Thursday, June 19, 2014

When I take over, the candlemakers die first! - Nox

It's amazing how much perspective can change a game. At first blush, Nox would seem to be a hack 'n slash, loot and level RPG like Diablo 2 or Titan Quest. It has Real time combat, random equipment, hordes of enemies you fight in a top down perspective. If you didn't know any better, you'd probably expect randomly generated levels and bosses, and lots of optional dungeons and areas to explore.

While it shares a few things in common with those games. Nox is not really that kind of RPG and instead does a few things of it's own. One of the first and most obvious is that the game world is not random, every playthrough has the exact same level layout and enemy placement. The game actually makes good use of this, several dungeons in the game include all sorts of traps and obstacle courses that can only really be made by hand and there's also plenty of secret areas tucked away in various parts of the environment that reward players willing to explore.
The world of Nox is not random, so this dungeon will be the same every game.
You choice of character class also has a surprisingly large impact on the game outside of simple stats and skill selection. while the basic story remains the same: you, playing as everyman Jack Mower have been magically pulled into the land of Nox by the necromancer Hecuba and must now fight your way back home. How you go through the games story depends on what class you chose. Several of the game's 11 chapters are completely different for each class, and have their own areas to explore and quests to complete. Your choice of class even decides the game's ending. It gives the game some replayability and gives you a good reason to play through the main campaign with each class.

Combat is about what you'd expect clicking on enemies attacks them, or you can cast spells or abilities from your hotbar, The AI isn't quite as brainless as you might expect though, some will flee when they take enough damage, and will even use food or healing items if there's any laying around. spellcasters are particularity nasty, as they not only make efforts to keep their distance, but will actively run around an even teleport to try and keep you from getting a clear shot at them. it makes some of the more crowded fights a bit frantic as you'll have enemies running around everywhere.
Some monsters can be surprisingly clever, leeches are not one of these monsters.
Graphically, the game has held up fairly well. While the CGI used in the games FMVs are obviously primitive, as is the CG used for character portraits, the environments are fairly detailed and nice looking, there's also some good lighting effects and the game even has line of sight based visibility. Sounds also work well, with some atmosphere sounds and plenty of appropriate snarling and growling from the many enemies you'll be fighting.

The game's biggest weakness is likely it's RPG mechanics. as an RPG the game is very weak, characters have few stats and everything is handed automatically at level up, there's no skill or stat points to distribute. There's also not actually much in the way of leveling at all as i actually beat the game at about level 10. While the game has equipment, which can have magic effects on it, there's not a lot of effects for equipment to have meaning there's not really much in the way of equipment. for those who love tweaking stats and skills there's not really much to work with here.
Character portraits can be a bit primitive
The game also suffers from some mild difficult problems, some chapters had seen me running out of health potions and struggling to stay alive while others had me drowning in them and I was mostly safe, so long as I didn't run afoul of anything that might instantly kill me. The game also has a problem in that equipment uses a durability system, but opportunities to repair are few and far between and repair is expensive. This also means shops aren't always readily available especially late game, add in that gold isn't overly abundant and you'll find you can't always do everything you might want or need to at shops.

The game also has no respawning, if you die it's game over and you'll have to reload a save. There is an autosave but it doesn't update itself very often. fortunately the menu has an option to quickly save to an auto save slot and it's advised to regularly update it manually to avoid losing too much progress on death. Fortunately, despite all these problems I never found myself at a point where things were impossible.
The line of sight effect is pretty nice looking.
Outside of the main campaign, there's quest and multiplayer modes. Quest mode is very arcade like, as you run through various stages with a limited number of lives destroying monster generators and unlike the main campaign the levels in quest mode are randomly generated. There's also multiplayer, which has a verity of game modes including quest mode, unfortunately the servers have been taken offline so it's LAN only if you want play with you friends.

Overall, if you try to compare Nox to games like Diablo you'll be sorely disappointed, while there's some similarities, it doesn't really have the features to stand up to games like that. What it is though is a fun little action RPG that's worth checking out for at least one playthough if not the three needed to see everything.

Nox was developed by Westwood Studios and published by Electronic Arts, it's available from GoG.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

You and what army? - Warlords Battlecry III

NOTICE: This review was made using the latest version of the game form GoG, which includes some additional bug fixes not found in the game's final patch. Your experience with other versions of the game may vary.

At it's core Warlords Battlecry III is a relatively straightforward real time strategy game with some RPG elements. choose a faction and hero to lead them, gather resources, build a base, research new abilities and train troops to try and destroy you're enemies who are doing the same. While the gameplay has a few twists, like how you need to convert mines with your hero or certain units to gather resources, the basic gameplay is fairly standard. However, while the central gameplay is mostly the standard RTS formula, Warlords Battlecry III adds a lot of extra features on top of this.

Getting past the core gameplay, Warlords Battlecry III is somewhat ridiculous. Most real time strategy games are content to have two or three, maybe four playable factions. Some will involve hero units, maybe with a basic leveling system and perhaps some sort of customization of skills and/or equipment between campaign missions. A few might even offer some choice in what order you take missions on.
The game has a few races to pick from. Also shown: mature use of the name field.

In that regard Warlords Battlecry III is not content with being like most real time strategy games. This is obvious whenever you start a new campaign. There's 16 races to play as, each with their own set of units (although some are shared), building tree, and technologies to research. Your hero has 28 classes to chose from, ranging from necromancers to warriors to pyromancers to merchants. and your hero's race and class help decide both their starting stats and what skills they have access to.

From there you end up in the campaign map, which opens up after only a few missions. The campaign is fairly non-linear and exploring the campaign map reveals plenty of side-missions, some of which are repeatable and use random maps. The campaign map also includes things like stores for hiring mercenaries to follow you on a mission or buying equipment for your hero with the money you earn by completing missions. There's also some diplomacy, as your choices in the campaign decide which of the games many races like or hate you, and allying with a race lets you choose to play as them in the campaign.
The campaign map is fairly large, and there's plenty of missions outside the main story.
Outside of the large campaign, there's also a skirmish against AI opponents or other players. Both of which can use your hero from the campaign and can help net your hero extra levels or new items. Unfortunately, the online servers for multiplayer have been taken down, meaning you'll have to either directly connect to your opponent or play locally over lAN. worse, what little I've been able to research shows that the multipayer is apparently hard to make work properly. I can't make any real judgement on multiplayer as I haven't tried it, but I would caution against buying this as a purely multiplayer game.

The game's Maps have plenty of decorations and little features to keep them visually interesting, though from a gameplay standpoint they tend to be fairly simple. Maps are mostly open with no real barriers or choke-points. It's not horrible as the game is more about troop selection and economic strength rather than careful positioning, but it's still a bit of a disappointment for those who are used to their strategy games having more complex terrain.
maps can look nice, but the terrain is often very simple.
Graphically the game is pretty decent given it's age. As an older game it's obviously aged somewhat, though I haven't encountered anything eye gouging. Sound is pretty decent across the board, music is decent and fits the game's fantasy setting though it's nothing particularly memorable. Everything sounds like like you'd expect it to, form the clanging of weapons to the fwoosh of spells being thrown about, though the voice acting can get quite silly at times.

Finally, the AI is unfortunately not very bright. It's mostly just content to harass you with small groups of enemies and rarely if ever sends out any real threats. honestly, the game is less about being a challenge and more about trying all the options you have. Between all of the races and classes to choose there's a lot of things to try, and plenty of units have spells or special abilities to consider. The game is practically an RTS sandbox and it'll take players a long time to exhaust all the options available to them.
pre-mission setup allows you to bring in some additional units to start the map with.
Overall. While it's not a challenge and the multiplayer is virtually non-existent. The single player game offers enough content to keep someone busy for hours. if you like strategy or role playing games that give the player a lot of options to play around with. Warlords Battlecry III is definitely worth checking out.

Warlords Battlecry III was developed by Infinite Interactive and published by Enlight Software. It's available at Gamersgate, GoG or directly from the publisher here. The homepage for Warlords Battlecry 3 can be found here.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Keurig would be proud - The Desolate Hope

The Desolate Hope, by Scott Cawthon is a very unusual game. Part metroidvania platformer, part JRPG, and part top down dungeon crawler. on paper it sounds like these three things shouldn't work together but the desolate hope somehow manages to pull it off.

The Desolate Hope tells the story of a robotic coffee maker named Coffee, it's on an unknown planet along with several robots called derelicts. It's job, along with an antivirus program it's made, is to go into the simulations being run by these derelicts to fight a mysterious virus that is attacking them. The story is actually very well done and kept me interest throughout the entire game, and there's a good bit more to it then the somewhat simple setup I've given it implies. But this is a story I feel works best if you play it and find things out on your own.
Screens like this act as transitions between the various locations in the game.
The main gameplay is broken into several parts. The station you start out in, called the Lun Infinius acts as a sort of hub, it's rooms allowing you to acces the sims being run by the derelcts during the day, or go search for supplies outside at night. most of the gameplay takes place in these sims, whick play like a metroidvania platform game, you jump and shoot throug the levels, searching for various powers-ups and stores to help either reach new areas in the levels, or gather supplies to help with boss fights. You'll also find dungeons hidden away in these levels.

The Dungeons are played in a top down perspective, and play a bit like the original Legend of Zelda. you explore the rooms, fighting monsters and finding secret areas your goal being a rift hidden somewhere in each one that acts as a boss of sorts. They control well enough, and make a nice change of pace form the platforming, completing them also gives bits, the game's currency, and unlocks abilities to help in the rpg style boss fights, making them well worth seeking out and completing.
Locations inside the sims can be very unique.
The boss battles are likely the most interesting part of the game, most of your actions in the platforming stages and dungeons are meant to gather resources and upgrades to prepare for them and they're all fun to play. Each of the derelicts fight for you in this part of the game, and each has their own unique abilities and the fights are hard enough to require some strategy to beat them. they also look great, although they can be a bit too busy at times, with stats and meters and special effects constantly flooding the screen when things are going well.

The game also has a day and night cycle, most of the gameplay takes place during the day. At night the sims shut down and you can exit the station to look for supplies. This is unfortunately the weakest part of the game. The view of the outsdie at night is quite pretty, but the gameplay is overly simplistic, consisting of waking to the left picking up items to can bring back to base to level up the derelicts. there's also a time limit, with the station only having enough power to last oh so many days, though you can eventually find items outside to help extend it.
Night time is pretty, but not very fun to play.
Graphically the game is very nice looking, graphics are highly detailed, the various environments you'll be visiting all support detailed terrain and backgrounds, and each each area looks unique from the rest. characters are also highly detailed, especially the derelicts and the bosses you'll be fighting and everything animates smoothly. it's all very impressive given that game game was mostly made by a single person.

The game also has a very good soundtrack. Each area has it's own music that suits it nicely, and the whole thing is fun to listen too. Unfortunately for those who like collecting game soundtracks, the Developer has said the music has been licensed from a third party and he does have the rights needed to offer one.
Boss battles start off simple, but can become very busy once things get going.
Finally, the game has a pretty decent length to it. It took me just a bit over 7 hours to beat it, and it feels like the right length for this game. It was long enough to both have some fun with the game's various mechanics and let the game tell it's story and it didn't overstay it's welcome.

If you like unique games that mix genres in interesting ways, I'd recommend checking out The Desolate Hope. And an interesting title with a good story that lasts just as long as it needs to do what it wants to do and no longer. At $4.99 it's a good deal for what you're getting.

The Desolate Hope was developed by Scott Cawthon. It is available on Steam.