Saturday, December 29, 2018

Into the vortex, again...

I created this blog back in 2011 as a continuation of the work I started on "Gaming's Edge," a gaming-themed web site I ran from 2005 until 2010. I didn't begin calling what I did there a blog, or bestow it with its current moniker until 2007 but I digress.

Since then, a lot of things have changed but one thing that's remained consistent has been my desire to express myself through writing.

In the beginning, I felt it was important to focus my efforts here on a particular subject for a variety of reasons that all seemed completely sensible at the time. As a result, "Vortex-1" has historically been a blog almost exclusively about video games.

That's going to change.

One of the most important lessons I've learned over the years as a content creator is that for the most part, people read this blog, or follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to my YouTube channel because they like me and are generally interested in what I have to say, regardless of the topic. To be sure, I've lost a few folks over the years by branching out and addressing subjects beyond gaming but at the end of the day, those losses have always been short-term and the benefits of expanding my creative palette have always, inevitably manifested in time.

In that spirit, I've decided to restructure this blog to better reflect he way I represent myself on other platforms these days. Does that mean I'm never going to post about video games here again? Of course not. What it does mean is that I'm now free to post about anything I choose, which I believe will ultimately prove far more interesting to everyone concerned in the long run.

With that said, look forward to more regular and varied posts starting in 2019 and be sure to poke around while you're here as there have been lots of subtle changes to this publication due to its redesign.

Until next time, have a happy new year!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

My Favorite PC Games of 2018

Once again, I'm back with my annual list of favorite PC games for the year.

As mentioned in my previous post, I've had far less time to play games this year than in years past but I've still managed to come up with a solid "top 10" for you folks to peruse.

Regular readers know the drill by now, and it's especially true this year. A game's absence from this list should not be taken as an indication of its quality.

I also want to address the elephant in the room for long-term readers who my be wondering why "DayZ" didn't make the list despite its release from Early Access purgatory. Be sure to check out my video review below for details.

That said, let's light this candle!

#10 - Overkill's The Walking Dead

Of all the games I played in 2018, "Overkill's The Walking Dead" (OTWD) is the one I have the most mixed feelings about. On one hand, there are several elements of the experience that I genuinely enjoy, such as its progression systems, or various esthetic and gameplay elements in the game's environments. On the other hand, copious technical issues, combined with OTWD's in my mind unreasonably-high, AAA price tag, have given me pause when it comes to broadly recommending it. Still, this is a title worth keeping an eye on for fans of co-op-focused, first-person, zombie games.

#9 - The Forest

I'm a sucker for a good co-op game. I also have a bit of a soft spot for open-world, sandbox, survival titles, so "The Forest," with its progression-focused, environment-based narrative elements is a game that had little difficulty drawing my friends and I into its world. Sporting some of the creepiest and most lifelike AI enemies I've seen in a game in ages, "The Forest" has a lot going for it, regardless of a few immersion-breaking technical issues. As a final caution, it's worth noting that the game's overall tendency to obfuscate information about its environment, and the best way to proceed through it, might compel players to spend an inordinate amount of time consulting wikis and other external sources as opposed to discovering things through organic gameplay.

The Forest (via Steam)

#8 - Dark Quest II

A co-op friendly, turn-based, dungeon crawler with light RPG elements at a reasonable price, you say? Sign me up!

Dark Quest II (via Steam)

#7 - Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War

Were you disappointed by "Civilization: Beyond Earth?" Have you been craving a sci-fi themed, grand strategy game that's simple and straightforward enough to play casually, yet possessing enough mechanical depth to accommodate more sophisticated tastes and moods? If so, "Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics of War" is a game you should probably play.

#6 - Wreckfest

It may not be an all-encompassing racing experience, but as a title that focuses squarely on a fun, frenetic sub-genre featuring full-contact motorsports with a heavy emphasis on the demolition of one's opponents, "Wreckfest" has no equal.

Wreckfest (via Steam)

#5 - Metal Gear Survive

Don't mind the haters. This game is awesome! If you love open-world, survival-themed experiences with a, frankly, more coherent narrative than most of the Kojima-helmed Metal Gear titles, give this game a fair chance. For what it's worth, if co-op had been enabled for the full campaign, and not just the instance-based missions, which are still fun to play with friends, "Metal Gear Survive" would have easily made the top three on this list, and had a real shot at being my game of the year.

Metal Gear Survive (via Steam)

#4 - Battlefield V

For a long time now, I've been hoping for Electronic Arts and DICE to return to the past glory they achieved with "Battlefield: Bad Company 2," which still ranks as one of my all-time favorite games. While "Battlefield V" (BFV) has yet to equal the splendor of that sublime experience, I can honestly say it's as close as they've come to hitting the mark so far. It will likely be a full year before we see BFV's "final form" but I'm happy to once again find myself on the Battlefield train as I believe it's finally, at long last become a ride worth taking again, and enthusiastically recommending to others.

Battlefield V (via Origin)

#3 - Far Cry 5

Ever since playing the first game and experiencing its visual prowess, I've consistently felt that the Far Cry series was on the verge of greatness. Sadly, there was always something missing from each effort, be it a co-op campaign, inspired environmental and mission design, or a compelling narrative and cast of characters. For me, "Far Cry 5" is the first in the series to finally "get it all right." There's so much to like about this game, from its tone, to its pacing, to its superb esthetics, I really struggle to find much to complain about with this one. Sure, limiting co-op to two players, particularly in the Arcade mode seems a little arbitrary and some in-game activities are certainly better than others, but overall, I would highly recommend "Far Cry 5" to anyone in search of a fun, polished, co-op friendly, first-person shooter experience.

Far Cry 5 (via Steam)

#2 - Jagged Alliance: Rage!

As a big fan of the Jagged Alliance series, I approached "Jagged Alliance: Rage!" (JAR) with a certain amount of trepidation. Being familiar with Cliffhanger Productions' previous title, "Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown," which recurring readers will note was #2 on my 2015 list, I felt reasonably confident that JAR would be a solid, co-op friendly, tactical, turn-based strategy experience. Still, I was worried that the relatively small team at Cliffhanger might have trouble capturing the essence of the IP and applying it to the sort of games they make. Fortunately, I need not have feared as JAR has proven to be a refreshing and welcome experience that I've thoroughly enjoyed in my 20+ hours with it so far. If a modern re-skin of "Jagged Alliance 2" is the only thing that would satisfy you, you'd do well to give JAR a wide birth; however, fans of the series open to some new ideas, and eager to share a Jagged Alliance-like adventure with a friend, will almost certainly find a lot to love.

#1 - For the King

"For the King" is a nearly-perfect game. Play it. Love it. Thank me later. Seriously. I could go on and on about the many wonderful aspects of this title and do my utmost to pick nits regarding it all day, but your time and money would be far better spent just playing "For the King" and experiencing for yourself what a charming, well-executed, satisfying, fully-featured, reasonably-priced game should be.

For the King (via Steam)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

My Favorite Free to Play Games of 2018

Hey, everybody!

Never fear! My annual "My Favorite PC Games of the Year" post is still coming at the end of December. This year, I've decided to give the free-to-play titles I played in 2018 their own list as this will give them their own place to shine, and let me feature more traditional games in the annual list.

Obviously, as with the recurring feature, I certainly haven't played every free-to-play title currently available, so a game's absence here should not be taken as an indication of its quality.

With that said, let's do this!

Honorable Mentions

Being very busy this year writing, publishing, and promoting my second novel, I didn't have as much time as I typically do to play games. As a result, there were a few that, while I enjoyed them quite a bit, I simply wasn't able to thoroughly evaluate, or spend as much time with them as I'd prefer to before ranking and recommending them. Those are listed here.

By the way, if any of you are curious about my new book, here's a short video about it:

Atlas Reactor

Those of you who've been consumers of my gaming-related content for a while no-doubt know that "Atlas Reactor" is one of my all-time favorite games. It also has the distinction of being my "game of the year" for 2016. As such, I couldn't in good conscience make a list of top, free-to-play games without including it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again to anyone who will listen to reason. If you haven't played "Atlas Reactor," you're seriously missing out on one of the best games ever made. Do yourself a favor and give it a try.

Atlas Reactor (via Steam)

Ring of Elysium

If not for its unique, arctic environment and its novel traversal mechanics, "Ring of Elysium" (RoE) would be just another PUBG clone. Fortunately for it, those two standout features, combined with a generally-solid technical implementation, despite being firmly entrenched in the midst of its Early Access process, make RoE the most refreshing Battle Royale game I played in 2018.

Ring of Elysium (via Steam)


There are a lot of horror-themed games out there. There are also a lot of asymmetrical PvP games. There are even a few games about secretly working against a group of "co-op" players– ever since "The Ship" popularized that particular concept years ago; however, if you want a free-to-play game that combines all those elements, "Deceit" is likely the game for you. Whether you're playing with, or against, friends, or total strangers, this game is a blast, assuming that your nerves can take it.

Deceit (via Steam)


If you're on the hunt for an ever-evolving, co-op friendly, free-to-play, action experience, "Warframe" is still the king of that particular castle. If you've never played it, or haven't played in a while, its more recent updates and refinements are definitely worth a look.

Warframe (via Steam)

#5 - Realm Royale

I'm generally not a huge fan of Battle Royale (BR) games, especially those that simply regurgitate the gameplay and concepts of the mods and early titles that pioneered the genre. Having said that, if I were going to seriously play a BR game, "Realm Royale" is the one I'd likely choose. From its colorful and generally-appealing esthetic, to its polished and refined gameplay, to its handful of innovative features, such as its forging system, which, among other things, allows for teammate revives, there's a lot to like about this game, and I'd say just enough to elevate it above its many BR rivals.

Realm Royale (via Steam)

#4 - Ironsight

Do you think Call of Duty is a slow-paced FPS for babies? If so, you may want to give "Ironsight" a try. Sporting a custom game engine that was built from the ground up specifically to support its ultra-fast-paced gameplay, "Ironsight," if nothing else, is an impressive technical achievement, which continues to evolve as it marches toward its release from open beta. I'm a big fan of this game, despite being terrible at it, and would definitely recommend it to fans of twitch-oriented, skill-based first person shooters.

Ironsight (Official Site)

#3 - Eternal Card Game

In my opinion, this is the best Collectable Card Game (free to play or otherwise) currently available. The gameplay, the modes, the business model, combined with the level of polish in its presentation make "Eternal Card Game" an easy title to recommend, and a standout in a very crowded genre.

Eternal Card Game (via Steam)

#2 - Black Squad

I'm a sucker for a good, modern military FPS and "Black Squad" delivers just that. There are definitely still some occasional problems with matchmaking, client/server performance, and hit registration, but for an Early Access title, it's a generally solid, fun game that I often enjoy playing with friends.

Black Squad (via Steam)

#1 - Paladins

Without a doubt, "Paladins" is the best team-oriented, free to play, hero shooter I've played. If you like that style of gameplay, you're probably already playing it, but for those unaware, "Paladins" is absolutely worth a look.

Paladins (via Steam)