building. Marcinko’s plan for surviving the missile strike is to wait in the bunker below the palace. His CO rightfully calls this plan insane. And it is. Nothing about this should work, especially since the missiles are supposed to be a defence system, and the control facility is on the eastern coast but all the diagrams are firing across the Atlantic. Moscow and St Petersburg are over 9000 kilometres away from where Marcinko is standing, so why would that be the operation centre of the Soviet Missile Defence system? Naturally, this totally nonsense plan works without a hitch and Marcinko is off to the next place. I do think it bears repeating, the Cold War wasn’t an actual war. The Americans and the Russians weren’t happy with each other, sure, but they weren’t formally in conflict. Marcinko is just killing people and blowing up buildings and bridges on a whim and against direct orders from his commanding officer. Rogue Warrior concludes at a hydro-electric dam that has been fitted to also be a dry-dock for submarines. The Russians are in the process of fitting an anti-ballistic missile system to the submarine docked there and that apparently warrants destroying the dry-dock and the dam. The sub base is by far the worst level in the game for variety, but once the player manages to slog through it they are finally released from this horrendous experience.
I think it’s very easy to point the blame of Rogue Warrior’s badness at Richard Marcinko - and while his contribution informs the specifics of the game - Bethesda were the reason the game exists at all. Rogue Warrior wasn’t being developed by a team who actually wanted to make a Dick Marcinko adaptation; Bethesda contracted Zombie Studios to make the game, decided they didn’t like what Zombie had made, and moved the project over to Rebellion Developments who squeezed the final release out in under a year. Rogue Warrior’s inception likely happened in a boardroom as a bunch of Bethesda executives pawed over some Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell numbers. Nobody actually wanted a Rogue Warrior video game, a bunch of company higher-ups decided it should exist so the company could win some more capitalism tokens - which is no way to make art. Since nobody actually wanted to make the game, is it any wonder that it ended up as one of the most critically panned video game products ever made? Did the Bethesda exec who scrapped the Zombie Studios project really think Rebellion’s game was going to print money? It might seem cynical to suggest this, but I genuinely cannot think of any other reason for Rogue Warrior’s existence.
From the minds of Bethesda’s opportunistic producers, the team at Rebellion who likely wanted nothing to do with the project, and the world’s most insecure, bloodthirsty radio host, Rogue Warrior is a pallid, pitiful, chauvinistic, cretinous, inane display, desperate to be perceived as cool and aspirational, a desperation so visible that everyone instinctively knows it is okay to bully the people responsible for it. How anyone could have looked at the Tom Clancy franchise enviably was already confusing to me, but for Bethesda to attempt to capture that audience by willingly associating with Richard Marcinko? Did they really expect more? Marcinko was a deeply stupid man, a murderous monster who could only fail upward for his entire life. He was sort of involved in the writing of a bunch of books about how much of a badass he was. I don’t think there is a more potent way to signal how extremely insecure you are. This man was pathetic. This game is a joke. I’m so happy I don’t have to think about it anymore.
Is it “fief” or “fife”?
The following is a transcript of a video review which can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/q6LZOTV2ebk
Whenever I think critically about video games I tend to focus on the aspects that would be considered artistic, and not so much on the elements that make them products. I’ve spent hours upon hours thinking, writing, and talking about games from that perspective. How the misery of There Is No Light is too nihilistic for a discernible moral to shine through, how Pagan: Autogeny explores the experiences of a real person’s life, metaphorically and literally, or how Ace Team uses hurried traversal of their game world to elicit a powerful emotional response from the player. These parts of games are the things that I focus most of my attention on because the artistic side of the medium is the side I find most interesting. There are those who might be more concerned with a game’s qualities as an item for sale: how it was priced, whether it was effectively marketed, the opportunity to earn money from playing the game, that sort of thing. I have never found myself interested in that side of games. I’ve never looked at a Metacritic score prior to wishlisting a game on Steam. In most cases, if I think the game has any potential to be cool at all, I won’t look at reviews until I’ve finished my own playthrough. I’ve never been upset about a dollar per hour ratio, and, since I’m privileged enough to be able to, I often avoid buying games when they’re on sale in order to ensure the developer gets the proper financial compensation for their work. But sometimes, particularly when considering multiplayer games, the art fades away. Some games are just products to me, and if I spend any time thinking about the game, I often focus on the psychology behind the different mechanics present, or trying to solidify an understanding of the nuances within the game’s balance. Is this game merely a cynical Skinner box designed to capture people so the publisher can continue to sell those people things as captive consumers? Or has a technical savant created something so widely fascinating that people are genuinely inspired to try to become the number one ranked player? I don’t think these are bad questions, and I’m sure those more value-minded people out there really appreciate a game when it adheres to their idea of good design. Now, I’m not a psychologist, but I feel like I’m honest with myself about what my motivations are and I can at least provide my perspective on a game that I view only as a product. I don’t think the way I think about games is the same as the average person, so the things that I find compelling or not are likely to be different from the things you are compelled by. What I can say, though, is that many of the games that people commonly spend years of their lives playing have dug their claws into me at one point or another. I’ve played a fair amount of Runescape, a ridiculous amount of Minecraft, likely a couple hundred hours of League of Legends, and don’t ask how much time I spent playing World of Warcraft. I know what it's like to be drawn into a game long term, and it happened to me again recently.
In this video, I want to talk about Rust. I want to figure out how I spent over 300 hours in the game without noticing. I want to know why people who aren’t particularly good at the game keep coming back. I want to know why being killed in Rust makes people so angry. And I want to find a way to stop myself from logging back in. This is going to involve a fair amount of explaining before the examination and review begins due to Rust’s surprising breadth and depth of content. There are a lot of different systems at play here so I think it’d be best to lay it all out first before picking anything apart.
Rust is a first-person survival multiplayer game in which players are washed ashore on a strange island populated with Soviet-era Russian structures, hurriedly abandoned a long time ago. With no guidance besides their hunger, thirst, and health bar, players are left to their own devices on the island. Will they work with others to achieve peace and comfort, or ruthlessly murder everyone they come across for fear of losing what little they have? Upon opening the game the player is shown a list of servers to choose from, each with its own rules and game settings controlled either by Rust’s developers, Facepunch Studios, or an unaffiliated server operator. The most common variations in game settings are island size, frequency of server “wipes”, and item gather rate. (I’m going to pretend the two hand-made maps don’t exist for the purposes of this video, I know they do, but I’ve never played on either of them so they may as well not.) The procedural island is generated upon server start - similar to a Minecraft world - though the biggest islands will not fill a map larger than 20 square kilometres. That grid will then be split into three climates, before the “monuments” are scattered across the island. Particular monuments may only appear in certain climates, so for example, the Abandoned Military Base will always be placed in the desert region, while the Arctic Research Base will always be in the tundra region. “Monument” is the name given to the game’s prefab structures in which players can find loot, as well as various amenities, shops, and even NPC enemies which differ depending on the structure. Most servers operate on a weekly “wipe cycle”, where once a week the server is totally reset, all player items and structures are removed and a new island is generated. There are servers which wait longer between wipes, but Facepunch do recommend a monthly cycle at most in order to implement whatever new content has been added to the game. In most cases, a server wipe triggers a massive rush of population, as many vie for control of particular monuments or look to become the most feared player by the end of the night. Some players treat this phase like a battle royale gamemode, gathering as much high tier gear as possible so that they might get as many player kills as they can before they lose it all and move on to the next server. Others look to establish a base location quickly so as to protect whatever they can gather from monuments and the wilds. In either case, there is no end goal built into the game. Players set their own objectives and decide whether they achieved them or not when the server next resets. Rust’s lack of a proper objective isn’t uncommon among survival games, and the developers are quite open about the game beginning life as a DayZ copycat - a game which also lacks a meaningful endpoint. This lack of focus does sometimes make Rust seem like a collection of mechanics instead of a structured experience. While it is possible to enter a server without a formalised plan and have an enjoyable play session, without setting a target to hit I’ve found it very easy to simply spin my wheels for hours and never actually achieve anything. It’s as if Facepunch launched a tool and hoped the players would figure out how best to use it, which is exactly what the studio’s first released game was too.
Facepunch Studios might be a company that many of you are already familiar with. The company was founded in England in 2004 by a man named Garry Newman. Newman’s initial motivation for starting Facepunch was to formalise development on a game called Facewound. Facewound was a 2D platformer game in which the player, armed with a variety of firearms, battled swarms of monsters as they made their way through the game’s levels. Facewound was made available to users of Facepunch’s official forum and user suggestions were to be implemented into the game as development continued. Instead, however, Facewound was quickly put on the backburner as Newman’s side project took over the studio’s focus. The first iteration of Garry’s Mod was released in December of 2004, and throughout the next year, the Half-Life 2 mod would become exceedingly popular. The mod was basically a Half-Life sandbox at release, allowing players to create their own levels or game modes using Valve’s assets, and then sharing them easily. After talks with Valve throughout 2006, Facepunch would work to make Garry’s Mod a standalone title that could be sold among Steam’s first products. Garry’s Mod quickly became one of Steam’s most popular games, and even now, almost 20 years after the original mod’s release, Garry’s Mod still sits comfortably within Steam’s 50 most active games. Facepunch maintained Garry’s Mod solely between 2006 and 2011 before deciding to split their attention. Facepunch staff were dissatisfied with certain aspects of DayZ, a popular zombie apocalypse survival mod for military simulator Arma 2, and figured they could make some vital improvements. In 2013, the first publicly available iteration of Rust was released into early access, followed by just less than 5 years of further development before officially releasing in February of 2018. Rust has been a tremendous success, selling over 12 million units by January 2021, and it too continues to hold a comfortable position among Steam’s most popular games. Facepunch’s prosperity has been no accident, and I think their continued operation considering their origin is extremely commendable, but, y’know… Their two biggest projects are a sandbox mod of another game, and a standalone clone of another mod… that differs by including elements from Minecraft… the most popular game of all time. These guys aren’t exactly a fount of artistic vision, but they are masters of betting on the right horse. Rust still receives monthly content updates now, including new monuments, items, skins, toys, mechanical changes, and even an entire electrical wiring and piping system at no additional cost. This kind of content model is very generous considering the game’s lack of gratification systems that any other studio would be cramming in if they could, and I respect Facepunch a lot for it. But, Rust doesn’t exist as a reflection of the other games around it, it’s much too deep for that to be a reasonable assessment of the game, particularly in regards to the complexity within its mechanics.
Rust has three main modes of play, with a variety of tierings and different game phases for players to progress through while they play. There’s the initial establishment phase, followed by the refining phase, which then leads into the end-game phase. These phases aren’t concrete, and play will often bleed from one to the other depending on the circumstance. Upon first entering a server, players will need to find some food, water, clothing, and weaponry in order to stay alive for any length of time. Wild animals, scientists, and other players are a present danger which will quickly send the player back to the beach if they aren’t prepared. If the initial migration inland goes well, a typical player will look to establish a base of operations in a location convenient to their preferences. For me, this usually involves being near the Sewer Branch monument, but others might prefer proximity to a safe zone, a higher tier monument, or attempting to find as isolated a location as possible. In any case, once a base is established and fortified with stone, most players transition into the refining phase. At this stage, players will want to progress through technologies as quickly as possible in an attempt to get an edge on each other, as well as earn access to the higher tier monuments and even take on Rust’s boss battles. To move through the tech trees, players must spend a resource called Scrap at a workbench. Scrap is found in barrels, crates, and toolboxes which are present in junk piles on the side of the road, as well as the various monuments throughout the island. Many of the items found in those containers can also be recycled for additional Scrap. This causes roads and monuments to become natural hotspots for player activity, and wherever players are, fighting is bound to ensue. It’s at this point most people notice that other players are usually reliable sources of weapons and Scrap, and that it's a good idea to keep track of players who seem to be relatively wealthy. Once the player has their preferred weapons and armour ready, it's time to shift into the end-game phase. The goal of end-game Rust is hoarding, really. Defeating the attack helicopter boss rewards weapons and armour the player likely already had access to from clearing high tier monuments, essentially making most PVE content redundant. Instead, the target shifts to other players’ bases. Of course, there are options for raiding bases in the earlier modes of play, but it isn’t until the end-game when it truly becomes the most potent. Rockets, timed explosives, and explosive ammunition can quickly tear through a base, but there are options for fortification to counteract their effectiveness. This is usually where most wipes end. The island is essentially conquered and most players are ready for the reset, hungry to be the one who does the conquering next time. I find the establishment phase and the refining phase to be the most interesting, but the end-game is very disappointing. That first handful of runs inland from the beach can be thrilling, escaping the chaos of a literal battlefield as naked people throw wooden spears and discarded kayak paddles at each other. Then, the process of gathering materials to build into a base is just as tense, and the adrenaline doesn’t properly die down until there’s a sheet metal door between me and the outside world. From then, things transition into a stealth game, as scouring the shelves in an abandoned fuel station turns to creeping around in the dark tunnels below the dilapidated power plant, hoping the guy with the semi-automatic rifle above didn’t hear those footsteps below him. Those first few hours of a new map are unlike anything else, and I can totally understand the urge to keep chasing that rush. But once things turn to raiding other players, the momentum almost vanishes completely. I’ll talk more about the meta and playstyles later on, but for now know that most bases worth raiding have been built specifically to be expensive to open and often feature a shooting floor that gives defenders such a pronounced advantage that even passers-by are at risk of taking a bullet to the head. Most times the effort it takes to get inside of another player’s base isn’t worth the expense, and all of that gunpowder would’ve been better used on an oil rig or something else.
In order to qualify itself as a survival game, Rust features a wide array of different survival mechanics that the player must manage while exploring the world. Not only do players need to eat and drink, they also need to consider their body temperature, how much noise they’re making, how far from safety they are, and who could be nearby. Some of these aspects can be neglected here and there depending on player skill and overall server population, but things like starvation, dehydration, and hypothermia are present no matter how many other players are in the vicinity. There are aspects of these health related mechanics that I like, and some design choices I find confusing. Firstly, food and water are both methods of regaining lost health in small quantities. Swallowing an entire raw pumpkin not only pushes the hunger timer back a fair way, but the player also receives a decent quantity of hydration from it, and it will heal a little over time too. Rust features a lot of options for food that may be too easy to collect. Wild animals can be hunted and harvested for food, most monuments contain or are surrounded by food crates, riverbanks periodically generate a bunch of ripe pumpkin and corn plants to harvest, and there are plenty of berries and mushrooms to gather from the forest floor. You can even fish or eat cactus if you want. Starvation is almost never a concern, and while that does sound like the mechanic is wasted, I don’t think making food more important would amount to more interesting gameplay. It’d be extremely irritating to get hungry mid-battle and start starving to death so I can understand why the mechanic has been minimised, but if it's being minimised to the point of barely mattering it may as well not be in the game at all. Dehydration is handled even worse and its continued inclusion is just as worthless. Players can find old bottled water in the same food crates around monuments, they can also drink river and lake water directly, without boiling it first, and there are a range of rain catchers and water purifiers the player can use to collect water to drink as well. Hydration depletes much slower than hunger, and many foods also replenish some quantity of hydration too, making it so the player almost never has to drink water at all. Eating raw meat or rolling the dice on a jar of pickles can cause the player to vomit, drastically reducing their hydration levels, but a quick trip to a nearby river or monument will basically remedy this concern entirely. And, not only does this mechanic barely impact the player normally, even if the player is starving or dehydrated, they can still regain missing health by wrapping a bandage around their arm, negating the damage being dealt by one of these bars being too low.
In contrast to these non-systems, I think the way body temperature is implemented is fantastic. The island is split into three climates that each have different day time and night time temperatures, and each climate reacts differently when the weather changes. The temperate climate is the least extreme, with comfortable day temperatures and night temperatures that aren’t life-threatening to a clothless person. The desert climate gradually increases in temperature throughout the day, eventually becoming hot enough to be hazardous if the player doesn’t take cover from the sun. Then as night falls, the temperature plummets to dangerous lows which could potentially cause hypothermia if the player is unprepared. The tundra region is cold all day, but it becomes extremely perilous in the night, which definitely caught me off-guard the first time I got stuck outside in a frozen monument. And on top of that, the cold can be worsened by wetness. Getting rained on, stomping through a river, or taking a swim in the ocean will cause the player and their clothes to become wet, which makes the cold much more lethal. There aren’t ways to towel off, instead players need to find or make a source of warmth or change clothes for a bit and wait to dry out, so getting wet can be troublesome if it happens at an inopportune time. Fortunately, rain doesn’t fall in the desert and the snowfall in the tundra doesn’t wet the player as thoroughly as the rain does, but the temperature gets even lower during a snowstorm. This stuff is excellent, and it does a lot to make the island as much a threat as anything living on it. Plus the pronounced climates keep figuring out a good location to set up home fresh with each new map. The rain can also be used to mask the sounds of footsteps, which is as much a pro as it is a con. An average sized island takes a considerable amount of time to run across, usually around 20 minutes without any diversions or distractions, with many hills and forests to block line of sight as the player runs. Because of those hills and forests, players are much more likely to hear each other at a distance compared to the likelihood of being seen. Gunshots and explosions carry a long way, and it isn’t uncommon for the sounds of war to drift over to you while crafting items in base. It’s incredible how well the spatial sound systems work, it even makes the darkest spaces navigable without a light. And sometimes, sitting silent in a pitch black cave is the best move.
Alongside those three modes of play I talked about earlier, there are other ways progression in Rust can be separated into different levels. Technological stages, monument stages, and structural stages are all progressed through independently, which is quite overwhelming to newcomers. The first technological stage is often referred to as the “primitive stage”, where players are equipped with spears and bows, as well as whatever they can scavenge from toolboxes on the roadside. This is also the only technological stage where melee weapons are remotely viable, since bows are generally very slow to fire, inaccurate, and they aren’t likely to kill a player in fewer than three hits. Primitive equipment doesn’t stick around for too long but players sometimes deliberately bully others in order to keep them at the primitive stage - colloquially called a “primlock”. As the quality of armour increases, each arrow’s potential damage reduces dramatically, which makes overcoming a primlock revolve more around surprising the enemy with the infamous eoka pistol or scurrying away unnoticed to try and regain some momentum elsewhere. While rare, low tier guns can be found in junkpiles, though they aren’t useful for very long. Considering how inaccurate it is, the revolver’s pitiful damage output only slightly out-performs a crossbow. I spoke with players who would rather the crossbow over the revolver, and considering the expense of crafting bullets at this stage of the game, I think I agree with them. Of course, you’d take the revolver over nothing, but the real prize of the primitive stage are the shotguns. There’s no greater trump card than pulling out a double-barrel and blasting someone away. I’d argue that this is where the primitive stage ends and tier 1 begins, though that line is blurry. Tier 1 is primarily defined by clothing and trying to quickly grind up enough Scrap to craft the next workbench. Monuments come in four tiers themselves, where the required keycards to clear every room denotes which tier it sits within. I think the number of different tier zero monuments is great, and there being multiple of each on the map helps mitigate the relatively slow repopulation time of the loot within, most important of which is the green keycard. NPC scientists can also drop green keycards, but progression then gets into a bit of a bottleneck. Tier one monuments require a green keycard in order to clear every room. There are three tier one monuments, and only the harbour can appear more than once on each island. At least, it could. The Ferry Terminal was added while I was writing this video, and I think it takes over a spot from the Harbour, but I’m unsure. Checking the official servers was inconclusive since the maps are usually gigantic. That being said, the Ferry Terminal doesn’t have a green card room so smaller maps are even more bottlenecked than they were before. Moreover, the rooms accessed via the green keycard at both the Harbour and the Satellite Dish monuments are laughable. Two brown crates at most. This is why I live by the Sewer Branch, green cards are easy to get and the loot is leagues better. The player may also expect to find a blue keycard in these loot rooms, granting access to tier two monuments.
Tier 2 gear is not required to clear tier two monuments, but, due to the higher distribution of green military crates, it is more likely to find tier 2 gear within a tier two monument. Strangely, there are five total monuments within this tier, though the Trainyard only generates if the island is able to generate a rail network. Despite this, there are still four other monuments that are each bursting with loot that are consistently present on every map. This is also where we run into another of Rust’s odd colloquial language curios: the liberal application of the word ‘puzzle’. Tier two monuments will usually require at least one electrical fuse to activate the blue keycard swipe panel. For some reason, this is commonly referred to as a puzzle or a keycard puzzle. I don’t know why. In the Power Plant specifically, players must first activate a switch on one side of the monument, before heading to the other side to activate two more switches, thus allowing them to swipe their green keycard and enter the central building. Is this a puzzle? At the Water Treatment Plant, players may either turn a wheel to manually open a large door, or swipe a green keycard to enter the central building to access the fuse box, replace the fuse, and then travel over to a separate building where the blue keycard is swiped to enter the final room. Is this a puzzle? Similarly, within the Water Treatment Plant monument, crates will occasionally spawn atop a tall metal water tank. The original ladder leading to the top of the tank is broken, so players must climb the pipes sticking out of the sides of the tank to reach the top. This is casually referred to as a jumping puzzle and I have to ask, is that even a thing? They’re just platforming segments, right? Or are platformers “jumping puzzlers” and I’ve been misled this entire time? And the Arctic Research Base is also strange! Putting aside the word “Arctic” in the name, the ‘puzzle’ here involves nothing more than swiping a blue keycard to get into the room that has all of the loot inside. I don’t get it. Tier 2 is where most players really start fighting each other. The Semi-Automatic Rifle and the Thompson are Rust’s workhorse weapons, though they come strangely late into the tech tree if the player has to research their way through. There is an easily accessible way to skip straight to these guns, provided the player can get their hands on one, but if they can’t then it’ll cost a fair chunk of Scrap. Better hope those monuments turn up something quickly.
After tier two, there are tier three monuments, and tier four monuments or the event monuments. In order to completely clear a tier three monument, the player will need a red keycard and some formidable equipment. The Launch Site, Missile Silo, Underwater Lab, and Military Tunnels are crawling with scientist enemies and feature some of the highest levels of radiation in the game. Launch Site’s rocket factory is so heavily irradiated that even the hazmat suit with its 50% radiation protection is not enough to protect you, and it makes me wonder how the scientists are able to hang out there all day. Unfortunately, the rewards for braving these monuments are often not substantial enough to justify the risk. They each contain at least one elite level crate which has an unreasonably wide variance in quality. Elite crates can contain end game, tier 3 weapons and armour, as well as tier zero nail guns, crossbows, and revolvers. You could fight your way through all 28 scientists patrolling the Missile Silo, many of whom are armed with shotguns in an enclosed space, and your only rewards are a longsword, some electrical components, a hazmat suit, and a tier 2 pistol. When people go to these monuments, they tend to go for the amenities or to kill scientists for medical syringes and ammo. I can’t think of a good reason why the elite crates have this level of variance, and it kind of kills these cool, dungeon-like experiences which are totally unique within Rust. This is especially irritating in regards to the Launch Site. The structure is gigantic, it dominates smaller islands, and it radiates… er, radiation, forcing under-equipped players to walk the long way whenever they pass by. If it's loot you’re after, the best bet is to head to one of the tier four event monuments instead. These are often highly contested due to the quality of items available, and they all have a built-in timer to facilitate counter attempts, plus everyone on the server will be notified whenever they reactivate. The two oil rigs present a pretty devious conundrum. Since they’re isolated offshore, players need a strategy to get onto the rig, deal with the patrolling scientists and any players already there, and then protect the rig from other players trying to get on themselves. There’s also the climate to consider, whether the cargo ship is approaching, what’s the plan for fighting the heavily armoured scientists. And the crate isn’t secured when the timer hits zero, you still have to make it home to bank the goods. On the oil rigs and cargo ship, this gameplay style of protecting the objective works very well and I found it to result in a lot of exciting gameplay. When the chinook drops a crate onto the airfield or a supply drop shows up, the experience is less positive. Timed crates on the water are almost like a separate game, timed crates on land are just a stupid lottery. People start crawling out of the woodwork to kill you over an airdrop. Hell, one time I paddled my kayak to an airdrop that people were fighting over, and I killed the winner of the fight by smacking him with my paddle. It’s ridiculous.
The gunplay in Rust is super solid. I really like the recoil and screen effects when firing, and the sound design is generally tremendous, notably the sounds of the semi-auto rifle. I enjoy clicking on people, and the headshot sound is supremely satisfying. Even the bullet spread is cool. The more cobbled together a gun is, the less accurate the player should expect it to be which does a lot to sell the fantasy. The guns are made from rusted old road signs and discarded water piping, they should be kind of shitty. These things aside, most combat encounters in Rust are going to be extremely short and ultimately, kind of mediocre. The time-to-kill is extremely fast in this game, even with the highest quality armour equipped, and due to the abundance of walls, hills, trees, and rock faces, one player will almost always get the drop on their opponent and kill them before they can properly fight back. The vast majority of my deaths were dealt to me by somebody I never saw, and I’m sure a large proportion of the players I’ve killed didn’t see me either. Sometimes it feels like players have an innate ability to only notice you when you make a break across a large open space, or manage to whip around a corner when you’re otherwise preoccupied. Very, very suddenly all of the gear you had on you and all of the items in your inventory are now in the possession of someone else who may as well have materialised just out of sight. If you’re far away from your base, you might never see them again, and your stuff is gone for good. The speed at which a fight can end combined with the time it takes to rearm tends to lead new players into one of two diametrically opposed mentalities, both of which must be overcome in order for players to improve at the game at all. The first is often referred to as “gear-fear”; the player becomes so risk-averse that they avoid other players entirely, never clear monuments, and, in more extreme cases, never venture too far from their base for fear of dying. This style of play is not only ineffective, but it also brings into question whether Rust is a game this person should be playing at all. Sure, it sucks to lose all your stuff to someone who won’t even type “GG” into the chat after they kill you in cold blood, but tier zero equipment and a wooden door aren’t going to keep you safe for long. The other mentality is equally unproductive: becoming so detached from gear that you don’t even care about losing it. Players like this are completely relentless in totally fruitless ways. Everything gained is something lost moments later when an obviously doomed attack doesn’t work out. Every death is a trip back to the beach. Before long, the more patient players will be armed well enough to be able to swat you away, and the victories will cease entirely. From the outside, the failings of each of these play styles seems fairly blatant, and yet players will return wipe after wipe to do exactly the same thing they did before. The ideal is to sit somewhere between these extremes, taking calculated risks and learning to walk away from a challenge that comes at a bad time. Once a player has overcome these ineffective strategies they can move on to investing more time into learning the gunplay, and then the macro-game decision making will also develop alongside it. That is, if you don’t get sick of the other people playing the game first.
I’m going to start this segment with a bit of a proviso. I live in Australia and I played on Australian servers. The community I experienced might be vastly different from whatever the game is like to play in other regions, but I think the psychology is going to be roughly the same. I was also planning to use Rust’s handy “streamer mode” feature to protect the identities of people typing in the chat, but I don’t think they deserve that luxury, really. I haven’t seen this level of vile shit in a chat box in years and if you are sensitive to racism, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism, or just generally disgusting language then I’d encourage you to stay far, far away from this game. Rust has an unusual method of assigning a character model to the player instead of allowing them to select whichever they like. The character parameters are derived from the user’s Steam profile, likely to bring some diversity to the game so it isn’t all just white dudes running around. My character is a bald, dark skinned woman with a sharp nose and soft cheekbones, her name is Shantae. When playing as Shantae, some people will use a specific slur when referring to me in game, which is frankly revolting. Putting proximity based voice chat into a game like this was genius until these guys showed up, and Facepunch are well aware of this problem, though they prefer to lampshade it instead of doing anything about it. Moreover, most messages sent in text chat are just people angrily hammering at their keyboard after losing their rock to someone with a pump action shotgun. People get irrationally angry when killed while naked, typing up a storm until half of the server is telling them to log off. There are plenty of good reasons to kill a naked player, and the killed player has likely died in the best way possible - they lost nothing. But that doesn’t stop them. This does leave less ruthless players in the lurch: kill a naked player and potentially have them badger you for an indeterminate amount of time, or take the risk and let them live, hoping they aren’t secretly carrying a weapon and making some kind of deceitful play. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And people play underhandedly all the time. They’ll beg for items they don’t need in order to ambush their victims, they’ll lure players away from safe zones when making trades so they can just steal the items, they’ll run around outside of a base and then silently walk back to the door to try and trick people into thinking they’ve left. One time, a player with a helicopter offered to perform a backflip with me on board, but instead they just crushed my character against a catwalk, killing me and leaving my body fully inaccessible, all the while dispensing some sage-like wisdom about how you shouldn’t trust people in Rust. Okay? I expected we’d do something fun in this multiplayer video game together and instead you voided all of my items for no reason. And it isn’t like there’s some kind of asshole mandate in place. At least with things like door-camping there’s a clear benefit. Likely the second most reviled activity a player can engage in, door-camping is the simple act of standing outside of someone’s door in hopes of ambushing them. It’s considered bad manners, and while I agree, I don’t think it’s as bad as people make it seem. Door-camping only really works if the base is vulnerable to it, which is a failure of base design more than anything else. Putting a window by your external doors, making a second exit, building a tower so you can see all possible hiding places from which you might be ambushed upon leaving - all methods of keeping door-campers at bay. Although, you should be careful with that last one. By far the quickest way to earn a negative reputation on a server is by “roof-camping”. In some cases, even the presence of a high shooting floor atop your base will earn ire from the neighbours. Roof-camping utilises a couple of Rust’s quirks as a means to terrorise as many people as possible. Firstly, the high weapon damage leaves victims unaware of who’s shooting at them until it’s already too late. Then, a competently designed base gives the camping player their vantage to shoot from and protects them from counter-attacks with plentiful cover. Next, if the unlikely does happen and the camper is killed, they’ll respawn within the same base and quickly reclaim their items, denying anyone who beats them in a firefight their trophies. And finally, indiscriminate targeting. Nobody knows who's carrying the bag, so everyone has to die. Compared to standard ground combat, the risk-reward of roof-camping is absurd. The strategy is regularly bemoaned as destroying the spirit of the game by poisoning the player versus player direct confrontation combat. But I don’t think it is. There are a lot of shady, dishonourable things going on in Rust all the time, and if there was some form of etiquette based fighting going on then it is long dead now. It’s almost like one of the game’s most fundamental components encourages people to build castles.
The tools for construction in Rust are simple and intuitive, and designing bases is an enjoyable process. There are some nuances that probably should be explained in a tutorial or something, but for the most part I think the system is a huge success. The player first needs to craft a building plan in order to place twig structures, and then the player needs the hammer tool to upgrade the twig into a more durable material. There are more than enough different shapes available to make a wide variety of buildings, though most people will aim for compactness. To prevent buildings from decaying and to stop other players from griefing the structure, the builder needs to put a Tool Cupboard inside and stock it with appropriate resources. This is a much better solution than the things I’ve seen on Minecraft servers, which is to be expected really. The resources required to prevent decay scale with the size of the building, discouraging solo players from building unnecessarily large fortresses unless they’re willing to spend a lot of time farming resources. Base desig ns do kind of homogenise within these restrictions, but there are plenty of opportunities for freestyling depending on the topography of the base’s location. Since the Tool Cupboard prevents outsiders from easily interfering with a base, it becomes the primary target when raiding and base designs should prioritise protecting it as effectively as possible. One of the most standard methods for doing this is to build additional foundations and walls on the exterior of the structure to increase the cost of raiding the base - charmingly referred to as ‘honeycomb’. Wood and stone are relatively easy to collect in large quantities so adding an entire layer of honeycomb protection takes very little investment. It is so cheap to do this that people will be adding honeycomb to their base before anyone has any explosives, which is why so many raid attempts end in disappointment. The vast majority of players are protecting nothing of value within their 16-rocket-raid base. Nine times out of ten a raid will yield a few metal tools, a single broken gun, and there might be a tier 2 workbench in there if you’ve been good this year. When you see those videos with captions like “Most PROFITABLE Raid EVER?” or “You won’t BELIEVE what this base was hiding” they’re talking about an edge case that’s exciting because the raid wasn’t a waste of time. I’m not really sure how to resolve this; a functional base layout that is also an amusing puzzle for raiders can exist, but how anyone would incentivise that I have no idea. My personal base design stems from the idea of a bunker-style base. A standard bunker base will have a core room that contains the tool cupboard alongside the residents’ most prized items, but there won’t be a door to get inside. Instead, players will respawn on the sleeping bag inside if they ever need to access the bunker, and then suicide to respawn back outside when they’re finished. Doors are typically the most vulnerable part of a base - it only takes 4 beancan satchels to destroy a sheet metal door while the stone wall beside it takes 10 - so removing that vulnerability makes sense. My design features a central core that holds the tool cupboard, the core is then surrounded by a large open space to act as a buffer as well as the base proper. It’s modular for easy expansion too, which is handy. I even built a garage on the roof once to secure my horses inside. I’m not sure how effective this design is at deterring raiders since I’ve never been raided, so its utility in that scenario is unknown, but I think it's neat.
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve built this base, it was relatively late into my play time when I decided to design my own and Rust doesn’t keep track of how many different maps a player has joined. I don’t know how many total wipes I’ve played either, but I think I’ve seen more than enough to get a decent understanding of how the game functions. At over 300 hours there are going to be plenty of veterans who disagree with that assessment, but I think that’s more of a coping mechanism than it is derision from authority. Even on servers that advertise themselves as friendly to new players, there will be a handful of people with thousands of hours insisting that it isn’t possible to truly understand the game without a 4 digit play time, which isn’t true. The game isn’t that complex or nuanced, and there are hundreds of tutorial resources online that explain how everything that has complexity can be understood. This would be gatekeeping if it wasn’t so glaringly insecure. These people know they should probably stop playing Rust, but they won’t - or can’t. Rust’s most cunning piece of design is the wipe cycle. With each new map, players get another chance to be the one to come out on top or to prove that last time wasn’t just luck. Maybe the monuments are in a more favourable position this time, maybe your first spawn location gives you everything you could ever want, what if you are the one to pull the Thompson from a crate by the beach? It taps into the same mentality as gambling. Rust also includes roulette, blackjack, slot machines, and poker in game which isn’t inherently a bad thing, it’s just a funny coincidence. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil about Rust taking advantage of people’s proclivity to gamble, especially considering it doesn’t cost money to play each wipe. But it does imprison its community which is why it can feel like 2013 in here. People with Towelie the Towel profile pictures, calling things they dislike “gay”, a server plugin that mutes players if they type racist or homophobic slurs in the chat, but does nothing about ableist or anti semitic language. It’s just so antiquated and it’s kind of embarrassing. These guys are the juvenile “peaked in high school” type which I guess explains why they want to return to those intolerant times. That being said, this community is surprisingly tolerant of things that I don’t think they should be.
A while ago, I mentioned that Rust’s official release was in February of 2018, which had been preceded by a five year long early access period. Rust has been available to the public for almost a decade now, considered feature-complete for more than half of that time, and yet the game still isn’t finished. I don’t mean that in the sense that Facepunch keeps adding new content and making changes to old stuff to keep the game fresh, I mean that there are things in this game that most developers would be trying to patch out and fix up as quickly as they can. Player buildings not being rendered at a distance, minor pop-in when moving around at normal speeds that gets much worse at high speeds, basically everything else about horses too, junk piles and scattered resources spawning on top of each other, road and cliff generation creating holes in the terrain so players can crawl under the map, ore nodes clipping through the ground, projectiles disappearing when the player that fired them dies, most of the hitboxes, the roulette wheel, fighter jet pathing, scientist damage scaling, the inside of your own arms blocking your vision, and while I could keep listing things I think I’ll stop there. These guys have Valve on board, this game has had an average player count of around 80,000 players for the past two years straight, they’re selling new skins every month, but their patches fix things like in-game painting resolution and making sure harvested player skulls have the correct name attached to them. I can’t help but feel like the priorities are not set correctly. Many of the things being added in these patches are tiny changes to the presentation that feel like they belong in early access patch notes. Adding ammo box models for that fraction of a second where ammo is thrown onto the ground, meanwhile the guards in bandit camp have been floating a foot in the air for months. It’s a shame, really, because without the clipping and pop-in I think the game looks excellent. The topography mostly generates as rolling hills, with cliff faces being placed over the steeper slopes for extra depth. The ground texture is frequently broken by different types of grass and rocks poking out, as well as the many different bushes, shrubs, ferns, cacti, and wildflowers scattered around. I like the diversity of tree species as well as the variety within each species that makes forests feel surprisingly authentic. Similar to how all of the monuments and pylons fit into the landscape. It was rare to find a monument that looked as though the geography had to change significantly to accommodate it. I even found the different materials the player can build with to be successful. They’re very adaptable, and they usually look great in every climate, though the Adobe skins don’t suit the tundra particularly. It isn’t an especially stylish game, but visual clarity was important and I think Facepunch nailed that.
I obviously have mixed opinions on Rust. There’s a lot about the game that I respect: it’s overflowing with all sorts of things to do, there are challenges to overcome, mechanics to master, and you might even meet someone cool and have some funny moments together. Rust has potential to be a fun experience, but it almost never is. Progression can be painfully slow without a good deal of luck, and that luck can turn in an instant. Getting back on the ball takes a while too, so there’s always a lot of down-time. There are plenty of dead servers for new players to get to grips with the gunplay and plan out their progression, but eventually you have to transfer to a populated server which exposes you to the other people playing this game. Plans will be foiled, shots will be missed, gear will be lost, and you might get addicted to the pain. You can turn off the voice and text chat, but then why are you even playing a multiplayer game at that point? And the thing is riddled with technical problems that the developers don’t really seem interested in fixing. I don’t like this game, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Before I wrap this thing up, I have a few other things I wanted to mention but I couldn’t really figure out where they should go. Alongside the horses, kayaks, motorboats, and helicopters I’ve mentioned previously, there are a bunch of other modes of transportation available in Rust. Players will often find functional car chassis, hot air balloons, miniature submarines, and soon a much larger boat that apparently has a room that can be used as a mobile base. I think it’s fun to have a lot of these in the game, but some of them are so niche that I’ve never used them. I also can’t imagine anyone was really asking for them either. The cars seem the most applicable to normal play, but they require so much maintenance. There are a few different chassis styles as well as a load of different vehicle parts so Facepunch clearly sank a significant amount of resources into them, but the cars just aren’t that useful. They’re subject to the terrain, they eat up a lot of fuel, they’re noisy, and they often break from normal use. It’s a similar story with the hot air balloons. Wind and air currents are not present in any meaningful way at any other point within Rust gameplay, they exist solely to facilitate hot air balloon use. I don’t think Facepunch spent years and years perfecting their air current mechanic, but they did spend time on a feature that isn’t at all useful and would’ve been better left in the concept stage. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the absurdity that is the presence of a slow moving mode of transport that’s highly vulnerable to projectiles in a game about shooting each other with guns so we’ll move on. The aquatic vehicles make a lot more sense to me. Being able to live in a boat and drive around the island sounds like it could be fun, provided the boat is indestructible or something though. There’s quite a lot to do on the water already so more boats seem like a natural addition. And with more players on the water, the usefulness of a submarine naturally increases so I think their inclusion is a good idea. I also really like the DIY look of the submarines, even if they’d probably be lethal to operate. Trains are also present on the island, above and below ground. They control intuitively, and you can leave the throttle on without having to stay within the cab. The underground rail network is the home of the tunnel dwellers who guard loot in their underground stations in similar quantities to most monuments. I was frequently the only person in the tunnels, and I managed to use them to gather a substantial haul of items fairly safely on multiple occasions. I don’t really have much critique to give on the subway tunnels, I mostly just wanted to let people who play the game know they exist.
To mention something I wish people used less, there are delivery drones in Rust which are launched from a hub building in both the Outpost and the Bandit Camp. Players can craft vending machines to safely sell each other items, and if the vending machine is positioned correctly, an automated drone can collect the items and deliver them to the buyer waiting in a safe zone. Initially this seemed really cool. You could trade items with players while you were offline or preoccupied with something else in the game, and both parties would be sure that at the end of the transaction, a trade will have safely taken place. Thing is, I think the drones make it too easy, too safe, too impersonal. Nobody needs to talk to each other in order to strike up a deal. If there’s an item you want for sale, you can just silently buy it. One of the few avenues to create positive player interaction has been removed for the sake of convenience which is definitely a shame, the game could really do with more of those.
The last thing I want to mention is Rust’s lack of any narrative or lore. There’s an island. It has post-Soviet Russian architecture on it but the signs are all in English. There’s a company called Cobalt. There are the bandits and the scientists who may or may not be related. Some scientists are hostile while others aren’t. Players wake on the beach like they’re being washed up there after falling into the sea. It’s called the Arctic Research Base. But there’s no explanation for anything, these things just are the way they are. I’m not saying it all has to link into some grand narrative or that it isn’t possible to enjoy a game without the setting being explained. But there is kind of a theme here and Facepunch hasn’t done anything with it.
After all that, I think I’ve figured it out. Rust took advantage of some of my psychological urges to get me to engage with it for hundreds of hours. I was fed just enough victory to counteract the defeats and keep me coming back. The people playing the game believe there are things to learn that take hundreds of hours to understand, and I took their word for it. When I learn about things like FIFA Ultimate Team or CS:GO skin trading it seems obvious, these are clearly predatory and these people are missing out on all of the other excellent games they could be playing instead. Why are they subjecting themselves to this? Is it not obvious to them? From now on, I’ll think back to the things I had to put up with and ignore so I could play more Rust. The slow build, the sudden deaths, the playerbase, the half-baked mechanics, the absence of polish. This game launched in early access in 2013 and it never left. Functionally and psychologically. Facepunch Studios will never finish the game, because it’s far more profitable not to. Because Rust isn’t an artistic expression. It’s a product. It wasn’t made to elicit emotion in the player, it wasn’t made to capture a life or a world, it wasn’t even made to be original. It was made to be a cancer, and like a cancer, it should be cut out.
I bought a book for this next video.