Wednesday, June 24, 2015

So about Desura...

Right so, I'm not normally the kind of person to post about video game news. This is primarily a review blog. Even then as I've said before, said reviews lean more towards recommending interesting games people might have missed. However, the nature of this story is forcing my hand.

Desura is in trouble, I saw a link to PC Gamer about it that you can read that here but to sum it up briefly? Desura and Indie Royale's parent company, Bad Juju Games has filed for bankruptcy after several months of failing to pay the developers on their service.

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much more information besides that. I know the Indie Royale Twitter account has been locked out of their email account and has pretty much become an unofficial account now. I've also heard mention that Bad Juju's staff have also been locked out of their email accounts, and managed to find Capsule Computers article that talks a bit about that here.

At the moment, Desura and Indie Royale are not dead, at least not officially. The sites are still up and I've heard Desura is still processing orders, though Indie Royale hasn't run a new bundle in weeks now. The important thing, for this blog at least, is that Desura is a site I frequently check for a game's availability on and I have several articles linking to it.

So here's what I'm going to do with the blog regarding Desura. since I know some people prefer to use it, as long as Desura is still online, I will continue to link to it when games I review are available there, though I personally would strongly recommend you don't buy your games from there right now as Desura may not be around much longer.

If Desura actually does go down for good - and that does look like a possibility right now - Then I will go back through my blog and remove the purchasing links to Desura from any reviews that have them since well... Desura would be dead at that point and all those links broken. If it comes to me doing that, I'll be sure to make another blog post to explain the changes.

Personally, I find this news somewhat sad. Indie Royale was one of the first web sites to do indie game bundles after Humble Bundle, and Desura was not only popular with people who'd rather not use Steam, but was the initial home for a lot of games that passed through, or are still stuck in Steam's Greanlight system. It's honestly a shame to see it go.

Finally, I should note that if you have games on Desura, or have brought bundles form Indie Royale, now would be a good time to check your Desua collection or Bundle collection and see if any of the games you brought have Steam keys as now would be a good time to get them Redeemed if you haven't already.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

AAAAATATATATATATATATA! - Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action!

The thing I think I find most interesting about this game is what other people are calling it. I've seen a lot of people comparing it to the games mad by Treasure back in the 90s, a couple have referred to it as a lost Sega Saturn game. That's some high praise and yet the game more or less slid under the radar. Iit just sort of popped up on Steam one day after having apparently been available from the developer for some time before then. I vaguely recall being able to buy the game from dev the at a discount a short time before the Steam launch (and I might be wrong on that anyway) But that's about all the hype I remember the game getting.

Aces Wild is is a game about well... the game has an opening cutscene before the title screen, explaining something about a tournament to decide who gets to use some dojo for the next few years. To help put things in perspective however, I should note that that cutscene is all the story the game has, and you can readily skip it. In fact when I first got the game, it took me quite a while to realize there was a story at all, because trying to skip the opening logos also skips the cutscene. When it takes a player several weeks to realize the game has a story, that says a lot about how important it is.
Who are these people? Why are they fighting? Who cares!
At it's core, Aces Wild is a 2D brawler with maybe some minor platforming elements that sees you taking on an army of ninjas, cyborgs mechanical drones and curiously, Shiba Inu dogs. The game  actually takes a few departures from your typical brawler The first and most obvious being the fact that you can fly. You have the ability to dash in game, and your dash can go in any direction you want, including upwards. Most of your attacks also help keep you afloat, so keeping and staying airborne is very simple. The game also takes good advantage of this, as many enemies are permanently airborne and stages include a lot vertical space to fly in.

The ability to fly also ties into the games combat mechanics. In Aces wild you have two forms of attack. The first is rush attacks which acts as your basic combo. It's a few basic moves that end in a rapid-fire flurry of attacks, fairly straightforward though they keep you airborne and let you move around while you're not dashing. Then you have crash attacks. Crash attacks are your big, heavy hitting moves that send enemies flying and what a lot of the combat is built around. with crash attacks, you can slam enemies into each other or even parts of the environment for extra damage, the environment is even partially destructible, giving you the ability to perform crash attacks on platforms to slam them into enemies. A lot of the combat is actually based less on combos and more on positioning, crowding enemies together or moving them towards a useful part of the environment before using your crash attack to knock them around like billiards.
Readers are encouraged to provide their own Doge caption here.
Finally you have your wild meter, it acts mostly like a super meter, you build it up with rush attacks, then use it to either power up your crash attacks, perform devastating counters, or in a pinch perform a panic attack that heals you at the cost of all your built up meter. The wild meter also controls the game's difficulty, with you doing and taking more damage as it builds up. Managing your wild meter is a big part of the game, as you'll want to build it up for those big counters and crash attacks, but don't want to hold onto for too long. Finally, while you can use panic attacks to heal yourself, there's a threshold you need to build the meter to before you can do it, and every time you use a panic attack that threshold is raised, eventually requiring a full meter to use.

Finally, I should note that as an old school brawler, this game is hard. The first stage or two isn't too bad, but later stages can be quit difficult and require you to really master the games mechanics. In fact I'll admit that despite the game being only seven stages long, I haven't beaten the game yet, I'm stuck at a particularly difficult section of stage 6. Fortunately, the game gives you unlimited continues and frequent checkpoints in stages so you can keep trying to clear parts you get stuck on. also while the game has no save function, there's a level select screen that lets you readily jump to any section of any stage in the game, allowing you to readily practice sections or jump back to wherever you left things last time. Also, while I couldn't try it, the game does have local multiplayer, so having a buddy join in might help.

Finally, the game has a ranking system and high scores for every level in the game, so those who like to really master their games have something to work towards.
Every stage ends with a quick stat breakdown and final grade
The game has a nice, clean graphics style. Interestingly, despite the fact that this is isn't pixel art, it manages to do a good job of capturing the feel of the old school brawlers that inspired it. Unfortunately, while everything looks nice, areas can look a little samey This is because most of the game takes place in urban areas, so you'll be seeing a lot of brick and stone. The effects do a good job of providing some oomph to attacks as sparks fly from your attacks and projectiles leave glowing trails add in some camera shaking or a momentary pause to highlight some of the bigger attacks and you've got some some good visual flair to back up the game's lightening fast combat. Overall it's a nice looking game, and it's neat to see a game with some retro appeal that does something besides more pixel art.

The game also has some real good sound design, attacks and collisions are backed by heavy thuds and whacks to give them that extra oomph and in the graphic effects mentioned above and you get combat that bout looks and sounds satisfying. There is however a slight drawback, mostly with the playable character Ace Wilder - Yes, really that's his name - He has a couple of "Hoo"s and "Ha"s to go with his attacks, and you're going to be hearing a lot of that. it's not overbearing, but you're likely to get tired of his constant "Hoo! Ha! Ho! Hoo! Ha! Ho! Hoo! Ha! Ho!"-ing after awhile.

The game's soundtrack meanwhile is alarmingly catchy. Songs are very upbeat and energetic, matching the frantic pace of the game quite nicely. It's chiptune, but rather than the usual NES or SNES kind of sound a lot of games go for, this sounds more like something out of maybe a mid to late 90s arcade game, which goes along with the feel the game was going for.
Visual effects give your attacks some impact.
The game unfortunately does have one major flaw: It's not very forward with information, the tutorial doesn't even tell you what buttons does what. There's a very basic Manual hiding in the game's installation folder but even that isn't perfect, and there's still information missing. For example, there's actually three playable characters in the game: Ace Wilder, Gene Drift and Eagle Morris but the game doesn't tell you what makes them different. From what little I can tell with playing as each one, Ace is an all-rounder with balanced stats, Gene is more of a heavyweight bruiser and Eagle a fast, speedy character but nothing in the game tells you this. In fact I'll admit a lot of the game's finer details, like how you deal and take more damage as your Wild meter builds I only learned recently... by reading about it on the game's Steam store page while I was doing a little research to write this review.

Also, the game has some weird controller issues. For starts, this is definitely a game that requires a controller, and doesn't work very will with a keyboard. But one of the weirdest is the fact that the pause and menu buttons are separate. pausing just pauses the game, and you need to press a different button to bring up the menu. There's been a couple of occasions where I've paused the game meaning to go to the menu, then opened the, closed it, then sat there wondering why the game seems to have frozen until I remembered I still need to unpause the game. both functions really should of been one button.

Finally, the game is perhaps a bit too frantic for it's own good at times. There's been times where I'm more or less buried in enemies and have no idea where I am on screen. Also the game's reliance on flying and knocking enemies around can get a bit annoying, especially since you can get tossed around like a pinball if your not careful. I'll admit it could just be I'm not the best at this game, but compared to a more typical brawler it doesn't always feel like I've got as solid a control of my character as I'd like.

Still, while I couldn't beat it and I'm not sure if I ever could, what I did experience was a lot of fun. At the very least the game delivers on it's premise. It's called Manic Brawling Action and that's exactly what it delivers. with a flying mechanic to set it apart form your typical brawler and music and graphics that give it that give it a classic brawler feel, it's defiantly worth a look. Just keep in mind that beating it will be a challenge, and there might be a bit more of a learning curve than you may be used to and have a gamepad ready.

Aces Wild: Manic Brawling Action! developed and published by Culture Attack Studio. It is available on Steam. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchasing option is available here.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Year One

As it turns out, today is the blog's birthday, aside form a two month break for heath reasons. I've been writing reviews for this thing for a full year.

With that in mind, and my own birthday next week. I'll be taking a few weeks off to deal with a few things, play some games I want to get to but can't review, stuff like that. I still have about three more reviews to do on my Steam curator list, after which I should have some more freedom in what games I tackle next.

I'd just like to thank anyone who's taken the time to read this stupid thing. I know I'm not one of the bigger names out there, but I'm happy with what I have and I look forward to another year of writing reviews.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

One massive roguelike - Tales of Maj'Eyal

NOTICE: The version of the game reviewed is the paid version, including the Ashes of Urh'Rok DLC, your experience with the base game may vary.

Tales of Maj'Eyal, Which I'll be calling TOME from now on, is interesting in that it's both a very young game, and a very old one. It started life in the 90s as a variant of the game Angband called  Pernband, based of the Pern series of books. Now, the Pern series is know for having a somewhat strained relation with it's fans at times, so it's no surprise that Pernband got slapped with a cease and desist letter. In the face of this, the game was reborn as Tales of Middle Earth, throwing out Pern and replacing it with things form Tolkien's writings, and was developed as this for years.

This actually continued up until 2010, when the game was recreated again, this time as Tales of Maj'Eyal, which is what I'm reviewing here. The developer did this for two reasons: First, it removed any possibility of the game getting a second cease and desist letter thrown at it and second, it allowed for parts of the game that didn't quite mesh with the Middle Earth setting, such as time magic and Psionic powers to make a lot more sense.

TOME is a roguelike that takes place on the continent of Maj’Eyal, currently in a time of relative peace after hundreds of years of war. Surprisingly, for a genre that's usually pretty light on story, there's actually a lot of it here, mostly told in letters and scrolls you find on your travels. There's actually a lot if information with each area of the game having it's own lore snippets to find and Despite spending several hours with this game, I've barely seen what it has to offer story-wise, there's that much info to take in.
Each dungeon in the game has several lore snippets, like this one here.
At it's core, TOME is roguelike dungeon crawler, complete with permadeath, interesting, the game has a few departures from typical roguelikes. The first is that the game has no consumables, there's no potions or scrolls. Instead you have infusions which you an equip and use. They work a lot like potions in other roguelikes, doing things like restoring hit points or decreasing damage for several turns, except instead of being used up, they go on cooldown for several turns after use. It's actually a pretty nifty system, as you never have to worry being cheated on potions, but you can't just spam your infusions when in trouble. In fact, to further discourage that, using an infusion grants a temporary debuff that increases the cooldown of other infusions.

On top of that, there's also the dungeons, instead of a single dungeon to get to the bottom of, TOME has several dungeons, with an overworld to connect them all. The dungeons are quite varied, from woods to a giant labyrinth. Some even have unusual gimmicks, like an underwater dungeon where you have to watch your air levels, or a den of sandworms where you need to rely on the worms that live there to dig new paths for you and if you're not quick enough, they'll collapse behind you.
Dungeons are varied not only in appearance, but enemies and floor layout/
The game also has a lot of race and class options. Not only are there typical classes like berserk or rogues, but there's also a lot of unique ones. One of the classes I tried was called the cursed, a fighter who's surrounded by a cloud of gloom, powered by raw hate, that debuffs enemies who get too close to you. There's also alchemists, who have a golem to help protect them and can make powerful explosives out of gems found in dungeons.

While you start with a few options available, You also have to unlock races and classes by doing various things, which range from the simple, such as killing 1,000 humanoids across all of your games, to the very difficult, One race in the Ashes of Urh'Rok DLC requires killing three very tough optional bosses in the same game.

The game also comes with several difficulty settings, the most unique of which is the permadeath setting. Alongside traditional permadeath and an exploration mode that gives you unlimited lives, There's also an adventure mode. Adventure mode is a sort of compromise between exploration and roguelike modes, you are given extra lives as you level up, but once you run out, the next death is permanent so there's a lot of options available to either turn the difficulty down for newcomers, or crank it up if your looking for an extra challenge.
TOME has a lot of character options to chose form. Also shown: proper dwarven naming.
The games graphics are pretty good. The game is tile based and the tiles are nice and detailed, with plenty of tile sets for the game's varied areas, there's even some nice splash images for loading screens and the occasional background image. There is however a small problem in that nothing is animated, all the tiles are static. Though the game does make up for this with spell and ability effects, providing some nice particle effects to give some extra oomph to your spells and abilities.

The game also has a good soundtrack, leaning towards an epic orchestral score. Each area has it's own theme, and while I encountered some minor issues with songs not quite looping properly - there was a small pause when the track restarts - Everything fits the game and is nice to listen to. The sound design is also decent, with some areas having some atmospheric sounds and a decent number of effects for various spells and abilities, though in my experience the game focuses more on visual than audio cues, which is fine as this is a turn based game, so you have all the time you need to take note of things.

The overworld connects the various dungeons together.
The game is pretty solid and I didn't encounter any real bugs. The only major flaw I can think of is that the game is massive, and that's great that there's so much content but it's also perhaps a bit too big for it's own good. While the dungeons I entered were fairly short, usually only about three floors each, there's a lot of them and unless you're playing with exploration mode on, you have some form of permadeath to deal with. I know roguelikes are supposed to be difficult and that's fine, but trying to beat a game this big on one life, or even several in adventure mode, feels like it might be a bit too tall an order. For those used to games like Dungeons of Dredmor or Sword of the Stars: The Pit? You've got a long, hard trek ahead of you and it'll take a good bit of effort to start seeing mid and late game areas.

Also, I should take a moment to talk about payment, since the game's payment system is a little odd. The base game is actually free and open source, you can however, donate to the game to help development and keep the servers running. Paying also gets you some minor perks such as access to the exploration mode mentioned above, and the stone Warden class. Finally, you can buy DLC such as the Ashes of Urh'Rok DLC. You can find more information on this on the game's donate page here. Note that buying the game off Steam or GoG gives the same benefits as donating, as well as giving you access to the game through those platforms.

Overall this is a very big, complex roguelike that's a definite must play for fans of the genre. There is a lot of content here, so much that I actually feel a bit under prepared for reviewing it. Though I could likely spend a hundred hours on this and still feel the same way. Not only that, but the game is still in active development, so there's new content being released and/or old content being updated all the time. This is a game you could readily spend hundreds if not thousands of hours on. Lifetimes could be lost to this thing and with the base game being free, there's little excuse not to try it at least once.

Tales of Maj'Eyal developed and published by DarkGod. It is available on Steam, GoG, Desura and Gamersgate. It's homepage, which includes a direct purchasing option is available here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A spanner in the works - Drox Operative

NOTICE: This review used a copy of the game that includes the Invasion of the Ancients expansion, your experience with the base game many vary.

Soldak Entertainment, who's previous games I've covered here and here has made something of a name for themselves over the years, by taking action RPGs along the lines of Diablo or Torchlight, and turning them on their head, Depths of Peril had you managing a covenant of barbarians to take control of a town through war and diplomacy against other covenants. Din's Curse pitted you against a living dungeon full of dangers that grew worse if left unchecked. Now, we have Drox Operative. Bringing it's own twist to the formula, starting with the fact that you're in space.

Drox Operative sees you as the captain of a starship flying under the banner of a Drox Operative Guild. Your job is to cruise a galaxy full of warring alien races as a sort of mercenary-for-hire, handling their problems and fighting their battles for a fee. Your ultimate goals are to make as much money as possible, expand the power of the Drox guild and perhaps most importantly, make sure that whatever happens between these warring empires, you're on the winning side.
In space, no one can hear you loot.
One of the first differences in Drox operative is when making a character. You're given a decently sized list of races to pick from. as well as a handful of options for extra challenges like hardcore mode. Unfortunately The only difference between races is some stat bonuses, as well as extra equipment slots for things like shields or missiles. Picking your race, while still important isn't as big a choice as picking a class in similar games.

Interestingly, Drox Operative does not have skill trees. Instead abilities are decided by your current equipment. This allows for a lot of flexibility since you can use whatever you like, assuming you can purchase it from a vendor or find it off a random enemy. There's a decent number of options to play with, including missiles, lasers and mine droppers. You can even install multiples of the same thing and their stats will add up. Want a lot of shields? Just install extra shield components. The only other restrictions you have are your power load, which you can get things like power plants to improve, and your component slots, which are divided into slight, medium and heavy components, and you can unlock more of these by raising your command stat.

Speaking of, while the game has no skills it does still have stats that you can increase on level up. since this isn't a typical RPG, the usual strength and dexterity has been replaced with more fitting things like helm and computers. Each one gives a bonus to something like attack damage or defense, but are mainly used for equipment requirements, such as higher tactical allowing for better weapons. Interestingly,  the way equipment and stat requirements work means that rather than focusing on one or two stats like in most RPGs, here you'll want to spread your points out somewhat to make sure none of your equipment lags too far behind everything else.

Equipment gives your ship a lot of flexibility. Want to use a certain ability? Just equip something that grants it.
Once you've picked a race you'll be put into the middle of a randomly generated sector of space, and this is where the game get's unusual. The basic idea behind this game is that each sector is home to several different alien races. These races will be researching technology, colonizing plants, and fighting amongst each other. You're job in all of this can best be summed up as "spanner in the works", the aliens in each sector will offer you quests that can range from fighting off neutral space monsters or delivering supplies, to helping attack other races. you can even engage in diplomacy with these races to give them things like technologies and information on planets you've found. Your can even spread rumors or propaganda to mess with the races relations between each other. While you don't have much of a personal stake in what's going on, you've got a lot of options on how to influence things.

This leads up to Your goal in the game which is kind of complicated. you basically have three options: Ally yourself with one or more races and help them take over the sector, raise a certain amount of money for the Drox guild, mostly gained by completing quests, or raise your fear rating enough to please the Drox, mostly through fighting. There's actually a good bit of strategy to the game as working towards those win conditions means having to consider who you work for and what information you trade off.
The diplomacy screen from Depths of Peril makes it's return.
The game also has lose conditions, it mostly boils down to not being allies with the winning side when a sector is taken over, or somehow managing to make everyone hate you. The most interesting though is economic loss, which will cost you a sector if you loose the guild too much money. Most of that money is lost by getting killed (Clones are expensive!) so there's a larger incentive than normal to avoid dying. Fortunately, if you do achieve(?) a losing condition, you are given a grace period of about 10 minuets to fix things. So if a race took over the sector when you were just one or two reputation points away from becoming allies with them, you've still got a chance to fix that and make it a win.

While the game uses a similar engine to Soldak's previous works. The graphics actually look a bit better this time. ships recognizably look like ships, planets like planets, and the background includes plenty of distant galaxies and nebulae  to keep things interesting. It's still not a visually impressive game, but but it's a step forward at least.

The game's music is also decent, it's energetic and helps to set the tone of fighting out in space, and helps keep the game from getting too quiet. It's also seems a little larger than in previous Soldak games, with each race having their own music theme. Sound meanwhile is pretty effective, everything sounds like you'd expect, with plenty of explosions and buzzing sounds for lasers, along with a simple engine sound for ships in flight. One major improvement over previous games is some new warning sounds to let you know when you've lost shields or are running low on health, add in the usual sounds for notices and successful or failed quests. Overall, the game does a good job of getting your attention and making sure you don't miss anything important.
Races like the hive here, populate each sector of space.
Oveall, this is a big, complex game, and to be honest that's a bit of a problem. There's a lot of information to track to the point of being a bit too much in places. the win and lose conditions I detailed above are complex enough that there's separate win and lose condition screens you can check to see how your doing. Your ship actually has three health bars: Shield, armor and hull. and they don't all use the same healing items. On top of that you have an energy bar, and even the most basic of attacks uses up some energy, add in a harsh galaxy where too many deaths will trigger an economic loss and you've got a game that can be somewhat hard to get into.

However, if you can come to grips with how the game works and get past those rough early stages, you've got what's easily Soldak's best game as of this writing. A highly replayable action RPG, set in a living, changing galaxy that's radically different from anything else on the market. Worth a look if you already played and liked Depths of Peril or Din's Curse. Though if you're new to Soldak's games I might suggest starting with one of those first, as they're a bit easier to get into while still showing off some unique ideas.

Drox Operative was developed and published by Soldak Entertainment. It is available on Steam, GoG, Desura and Gamersgate. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchase option is available here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Saving the world, one shard at a time - Heroes of a Broken Land

Here's a game that kind of slid under the radar. An RPG made almost entirely by one person, Andrew Ellem. Heroes of a Broken land wasn't crowdfunded or heavily hyped prior to release. It just showed up on Gamersgate as an early access title one day and was a game in one of their Indiefort bundles. It went on to be fully released, and eventual showed up on Steam after several months of being stuck in Steam's Greenlight system. It's actually kind of surprising how humble this game's origins are, as I'd expect a large RPG made by a single person to have more of a history to it.

Heroes of a Broken Land starts with a simple premise: you are one of a council of mages that used to rule the world, using the worlds crystal heart to bring in an age of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately while the council were good leaders, they weren't perfect. They're personal flaws corrupted the heart, causing the world to explode, reducing it to a series of floating shards. As the only surviving wizard on said council, your job is to restore the world one shard at a time, using the people living on each shard to raise an army of heroes to help you. It's a simple set up that works an an excuse for the game play.
The game starts with a long intro cutscene.
At it's core, Heroes of a broken Land is a RPG with some strategy elements. you start by picking your wizard, who gives a small bonus, such as extra attack strength or MP to all of your heroes, as well as making your first 4 heroes, rolling their stats and picking from one of 4 starting classes. From there, the game starts on the overworld, along with your starting town. You actually have to develop towns in this game, choosing structures to build like weapons and armor shops, stables which let your heroes travel further on the overworld, or an adventurers guild which sells basic skills. Each town however, only has room for so many buildings, and you'll need to convince others to join you to get more space to build. These towns also act as your center of operations, attracting heroes you can hire, allowing you to form parties to explore the world, and storing heroes you're not currently using. They also need to be defended, as monsters roam the overworld, and they will eventually attack your town if you don't send out a party of heroes to deal with them.

The overworld is also full of dungeons, which is where most of the action takes place. Dungeons take place in a first person perspective and actually work a lot like in many old DOS RPGs, with grid based movement and a fixed, forward perspective. The dungeons, like the overword are randomly generated, with the type of dungeon having some effect on it's layout. For example Labyrinths consist entirely of twisting passageways with no rooms, while towers are several stories tall, with each floor somewhat smaller than your typical dungeon. Some dungeons can even require two more more parties to complete, with each party having it's own section to explore, including switches to open the way in another parties section.

Enemies aren't randomly uncounted, but can be seen roaming the dungeon. You get a bonus in combat if you can flank or get behind them, though given the layout of most dungeons, it's unlikely you'll be able do this if a group isn't already facing away from you. Combat in the game is turn based and fairly straightforward, with each character able to chose wither to attack, use an ability or use an item. Interesting however, is that targeting in the game is automatic. you don't get to pick who each character attacks. Instead characters attack according ot what side their on, left attacks left, right attacks right and the the front row has to be defeated before you can strike at the back. Some abilities can mess with this, targeting the entire group or a random enemy. It has an interesting effect on party formation, as you'll want to make sure you haven't put all of your heavy hitters on one side. Interestingly, the AI seems to follow roughly the same rules, Though they can target any row they like.
Combat is turn based with enemy targeting handled for you.
One of the things the game does really well is making for interesting choices, with a lot of stuff bing randomly generated and by extension out of your control, you have to learn to work with what your given. Heroes not only have random stats, but random abilities as well such as being smart or clumsy or even Fae blooded, how good or bad this is depends on the hero's class. Wimpy isn't too big a deal on a spell caster, but the attack penalty is a problem for fighters. What kind of heroes you get also depend on what towns you have, if you want a lizard for example, you'll either need a lizard town, or hope you come across one in a random event.

There's also special structures that can appear on the overworld these structures can teach heroes new abilities for a price, including ones they can't access normally. In the game I played I had a colosseum near my main town, allowing me to spend gold to increase my heroes HP and defense I also had schools of fire and earth nearby, allowing me to promote mages into sorcorers, as well as teaching anyone I want fire or earth spells, This allowed me to not only teach my mages spells they might have missed in favor of picking different spells, but if I had the gold I could teach them spells before they'd normally learn them. Finally, you can eventually have up to six parties of six heroes each to manage, and you'll have to consider which parties should be exploring and which should tackle what dungeon or group of monsters.

Finally, the game comes with a good number of options, not only can you pick the size of the game world, from a tiny world you can complete in a few hours to massive worlds that would take weeks to handle, but there's separate difficulty sliders for various parts of the game, from how much gold you can find, to how many monsters wander the overworld at any given time, giving you a lot of flexibility in setting up the kind of challenge you'd like to face. Though for those who'd rather not tweak things that much, there's still several preset difficulty levels.
when not managing towns or exploring dungeons, you'll spend time exploring the overworld.
Graphically, the game is a weird mixed bag, The towns and intro are actually quite nice looking. Character portraits and enemy spites are also decent, looking a lot like something out of the old DOS RPGs that influenced this game, then even extends to the overword with all it's little icons an pixelated terrain, though sadly there's not a lot of variety here as the overworld only has a few different terrains to use, and there's only one icon for wandering monsters that I've seen. dungeons however, are a bit of a let down, They're in 3d, but made of flat shapes with low-res textures slapped over them, it gets the job done, but it's not all that great looking.

Sound and music is also a mixed bag. What sound the game has gets the job done, but there's only a handful of sounds, mostly used in combat. The game tends to be very quiet when your not fighting, save for the music. The music meanwhile is actually really good, consisting entirely of piano pieces which are honestly nice to listen too. The only problem is that while the soundtrack is good, there's only about three songs and this is a game that you could readily be playing for hours. You'll be hearing the same music a lot while playing the game, and this lack of variety means you may find yourself quickly growing bored of it.
Each town only has so many slots to place buildings in, choose wisely.
The game also suffers form a few flaws, it's nothing game breaking, but I encountered some mild problems with dialogue boxes and the game's UI can have some trouble displaying equipment with long names. One of the big problems though, is the game isn't the best and presenting information. It's mostly small stuff, for example I don't know exactly how much HP or MP the various healing and mana potions recover, at least not without using them first, and you can't check with a skill does unless you're currently able to use it or selecting it on the level up screen, though skill books at least give you a quick description of what they do. It's annoying, but you can at least learn these things as you keep playing.

A bigger problem would be managing your heroes. You can have up to 6 parties of 6 heroes, That's 36 heroes to outfit. While the game cuts you some slack in this manner; inventory is shared across all heroes and you don't need them to be at a town to buy potions and equipment. There's no easy way to see what equipment is best for who or a breakdown of everyone's status or who you've been teaching what skills. If you want to change everyone's equipment or check skills and status, you'll need to check it group by group and hero by hero, which can get tedious once you start growing past your second party. To the game's credit, there's at least a town screen so you an see how many slots a town has, how much gold their pulling in and what buildings they have.

To be fair though, this is a massive game made almost entirely by one person. The only help he had was a world and character artist and a monster designer, listed on the game's credits page. it's honestly impressive a game this big was made by that small a team, and without any sort of kickstarter or crowd funding I'm aware of. So while those problems exist and are annoying, it's kind of understandable. That said the game has seen some extra development post-launch, with new content added and some bugs fixed, so if we're lucky one day they'll have a chance to fix this stuff. As it currently stands? This is an RPG with oldschool influences that makes great uses of procedural content. If you like the idea of exploring a random world, saving towns and fighting monsters while managing an army of heroes, this is definitely a game worth checking out.

Heroes of a Broken Land developed and published by Winged Pixel Inc. It is available on Steam, Desura and Gamersgate. It's homepage, which includes a demo is available here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The peanut butter must flow! - Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages

So, crowdfunding. With the rise of sites like Kickstarter, and indiegogo, using crowdfunding to fun a game has been fairly popular with indie developers over the past couple of years. This has come with some problems, naturally. I won't name names, but I'm sure at least some of my readers can think of one or two projects that completely failed to deliver, been abandoned, or otherwise had something terrible happen to them. But while bad things do happen, there's also a number of games that could only really exist because of it.

One of those games would be Ring Runner, a very ambitious game, mixing top down shooting and space combat with a lot of customization options, that was in development for several years by a very small team, only two or three people from what I've read, based on a novel they wrote. It's the kind of game that would have a difficult time seeing the light of day without Kickstarter. Fortunately, they managed to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, making a bit over $27,000 and managing to release the game in July of 2013. So what are we looking at.

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages takes place in a far future, where earth has been blown up, and an empire called the Consortium of the Inner rings rules the galaxy. Also hanging around the galaxy are sages, strange being who can warp reality. The game's story starts with you waking up in a medbay, with no memories and part of your brain scooped out to make room for an AI that's been lodged into your head, which as the game notes might explain the amnesia. It also turns out your a sage and a lot of the universe kind of has it out for you because of that. The story itself is surprisingly long and detailed and actually did a good job of keeping my interest the whole time I played. Though there is a lot of world-building and terminology to absorb and keeping track of it all can be a bit confusing.
Welcome to the galaxy, it's a bit weird out there.
The game's story also has something of an oddball sense of humor. While it doesn't shy away from pop-culture references, the game is fortunately not solely reliant on it and the story takes some very odd turns, such as a part of the story that sees  you working in a company obsessed with DVORAK keyboards, or one that sees you bullying what I can only describe as space hillbillies, living in a space trailer park, by killing their pets. Said pets being robotic weapons turrets. over all, While the main story is fairly serious, there's a lot of silly moment and I honestly chuckled at a few point.

At it's core, Ring Runner is a top down, 360 degree space shooter. You fly a ship in various levels from a top down view blowing up other ships and trying not to get blown up yourself. It's a simple game at it's core and the basic mechanics work just fine. I should note that your ship has some inertia to it, it'll keep floating in the last direction you moved in, even if you're not actively thrusting, and doing things like turning or reversing can take some effort as your engines need to overcome that inertia, if you've played the old Atari game Asteroids or anything like it? It's a lot like that. Flying can take some getting used to as you get a feel for how all of this works. The game does help you by giving your ship breaks though, allowing you to slow and eventually stop your ship fairly easily. It's useful for if you get knocked around by terrain or another ship and need to reorient yourself.
The game has a lot of ships, and you can customize the load-outs for each one.
While the core gameplay is very simple, there's a lot of complexity in ship customization. to start, there's a good number of ship hulls to choose from in this game, broken down into various classes. These include things like casters, who use a lot of powerful charged weapons, rogues, who have access to cloaking devices and can deploy decoys to confuse enemies, and grapplers, who favor close range weapons and can even grab and throw enemies and objects in the level. There's even hybred hulls that can mix the abilities of the various classes. from there you can load the hull with various weapons and abilities and there are a lot of them to choose from. Better still, it's not just the usual lasers and homing missiles, some of the things you can use are pretty unique. you can summon turrets to help you fight, make giant energy rings that slow down enemies caught inside them. There's even an ability in the game that involves firing a missile without actually launching it and riding it for a speed boost that ends in an explosion that damages nearby enemies. There's a lot fun stuff to use this game.

Customizing the ship is also pretty simple, Every hull has various nodes, each one has some slots that you can put things in, There's a lot of node types, with some mostly used by specific classes. but the game does a good job of keeping things manageable as clicking on a node shows only what you can readily install to it. Each hull also has a list of bullet-points listing it's main features, so you can get a good idea of what kind of ship it is all all of the equipment comes with a description of what it does. Unfortunately there's no way to readily test a ship outside of actually flying it in a mission.

There's also a shop you can get new equipment from, using money you earn in the campaign called Plex. The shop starts out fairly well stocked, and more stuff unlocks as you complete campaign missions. There's also research, which is rather weird. Instead of picking something specific you pick a category to research, and there's no cost it it except time, usually an hour or two. You don't need to run the game for research time to pass either, in fact you can start research, come back to the game a few hours later and find it's been completed multiple times while you were gone, unlocking several things in the process, though playing the game helps the time go faster, reducing it depending on how much Plex you earned in a mission. You can even do paid research, which doesn't unlock anything, but gives a good amount of Plex when it finishes. It's worth noting you can buy things that haven't been researched yet, it simply costs more, so there's no need to use research if you find the system too weird.

It's also worth noting that you can buy items that are unlocked for free by playing the campaign, and the game warns you when you're about to do that. It's actually a nice touch, as you don't have to worry about accidentally buying stuff you can unlock, but still have the option to just buy it if you'd rather not do things that hard way.
you can purchase new gear in the shop, or check on how your research is doing.
Graphically, the game is fairly nice looking. obviously, as a 2D game set in space, there's not actually a lot to the levels themselves, mostly it's simple asteroids or debris when you're not in open space, though the game also includes some unusual stuff. The space trailer park I mentioned earlier is exactly that, a trailer park floating in space. There's also cities, race tracks used for a few missions, etc. They look decent enough when they crop up, as do the ships themselves, though the games somewhat zoomed out view makes them kind of small.

What you'll be seeing a lot of however are the backgrounds, and they're honestly quite impressive, not just a simple star field, you'll see nebula, distant planets some of them even have stars fairly close, enough to cast a glow over the current level, though that does make things look a little foggy in my experience. Meanwhile, weapon effects are about as varied as the weapons themselves, from massive missile barrages to glowing energy balls, weapons and abilities all look very unique from each other, which is impressive consider there's about 400 of them.

The game also has a nice soundtrack. Very spacey and synth heavy. it fits the game nicely, with a mix of fast, energetic tracks for combat and slower, more thoughtful ones for cutscenes and slower moments in game. it has a decent amount of music to boot, which is good as this is a roughly 20 hour game. Sound meanwhile, is also well done, much like with the graphics, there's a good number of sounds to go with all the weapons and abilities you have access to, making large battles nice and chaotic, and while there's no voice acting, the sound that accompanies thet being displayed is unique for several characters, to help them further stand out. Overall this game looks and sounds very nice.
The game's backgrounds can be very pretty.

The game unfortunatly does have a few flaws, the first is that the game can bee fairly slow. You actually have to go through quite a few missions before you finally get to start choosing what ships to use and making load-outs for them. It's longer still before the game opens up and lets you pick what missions to tackle yet. though I'll note that while the game is somewhat non-linear around the middle part of the story, it's not a sandbox. though at 20 hours long, you'll at least have a lot of time to enjoy it when the game finally opens up.

the biggest problem are the menus. The game's menus are nested, with parts opening and closing on screen as you access them, the problem is navigating them is  clunky, the game often locks your mouse to them and collapsing a menu with the mouse can be surprisingly difficult at times. worse still, the menus are fairly spread out, with some options and bits of information requiring you to dig down though several stages of sub-menu to look at them, this actually makes designing a ship load-out very slow when you have to keep looking up what the various parts you have do.

In the end, what we're looking at is a game with a nice, long campaign, and a good amount of replayability in the from of extra challenges on almost every mission, and the inclusion of some extra modes that can be played in online multiplayer if you have some friends to play with. More importantly, this is a very unique game, the result of years of development by developers who  clearly loved what they were doing. There's honestly not much like it out there and it's worth a look almost on that alone, even if the game can be a little rough around the edges.

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages developed and published by Triple.B.Titles. It is available on Steam, GoG and Desura. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchasing option is available here. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.