My Ongoing Battle With Savescumming

I like strategy games. This is probably a surprise to no one, especially those of you who hound me endlessly about my addiction. You know who you are. My favourites are turn-based or pausable games like Civilization and Europa Universalis 4, which I’m pretty good at and okay at, respectively. However, I’m also a fan of tactical combat games. Think XCOM and the upcoming Phoenix Point, or even RimWorld to a certain extent. Thing is, unlike my historical strategy games, I am downright awful at tactical strategy. Preschoolers could probably wipe the floor with me.

As I write this, I recently finished losing an XCOM 2 campaign. It’s my first campaign that I’ve been playing on and off since the console release (it’s one of those games that I’ll put down for a few months before picking up again), so it’s not too bad. From what I hear it’s not that uncommon for Commanders to need a few goes at it before a win comes through. However, I also played on the very easiest difficulty, one meant for people who had never played a tactical combat game before. Bear in mind that I had played Enemy Unknown before this. Also, and this is a pretty big however, I savescummed like mad. Failed a mission? Reload save. Lost a top-tier soldier? Reload save. Didn’t tell Bradford to shut up enough? Reload save. Savescumming is my bread and butter of XCOM 2, especially with a large number of timed missions meaning you can’t overwatch ad infinitum until every enemy is dead like you could in the first game. Firaxis added timers to get rid of that particular cheese, luckily I had another to fall back on.

Now, I don’t savescum in every game, and some I be disgusted if I did. My precious historical strategy games like Civ and EU4 either have ironman enabled if that’s a feature, or have autosaves that only get touched because of bugs. And even in my savescum sanctuaries, I’ve been trying to get better recently. In my current XCOM 2 game, I’ve been clean so far, and am also noticing how badly I messed up last game. I kinda ignored a lot of the non-tactical combat stuff before, which probably made the game way harder than it needed to be. I basically forced myself into savescumming by doing stupid things like never building any friggin’ resistance comms. Hopefully this time I’ll pay attention to more than just shooting aliens, and won’t have to savescum. As much.

So is the takeaway that I should be playing better, and I’ll be cheesing less? Well, kinda. My second big savescumming game (or maybe first, since I play it a lot more) is RimWorld. If you don’t know RimWorld, it’s an early-access colony building game. It just recently hit beta, but it’s still a very full-feeling game, despite not being called a full game. Think Minecraft or something similar. Anyway, RimWorld is based heavily around random events. Some can be good, some can be bad. Some can be neither. While playing better playing better will yield better results, and therefore less savesumming, the randomness of the game throws a lot of that out the window. It’s not uncommon for even the best let’s players to say “this could be the end of me” when a particularly bad events pops. A single bad event probably won’t destroy you, but the negative spiral effect can be huge. Which brings me to my next story.

I recently had my first RimWorld tornado event happen, new to the latest version. My luck being what it is, the tornado decided that it would spawn right in the middle of my base, and rip through my main building. It…wasn’t that bad, honestly. It caused some minor injuries, damaged some of my infrastructure, and sucked up most of my food. Okay, that part was pretty bad. I decided I was going to play through the pain, rather than reverting to an earlier auto-save. And thus began the spiral. In addition to ripping through my freezer, the tornado all but destroyed my kitchen. This of course made it really hard to replace all of the food that I had lost. On top of that, I’d been struggling to have enough components (an item used in almost all electrical or mechanical items) throughout the game. Rebuilding my stove was hard, as was getting some of my power generation back. On top of that, the game decided I was to have no more good events. Multiple raids came my way, injuring colonists and making them unable to fix the things that needed to be fixed, or obtain the food we desperately needed. Once everyone was more or less healed, I’d get another raid, or some other bad event. Soon, there was only one kind of meat left: the raiders. Raw. The colonists did not like this, and soon went crazy. After just barely surviving for about an hour an a half, I gave up. All of my pets and livestock were dead. One of my colonists was dead. The rest had a tenuous grip on sanity, or none at all. So, I savescummed. I went back to a save I had immediately after the tornado, when things were bad but not terrible. It’s as far back as I could go. Hopefully, RNGesus will be kinder to me this time, and I’ll make it through okay. Hopefully.

I don’t like savescumming, but I don’t dislike it either. I am trying to stop, or at least slow down, in the games that I do it the most. I’m going to play better, and hope that reduces the need for it. I’m going to power through the minor bad things, and hope that I get back on my feet quickly. Maybe it will get to a point where I don’t need to do it at all. I’d be happy with that. But if I continue to savescum, even just a little, I’d also be happy. They’re video games, they’re not real life. If I’ll enjoy myself more by rewinding the consequences, I’ll rewind. That may sound a bit hypocritical considering the games I don’t savescum, but those are different games. Those games, I enjoy playing with the consequences (and am just better at, so screw up less). It’s not a black-and-white scenario. In RimWorld, I’m usually pretty evil, but in most RPGs I’m a paragon of virtue. To me, this is a different version of the same thing. I play one game one way: evil, and one game another game another way: good. I play one game one way: savescumming, and one game another way: living with my mistakes. Do I want to stop savescumming? Kinda, but I’ll probably still do it, at least a bit. That may sound weird, and I’m not even sure it makes sense to me, but that’s okay. Whether or not it makes sense, I’ll be okay with it every time I do it, and not okay with it when I don’t. It’s that simple.