Mordheim (Early Access Review: Content Update 8)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £23.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Way back when, when I was a snotty teenager (As much due to being an ass as having broken my own nose in gym class), I was a fan of the more obscure Games Workshop stuff. Y’know, Warhammer Quest, Necromunda, Battlefleet Gothic. Mordheim, however (Warhammer Fantasy’s answer to Necromunda), somewhat slipped under my radar.

However, when Rogue Factor and Focus Home Interactive, last year, put Mordheim on Early Access, my strategy game senses tingled a little. Here, perhaps, was something I could sink my teeth into.

You will see this loading screen a lot. Less so as time goes by... But a lot right now. So you know.

You will see this loading screen a lot. Less so as time goes by… But a lot right now. So you know.

For those who don’t know what Mordheim is, it’s basically “Gang Battles in Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy world.” The city of Mordheim has had a rather bad Wyrdstone problem of late, and, since Wyrdstone is as useful and powerful as it is dangerous, the majority of citizens have left, and treasure seekers have moved in. Specifically, the Sisters of Sigmar (A somewhat heretical cult that nonetheless wants to confine the threat of Wyrdstone), the Skaven (Mutant ratmen who use Wyrdstone for various purposes, nearly all of them violent and/or immoral), the Cults of Chaos (Wyrdstone is valuable to the Chaos Gods and their worshippers, due to its mutagenic and magic enhancing properties), and the Empire (Who basically are in it for the money, don’t particularly care about Wyrdstone, and would happily slaughter any of the other factions if there was a cut in it for them)

Of course, you can guess by the fact you’re reading this now, rather than 2014, implies that I didn’t think it had come far enough in development to really get a whole lot said, and that… Has now changed. Because progression and persistence have now hit Mordheim, and my gang can finally live or die on their successes… Or failures. So, to test this update out, I went for the Moustache Twirler Option: Skaven. The grandiose cravens, with their backstabbing, ambush tactics, and dirty tricks like poisoned weaponry were, obviously, right up my alley. It helped that if I failed, I could blame my underlings, much like Skaven do in the setting.

Some of the models are lovely, even if this one made me think "Did Bavmorda nick Sorsha's kit for some reason?"

Some of the models are lovely, even if this one made me think “Did Bavmorda nick Sorsha’s kit for some reason?” Note the relatively sensible armour choices.

Some things, sadly, haven’t changed overmuch. I made a cup of tea between picking my warband and the interface loading up (They joke that “Chaos Is At Work”, and the loading times have improved since the start of the Early Access… But it’s still not a game for the impatient), and almost immediately had troubles working out how to hire folks (Double click the icons for that kind of warrior is how you do it.) But once I’d gotten that UI niggle out of the way, I got stuck in.

My first mission was a success, of sorts, although not an overwhelming victory. None of my rats died, but I routed the Sisters of Sigmar before I could collect enough Wyrdstone to fulfill my optional objective. Still, considering that the Sisters tend to wield large hammers, and none of my somewhat brittle rats died, it was a plus. Still a plus was the decision by Rogue Factor to turn each unit’s actions into… Well, running through the world. It’s slightly abusable, in that you can retrace your steps to regain movement points, which lets you explore slightly more than is perhaps sensible… But a counter to this is the fact that, if you move unwisely, you’re going to get ambushed and lose all that movement. Indeed, as Skaven, I’m somewhat counting on getting my hits in first. The primary objective is nearly always to rout or try to murder the opposing team, but there’s a couple of side objectives, including bounty hunting (Put a specific unit Out of Action) and Wyrdstone collection (Usually 50% of the stuff that’s on the map)

The map will give you *some* idea of what's around. But only some. Don't *rely* on it.

The map will give you *some* idea of what’s around. But only some. Don’t *rely* on it.

Of course, if movement were the only thing you had to watch out for, I’d be a bit worried. But fighting also has limits, based on the skill of the units in question. For example, most skaven have three Strategic Points (for Ambushing and Fighting), but the Hero and the Leader both have 5, allowing them, in a straight up fight, to attack twice a turn. Turns are initiative based, and… How does it feel?

Tense. Very tense, since the maps are procedurally generated, as are resource locations and the start points of your units. Your worst nightmare is to become scattered, while your enemy is cohesive. It generally means, for most groups, that you’re being ambushed and piled on instead of the other way around. And that’s a bad thing, since getting a key unit injured early on can lead to big problems. Good example, the mission after I’d been told by my Clan Lords to send them a hundredweight of Wyrdstone, and I had ten days to do it… My leader got taken out by the last attack from the leader of the Sisters battlegroup I’d been facing. Because units cost upkeep, and injuries cost for treatment, this meant I had 4 tense days, hitting the Next Day button. I knew he wouldn’t die (He had, in fact, gotten a Near Death Experience, which was one of the few relatively beneficial options), but that was time I wasn’t gathering Warpstone… Fail to do that 4 times in a row, and your warband is disbanded. Permanently.

This... Is a bad situation to be in, especially if you're wounded.

This… Is a bad situation to be in, especially if you’re wounded.

On the upside for me, but perhaps not so much for the developers, the AI, while still improved, can still be outthought, usually with picking good ambush spots. In the AI’s (or another player’s) favour, however, is the fact that while you can sometimes hear units close by, you won’t know where they are for sure until they come into view. If they go out of view, their last known position on the map is an icon with a question mark… But that can only help so much, since you don’t know how far they’ve already moved before you saw them. Thankfully, sooner or later, they’ll run into ambushes, and then you can swarm them. Fair fights are not the name of this game, especially if you’re the Skaven. In fact, fair fights in general are somewhat of a bad idea, due to the AI having a health boost that… I’m not entirely sure they need anymore.

Multiplayer, when I can find someone, is a more challenging experience. On the one hand, I’m matched by point value. On the other, that doesn’t mean I’m matched by skill (Sadly, a common flaw in games like this, and one I haven’t really thought of a good solution to). Many a skilled player doesn’t mind going back to the beginning, but, as much as I can’t predict the opponent’s skill level, I can, within certain limits, guess what they have. And, in the early game at least, it’s going to be somewhat similar to me. Levelling up is a somewhat slow process, costing experience earned from battles, time, and money (100 gold per level 1 skill, and a day or two training), so if I see a Leader with a Great Hammer, I can somewhat bet that they’ve taken something to hit me harder with.

When you do well, you do *very* well. When you do badly, people die.

When you do well, you do *very* well. When you do badly, people die.

It’s not a flawless system, as there’s quite a range of possibilities for builds (I’m currently going with “Skaven wot hit hard when they ambush”, although I expect to branch into “Also we poison the hell out of you” as soon as my balance allows it), and y’know what? I’m liking it so far. I should also mention the aesthetic: Grimdark. Dissonant choruses, blaring horns, and the occasional scream assaults my ears (Pleasantly), while pungent gases afflict me and the streets are ruined, covered in grime, slime, and… Was that a screaming face with an eyeball in it, melted between the wall and floor? It was! It fits the game perfectly, but will look over the top to people who haven’t encountered how over the top Warhammer can get sometimes.

If you want to have a go at a turn based strategy game with some interesting ideas about making it not feel quite so turn based, don’t mind those loading times (1 cup of tea per transition, I’ve found, although your mileage may vary), and don’t feel barraged by numbers (The tooltips help there somewhat), then this might be for you. If you’re not a fan of grimdark, not a big fan of timesinks, and don’t like the idea of turn based strategy, even dressed up, then it’s a probable “No, thanks.” Just be aware that yes, it is still Early Access, so glitches, bad collisions, and odd camera angles still abound… But it’s showing a lot of the promise in the game already.

The Mad Welshman stab-kills many electronic man-things in the course of his work. The tail is artificial, and he does not work for the Great Devourer. No. That would be dumb-silly.

Pool Nation FX (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £8.99 (£6.29 until Nov 7th)
Where To Get It: Steam

I’ve got to admit, I love me some balls. Balls clacking together, balls going into holes, balls being smacked by long, roughly cylindrical objec- What, you’re not a Pool fan either? Not even the Snooker? Oh good, you like some Pool. Well, let me make you happy by announcing that Pool Nation FX, by Cherrypop Games, doesn’t just have the US 8 and 9 ball varieties, but also Snooker and the UK variety of 8 Ball. Unfortunately for me, it still has the Endurance mode I so dislike (But I grudgingly admit is challenging). But fortunately overall, it’s still fun, and still mellow.

The menus are bright, pretty clear, and... Oh hey, the bonus game is just a bonus game! WOOOO!

The menus are bright, pretty clear, and… Oh hey, the bonus game is just a bonus game! WOOOO!

Released on Early Access in the 7th of this month, the game feels largely complete. Career mode is there, and has had a facelift from the previous edition. No more do players have to unlock their cosmetics through the sometimes gruelling bonus games, as the game’s unlocks run on in-game currency: PoolNationBux (or PN$.) Happily, this includes the bonus games themselves, and this change is a good move. Before, I would struggle through Pool Nation’s punishing Endurance mode, and in FX? Unless I want to 100% the game (Which I will… Eventually), I don’t have to even touch the bonus games. But, in most cases, I still want to, because they’re fun little additions.

Some examples would be: Golf, where your goal is to pot the balls in specific holes, in a specific order. Straight, where no trick shots are allowed, and the simple shots, controlling where the ball ends up, is the best. Time attack modes where you try to pot the balls quicker than the AI, and, of course, Endurance, where the balls keep being placed on the table, and when you reach 24 balls… It’s all over. Variety is definitely not something this game lacks.

The game is mainly mouse based, but is easy to get your head around, and the tutorials teach well.

The game is mainly mouse based, but is easy to get your head around, and the tutorials teach well.

It should be noted, however, that some things haven’t changed too much. The AI can still be a little inconsistent at times, seeming to do badly for several shots, and then 8 balling you when you miss your final shot on the black. It happens less than it did in Pool Nation, which is an improvement, but… It can still happen, especially on higher difficulties. Also lacking, although this is purely a niggle, are the weird stories behind the characters of Pool Nation’s world. It’s not a necessary thing, but I was amused by some of the wacky stories that made the world seem… Odd. Like the player who believes he’s a gopher. Maybe they’ll come back.

In the meantime, the game is definitely pretty, Cherrypop are definitely working hard in the bugfixing department, it has a fair bit of variety, and for its price, is something pool fans of all types, from the casual players, the hustlers, and the fans of making trickshot videos (For lo, there is a trickshot mode, and, while I don’t claim to understand it, I’m told it’s amusing) could enjoy, one game at a time, for a while. If you don’t particularly want to wait for your PN$ to build up, the “Unlock” DLC for the cosmetics is quite cheap. As such, while there are bugs and crashes in this Early Access game, they are being worked on, and I’d say it’s worth gambling the £8.99 (£6.29 until November 7th) on what promises to be many hours of amusement.

Yes, that *is* the white ball all the way over there. I wanted to see how far I could get it, and if you could see it. :V

Yes, that *is* the white ball all the way over there. I wanted to see how far I could get it, and if you could see it. :V

Pool is, you may have noticed, one of the few exceptions to The Mad Welshman’s “No Sportsball” rule.

Read Only Memories (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

This review is mostly going to sound like gushing. And, in a sense, it will be. Because most of the flaws with Read Only Memories are in questions unanswered, and in flaws with the interface. But the core of the game… That induced a different type of gushing. But I can only talk about that in general terms, because… I don’t want to spoil things for you.

Turing is adorable, if somewhat... Logical at the beginning. He definitely develops, though.

Turing is adorable, if somewhat… Logical at the beginning. He definitely develops, though.

In any case, Read Only Memories is an adventure game, similar in style to older games such as Cobra Mission, Snatcher, and the MacVentures, in that you have a first person view, and interact by clicking on things, then clicking on icons to do things with them. The inventory is a pop-up box menu, and dialogue runs across the blackspace at the bottom of the screen in JRPG fashion (Y’know, typing letters individually with the option to left click to hurry the words along already). It’s got its problems… For example, the dialogue clicking can lead to missing information if you want to hurry things along (A fast mode helps, but only somewhat), and your interaction icons will sometimes require you to move the mouse away from the thing you clicked, and then back, before you can do the thing you were planning to do.

But this is the thing: Those are niggles, and an adventure game lives or dies on not just whether fans like it, but the story, the aesthetic, the themes, and how it deals with them. In this, Read Only Memories does a good job. Visually, it’s going to remind you of Snatcher. Simple, pixel graphics, anime inspired, and most of it looks like a Syd Mead vision of the future rather than grim and gritty. But make no mistake, the story is a grim one. Turing, a self aware robot, breaks into your home to ask you for help in finding his creator, who had been assaulted, possibly kidnapped. Things snowball from there to corporate intrigue, felonies that would make Gabriel Knight or the cast of Day of the Tentacle wince, and… Not gonna lie, you may well cry at portions. Don’t be ashamed of that, it’s both a testament to your empathy, and to the creators’ solid narrative design.

Conservatism. Conservatism never changes. Pompadours, fringe-lines, fashion... But Conservatism... Never changes...

Conservatism. Conservatism never changes. Pompadours, fringe-lines, fashion… But Conservatism… Never changes…

For all that the visuals don’t match perfectly, they match well enough that you believe in this future, where conservatives aren’t worried so much about the colour of your skin as to whether you want to look like a cat or want to improve on the human design with technology, and where robots, for common convenience tasks, are both common and believable in their functions. It’s cyberpunk as hell, in its way, because you’re not a powerful person (A media/hardware journalist, in fact. 😛 ), and it explores themes of consciousness, and privilege of the future, in a very succinct manner.

Perhaps a little too succinct in places (You may never understand why assuming that a feline person might be the TOMCAT you’re looking for is offensive, and the game won’t tell you unless you’re prepared to fuck up more than you already did), but the writing is tight, the music is fitting (I can’t think of a single track that didn’t fit the mood). The sound design is again mostly reminiscent of games like Snatcher, and what rare voice acting there is (The cutscenes) is fitting. What I particularly like, however, is its accessibility. It’s easy to understand, easy to get into, and, while the cutscene sorta assumes a gender for your character at the beginning, that’s not quite true (That cutscene is another niggle), as you can not only state your name, but your preferred pronouns as well (including custom pronouns). Since you never see yourself, and the character is mostly a tabula rasa (within the usual limits of games with dialogue choices), this is a good design choice. I went with they/them/their, and my own name… I don’t particularly know why, but… It felt right.

You may not think this makes sense. But it does. In context. ...Why yes, this is a subtle way of my saying "play the game", why do you ask?

You may not think this makes sense. But it does. In context.
…Why yes, this is a subtle way of my saying “play the game”, why do you ask?

Read Only Memories can be completed in around 4 hours, but multiple paths and endings mean that this is definitely a replayable game… Yes, including bad ends… Most of the cheevos are hidden, another good design decision. As such, I would recommend this to quite a few folks out there, as it’s a simple enough adventure game (mechanically) that it would be a good entry point for folks who have been scared off adventure games before, adventure game fans will find the puzzles mostly well designed (I don’t know if there was a quiet way to do some things. Maybe I’ll find out later), and cyberpunk fans… Yeah, this is cyberpunk as hell. I definitely feel good about my £10, and I think (Don’t take my word for it, obviously!) that many of you will too. Even if, y’know, you get sniffly and tear up like me.

I’m not going to tell you what end I got, but… Folks who know me and my writings won’t be surprised about it, I’ll say that much.

The Mad Welshman sighed as he read news of another zaibatsu dealing with corruption in the ranks, sipping his Strawberry Power Hassy and brushing his long, dark mane. Sodding business news, he thought.