Siralim 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Siralim 2 is, if you’ll permit me to be blunt, a Skinner Box. But it is a moderately entertaining Skinner Box in its present state, and while not much of it is original, it’s pretty competently put together, and takes its ideas from sources that have pretty much already refined the concepts it’s using.

I've unlocked a few things. Y'know, simple things: A Chef, few tens of citizens, a pub, breeding ground, alchemy lab... ...Simple things.

I’ve unlocked a few things. Y’know, simple things: A Chef, few tens of citizens, a pub, breeding ground, alchemy lab…
…Simple things.

So I’m going to get this out of the way right now: If you do not like grind, stop reading. It’s a grindy game, nearly everything about it is grind, and the words “Skinner Box” should have clued you into this from the word go. Do badly, too quickly, no cookie for you. Do well, repeat your tasks in the manner intended, get various kinds of game-related cookie.

From Pokemon and the SMT games comes breeding and evolution. From other JRPGs comes magic, magic items, not-so-magic-items, and turn based combat in a first person perspective. From games like Dark Cloud comes building up your home base, so as to better equip, customise, and breed your monsters (Which, naturally, involves grind.), and, also from some other JRPGs comes Deity relations. Which involves grind.

This is not to say there isn’t game behind all this. There’s a story about an evil demigod that wants to go full deity, and must take McGuffins to do so… So obviously, our job is to get them first, and become a God(dess) first to beat the stuffing out of evil thing. The more deities on your side, the more monsters you own, the better equipped you are once you’ve gotten all the orbs, the better your chances will be. There’s a combat system involving physical attacks, magic, and special abilities such as casting an area effect Cold spell 1 in 5 times when you’re hit at no cost. You can revisit earlier levels if the current ones are too tough for your current party, and, since the levels are essentially small, procedurally generated theme arenas, with a deity somewhere, a quest for that deity (Usually involving getting X things or killing X things), an overall quest, and boss fights. There’s even the thing that the Pokemon games, and other linear progression RPGs would do, where there is the plot appearance of urgency, but in actual fact… Yeah, go hog wild, fill out your breeding library, get friendly with all the gods… It just takes longer if you don’t unlock the higher levels to level your beasties more efficiently.

Imagine a Carrion Worm smacking an Ebony Ent. Forever.

Imagine a Carrion Worm smacking an Ebony Ent. Forever.

And this is precisely the problem with critically engaging with Siralim 2. It’s competent. It does its job okay, and, beyond a common problem that the game has also inherited (Monsters at higher levels tend to just be palette-swaps with different powers), it’s actually somewhat difficult to judge how well or badly it’s balanced, because if something is too difficult? Use an earlier level to grind up your captured monsters (Told you it was a bit like Pokemon and the SMT games!), and you can nearly always guarantee your creatures will be able to beat a boss sooner or later. I highly suspect I’m overlevelled for the next three or so boss fights, and only my desire to find breeding combos and new monsters to gawp at is stopping me from going to town. Once you’ve seen all the themes the game has to offer, it doesn’t seem to come up with new surprises so often, but, again… Too busy grinding up new monsters. And their breeding combos, because the monsters vanish once they’ve bred, probably to limit you just banging different rocks together until something happens.

So if you like that sort of experience, where, on the one hand, the gameplay can feel a little flat if you’re too efficient, and there’s grinding for new things out the wazoo, then good. If not, it’s possibly not for you.

Sometimes, you get extra bosses. I like to call them "Loot/XP Pinatas"

Sometimes, you get extra bosses. I like to call them “Loot/XP Pinatas”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just found out I can make a new kind of Angel, and it looks like it might have some cool powers later down the line.

We haven’t seen The Mad Welshman for a week. Could somebody knock on his door?

Ghost 1.0 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price:
£9.99 (£3.99 for the Soundtrack, which definitely ain’t bad)
Where To Get It:
Steam 

When I got the email that the developers of UnEpic were making a new game, I was both excited and nervous. Excited, because UnEpic did interesting things. Nervous, because it was also referential as hell, dumb in places, and stupidly hard and grindy in others.

This, er... Makes slightly more sense as a joke once you've played UnEpic and seen the bits before this... :/

This, er… Makes slightly more sense as a joke once you’ve played UnEpic and seen the bits before this… :/

For good or for ill… Little has changed. The references are somewhat less forced, the story veers wildly between pulpy silliness, philosophical discussion, and blatant referential humour, and the grind?

Oh yes. The grind remains. And it remains my problem with Ghost 1.0, because, to me? It’s just not fun to repeat alarm lockdowns for Energon-Cubes-As-Currency, so I can get better weapons that, really, I should be earning more organically. And this is a damn shame, because, for all the bitching, there has been improvement over the UnEpic formula, with fluid movement, a better overall story (Involving the enslavement of androids by an evil corporation… Hey, I said better, not amazing), and some cool stuff hidden in there… But, even past the halfway point, I’m not sure it feels worth it to continue. Boss with nigh unavoidable paralyzing shockwave, making it a damage race? Check. Instant death laser segments that, while using the cool idea of controlling robots with cyber-psychic powers, uses it for tedious, “Do it right or do it again” segments involving scientist robots with no offensive abilities (Read: Forced puzzle-stealth segments.) Check.

Not cool, Fran, I totally made my Dexterity Check!

Not cool, Fran, I totally made my Dexterity Check!

There’s fun in there. Really, there is. The second boss, for example, is fun. The first boss, once you figure it out, is fun. The interplay between Ghost, Boogan, and Jacker (The latter two technically making a return from UnEpic) is fun. But it’s buried beneath a game that feels like it’s run by an adversarial GM who still thinks OD&D is the best thing since sliced bread. And this is such a core problem, and obviously deliberate, that I unfortunately can’t get past it.

So, when it comes to the question of “Is Ghost 1.0 worth playing?” , two questions have to be asked. The first is whether you like metroidvanias. A simple enough question, but the next is harder: Do you find grind and “death makes things harder on you” fun? Because, regardless of the good voice acting, the fair animation, the interesting toys (Once you’ve earned them), and the story that definitely has interesting elements, if the answer to that second question is “No, not really”, or some variation thereof, I really can’t recommend Ghost 1.0 to you.

The first boss, about to get a schooling from an awesome cyber-psychic merc lady. Who still died five times while getting the cash for the gun she's using... >:|

The first boss, about to get a schooling from an awesome cyber-psychic merc lady. Who still died five times while getting the cash for the gun she’s using… >:|

The Mad Welshman is hacking Ghost 1.0 to provide a “Less Grindy” mode, but he’s hit Alarm Level 9, and the respawns are getting a bit tiresome. 

Mighty No. 9 (Review)

Source: Kickstarter backer.
Price: £15.99 (£3.99 for Ray expansion)
Where To Get It: Lots of places.

Hoo boy. Having had a troubled release (Which I sort of missed), I had some trepidation going into Mighty No. 9. And I was right to do so. This is one review where I’m not swimming against the tide, because, as you may have gathered from the almost unanimous opinion, Mighty No. 9 is aggressively mediocre, and a lack of effort shines blearily through every muddy moment.

It is the year 20ZZ. Facial expressions are forever frozen. Brains, brains, brains.

It is the year 20ZZ. Facial expressions are forever frozen. Brains, brains, brains.

So much so, that I can’t really think of anything nice to say. If I was extremely charitable, I’d say it looks kind of nice… Except that facial animations, even “Mouth opens and closes”, was apparently too much effort, and, much like some games I’ve seen over the years, the game’s look has become actively worse since the early days… Somehow. It mystified me with Breach and its UI. It mystified me with Colonial Marines. It mystifies me moreso with Mighty No. 9 because… For fuck’s sake, it is a Megaman variant. You run. You jump. You shoot. You dash. How can you screw that up?

By not pacing well. By making your power somewhat dependent on a combo system that… Seems only to be based on a “No hit” rule, because the enemies are too widely spaced for anything else. The voice acting may not be quite as awful as some folks have suggested, but it’s actively made worse by the aforementioned lack of facial animations… And dashing into bosses to hurt them? Is an idea that works erratically, depending on which boss you fight. Said combo system is unclear, to boot. Why did I get that piercing shot boost for five seconds again?

It’s depressing. Even taken on its own, it’s a slow game, with lacklustre animation, level design, and sound design, and I can almost feel a collective shrug-and-meh from IntiCreates… Through their game. And it would be less depressing if it weren’t for the fact that all the interesting ideas seem to have been dropped, in favour of…

I feel you, Round Digger.

I feel you, Round Digger.

…Well, “Better than nothing” has almost become a meme (Along with some cringeworthy marketing later in the process), and it would sum up Mighty No. 9 well, except for a tabletop truism that applies equally well to computer games.

Better no game than a bad one. Don’t bother, if you hadn’t already.

The Mad Welshman sighed. He didn’t even feel strongly enough to come up with something amusing to do after the review. Even kicking puppies felt pointless.

Renowned Explorers (And More To Explore DLC: REVIEW)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99 (£18.99 with More To Explore, £5.29 for More To Explore if you have the base game already)
Where To Get It: Steam

I missed Renowned Explorers the first time round, somewhat irritating considering I liked their previous offering, Reus, enough to put in 41 hours and 71% of the achievements before annoyance set in. Thankfully, with the DLC, I get to review not only this charming explore-em-up, but the DLC, adding two expeditions, some extra mechanics, and bonus treasure effects and events in the form of the Campfire Tales. So, before we begin, a quick summary of what Renowned Explorers is, for those who haven’t played.

My first main team. I have all of them as Captains now, but still have some fondness for playing this lil' group. I mean, how could I not?

My first main team. I have all of them as Captains now, but still have some fondness for playing this lil’ group. I mean, how could I not?

Renowned Explorers is an adventure strategy hybrid, where you pick three explorers, a Captain and two Crew, from a pool of 16 choices (Although only 4 of them are available as Captains from the beginning.) Once chosen, their skills and stats work along one of three complementary paths: Aggression (Beating the tar out of things), Deceit (Making people feel bad, lying, cheating, etc), and Friendship (Being the Good Example to all tiny Explorers and Natives everywhere.) None of these paths are, strictly speaking, closed off to you, and good strategy involves mixing the abilities of all three to maximum effect (Only Friendship skills, for example, seem to heal, while Aggression Skills can lay the hurt on a number of foes), but it’s important to know your strengths, because by playing to them, you’re going to do so much better in beating your rival Explorer groups to the top spot, unearthing ancient artefacts, and discovering awesome things, sometimes involving sheep drugs.

No, I’m not entirely joking with that last sentence.

...sometimes, the implications of the unique game overs makes me want to go have a lie down [fans self]

…sometimes, the implications of the unique game overs makes me want to go have a lie down [fans self]

The new content, the Andes and the Lost Island, are, as you might expect from the part of the DLC meant to buff the endgame, tough. In fact, on my very first almost successful run, it was picking a fight with the natives that did me in. But along the way? Oh wow, those campfires made a difference! After my first expedition, I unlocked a captain story, and in nearly every game since, I have been enthusiastically teaching one of my crewfolks the joys of science, building a new friendship, and not only getting free skills, but awesome discoveries, and the warm glowies from creating a science-based friendship that will stand the test of time, no matter how I fail… And fail… And fail…

…And also kick righteous buttock, such as out fighting Tommy, the not-bright, but tough member of the Rivaleux, out charm Cassandra Shafiq, the temptress of the same team, deal with a possession by the evil Erzbet Bathory (She of the controversial Virgin Bloodbath Makeover Treatment), and rob tombs all over the world, from Ireland to the Andes…

FOR SCIENCE, HELL YEAH!

FOR SCIENCE, HELL YEAH!

…So if you like feeling like a combination of Carmen Sandiego, Indiana Jones, and Lara Croft, don’t mind turn based combat, and love a good procedurally generated exploration story game, then Renowned Explorers just got more awesome, and while the DLC isn’t necessary to its enjoyment, it most certainly helps, and is worth a look!

The Mad Welshman is currently on indefinite vacation with Erzbet Bathory.

Let's end it on a high note. FRIENDSHIP!

Let’s end it on a high note. FRIENDSHIP!

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £29.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Store

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada (or Armada, as it’s going to be referred to for the rest of the review) is an adaptation of Games Workshop’s spaceship battle tabletop game where, in the grim darkness of the future, there are only chiselled jawlines. It preloads, and this can, in some cases, take a while (2 minutes at best, 10 at the worst I’ve seen it), but once you’re in the game? It’s fairly entertaining!

Well, *one* of us isn't relying on just his faith to win the battle... Idiot...

Well, *one* of us isn’t relying on just his faith to win the battle… Idiot…

As such, however, I want to get the bad out of the way first. The game does not tutorialise terribly well, as the campaign focuses on the Imperium of Man (As 90% of GW licensed properties in 40K have done), and so getting a handle on the other three factions currently in the game (Eldar, Ork, and Chaos) is a matter of experimentation rather than being shown. Occasionally, the camera will refuse to co-operate until you reselect a ship, for reasons I have yet to discover. And the multiplayer needs work, with some factions requiring more micromanagement using limited Tactical Cogitator time (Slowdown, basically), and matchmaking needing improvements. Thankfully, these are at least on the development roadmap.

Now to the good: The campaign is well presented, and teaches some skills as it goes along, such as boarding actions, auto engagement, and the fact that losing a mission is not, as in many strategy games, a game over, but more of a setback than anything else, so, while savescumming is do-able, and a valid way to play, it’s by no means necessary. Of course, being 40K, it’s both dark and silly at the same time, so the second campaign mission, involving Ork Freebootaz (Orc space pirates, basically) is introduced by a cutscene that begins with… Gretchin (Space goblins) being fired out of a large gun, and being surprisingly pumped about either impacting another ship at high speed, or missing and asphyxiating in the cold bleakness of space. That image alone… Is actually a pretty good summary of 40K. It also provides an excellent example of how defeat will make your job harder, as losing the convoy in this second mission adds more rebellious worlds in the area, as, unsurprisingly, people get unhappy when they’re starving.

Warhammer40K.JPG

Warhammer40K.JPG

Aurally, it’s a treat, with a lot of good voice acting, some suitably dramatic music, and some impactful sound effects that really make space fighting fun, and visually, it can be quite cool, although often, you’ll be too zoomed out to truly appreciate the majestic ships and barrelfuls of dakka, and the Tactical Cogitator filter… Slightly detracts. But as far as adaptations of Battlefleet Gothic go? It’s priced fairly for even the campaign, and, so long as you don’t mind using Skirmish to get a handle on the ships of non-Imperial factions, the multiplayer’s quite fun too.

Unsurprisingly, things go horribly wrong sometimes. This will soon be one of those times.

Unsurprisingly, things go horribly wrong sometimes. This will soon be one of those times.

The Mad Welshman checked the Holy Manual of Shooting Things Very Dead. The instructions were simple, and, once his visex had… What do you mean, the terminology’s all wrong?