Everything is terrible. I need a new game.
August 25, 2017 12:10 PM   Subscribe

I am not A Gamer, but I've been known to play a PC game or two. I need a new distraction so I can turn my brain and anxieties off for an hour or two a night. I am ridiculously picky. Do you like a challenge? I have the snowflakes. Brace yourselves.

Things I know I don't like: Platformers (boring), puzzlers (my brain does not work like that), FPSs (anxiety-producing, often too violent), RPGs, skill grinding in any form, repetitiveness, point and click or interactive fiction. I'm also too old for pixel art or Nintendo to be nostalgic for me, so none of that plz.

Things I like in limited amounts: Resource management, base-building, god sim, walking sim. In theory I like real-time strategy but at this point in the genre's development most of it has gotten waaaay too complicated for me to find it relaxing. Do Not Want spreadsheet simulators.

Things I really like: Exploration, immersive open worlds, low-stakes adorableness, beauty or at least well-rendered cuteness, wonder, delight, games that are easy to learn the basic mechanics of but then use those mechanics in surprising or novel ways.

Technical considerations: I'm on a laptop that was pro-grade about 3 years ago. I'm using a standard Xbox-typed controller. I require full controller support because I'm usually sitting on a couch, not at a desk. (And this isn't really technical but I only have an hour or two a night to game. I don't mind saving and picking a game up again the next day but some games move so slowly or require so much grinding that you can barely get anywhere in an hour, so I'd like to avoid those games. I want to feel like I actually accomplished something in-game when bedtime rolls around.)

Games I have recently loved: Slime Rancher (A+++ adorbs, would ranch slimes again), Subnautica (pretty craft/resource-grindy once you really get going, but it's so gorgeous, I could just swim around in it all day)

Games I have bounced off of: Mount and Blade: Warband, Bioshock (just makes me anxious and as someone who was actually literally raised as an Objectivist, it kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies on a whole other level), The Stanley Parable (funny for like 30 minutes but I'm just not meta enough for this game), Stardew Valley (I clearly am missing a soul, but I just don't get it)

So, AskMe, what'cha got?
posted by soren_lorensen to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I will forever recommend Civilization 4. They are actually up to Civilization 6 now, but I don't think any version is as good as Civilization 4 with its expansion packs. It's a turn-based game that involves resource management, city/nation-building and land exploration. It may seem a little complicated at first, but that's what makes it great and a game that stands the test of time -- you won't bore of it easily because there's always stuff to do. It frequently lands on the "best video games of all-time" lists and a song from the game won a Grammy, which I always found cool. The game and all it's expansions are $30 in the Steam store right now.

Otherwise, I'd honestly maybe recommend SimCity, Cities Skylines XL or Roller Coaster Tycoon if you enjoy sim builders.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:26 PM on August 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

Banished! Infinitely relaxing, even when your population starves in the winter.

Simcity 4 and Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 are both available on Steam and remain my favorite games ever.
posted by agregoli at 12:29 PM on August 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I too did not get Stardew Valley.

Banished. Banished, Banished, Banished. Banished! You start out with a small number of families in a harsh environment and you have to survive. No combat. It does tend to get repetitive towards end-game but what sim doesn't?

No native controller support but I found this. Can't say how well it works.
posted by Automocar at 12:30 PM on August 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Things I really like: Exploration, immersive open worlds, low-stakes adorableness, beauty or at least well-rendered cuteness, wonder, delight, games that are easy to learn the basic mechanics of but then use those mechanics in surprising or novel ways.
You just pretty much described Minecraft. (Not sure about controller compatibility, but I've been happily and comfortably playing on a laptop with trackpad/keyboard for years.)
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 12:36 PM on August 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah seconding minecraft. I want my "escape" game to be pretty low-stress, so I usually setup minecraft to make the baddies not attack me, and then just go building/exploring.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:37 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Civ IV with all the expansions. I tend to set it to lowest difficulty, conquer everything but the tiniest village and then just veg out with my glorious empire.
posted by kariebookish at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Long Dark.
posted by xyzzy at 12:43 PM on August 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

Don't Starve, maybe

Way out of left field: checkout Nethack or Dungeon Crawl Stone soup. The latter comes with a philosophy statement which everyone should read just because it's a great example of building a game based on a cerain philosophy, and then explaining it.

These and other roguelikes are games people tend to love or hate, and they are almost never visually beautiful, but all about exploration of a sort, and simple mechanics that interact in fascinating complex ways.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:46 PM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just to correct myself, the name of the city sim I was recommending is actually called Cities: Skylines. (There's no XL in the title, that's a different game by a different company that's not as good.) But Cities: Skylines is like SimCity 5 except, in my opinion, it's better.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:52 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wait till No Man's Sky goes on sale again? :D

No idea about controller support for either of these:

Don't Starve - cartoonishly macabre survival/crafting game. I often turn off the worst disasters (because I am a wuss) but I play the multiplayer version so I'm not sure if it works that way in the single player?

Astroneer - space exploration, base-building, and survival. Fun, but a little shallow IMO. Not as pretty as No Man's Sky
posted by quaking fajita at 12:53 PM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I share a lot of your preferences, other than puzzles; I love those. But I'm not interested in FPS or RTS or platformers or pixel art, and wow does that cut down on the ability to find decent game recs.

I would love Minecraft if it weren't ugly. (My daughter and I have long arguments over this; you can take it as read that I have heard plenty of defenses of Minecraft's aesthetic appeal.) I wanted TUG to fill the niche of "building/exploring game with pretty graphics," but it's caught in dev funding hell.

... I think you'd've loved Glitch. Glitch died. :( The two projects working toward revival are Children of Ur, which is open to the public, and Eleven, which is in closed alpha. CoU uses HTML 5; Eleven is focusing on the original Flash version. (Disclaimer: I'm on the Eleven alpha team.)

Some glitchen have moved to SkySaga. It's pretty; it's got skill trees; I poked at the beta and realized I'm missing some basic comprehension of how it's supposed to work, but I didn't dislike it.

Have you tried No Man's Sky? (I have not; I'm extrapolating from what I've heard and your preferences.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:54 PM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Banished is a good suggestion. I'll also recommend Cities: Skylines, for a more laid-back take on similar ideas.

Crusader Kings II looks like a spreadsheet simulator at first glance, but it's really more like The Sims with assassinations and warfare.

Since you mention using a controller, I'll also point in the direction of games like Abzu and Firewatch. Abzu has some very, very light action/puzzle elements, but is mostly a very meditative experience of swimming around looking at fishes. Firewatch is a narrative game that is very controller-friendly.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2017

Skyrim - ostensibly an RPG but I think not in the sense you worry about. Awesome, large world to explore, plenty of quests to do or not do as the mood takes you.

Assassin's Creed 2 and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - the best entries in the series, great environments to explore although pretty gamey.

No Man's Sky might fit the bill but I have serious doubts if your computer can run it, the PC version is a total resource hog.
posted by sinfony at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've loved playing Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. I've mentioned it elsewhere. It's calm, beautiful, exploratory, and completely free of violence of any kind. Much of your time is spent walking about and exploring a large island, going on missions for various NPCs, and collecting stuff for some fairly simple crafting. The emphasis is on cute and whimsical - it's kind of Zelda-like in terms of humour. Whether you do any of the missions is largely up to you - I've done all but the last few now, and have opened up all of the accessible areas, and levelled up to Guild Master in all of the crafting guilds. I have a few farms scattered about that are largely self-sustaining, so I can just relax, wander about and enjoy the scenery, and maybe do a bit of fishing or building stuff for my farms. Works with an XBox controller too.

It might not present enough of a challenge for you, or it might be just right. For me it's been something I can play for a couple of hours after a busy day, and there's just enough to keep me interested, but not so much I ever feel stuck or frustrated. I might not play it much more, as I'm now playing RiME, which is similarly cute, but much more linear in terms of gameplay.
posted by pipeski at 1:20 PM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's a bit out of left field, but everyone else has suggested the games I loved & would have suggested, but I'm completely addicted to "The Long Dark". The story mode is meh but teaches you the basics, the sandbox is where it's at. It's a different sort of resource management as you're managing limited resources to survive. Visually it's stunning, with lots to explore. Easy mode is nice & easy, but the hardest mode can be heart pounding terror.

You might also like "Don't Starve" & maybe Minecraft.
posted by wwax at 1:21 PM on August 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

May I recommend Oxygen Not Included? (Steam link) It's a resource management game by the same folks who made the aforementioned Don't Starve. It's still early access on steam, but it's an amazing game that is updated regularly with new content. I have played it with a Steam Controller which works fairly well, but it's not listed as "full controller support" so your mileage may vary. It's not in a pixel art style but it does have Klei's quirky art style.
posted by runcibleshaw at 1:50 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing Banished.

The only game where my wife looked over my shoulder, and said "Hey what's that you're playing?", pulled up a chair, watched a bit, and then played in tandem with me for days.

Switch to the beta version in Steam and then load up the Mega Mod mod.

posted by humboldt32 at 1:55 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here to nth The Long Dark (sandbox) and Don't Starve.
posted by corb at 1:55 PM on August 25, 2017

Perhaps RimWorld will work for you? Very management oriented, some combat if you want it. Difficulty is easily adjustable, and you can ramp from "I just want to build things and see my toons flourish" all the way up to "We're all going to die, but how far can I get until then?"

It's a pretty good generator of stories, while still being pretty relaxing to play.
posted by Lafe at 5:21 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

uh okay, I have never ever, shall we say, gamed, but as someone who is really turned off by all the things you mentioned and who likes a lot of the things you did, I recently had a grand old time playing A Night In the Woods. It was beautiful, sad, adorable, wonderfully-written and pretty short. The characters feel very alive and real. It has its own mythology and the setting is sort of based on Pittsburgh. It can easily be played from start to finish in one long evening. I gravitated to it after following one of the artists on Twitter based on his politics, and when I saw the artwork for NITW I found myself too curious to shrug it off as "just a game." So who knows, now maybe thanks to NITW I shall game, as a lady gamer, or whatever.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:59 PM on August 25, 2017

Sunless Sea?
posted by aramaic at 10:15 PM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Try Starbound or Terraria? They are both pixel art but I think it suits the medium of the games quite well, and hits everything else on your list.
posted by yueliang at 3:46 AM on August 26, 2017

I'm surprised I haven't found Firewatch, Gone Home, or Tacoma in here already. I haven't played Tacoma yet but I love the other two, and all three of these fit your requirements.
posted by sixfootaxolotl at 8:55 AM on August 26, 2017

I posted above, but just adding that I also have enjoyed and played the hell out of Banished.
posted by quaking fajita at 9:45 AM on August 26, 2017

More game suggestions, now that I'm home and have access to my Steam library:

Niche is a genetics survival game - you manage a pack of critters, have them hunt for food, evade or fight predators, and breed to increase the traits you want. It's turn-based, so no time pressure, and the critters are adorable.

I backed it on K'start; it's still in early access and features are regularly being added. I've played it a bit and enjoyed it, but couldn't keep track of all the relevant info and my pack kept dying. (I gather they have since reduced the dying options; early game had a lot of "oops you all starve to death," which might be realistic but was not fun.)

Gone Home is a walking sim unfolding story game with a few very light puzzle aspects. (There are people who claim it has no puzzle aspects. They obviously never spent an hour and a half looking for the code or wrench or doorknob it takes to get into the basement.) It won a lot of awards, is a great game - if you like the style in general. I know people who can't play it because the 3d FP travel makes them sick, and others who don't like the "explore and listen" as the main part of the game.

If you do enjoy it, Home Is Where One Starts is in the same genre.

Spore is a creature/alien-building god game. Lots of customizable options; lacks a decent tutorial. (I think the premise is that you'll be so charmed by the creature-building that you won't mind that it doesn't tell you how things actually work. And for the most part, they're correct.)

Cosmochoria and Eufloria are skill/resource strategy things with great art and too much action for me. Eufloria has a free demo version.

Less likely of interest but might have some features/keywords worth considering:
I enjoy hidden object games, but I would expect you'd find them too much like point-and-click narrative adventures. If you do decide to try them, look for the ones that have the "Hidden Object" user-created tag; Steam also puts escape-the-room puzzles with them. Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink is one of the best, and Sinister City, at $0.99, is hilariously campy.

Voodoo Garden involves resource management and clicking (at first; later the resources start to harvest themselves; as a game, it's reasonable well-balanced. It's pretty and the music is pleasant and those go a long way in favor of a background-ish not-quite-idle game. The promo video is an accurate example of gameplay.

Shower With Your Dad is absolutely not in your range of "I like this kind of game." Not me, either. It's pixel art, real-time action, no skill/level development, male protagonists only... and hilarious fun for those "I am 13 and want to snigger at not-quite-dick-jokes" moments. Also, Steam doesn't allow explicit pictures, so the screencaps all have censored blocks over the relevant bits, which wind up looking even more noticeable than the in-game pictures.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:45 PM on August 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

For exploration, nothing really tops Space Engine. It's more of a sandbox simulation, but very easy to move around in (probably better suited for mouse/keyboard than gamepad, but does support joystick inputs and "flight mode").

Also sticking with the space theme similar to Subnautica, Space Engineers and Planet Nomads may also be worth looking into (Nomads is shaping up better than No Man's Sky in my opinion).
posted by samsara at 7:05 AM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing that you may LOVE No Man's Sky. It's explicitly about resource management, exploration and base building. Many of the animals you can discover are weird and adorable.
posted by ancient star at 1:04 PM on August 29, 2017

So, I saw your list and I was reminded of Chocolatier -- while it's not super immersive (it's pretty casual), it does have a great 'Civ Lite' feel, and I actually really enjoyed it. It seems repetitive, but somehow it wasn't. It was popular enough to spawn two sequels. I think you can play the first one online for free, with ads, on some sites, so try it out. I usually don't like games like this, but as I said, I really enjoyed it, and would replay it one day.

Also, have you considered the Sims 4? It is much more simplistic than Sims 3, and runs a lot better. It can be a bit repetitive, (especially the Base Game) but you're only limited by your imagination. Personally, I like to take on some legacy challenges if I get bored. Also, if you like building (as I do) then the game is endless fun, but to get the most out of it, you probably will need a couple expansions, so it can get a bit costly. The expansions are probably worth it, and the stuff packs and game packs you can do without if getting more objects aren't your thing.

And I haven't played this myself, but I've been meaning to get Cities: Skylines since forever. Especially after I read this interesting/funny article about a Cities: Skylines town with only one inhabitant.

Have fun!
posted by Dimes at 9:03 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

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