Urban Empire: First Impression Review

I got the game, Urban Empire, as a Christmas present from bookahnerk. It released on January 20, so there was quite some aniticipation built up there. I had watched a few streams about the game and read a few articles from gaming websites (and a German gaming magazine), but I didn’t read too much about the game’s mechanics and how to actually play the game. I have played through the campaign once (with a time-victory, meaning I stayed mayor for all five time eras that the game has), so I figured it’s a good time to share my impressions with you now.

Urban Empire

First things first: The developers stress that it’s a city-ruler, not a city-building game. And that part is certainly true! You plan city districts and choose the percentage of residential buildings, businesses and industry in that district plus you can add a few things like water, electricity or special buildings like a park (which adds a bonus to health) or a clinic and so on (each with a monthly cost associated, of course). Once you are done with one district proposal, your city council gets to vote. If the majority of them votes “no”, the district will not be built – you can try again and alter some of the settings, though. Or you just pay for the district out of your own pockets. As mayor of the city, you do get money every month and can use it for things like this or spying on political parties that are part of your government.

Urban Empire

You can choose between four different families to rule as mayors throughout the five time eras that the campaign has. I chose the Kilgannons as my mayors. What I liked were some random events related to my chosen family that were happening in the first two eras. It was mostly about what my offspring did and I had to react or make a decision. E.g., I wanted to send my daughter to university but it was not possible yet in the fictional country of Swarelia, where my city is located, at the time. So I chose to send her abroad which made her upset. But these events made me bond with my mayor and his family. At some point, these events stopped and I was not given any more options or decisions on what to do with family members. I was not even told about any of my family members anymore. With every change of the era, a new offspring gets put into the mayor office. So with one era-change, there he was: some relative that I had never even heard of before but he was the new mayor now and I had no choice there. Maybe I am too used to roleplaying games where I can choose my character and customize them somewhat. Still, I would have really liked to hear about that person before and get to know at least a little bit about them before having to play as that character. Or better yet, with the change of the era, give me a decision which relative to choose as the next mayor!

Urban Empire

During the first two eras, the city council can’t do anything to get rid of you. That is, they can’t vote you out! But they still do vote on almost every decision you make! Going completely broke would probably let you lose the game either way… I did get into huge debts twice, but both times, I asked in Vienna where I asked for more money and got it, so I could continue. In other words, I have no idea what has to happen in order to lose the game in the first two eras.

Urban Empire

Other than placing districts, you also choose inventions. You do not research these inventions themselves, but merely research to have the inventions imported to your city (or so it said in the tutorial). Every research is tied to a certain era, although you can advance faster (or slower!) than the time eras (so you can research era 2 inventions even though you’re still in the first era time-wise). Researched inventions also unlock new issues/edicts and upgrades to your city. From time to time, political parties want you to start a vote on certain edicts and you can either agree or disagree with them. In either case, they do get voted on by the political parties afterwards. I would assume that my decision changes the “goodwill” of the political parties depending on whether they agree or disagree with the issue.

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The goodwill shows whether political parties will favour me or not… and I can “spend” goodwill to plead with, demand or threaten a political party to agree with me on an issue (or to vote for me in the upcoming elections). I do not know what happens if you’re at the maximum of -10 goodwill. I was at that point quite often with several political parties at which point I always chose “threaten” to make them vote for me, because eh, there was nothing to lose. However, despite being at -10, I do not know what negative implications this had. I didn’t feel or notice any, at least. You can plead with, demand or threaten a political party once a month, so that’s what I did before elections took place. It was a close call sometimes, but with one exception, I always won the election. One time I didn’t win the election and I could click on “overrule” to stay mayor. You pay such an overruling with prestige points and I had gotten so many of them without spending any that it was no big deal. The result was that all political parties lost respect for me which means that they had less goodwill towards me. Which brings me back to the point of not knowing or not having felt any negative consequences of being at -10 goodwill.

Placing the districts was a fun part. Yes, I admit, I’m a fan of city-building! Once all districts were placed, there was nothing to further expand the city. Well, other than increasing the density of my districts depending on demand (e.g., reducing the residential areas in a district but increasing industry because we had a need for much more industry but not for residents), at least. I had a spot left where I could have placed another district, but the game told me the area is too small for a district. So I had two options: Destroy at least one neighbouring district to rebuild it a bit smaller, so I could probably squeeze in another district – or just let it be as it didn’t matter anyway. I had a surplus of income, residents were reasonably happy, security, environment, health etc. were all acceptable. So why change anything? I had gotten to that point at the beginning of the 4th era which means that for the rest of the game (era 4 and 5), I let the city council come up with issues or sometimes initiated a vote on issues or edicts myself because they improved the city or gave me some more income (depending on what was needed to balance it out again) and waited for the end of era 5 to get that time victory.

Two more features got unlocked in the later eras: Twin Cities which lets you choose a city and get some bonus in return. I chose Sydney which gives me +2 fun but it costs 50k. And Business Delegation which lets me send a delegation to a city for several months and gives me bonuses to a certain industry I choose.

You actually do have a lot of stats to look at. For example, which districts have how many middle class or working class residents. But to be honest, I did not have a reason to look at these stats. And believe me, I love stats! I just want a reason to pay attention to them and make decisions based on them!

I liked the first two eras of the game, but after that, it became “click click click, wait for votes, click click click, then threaten and demand with the political parties who would not vote for me until they would…” and nothing really mattered. I had positive income with my city and even if I didn’t do anything and didn’t change anything, all went well. I’ve never felt this indifferent about “winning” the game (with a time victory), because it was just so boring getting there. I basically sat it out with one exception: I did go through all my districts and upgrade the road networks and I think I got more income afterwards as transportation volume increased. But other than that, districts didn’t complain if they didn’t have gas, water or electricity. Everything worked well anyway which let me stay inactive for most parts.

Urban Empire

My conclusion for now is that I cannot recommend the game for full price. For me, it doesn’t offer enough as it gets boring at some point. However, I still think it’s a great concept and the first two eras are fun and engaging! It’s a solid base and not a “lost cause” if you ask me, and maybe the developers will add features in the future that make the game more engaging and feel the effects of making – or not making – choices in the later eras.

TL;DR: Urban Empire is a city-ruler game with – in my opinion – great potential which is not (yet?) living up to it.

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Atlas Reactor bonus flux code

Update January 25: The bonus flux event is over, so the code doesn’t give you any more bonus flux!

First things first: I do not get paid to write about this game! I did, however, receive a code for 100 % bonus flux that lasts from now until January 24. Since this code has unlimited uses (but it only gives you 100 % bonus flux until January 24!) and can be shared freely, I decided to put it here for everybody to use. If I thought the game was crap, I wouldn’t do so. :p

Code for 100 % Bonus Flux: M2WMMPYCPXP2YJ9YNQGM (unlimited uses, promotion ends on January 24)

Please note that these codes do not stack, so if you already entered such a code from another fansite, it will not give you a bigger bonus.

If you’re interested in Atlas Reactor and want to know what “fully free to play” means, you can read about it in this post. Or, you know, just download the game and try for yourself. It is free to play, after all – and here is the refer-a-friend link from bookahnerk which directs you to the official sign-up page (you can also just manually go there if you don’t want to use this code, of course!).

Atlas Reactor Charr Freelancer Rask

Personal Top 9 of 2016

I have seen several people and gaming sites make their “top x games of 2016” and when wondering which games I would put on my list, I thought: “Oh well, why not publish it here?” Maybe you’re already sick of seeing these lists, but stay with me for a bit longer… my list is a very subjective one, so it’s certainly not what most of the other top 10 lists have. In fact, I did not choose “the best games” to put on this list, but instead chose the top 9 of games I enjoyed playing in the last year. Not all games were released even in 2016. There are just some games that I enjoyed playing so much that I decided they had to be put on this list, but all at least added something new in 2016!

I’ll start with my top 5 games that – some way or another – released in 2016.

Number 5: Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter (Release Date: June 10, 2016)

Sherlock Holmes Devil's Daughter

This game could have gotten even higher on my list, but there were a few things I did not like, so it only ended up as my number 5. I bought “The Devil’s Daughter” on sale for 18 €. I finished the complete game within 16 hours according to Steam. I found all the clues for each case and usually spent quite some time considering how to put the clues together. 16 hours is an incredibly short game if you ask me, especially as it has no replay value. There are no clues left to find, so there is nothing else to explore. Playing the game again would not add anything new at all. There are only the story missions, no side-quests or anything else. At the same time, some of the puzzles annoyed me. One mission (no spoilers, don’t worry) was much too action-y considering it was all Sherlock imagining something and it seemed like one big sequence of action-puzzle after action-puzzle. I, however, prefer solving the cases! Taking both these things together: A too short game and parts focusing on things that had nothing to do with actually solving a case is the reason it does not get placed any higher. The game that is actually there, however, is good. So don’t get me wrong! I really enjoyed this game altogether which is why it is on my top 9 list. And for 18 €, it’s a good deal (not for its regular price, though, which is 45 €)!

Number 4: Project Highrise (Release Date: September 8, 2016)

Project Highrise focus on restaurants

Project Highrise is a game that I had not noticed at all until it got released. Their publisher is “Kasedo Games” which somehow belongs to Kalypso, one of the few publishers whose newsletter I subscribed to. I have been following Kalypso mostly for news about the upcoming title “Urban Empire” and simply could not memorize that game’s name properly. No idea why, but there you go. And for some reason my mind confused “Urban Empire” with “Project Highrise” – both titles have two words, you see? Anyway, I did notice the difference between these two games, as they both look completely different. ;) I am usually not the one to say this, but I do not like Project Highrise’s graphics too much. Other than that, it’s a fun “city”-builder – only that you have a skyscraper that you fill with apartments, supermarkets, offices, restaurants etc. The point of this game is not to create a pretty skyscraper, but one that works. You need to balance between offices, restaurants, stores and residents. The latter prefer a quiet environment, but they also want restaurants and stores nearby. Obviously, these aren’t quiet! So far, it has neither been too easy nor too difficult to play, but I have also not yet tried out the difficult scenarios. There is also the “free play” option where you just build as you wish without having to fulfill certain requirements.

Number 3: Gremlins, Inc. (Release Date: March 11, 2016)

Gremlins Inc Misfortunes

I am a big fan of board games and card games! I really enjoy playing these games with friends when they come over for a visit. Several board games have also gotten a digital version (e. g., Talisman). In this case, Gremlins, Inc. is a digital board game with no “real world” counterpart (you can read about my first impressions here). The developers are even hosting online tournaments, though I have only played the game against AI so far. I think it’s more about luck than strategy, because whenever I try to follow a certain strategy, the dice rolls will make sure to ruin that for me! ;) The atmosphere of the game is great, though, and so is the soundtrack.

The developers even made a card game (non-digital, you know, the “real” kind :p) for Gremlins. I bought it because I really like the board game, but I’ve got to admit, the card game was even more fun to play! Probably because you get that direct interaction with the other player.

Number 2: Atlas Reactor (Release Date: October 4, 2016)

atlas reactor su ren shifting winds

I admit, it was difficult to only put it as my number 2 here! The reason it did not get number 1 is that I’m currently not actively playing it (of course, right after typing this paragraph, I hopped back into the game and played several matches!). I absolutely truly love this game! And I’m not even playing against others. Well, with and against AI, but not against other players. So my opinion is very subjective and narrowed down to that of a casual PvE player. I cannot tell you if the community is “toxic” or not, because I don’t know it. The lobby is usually full of friendly chat, though. At least, when I take notice of it. ;) But what I really like is that the PvE fights aren’t easy. Again, very subjective. I don’t know what experienced PvP players would say, but that’s not the point here. If you play once in a while and you enjoy PvE and you like this kind of game (MOBA, but with simultaneous turns), then this is truly a gem. It has also gone 100 % free to play recently. Before the switch, without buying the game, you couldn’t enter rated PvP matches and you always only had a limited option of freelancers that rotated regularly. Now, you can unlock all freelancers by playing the game if you want. And you can join these ranked PvP matches. You can find my – probably slightly outdated by now – first impressions review of Atlas Reactor here.

Number 1: Civilization VI (Release Date: October 21, 2016)

Civilization VI playing as France

My personal number 1 goes to Civilization VI. As I said about Atlas Reactor, it was a tough decision. When I first saw the announcement, I really wasn’t a fan of the new look of the game (when did I become a graphics snob, by the way?), most of all of the way the trees look. But after playing, I have to admit that I do not even notice the graphics anymore. Not like that, at least. I can clearly spot the important and special buildings and resources on the map, though. I like the changes they have made and even after playing the game for almost 60 hours, there are still things to explore and figure out (I did not read the manual or any wiki pages etc., so there is a lot for me to discover and figure out). Also, around Christmas, bookahnerk and I played a game together and I really love when a game lets us do that for hours while still leaving us enough brain capacity for chatter!

So these are my “top 5 of games released in 2016”. The following four games are more “honorable mentions” as they are games that I really enjoyed playing in 2016, but that weren’t actually released in 2016 – although all of them received at least some updates in 2016.

Number 4: Wildstar

Wildstar Arcterra

Wildstar just barely made this list for several reasons. For one, it actually released in June 2014 and went free to play in September 2015. Both are clearly not 2016. ;) However, with the game turning free to play, I started actually playing it a lot! So it dominated the beginning of 2016 gaming-wise. It’s quirky and it’s also got an amazing housing system which I only dipped my toes in so far. My enthusiasm for the game dropped lately which is actually not so much the game’s fault. I am just scared it will close in the near future, what with all the news about there not being a lot of players left. Still, I really like the game and hope they do have a future ahead of them. I guess we’ll see what happens in 2017… news for upcoming features have arrived, at least! :)

Number 3: Cities: Skylines

cities skylines destroyed city

My first city-building game was Sim City 2000. I don’t even want to know how many hours I spent in that game… So when I started playing Cities: Skylines, I was really happy to finally have a game that feels like Sim City 2000 again. But one thing was missing: Random events that could destroy your city! Cities: Skylines had no disasters at all and it ended up feeling a tiny bit boring at times. Of course, handling the traffic is more than enough to do, but still… when they finally announced that disasters were coming, I was so excited and started playing Cities: Skylines again the minute this DLC got released! Still, it’s number 3, because even though I really love the disasters, sometimes there are a few too many of them one after the other. It’s just no fun going bankrupt, because the tsunami was followed by an earthquake was followed by a meteor, was followed by a tsunami, was followed by another earthquake and so on (yes, one long disaster-chain – bookahnerk sat next to me and watched, being very amused at my growing despair when I saw my beautiful city get destroyed and flooded until hardly anything was left…). It did add that randomness in that I was missing, though!

Number 2: Prison Architect (2015)

Prison Architect

The last update in 2015 added women, so you could finally build a prison for women only. But 2016 was no less exciting if you ask me! They added temperature and the need to build heaters in your prison early in 2016. More exciting was the patch in December 2016, though: Guards have needs as well now! No longer do I look at the pretty little staff room regretting spending money on all the furniture in there when the guards don’t actually use any of it. Now they want food, toilets, sofas as well. And breaks! Those guards demand breaks, so they can consume said food and go to the toilet. Thankfully, in a recent patch they also fixed the issue of unhappy guards beating up prisoners. And here I was wondering why so many of my prisoners died… whoops.

Number 1: Rift (2011)

rift starfall prophecy broken head statue

The oldest game on this list is Rift with its release date in March 2011. However, they actually released their expansion “Starfall Prophecy” last year. Now this expansion is not without critical reception and for good reasons, too! Some features were not released on time, some are still not delivered (but being worked on). At the same time, I still prefer having “most of the expansion” as opposed to still having to wait for the whole expansion. Anyway, let’s focus on the positive side: I really love the new maps, the look of them and even the story is much more enjoyable for me than the one of the previous Nightmare Tide expansion. I am having a lot of fun playing the game again. They have also been adding new items for dimensions (the game’s housing system), so there is lots for me to do!

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Crypt of the NecroDancer

Last but not least, to even the numbers, bookahnerk asked me to add a 10th game to the list: Crypt of the NecroDancer! I can only tell you about this game from the outside as I have not played it myself. I know it would drive me crazy. But the soundtrack sure is catchy and once bookahnerk’s sister’s boyfriend bought the game as well, it turned out to be hilarious. There were those two guys, both playing the game, both bobbing their heads to the tune of the song in order to help with their movements. Too bad you couldn’t see that. Priceless. So the “honorary award” for our game of 2016 goes to Crypt of the NecroDancer!

Recent experiences in Rift…

Starfall Prophecy, the latest Rift expansion, released on November 16. There has been some controversy about this expansion. The raid will not be released until later, but this was actually announced long before the expansion was released. After the expansion’s launch, however, some features had to be disabled. Some of them have been enabled again, but the fortress sieges are still not there. They are on the public test realm now, though, so I guess we’ll get to see them on live soon!

Additionally, there are apparently not enough quests to reach level 70 if all you do is quest. For me, the main content in MMOs when levelling should be the quests (and dungeons, but not having to grind them repeatedly). I also remember one expansion in Lotro not having enough quests. It was annoying and felt like the developers had either run out of time or out of ideas. That case had been worse, though, as Turbine had first announced that there would be 5 more levels and then they had said that because they had so much content, they had decided to switch to 10 more levels – only for players to run out of quests to do before getting these 10 levels. In general, I can only repeat myself from what I said about Lotro’s expansion: I do not like this at all. Not even because I don’t want to do dungeons or anything else other than questing, but because when I look at my alts, I know it’s just much more fun to have quests to choose from instead of having to do each and every one on every single character just to reach max. level with them. It gets repetitive and boring fast. A new powerleveling guide was just released and that one mentions the issue with not enough experience from quests as well.

rift meffanda cleric hitting level 70

I guess I am lucky that I am a slow leveler. I think I should fall into the “average” range of people with a busy life and not that much time to devote to gaming. When I read about there not being enough quests, I thankfully also saw the suggestion to do crafting dailies. As I could not actively play every day, I at least did these dailies regularly. I was amazed to see that the 5 quests I can do with my crafting professions led to a huge increase of XP (it was between 6 – 15 % depending on which level my cleric had – a bigger increase at the lower levels – and whether I had a bonus to XP gain activated). This actually leaves me with a whole lot of questing content untouched and I am currently trying to decide whether to take my mage or my warrior through the new content.

However, even though I am complaining here, I still really like Rift and bought a year of Patron time with their recent sale going on. Unfortunately, I was not awarded the amount of loyalty I should have received with my purchase. I did as was suggested on the forums and sent in a support ticket. I may be spoiled from World of Warcraft, but waiting several days seemed very very long. And then their reply was that I was awarded the correct amount of loyalty. I told them my purchase number for the patron time as well as screenshots which I had taken before and after the purchases (pure luck here! ^^) and one of these did the trick and I received my loyalty. In their defence, once you are at the top of the queue, replies are very fast and from the time I sent in the purchase number and the screenshots to when I received my loyalty, I think I had actually only made myself some coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. :p Bugs can happen and as long as they get sorted out, I’m happy.

Now on to something more positive about Rift: I did enjoy the quests I’ve seen, even though they once again seem very weird. Probably less so if you’re used to Rift and its lore. The new regions are beautiful to look at! And without doing much at all during Rift’s Yulefest, I got to exchange the yulefest currency for a new mount and a new dimension. I also got quite some nice rewards from the 4h minion missions after they reduced the amount of Aventurine one can hoard to rush through these missions once a special event is going on. I think I’m at three new companion pets! Additionally, when I saw that Rift was part of the Steam winter sale (and they match the price on Steam in their own store as well), I wanted to see if they also offered the upgrade to Starfall Prophecy’s Deluxe Edition with a discount. Instead, I found that the upgrade was removed completely. A short internet search revealed that Trion announced the upgrade to go on sale at some point in January. I can only assume that this is the reason why it’s removed right now as to avoid all of us buying it without the discount? If that is the case: Neat! If not: Still convenient. :p Now I only need to decide whether I really want that dragon mount or not. It can’t fly, it just looks awesome. But I did spend quite a lot of money on Rift already and I’m not sure I want to give them even more money at this point… especially since I have a lot of awesome mounts already.

Christmas loot

Christmas usually means getting presents – and giving them, too, of course! We’re also having our anniversary of getting together in December, so at least some of these presents are gaming-related. I’m not the “stereotypical woman” who drools over getting jewellery, so receiving something gaming-related really is what I prefer. :p

On our anniversary, I got an expansion for a board game, Aventuria. Due to a serious lack of time, we haven’t played that game much yet, but I really wanted that expansion anyway! In case you want to know more about the game, here is the link to their recent Kickstarter campaign where they asked for backers, so they can translate the game to English. I love that you can play it cooperatively and against each other. We only tried out playing against each other, so playing the campaigns is something we’re planning to do very soon! It is part of the pen & paper roleplaying world, The Dark Eye, which we both enjoy playing as well.

The second gift will have to wait some time longer as Urban Empire will only be released on January 20. I’d been watching this game closely, but with all the other games I have and the time my job demands, I just wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to get it now or wait for a sale around Easter or in summer or something like that. But Bookahnerk had seen my basically drool every time I saw a stream or read some news piece about the game and so he decided I should really get this game when it comes out. It’s only one more month, after all.

Other than that, we got some money, but we’re probably spending it on something related to our wedding next year.

Now this doesn’t look like much gaming-related loot. But there is the Steam sale going on and of course, I couldn’t resist getting some stuff for myself. Neither could bookahnerk. He chose to finally get Witcher 3, Insurgency and Darkest Dungeon. I got the Sherlock Holmes collection after buying Devil’s Daughter earlier this month (luckily, as while this game is on sale again now, it’s not as cheap as it was at that point). So now I can slowly play through all of them.

Civ VI multiplayer game as France

And right now, we’re playing Civilization VI together. We don’t get much “together-time” for playing games, because I am usually much too tired for that in the evenings. So having the holidays is something we always use to play some games together – be it at the PC or with board games.