Developer: Cybernate | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games
Super Crate Box /soo-per kreyt boks/ (Proper Noun)
a retro style indie game known for it’s three major gameplay aspects: the item
crates that appear throughout the level, one-room-per-stage level design and
wave after wave of enemies are set upon the player.
based on “Super Crate Box” and often sharing many similar designs.
There you go! I took that made up and somewhat redundant combination of words and defined it so you didn’t have too. You can thank me later.
Developed by Cybernate, published by Surprise Attack Games and in the very early part of its early access career, Super Mutant Alien Assault is a retro-style action game that sets to re-polish your 2D trigger finger and reacquaint you with your old jump-to-dodge tactics from days of video games past. Considering itself the “Citizen Kane” of Super Crate Box clones (this is about the point where you should be thanking me), it shares many similar designs with the old 2010 game, as well as, it’s own little spin on the little known sub-genre.
Playing the part of security droids burdened with protecting cryogenically frozen humans that have escaped a dying earth, you must defend against herds of aliens while wielding a varied and random assortment of weapons, explosives and special abilities. Along the way to extraterrestrial genocide, there is a simple but sometimes difficult objective that must be cleared. Whether it is transporting something from point A to point B, stopping a series of explosives set around the stage, or simple eradication of the alien menace, it usually requires a careful balance between killing and completing the objective. To add to your troubles, the radiation your ship is apparently leaking (which I’m sure passed the high standards of whatever safety commission was involved in designing these ships) makes the Aliens evolve into bigger and stronger versions of themselves every few seconds. So if you somehow complete the objective without destroying a single alien, you’d find yourself with a screen’s worth of aggressive and powerful aliens that must be destroyed before moving onto the next stage.
If put into one word, I’d say this game is hardbutfair. Though there is a spot of chance involved with the abilities, guns and explosives you have at any particular moment due to their random nature, I never thought the game treated me unfairly. The randomness, in fact, was part of the fun. Responding and adapting to my ever-changing assortment of explosives and guns forced me to think on my feet and change my strategy at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, the game had plenty of options even in this early version. From the standard to the bizarre, one moment you’ll find yourself gunning down the alien herd with a machine gun and double jump combination, and the next having to use your explosive Pogo stick to “Mario” your way to victory by jumping on top of the aliens. Local multiplayer is also available and strikes the same strategy-changing beats, though it is a bit easier since you are allowed to revive a fallen comrade. Overall, even at an early stage, the game has the potential to be a challenging but fun game.
While fun, that’s not to say the game doesn’t have its hiccups. The game is still very early in its Early Access cycle and it shows. In particular, the game has a few bugs to iron out. Though, not always, if the game is left paused for a few moments it will freeze and then close itself. Another bug makes the game’s frame rate drop by half whenever a countdown is taking place. Super Mutant Alien Assault is also very short, packing only 9 regular stages, three boss stages and a few unlockables in this early build; it has very little content. Of course, this is all likely to change in the coming months and upon full release.
Much like the security droids in the game, the developers of Super Mutant Alien Assault have some bugs to work out before its full release, sometime later this year or early next year. Though if they do manage to eradicate the alien menace that makes the game buggy and add more content to it in the process, the game might keep its promise in being the “Citizen Kane” of Super Crate Box clones… whatever that means.
When not writing previews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
Developer: Achebit | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games
Ever think of taking a cooperative game like Gauntlet and turning it on its head to make a competitive party game out of it? Taking fantasy classics like the warrior, cleric, wizard and… um… unicorn and putting them against the dungeon and each other? Then having them compete in various game modes that support fast and furious gameplay for the sole purpose of bragging rights? Nah… neither did I, but the guys at Surprise Attack Games and Achebit thought it would be a good idea so here I am to talk about it.
Dungeon League is a competitive party game that uses fantasy tropes to paint onto a foundation of competitive gameplay tropes to come out with a game that is shiny and new. Reminiscent of classic dungeon crawlers like Gauntlet, it takes those basic 8-bit designs and turns them into a party game where you’ll face the dungeon and each other in an assortment of competitive game modes. Add to that an assortment of varied classes, quick leveling and gameplay that supports it, you come out with basic building blocks that this game is built upon.
Still in a very early build and only about an hour’s worth of content to play through, I did enjoy the bit of multiplayer madness that the game delivered. Featuring matches that only last a couple minutes at a time, the game thrusts the players into one familiar competitive objective after the next with only a bit of downtime in between. Throwing you into a randomized assortment of objective-based gameplay like deathmatch, king of the hill, capture the flag and many more, the game seems to thrive on a fast and frantic play-style meant to push the players to complete the objectives as quickly as possible. After each round, the players are then tasked with using the bit of downtime to level up their character by way of an experience and gold system that allows them to upgrade special moves and buy items to create a beefier and stronger character for their next objective. All of this comes together into a quirky party game that could be enjoyable with friends.
The problem with friends, though, is that they have to be there to enjoy them (or they don’t exist to begin with but let’s not digress into my own personal problems) and, unfortunately, that’s not always the easiest to have around. The currently-available Tournament mode, and one of the future game types requires at least two players and with no online option to speak of, it means you’d have to gather a real life party to be able to properly enjoy half of the games types for some local play. While not too much of a major issue, it still presents a problem for those that prefer to play with friends online and for those that have no real friends (cries). On another note, while the game has some personality when dealing with the in-game vendor and trainer, that same personality seems missing in the monsters you encounter in matches. It is mostly a mix of generic monsters you’d find in most media based on a fantasy setting.
While not spectacular, Dungeon League has some potential. With a helping of two cooperative game modes and another competitive game mode on the way, the game plans to add variety to your dungeon crawling fun. Gauntlet (I see what you did there) mode provides a cooperative experience where up to 4 players will traverse a monster infested dungeon on a quest to defeat the Dungeon Master. In other cooperative fare, Survival modes pits the player and others against an endless stream of monsters all for the purpose of seeing how long they’ll last against the countless waves. Lastly, Dungeon Ball seems to be the last competitive offering to round out the game, where two teams are tasked with destroying each other, upgrading their minions and ultimately getting their ball to the end zone.
With a promise of other game types and an already fun early build, Dungeon League might warrant a look upon full release in 2016. In the end, it might just be a game worth gathering friends around.
Walk the aisles of your normal, ideal, grocery store. Rows full of food line the aisles begging for your grubby little hands to take them and put them in your shopping cart. But does any food really speak to your soul as well as soup? Canned soup is one of the most important pieces of human culture, after all.
…Yet have you ever really thought about where your soup comes from?
Do you perhaps think that the planet of Alteria in the galaxy of Soupcon Valley would produce your favorite can of Green Sun Chowder made from Sunblossom and Greenstalk? Or do you think the civil war and strife of the robots on Nozesi fuel the good time tastes of the delightful Split Sea Soup and/or Filet of Fission?
PixelJunk: Nom Nom Galaxy makes you ask these questions and more. Well, actually none of that matters because the name of the game is business and market share. The real test comes in beating your enemy’s robot workers into eternal jobless poverty by creating an efficient soup factory that satisfies the needs of the universe.
Getting down to the essential basics of the game, the robots need soup and you are making the soup, delivering it to the hungry patrons via rockets. Finding material that is usable for cooking across sprawling sandboxes, you are equipped with your buzzsaw which cuts through and helps you gather many of the things you’ll need. You’ll also be punching a lot of things. On the factory production side, you’ll have to maintain, defend, and build out a soup factory that is as efficient as possible. Robot workers can be hired to assist you in this pursuit, and their operation is a small callback to the logic of Lemmings. What this ends up being is an interesting mix of game genres in a sci-fi setting with some sparse story to set up the scenarios each planet presents.
What I mostly enjoyed about Nom Nom Galaxy is that it is a sandbox game with a clear objective at hand. As far as the sandbox genre goes, Starbound is the only other game I’ve played with any large amount of time, which is built mostly on a free-form playstyle that centers on improving your crafting and character’s gear. Nom Nom Galaxy distinguishes itself from this by giving you developer-designed planets full of ingredients to exploit to the best of your ability, earning upgrades after beating a planet. The factory’s efficiency becomes a main focus of the gameplay as a result — which can be detrimental to the exploration aspect the game provides, as it essentially becomes the opposite of business efficiency.
As you make your way through the planets, each will provide an upgrade or new thing to buy to change up the gameplay a bit. Eventually you hit a point, about midway through the game, where scenarios start to take place and you’re no longer able to use defense towers, robot workers, or other things you’ve grown accustom to using. As the existing system can be a bit complex to learn and understand the controls/logic of the game, the pace is set about right. Enhancements such as, and being able to use, a double jump or a rocket boost changes the way you play entirely.
Ingredients are varied and many have specialties about them. There’s about 20 unique ingredients which can be combined with each other, resulting in 400 recipes. Some ingredients are special and take a long time to find/grow, some you have to kill mobs for, and others are common and plantable. It’s always fun to find something new in the game and seeing what will result when you combine two different ingredients can be satisfying.
When you combine ingredients, a Soup Can pops out of the Soup Machine. You take the Soup Can into the Soup Rocket, and the rocket delivers the payload which affects your market share by a base of 5%. Depending on the market trends that pop up every now and then, the game influences you to try and find different ingredients, or stop using one that might be a commonly used on in all of your Soup Machines, forcing you to change your focus.
A good 20 hours or so of gameplay got me within range of the last three stages of the “Conquest” mode. Unfortunately Nom Nom Galaxy didn’t live up to the same perfection in its difficulty as PixelJunks Monsters did, and I had a relatively easy time getting through it as I mastered the game’s logic. Half of the levels in the Conquest Mode are used to introduce you to the gameplay itself, and the latter half tests you to master it to only some unique challenge. Each planet introduced something new, but the core gameplay being so complex brings down the experience a bit, I fear. We spend too much time “learning how to play” that when we finally get around to unlocking everything substantial and playing “for realisies” you only have a couple of planets left and the last level of the game, which will require you to use everything at your disposal.
Each planet has the option for endless play, only after you attain 100% market share. You are also able to continue building your factory as it was or start from scratch in this “S.O.O.P Simulator” mode. While the planets will always be the same, they offer enough variety and quantity to not have to worry too much about that. Though since there is no meta game, you are working on each planet on an individual basis. There is also a mode called Galactic Challenges which take a unique approach to the games formula and pretty much anything seems to go here. You could be racing from point A to point B or trying to sell as much soup in 10 minutes as you can. Challenges expire after about 36 hours, and you compete against all other players here, either at the same time, or asynchronously via global rankings. You can also “Quick Join” and matchmake with another player, however the capability did not seem to be enabled in the review build before release. I assume there could be some sort of generation for planets in this mode but I can’t be sure.
A lot of the aspects of the baked-in challenge actually disincentivizes you from exploring. You’ll be dealing with maintaining the workflow of the factory, depending on its need to rely on you to acquire/scout for ingredients. You are also equipped with an Oxygen tank which limits the distance you can go without finding a source of oxygen or heading back to base. You’ll also be called back to base when your rival sends monsters to disrupt and destroy your base. You can automate the defenses a bit by loading it with laser guns and missiles, but you’ll still need to make sure you are there to pick up any of the stragglers and repair buildings. If at any point your Office is destroyed, you automatically lose the game.
At the end of each day, the game pauses for “Break Time” and saves your current progress. During Break Time you’ll be shown informative stats, graphs, and how much money you earned. An added layer of planning is involved as any ingredients that are not currently inside Soup Machines or planted will disappear. When planting items, it will expand your potential to increase your output substantially, but only if you plan correctly. Personally I felt like it made the game a lot easier to have the capability to grow your own ingredients since you could plant a lot of the same common ingredients over and over in each level and usually the AI competitor would not match very well in a challenge as long as you had a good production going. Progression to new zones is limited by recipes you discover, so there is an incentive to experiment, but not much since it was easy to meet those expectations and I never really had to replay anything unless I fucked up severely or neglected my base on purpose.
Sound and visuals is also another high point. There is a lot of insanity going on initially. It will take a while for you to understand what is going on, but the art is fantastic and intricate. The robots are uniquely designed and I loved discovering something new, or going to the next planet to see the theme. Sound is also well done for the most part, but there was a surprising lack of music. PixelJunk Monsters and PixelJunk Eden had great soundtracks, but Nom Nom Galaxy seems to take its cues from PixelJunk Shooter with a minimalist approach to music and sound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different. Monsters is probably one of my favorite soundtracks ever, so it was a bit disappointing to not have another great soundtrack to listen to.
As a big fan of the PixelJunk series I was completely satisfied with this entry. While it breaks the mold of “simplicity” all of the other games established within their own genres, Nom Nom Galaxy files down several different genres into core tenants that work together in an interesting fashion. The game is very ambitious and I enjoyed the humor quite a bit. Replayability might be Nom Nom Galaxy’s biggest fault, but there is certainly plenty to do and you can keep doing it for pretty much as long as you like. There just becomes a point where you kind of “get it” and in this case I don’t see myself coming back to visit it very often like I do with PixelJunk Monsters. It is, however, a lot easier to play the game for very long sessions.
Developer: Team Fractal Alligator | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Outlook: Good
Writing previews for games are a bit of a challenge. Previews serve as a way to give the readers an introduction to a game they may anticipate, and hopeful readers look for positive impressions before they have access themselves. I tend to typically give preview builds the benefit of the doubt and stay hopeful that the final product will potentially deliver. In this case, Hacknet definitely holds an interesting and unique potential.
Hacknet simulates a hacking environment, not unlike something you may see in exaggerated form on a TV show. Through a number of commands you’ll solve what is essentially multi-layered puzzles that will force you to master a routine while solving the unique mission at hand. The preview build provided to me allowed for approximately 40 minutes of gameplay, which included a Tutorial, a “test mission,” and an actual mission.
The gameplay serves as a backdrop and a storytelling device to a mystery involving the death of a hacker named Bit. The preview build didn’t delve too deeply into the actual meat of the story, but mostly just alludes to some of the characters you are potentially going to have more interaction with later. The simulated hacking environment uses real UNIX commands, so if you have experience with command line actions you’ll be able to pick up on most of what is happening pretty quickly. The forced memorization of commands has the potential to be daunting if you aren’t comfortable with that sort of interaction with a computer, however. One of the highlights of the game is its lack of hand-holding, so it appears that you’ll need a notepad or a good memory to execute the time-based puzzles correctly. Ideally, you’ll be learning most of the commands as you go along, so the puzzles will probably become more advanced and require greater care to execute perfectly. Hacknet aligns itself with “Papers, Please,” challenging different parts of your brain than what you may normally be accustomed to for games.
What got me really digging the puzzles was the sleek/futuristic user interface coupled with the music. The music was contextually designed and matched the mood of what was going on appropriately. The music really played a key part in turning up the tension when the first hacking challenge took place. They didn’t want to give too much away so the game abruptly turns off once you hit a certain point in the puzzle/mission. As an aside, they included a functional clicker mini-game, which implies there are possibly other mini-games that might be added to create variety.
The preview build left me with a generally positive impression, and I’m looking forward to what the complete game will offer. Hacknet will be $10 when it releases in August.
Information from the press release is as follows:
Hacknet is an immersive, terminal-based hacking simulator for PC. Dive down a rabbit hoIe as you follow the instructions of a recently deceased hacker, whose death may not have been the accident the media reports. Using old school command prompts and real hacking processes, you’ll solve the mystery with minimal hand-holding and a rich world full of secrets to explore.
Bit, a hacker responsible for creating the most invasive security system on the planet, is dead. When he fails to reconnect to his system for 14 days, his failsafe kicks in, sending instructions in automated emails to a lone user. As that user, it’s up to you to unravel the mystery and ensure that Hacknet-OS doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Exploring the volatile nature of personal privacy, the prevalence of corporate greed, and the hidden powers of hackers on the internet, Hacknet delivers a true hacking simulation, while offering a support system that allows total beginners get a grasp of the real-world applications and commands found throughout the game.
Hacknet will launch on PC via Steam and the Humble Store on August 12, 2015.
A preview build of Hacknet was provided to Squackle.
Developer: Upper Class Walrus | Publisher: Surprise Attack Games || Overall: 7.5
The question is as old as time itself: Which four-legged beast makes the better domesticated pet? A dog or a cat? The dog, known for its obedience and loyalty, is commonly known to be “man’s best friend.” On the other hand, cats are known for their independence and for being the little super-villains of the household, which makes them the favorite animal of the internet. Though, thanks to Fort Meow, I now know the answer to this conundrum is dog. It’s definitely dog.
Don’t give me that face.
Fort Meow is a physics-based strategy game that involves building forts, cats and bad adult supervision. Playing as young Nia (I see what you did there…), you find yourself at your grandparents’ place only to find them missing. After not calling your parents, and instead rummaging around the attic (like any good horror movie character), the only clue to their whereabouts seems to be hidden somewhere in your grandfather’s journal. The game then tasks you with building fort after fort with household items to defend yourself against a constant onslaught of cats that want to distract you from reading the journal and discovering their nefarious schemes. Along the way, you encounter your grandfather’s flying robot to help you further explore the house and eventually stop the Catpocalypse… Which all seems like a pretty complicated setup for a tower defense puzzle game about evil cats.
Despite the silly and complicated set up, the game itself is actually quite fun. Fort Meow switches between a tower defense and exploration portions and both do well to make the game enjoyable. The tower defense portion of the game is much like Angry Birds, but in reverse. Instead of trying to destroy buildings and those inside of it, you take the role of the person inside of the fort who must build one strong enough to prevent any cat from forcing their way inside. Though, like any good game, the premise may be simple but it still manages to challenge the player. Constantly, I’d find my forts barely surviving and on the verge of collapse. Plus the time mechanic, which serves as a sort of cost for the items in your fort, is an effective way to limit your resources enough to make your forts strong but nowhere near impregnable. Lastly, while the gameplay in Fort Meow is mostly solid, the “physics” that the game mentions as a selling point don’t always play out as planned and would probably leave Einstein scratching his head in confusion.
E=What the heck is that?!
The exploration portion of the game may be a smaller part but it still manages to do a good job at integrating your expanding amount of fort pieces into the overall plot as you unlock every room in your grandparents’ house. While a few of the items you pick up are simply roadblocks that attempt to withstand the flying cats, others are roadblocks that have rather interesting gimmicks to them. From lamps that halve damage, to boxes that capture kitties and fortify themselves in the process, and even objects that attempt to shoot the felines out of the air, the game offers you a wide assortment of items to build your fort around. Unfortunately, the same amount of imagination wasn’t put into the puzzles used to unlock more rooms in the house. Simply being notes that you unlock with gameplay, they tell you exactly how to solve the uninspired “puzzles” in the game. This makes unlocking more rooms into a meaningless “Where’s Waldo” exercise instead of a fun brain teaser.
Like other evil creatures, light weakens cats.
On a more positive note, the art style in the game is a treat. Fort Meow uses simple and cartoon-like animation during its cut scenes, a comic style for the dialogue and storybook like drawings during the actual game to great effect. These styles mix well with the story and the atmosphere of the game. To a similar degree, the melody and sound effects are used to a comparable effect.
Regrettably, the game does have its downfalls. First, the game is short, coming in at around 2 or 3 hours of content and offering no replayable features such as challenge stages or a “new game plus.” This lack of replayability is a shame even with the small price tag attached to it. I would definitely pay a few more dollars for several extra hours of gameplay.
I’d gladly pay a few more dollars to dick around and make more fort monstrosities like this one.
Another of the game’s undoings is the fact that luck plays a moderate part on whether or not your fort will withstand the cat’s flinging themselves against it. Enough times for me to notice, I would use the same fort in the same stage and each time things would play out differently. Whether it would topple over to one side, stand firm but eventually fall under the cat’s assault, or even withstand the full brunt of the cat’s attack seemed to be random and completely arbitrary according to the game’s whims, which took me a bit out of the whole process.
Charting this last bit of negative input on a mostly fun game as personal preference, I feel that the PC port would be inferior to the iPad version. This game seems like a fun portable companion to help offset any boredom while outside or while looking to kill some time before whatever activities the day has in store. Plus, playing it in short spurts while outside, as opposed to a sit down session at the computer, would probably make the game seem a bit longer in comparison.
On the IPad, you could also play it while making bad decisions like this cat here.
Don’t get me wrong, though. While Fort Meow has its hiccups I did still find my time with the game enjoyable. The only real decision to make is if these hiccups are enough to dissuade you from buying the game at the low 8 dollar price tag. If the game has anything else going for it, Fort Meow gives me another good reason why I prefer dogs over those evil cats.
When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at email@example.com.
A reviewable copy of Fort Meow was provided to Squackle.
Developer/Publisher: OM Entertainment || Overall: 1/10
Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780
When it comes to reviewing bad games, it’s always a hard decision to make. Do I make a tongue-in-cheek positive review, or perhaps a sharply sarcastic review full of jokes, or just a traditional opinion about the hopes and dreams that “Chariot Wars” completely and utterly destroyed? For this review I’m not quite sure what direction to go, because Chariot Wars just leaves me confused and maybe even a little sad when reflecting upon my time playing.
Considering the game is originally developed for mobile phones, the basic features are limited. You have only three modes of play to choose from: Multiplayer, Single Player Time Trial, and Single Player Story Mode, called Championship. Multiplayer requires you to register an account with the developer’s web site rather than using Steam. Single Player Time Trial is racing around one of the four possible unique tracks, alone, with no A.I. to race against. Each track has two variations: Night and Day – all of which are unlocked only through the Championship Mode. Time Trial is consistently pointed to by the “Game Tips” and even prompted as a gate before you enter the real “meat” of the game, which is the Championship Mode.
Here’s where things get… “interesting.” Chariot Wars’ Championship mode is a graphic novel murder mystery story with boring gameplay in between chapters. The story is by far the only redeeming factor this game has to offer and is actually quite hilarious and dark, in a campy way. The backdrop of Ancient Rome is used as the Captain of the Guard is called to investigate a double murder – one man crucified and a woman with her throat slit, holding a tattered symbol of the Cabal, which is a group of conspirators who assassinated Julius Caesar. The murdered man is related to Ben-Hur (we finally have our sequel to Ben-Hur, ya’ll!) and before researching much of anything about the murder, the current idiot Caesar thinks it would be a good idea for the lead investigator of a murder to stop doing that and to instead replace the dead guy in the chariot race — and that’s when you take control of your chariot and race.
After winning the race, Quintus Octavian, the protagonist of the story makes out with a hot chick with a very large rack in some random room and then with her help figures out what the symbol is from, and so on. I don’t necessarily want to explain every facet of the story here, but you are rewarded for your effort of winning races with these story interludes. It may take a few tries depending on how well you know the track and if you can catch up to the computer players, but you’ll eventually win each race… hopefully. Besides, you don’t have much else to do.
The gameplay itself is very standard in its rules – just get first place and win after two laps. For some odd reason there are huge floating coins that give you temporary speed boosts that don’t really make you feel like you’re going faster. When using a speed boost, everything becomes blurry and it feels like you’re all of a sudden in a Michael Bay movie, not knowing what the hell is going on. Considering the boosts are supposed to be good, they sure as hell don’t make you want to use them other than hopefully never having to play through that race again. Wonky physics, bad collision, weird animation, and the lack of any “warring” with other players (though you can bump into them) just isn’t fun. The scenery is also very strange, considering chariot races were always in a coliseum. There are snow-covered mountains surrounding you everywhere (and curving with the sky, which is fucking weird), waterfalls, random mixed species of trees, a blinding light source as bright as a sun coming out of a mountain (while it rains), and other oddities. This alternate dimension doesn’t seem like a very nice place to spectate or even race, not that the game is meant to be an accurate representation of anything.
And that’s kind of the game. The music is generic and there is a strange chime that rings every time you click one of the menu buttons. There are a lot of weird translation things going on, which adds a certain “charm” to the game, and the incessant badgering to go to the Time Trial mode to learn how to play is almost hilarious since you can’t play any new tracks unless you unlock them through Championship Mode, which you only do by beating the track! The races get harder as you go on, but you have to wonder how the difficulty is really ramping up when your chariot likes to all of a sudden go out of control a lot more often on turns as you progress. At least the game didn’t crash while I was playing it. You can also make funny things happen when you boost into one of the invisible walls on the race track. If you ever get stuck in the scenery of the game, the only solution is to restart the track from scratch.
You can choose from several racers, chariot colors, and horses (all of which you have to unlock through play) which may or may not have an influence on your racer – it is sort of hard to tell. Another point of contention is that it’s $25 on Steam. Considering the amount of content the game has to offer, you have to wonder what the hell is going on.
And so there’s not a whole lot to keep you going. Other than the graphic novel portions and the strangely long CG video that displays a full length chariot race (presumably what you’d be “experiencing” while playing) full of random characters you probably don’t even play, you aren’t going to want to touch this game.
“Reset” restarts the whole track.
A reviewable copy of Chariot Wars was provided to Squackle.
Developer/Publisher: Tasharen Entertainment || Overall: 7.5/10
Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780
Sandbox games are varied and plentiful nowadays. Needing to strike the right balance between theme and progression is important, otherwise interest can be lost quite quickly. Windward, a naval-themed sandbox game, is one such game with an interesting theme and progression system. While the game can feel rewarding, you may find that you are stuck in an endless grind cycle on the high seas that will test your resolve in more ways than scurvy can.
With no formal tutorial, single player might seem the obvious first choice for a new player of Windward. When starting a game, you’ll be asked to create a character, choose a faction, and start a new procedurally-generated world. Once you establish a new game and character you’ll enter the map that you’ve generated and with your little starter boat you’ll find your way through figuring out the mechanics and progression the game offers. Little help tips at the top will pop up in lieu of being initiated through a tutorial. This may feel a bit cryptic at times depending on your ability to understand and find things with little direction as the help tips seem contextual and will change or pop up as you stumble across a new feature or thing it wants to tell you about.
While the maps are probably never the same, not much is unpredictable in the way the regions are laid out. To actually play the game you’ll visit a town, take up quests, complete the quest, then get more quests, and repeat the cycle. Quests usually fall in a couple of categories, such as killing pirates or traveling from Point A to Point B (which is what I named a couple of my towns). Quests can be framed differently (such as hunting down a pirate/defending a town) but the end result typically is a variation of those two main quest types. You’ll build up your resources and get equipment as you complete quests. You also build up XP which allows for the assigning of talent points that increases your ships stats at certain thresholds (essentially levels, but they’re not really framed that way). Selling the gear/random items you find is probably the fastest way to earn gold, but you can also dabble in trading cargo between towns — although that isn’t as straightforward as you would think as not every town is willing to accept all cargo. Quests and Cargo both take up cargo space, so it usually ends up being more worthwhile to take a Quest instead of spending money to buy Cargo. Depending on the faction you are in, you may fight against other factions (players and/or AI) who are vying for control of your region.
The first couple of hours I was in single-player mode, the grind became very prevalent. Once you “get” the point of the game, there’s not much left to really “do.” There is general game progression: leveling up towns by completing quests, and capturing/establishing new cities, and capturing zones until you ultimately capture everything in the map you’ve generated. The progression in single-player is very slow and that is purposeful because the game actually seems to be balanced for a multiplayer environment where there are a large group of players completing quests and upgrading towns instead of just one person doing all of the work. With that said, the game gets a lot more pleasant and less daunting if you play on an Internet server where you can find upwards of fifty people playing depending on which server you look at. Albeit they are typically spread out on the world map, you do interact with people using the chat system and can potentially coordinate zone takeovers/defense by following orders.
The character you make at the beginning of the game will carry through to any new Worlds you generate and can be used online as well. Your progression is saved locally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were server settings that force a cloud save for your character, which may mean starting from scratch. You can also enter an Instance, which is separate from the main world you are currently playing in. In Instances you fight against pirates and capture towns in a completely fresh region, offering gear and rewards from doing so. Once you leave the instance, it disappears and will put you back into the persistent map you’ve been previously playing on. Moving through the World’s map requires you to gain talents as regions have a minimum requirement to enter. Being exposed to the multiplayer chat on a larger server, talent levels seem to extend past at least 100 and may extend as the game is updated.
The equipment in the game increases your stats, and generally improve your ship and abilities. Combat can be a strategy-laden ordeal depending on what you get yourself into and equipping the right gear will allow you to hit harder challenges and capture towns/towers faster. Most of the strategy comes from the way your ship is facing and making sure you keep within the firing arc to maximize your damage. The equipment is ship-themed, such as hull, sails, crew, and captain among other things. There are nice in-game customization items that change the look of your boat, as well. You can also upgrade by buying larger ships, which take a significant amount of gold. Apparently you can also get airships/blimps but it seems to take a very long time to get to that point. It also seems that more ships are currently being added from chatter in-game on the server I played on.
Visuals of the game are nice to look at, although you’ll mostly see the same stuff over and over. The game’s visuals all have an island/beach theme and you don’t see the art taking much of a varied approach to try different things. It would have been nice to see different tile sets for regions so everything in the game doesn’t look and feel exactly the same. The music in the game is very nice, but most of the tracks seem to be very short and loop quite often. Water also looks really nice and I can appreciate the quality of the visuals existing in the game considering its scope. Altering terrain is also an interesting aspect and you can make areas passable where they weren’t before. Combat is also visually pleasing, although it can be a bit funny to watch cannonballs bounce around like basketballs and then disappear.
Perhaps the worst part of the game comes from its user interface design and potential quality of life enhancements that aren’t included. My biggest problem is that the on-screen mini-map doesn’t display town-names, forcing you to open the larger map to see which town is which and how to plan out your quests better. The larger map is also not resizable, so you wouldn’t be able to have it open as you were moving around. I was also pining for an auto-travel or a way to constantly change direction of your ship without having to click down the whole time. Positively, your ship’s abilities are able to be re-bound on the fly by right-clicking them and then assigning a key which reduces any sort of option-hunting. The old-paper style of the UI is also very pleasant as it keeps with the naval theme and it’s more-or-less easy to tell if an item is an upgrade or not due to color-coding.
The most admirable aspect about Windward is that it is completely designed and programmed by a one-man developer. It also seems that regular updates are coming through, as my game has updated at least two or three times since I started playing. As far as a future update plan goes, nothing was currently readily available on the Steam Community that I could find. I personally experienced no game crashes or frame rate drops and had a very positive technical experience. The server I connected to a few times never dropped me and I was able to connect without much difficulty.
Windward is a nice, slow-paced experience that can definitely just be used as a time waster or a multitask while watching Netflix. If the theme resonates with you, you may enjoy it more than others, but the grindy progression system could be a potential turn-off. There’s no story and not even really an ultimate goal other than getting the best gear and ships, so the motivation to play is driven solely by progression in power level, which can easily get stale unless you get into the persistent PvP aspect of the game.
Windward is currently available on Steam for $14.99.
A reviewable copy of Windward was provided to Squackle.
Developer/Publisher: Defiant Development || Overall: 9.5/10
Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780, Xbox360 Controller
New trends such as Kickstarter and Steam Early Access have made feasible genres and products that theoretically may not have been available otherwise. With investment on the front-end rather than the back-end, some game developers take this opportunity to fill in very specific niches which may (or may not) further garnish interest and investment. Hand of Fate is a product of this investment trend in the form of a deck-building card game featuring action-based combat.
The set up for the story is you are challenging a talkative mystic to a card game, sitting across from him at a table. You get thrown right into the game, moving your piece across a set path of cards on the table with a boss at the last level. As you make your way through the first couple of bosses, you slowly learn the flow and mechanics of the game and learn more about the Dealer himself and the origin of the card game. With further progression you assemble the pieces of the story that each card tells and how they relate either to your nameless character or the Dealer himself. Hand of Fate begins to feel more like a throwback to an old adventure game with a narrator as you start to settle into the gameplay.
As you progress through the board, you primarily get items, equipment, or encounter scenarios. How well you do dictates what gear you get and how easy the action-oriented encounters can be. While you will primarily be spending your time at the table, you will port into encounters to beat up enemies and, eventually, bosses via action gameplay. The best comparison I can make for these interludes is something like a grounded God of War. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel quite powerful depending on the gear you get, though.
These action encounters are really only one part of the greater picture, but they are very important to successfully complete as competently as possible — namely not losing health. The action gameplay takes a little bit to get used to, but is mostly satisfying. Normal swings with your weapon feel like they “snap” to one enemy and you don’t cleave other enemies who seem like they should get hit as well – this is counteracted by being able to quickly “switch” targets around and stun them with a shield (if equipped) or counter an enemy ability. The combat seems to be mostly based on your ability to counter and dodge attacks and when to use special abilities (if you have any) as there are no combos to perform. The combat doesn’t feel flat, but can feel a bit like spamming one button over and over — this can take the fun out of it if you prefer at least some sort of alternate attacks despite there being special abilities that are on long cooldowns. You can also stun with your shield and it is required to interrupt an enemy’s impending attack in certain cases. Sometimes you sort of fly at enemies that are a couple of steps away due to the way the “snapping” is designed, which can be a bit jarring but ends up helping you more than not.
Encounters include combat, mazes, and shops. The locales in the combat are a bit varied, but you’ll begin to notice you see the same ones pop up over and over which allows you to familiarize yourself with the maps, which inevitably helps you. Traps are also set on the maps which can hurt both you and your enemies, so you may have to strategize exactly where you can run and which direction to dodge to. Mazes use these traps (and other unique ones) to hurt you, the motivation being to get through with minimal injury and to the treasure at the end of the maze. Shops allow you to buy health, buffs (called blessings), food, equipment, and remove debuffs (called curses). Depending on your progression and when you stumble upon a shop, it can be a game changer.
Since the overall goal is to essentially prepare your character for the boss, doing terribly in one of the encounters could swing a good game into a bad one. As with other rogue-likes, death is permanent and you will lose the current progression of your run and have to start over if you end up failing. Any tokens you earn from cards will be yours to keep regardless of the outcome, which unlock more cards to play with.
The Dealer reveals (and you are shown) early on that there are twelve bosses to progress through. For me, it was pretty smooth sailing for the first five bosses, but the sixth boss I felt a very large difficulty jump. Where you notice this difficulty jump could potentially be different for you depending on how many cards (and which cards) you unlock, but you’ll begin to notice that chance takes a very big toll on your progression. Some cards have a 25% chance to succeed, while others require you to have two lucky 25% draws. Most of the chance games require you to choose between four cards, but other chance-oriented games involve actions you take in a given story scenario. Depending on if you memorize what card does what you can mitigate chances towards the desired outcome in a story scenario.
Rogue-like progression takes charge in unlocking more and more cards as you naturally play. As long as you accomplish a particular card’s challenge you’ll attain a token which rewards you more cards. These cards may or may not be able to unlock further cards, which adds to the amount of encounters and equipment you can acquire in the game. There will be cards that you’ll have to encounter multiple times before you get lucky or remember what didn’t work last time before you’re able to acquire the card’s token. This can get subtly frustrating if they are based on chance on top of choosing the correct prompts.
Graphics and sound are also boons to the overall experience. Character designs and animations work well with each other with a cartoony “flavor” to it. The more unique character designs come from the Lizardmen and Mages, while other characters in the game such as Thieves and Skeletons leave a bit to be desired in the style department, but serve their purpose fine in the end. The soundtrack is enjoyable and properly matches what is happening on the screen. The table has ambient music and little sound effects for every time you activate a card. I also experienced no noticeable frame rate drops or graphics issues during gameplay.
Hand of Fate is fun to play, but in the end what is it that actually tries to excite you to come back for more? The challenge is certainly there and despite being a bit frustrating at times, you do get a sense of accomplishment when you finally take a boss down. But what is really fun, unique, and even mysterious about the game itself is one thing: the Dealer.
The gameplay of Hand of Fate seems to become only a tool in learning about the character of the Dealer. It is almost as if it is a character study when he says little tidbits about himself or what the purpose of certain things are, such as the card game itself and who he has played against before. He also voices a very strong opinion about in-universe-specific problems such as fake fortune tellers and other strange outbursts. As you replay the game over and over you’ll notice that you are hearing him say a couple of things repeatedly but for the first four or five hours, almost everything is unique, and he will usually have a little blurb for each new card.
The Dealer’s fluid animation is interesting as he will occasionally play with his bracelet or make amusing gesticulations. What primarily sells the character is the voice acting, which is perfectly executed in the context of this game with the voice actor chosen. You also learn a little more about the Dealer himself from the set design. The slowly panning camera reveals what is on the table, and the halls where the game is taking place are able to be inspected a bit. The progression in the game itself seems to head toward a particular goal, but without taking wild guesses (or cheating and reading spoilers) it isn’t outright predictable.
Game options may feel a bit sparse. You can only choose between Story Mode and Endless Mode. Endless Mode allows you to play with all of the cards you’ve acquired so far, which allows you to grind out locked cards. Endless Mode diverts from Story Mode’s rules in that every level you progress you draw a bad card which can be a Curse or something less impactful like loss of gold or health. The point of this mode would technically be Leaderboards, but I was using it to grind out some cards to unlock since I was having a lot of trouble with the sixth boss (and finally beat it before writing this review).
Also related to game options is a curious lack of character customization for the avatar you use in the encounters. It would be one thing if the avatar you play as were characterized, but since he is seemingly vacuous, it feels like something is missing in that regard. It doesn’t take anything away from the gameplay, really, but if they were at least somewhat randomized each time as far as the face/skin tone went it wouldn’t feel as large of an oversight – I’m just left wondering why the avatar you play as looks like that and what his purpose is. Part of the mystery, to me, is whether or not the Dealer actually sees “you” or the “avatar guy” sitting across the table from him.
Being that Hand of Fate has been available via Early Access, it has seen many changes: balance, UI, and otherwise. There are also plans for DLC, such as extra cards which would expand the gameplay down the line. It will be interesting to see just how much gets added by way of DLC and what impact it has on the game as more additions are made.
Hand of Fate is a very enjoyable game and a unique experience. Pushing on and completing the game, as well as unlocking all of the cards, can prove to be a time-intensive and challenging endeavor, but with hardly any harsh criticisms to be had about the game it isn’t a particularly daunting proposition. Hand of Fate is available for PC, PS4-PSN, and XBone-Live — console versions are available for download at 4 PM.
A reviewable copy of Hand of Fate was provided to Squackle.
Developer/Publisher: Perfect World || Overall: 8.0
World of Warcraft never wowed me. I didn’t ground myself in Tera. I didn’t enlist myself for Guild Wars. Neither did I ever play EverQuest. Much like the old Zelda CD-i games, what your humble reviewer is trying to say is that he avoided Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games like the plague. Perhaps it was due to a lack of interest in taking the RPG experience online, or maybe it was the fear that the time sink would melt the proverbial face off of my free time à la Raider of the Lost Arc. At least, that was until I gave Perfect World’s MMO Swordsman a try.
Always make the Indian Jones reference. Always.
Disclaimer: This review is based on my experiences playing the Infinity swordsman class up to level 37, during the open Beta. There may be some changes when the game goes live on July the 29th and after as the game is updated.
Swordsman Online is Perfect World’s latest foray in the Free-to-Play (F2P) Action MMO market. Inspired by the popular writing of wuxia (martial hero) novelist Louis Cha, Swordsman trades in the typical fantasy-styled combat and races found in most MMOs for martial arts action and oriental locales. The game touts wonderful graphics, an abundance of visceral martial arts inspired combat, exclusive guild-only quests, a variety of classes based on schools of martial arts, a rich story, and an overall fun experience for any MMO junkie.
Though, does the Action MMO hold true to those boast? Well, without further ado, here is my review.
LET’S GET THIS STARTED!!! YEAH!!!
Right off the bat, Swordsman introduces you to a rather aesthetically intricate and detailed character creation process. From height to build to facial scars, the standard character options already provide an ample playground to create a character to your liking. Furthermore, the advance options offer you sliders to adjust the size, shape and location of those features allowing anything from an eye-catchingly attractive character model to a grossly hideous one.
It ranges somewhere between Cloud Strife to Quasimodo.
Along with the varied character models, the graphics in the game are much better than I expected from a F2P offering. The fields are decorated in a lush mixture of greens, grays, blues and browns that capture the various dirt roads, mountains and areas of water you’ll come across. Inside the cities, the graphics do well to bring the various decorations of the city to life, and also include some neat tile designs that can be seen along the main roads. The shadows in the game also deserve a special note with every item in the city casting its own distinct shadow and, at times, overlapping with others to create an almost realistic effect. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the greenery outside of the cities’ wall. The only other graphically lacking part is that a few of the enemies and other NPCs don’t seem on par with the rest, but it still turns out to be a very minor flaw when compared to the depth of the other visuals in this Action MMORPG.
Being an “Action” MMORPG, the combat in this game appears to take on a far more involved attitude than with other MMOs. Instead of targeting an enemy to constantly unleash a swarm of basic attacks, every swing of the character’s chosen weapon takes either a button press or mouse click to execute and actual aim to hit the enemy’s hitbox. The typical flow of combat takes on a mixture of those attacks along with special moves and a dodge mechanic to round off a standard fight. There is also a combo mechanic that grants more damage depending on the number of continuous hits you have scored… as long as another player doesn’t move your target out of the way mid-combo or the clunky controls don’t screw it up.
Currently Pictured: My character not giving a shit as he spins around like a doofus for a high combo.
Regrettably, while the game offers three control options, the controls aren’t the most intuitive with the combat. No matter which of the three control styles your choose, you will find yourself having to get used to the clunky controls rather than naturally having it blend with your own personal style of playing, which can delay you from enjoying it at the onset. The controls themselves have an effect on early combat that causes it to appear stiff until you acquire a more diverse move set later in the game. Though, with that said, each successful hit does carry a distinct weight to it as it makes contact with the enemy. Watching a finishing blow send the lifeless body of an enemy flying did solicit a grin from time to time.
The questing itself is rather generic, however. Most taking the form of fetch quests, defeating a certain number of the same enemies, talking to NPCs or the occasional boss fight. Considering that the game has a rather robust acrobatics system that offers triple jumps, air dashing, and gliding, I was hoping there would be more quests involving these abilities that are ripe for platforming elements. Unfortunately, only one quest asked me to use such skills to climb to the top of a building to meet with a man’s wife. Also, word to the wise, there are guild specific quest that serve to spice up the gameplay a little bit, so I’d recommend joining a guild at some point.
“Golly, Mrs. Lin! I’m okay with that, but I sure hope you told Mr. Lin about it.”
In addition, early on, the quests give a considerable amount of experience points for whatever you have chosen to do, from important to inane. Constantly I would find myself talking twice to the same character only to have him vomit out about ten percent of the experience points I needed to gain a level. I would prefer to see all that experience be bundled up at the end of the quest line in a neat box, rather than be given out in parts like that for every unimportant task I do… but that’s just, like, my opinion… man…
Out of the figurative box and onto other parts of the game, Swordsman offers a whopping ten classes under the guise of martial arts schools your character can study. While each of the schools or “classes” are different, they all follow the standard roles of tank, DPS (Damage Per Second), healing, support and control seen in most MMORPGs. Delving deeper, each of the schools offer three distinct styles that can be changed on the fly even during mid-combat that are usually either a variation on the school’s role in combat, or a dip into another of the usual combat roles.
Being comfortable with my masculinity, I chose to study under the Infinity Style that is usually practiced by nuns and offered quite the unique counter mechanic to their tank-ish style of combat. Most of the skills are charged attacks that release high damage the longer the charge is held. However, if hit during the charge the class will unleash a completely different move that usually substitutes damage for a negative status effect or a “debuff” on the opponent. I found that to be a rather interesting mechanic, and would love to see what other mechanics the other schools introduced in the story could pull off.
The Infinity School also attempts to make a two sword style viable, which is about as unrealistically awesome as I wish to be.
Taken by itself, the story is a little bland and hardly noteworthy. When seen through the eyes of a martial arts film aficionado (i.e. me), it’s quite the enjoyable love letter to genre and the books the game is based upon. All of the tropes are there: the main character’s village being destroyed, ancient relics, feuding martial arts schools, revenge, secret scrolls and the glorious Fu Manchu facial hair. To add to that, Perfect World made the decision not to dub the dialogue and to keep in its original Mandarin Chinese. This proved to be fairly wise decision as the authentic Chinese voices give the story an authentic vibe, in turn. The only way it could be more authentic is if it replaced the voices with bad English voice acting that doesn’t exactly match the lips flaps of the character. All in all, the story is a mixed bag; those that enjoy the genre will enjoy the homage to the books and films the story is based on, and those that do not will hardly care for it.
Though early cinema has given the Fu Manchu facial hair a bad rap, few things are as majestic when properly maintained.
Beyond the story, the game offers a variety of instances, dungeons and events for a group of people to run. Starting at around level 15, the player is already offered their first instance to play at one of three difficulty levels. While most instances can be tackled by themselves at the normal level, swordsman and hero levels ramp up the difficulty to be better tackled by a team of players. Along with those, the game also offers a variety of dungeons at higher levels that offer their own form of exp rewards and items gains. Adding to that, there are many daily events and activities that are sure to better your character in one way or the other.
The instances are as important to do as their names are generic.
The Player versus Player (PvP) options come in a few flavors. While typical one on one and group combat can be enjoyed in the game’s arena, which includes customizable settings and a reward system for the victor, the game also offers guild based PvP that allows guild to take over land in-game. However, the most intriguing option lies in how Swordsman handles PvP in the open world. PvP players outside of the arena and the guild wars come in three types. First are the Harmony players that aren’t allowed to attack others. Then there are the Outlaws that can attack any player above a certain level for a monetary reward but at the cost of their name turning red and branding them as a player killer. Lastly, there are the Avengers that are only allowed to gank (kill) characters whose name has turned red, netting the player an item from the character’s inventory once defeated. In a way, this game of mouse and cat (and dog) is a fascinating way for the player characters to police themselves.
As for the audio, I found it rather lackluster to say the least. Not that it ever detracted from my experience of the game, but nothing struck me as noteworthy in the music or sound effects department in the open beta.
Being in open beta, Swordsman is riddled with enough bugs to make a roach motel jealous. A few I encountered included: graphical glitches, closed doors that I could pass through, opened doors that looked closed on screen, the sound randomly cutting out during cutscenes, my character freezing in place for several minutes and an invisible enemy hunting me down until I could escape to a safe zone. As a special mention, the most amusing glitch in the game allowed me to make the enemies windmill uncontrollably after being killed by certain moves. While none of these glitches are game breaking, they sure do bring you out of the game’s immersion.
I like to think that sometimes I don’t kill my enemies, but instead their defeat inspires them to take up their true passion in dance.
Lastly, for the duration of the game, I was offered the Hero’s Pack by Perfect World. Included in the package comes a combination of a mount, a unique companion, equipment, an exclusive fashion and consumables all meant to make your Swordsman’s experience all the more enjoyable for $59.99. While most of the items only serve to streamline the experience and literally make things faster for you, like the Blazing Stallion that goes about 3 miles per hour faster than a typical horse, there is some worth in the rather powerful Ring of Valor, which is an upgradable piece of gear that can boost its stats as you level. Also, the package offers you a unique fashion which doesn’t serve anything outside of an aesthetic sense that this is the closest you’ll be to looking like Mortal Kombat’s thunder god in Swordsman, which admittingly, is still pretty cool. Overall, while it can be convenient for those starting out or seeking to raise an alternate character, I found the Hero’s Pack unnecessary for a patient player.
Maybe if you squint your eyes and turn your head to the left…
Though the game definitely has it share of glitches and faults, I believe the game is worth a try for anyone looking for a new MMO to enjoy. From the unique setting, variety of classes, abundant PvP and eye-catching graphics, the game more than makes up for getting use to its clunky controls and other lesser traits. Plus, it made my first true MMO experience not all that bad…
When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome Lords and Ladies, gentlemen and women of esteem to the tale of Princess Elodie. A young girl caught betwixt her royal appointment as upcoming queen and the many dangers that the title holds. Watch her take classes on the many facets of a proper ruler and matriarch. Watch her weave her way through the tribulations of both political intrigue and royal scandal. Watch her conquer both the battlefield and the ballroom with her might and refinement. And watch her die… and die… and die again…
Don’t get too attached, her many deaths will be the result of your bad decisions.
Okay, I had my fun.
Long Live the Queen is a visual novel of political intrigue, war and death all dressed up in a pretty, pretty pink ribbon for your playing pleasure. The game casts you in the role of young princess Elodie, fresh from the sudden and unexplained death of her mother; this understandably depressed young lady is now tasked with running the country until her proper coronation on her fifteenth birthday. You, on the other hand, are in charge of keeping her alive by means of a point and click adventure where you will raise up skills to complete tasks through menu commands. You will fail.
At its core, Long Live the Queen is a literal numbers game. You have a number of weeks until Elodie’s coronation, attempts on her life occur on certain numbered weeks, and you then avoid them by having leveled the necessary skills to survive to a certain number. Long Live the Queen’s success in this formula is in how fluidly this all comes together. The game does the number crunching for you while clearly explaining all in-game mechanics.
If described in one word, the “game play” in Long Live the Queen is “light.” A typical in-game week consist of first sending Elodie out to learn two skills in the form of classes, and ends with having her participate in some sort of event during the weekend. Both skills she has focused on are raised by a base of two points per day and, with no bonuses, results in 10 points for the week. This is further diversified by her mood; every weekend you are asked to have Elodie participate in some sort of activity that affects her mood and, in turn, her mood affects how well she does in her studies. If done correctly, you could gain a bonus that is about three times the usual rate. If done incorrectly, you could succumb to a penalty that results in an effective score of zero points for the whole week.
The skills range somewhere between “a lot” to a “crap load.”
Now while simple enough in execution, to make the most out of your skills and moods requires a careful point and click balancing act. First off, the skills are quite numerous and the game doesn’t really allow for your princess to train evenly in all fields. More often than not, you will find that making Elodie a jack-of-all-trades will lead to an earlier demise than min-maxing (minimizing the effect of undesired skills and maximizing the effect of desired ones). This can get particularly difficult when you find out that each skill has two associated skills that must be raised over 25 points before the skill you want can be raised over 50 points. Overall, you’ll find that a well-rounded princess usually equals a hated, useless and dead one.
Moods, to the same extent, also require their own special balancing act to make the most out of them. Each mood is set at one end of an eleven point scale and at the opposite end of that scale is a mood that is contradictory to it. For example, in this game, you can’t be angry if you are afraid, you can’t be cheerful if you are depressed, and you can’t be lonely if you are pressured. How much each of those makes sense is up to you. So whenever a certain activity gives you points in one mood, it also detracts points from its opposite mood. This will often have you subject your princess to a constant state of manic depression as you go from one end of each mood scale to the other in search of the right mood bonus to complement the skills you desire. Though, even with perfect mastery of both skills and moods, it doesn’t mean your princess will make it out alive.
It’s not like I think that the combination of angry and afraid is being passive-aggressive, but it could make sense, man… Source
Elodie is going to die… she’s going to die a lot… but that is also part of the fun of Long Live the Queen. Even when you believe you have a perfect set of skills and moods to take your little monarch from princess to queen, the game has no problem throwing a surprise curveball at you and killing Elodie off. The process, while frustrating, often times fills you with a renewed sense of determination as you start fresh and tweak her skills to overcome that particular obstacle and then find another one to have you repeat the whole process. Even when you do eventually manage to make Elodie a queen, you can find yourself eagerly replaying the game to find out what other sets of skills can make her a queen and not a cadaver. Altogether, Elodie’s constant deaths give a sort of morbid charm to the game.
Never before has brutal death been more adorable.
Visually, the game takes many cues from the art styles found in most shoujo (girl) comics in Japan, which makes sense since this game is targeted towards girls but with a wider audience in mind (justifying my manhood: done). The girls are cute and the boys are just as pretty. My only problem is that despite the game fitting the visual novel category, it seems far more inclined to just describe the story rather than illustrate it. The game could do well to provide more illustrations during the more important points of the story than just a portrait of a face and some text next to it. Though, when illustrated, the pictures are a treat to see.
In the audio department, the piano arrangements that accompany the story give it a fairy tale ambiance, as well as, just being pleasant on the ears to hear. It does well to highlight the sad, cheerful, and action scenes throughout the novel. In contrast, the sound effects are virtually non-existent. Which is a shame, since a well placed clang of steel or cheering crowd could have picked up the slack where the visuals did not.
There isn’t really much to say about the interface. To its benefit, everything is easy to get to, clearly explained and hardly confusing. You point. You click. You get on with Elodie’s life (or death).
The narrative does a good job at juxtaposing the pretty princess theme with the darker tones of rulership. One minute Elodie could be enjoying a grand ball, and the next she could be at the end of an assassin’s blade. Though, in that regard, it does exactly what the game promises; it takes you through the “typical” year of someone destined to be queen. Where the narrative thrives is in the fact that, despite one scene near the end, it is exactly what you make of it. Often times, you will even find that events from much earlier have great impact on events found later on in the story. Though, whether princess Elodie makes the castle her gilded cage to protect her from the world’s troubles, becomes a war mongering tyrant, or goes on an adventure to vanquish fantastical beast is completely based on the skills she takes and choices you make.
…or you could play her like I did. As a warlord skilled in both decoration and public speaking that I imagine
screams, “I AM THE PRETTIEST!” after every victory to the cheers of a loving crowd
…and so ends our tale of princess Elodie. A tale, while lacking both in effects of visual and of sound, can be an intriguing piece that is delightfully frustrating and wonderfully addicting to come back to. To all the Lord and Ladies in the audience, I bid you “Adieu.”
When not writing reviews as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at email@example.com.
Children. Strange happenings. Dirty walls. Psychotic medications. These are just some of the things I can’t get grandma to shut up about. These elements are also present in this great preview for an upcoming horror-themed point and click adventure. Fran Bow shares its name with the lead protagonist (Fran Bow, if you’re paying attention).
Fran Bow is a ten year old, saucer-eyed girl in the Bow family that seems to have trouble making friends. She receives a black cat from her parents and dubs it “Mr. Midnight.” She remarks that the cat is her only friend, although she quite likes her aunt Grace as well.
We all know that in any good story, if one good thing happens, five bad things have to occur right after. Fran Bow finds this out as she comes across her murdered parents one tragic night. This understandably sends her running into the night in a panic. She finds solace only in Mr. Midnight, and eventually blacks out from the traumatic event.
An untold amount of time passes, and we find poor Fran in a psychiatric evaluation center, surrounded by adults that either don’t believe her story, or don’t care. She is given a new medication that sends her into a bizarro world where there is nothing but death and misery every time she takes it.
She knows that her aunt Grace would take good care of her, but no one will let her leave. Can she find a way out? Will she find Mr. Midnight and aunt Grace? Does she need prescription eye drops to see properly?
The characters and setting are very stylized and detailed. Animations are on the basic side but I believe this was done for artistic purposes. Nothing looks out of place, and the game maintains a great visual theme throughout the demo. Little touches like the grainy filter covering the screen help to immerse the player further into the story. The characters are appropriately disturbed looking and mesh well with the creepy atmosphere.
All music and sound effects are appropriate for the situation, which is really all I ask for in a game. Still, it would’ve been nice to have a few more sounds, such as a little jingle when you played with a toy.
Standard point and click adventure mechanics, which you’d expect any game in this genre to have. You click on items to examine or take them, and use things you find to try to escape the asylum. Fran’s a very clever girl, so she can combine different objects together through her inventory menu and use them to reach her goals.
Fran also has a bit of a troubled mind. She carries around a jar of the psychotropic pills that the doctor didn’t want her to have anymore. If you decide to pop one, the room you’re in is transformed into some horrible alternate reality filled with dead bodies, evil spirits, and bloody messages on walls that sometimes hint at what you should do next.
There are several fun, just-challenging-enough puzzles to satisfy anyone looking to use their brain. These can vary from finding a key, to combing the right items together to progress the story.
The fact that this is only a demo and the full version isn’t funded yet! That’s a not-very-subtle way of me telling you to go pledge on their campaign!
Aside from a few grammar and spelling mistakes here and there due to the company not speaking English as their first language, Fran Bow oozes professionalism (and lots of other stuff if you take your pills). The demo is a good length, being just long enough to make you want the full game. I suggest anyone interested in well-done adventure games, or just games with a good story, to head over to their IndieGoGo page and throw down what you can to help make this great game happen.
Developer/Publisher: Night Owl Games || Overall: 8/10
If you ever thought of opening up your own dungeon in the pits of Hell (or maybe just your local uninhabited doomy-looking mountain overlooking villages to rape and pillage), Dungeon Overlord is your game.
Screw that Farmville crap. It’s time to make some dungeons full of farms! And sleeping areas for the illegals– I mean Goblin workers — and slave chambers for the wise Warlocks writing your scrolls of knowledge to research random things you didn’t think you need to use. I can’t wait until I’m able to spend 20 million research tokens to get mastery over dragons — but I guess I’m getting ahead of myself since that’s about a year out.
So, instead of jumping ahead into the future, let’s start at the beginning. It starts with a very strict tutorial. Strict in the sense that if you don’t follow it, you will royally screw yourself, at least when you are starting to get into the game. It is very strict during that whole phase, despite the fact you can “do other things” while doing the tutorial phase. It can take a lot longer than you may be accustomed to actually “start a game” since you can end up screwing yourself if you are too impatient and look ahead to what quests you can do later on. If you don’t do exactly what the game tells you for the first hours of the game, you essentially can become stuck unless you want to wait a day to get enough resources back to fix your “errors.” You don’t go to the Overworld until you are level 10, which pretty much means the tutorial lasts until then.
Speaking of waiting, that is what most of the game is. Everything happens in real-time and things literally take hours to accomplish. Two hours here, two hours there, things add up. This game was obviously made for people who can log in maybe once or twice a day, so if you’re expecting some sort of traditional game that you can consistently play for more than an hour in one sitting, you’re not getting it. Dungeon Overlord is by no means the only game that propagates this style of gameplay, and if you’re a traditional gamer like I am, it can be sort of annoying having to come back and only being able to do about 5 minutes of playing at any given time. The responsibilities you gain ramp up as you expand, so it feels like there’s more for you to do in any one visit to the game later on.
There are a ton of resources to gain. The list of resources I could find are:
Food, Gold, Research, Experience, Leather, Iron, Crystal, Abyssal Mantle, Adamantite Ore, Deep Ochre, Dense Basalt, Diamond, Feldspar, Heart of the Earth, Mithril Ore, Moonstone, Primordial Earth, Primordial Fire, Primordial Ice, Primordial Water, Quicksilver, Ruby, Shallow Mantle, Adamantite Ingot, Ashen Stone, Cold Iron Ingot, Crystite, Dense Iron Ingot, Goblin Twine, Mana Spark, Mithril Ingot, Reinforced Leather, True Silver Ingot, Prismatic Glass, Whirling Gizmos, Steel Ingot, Explosive Grog, and maybe more?
Why are there so many resources? I don’t know. What basis of the decision is there behind adding more resources? I’m not exactly sure, but each different room requires some of these unique resources to upgrade. Crafted Resources (included in the list) are more complex, because they are made by combining basic resources. It also seems like they can just add more whenever they want, but it’s not like they’d announce that kind of stuff as far as I can see. I don’t even know how I collect half the resources I DO have in my storage spaces right now. I also don’t know what benefit diamonds have over rubies or pig iron other than making cars is better with diamonds. In fact, there are so many resources, it could be kind of confusing trying to figure out why you have them in the first place. I don’t exactly understand how experience is earned other than quests, but I seem to get it anyway, much like other resources I randomly have or get. You get experience just from upgrading your rooms, apparently, even though that isn’t too plainly spelled out for you in-game. I’m about a week or two into the game, and the overall point of gold is to seemingly pay off your servants for the handjobs they give you. You can have as much as you want without any limits to it, and the only way to spend it on any resources you DO need, like Iron or Crystal, is via a hidden menu item in the Overworld where you can buy resources people post for sale. Once you’re able to get to a second dungeon, it increases your resource acquisition by a bit as well.
When you expand to your other dungeons, they work independently of your original one, and you have to ship goods to and from the new dungeon, such as workers, resources, and furniture. It is easy to run out of space in your starter dungeon, so you do need to expand to get more tiles. But of course, you can buy more tiles for your home dungeon!
Games like Dungeon Overlord are free to play, but they thrive on arbitrarily creating quality of life issues, such as waiting three hours for an upgrade, so that you can pay with Facebook Credits to temporarily alleviate any concerns you may have while playing. This game isn’t SO bad in this regard, as you can definitely get by without spending one red cent, but there are many many “opportunities” built into the game to spend your Dungeon Marks (which are the in-game currency converted from Facebook Credits). Using any of these boosts or upgrades gives you a huge advantage over players that do not use the same boosts, and that is probably the point. To me, it seems like the only “useful” upgrades are permanent ones. Paying money for temporary boosts and fast upgrades is not cost effective at all, and you’ll end up spending a lot of money without realizing it, not to mention forgetting to or not being able to fully use the capabilities of those boosts at all times.
The things you actually pay for are things like resource boosts, upgrade completions (at different rates, as well), more tiles to build stuff on, immunity from raids, other stuff like that. You’re not going to find much that is useful below 5 marks, and most of the upgrades and boosts are time-based and temporary, or only apply to the current dungeon you are in, allowing you to purchase those same permanent increases in your other dungeons as well. The current conversion of Facebook Credits is 20 for $1.99. That comes out to about 10 cents per credit, but you get an extra 10-15% extra dungeon marks depending on how much you redeem in-game.
The User Interface is okay, but it can be sort of lacking in regards to trying to figure out how many Dungeon Marks you have — scratch that. While I was playing, they upgraded the game to plainly show how many Dungeon Marks you have, not to mention another handy “buy” button to refill up your marks. As a reviewer playing this game, I got 300 marks to play around with, and I easily spent 105 while being super conservative. Anywho, back to the user interface, the miscellaneous amount of information that you might want to look up are in places you probably wouldn’t intuitively think they should be in, but if you click around enough you eventually do find what you need. There is also a huge “invite friend” toolbar at the bottom that takes up a huge amount of your screen, which I do not like. They might as well make that toolbar an “announce you are an idiot” toolbar, cause I ain’t using it either way.
The Overworld is an interesting place, as each player resides in their own mountain, along with four other players. Each player is able to potentially expand into the rest of the mountain, and if you wanted to, attack your neighbor’s dungeons as well. There is quite a lot of real estate available in each mountain, and depending on how active your neighbors are, you might even have the whole thing to yourself. Raiding is just another way to gain resources, and can only be done in the Overworld screen. The raids on other dungeons and towns are passive (meaning all you need to do is wait for it to happen and then it does), and they usually require a certain amount of minions. You use orcs to raid, initially, and eventually use other units such as Thieves, Warlocks, Dark Elves, etc etc etc. Once a battle is over, you can “watch” the battle as it happened, but it is basically just your minions going in and moving very slowly until they find something to whack and then I guess the goal of your minions is to get to the vault, steal gold and other resources, and then leave. There is no destruction of any rooms or anything like that. Raiding is useful because some resources are only gained by raiding, such as leather. The world map actually has many different zones and other villages around your mountain.
For some reason, the keyboard does not work when you are in full screen mode. Don’t ask me why, but that’s annoying when you’re trying to rename something into your favorite rapper. When you start out the game, annoying “share” pop-ups appear every other quest, which takes you out of the game so you can tell your friends how much fun you’re having placing a jewel box in your vault. It tapers off after the Tutorial quests complete, but occasionally you still see them. I can understand that they want you to share with your friends, but it really breaks up the experience by tossing you out of the game (especially if you’re in full screen mode) to do so. It should be integrated into the game, if anything. In fact, the invite friend bar should be used for this purpose. I’d actually prefer that this didn’t happen at all, but thems the bricks, I suppose. The constant badgering of telling you to share stuff with your friends is almost a game breaker for me, and I probably would have stopped playing if it weren’t for the fact that I was going to write something about it.
There is a lot of noise pollution created by this game. Sound effects are constantly going, and doesn’t seem to have had much design intent involved as to when you hear most of the sounds going on. They are just on an endless loop. There is music, which you can mute independently. You can also mute everything, but there is no way to mute ONLY sound effects if you felt like you wanted to listen to the music in the game. I guess I should be thankful that the game remembers you keep the sound on mute.
The graphics in the game are reminiscent of Roller Coaster Tycoon, a game about ten years old. It’s not exactly something I missed, but I guess its nice to see that quality of art again in a new game. It has a sense of humor, which is nice, as well, but that’s only if you care to read anything the quests say, and some of the nuances in the things your decorations do on your rooms. The game can “improve” or “change” at any time, as well. Earlier when I was playing the game, I was going to make note of terrible use of screen real estate with the friend invite bar that is so usefully (/sarcasm) placed at the bottom of the screen at all times, and not knowing how many Dungeon Marks you actually have, but it was updated literally the next day and alleviated that “issue.” But that doesn’t mean that every version change is a good thing. The new version I had been playing made me freeze on the loading screens between different areas, resulting in it taking for-fucking-ever. When stuff like that happens, I guess you just have to wait until they fix it since they can potentially update it at any time without letting you know. In this case, the freezing issue was fixed by the next day.
Gameplay issues come mostly in the form of the intentional gating to artificially inflate the time one can spend on the game. For instance, you can only upgrade one thing at a time. Though, this provides a challenge in and of itself in the form of using time as a resource — what should you waste more time on to upgrade first and what will be more useful. It is easy to run out of tiles to build rooms on, and there is a hard cap for each dungeon — you just have to pay for the last 50. Research costs will grow exponentially, meaning you will have less and less times where you’re going to actually have enough research to get new features in the game. It would also be more convenient to be able to “request” supplies from your main dungeon rather than having to go your main dungeon and move supplies to your expansion dungeons each time you need something.
There is no “end” to this game, and that is good and bad thing. Good, because well, you can keep playing until you don’t want to, and bad because of how much money you might actually sink into the game. It is so easy to spend Dungeon Marks on temporary benefits, that it is quite scary. I also see the boasting of the game being a “massively multiplayer” game as a buzz word to get drawn in to initially playing. It is simply multiplayer with many people having persistent locations for their dungeons. There isn’t much of a way to tell if these other players are actually playing consistently or as much as you, other than checking out what level they are.
Whether or not the game is fun, I guess you could say it is. There is some sort of satisfaction in seeing your progress and upgrading of your dungeons as time goes on, and acquiring a massive amount of resources also has some weird pleasure factor involved, even if I don’t understand the intricacies of every single mechanic. If you like this sort of drop-in-a-bucket gameplay that Dungeon Overlord has to offer, then you should give it a try.
The game BAN has a strange title for so many reasons. One I can think of is that this game should have a BAN slapped on it for being completely crap. All you do is play a crap drawing of a person and shoot what looks like a monster by frantically pushing CTRL. You then die and think hmmmmmm that was fun and then you think how did I get that score. The gameplay is so minimal but then again what do you expect from PG Games.
A stick with a head and a head for a monster well okay long story short there a pile of shit the was no effort in this area.
Nothing but a crappy sound track, which is very annoying and is probably why the game is so dam big. I would personally prefer hearing someone straining when having a crap.
It’s all down to button bashing and is well very boring, it is so boring this can be called a medical breakthrough, a fast and effective sleeping drug with no side effects.
Well all you really have to do is read the review but I would have to say the graphics they look like a 3 year old drew them.
Am I allowed to give 0? If not then I will have to give it a 1/10 just for the fact it has no good features.
If I ever find the download for this game, I will post it.
Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment / Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 9.0/10
Mount & Blade: War Band is a medieval combat strategy RPG developed by TaleWorlds Entertainment. War Band is a unique blend of strategy, adventure, and mounted combat that makes it a wonderfully pleasant game play experience. However, there are a few issues that plague the game, namely with its presentational and user interface, which can put a damper on its enjoyability.
War Band takes place on a medieval continent named Calradia. On Calradia, there are six different factions, whose leaders all claim they are the rightful rulers of the whole of Calradia. Who you choose to begin the game with has less to do than where they actually are on the continent. Every new game starts you off being attacked by assassins in the trade district of the major city of the faction you select. After you win or lose this fight, a tradesman comes and saves you. He pleads with you to help him save his brother that has been kidnapped by the group of people who attacked you. If you choose to save him, you aim to gain a small sum of money. If you don’t, you’re able to do whatever you like in the game as you please.
War Band takes it upon itself to let you roam around the sandbox it has created as soon as it can. In fact, most of the game itself is free form and there is basically no real story or stringent quest structure to be had. Events such as tracking down bandits and recruiting new members to your party become the story itself, as you fight battles and run around Calradia doing the biddings of Kings and their vassals, if you choose to do so. If you progress far enough in gaining the respect of a King, you will eventually be asked to become a King’s vassal, and be awarded pieces of land acquired from your enemies. You can also be asked to fight alongside the King in raids on castles, or come to the assistance of your allies against mountain bandits or enemy armies.
Another way to play War Band is by going against the current political structure in a certain area, and supporting a suitor that claims ownership of a throne. By supporting these suitors, you are able to work to overthrow a King and make the person you are supporting become King or Queen in their stead, along with all the benefits and consequences that go along with that. You are also able to establish yourself as a King or Queen and attack castles, acquiring fiefs for your own purposes.
The basis of the game itself is very interesting for gamers who have played games such as the Elder Scrolls and Civilization. However, the game play itself has a couple of issues. There is not a lot of explanation as to how to do certain things in the game, such as establishing yourself as a King or Queen. It is hard to find much information on it.
A lot of quests are unnecessarily vague. It may take Internet research to figure out what to do or how to do a quest. For example, you are told to bring some cows to a small town that has had their herd stolen by local bandits. The only way to get cows is by stealing or buying cows from another town and bringing them to the first. However, when you get this quest, that isn’t mentioned at all. They tell you to “get some cows” and are left to your own laurels to figure out how to do it. Unless you somehow happen upon the prompt to buy cows, it can be frustrating to figure out how to do this the first time. Another instance where the game can be unnecessarily harsh is when a local Guild Master gives you a quest to find a Bandit’s Lair and expunge the threat. The Bandit’s Lair itself does not show on your map until you are directly above it. Considering the map of Calradia is huge and your unit is very small, it can take a certain amount of luck to happen upon the lair. Quests like these do not lend themselves to making the game user friendly.
Combat itself is quite fun, and the large battles that can be had are quite enthralling. Most of the time you will be fighting in first-person, but third-person is another option, and depending on the situation it is easy to switch back and forth. Your character is able to use any weapon in the game, so it comes down to personal preference. One handed, two handed, and throwing weapons are available, in addition to shields, bows, crossbows, polearms, and maces. There are four weapon slots for your character, allowing you to have a variety of weapons for the different situations you might be in.
Combat can take place in a variety of places, but most happen in the open field. The open field combat stages take place on a map that closely reflects the type of area you are in, such as a mountainous area or in the woods. Smaller stages take place on the beach, a mountain pass, or in a town. In all of these situations, you are able to bring allies along with you, and as you grow your party larger and they become more powerful, you will begin to trump your enemies with ease — until you eye larger and more powerful enemies. Simply put, the combat is the shining star of War Band and is what keeps you coming back for more.
When in combat, you use your mouse to change the direction you are attacking from. To hit someone from above, you bring your mouse back towards you. To hit them from the right, you move your mouse to the right. You move using the WASD buttons, but there is no sidestepping with Q and E. Q will bring up your quest log and E will kick in front of you. If you are used to sidestepping, this can be annoying. The objective of combat is to basically kill or knock unconscious all of your enemies. Once that is accomplished you win. If your army is quashed in the same manner, then you lose. If you are knocked out before the battle ends, your army will fight at a lesser capability, and become more susceptible to losing. It is very important to not only keep yourself alive through the whole battle, but to also help your army in the fight. This brings a delicate balance between risk-taking and being careless and running into a group of enemies with spears. You are also able to give your army orders to follow you, to charge, or to flank your enemy, among other commands. These commands allow for strategy to be built around the situation at hand.
Graphics can take a big part in whether or not someone can be interested in the game without knowing anything about its game play. With that being said, the game is downright ugly, and is about ten years behind. The character models aren’t animated very well, many textures are smudgy, and just about everything has sharp edges. While good graphics and animations aren’t required to have a fun game, it definitely makes it less painful to look at. The unequivocally worst characteristic of this game is its graphics. The second is the user interface.
The user interface is sorely in need of improvement. When selecting from a long list of responses, it can be hard to figure out or remember which option you had last selected, so if you had to talk to the person again to get something done you may be confused as to which you had selected previously. When looking through the in-game reference manual, it can be hard to find what you are looking for, stumbling across many pages and guessing what you might be looking for at times – this ties into finding out what to do for quests.
While navigating the map, it can take a very long time to travel and to even find where you’re trying to go. There are no user-friendly options for accelerating travel speed, and sometimes you’ll be travelling for ten minutes straight before getting to your destination. Over time, this adds up, and less time is actually spent playing the more interesting parts of the game. Towns are also designed in a confusing manner, making them hard to navigate as well. Each town has one leader that you are able to acquire quests from, but they are very hard to distinguish from other random town members at times. The absence of a mini-map with markers while in towns would make this an easier exploit – otherwise, you are left to run around towns and talking to random people in hopes that they are the Guild Master or Town Elder.
Another user-friendly improvement that is needed would be with party management. As you gain heroes to tag along with you, they bring their own blank slate for you to skill them up as they level. The point of your party heroes is to fill in the gaps as far as your party skills go. While this makes sense in theory, the execution doesn’t lend itself to helping the player figure out which skills are actually going to benefit the party or which ones another hero already covers. Some sort of interface that tells you which party skills you are missing or have covered already as you are deciding which skills to level your characters with would make it a much more pleasant experience. Otherwise, you have to resort to creating a small spreadsheet to figure it all out.
Party management is also irritating when it comes to managing your heroes’ equipment. Instead of having one simple interface to tab through each party member’s equipment screen, you have to talk to him or her individually and ask to see his or her armor. If you came into a number of upgrades to compare to what your party members have already, it is very tiresome to click three times to see one equipment screen, and then escape out of it, and then do it again for the next party member. Most party-based RPGs have solved this problem by making it easy to switch to the next party member’s equipment/skill screen without having to exit back to the party screen, and War Band should have had something like that implemented. Wasting time on obstacles like these can detract from the game’s enjoyment.
The inventory system also suffers from user interface issues. You have a certain number of slots for inventory that can increase via skills. Once you get to a large inventory capability, it can be easy to overlook what you may or may not have in your inventory. A sorting option is desperately needed to re-sort your items and fill in slots from top to bottom. This would prevent having to manually move each item, one at a time, from the bottom of the list to the top. Another missing feature is a “take all items” option after defeating an enemy. Instead of stuffing everything you can into your bags, you must click each item, one at a time, to loot them. This, again, wastes time and energy going through and clicking everything you may want without automatically looting everything you can fit into your inventory. In addition, inventory squares are fairly huge and could have sized down a little bit to accommodate being able to look at what you have in an easier fashion.
There is a multiplayer aspect to the game, but the most common are deathmatch or castle sieges. The multiplayer modes are more akin to Counterstrike or other objective-based multiplayer games. Some sort of a co-op mode for the single-player game would be nice, but would have unique challenges to overcome, considering much of the game itself is traveling and quest-taking, and that wouldn’t exactly be very fun to experience alongside a friend for very long.
War Band also allows for modding. If you find an interesting mod available, you are able to import it into the game and run it. While War Band doesn’t have as many interesting mods as the original Mount & Blade does, there are a couple available that may be worth a try. These mods change the single-player game in ways that the overall objective changes, or new armor/weapons are added. Like many other PC games that allow modding, it creates a community that is involved with making these mods and keeps people interested in the game itself, as its game play could radically change with a new mod.
As a cohesive whole, Mount & Blade: War Band has many interesting and fun features. But if one thing of the game needs to be said, it’s that it mainly suffers from user interface design. An overhaul in its user interface would severely be recommended in any future game in the series, and would lend itself to making the experience much more pleasing. War Band is an activity that you can sink many hours into, and not realize where the time has gone. At first glance, the game can give the wrong impression, but War Band is definitely a title to experience.