End of the Year 2021: Deep Cuts: The Waypoint Rarities Collection

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the bombast, the grandeur, and, most of all, the marketing, of large triple AAA games. Though AAA games are not the only ones to have received attention as AA games and major indie games with significant backing - either in terms of money, staff, or renown - have come to attention as well.

Yet, there are games and interactive works outside of those categories, and outside of the determined area for “indie” games. We are leaving what that means somewhat ambiguous, and up to you. Maybe it was a game you found searching through a game jam on itch. Maybe it was the side project of an artist whose work you follow. Maybe it’s someone’s first game. Whatever the case, if it made an impact on you, we want to know about it!

This category is for games that might not get tons of attention, but show effort and innovation. It is to talk about and bring to light games that you have stumbled upon, that defy tradition, or perhaps show a new direction for game, one that few might know about.

Now, what’s that rarity you’re amazed everyone isn’t playing?

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My favorite thread every year, the one where I get to list cool things I find on itchio.

co-open is a little immersive sim about your first time doing the groceries. It’s - to me - the perfect representation of the ‘wholesome game’ concept; it’s a nice world, with nice people (and cats). It’s a game about a community, set in a cooperatively owned grocery store that doesn’t carry everything, but it carries what people need. It’s cozy and kind, and it’s nice to see games with characters who use neo-pronouns. (It also has the option to pay for or pick up a community copy, depending on your finances.)

Nojong is - as the description says - a mashup of Tetris and Mahjong. It’s simple, but it’s extremely fun. Also, the soundtrack is go good. Maybe my favorite soundtrack for a Tetris, which is saying something because I am the sort of person who sometimes boots up Tetris just to listen to the music.

The Sokpop Collective always brings interesting games to the table, and when I can, I try to pick up a couple of their games or subscribe to their Patreon for a month or two to see what they put out. They had a few interesting ones this year, I hope to pick up Toverblade next time I have a chance, and Pocket Watch looks like a delightful timeloop game (that came out before the other 800 of those this year). But my favorite of the ones I had a chance to play was Apocalich, a 1-2 hour RPG about killing a lich. Really cute, a lot of item variety and potential for different playthroughs, and it has couch co-op!

And because I could make a real wall of a post, I’ll keep the others to short shout-outs.

Interview with the Whisperer is a game about interviewing an old man who could speak to God through a radio, from The Red Strings Club developers. A Little to the Left is about organizing the little items on your desk, getting an expanded release next summer. And for the horror folks, The Well (a Lovecraftian horror game, short and spooky; cw animal death) and Haunted Demo Disc 2021 (a collection of various PS1-style horror demos - 散歩 and Ecostasis were my favorites) were both great.

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I see that the Haunted PS1 collective has already been brought up, so I’d like to add CHAIN

Yes, this was 2020, but time blurs together nowadays. This project had 20 developers make jam games where each developer only got to see the game immediately prior. I don’t think you have to play it, watching a stream is probably sufficient (as some of the games are a bit rough). But it’s so interesting seeing how different elements bubbled up and faded away over the sequence of games.

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I would like to highlight some mods of 2021!

Long War of the Chosen for XCOM 2

At the launch of XCOM 2 Pavonis Interactive released Long War after being hired by Firaxis to create it following the success of the original Long War for XCOM as a way to show off what was possible with modding. Firaxis designer Jake Solomon called XCOM 2 the “20 hour tutorial for Long War”.

Long War is an incredibly brutal version of XCOM that takes what already makes XCOM fun and removes all the training wheels and things in the background that are secretly skewing rolls in your favor and on top of this adds what feels like more believable guerrilla warfare gameplay to the geosphere.

Now you need to do things like setup actual cell networks and strengthen them to help uncover missions. You have multiple squads of fighters that you need to balance because anyone of them could wipe. Advent will react to how you are doing in specific regions of the world and strengthen those areas and conduct more raids.

Enemy AI is updated to be more ruthless, there’s a new tech tree, you have all new classes, enemies, etc.

So why is a mod that came out in 2017 getting hype today in 2021 almost 5 years after release?

Because War of the Chosen came out in 2018 and might as well have been called XCOM 2.5 because it broke almost every old gameplay mod and by this point Pavonis Interactive had stopped updating Long War and were working full time on their strategy game Terra Invicta. The changes that War of Chosen brought to XCOM 2 are massive from a functional and quality of life point of view.

If you wanted to play Long War this meant you had to play on original XCOM2 and could only use compatible original XCOM 2 mods.

Things you lost from downgrading to original XCOM 2 in order to play Long War:

  • Load times are significantly shorter on War of the Chosen. I’m talking measurable in minutes.
  • Optimization, War of the Chosen runs a lot smoother
  • Notification of who you can target when you move to a new space. It’s very easy to forget this is a feature that did not ship with XCOM 2 and was restricted to War of the Chosen somehow
  • Bug fixes that prevented (or more often reduced the likelihood) of things like softlocking on overwatch reaction and crashes to desktop
  • Newer gameplay and cosmetic mods
  • Community Highlander which does major bug fixes that Firaxis never fixed

There has been a long running effort by a dedicated team of individuals to get Long War moved entirely over on to War of the Chosen and take advantage of War of the Chosen’s new features such as allied factions, the lost, and of course The Chosen.

This is a mod you start and you go in understanding that the first 3 runs you do are probably going to be failures and just learning how it works but winning feels so incredibly rewarding. I highly recommend this mod to anyone who is looking to play a challenging turn based strategy game.

If you are interested in playing this mod start by unsubscribing from all your current mods on Steam, read this, and make sure you not only subscribe to all the listed required mods on Steam, but use the alternate mod launcher (update broke the built in mod launcher earlier this year), and be sure to read the Steam workshop page and that a fore mentioned linked github page.

Lambda Wars

This is a HL2 RTS mod that’s been in development for a very, very long time (I want to say since 2007). It’s an RTS game built in Source which is just something you don’t think you would see very often given how optimization works on the engine but for some reason people keep making games with top down cameras in it.

I want to like this mod more given that it is technically impressive but it’s just okay. It’s the kind of thing that in 2010 I would have been all over being a free RTS with an ability map and mod for it but it’s just kind of not that exciting. If anything this makes me wish Overwatch was still an active mod, much more a fan of the idea of FPS + RTS. If you’re looking to play an RTS with friends on a Friday night and you don’t all have gamepass to play Age of Empires Lambda Wars is okay and worth checking out if anything for the HL2 nostalgia.

Map labs

Map Labs did not release this year but it’s an ongoing project that I think is worth reminding people about. It’s a project setup to give HL2 mappers a challenge or theme every couple of weeks to complete and then the maps are packaged up and uploaded as a part of the mod forming an anthology of the communities work. It’s a fun way that the HL2 singleplayer mapping community has stayed active even when Valve seemingly wants nothing to do with their older communities (by which I mean would it kill them to add workshop support for HL2?).

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Back in May I wrote about Unpaid Serenade for Future Solution Group [2026 eCon Grief/Heartbreak Singalong Nightmare/Archive], a kinda fever dream short story about the absolute terror of public performance.

I used to go hard on public speaking. Trekking down to London for Videobrains, agreeing to last-minute hypertalks in Berlin and Zurich, guest lecturing at my old Uni. Without fail I would get on stage feeling unprepared and somewhat sick and, in one case, (cw: blood) suffering a heavy nosebleed from stepping off a plane not an hour before..

Unpaid Serenade… captures that shaking anxiety so well, turning into an impromptu type-a-long Karaoke performance as your character slurs and stumbles and fails their way through a cover of What A Wonderful World. But there’s a real throughline of spite throughout the entire thing, for corporate back-patting and climate failure and the existence of self-congratulatory awards shows that rings far too hard for anyone who’s existed in this space long enough.

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Everyone should play The Ratchelor at least once.

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