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.

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