Review Followups: The Surge & Drifting Lands

Patches can make a world of difference when it comes to games, improving or sabotaging them in various ways that render certain portions of reviews covering their initial launch state fairly obsolete. From Larian patching out fun ways of breaking their games (and as much as I love them, that’s something I’m still bitter about) to The Witcher 2 implementing weird new blurring techniques that actually make the game uglier, I always feel like anything I write for newer games will eventually be made untrue as patches change various things. Because of that, I’m starting a new section for “review followups,” which is where I go back after games have received some patching in order to cover some of the ways they’ve changed. Of course, there may be further patches that change things even more, and there’s really no way of knowing when a game’s patching is over—lest we forget, KOTOR 2 received a patch 10 years after the supposed last one—but a handful of updates should more than suffice to get a feeling for the direction a game is headed in.

As a side note, I’m only going to followup with games that I received review keys for. This is half for the sake of my sanity (should a patch render a game incompatible with older saves or saves be located somewhere crazy like the registry, it might require starting from the very beginning) and half for the sake of having a unique angle to attack from when requesting keys.

The Surge

The good

The changelogs suggest that numerous bugs have been patched out.

The bad

Really, I was only able to get through the game without going crazy because I took my time and abused the implanted electrodes that allowed you to generate energy infinitely, with the only limitation being a cooldown. This allowed me to snipe many of the more troublesome enemies from relative safety and made the game much more accessible, something that ended up being a huge plus given how unfair things could sometimes get. It also made it possible to heal to full health between fights, which is possible with normal healing items, but not limited to a certain number of charges in the same way those normal healing items are. That made a big difference on that first playthrough where it wasn’t ever obvious how far away from a shortcut back to Ops I was at any given point.

This has since been changed; implanted electrodes now have a limited number of uses much like healing items have, and since you’re best off using those rather than healing with energy (which tends to be a much weaker heal), there’s no reason to ever equip the implanted electrodes. They’re a waste of a slot, an entirely useless ability you’ll never actually use, and the entry barrier for newcomers not comfortable with mazelike areas has obviously gone through the roof as a result.

Being able to play cheap like that wasn’t only for the sake of a first-time playthrough, though. It was also a ward against the bugginess, making it easier to get through annoying sections after, say, the game crashes. I could at least understand changing the implanted electrodes if all of the bugs had first been ironed out, but it’s not like the game’s in a flawless state at present; not only is the area 3 bug where enemies respawn after you quit out and load your save still present, but I also managed to fall through an elevator floor to my death on loading.

I wrote in my review that The Surge was worth a playthrough or two. That’s no longer true, and I’d advise anyone on the fence about the game to avoid it since the developers are catering exclusively to the hardest of hardcore players at the expense of things like basic entertainment value.

Drifting Lands

The good

Updates have fixed a number of problems I complained about. The rocks that flew past the camera during daytime stages, making it appear like the screen was flashing randomly? That can now be toggled off, which is great. The option to pilot the ship using the mouse during missions has also been added, which is fun for a few minutes, but not the kind of thing you’re likely to throw out your controller for.

One thing that was added that makes a huge difference, however, is a button to slow your movement speed down for more accurate bullet dodging. I didn’t realize how helpful this could be until I was dodging through walls of bullets I’d have never been able to get away from at the default movement speed.

The boss fight with the two orbs that almost saw me ragequit the game outright has also been fixed up a bit. Now the first orb shows up alone for a short amount of time, giving you a chance to whittle down its health somewhat.

The bad

Bosses will still instantly kill you if you run into them. I didn’t mention it in my review, but this is also true of larger laser-type enemies for some reason. Other laser enemies don’t insta-kill you, so this can feel really unfair and random the first time you collide with one. Granted, there’s technically a skill that can be equipped to help combat this by allowing you to survive such collisions, but it’s in the same tree as the “automatic retreat” skill and you can only use one skill from each tree, so equipping the one that keeps you from being one-shotted would mean that death causes you to lose your ship entirely. The amount of grinding that would be required to get a new ship’s stats leveled up to try again is so mind-numbing that I refused to bother unlocking anything in that skill tree.

Speaking of things that are still a problem, distracting foreground and background elements are still very much a thing in certain stages, and given the fact that the developer has apparently designed the game this way intentionally for some insane reason, it’s unlikely that it’ll ever be fixed to be less distracting.

Some new enemy patterns have also been added, and they’re mostly pretty decent. I died two times in a row to a later iteration of the one below because I accidentally clipped the ships (which are the ones that instantly destroy you, naturally), though. This is the point where I uninstalled the game and exclaimed out loud, “nope, f*** this game forever!” The frustration of that moment aside, however, the patches have improved Drifting Lands quite a bit, and despite my personal hatred of insta-deaths that tend to happen at the end of annoyingly long stages, I’d probably recommend the game now to anyone who can tolerate that sort of thing.

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