Exorder (PC) Review

Developer: Solid9 Studio | Publisher: Fat Dog Games || Overall: 8.0/10

Exorder is a completely serviceable, old-school-feeling, fantasy turn-based strategy game.  Most turn-based strategy games nowadays seem to take a lot of liberty with the narrative structure, artwork, and other fringe elements; this often results in gameplay struggling as a result.  Exorder is a solid throwback to a time when turn-based strategy games presented a unique challenge and using your smartitude to figure out the “puzzle” of the level and complete it.

While there is a fairly interesting story, it is a bit on the thin side and really only serves as connective tissue between the levels.  Each level has a prologue, story elements that affect strategy during play, and an epilogue. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the fantasy cartoon art style compliments the story to a degree.  The units you control have good art design and personality on an individual basis, but since you’ll spam produce them (more on this later), they kind of lose that unique touch.  The art is far and away the best production value the game has to offer.  The voice acting is so-so.

A large part of the gameplay in Exorder that makes it unique are the elements it “borrows” from real-time strategy games.  Most turn-based games will set you off with the units it assigns to you and that’s it.  However, a major part of the strategy is unit production, which costs gold at a Castle or Tavern.  Gold is produced by capturing other buildings, namely Houses, or defeating enemies.  Playing correctly typically means managing/protecting your resources and then flooding the map with your expendable units.  This all plays out in slow motion, but gameplay feels faster since they speed up through enemy turns when possible and most units will counter against melee attacks for half their normal damage.  Units health will fall a lot faster due to the counterattack design, which means the gameplay progresses faster as a result.  You can typically see the writing on the wall a lot quicker this way and can restart the level to figure out where you went wrong.  The trial-and-error aspect is a bit like tower defense in a way, where there is a strict order of operations that you should follow depending on your strategy.

Additionally, most of the units are designed in unique ways to serve their own niche.  Some are obvious, such as ranged units being able to attack two squares away, or the big armored guy having a lot of health.  An interesting mechanic that I hadn’t seen before, is the “Push” skill by the “Architect” unit, who can push any unit a certain amount of squares away.  This costs the Architect his action, but the pushed unit, if friendly, can use this to their advantage and move several more squares than they would have previously.  It can also be used against enemy units for defensive or even offensive reasons.  Another unit can extend their mobility and “Jump” up to two squares if there are an even amount of its type of unit on the field.  Touches like this are nice and separates Exorder from other turn-based titles.  Levels will also require you to keep a character alive to complete, which adds another layer of difficulty.

There’s not actually a whole lot that is bad per se about the game.  Once I “got it,” it became less fun and wanted to take a break from it for a long while.  The story actually gets in the way occasionally, and not every line is voice acted so you may not be aware someone is talking when they are.  Dialogue shows up at the bottom of the screen instead of over the character, which seems like a strange decision.  I’d rather have just seen the dialogue floating above the character instead of trying to remember which character is named what and reading it at the bottom of the screen.  And while the developers did what they could to speed up the pace of gameplay, it still takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to finish a level, including retries.

There is quite a bit of game to play with 12 missions and 8 additional challenge levels added recently.  I’d say that if the pace of turn-based gameplay is for you this title is worth a shot.  There’s no progression or experience system so you’re really just going to be focusing on the mechanics of individual units and how well you can manage your army on a strategic basis.

 

Dream Alone (PC) Review

Developer: WarSaw Games | Publisher: Fat Dog Games || Overall: 4.0/10

Note: This review was written before I went to get a sandwich.

Dream Alone is coined as an ultra difficult classic 2D platformer with a dark story.  While this is technically true, the difficulty doesn’t come from things being hard, it comes from being cheap.  Very cheap.  The kind of platformers that force you to die to figure out how to get through levels are the worst, and it becomes an exercise in patience more than anything else.  There’s nothing particularly difficult about what I played, it’s just annoying.

I try to give games a fair shake, but sometimes they’re just so bad, I don’t want to continue to torture myself.  I played the game for just under an hour, it wasn’t getting any better, so I stopped.  The real issue here isn’t necessarily the gameplay, or even the gothic art, which is kind of on the creepy/ugly side — I could deal with it.  The story was sort of nonsensical, but I didn’t really get very far to be able to judge it fairly.  The real issue this game has is the visual effect clutter — it is beyond bizarre.  Not only is the game very dark to begin with, using a black and white color scheme, the developers thought that it would also be a good idea to make the game look like it is from aged film stock off a projector, with a black frame blink every five seconds.  This is headache inducing, because it is hard to see what is going on; you have an overlay of a film grain/black lines, “projector” noise, and that fucking black frame blink that disorients your timing of jumps. This is supposed to be a video game in 2018, not a video game in 1910. I can’t tell what I’m looking at half of the time as a result, and often fell into a pit, or killed by something else, not being able to see it.  This forces you to actually memorize where things are rather than react to what you are seeing — this takes skill out of the equation completely, in my opinion.

The gameplay is technically pretty simple.  You jump, move stuff, jump some more, and also go into alternate realities to get past obstacles you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.  You get this alternate reality spell non-ceremoniously and this little manchild thing that you are controlling seems to master this ultradimensional ability with no issue.  He can also make clones of himself later (not that it makes much sense why) to be able to get past more complex puzzles/obstacles.  This is probably personal preference, but it would have been nice to have some sort of context for these strange abilities rather than just attaining them from a random potion bottle.  Otherwise, why not just have it from the beginning of the game?

When you die, there is a checkpoint system that is forgiving in that it doesn’t put you back to the beginning of the level.  The checkpoints seem to be right after harder obstacles, or just before a string of them.  I didn’t get too annoyed with having to repeat any particular puzzle after I had done it, but again, it was a lot of “learn from dying” which got stale real fast.  Dying 100 times in less than an hour of gameplay will do that.

There’s a few bugs in the game that are game breaking as well.  After the first level, another cut scene was supposed to play, but instead the game decided to crash in spectacular fashion, while it played the audio for the cutscene.  So that was a little creepy, I guess.  You can use a controller to play, but for some reason the menus don’t react to anything other than the analog stick, so to confirm anything you have to press the enter key on your keyboard — the “A” button doesn’t work.  Not sure what is up with that.  There was also a really annoying obstacle where if you fell into the swamp and were waiting to die, if the moving mountain thing touched you, you would be ejected out of the swamp.  You would then still be in the “dying animation” and can’t move, but since you don’t hit the bottom of the swamp, you don’t die.  So, you basically have to quit the game (can’t use the A button to select “Back to Main Menu”) and then start again from the beginning of the level.  This happened to me a few times and after the fifth or sixth time, I was done wasting my time.

To drill down more on the visual and audio aspects of the game, the art is technically satisfyingly creepy.  The little manchild that you control looks like a weird marionette with his big face and big eyes, and he jumps like one too.  The first level, which is a forest, is full of people lynched and/or impaled for some reason.  Don’t ask me why.  I guess it’s creepy looking, but you would think before whatever plague occurred, the people would be more concerned about the reason why everyone ended up in the forest like that.  Or at least clean it up!  Sheesh.  There also seemed to be enough nightmarish creatures running around that they’d eat the carcasses, but I guess they are too busy running around in predetermined paths that they don’t have time for that.  The music is pretty good and matches the atmosphere they are going for.  Sound effects are okay, but the grunts for the manchild sound like it is coming from a 30 year old person rather than a little boy, so I don’t know why they thought that was a good idea.  At least put some sort of filter on it to make the main character sound younger.

If you like difficult platformers, this could be a game for you.  However, I’d classify this as a game that wants to torture you for the sake of its artsy style.  Sadists who want to skip a meal at Subway to pay for 21 levels of misery need only be interested.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat a sandwich at Subway because I’m hungry.