Armello (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: League of Geeks || Overall: 9.0/10

The Kingdom of Armello is in peril.  The unifying King of the diverse clans has gone mad and peace is decaying into war.  How to deal with the King and counteract the instability is the issue at hand as the fate of your home allegiance rests with you.  This is the scenario that the tabletop card-based strategy game Armello presents.

A very appealing art style is the first thing I noticed.  Armello is a beautiful game with charming characters and world-building card art that gives you glimpses into the society that exists in the Kingdom of Armello.  In the fantasy setting, animals are the primary characters, representing races and clans that rally against one another in the impending breakdown of society.  The main characters of the game are represented by (male and female) wolves, rats, rabbits, and bears, each with their unique buffs.  The art of the cards you eventually begin to play with show other types of animals like badgers, weasels, dogs, and the like, with a lion being the king.  A great amount of care is put into the art, and the animation each card has gives the game a lot of life.  The Day and Night cycle of turns also makes the world feel lived-in.  The soundtrack is very delightful and fits in perfectly with the game.

After a light and fun Prologue, you learn a bit about each of the major clans and the stake they have in the conflict.  The Prologue primarily focuses on teaching you about fundamentals of the information you see on screen, most of which is actually very simple.  Where the complexity enters is when all of the aspects integrate together.

There is a lot of terminology to learn, and how each individual thing affects you.  Gold, Prestige, Magic, Rot, Wits, Body, Fight, Spirit, and Action Points are the primary values you’ll need to be aware of.  Each of these are manipulated in a multitude of ways by yourself and enemies alike, and each are used for specific purposes.  Most are used as resources to be able to play cards, while Fight, Spirit, and Rot give you dice to roll while attacking — each have multiple uses and can be very powerful depending on your overall goal.

You’ll draw cards that layer on to the complexity of Armello.  Like many other card games, the order in which you play them matters a great deal.  You can also burn cards you don’t want to use to assure certain dice rolls, and at the beginning of your next turn you can pull cards up to your maximum.  Your maximum cards held is dictated by your Wits stat.  An example of a card is spending three Magic to give yourself a +1 Action Point buff for two turns.

Starting from your Clan Grounds, you’ll move your hero across the board with objectives in mind.  If you encounter a town, you’ll gain one Gold per turn as long as it is held under your banner.  If you run across a Stone Circle, you will heal one Body (the health stat), while entering a Swamp removes one Body.  Dungeons offer a chance to gain one of many possible rewards or spawns a Bane, which is a creature born of the Rot corruption plaguing Armello.  Your overall objectives come in a few forms.  A personalized objective, given as a quest, offers permanent buffs to your stats and a chance at obtaining a piece of equipment or another useful buff.  Using the board to your advantage is required to be able to accomplish the game-winning objectives.  Deaths will also occur over and over, and you’ll respawn at your Clan Grounds if you die or are killed.

To win the game, you are able to do a number of different things that everyone is competing for.  A Prestige win is considered a political win; killing other Heroes gains one Prestige, as well as completing quests.  At the end of a turn, the Prestige Leader gets to choose a King’s Declaration which is a per-turn decision that affects the game’s flow.  As the Prestige Leader, you can choose the one that is most convenient to you or will help you keep your Prestige Leader status.  Dying or killing the King’s Guard loses one Prestige, allowing others to catch up.  The Prestige win is a long-game win, as you’ll have to wait until the King expires from the Rot, which is typically at most ten full turns.  If any other objectives are completed before then, the Prestige win will be defeated.

Another way to win is by collecting Spirit Stones to hand over to the King to cure him of his Rot.  You can also gain as much Rot as you can so you can defeat the King in battle and rule the lands yourself as a corrupted king.  Gaining Rot can help you if you have more than your enemy, as during the attack phases you gain bonus dice to roll.  However, Rot can lead to Corruption and with it come instant death on Stone Circle plots.   As a result, you are unable to heal without using cards and Rot subtracts one health at the start of every turn if you have any.

A single game can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how slow plays are.  Tactics will shift several times during the game depending on others’ progress.  The game board’s setting always takes place at the foot of the King’s castle, and is shuffled at every new game, so the plots will be in different places each time.  As of now, there is also a “winter theme” of the board where snow covers the entire board, and it seems like other themes could eventually be developed.  While there are no alternate locations to play, they wouldn’t make much sense in the context of the existing story conflict unless something new were set up.  They could easily expand on the game with more cards, and extra story to set up new maps would also be a nice addition.  As you play the game you’ll unlock more pre-game perks which can customize your play style.  Finding all of the cards (there are around 130) is also very satisfying as you try to complete your card gallery.

While the story of Armello is interesting and there is a lot of world-building, it isn’t very deep.  The majority of the story comes in the Prologue you play to learn about the game, and whatever you can glean off of the quests.  There isn’t really a resolution to the story other than the eventual ending of the King’s corruption, by death or otherwise.  A single player mode is included in which you play with AI, but the game is clearly built for a multiplayer environment.  An online mulitplayer mode is available that allows you to jump right in and play with other people, as well as a Ranked mode due to be released with free patch v1.1.  An assortment of free and paid updates are planned for the game, so it will be interesting to see what comes about from the developers.

All in all, Armello is a diverse mash of several different objectives, quests, resources, and characters.  Using all of it to your advantage and learning the order in which you should play certain cards is very important to completing the objectives you have at hand.  People who enjoy tabletop board games will certainly enjoy this game and being able to play with their friends.  Armello is available on Steam and PS4 at $19.99.

09/18/16 – The Usurpers Hero Pack (DLC) Review || Overall: Recommended

Released on August 30th, the Usurpers Pack DLC adds on four unique heroes into the Armello mix.  There are also an assortment of new buffs that are available for selection before entering a new game.  While new players may not necessarily understand the benefits the new heroes or buffs provide, know that it adds a new layer of strategy on top of the diversification of the hero roster.  The main addition, of course are the heroes:

Magna – a shieldmaiden.  My personal favorite of the four new heroes.  Can reflect attacks.

Sargon – a “veil gazer.”  The top card on the deck can be seen during draw card phase.

Ghor – Magic spent is more efficient on forest tiles, and can cast globally on any forest tile

Elyssia – Permanent fortification of settlements if a turn is ended on one.  Good for taking a defensive approach against your enemies.

If you are an avid fan of Armello, it will be worth the entry price to enjoy these new heroes.  On account that there are no new game modes in this DLC pack, there isn’t anything that will change your opinion of the game; in my view it is still a great time.  All of the new characters fit right in with the others and while a couple are plainly a better choice to pick, any of the new heroes hold a viable path to victory.

 

Infinity Blade (iOS) Review

Developer: Chair Entertainment Group | Publisher: Epic Games || Overall: 5.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Infinity Blade is a game in which you must vanquish a bum in his castle.

How does a bum get a castle? Hell if I know. But this guy who owns his five-room castle full of his sex-slave gimp-dressed “Champions” stand around and jerk it all day waiting for the next adventurous idiot (20 years apart from each) to go through the castle and kill them.

Infinity Blade is everything that is wrong with traditional gaming trying to make its way on mobile platforms. It’s an on-rails dungeon crawler with some point-and-click (or is it point-and-touch, now?) elements to it. It takes the feeling of freedom away from the player since you aren’t necessarily able to explore wherever you like and can only progress in a few paths that all ultimately end up in the same place. As opposed to a traditional console game where you’re able to move by yourself with ease, the designers decided it was best to not allow you to have the frustration of moving in 3D with only a touch screen and completely removed the ability to freely control your character. During battles, all you do is swipe your finger to hit the enemy with a sword, block, dodge, or use your overpowered specials (a stun and various magic spells) that can help you win a battle. Battles break up your combos whether you like it or not by inserting a five second cutscene at every third of the enemy’s health. The camera angle is also changed so that you become disoriented to limit your ability in fucking up the enemy again right off the bat.

The touch screen is no replacement for buttons, and this game makes it all too apparent that buttons are an evolution of necessity – it is easy to know when you push something it will react. However, when you swipe your hand across the screen or push a touch-screen-button the reliability of the action that you actually want to happen is around 85% rather than 99%. My biggest problem with the game is that the touch screen “buttons” in the game are not reactive to my lifeless hands. For some reason I always have trouble conducting enough electricity or heat or jazz in my hands to make something work on my touch screen. Don’t ask me why, it just happens. No matter how many times I smack my finger down on the touch screen to dodge, if it isn’t going to work, it isn’t going to work. The other annoying thing about Infinity Blade is instead of pushing a button and an analog stick to swipe; you have to move your whole hand, wrist, and arm to do one swipe. Essentially, you are playing Fruit Ninja on steroids, and I really wish there were buttons for this game because I’m going to get tendonitis in my shoulder if all games end up being like this.

But I suppose that buttons would make this game too easy as is. You can tell that the difficulty is adjusted to allow for reaction times in swiping. However, once you memorize the animations of each of your enemies (there are probably about 5 unique models in total, with different skins), you will breeze through most of the encounters. You can also use a healing spell, depending on which item you have equipped, which will basically help you cheat. Items are also an important part of the game, as when you master one of the hundreds of weapons and armor in the game, you gain a stat point to allocate. This aspect forces you to progress and not use the same items forever so that you can master more items and gain more stats, in addition to the stats you gain each level.

On the other side of Infinity Blade, you have a game that aspires to be something greater than it is. “Amazing” graphics, notwithstanding, you’ve got a unique experience with Infinity Blade that isn’t replicated very often in mobile gaming right now. I would align the graphics in the game to early-PlayStation 3 quality, but since the image is shrunk down to a 5 inch screen, that would be a bit too much credit. It’s probably more like late-PlayStation 2 graphics shrunk down with cooler lighting. However, the game will make you say “hey this looks pretty cool” …and then you get used to the graphics and it kind of doesn’t matter anymore. Except when you notice that the battery on your phone drains faster while playing than your phone can charge if you have the foresight to have it plugged in while playing.

So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what makes the game even worse. Once I figured out the point of the game, I actually got sad. The overall, repeating, arc of the game is that you go in as this nameless adventurer guy, fight through battles until you get to the bum who is ridiculously powerful and kills you almost assuredly on your first encounter. Once you die, you see your adventurer’s son appear on the same ledge overlooking the castle that his father did 20 to 23 years earlier. Each tour through the castle and meeting your fateful demise is considered a “Bloodline.”

What this game tells you about the story is basically nothing. What it implies, though, is that there is society outside of the reach of the bum who owns a shitty castle. This society breeds new adventurers so that one day, a hundred or so years in the future, the bum will be killed. So, since these adventurers are somehow forced to father a son before leaving on their journey, he must be banging all of the women in the society to make sure that there is one son before he leaves, so that in twenty or so years, that fatherless child can go and die the same death his father did.

Thinking further about this “society,” you have to wonder about its structure. Is it matriarchal or patriarchal? My personal thought is that the women in this society are propagating this attitude of sending the son of this same Bloodline over and over to their death because they’re mad the bum bought up all the tampons at the general store for his Champions.

These women have deemed this particular Bloodline the only one that can go and fight the bum known as a “Deathless.” The Deathless guy sits on his chair eating chips and his Champions stand in the middle of rooms for twenty years at a time. He only ever gets out of his comfy throne to fight an adventurer who is idiotic enough to go and die by his blade. Pretty weird, if you ask me. Nothing is demonstrated as to the terrorizing the Deathless dude actually does to anyone else in the world, so I have to fill in the blanks. He just sits on his throne and watches Law & Order all the time. Leave the guy alone!

If this society’s only purpose is to destroy this Deathless guy, why hasn’t the Deathless guy got off his ass in the hundreds of years before and after you start playing the game and just fucking kill them? Who the fuck knows. He’s probably a lazy bum, that’s why I keep calling him that. I mean, he doesn’t even improve his living situation. There are literally no cool features of his castle — he doesn’t have a bowling alley, or a game room, or even a bathroom. What the hell are you paying your Champions for? Train them to be plumbers and masons instead of just how to use weapons only once every twenty years. They’ve got to be depressed being sanctioned to only a certain part of the castle and never being able to do anything fulfilling. Can’t he find a better castle? One where these stupid adventurer guys won’t bug him?

Once you are able to fight the Deathless guy and beat him to about a third of his health, he will proposition you to either join him or you can pick up your sword again and fight him to the death. If you join him, you just fight him again, so the game doesn’t really “let you” join him. If you end up actually killing the guy, the Deathless dude will say something inane about “other dangers” in the world being even worse than him. And as if that wasn’t a cop out enough, the adventurer dude is now alone in this stupid castle and has nothing better to do than snoop around. So he presses some weird console on his throne and all of a sudden a 3D Holographic map appears and some weird sci-fi music and other random weird shit happens. I have no idea what the fuck is going on in this game. What the fuck is the point of all of this? All you do is grind XP, master your weapons, gain stats, and swipe your sword over and over at the same five enemies, and then they throw in this mind-fuck for no good reason.

If ChAIR even bothered to put some sort of inkling of a story in this travesty of a game I wouldn’t feel like I was put out to pasture. What the hell is the point of half-assing this story and throwing in some random sci-fi shit that doesn’t belong just to give us a mind-blowing moment or whatever? Just so that they can get us pissing our pants in excitement for the next Infinity Blade game? Get out of here with that shit. The only reason I even downloaded this game to begin with was because it was free. If I paid 9 dollars or whatever it is for this game I would be fucking pissed off right now.

As if endlessly grinding XP and Gold wasn’t enough, they make the prices of this shit so astronomical they “allow” you to buy Gold in the game. 2.5 million Gold-things for 50 bucks or whatever? Doing more research about what you do in the game after you kill the level 50 God King Deathless bum, you are able to purchase the Infinity Blade for 500,000 gold. Using this blade, you can open three or four extra bosses who have levels in the hundreds. So, that’s one reason to keep grinding the game after you’ve “beaten” it.

Yeah, that sounds great. What a load of bullshit. This game sucks. I’m uninstalling it. Eventually.