Gaming without the grind?
November 8, 2014 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I've got a long-running itch to play video games. They're insufficiently like work (relative to my other hobbies) that they're an appealing way to decompress, and I can do them when it's cold/wet/dark... but I am absolutely not motivated by the grind. Help me find something that will absolutely not require collecting all/some/the last/the only McGuffin(s).

Repetition with randomized reward as a way to progress the plot is absolutely not motivating to my personal brainmeat. For example, I tried to pick up Earthbound and failed. Miserably. I'm also just generally very bad at twitch games because doing platform-jumping drills feels annoying for the same ways. So what should I play? I really enjoyed Braid and Limbo, but Fez was borderline tiresome. I've got Papers, Please queued up but after that...

What should I play? Old-school or new, emulated or native, ROM or executable, I just really want to scratch this itch. I've got a Mac Mini and a TV and an XBox controller. Feed me!
posted by TheNewWazoo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Planescape: Torment always comes up in threads like these. So I'll suggest that. It's available on GoG.

It's "technically" a D&D game in the Baldur's Gate mould, but the experience I had was that it's basically a high-high fantasy novel. It is truly one of the most memorable games I've ever played.
posted by Mons Veneris at 3:56 PM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: Have you played Planetside 2? It's a massively multiplayer online first person shooter. While there is a points system you can be just as effective with 0 points as with 2 million points. Very strong focus on teamwork without being too nerd-ragey. It does require a fast computer.

As for single player games try the Mass Effect series for a really engaging story driven sci-fi.

Also try Miasmata if you want to literally get lost in the woods.
posted by anon_for_this at 3:58 PM on November 8, 2014

I always recommend the same game, the greatest game I've ever played: Civilization IV. It's my favorite game, but it's widely considered one of the best strategy games of all time, and no stupid World Of Warcraft-style grinding. You will start a session of Civ4 and the next time you look at the clock, it will be time for bed. Also, its theme song won a Grammy -- how cool is that?!
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:12 PM on November 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm not a gamer but I really loved skyrim. It's an easy game to get lost in and a definite stress reliever. Plus, beautiful graphics.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:21 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

What about a game with a great story? Mass Effect and Tomb Raider (the most recent reboot) come to mind.
posted by ellerhodes at 4:29 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have a perception that RPGs, especially MMORPGs, are really grind-y. Like you have to kill a thousand rabbits before you can take on the mangy dog before you can get the boots you need to give to the baker (substitute space-rabbits, space-dogs, space-boots, and teaearlgreyhot as appropriate for sci-fi). Am I wrong? I'm pretty apprehensive about that, tbqh.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 4:31 PM on November 8, 2014

Skyrim is relatively grind-free -- the level of enemies is set more-or-less dynamically based on your own level (although some enemies are always hard). You level up enough just by doing the fun parts. You can also set the difficulty level down if you want. It is truly beautiful although not as great a game as everyone thought it was when it came out. Good to play in winter.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:34 PM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: Swapper is a side-scrolling platformer that I don't mind picking up and putting down. In it, you have a device which allows you to create up to 4 clones of yourself (projecting them into place), and all clones respond to the same movement controls. You can also swap yourself into any clone as long as you have line-of-sight to it. Use this to defeat a number of puzzles that involve standing on switches. Time slows down when you start, without completing, the cloning process, so even in when falling (which is one of the main perils) there's time to calculate the position of your clone rather than requiring twitchy timing.

I bought it through STeam, but it looks from this trailer that GOG has it as well.

I have bought (curse your sales, Steam!) but not yet played Gunpoint (Steam link, has a free demo) which is a side-scroller that looks like an evolved version of Elevator Action. Also have my eye on The Fall, which is more of an action game, and Waking Mars, which is a kind of puzzle based on an alien ecology. Evidently I'm on a side-scroller kick.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:37 PM on November 8, 2014

I really like platformers, and some thinkier FPS style games for stuff like this. Skyrim was a good suggestion.

Stuff like the portal games, mirrors edge, bioshock, every nintendo platformer ever made which all emulate fine(i love the new super mario bros games for this, and i'm currently a bit into mario galaxy which you can easily just play in dolphin).
posted by emptythought at 5:01 PM on November 8, 2014

Response by poster: I did enjoy Portal a fair bit, though mouse+kb combo for the living room is a bit meh (which, I think, probably disqualifies The Sims, no?). Swapper looks right up my alley, and Miasmata looks promising. Keep 'em coming, all!

(I'm playing Intelligent Qube at this very moment. It's just as good as I remember.)
posted by TheNewWazoo at 5:05 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

MMO's & RPG's don't have to be grindy. The thing I actually love about games like Wow is I can get in and faff about doing lord knows what & pass however much time I want & leave. They really only become grinds if you are in a rush for end game content or loot, otherwise it's all about the journey for me. I spent a happy 2 hours today exploring an area, randomly killing things that got in my way, chatting to some guildies & levelling my pets in pet battles. I did a quest or 2 & did a PVP battle in which I got my ass kicked. Now if I was in a hurry to end game, I'd have been doing stuff just for XP. You get out of them what you put in.

Skyrim or Elder Scrolls would probably be something you'd like if my sales pitch for MMO's didn't work.

Also Shadows of Mordor.
posted by wwax at 5:11 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mark of the Ninja is nice platforming game where you sneak around and do ninja things. I don't find it too twitchy, since you tend to plan your actions and then skulk around when a guard isn't looking.
posted by squinty at 5:16 PM on November 8, 2014

I'm a huge fan of Supergiant Games (I love me some indie darlings) and Bastion is still one of my favorite games of all time.

Also, if you're open to mobile gaming (and have access to a device that runs IOS), anything by Simogo is going to be stellar, not only does it make really great use of the mobile format, but it manages to tell fantastic stories. Year Walk is an amazing foray into Swedish mythology and is truly terrifying and super dark. And Device 6 which might be my favorite game period, has killer music, a really cool 70's spy thriller vibe and just does really awesome things.
posted by KernalM at 5:25 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Skyrim isn't grindy largely because you can progress sufficiently just by doing regular story missions and side missions. I can't remember a time where i couldn't do something because my level wasn't high enough.

I would recommend the Telltale games because they're basically self contained stories, like a weekly TV show. Start with The Walking Dead.
posted by empath at 5:48 PM on November 8, 2014

Everything by Amanita Design is delightful. My favorite is Botanicula but Machinarium is more traditionally game-y.
posted by Mizu at 5:57 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Guild Wars 2 is an mmo where you can earn xp by walking around and looking at stuff, challenging yourself to hidden jumping puzzles, and discovering hard to access viewpoints (in addition to or in lieu of your fetch and kill questchains ofc). There are other cool things too, but I mostly played it by continuously trying to get 100% map completion; it's a gorgeous world.
posted by lilnublet at 7:53 PM on November 8, 2014

Best answer: Check out all the answers on this similar question:
posted by Fishkins at 8:09 PM on November 8, 2014

I've really enjoyed Crusader Kings II. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it. It is a strategy game where you play as the King (or Queen) of a dynasty. Your goal is to continue your family line through the generations, and possibly build an empire in the meantime.

It is not simply managing armies and attacking other states, though that is part of the game play. You also need to marry off your children and court for strategic alliances or future claims on land. You need to scheme and create plots to kill people in your way.

It is not the easiest game in the world to pick up - I had to watch tutorials to figure out exactly how to play and I'm sure that I am still missing something, but once I figures it out I was pretty happy with the game.
posted by aka_anon at 8:28 PM on November 8, 2014

My husband is a gamer and he complains about grinding too. He suggests populous or xcom.
posted by mbidi at 8:32 PM on November 8, 2014

Banished is a simple but challenging city-building survival game, a sort of agrarian Sim City. Unlike most similar strategy games, there is no tech tree, so you don't need to grind through a bunch of levels before you can build the things you want. (But you still need to find a strategy that works. If you just produce a bunch of ale and no firewood, good luck making it through the winter.)

It's also got very pretty graphics, and is soothing to watch once you get your settlement running smoothly.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:49 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Strategy/Builder games are my preference for the reasons you state. In addition to Banished and XCOM, two that are definitely high on my list, look at:

Cities in Motion series
OpenTTD (free Transportation Tycoon)
Tropico series

Kerbal Space Program, maybe.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:42 AM on November 9, 2014

"Have you played Planetside 2? It's a massively multiplayer online first person shooter. While there is a points system you can be just as effective with 0 points as with 2 million points. "

This is the funniest thing I have heard all day.

You might eventually come to like Planetside 2, but don't take this advise going in. There's a reason there's a points system. When you keep getting steamrolled by people with lower skill and better weapons, you will understand.
posted by the_hard_truth at 9:30 AM on November 9, 2014

Don't Starve might fit the bill.
posted by Fister Roboto at 12:14 PM on November 9, 2014

i got sucked into tagpro last winter and haven't been able to escape since. it's a web-based captured the flag game where you play on a team of four. easy to learn, hard to master.

there's a solid and friendly community on reddit that organizes tournaments and leagues that range from casual to hyper-serious.
posted by noloveforned at 6:59 PM on November 9, 2014

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