Against the Storm
This is just a short shoutout for the game Against the Storm
, which is leaving early access today. I very much recommend this game, especially if you are looking for a new angle on city building games. The combination of city building and rogue-like elements works really very well for this game, which limits the cities you build to a reasonable size and complexity. The different biomes and conditions make every new game different and interesting again, and the "between games" system of progression is also very well done.
I have been very much impressed by Eremite Games, who have for over a year now produced a good sized patch for Against the Storm every two weeks. Their support for this game is exemplary. And by taking into account player feedback, they have fine-tuned the different elements of the user interface to near perfection. I have already played it for 160 hours, and that won't be all.
Note that while I consider the $30 price tag on Steam very reasonable for what you get, Against the Storm will also be available from today on via Game Pass
A first look at Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader
Being a fan of tactical, turn-based CRPG, I decided to buy Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader. It supposedly is the least buggy of Owlcat Games' releases, so I hope I don't regret not having waited for the inevitable patches. While I wouldn't call myself a fan of Warhammer, I always found the world building very good, and was interested to learn more about the specifics of the Rogue Trader role-playing game. Having said that, I do wonder how this game is going to be received by the more "progressive" parts of the gaming press. Warhammer 40K is fundamentally a satire about how evil humanity can get, and requires a certain type of humor to be enjoyed. Some people might consider that it needs a huge trigger warning, and the game deals with a lot of really dark stuff, and human lives are considered to be cheap in this universe.
The game launch wasn't perfect. The game was supposed to be released at 5 pm in my time zone, but for 40 minutes on Steam the base game wasn't available, you could *only* buy the DLCs. Or, with a workaround, buy the $100 deluxe edition, but not the $50 base game. Needless to say that struck some people as possibly intentional, but I tend to apply Hanlon's Razor
to such situations: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by neglect, ignorance or incompetence.". 40 minutes later the situation was resolved, and thanks to my new fibre optics internet connection I had the game downloaded and installed within minutes.
I only played through the prologue up to now, which expectedly was rather linear. But by sheer luck I seem to have made a reasonable choice for a character, a sniper operative. The problem I tend to have with Owlcat Games is that sometimes I choose a character and then I meet the premade companions, and discover that given the other people in my party I'd rather have played something else. For example, if I had chosen a warrior / tank build, I would have ended up with the same build as my first companion, and that would have been rather annoying. In the prologue you get a tank warrior, a psykker operative, and a soldier. So if you want something different, you need to take either an officer, or one of the other three classes with a very different build than the companions. As the psykker is somewhat special, I don't mind that my main is another operative; as a sniper he plays very different, and the special abilities of two operatives work well together.
Character creation and combat is pretty deep, but fortunately slightly less deep than the previous Owlcat Games, which were based on the Pathfinder RPG. I decided *not* to overly optimize, but just take the choices at each level for each character that seem reasonable or fun. But I am playing only on a medium difficulty level, as I believe that playing on "unfair" requires too much optimization and doesn't leave you with many options to try out some fun stuff. Personally I do like the design decision to have have a lot of low level enemy minions in each combat, as it allows for characters to feel powerful against those, even if the boss mobs are tough.
Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader was the last game I had on my radar for this year. I might have missed something, of course. But between the long hours this game will require, and some games I still want to play "for free" on the Game Pass, I think I got the rest of the year covered.
AI-ification of art and the lesson of Impressionism
While great and original art certainly still exists, these days we are often confronted with the more commercial, mass market targeted works of art. When big companies make art for profit, they frequently try to find the "secret formula", and then mass produce following that formula. Which leads to Disney movies like The Marvels or Wish, which feel very generic and formulaic. In video games we get open world games that follow the Ubisoft formula, or games like Diablo IV, which feel like a "best of" previous games, with a bunch of modern monetization added. Passion project, like Baldur's Gate 3, are few and far between. Online writing is often search engine optimized, rather than original. I call all of this the AI-ification of art, because if this stuff isn't already made by AI, it soon will be. Finding the formula of already existing stuff, and generating new artworks based on that is exactly what AI does well. But this isn't the first time that technology threatens art.
During centuries, if you wanted a portrait of yourself or your family, you had to hire a painter. Many famous painting, like the Mona Lisa, are originally commissioned works of art. It was the daily bread and butter of painters. Then in 1839 Frenchman Louis Daguerre invented the Daguerreotype, the first form of photography. Other, even cheaper and faster methods of photography were invented in the following decades. Now, if you wanted a portrait of yourself, you could get your photo taken, at a fraction of the cost and time a painted portrait would have taken. Painters were out of their day jobs. When in the 1870s in France the first impressionist paintings appeared, that was not a coincidence, but basically a reaction to the threat of technology. Impressionism tries to depict the human perception and experience of a scene, rather than just the most realistic image. By adding more subjectivity and "soul" to their paintings, the impressionists tried to create works of art that technology couldn't. And that was a critical and commercial success.
Audiences this year have proven that they can distinct between formulaic products and original art, and generally prefer the latter. It is to be hoped that the companies that produce artwork for our entertainment will learn the lesson. We might see more AI-generated products for some years, which hopefully will be rejected by the public in favor of artwork with more "soul" in it, leading to the emergence of new styles based on human creativity rather than technology and formulas.
Rich world demographics and macroeconomics
My generation, the boomers, is named after our numbers. The "baby boom" after World War II until the mid-60s, when the contraceptive pill was invented, created an unusually large generation in most rich countries. And most of my generation, me included, have now retired, with relatively few of us being left in the workforce. Now, if you read articles or watch videos about macroeconomics, you will have heard that this is causing a lot of concern among economists. They talk about "old age dependency ratios", with fewer and fewer working people supporting more and more retirees. And thus they project an economic decline of the first world countries, among gloom and doom. To me that proves two things: Classical economic indicators like GDP are horribly bad at describing the economic situation, and textbook economics are frequently very much detached from the real world. My prediction would be that actually things are looking up.
Just compare the anecdotal evidence you have yourself: Among the people you know or have heard of, are there are lot of cases of elderly people moving in with their kids, because they can't afford housing anymore? I don't know a lot of those cases, but I see and hear many cases of the opposite: People in their 30s still living with their parents, or people in their 30s only able to buy a house with finance from "the bank of mum and dad". The economic error is to consider only production, which is going down when fewer workers are available, instead of wealth. Yes, of course, there will be some flow of wealth from the younger generation paying pensions to the elderly. But a much larger flow of wealth with be in the other direction, with the younger generation receiving huge amounts of money either as gifts from their parents or inheriting it. We know that, because we know who is currently holding most of the wealth, very often in the form of houses, and it is the boomer generation. Of course wealth is even less well distributed than income, and if you are a member of the younger generation and your parents don't own a house you are out of luck; but in aggregate we are looking at the upcoming biggest wealth transfer in history from old to young.
But inheritances aren't the only good news for younger people. It is macroeconomically obvious that our economies will pivot: Up to recently, economic growth was mostly demand-limited. There was plenty of supply of everything, and it was people's spending that limited GDP. In the future, more and more, economic growth will be supply-limited: Fewer people working will produce fewer goods and services than there is demand for. The good news part of that is that in an economy which is supply-limited, the value of an hour of work is going up relatively to the value of capital. We are already seeing the first examples of companies having to pay employees more money, because of a shortage of talent. Note that even in an economy with falling GDP, if a larger part of the money is going to the working classes, the economy will feel better for the average person.
The macroeconomic situation after World War II also was supply-limited, with many countries still having food rationing for years after the war ended. A limited supply of goods and a shortage of labor led to one of the biggest economic booms in history, which was especially exceptional in that the newly created wealth was much better distributed. Life was good for the average person, which then led to people having all those babies. While of course the process won't be painless, I do think that it is very possible that another such boom is ahead. Economies do operate in large cycles. A shortage of labor might just be what is necessary to right things.
Age of Wonders 4: General Advice
I spent more hours this year playing Age of Wonders 4 than I did playing Baldur's Gate 3, although that is in part due to me having already played a lot of BG3 during early access. But you could say that Age of Wonders 4 is my "game of the year", in a year with a lot of really strong other contenders. It is definitely one of those "one more turn" games that make hours fly by. And I really appreciate the good level of support from Paradox, who not only produced already 2 DLCs, but also accompanied each of those DLCs with a major patch that improved the game a lot.
The caveat here is that Age of Wonders 4 is a Paradox game, and as such is on the complex side of things. This is a game that you will have to play a few times before actually understanding it. I would say that it is less complex than Paradox's grand strategy titles, and that it is completely possible to just start playing casually without feeling too lost. But it is really advisable to play your first games on easy difficulty, and play on normal difficulty for trying out casual fun builds, before mastering the game and going to hard or brutal difficulty. At its core, Age of Wonders 4 combines the 4X strategy of games like Civilization with the tactical gameplay of games like Battle Brothers. That is complex, but extremely fun if you like both strategy and tactics. And the strong side of Age of Wonders is that it provides a huge amount of variation you can try out. Goblin pirates raiding an island map? High elf paladin-druids? Mole necromancers living underground? All of these are not only possible, but also perfectly viable to play. So I would like to provide some general advice for people who want to try Age of Wonders 4 and maybe feel a bit lost:
୦ Tactical combat is fun. While you can use auto combat, and the AI doing it isn't terrible, you might have more fun if you play battles manually, especially at the start of the game. Not only can you usually do better than the AI with a bit of practice (and possibly a retry if things went wrong), but you also learn a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of your army while doing battles manually. Getting the mix between frontline melee troops and backline support and ranged units right takes a bit of practice in manual battles. If your manual battle results are worse than the auto combat results, there is a "watch replay" function to learn how the AI did that. Don't hesitate in the early game to use your hero a lot, he is probably stronger than most other units you have and can take a few hits. Warfare spec is good early game, support spec is good most of the game, while battle magic spec gets very good at higher levels.
୦ The strategic part in most cases is about building a maximum number of cities, not too close together, to cover a maximum of resources, magic materials, and wonders. Units require upkeep in either gold or mana, with high level units needing both plus possibly some imperium. Thus the overall size of all your armies combined is limited by what your cities can support. You usually want to invest gold in your cities, in order to produce more gold and other resources to support your armies. Try to go for a mixed production of everything, food, production, gold, mana, research, draft; you'll see soon enough where you need to concentrate on later when you are constantly short of one thing. Which, depending on the build and the map, might be a different resource in each game.
୦ There are no wrong builds. Some combinations of cultures, traits, and tomes have more synergies than others, but at normal difficulty every build is viable. I literally tried to make the worst possible build with no synergies and one point each in six different affinities, and the game was still fun to play. Having said that, the motivation to start the next game can be that you realized something, for example that you need tons of mana if you want to use a lot of summoned creatures, and that you can optimize a build around that. But just trying out a culture or strategy you haven't tried yet can also be a lot of fun. Most of the time concentrating on one or two affinities gives the best results, but don't be afraid to mix and match.
୦ Free cities are a useful resource. Usually there is one free city close to your starting city that has the same race as you do. Try to find it early, give it your Whispering Stone (unless you chose a culture or trait that doesn't have one), and at least make the city your vassal, or even integrate it if you didn't reach your city cap at that point. For the cultures and traits that are opposed to peaceful diplomacy, e.g. the new Reaver culture, free cities are easier to conquer than AI players.
୦ With AI players, while the empire relations score is of some importance, the really important score is the grievances, resulting in a war justification score. You want that to be positive, so that you can declare justified wars when necessary, which have a lot of advantages over unjustified wars. Note that if you have a positive war justification score, it also means that the AI would need to declare an unjustified war if he wanted to attack you, so the balance of grievances is important even if you don't plan to attack somebody. If you have a surplus of gold, don't hesitate to pay gold to settle grievances.
୦ There are a lot of neutral enemies like monsters on the map. Again, this is a resource. They provide experience for your armies and heroes, while frequently guarding some resources. Monster stacks you leave standing get stronger over time. Especially monster infestations, recognizable by the red borders, are best to tackle as early as possible, before they spawn additional stacks of monsters that come pillaging your empire.
୦ Your empire is limited in size by the city limit. Increasing the city limit is frequently a good investment of you imperium, but it gets rather expensive quickly. You can exert some control beyond your core empire by building outposts with your heroes. An outpost can only control its own and one other province, and costs 10 gold per turn in upkeep. But if you build for example the outpost on a gold mine and control a neighboring wonder with it, the outpost will be a producer of resources rather than a consumer. In the early game, don't forget to build some outposts to grow into cities.
My first mod
I strongly believe in modifying games in order to tweak them more to my preferences. Usually that is just for myself, as everybody's personal preferences are different, and what might make the game better for me, might make it worse for you. But now, for the very first time, I published a mod on the Steam Workshop that other people might use. It is for Age of Wonders 4, and is called Land Geography Changed
Age of Wonders 4 has a random map generator, but normally you cannot tweak that one much. You can select a "geography trait" like Islands, Continents, or Land, and you can select a few other traits. But you can't for example select how many continents you get on a Continents map, or how many mountains on a Land map. Now the Land maps in AoW4 didn't really work for me, as they had far too many mountains. Basically they were designed as a few areas big enough for a city, separated on all sides by mountain ranges, with only a few narrow valleys connecting them. The AI was seriously hampered by that, as crossing a mountain range with a big invasion army needs more coordination than the AI can muster. So the AI was very much funneled by the valleys into very predictable pathways, while the player had the means to seriously abuse this, up to flattening the mountains with the Earth Shatter spell. Also, you could choose the Industrious culture on the Land map, which has scouts that can get rewards from visiting mountain provinces, and that was seriously overpowered on a map with that many mountains.
So my mod reduces the number of mountains, and thus opens up the map considerably. Players and AI have a lot more options to go in various directions. Furthermore, as it turned out, the default Land geography was created by turning lakes into mountains, so there was absolutely no water on the original Land maps. I turned that off, and so now there are a few lakes around, which can be interesting for a city to have as requirement for some buildings. Lakes are also easier to cross than mountains.
While Paradox provides modding tools for Age of Wonders 4, they are far from easy to use, and the available guides from Paradox aren't great. And some things inexplicably simply don't work; for example I first tried to select a different option for the "turn lakes into mountains" function, turning the lakes into grassland. But that resulted in a mod that would always just crash the random map generator, although the option "grasslands" was selectable in a list. Most of the time the problem with creating a mod is that it is very hard to find where a specific game behavior is programmed inside the many available .rpk files. For example I would have liked a mod that changes the starting Imperium to be something other than zero, but I can't find where that is defined. I can find the multiplier for easy/normal/hard, and the income of the throne city, but not the numerical starting value.
Once I had made my mod, it wasn't obvious how to upload it. The guide from Paradox said to use the "publish" function in the Package Manager, which is the central modding software. Unfortunately that information isn't correct, and there is no such "publish" function in that software. Instead one has to make a mod for oneself, and then go to "all installed mods" in the AoW4 launcher, where there is an option to upload the mod to either Steam Workshop or the Paradox website. What it doesn't tell you anywhere is that for the Steam Workshop you also need to make a copy of the thumbnail.png file, which is in the meta_data subdirectory to the main directory of the mod, otherwise Steam Workshop isn't showing a thumbnail icon.
While I made a few other mods for myself, I don't consider them universally interesting enough to upload. There aren't that many people making AoW4 mods, and many of the mods in the Steam workshop have been rendered non-functional by the two major patches that came with the DLCs. But I now know how to write a mod that tweaks the parameters of the random map generator, and could now build maps that couldn't be made without a mod.
YouTube enshittification and the Apple tax
I am watching a lot of YouTube, using the YouTube app on my iPad. The disadvantage of that is that the YouTube iOS app is a walled garden within a walled garden, with both Google and Apple having a lot more control about what I can do and can't do than if you watch YouTube on a browser. Now I used to have a Premium Lite membership to YouTube, in order to avoid ads. Adblockers are nearly impossible to set up when using the iOS app, and recently YouTube started an arms race against adblockers, where whatever adblocker you use might suddenly not work anymore or prevent you from watching videos at all. Unfortunately, in the ongoing enshittification of all web services, YouTube just cancelled my Premium Lite plan, not offering that option anymore. They even had the gall to send me "sorry to see you go" e-mail.
So I was looking how much a full YouTube Premium subscription would cost. And as I was looking on the iPad device, I was shocked by the number: €16.99 per month! But it turns out that €5 of that are in fact the "Apple tax", the additional fee you pay to Apple whenever you buy a subscription directly on an Apple device. The trick is to use a browser instead, where suddenly the same subscription is down to €11.99 (where I live; apparently it's $13.99 in the USA).
The clever thing to do would have been to change my habits, stop using the YouTube app, and start using whatever adblocker is working this week to watch YouTube via a browser. But that is a lot more hassle than I want, and I am pretty sure that YouTube is going to manage to block all adblockers sooner or later. So I subscribed on a browser, just avoiding the Apple tax, because Apple hasn't found a way yet to prevent me from using my YouTube subscription on an Apple device when I haven't subscribed via Apple. Going from Premium Lite to full Premium wasn't exactly what I wanted, but I do have to admit that the full Premium subscription for YouTube has some added advantages that I might use. On a mobile device, the ability to download videos is actually useful. And I am not very happy with the Amazon Music service I get for free with my Amazon Prime subscription, so maybe YouTube Music is better. Although getting YouTube Music to run on an Amazon Echo is a whole added story, where you need to basically turn your Echo into a Bluetooth speaker instead of using Alexa.
Diablo IV is a single-player MMO
I played Diablo IV for just 3 hours before I got totally bored with it. Being aware that many people will say that this isn't enough to evaluate the game, I recognized a familiar argument for a familiar genre of games: MMOs. And I realized that this was exactly why I dislike Diablo IV: It plays like a single-player MMO, with interaction with other players mostly limited to running across them in town, or they participating in the same world event. The number of people you can meet in one zone in Diablo IV is much more limited than theoretically possible for most MMOs, but in reality you don't meet that large groups of other players in MMOs either most of the time.
Where Diablo IV feels most like a MMO, and most to my dislike, is in its utter disrespect for the player's time: A game like Baldur's Gate 3 ends when the character has reached the level cap and the end of the main story; Diablo IV, like a MMO, *begins* when the character has reached the level cap and the end of the main story. It isn't just that I didn't have much fun in my first 3 hours of Diablo IV personally, it feels like I am not even supposed to have fun. The repetitive grind starting at low levels is a feature, not an accident. The rewards, whether it is level-ups or gear you find, don't feel significant, they feel like a small increment in a very long "numbers go up" game. It is hard to get excited about a magic ring that gives +3 hit points and +1% crit chance.
Of course this all is from the perspective of somebody who used to run a MMO blog and played tens of thousands of hours for over a decade of various MMOs. I am simply over this genre. I'm tired of playing a game for many hours only for the purpose of getting to the point where the fun starts. Your mileage may vary, and I am not saying that Diablo IV is a bad game or that you wouldn't have fun with it. But for me it feels like a bad memory of a time I now left behind me, and I don't want to go back to.
Diablo IV free to play
From all I hear and see, Diablo IV is not a very good game. To me the screenshots and bits of video I saw of regular gameplay looked extremely ugly, although admittedly that is more because of the color palette than because of detail and resolution. And Blizzard made some unfortunate choices during release, first patches, and season 1, which led to players leaving the game in droves, and a lot of negative stories in the gaming press. So I wasn't tempted to pay $70 to see for myself. But today I saw on Steam that between today, November 22, and November 28, you can play Diablo IV for free. And now equipped with 1 Gbit/sec fiber internet, the 85 GByte download aren't really a big obstacle anymore. So the game is currently installing on my PC, and I can form my own opinion.
I am asking myself whether Diablo IV shouldn't have been free to play to start with. Diablo Immortal was, and it isn't as if Diablo IV has less ongoing monetization. I am not a big fan of "double dipping", where you first have to pay full price to start playing, and then are still expected to pay monthly for things like battle passes and cosmetics. Even if Diablo IV is not Pay2Win as Immortal, the $20 skins in Diablo IV seem overpriced, especially since you already had to buy the game at full price.
At this point, it would probably be a really bad idea for Blizzard to make Diablo IV free. All the people who paid $70 to $100 for the game would be extremely unhappy. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that sales now aren't great, and Blizzard would love to get more players into the game. The free week is probably some sort of compromise here. We are then expected to get hooked and spend those $70 afterwards. Joke is on you, Blizzard, I'm pretty certain that I can play enough Diablo IV in a week to be done with the game and never spend anything. And I would bet that next year Diablo IV will be available to me at some point without additional cost as part of my Game Pass subscription, now Microsoft's purchase of Activision Blizzard went through.
I was watching a Streamer talking about the patch 1.5 for Victoria 3. He argued that if you only played Victoria 3 at release (like I did), you should now play it again, because the patch made the game a lot better, especially the military side. While I am not convinced, his sentiments very much echoed my thoughts on Age of Wonders 4, it is a much better game half a year later due to patches. Kudos to Paradox in both cases for good patch support and listening to the customers. The patches frequently fixed exactly the points people were complaining about.
Having said that, with Age of Wonders 4 I also encountered the other side of the medal: Community content, from player reviews, YouTube videos, to mods in the Steam Workshop are mostly created when the game comes out. Patches that significantly change the game, make some of the community content obsolete. I wrote several posts about Age of Wonders 4 in May of this year, and several things I said about the game aren't accurate anymore; for example I was complaining about the underground and naval parts, and both of those have been much improved since. In the Steam Workshop for Age of Wonders 4, half of the mods aren't working anymore due to the patches. And the large majority of let's play videos on YouTube were made at release, and the game plays somewhat different now.
I think most games don't change that much over time. Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is also half a year old, and apart from some bug fixes the game still plays very much the same. But there are a handful of examples, from Cyberpunk 2077 to No Man's Sky, where the game today has very little to do with the game at release. And that makes looking for things like reviews somewhat difficult, as you need to specifically look for 2023 reviews of how the game is now, of which there are few compared to the large number of release date reviews. Of course I prefer if a game I bought gets made better, but unfortunately the reviewers, streamers and modders can't be expected to constantly update their community content. Heck, my own blog if full of dead links, as with over six thousand posts it would be extremely hard to constantly update everything. My apologies for that!
Nova Aetas: Renaissance
In October 2020, nearly seven thousand people on Kickstarter backed Nova Aetas: Renaissance, a tactical board game playing in a fantasy Renaissance Italy. Estimated delivery date: December 2021. Actual delivery date to me: Today. I still haven't received The 7th Citadel, funded by over 33,000 people in September 2020, estimated delivery date May 2022, now expected for first half of 2024. On the other hand I have some shipping confirmation mails for crowdfunded games that are not more than half a year late. And I have never backed a board game crowdfunding project that didn't deliver at all. So, two years late is the worst case scenario up to now, with one year late being normal, and less than that being good.
There are two lessons in here: The fulfilment of crowdfunding projects tends to be a problem of project management, and a lot of people who are very good at game design aren't nearly as good at project management. And board game crowdfunding projects are a relatively safe bet, because the cost to produce a physical product and to ship it is somewhat more predictable than the cost to produce a digital product. Video games tend to do a lot worse in fulfilment of crowdfunding projects: The people who backed Star Citizens have been waiting for 11 years for the product to be finished, but only got access to early release versions over the years, with no projected date for the commercial release of the game.
The pork cycle and a return to AoW4
The pork cycle
describes an economic phenomenon of cyclical fluctuations in supply in markets where production takes some time, e.g. livestock. When prices are high, more pigs are being bred, leading to oversupply and falling prices, which then leads to fewer pigs being bred, and so on. I would argue that we are in a pork cycle like supply high for video games right now. The pandemic led to higher demand for home entertainment, leading to an overproduction of video games. And while this is a market in which prices rarely fall if supply is high, the oversupply sure has led to games not being as well received this year. And in response a lack of sales has led to projects being abandoned, layoffs, and studio closures. I'm not really afraid that there will be a lack of videogames in 2025, but I sure think that there will be fewer major releases that year.
While there were many great games in 2023 that I bought and played, the list of games I am waiting for is empty, except for Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader
. There is a good chance that I will succumb to the hype and buy that one on release (December 7); which probably is a bad idea, because it is a game from Owlcat Games. Owlcat games patches their games *a lot*. Wrath of the Righteous had over 150 patches since release
. And while that level of support is commendable, I made the error of playing Wrath of the Righteous on release, and then regretted not having waited let's say a year for patch 2.0, when this was a much more rounded experience with fewer bugs.
Between patches and DLCs, a lot of games do get better over time. So the game that I am currently playing is one I bought earlier this year: Age of Wonders 4. I finally bought the expansion pass for 40 €, although one might argue that the DLCs don't really contain all that much content. But even if you don't pay, each DLC comes with a free patch. And the patches have not only been fixing bugs, but also much improved on some game systems. Especially features that felt unfinished and half-baked on release, like naval combat, have been much improved. The new content in the DLCs is more of the "nice to have" category, but I did enjoy a game playing as a dragon lord.
My video game spending is about the equivalent of one triple-A game per month, and I am fortunate that I can easily afford that. The problem with a pork cycle oversupply of video games is time. I finished neither Hogwart's Legacy nor Baldur's Gate 3 nor Lamplighter's League. And me coming back to AoW4 is in part because I felt I hadn't played that one "enough" either, whatever "enough" is. Still, there were several games which I played through to the end: Tears of the Kingdom, Return to Moria, Jagged Alliance 3, Fae Farm, and a few smaller games, like Pentiment. I also played several games which I plan to get back to, as they are good to play occasionally, like Against the Storm or Hexarchy. Still, it feels as if I never have enough time for all the games, in spite of being retired and having more time than most. So, if I am right and the flood of new game releases will slow down over the next year, I'm okay with that.