Siralim 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Google Play (Android Ver), App Store (iOS Ver)

When I last reviewed Siralim 2, during Early Access, I said the words “Well crafted Skinner Box.” This is, essentially, still true. It’s slow paced, there’s a lot of walking around and doing the same things over and over, there’s a lot of collecting things and clearing out levels as completely as possible… And it’s fairly enjoyable.

Even the deities are pretty relaxed about things. "Hey, let's maybe fight when we're both in the mood, eh?"

Even the deities are pretty relaxed about things. “Hey, let’s maybe fight when we’re both in the mood, eh?”

More to the point, it’s a game where the challenge is what you want it to be. At the time of this review, I’m just sitting back and going over earlier levels, rather than progressing the plot, because right now? I just want to collect things and see what they do. I want to breed new monsters to see what they’re like, and the plot of an over-arching threat from an upstart deity looking to conquer everything? Yeaaaaah, that can wait.

Siralim 2 is by no means an exciting game as a result. There’s no sense of urgency, no drama… And, in any game that was pretending to be anything but “Hey, build up your castle and do X things and kill/extract from monsters to get more things”, this would be a bad thing. In Siralim 2, it’s obviously what the design was around… It’s not a game you’re going to play for the story. It’s a game where you set what you want to do, and do it while idling the day away.

Me, casting a spell that I turned into a "Kill lots of things" button. :P

Me, casting a spell that I turned into a “Kill lots of things” button. 😛

And, in a sense, that makes it quite awkward to review. There’s lots of features, such as breeding monsters, crafting new weapons, quests from your castle’s inhabitants, cooking, summoning, spells, boss battles… But it all boils down to two things: Do you want something to play that’s relaxing, but not pushing you? Are you turned off by RPG-Maker style sprite graphics and interfaces? If respectively yes, and no, then bam, Siralim 2 is just fine. If no, and yes, then it’s not.

Balance? Balance only matters if you’re pushing forward at a reckless pace. If you’re just pushing forward, pushing forward, pushing forward, then yes, the game gets tough quickly, and stays tough as you don’t quite level up along with the levels. You don’t get as friendly with the deities. You don’t get all the cool stuff. There’s lots of types of Realm, but they boil down to the same types of things (Get X things to give to Y folks, for example), and once you know what a Realm’s tricks and quests are, there’s just… A Skinner Box.

Yup, there's a lot of monsters, and this is just the beginning. Some are palette swaps, but that's RPGs all over.

Yup, there’s a lot of monsters, and this is just the beginning. Some are palette swaps, but that’s RPGs all over.

I’m okay with this, as, for the price, I get a decent combat system, with elemental weaknesses, spells, limitations I can get around at my own pace, and new things to meet pretty much whenever I want. I get a castle I can build up… And, unlike many other games of this chill, relaxed type, there’s no microtransactions limiting me. £11, and bam, I have something I can go back to whenever I want.

So, if you like chill RPGs with no real pressure behind them, that are simple to play, but have complexity in the background, maybe give Siralim 2 a go. It’s also available on phone, and has a cloud storage function so you can play it while you’re out too. Which is nice.

The Mad Welshman banged two monsters together, and was pleasantly surprised to find out he had a new monster. Another productive day!

Master of Orion: Conquer The Stars (Review)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £22.99 (£29.99 for extra lovely stuff, including the first three Master of Orion games, an art book, and the TERRAN KHANATE [Evil Humans])
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG

I’m going to start this review with what will most likely be an unpopular opinion about the older Master of Orion games: They’re dated. Yes, you heard me, I, a fellow 4X player, just told you he thinks one of many games that laid the groundwork for the space 4X genre is dated. Maybe not as good as you remember it. Still good. Still one of the games that laid the groundwork. And I hold this opinion for two reasons.

It isn't *too* likely you'll have this many ships in one fight. But god-damn, it makes for a lovely intro!

It isn’t *too* likely you’ll have this many ships in one fight. But god-damn, it makes for a lovely intro!

Firstly, I’ve played enough of it, and recently enough, to know. Secondly, because comparisons are inevitable, and it seems some comparisons are being played up… And others down. Let’s start with what seems to be played down. Let’s start with how much attention has been paid to the feel of how grand Space Opera should be, and how it tries very hard to be more accessible this time around.

Just a brief look at the IMDB page for this game leaves no doubt that vocal talent was a focus of the game. Michael Dorn narrates, leaders and advisors alike are played by such luminaries as John Kassir (The Cryptkeeper), John De Lancie (Q, among many others), Mark Hamill (Do I even need to say?), Nika Futterman (Asaji Ventress, among others), Kari Wahlgren (The english voice of the Fate series’ Saber), Kat Cressida (Dee Dee from Dexter’s Lab), and Sumalee Montano (Arcee [Transformers] and Katana [Beware The Batman], among other voice roles), and each one seems to be giving their all. Similarly, the music and art direction (David Govett on music, and a talented art team including Bill Willingham… Yes, Fables Bill Willingham) show a deep love of the genre, with gorgeous landscapes, solid, characterful animations, and music that, my first time hearing it, I’m not ashamed to say I happy-cried. So the game is undeniably beautiful, both in sound and visuals. The UI, similarly, is well designed, simple, mostly self explanatory, with few interactions required to get to any one feature, only rare occasions where a tooltip will obscure a thing, and, of course, visual consistency. Similarly, there’s a lot of good writing in there, showing each race both as it is seen, and as it sees itself.

GNN... Bringing you the clickbait for the New Diaspora!

GNN… Bringing you the clickbait for the New Diaspora!

Accessibility wise, on top of the UI, everything is visually distinct, and the game is highly customisable in terms of difficulty and length. Don’t want to spend 10 hours on a game? You can up the tempo. Finding a full medium galaxy too tense in the early game? Knock down the number of opponents, make the galaxy bigger, tone down the difficulty… The choices are there, and they definitely have an effect. Myself, I don’t tend to do well in a crowded universe, so I knock the opponents down to 3 rather than 5, although I tend to prefer a medium universe. As in previous Master of Orion games, you can also create your own race, in much the same fashion as Master of Orion 2. And the tooltips are genuinely helpful, and the advisor interruptions are by no means unwelcome in the clear information they give. These are two factors that open this game up to newer players, and I think that should quite rightly be praised.

Now… I mentioned some things have been played up, and all of them have the same, dubious core idea: That Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars (To use its full title for the first time this review… Most folks I know refer to it as MoO2016) is somehow more simplistic or easier than the older games. As someone who has now, since release, been bumrushed several times by races absolutely itching for space, who have obviously been concentrating on the shipbuilding end of things (That, or redlining their taxes), I would quite heartily disagree. In MoO2, I could quite happily spend 60 turns, or even 100, just slowly building up, sometimes without meeting anybody at all. In a Medium galaxy, populated by 5 other races, on Normal difficulty? The early game gets surprisingly tense, and I’ve often had to shift gears quite quickly. Knock the players down a bit, and it calms down a bit. Knock the difficulty down a notch, and similarly, it calms down a notch. As to simplicity? It’s a somewhat refined version of MoO2’s rules. Not a huge amount of changes, not a huge amount of additions or subtractions. Mostly, it’s been refinements, and y’know what? I’m okay with that.

An early game buildup...

An early game buildup…

Finally, there’s the combat system. I don’t mind it either way, as it retains elements of the older, turn based system that MoOs 1 and 2 had (Complete with ship customisation elements), and the rock-paper-scissors of Energy/Missile/Mass Drivers remains, but with the real time strategy elements allowing skillful micro to outplay a superior enemy, or, if you so choose, being able to sit back and watch the combat resolve itself automatically… But more cinematically than just hitting Auto-Resolve itself.

Now… Overall, I’ve been positive, and if you’ve read my work before, you’d know I will always try and balance things out, even if I’m not always successful in doing so. Master of Orion is not without its problems. For example, selection of craft can get finicky at times, as it sometimes seems to want to drag craft as an interaction rather than the old “click select, click [if you want to select a specific ship], click move.” The AI’s primary interaction before you establish embassies is to be extremely aggressive toward everyone else, and production, in Classic pacing, feels a bit of a slog. I’m not going to accuse the AI of cheating with its builds, but I am going to say that their emphasis mostly appears to be on the Conquer side of the Paths to Victory rather than others, especially in the early game. As with many 4X games, once you get to the end game, you will probably be able to pick and choose which of the six paths to victory you go for, rather than having to choose. Those are a select few criticisms.

Overall, though, MoO2016 seems a good introduction to the Space 4X genre, and a well crafted one in the artistic sense to boot. Also, I can confirm that the art book expands a little on the lore of the galaxy, and has a fair amount of cool concept art. 😉

...Followed by an early game beatdown from some extremely irascible Russian Space Bears. I will never mock the Bulrathi again.

…Followed by an early game beatdown from some extremely irascible Russian Space Bears. I will never mock the Bulrathi again.

The Mad Welshman is now idly wondering whether anyone can do a similarly good job with other strategic games set in space such as Ascendancy, Millennium, or, just maybe, Emperor of the Fading Suns.

Dungeon Kingdom: Sign of the Moon (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

If it weren’t for my party, I think I would have given up on Dungeon Kingdom: Sign of the Moon long ago. They’ve revealed dungeons to me, told me about buttons, and, in at least one case, showed me where a puzzle was that I absolutely needed to progress (And hadn’t found in any of the previous updates.) But I can’t help but think a middle ground between “Tell me where things are (occasionally)”, and “Give me one line in dialogue and another in a book to clue me into a puzzle’s existence” would be helpful. That this is true for more than one aspect of Dungeon Kingdom is, sadly, damning with faint praise.

Ninja, Warrior, Priest, Wizard... Where have I seen those before... *Think*

Ninja, Warrior, Priest, Wizard… Where have I seen those before… *Think*

For all that a lot of effort has clearly gone into the environments themselves, with lovingly rendered caves, temples, and towns, and again, work has clearly gone into the various character portraits we encounter, a game is the sum of its parts, and what fills these environments and character portraits is less than impressive. My last session was a couple of hours, but in that time, I had progressed from a kitchen knife to… Er… A slightly bigger kitchen knife, wailed on rats and bees for what seemed like hours, gained four spells (Three of which I had discovered simply through experimenting), and kicked myself as I missed out on a bashable wall, before reminding myself it took several swipes to knock it down.

I’d also met a high priestess Bavmorda, who was obviously up to no good. This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the naming seems to be geek reference heaven. The priestess Eilistraee, taking a break from being the deity of Good Dark Elves and Hunting. The dark knight Astaroth, in no way a duke of Hell, honest! The list goes on, and… This reminds me of how the game goes on. And on. And on.

This is the oddest problem… A step-based RPG that feels too slow. And it’s obvious there’s time pressure, as the developers have taken leaves from the Dungeon Master book pretty much wholesale… Character recruiting is the Recruit/Resurrect mechanic from both Dungeon Master games, the classes are exactly the same, the emphasis on puzzles is exactly the same… And both food and water meters are present. Oh joy. Oh joy of joys. And yes, that was an incredibly tired and sarcastic “Oh joy”, because, outside of a setting that demands it (Dark Sun, for example), I do not like water meters. I haven’t seen a desert, and don’t think I’m likely to. In any case, that’s your time pressure, as while water is largely unlimited (Making it just added tedium), food isn’t. I have yet to see a “Create Food” spell. So the game is, much like Dungeon Master, very much a case of “Save Early, Save Often” (And use different saves, obviously.) At the very least, you’ll want to save before hitting the inn to avoid the long walk into town.

No, really. Bavmorda. Luckily, we're all pigs anyway, by virtue of being adventurers!

No, really. Bavmorda. Luckily, we’re all pigs anyway, by virtue of being adventurers!

This, in essence, is my main problem with Dungeon Kingdom right now… That there is potential, but it’s also got a lot that has me saying “Meh.” I hit things, and honestly, only the bashable walls react. Throwing things, oddly, involves physics where good placement is often important. The music is generic, and what voicework there is, is often flat or poorly directed (“Big… Trouble…”) There are awkward moments where it’s not very clear what to do, even with very simple instructions (Stand facing the entrance, and I will come back. What this means is “stand in the next tile along for a little while, which is facing the entrance of the place you have to go, and I will come back. Nowhere else counts, nor does any other direction), and the story… If I didn’t know Bavmorda was evil, or at the very least suspicious, I would have to find confirmation in… Everyone’s private quarters. There’s no consequence for looking at them, there’s no challenge in looting them, but you have to know, ahead of time, that this is old school enough to expect you to do this. The game also assumes the main hero(ine), chosen by being… The first character you pick is a man in the intro. Whoops!

Dungeon Kingdom: Sign of the Moon is undeniably pretty. Some of its puzzles are actually quite good (Which races don’t bow down? Oh, I get what you mean there, haha!) and the developers have made strides in making the game somewhat more accessible with the aforementioned Party hints, a map system, making the food and water meters go down more slowly (Yes, I did notice, and am grateful.) But it feels slow, it seems to progress quite slowly, and it seems to be learning the wrong lessons from Dungeon Master and its ilk.

Monsters will attack, but not always consistently. They generally won't respond to being hit until they die.

Monsters will attack, but not always consistently. They generally won’t respond to being hit until they die. Also this is a ghost bat. I thought I’d best mention that.

The Mad Welshman peered myopically at the scroll… Damn these fantasy worlds and their lack of Opticians!

Mandagon (Review)

Source: Free
Where To Get It: Steam

Let’s begin this review with the most important facts of all: Mandagon is free. It takes, on average, less than an hour to play. Also, it is meant to represent Bardo, which is described as “Limbo” in the game’s description.

This is, presumably, a good thing. Also, proof the game is somewhat pretty.

This is, presumably, a good thing. Also, proof the game is somewhat pretty.

These are important things to note, and indeed, look up, because the last one is pretty much going to be the focus of this review. So let’s get the mechanical and visual stuff out of the way first: There is no death, it’s just exploration. It tells a story of a man who has sacrificed himself for the sake of his daughter. It’s visually pretty, and the music and sound are all chill as heck. Also there is a not-bad representation of Palden Lhamo, who you may confuse for Kali (Indeed, there are some schools of thought stating that she’s an emanation of Kali.) The controls, as such, are simple, although the “maps” do not seem to show where you’re meant to go… Although the six sacred tablets do show you where they’re meant to go if you activate them in your inventory.

Bam, mechanical, visual, and aural stuff over with. Let’s get to the meat of things, and why, despite the game being free, I’m being a bit critical. Not of the game mechanically, but culturally. It should also be noted that I am not, myself, a Tibetan Buddhist, so my own criticism should be taken with a grain of salt. All that being said, let’s start with the elephant in the room: Cultural Shoehorning. We see this a lot, even within Europe (Wales, Brittany, the Scandinavian nations, pretty much anything that’s been shoved under “Faerie”… The list is a pretty long one), and to be honest, it annoys.

Bardo is not Limbo. Heck, this is only one sixth of what Bardo appears to be (Chönyi Bardo , the Luminosity of the True Nature, commencing in between the final breath and the transmigration of the mindstream to its next existence, going back to the first Bardo, Kyenay bardo, which encompasses a person’s life.) Making it worse, not even Limbo is Limbo as most folks understand it, and yet the term continues to be used for a transitional state between lives (A concept that mainly came into the consciousness via Dante’s Inferno, which was, itself, a sort of discussion of the theological concept), despite being… Er… Not really a transitional state.

As you might have guessed, this is a game world. The map is showing me where I am.

As you might have guessed, this is a game world. The map is showing me where I am.

Yes, I know that’s some heavy shit to lay on you this early. Stick with me. Anyways, Chönyi Bardo is when those who have finally died experience visions, and the nature of those visions depends upon how they practiced and/or understood Buddhism during their life, and whether they recognise this in the first place. Spoilers, the main character of Mandagon must have been someone spiritually buff as hell. I mean, we’re talking enlightenment muscles out the wazoo.

Not that, you know, enlightenment is like muscles. Or maybe it can be. Enlightenment’s odd like that. Anyway, the point is, that only if you are a spiritually aware person will you have the chill as heck experience as you do in game. Otherwise, to simplify things a little, you terrify and delude yourself, adding this baggage to your next existence because you didn’t prepare to shed said baggage. However, that they do not get reborn is perhaps another sign of this, as adherence to the precepts of Karma allow one to escape the beginningless cycle of rebirth that Buddhism calls Samsara (In many forms of Buddhism, a less than ideal state, as opposed to a state of acknowledging unbeing or non-self.)

This may seem like grumping, or nit-picking, but it’s actually kind of important to note, because too often, we simply accept a thing for what it seems to be, rather than what it is. A good example of this would be the Steam discussion on what actually happened in game, where there’s a sadly unsurprising lack of awareness of a lot of this, even with the individual who appears closest to “Getting it”, as it were. Games abstract things, sometimes to the point of misrepresentation, and Mandagon, while very pretty, very chill, and having some great moments, does this by its very simplicity.

Palden Lhamo. Kind of important. ;)

Palden Lhamo. Kind of important. 😉

So this isn’t so much nit-picking, or grumping, as helping you be aware that yes, while this is a pretty game, a chill game, a short game, and a free game, it’s also a game referencing a thing that’s a lot more complicated and interesting than the game presents it as. So go enjoy it, it’s all good, it’s free… And then do what I did, and look at the bigger picture. Otherwise, it’ll end up like that Bill Bailey line about the Gandhi Pinball Machine, where you have to light the three Magic Naan-Breads to… Oh, you get the picture!

The Mad Welshman is a long way from breaking out of the cycle. And he likes it that way.

Defect: SDK (Review)

SourceReview Copy
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Defect: SDK (Standing for Ship Destruction Kit) is a game where, despite knowing it’s partly my fault, I can’t help but get frustrated. And it’s down to a lot of things.

Firstly, there’s the UI. Now, good UI design is hard, because while we often talk about how many interactions (Clicks or keypresses), it takes to do a thing, that’s only one factor. There’s also another pair of factors that doesn’t always get talked about with the design there: Time and attention. So, for educational purposes, I’m linking this rough note of the main game UI for Defect.

This isn't that linked UI pic, but this does illustrate how big things can get. These are *nowhere* near the biggest things in the game.

This isn’t that linked UI pic, but this does illustrate how big things can get. These are *nowhere* near the biggest things in the game.

That’s potentially a lot of things for what the game is, which is a mission based, effectively score attack arcade shooter with construction elements and unlockable upgrades. Bars go down, numbers go up, and, by even the end of the tutorial, fire is going to be coming at you from many directions, and many sizes of ships. I mentioned in the Early Access review that, at least in the early game, you are not big. But other things definitely are. Pay attention to them, and the smaller ships become somewhat hard to intuitively evade. Pay attention to the smaller ships, and you probably won’t even see the frigate that murdered your ass from what you perceive to be several screens away.

That’s a fair bit to keep an eye on over what often turns out to be a short space of time, and that’s frustrating.

Similarly, the game’s balance very much relies, not only on the mission objectives, but one to two core pieces of equipment, including: The Core. This blows up, you blow up. But this makes other decisions extremely tough, and it only takes the second core component, the cockpit, to see why. Just crew, on your first core, can take a tenth of your energy for… A small fighter at a time where you’re probably wanting something bigger, or a quarter of your energy for… Just over twice the crew. This is, by the way, before you start putting in the things that require both crew and power, which include the engines, weapons, armour, and… Wings. No, I’m not joking, each wing you put on your ship requires a crewmember to man it. Out of, at the end of the tutorial, an absolute maximum of… 25. It slowly gets better as the game progresses, but the key word there is slowly. Most of the time, you’re going to be making heavy compromises. Something tanky and shooty, but slow as heck and steers like a cow. Something quick, but with very few weapons and next to no armour. That first one will fail you quite a few of the missions from the second tier (Most of which involve speed or agility), while the second… May well run into another limiting factor, and the key behind the game’s name.

With this new core, I can... Spend 200 extra scrap for 30 extra power. Which I'd need to spend extra scrap to use. Grrr.

With this new core, I can… Spend 200 extra scrap for 30 extra power. Which I’d need to spend extra scrap to use. Grrr.

Defect (v.) – Abandon one’s country or cause in favour of an opposing one. Aka what your crew do after every. Single. Mission. It’s meant to be a running gag, but it wears extremely thin once you build a small, nippy ship for, say, doing a mission involving a trench run on the weakpoint of a planet smashing laser platform, only to then have to destroy the ship you built last mission, which has lots more armour, and about four more weapons. At least two of which are semi-guided missiles, and likely a turret that tracks a hell of a lot better than I do when I have the damn things.

Now, in balance, I will say that the visual style of Defect is damn fine. I love the artwork. I somewhat like the ambient music and the creepy drama of the title theme. The sound design is good, and the customisation is mostly well explained. Nothing like seeing a lovingly rendered Crewman Ziggy stab you in the back, or listening to the fwwwwwoooosh of your thrusters (Or, in the case of some later ones, the RRRFWSHWRRRRWRRSH.) The basic controls, similarly, are pretty simple: WASD for tank-control style movement, mouse for pretty much everything else. Bam.

But, in a very real sense, Defect is built on conflicts of design and compromise, and, while I’m certain at least part of it is that I’m not great at arcade twin sticks, another part of it is that yes, the game conflicts with itself at times. I’m sure there’s an ideal path through the game, one that allows you to build progressively better ships, going through the missions, and managing to destroy your traitorous crew each time with few problems. I’m equally sure that people are enjoying it more than I am, exploring the requirements of each mission with gusto, creating tricked out ships that shouldn’t work, but do.

Alas, I am not one of those folks.

One of my many flawed attempts at building a ship. Try and spot the main flaws here.

One of my many flawed attempts at building a ship. Try and spot the main flaws here.

The Mad Welshman fogged up his faceplate with a gusty sigh. He was somewhat used to treachery, but normally he was on the other end of it. Oh well, he thought, nothing to do but wait for the rescue craft.