Dinkum (Early Access): A Farming Sim as Fresh as The Outback

One of the most contradictory genres in videogames is the farming/life sim. In theory, they are wholesome sandbox games with emphasis on relaxing and getting lost in their worlds. In practice, however, they are anything but that; instead, players must juggle massive laundry lists of daily tasks and NPC relationships with a suffocatingly tight in-game day/night cycle, all with the most punishing stamina system outside of Dark Souls. Animal Crossing in particular doesn’t quite suffer from these particular grievances, but thanks to real-world time being incorporated into gameplay, players are punished for not booting up the game EVERY SINGLE DAY, turning an escapist little world into the same stressful ritual you have to do IRL. However… one farming sim would appear in 2022, and win the hearts of thousands of users. Dinkum, while only in Early Access, is already being pegged as one of the highest rated games of the year. The reviews I’ve read seem to imply one thing: that it is, in fact, a farming sim that is ACTUALLY relaxing and quaint. I just had to know if this was true, so here we are.

In Dinkum, your customizable character notices an ad to accompany an eccentric old geezer named Fletch to an untamed land. Sensing your only opportunity to escape your dystopian life in South City, you join Fletch, and fly off to this land, seeking a better life. What awaits in the Australia-inspired wilderness?

What’s immediately noticeable about Dinkum is that it does absolutely nothing new for the genre in terms of gameplay. As a hybrid of Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and Stardew Valley, it has all the stuff you can expect. You gather resources, craft stuff, raise animals, plant crops, cook food, fight predators, bribe NPCs with presents, and try to fulfill a myriad of satisfying milestones as you do it all. There really isn’t much to say about these mechanics, since they’re more-or-less what you’d expect. The only novel thing are licenses, which are essentially your qualifications to buy and use various types of items. You spend Permit Points, earned through milestones and daily tasks shown in your journal, to obtain these Licenses. It sounds like an arbitrary gatekeeping mechanic, but I found them very satisfying to unlock over time. I’m looking forward to unlocking them all eventually. Keep in mind that the game has the time-honored tradition of setting yourself on fire if you touch a campsite.

What makes Dinkum so great is how all of these basic mechanics fit together. The most important aspect is how it handles the march of time. In-game days go about as fast as you can expect. However, here’s the real kicker. Similar to Garden Story, staying up past midnight FREEZES the in-game clock indefinitely, with the only penalty being a reduction in base stamina. Stamina, however, is much more tolerable. While it decreases in a manner similar to Stardew Valley, eating food will restore it, and unlike My Time at Sandrock, you have access to plenty of plants and cooking right out of the gate, so it’s no problem stockpiling a good amount of food. While it’s not recommended to do anything dangerous during the late night, it’s still a phenomenal security blanket for any last-minute tasks in town (even if your character looks miserable the whole time).

The other standout feature is its building mechanics. You decide the entire layout of the town, down to every single building and decoration. Right now, my town is a rinky-dink little splotch in the middle of nowhere, and I look forward to seeing it grow over time by my own hand. The building system is also intuitive and easy, plus you can relocate buildings and terraform the environment itself. 

As definitively amazing of a game Dinkum has been thus far, it’s actually tricky to recommend. After you recruit the first resident to the town, the game sets you free, which sounds great, but comes with the caveat of no more tutorials. This means you must learn how to do everything yourself. You pretty much need knowledge of games from three different genres; scratch that, it straight-up EXPECTS that knowledge. Fortunately, the brilliant design of the License mechanic is a great teacher. As you acquire licenses, new ones unlock in a logical order to introduce new mechanics organically. 

Unfortunately, there are still some early-game grievances. For starters, you can’t store most bugs and fish in crates (plus they don’t stack). Also, convincing visitors to move in permanently is an investment and a half. They only visit for one day, and since you can only do one favor a day, you’re not exactly going to win them over immediately, and have to wait until RNG decides their return. As per tradition, these guys can ask for items that are very rare or remote, plus they have specific food preferences that aren’t tracked in any way, shape or form, as far as I could tell.

Fortunately, these flaws actually feel justified ONLY in Dinkum. In fact, it might be programmed this way on purpose. Shops aren’t open 24/7, and they are always closed at least one day a week. Because of this, you can—and will—actually make mistakes in Dinkum; your only penalty is reduced efficiency. Because of how Dinkum is structured, you can actually take the time to learn its ins and outs (it took me over ten hours to learn how to grow trees). You have time to do things, or nothing if you really want to. Any frustration I felt from Dinkum was because the instincts from other games like it took over.

In any case, Dinkum wants you to take your time, so keep that in mind if you do gaming as a job, and are required to beat everything in a timely manner. Dinkum is straight-up not meant to be steamrolled through. Plants take a minimum of a week to grow, and those Permit Points don’t exactly grow on trees either. If you undertake this endeavor, you better prepare to enjoy a slow life of leisure! It’s actually quite the experience for me. Whenever I boot it up, I never really have a plan. Sure, there are goals to work towards in the long run, but because there’s no viable way to gun for those, I’m forced to take each in-game day as it comes. There’s something wonderful about it.

One of the objective flaws that I’m sure have been pointed out is that the NPCs are souless. They’re so unremarkable that they have the same EXACT text as one another. However, I kind of believe that’s a good thing. Romancing isn’t an option anyway, so why make NPCs likable enough in the first place? Also, again, the lack of depth in your relationships just removes another mountain of daily rituals that you would have otherwise had to do. Besides, is it even realistic in other games like this? All you do is grind up their favorite thing (which you generally need to find out through trial and error or a guide), and gift it to them over and over and over again, until—suddenly—they have enough of that same thing like Clark Griswold’s boss in Christmas Vacation to want to marry you. Platonic relationships are better!

Another caveat that I’m pretty sure is just unavoidable even for Dinkum is the inevitable emptiness from having nothing left to do. Eventually, you’ll be flush with cash that you have no use for, with crops and resources by the thousands that you don’t need to sell, and enough Licenses to fill a wardrobe. I’m pretty sure this will happen no matter what. The fun comes from progressing to reach that point more than anything, and it’s a journey I’m more than willing to make with Dinkum. Lemme tell you… it’s gonna be long. 

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Current Verdict: 9.65/10

Dinkum is well worth the hype and price. It’s the Animal Crossing/Stardew Valley that actually manages to be what it says on the tin. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the course of its Early Access period, and I suggest you hop aboard as well, especially if you’re sick of those other games.

Project Winter is Better than Among Us: A Rant

If you’re reading this, then the unthinkable has happened: One of the biggest gaming trends of 2020 has managed to stay trendy into an entirely separate year. Yes, even an uncultured swine such as myself has been aware of Among Us, the game that coined the term “sus”, which is a shortened version of the word “suspicious”. As to be expected, things that are trendy tend to be inferior to a more niche product of its ilk. In this case, an online multiplayer deception game known as Project Winter is significantly better, and I will detail why.

Just take my claims with a grain of salt; I have not played either game myself. One of my biggest gripes with online multiplayer games is that they’re considered so great, despite the fact that you need eight or more friends in order to play them at all. That kind of hurts what little confidence I have; it’s as if having over eight friends is NORMAL in life. Personal issues aside, I at least have some confidence in this post because I have watched many-a gaming video of both games, specifically those uploaded by ZeRoyalViking and ChilledChaos (who you should watch by the way because they have really good multiplayer gaming videos). 

How to Play

Before getting into the topic at hand, I must explain the basic mechanics of both games, just in case someone is as uncultured as I am. In Among Us, you are a bunch of little bean astronauts who are marooned in a base that needs fixing. They all must fix the various areas of the facility to win. However, there are two imposters who can kill crewmates. No one is able to speak while walking around in Among Us, except in two circumstances: either someone reports a dead body, or uses one of their limited uses of the Emergency Meeting button. This triggers a brief period where the players can talk to one another, and eject a player through voting; their only way to defeat an imposter. If the crewmates finish all tasks or defeat all imposters, they win. But if the imposters kill enough people so that there is one crewmate left for every imposter, then the imposters win.

In Project Winter, a group of people are stranded in a randomly generated frozen world. In half an hour, a giant blizzard will appear and snuff the life out of them. They must quickly craft, hunt, and repair in order to call a rescue vehicle to save them. However, there are two traitors in the group, who must try to stop the survivors’ efforts. Both traitors being felled DOES NOT declare survivor victory; the only way survivors can win is for at least one of them to escape. Traitors must see every survivor fall; even if they themselves die, it still counts as long as they bought enough time for the Mega Blizzard to finish off the survivors.

Among Us: Pros

Among Us is the more accessible of the two games. It can be played on pretty much any system, including mobile devices. That makes it so anyone can play! It’s also a lot simpler, since you don’t talk to people for that long. 

What makes Among Us fun is the lack of communication. Imposters must take advantage of what the crewmates know or don’t know in order to build abilis for themselves. Both sides have a good number of tools at their disposal. Imposters can use vents to quickly travel around the map (as long as they aren’t seen), such as getting a kill and quickly escaping the crime scene so that no one’s like “Uh I saw that guy walking away from the body”. They can also shut off the lights, or trigger a nuclear explosion that instantly gives them the win if two people do not stop it together, which also gives the imposters an opportunity to off two people. 

It would be too easy if imposters could just kill willy-nilly. Both imposters have a kill cooldown, and they need to try to act as “un-sus” as possible during that time. Crewmates also have access to cameras, which can be decisive evidence if a killer is caught in the act. Imposters can talk during the meetings to spread discourse among the crew. They can also stick with players for long periods without killing them in order to “marinate” them. Crewmates will need to be clever, and observe every insignificant detail of the players’ pathing; one of them could’ve used a vent (or you could be Ze who gets accused just by walking around).

Among Us: Cons

I don’t know if they fixed it, but one of the dumbest things in Among Us is the fact that the codes for private lobbies are constantly displayed at the bottom of the screen (and since Ze and Chilled have not moved their webcams from that spot, I assume the issue’s still there). That’s just plain dumb. 

As far as gameplay is concerned, things can get stale fast. I don’t know if playing Among Us is better or worse with experience. Rookies are likely to play with settings like Visual Tasks, which show animations to all players and can guarantee someone as a crewmate, or Confirm Ejects, which will tell you if you offed an imposter through voting. With those disabled, the game is more fun… or is it?

In an experienced lobby, there are so many nuances that are just understood that it almost puts an unfair advantage in favor of crewmates. Imposters usually spend time standing next to a task to “fake” it. But when you’re a veteran, you know the exact amount of time—down to the second—that it takes to finish a task, and there aren’t many that they can defend themselves with (like the asteroids or card swipe tasks). It’s also understood that the imposters will clarify whom the crew is voting against during a meeting, just so they can off a crewmate. Experienced players also have a system on when to vote and when to abstain based on the amount of people left, which can be used against them by imposters, but still makes games redundant.

There are also a lot of little “cheap” things that anyone can do. The Emergency Meeting button cools down faster than the Imposters’ kill button, but the Imposters’ sabotage ability is ready to go right after a discussion. With good timing, imposters can kill the lights or set off the reactor to where their cooldown is complete before the crew can fix those areas (since the Emergency Meeting won’t work during a sabotage). If they only need one kill (or two if both are still alive) in order to win at that point, then they win. The only way for crewmates to prevent a double kill is for one of them to mash the shortcut key for interacting with something in order to potentially report the first person’s body the instant before they themselves are killed, but it’s not always possible.

Crewmates also have annoying perks. They can stick together, making it impossible for imposters to win unless they get the rare “stack kill” (but even then, it’s possible to tell who did it because of subtle details with the server’s latency). The crewmates can also have someone camp the light fixtures, instantly fixing them as soon as they go out, disabling the imposters’ best tool. There’s also a rock in one particular map that someone can hide behind and catch someone using the nearby vent. Overall, I feel like Among Us can quickly devolve into the same thing over and over again. The whopping three maps don’t help its case either.

Project Winter: Pros

Unlike Among Us, everyone talks constantly. However, Project Winter has proximity chat; a piece of 21st Century technology that dynamically adjusts the volume of players’ voices in the call based on their distance. Things get more interesting thanks to the radio items. By pressing the CTRL key, you can talk to anyone who has the same color radio over any distance. Traitors also get a free red radio to coordinate on. 

Project Winter plays like Minecraft; you have to worry about hunger and warmth along with your actual HP. You can cook food, and craft weapons and resources. Every game of Project Winter requires you to fix two facilities located somewhere on the map. These can require sets of mechanical parts, electronic scrap, and gasoline, or batteries and buried pieces spread throughout the world.

What makes Project Winter fun for traitors is having to hold a conversation with the survivors, while also coordinating with each other over their radio. Imposters get better firepower and items through traitor-only boxes found throughout the map, but obviously, they cannot be seen opening them. The ideal strategy for traitors is to spread discourse among the survivors. While they can try to get survivors alone, it would look extra sus if they were the only one of two people to return to the hub area. If tasks are being done, they can try to sneak a sabotage on the repaired objectives. Unlike Among Us, traitors can still try to win even if caught. There is a voting system to exile them from the hub, but they can easily live off of traitor crates around the world. 

Nature itself will try to mess with the crew. Wild animals will attack, for starters. Also, random events will occur. They can scatter boxes throughout the map, or do things like make everyone go crazy, turning them into bunnies who look indistinguishable from one another (a perfect opportunity for a traitor to launch a surprise attack). While not nature-related, there’s also the possibility that an escape pod will spawn, allowing one player to abandon the mission and secure a win for themselves (like Ze did in that one video).

I’ll admit that Project Winter wasn’t at its best in earlier versions, but it gets a lot more depth with current patches. One notable addition is that of roles, special abilities that both traitors and survivors can have. You can have a scientist, able to bring a player back to life at a special area on the map (although that player will be muted), or a hacker who can open bunkers by themselves. There’s also the defector, a survivor who can open traitor crates; an easy alias for traitors to claim.

Project Winter gets even MORE interesting with its new Blackout mode. In the Blackout, there is only one traitor. However, that traitor can convert survivors to traitors in one of two ways: as a Demon, they can revive a downed player to convert them, and as a Whisperer, they can use an AOE attack to slowly fill up a traitor gauge and convert players. It’s a really good, long-con style mode that can go south for the survivors if the traitor manages to convert several people (although one of them could accidentally throw when they get converted for the first time by yelling out “They made me a traitor!” in a panicked stupor). There are also some scary new events, like darkness covering the whole map (except for traitors, who can see with “red vision”), and sending the spirits of all the animals that players have killed against them. Blackout also has the yeti, a neutral role who cannot be converted, and must merely live to the end of the game to win, even if it means siding with the traitors.

Project Winter: Cons

Since I obviously like this game better, there aren’t as many issues. One annoying traitor tactic is the ability to steal necessary parts to repair facilities and hiding them behind structures (which cannot be seen due to the fixed camera). There’s also the fact that dead players can use their chill ability on the traitors to send a message from beyond the grave. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, as dead traitors can also use this to spread discourse, but I doubt it was the dev’s intention for the dead powers to be used this way. Inventory management is also abysmal, even by survival game standards. 

The Most Important Ingredient for Both Games…

The thing with online multiplayer games comes down to one simple monniker: they are only as good as those you are playing them with. The digital world is full of toxic people. But even in private lobbies, you get bad games of Among Us AND Project Winter, even with your personal friends. This passage is probably because I’ve only watched YouTubers play these games. I get that they’re entertainment, but it’s annoying when they throw “for content” (even if Tay killing everyone because of Chilled getting her to write Ze’s name from beyond the grave was pretty hilarious). 

I’ll admit that a bad Project Winter match is worse than a bad Among Us match. Everyone in Ze’s group has good enough experience in Project Winter to know exactly what to do, yet Ze tends to be the only one who actually tries to help, even as a traitor! The others, even as crewmates, will just mess around, and sometimes consider offing someone for shits and giggles (however, I’ll admit that the one time Chilled made poison berries and stuck them in the community chest was pretty funny). It’s unfair for both sides, because the survivors would be losing a valuable person, or they could just get a lucky BS shot on a traitor. While it does capture that “survival drama” feeling really well, it’s annoying to see only one person (i.e. Ze) carry the game EVERY SINGLE TIME. 

Overall, Project Winter at its best is a really fun experience. There’s more opportunities for role-playing, which can be really fun if you have really good friends. The random maps make it to where you can’t just memorize everything like in Among Us, requiring players to not just play fast, but learn fast. And even if the traitors get a really good gun, it’s possible for a survivor to win with just punches (even if it’s unlikely). 

Conclusion

It’s pretty consistent in popular culture: the less depth, less thinking required, and more accessible something is, the more popular it’ll become. Project Winter takes a lot to get used to—but dammit—it’s better than Among Us by a longshot! Well, that’s another item on my list of popular things I don’t like. I think the lesson learned is that gaming is better if you have eight or more friends… Man, there goes my confidence again.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Volume 14 Review

Last time on Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, there was a murder, and Lyu seems to be the culprit! A witness testifies that she fled down to the 27th floor, so the group from the last volume, along with some people from Rivira, join up and head down. Again. However, Cassandra has another premonition, and it’s the usual “everyone is going to die” premonition. And like with all of those premonitions, everyone completely ignores it, except for the person who had it to begin with. Turns out that Lyu once slaughtered a Familia that attacked her old one, and she caught wind (no pun intended) of one of the survivors. Bell manages to find her attacking a dwarf named Turk, while the rest of the group finds the aforementioned survivor, named Jura. Bell chases Lyu, who went after Jura, and figures out that everything has been a setup by Turk and Jura to frame Lyu for the murder. After fighting two snakes summoned from floor 37, Turk and Jura set off a chain reaction of explosions that literally makes the Dungeon itself scream in pain,  causing it to birth the Juggernaut, a powerful monster that’s meant to defend the Dungeon if it takes too much damage. This monster was summoned in the same manner to destroy Lyu’s familia in the past, and now here it is! With some nakama power by his side, Bell manages to put a big dent in it, but Jura uses his monster taming items to try to control the beast. It fails, but the already-tamed serpent hears his final order and attacks Bell and Lyu. They survive, but end up… in the deep levels of the Dungeon. It’s time to play some Dark Souls.

For me, this volume is definitely a step-up from last time, that’s for sure. Within about five seconds, a massive Floor Boss appears on the twenty-fifth floor, and our supporting protagonists have to fight it without Bell. This is probably one of my favorite fights in the series now, simply because of the ridiculous amount of close calls there are. Even if they manage to beat it, they still have to deal with the other mobs in the area. 

Bell and Lyu aren’t doing much better. Although they are technically within the recommended level, they are absolutely exhausted and wounded after their battle with Juggernaut, which happens to still be alive and hunting them. If that wasn’t enough, the thirty-seventh floor is massive, and there are also the regular mobs to deal with.

Seriously, this is probably the most critical condition that Bell has been in yet. Usually, whenever he’s fought a tough boss, he gets to recover afterwards. But nope; this volume is like doing the Master Sword trials in Breath of the Wild with two rusty broadswords and no armor. Each skirmish genuinely conveys how close to Death’s doorstep they are, and how desperately they’re trying to escape.

I love the intensity in this volume, but for some reason, I just can’t get into Lyu’s backstory. I just don’t get it! There are even some special chapters set in her past, but I found them to be kinda boring. To be fair, Lyu wasn’t among my favorite characters of DanMachi in the first place. Maybe if she’s your waifu, you’ll like her backstory a lot better than I did.

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Verdict: 8.9/10

I’m glad that this arc was short. It’s not my favorite in DanMachi; but nonetheless, this was a powerful volume, and a quick reminder to us that Bell still has a ways to go in his character progression. Let’s just hope the next major arc will be even better than the phenomenal Xenos Arc.