Tangledeep (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer/Publisher: Impact Gameworks || Outlook: Positive

Tangledeep is the 16-bit roguelike that should be on your radar.  A beautifully artistic, colorful, and lore-based game that will seemingly have much to offer and iterate on when it finally releases later this year, currently planned for December 2017.  Tangledeep pulls deep from the SNES Final Fantasy games in terms of overall aesthetic with music, sound effects, and art but makes it its own with unique gameplay features and iteration.

I can’t praise the games presentation and production value enough.  This is a swell game to immerse yourself in and right down to the text boxes you’ll be hitting that nostalgia bong over and over (nostalgia bong legal for only 30+).  The music is beautifully composed and really sells you into the exploration dynamic of the game’s story.  The lore of Tangledeep is also mysterious and fanciful — it really piques the interest in discovering more about the forest of Tangledeep and figuring out what secrets it holds.  Since Tangledeep is but a snapshot of the rest of the world, you don’t know what visitors you may come upon in the base camp as it seems “guest” vendors are randomized and will sell things that aren’t usually available if you have the money for it.

Obviously, since Tangledeep is a roguelike, there are many roguelike features, and multiple ways to experience the game itself.  The overall progression comes from your town development, although it is a bit sparse in terms of actual benefits to be gained.  You have six plots where you can plant magical seeds that provide food to you at certain increments.  You can also tame beasts using a special item and drag them back to town for later use as a companion.  Many of your first attempts at getting deep into the forest will probably be fruitless as you discover the mechanics and how things work, as well as fiddling around with the different classes (called jobs) available for play and figuring out what works for you.

Gameplay-wise, you’ve got an expansive list of jobs to play with — currently nine.  Each job is unique and actually has a bit of an interesting spin on some of the usual class types, from a lore angle.  “Personal” stories of each of the individual jobs don’t seem to really get in the way of the greater narrative, but the customization and skill-based special actions go a long way in changing up the experience from one run to the next.

Though the game is turn-based, it’s played in real time.  It’s more like a turn-counter with particular actions taking a certain amount of turns to cast or recharge.  There is also an opportunity to pause during hectic moments of combat to plan out what you strategically want to do in case you get in a bind.  You can also progress time without moving, so you don’t need to get out of position.  Levels are procedurally generated, with some side rooms changing up the tileset dramatically, so the game doesn’t get stale at all.  Trying out the different jobs is also part of the fun and each class can be built to focus on different sets of skills depending on you preference, so the iteration just goes that much deeper.

The meta game is always important for a roguelike.  There is an “intended” way to play Tangledeep where you will encounter permadeath at the end of your run, only allowing for any progress in town to stand.  Being called “Heroic Mode,” this gives you the opportunity to switch your job and try out a new spec for the penalty of starting from scratch.  Adventure Mode is another option where instead of encountering permadeath, you will be sent back to town with penalties, losing your unspent Job Points/Money and half of your XP progress.  The penalties are hefty, but much less impactful than a full reset.  “Hardcore Mode” is the same as Heroic Mode, except all progress made with the character is wiped.  Each individual Save Slot is party to as many characters as you think necessary to play with, and you can only “Continue” progress with an Adventure Mode character.

Unfortunately, Tangledeep isn’t exactly the mode user-intuitive when it comes to its menu system.  Menu-hunting is a bit of a pain, and can be confusing at times as to what commands you are telling the menu to do.  Arrow keys don’t work at all, only being able to use the WASD to control a menu (this just feels weird) and using a controller instead also feels clumsy.  When opening the menu, you are not going to the menu you were last in, so if you need to make any tweaks to what you had previously done, its more than one click away when it shouldn’t be any clicks away.  Equipment is also hard to figure out sometimes, since it is hard to compare equipment efficiently and whether or not you are actually equipping an upgrade can be questionable at times.  You have four different weapon slots for changing up your strategy on the fly (ranged vs. melee, for example) — but the inactive ones don’t give you additional stats.  It feels like that there should be more information about equipment in general and how things affect your gameplay but as is it feels too underdeveloped to be satisfying.  You also don’t encounter enough variance or quantity of loot to really have to make interesting decisions as you get by with just equipping whatever has a better rarity quality.  There are also other lesser issues with the logic and layout of the menu that just don’t feel right and needs to be smoothed out before release to make it a more useful tool than it currently is.

Tangledeep has got a lot going for it, and I’m excited to see if more story lives up to my expectations.  I’d really like to see more progression mechanics that allow for strengthening your new characters further as you keep playing.  Refinements to the menu system to be a less frustrating experience is the number one goal in my mind, so hopefully that is on the radar of the developers.  A little more focus on the loot/reward system would also be in order.  Tangledeep is being updated constantly by its developers while in Early Access, so it’ll be an interesting title to watch.

 

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (PC) Review

Developer: Witching Hour Studios | Publisher: Ysbryd Games || Overall: 8.5/10

One thing I’ve always had an interest in was creating lore from scratch.  I’ve got a couple of projects that I’ve worked on but never got too far in fully fleshing them out into a self-sustaining, interconnected, and intellectually interesting universe.  Masquerada: Songs and Shadows accomplishes this feat while telling an entertaining story and even some gameplay to boot.  While its hard to make all the connections to this and that unless you really pay attention, the developers at Witching Hour Studios really did an amazing job in crossing their Contadini’s and dotting their Regenti’s.  Oh, excuse me, I meant T’s and I’s; sometimes its easier to just make up words and hope you remember what they mean.

The immediate takeaway of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is that it is uniquely themed.  The buildings, words, and the way people dress are considered “Venetian” — to better put it into context, think 17th century Europe.  All of the terms, people’s names, and frankly just about everything is finely crafted in giving this “Venetian” feel.  This is in spite of the game taking place in a fictitious country named Ombre, and obviously not taking place in “Earth’s history” either.  The centerpiece of the lore is the magical masks, called Mascherines, and how their use brings out magical powers that its user would otherwise not be able to have.  From this simple concept grows the impressively detailed political situation of the country of Ombre, with upwards of twenty different factions, groups, organizations, and government entities, all vying for power in the world… and a place in your brain.

In fact, the game is so lore rich that I’ve spent what feels like half of the game time reading rather than playing.  This can be fine to a point, and it is definitely “optional” but if you want the full experience of the narrative, its necessary to take a 10-15 minute break every time a bunch of new lore entries open up in the Codex.  As the story progresses, you’ll unlock one of the grayed out squares in non-sequential order (they are also ordered by categories), and since there are made up names for just about everything and it can be hard to keep track of it all; it’s going to test your patience.  One Codex entry opened up about the relationship between the main character and a good friend of his, and it was probably about two pages worth alone; I didn’t care that much and I just said fuck it!  Sometimes it’s a huge pain to break up the gameplay flow to take these “lore breaks” and is the one obvious flaw of this title.

Obviously, there’s no way they could have included most of what is in the Codex into the actual game, since most of it has to do with everything other than what is immediately going on.  It would have been nice to have been able to experience as side stories or extra quests or something more involved like that.  By my fifth hour, the game felt exclusively just reading/watching an interactive story.  Not to mention, they hide many of the core lore entries on the map and you have to find them by exploring a little bit; this means you can potentially miss them.  The business of the story delivery is cumbersome, but the story is interesting, so I can give them a pass up to a point.  They made up so many fucking terms it’s like I’m reading a different language and its hard not to glaze over terms if you’ve forgotten their meaning.  In the end, the effort on their part and your part go hand in hand.  If you skip over the lore, you are doing yourself a disservice in playing the game.  But it would have been nice if they gave us a Venetian diagram (get it?) or a geographical map at least.

So I’ve talked about the story up until now, and while it is the center feature of this title, there is a battle system.  I would quantify the battle system as “light” — there is no experience grinding and skill points unlock after certain story events.  The talent system is varied enough where you can make different builds or choose different elements (fire, air, water, or earth) for your main character.  You can also set up tactics for your AI teammates, or take direct control of them if you so choose.  The battling takes place mostly with melee attacks and elemental-themed spells.  A group of three or four enemies will spawn and then you just try to kill them before they kill you.  Healing is mostly passive, and attached to other spells that go off, so it isn’t a mechanic that requires a lot of attention.  If an AI teammate falls in battle, you can revive them Call-of-Duty-style by hovering over their body and pressing a button.

Presumably you would replay the game with different builds if you wanted to experience the different intricacies of this battle system, but I can’t say I would personally be interested.  The battles aren’t really that hard on Normal — there is a difficulty slider including “Story,” “Normal,” and “Hard.”  I don’t know why anyone would really want to waste time potentially wiping with a Hard difficulty considering the only reward the game has to offer is more story.  There is no character progression or gameplay elements that motivate you to do well in the battle you just fought or take on a harder challenge for that matter.  Only a few encounters demand elevated knowledge of the battle system and tactics, which is unfortunate.  There’s also not a whole lot of exploration involved; you are basically going down corridors and running around in circles to make sure you pick up any codex entries before you move on to the next area.  Since the story is so heavily scripted I can appreciate that it would be hard to allow freedom of discovery, but nonetheless the beautiful art, music, and professional voice work try to paper over any of these particular faults.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows will hit the “story RPG” itch you might be yearning for.  With its unique Venetian theme, there’s not much that can really compare.  Being overwhelmed with lore words aside, the experience is not as daunting as I may have made it sound like, and while particular points kind of grate my soul, presentation-wise with the Codex entries, I am still well entertained.  Considering the story gets more and more interesting, it’s hard to not want to see the adventure through.  There is also a recently released New Game+ mode that actually adds more content, so you can think of it as a “director’s cut” of sorts with expanded features, dialogue lines, and a couple more boss encounters.

 

Squacklecast Episode 32 – “‘Soft’ Reboot”

Another year has passed, and for some reason we finally remembered to do a Squacklecast!

Lots of things have changed, and we talk mostly about Wonder Woman, Batman, and Twin Peaks.

 

We talk about MTV, Ryan Seacrest’s dildos, how Carson Daly will share a burrito with you, and a 15 minute long awkward “ending” to this week’s podcast.

Since my old iMac finally was booted from having an up to date version of Skype, I had to record on my new computer with a new configuration.  We might sound a little different than usual, but hopefully it isn’t bad.  It is easier to set up though, so we may once again be able to do these more often.

See ya next time!

 

vactalz

vactalz – n. the kind of poop where you do nothing but sit on a toilet for 30+ minutes doing nothing but farting and making the bathroom smell like absolute rancid toxic warfare. The toilet is left unflushed with your piss because you are to come back, and you don’t even have the courtesy to spray an air freshener, turn on a fan, or open a window because you’re an uncivilized old smelly man who has a room full of trash you will never throw away