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Book of Demons (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Last time I looked at Book of Demons, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Despite there being more content now in the game… I am, sadly, still not impressed. In fact, I feel rather annoyed.

Why? Whoppers, among other things. No, not whoppers in the sense of big lies. Whoppers, in this context, being skeletons. Skeletons that I’ve come to hate for their two, linked abilities: Summoning monsters when hit, and being invulnerable for a short period… When hit. Each enemy, individually, is weak. But when not letting enemies get close enough to wallop you is a valued survival strategy, Whoppers are a big middle finger.

A good example of a Whopper being a massive jerk. Time to take damage!

To recap a little before I continue: Book of Demons is part of a planned franchise called the Paperverse, recreating older games with a more casual style to them. In the case of Book of Demons, that’s Diablo, right down to the sanctimonious priest, Deckard Cain lookalike, and even some of the bosses (Who have been renamed, but are still clearly The Butcher, The Fallen Priest, and, of course, Diablo, Lord of Terror.) What does more casual mean in this case?

Restricted movement along set paths (which monsters can block. Easily), and making it so that while you auto-attack, if you handle it like a clicker, you attack faster, and do more damage. Mouse over money and items to pick them up (Occasionally left clicking.) Number keys or right clicking for item use (preferably the former), right clicking to use spells or special abilities.

The problem being, this restriction along fixed paths is still, a lot of the time, a massive pain in the neck, and creates some frustratingly nasty encounters. I have yet, in the current Rogue playthrough, to die (Which is a point in its favour difficulty wise… For the Rogue), but oh boy, have I gotten angry. Oh look, going through this door into a restricted room with poison enemies has landed me… Past the poison enemies, who blocked my way out. Welp, time to take damage for no reason other than being blocked off!

Seeing as none of these monsters will leave this room, most of them have poison AoEs on death, and *one* of them will rage, heal, and poison burst if I smack it too quickly… Time to take damage!

In a way, that I’m even frustrated with the Rogue (who, unlike the Warrior of my last playthrough, has ranged abilities as standard) is somewhat of a testament, honestly. Archers and mages can snipe me from well out of my normal range (so shift clicking to attack out of my normal range is mandatory), and invulnerability tricks to increase difficulty abound, from shielded enemies (invulnerable to everything except poison until you break the shield by… Hammering the left mouse button on the shield until it breaks) to Mages being invulnerable while they cast spells. Which, call me old fashioned, is kind of against the spirit of mages, who tend a lot of other places to forget their complex magical formulae due to being walloped, or at least can be hurt while they’re summoning all enemies in the area to my location, getting ready to… Hem me in again. Time to take damage!

Some enemies you can’t actually kill anything but slowly, because they heal and burst fire when damaged rapidly. Gargoyles can’t be damaged at all in statue mode, and heal if you let them go back to it… Not to mention that I know you’re an enemy, gargoyle. I’ve killed a hundred of you up to this point. Just sodding turn into a gargoyle already, and save me waiting.

I know you’re not a statue, I can see words over your head. GET ON WITH IT.

Writing wise, it hasn’t improved at all. The Fortune Teller is still a terrible stereotype, mocked and hated by every other character except the Barmaid, who… Hey, Barmaid, I remember that time when, hey Barmaid, I remember that time when… Her dialogue gets ever so slightly repetitive, for all that there isn’t all that much of it.

I wouldn’t be minding so much if it was an interesting world, or had anything but its papercraft aesthetic to back it up, but… No. Aesthetically, it looks alright. Mechanically, enemies rapidly become types that are more tedious than challenging, that don’t give satisfaction when killed, because you just know that there’s more Whoppers ahead, or Mages, or things that just… Won’t… Sodding… Die without damage. There are now three base classes (Warrior, hits things; Priest, casts things; Rogue, hits things from afar) , but, in the end, the core play makes finding what makes each tick and unappealing prospect.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t remember Diablo having that much mandatory damage. Then again, he also doesn’t remember getting hemmed in much either.

Dauntless (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Planned to be free to play, but Early Access buy in ranges from £30 to £72. Microtransaction currency £6 and up, and yes, you will end up with spare currency.
Where to Get It: Official Site
Version Reviewed: CB 0.3.4 (Jan 16, 2018)

Monster hunting is fun. And honestly, up until the announcement of MonHun World, there really hadn’t been enough of it on PC. So when I was informed of a game that’s planned to be Free to Play, with an Early Access buy in, I bought in.

“Er, why are you posing?”
“For the invisible people watching… Aaaaalways watching…”

What I’ve found has me conflicted. Dauntless is, at the present stage, a very streamlined game, almost minimalist. But also with the second currency (The F2P’s main income) already implemented and balanced around. It’s… An odd feeling. Let’s start with the actual hunting.

Actual hunts are very simple: You sign up to a hunt, either waiting for other players, playing with friends you have or have made, or going solo. Up to five minutes later (plus a small loading time), you’re dropped onto a floating island, for lo, part of the world is that everything is floating islands, and you’re only hunting monsters that get too close to the settlement of Ramsgate (Or so the quests would state.)

There are three things on the island: Resources (One item per resource spot, for potions, lanterns, and other useful gubbins you’re going to need), goats (Contain, as with resource spots, one item, but can also ram you if you annoy them), and the Monster. Monster Hunter fans will already be scratching their heads: Wait, what about areas? What about wildlife, what about?

The current wintery aesthetic of the floating islands is perhaps apt, considering…

Nope. You (plural or singular.) And the monster. Ramsgate is filled with people to talk to, quests to consider, things to buy or make, but once you’re there, it’s you and the monster. Successfully kill the monster in the 30 minute time limit, and you get resources, especially if you broke parts from it. Fail, and you get bupkiss. Nothing. Zilch. And you’re out of whatever resources you used. There are plans on the roadmap to make the world a little more thriving, but that’s very much a wait and see thing.

It’s a little more than that, of course, as you have, at the time of writing, five weapon types to choose from, but this minimalist approach is what sticks out the most with Dauntless. That, and the resources. Streamlining, similarly, has hit Dauntless’ crafting, and nearly every monster based item requires precisely one kind of resource, that only drops on the “Normal” (read: Group recommended) monsters: Their skins. Or nails, or claws… What’s important here is that it’s a single resource, and, generally speaking, you get up to three of them. And if you don’t get them, you get Archonite, some mysterious, Plotanium substance that is also used in crafting, er… Everything of substance, from weapons, to armour, to lanterns with special abilities.

This, in essence, is its biggest problem, really. In a real sense, it’s too streamlined, to the point where hunting the monsters in question is so very core that it’s the be all and end all, and for that to be sustainable, the monsters have to stay interesting, or players have to be moved onto new monsters, new experiences, quickly.

On the one hand, the mid poly aesthetic works for the game. On the other DAMMIT I AM WHIPPING YOU IN THE FACE, REACT!

Sadly, neither happens. It’s interesting to compare with other monster hunting games, because it’s taken me a few hours to move up to the next tier of armour, whereas elsewhere… That few hours, I’m usually a few armours in, and experimenting. Once the parts from a monster have been hunted, well, going back to them feels a bit pointless, and once you know their tricks, there’s nothing in the world to add spice to the fights, with combat feeling limited in impact. Sure, numbers come up, but staggering is an occasional thing, interrupting rush attacks a matter of excellent timing on a heavy attack (even then, you may get damaged), and…. Well, the fact that once a creature’s armour and weapons have been crafted, there’s no incentive to come back feels part of why, with the “weaker” monsters, I have trouble finding folks to fight them with.

After a fairly early point, yes, finding folks to fight them with, or, more accurately, divide the monster’s attention is pretty much mandatory. When they hit, they hit hard, and learning weapons becomes a pain when you have a triple hit point jump between the first hunting area and the second. As such, having someone, anyone else to lighten the load feels extremely important, if not, as I’ve said, mandatory.

Hunting solo, unless over-equipped, is a very bad idea. This will be your inevitable result. And no, you get jack and squat for collecting things beforehand.

Right now, Dauntless feels like it’s in an awkward place right now. It’s trying to streamline, but not all of that streamlining is good. It’s free to play, and as such, has microtransactions to feed it once it’s out in the wild (As well as, during Early Access, Founders Packs of three tiers), and, minnow that I am, I’m genuinely not sure how impactful they are right now, but the grindiness is definitely there. The worlds are an interesting idea that works with the Monster Hunting genre’s general map design philosophy, but currently feel rather empty, with little beyond need to recommend exploration, and the monsters… Well, they’re there.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to add this time. He’s busy recuperating from the porking he got before the review.

Hacktag (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Last time, on Hacktag

“You’re a loose cannon, Hacktag! Competition and co-op play in the same game? Hand me your badge!”

And now, we return you to… Hacktag

People forget, I think, how many possible ways there are of making a multiplayer experience single player. They also forget that sometimes this can be quite tough. AI companions require extra code, extra thought. A checkpoint based auto companion can feel very samey, but cuts down on the work.

Updated skills and lobby interface? Yes, please!

Hacktag has gone for something a little more old fashioned, but it’s interesting to note how it changes the game: Split-screen, swappable solo. One keyboard, two characters, and you’re switching between the perspective of both. How is it?

Challenging! With multiplayer, the other player is able to spot and avoid threats just fine on their own. The only times you worry about them is when they screw up and get caught, when you screw up and need to be rescued, or when you both need to be at the same place for the dual hacks. With singleplayer? Ahh, there’s the rub. Because whether you’re on split screen or full screen perspective for each character, once you switch characters, the other is helpless, and so, timing becomes much more important. As do safe zones. As such, it’s both a more challenging, and, at the present stage at least, frustrating experience. In the middle of a dual hack when bam, guard. Stealthing to the next safe point, but… Crap, antivirus. It’s got a lot of planning to it, that’s to be sure.

AAAaaaaAAA! There are also new objectives. Now… AaaaAAAAaaaaAAa!!!

Nonetheless, if that were the only change at this stage, rough as it is, I’d be happy. But the general experience has improved as well, with more types of event, rejiggered minigames for hacking and stealthing, and… Traps. Sometimes, it’ll be the standard “There is an alarm, get to it and disable it before it goes off.” Sometimes, it’ll be a laser grid, to be avoided in either hacker or stealth mode until the timer runs out. What’s nice about that one is that it varies depending on who triggers it, a clever touch that swings things a little back toward parity between stealth and hacking play.

The competitive score with co-operative play remains (And seems to now firmly be a part of the vision), but skills and cosmetics have also been improved, so levelling up gives a broader depth of rewards, and now, should your heart desire, you can be one of a small multitude of anthropomorphic animal cat burglars. Go you!

So, on the whole, the potential of Hacktag is really shaping up. Good co-op play can tough out even the meanest of missions, be it local or multiplayer, solo play is there for those of us who like planning (and also acknowledge that a plan never survives contact with the enemy), and, even aesthetically, there’s a little more variation. There are still some bugs and glitches, but they are, at the present time, relatively minor, so, overall, I guess I’ll leave you with the denouement of this episode of Hacktag.

Solo *does* have the option of switching between fullscreen perspectives, but… Nah, not risking it!

KOFF, I never shoulda cancelled my laser-grid insurance!”
“No… Don’t say that… You’re Gonna Live.”

The Mad Welshman recommends this and many other games… Because they’re video-games. And all your friends are playing them.

Crest (Early Access Review 1)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £7.99 (£10.99 Supporter Edition, £1.59 each for Art book and Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Crest is a god game, and one that intrigues me. How can it not, when rather than direct control, doing quests, or building buildings for my worshippers, I’m giving commandments, telling folks things like “Peoples of the Savannah, explore your new home!” (With the caveat, added later of “Peoples of the Savannah, please don’t go near my lions, I haven’t ironed out that whole ‘Killing you’ thing yet… Soz.”)

TFW you want to say “YES, DO THAT!” , but don’t have the energy.

Alas, right now, I’m having to remind them, every now and again, to make food to eat. And considering my power is limited, moreso if I haven’t given them commandments they liked, replenishing every half year, it’s a little bit of Goddery that I can do without.

Well, still plenty of time for rejigging, and I can wait for that, as, beyond this niggle, the game is quite cool, both aesthetically and in terms of ideas. A low-poly, Sub-Saharan world, the lions and hippos and antelope (Oh my!) breed, wander, eat each other, while my stylised tribesfolk breed, wander, and… don’t eat each other. Unless commanded. Maybe. The UI, while a little confusing at first, is helped along by a tutorial that plays with each new game, teaching you about giving commandments in the form of [Worshipper type] – [(Do/Do Not) Verb] – [Target] .

It’s quite clever, really. There’s not a lot of ways you can outright order the destruction of resource based items, you can check what a commandment actually says before you send it, and, as noted, you have the twin considerations of limited, worshipper based power, not only to give commandments, but also to approve or deny when followers… Get creative with them. Silly me, not writing these things in sto- What, those got futzed around with too? Bloody humans.

I’m somewhat proud of myself for establishing trade among my chosen people. Even if, a few months later, most of them starved from being too busy to fish or farm.

Yes, commandments are, over time, either forgotten or changed (or both), and, as it turns out, followers are averse to three things: Commandments that don’t fit their (shifting) philosophy, being told “No, when I said build farms here, I didn’t mean turn everything nearby to a different terrain type”, or silence on whether their hot new idea for a commandment impresses the boss that gave it to them. On the one hand, it’s an interesting idea, and has some interesting balancing acts. On the other, that balancing can, with too many commandments, quickly turn into micromanagement, and oh boy, do I want to give commandments, because without things like exploring, I and my followers don’t get new words to play with quickly. Words like “Lion” (Important for “Don’t go near the lions, they’re bad for you”) , Metal (“You can make shit with this.”), or “Socialise” and “Trade” (Important once they’ve got more than one settlement.)

So, in essence, Crest is a God game trying something different, something potentially very interesting, but also has bits of micromanagement that, honestly, it could do without. Everything breeds on its own, can they maybe, once they have the idea, realise that farms and fishing are kind of important to their lives? I don’t know, maybe my commandments are interfering with each other. Maybe I’m just a Bad God. But I’m certainly waiting to see what comes closer to relea- PUT THAT DOWN, ABDU! NO, ROCKS ARE NOT FOR EATING, THEY’RE FOR MINING OR – ZOYA, HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU NOT TO PLAY WITH LIONS, LOOK AT THE STATE OF Y-

If it’s dancing or has hearts over it, odds are it’s something going forth and multiplying. That constitutes a *lot* of this screenshot.

Eesh. Kids.

The Mad Welshman proooobably wouldn’t make a good parent. “Your Father Commands You To Lay Waste To The Sweet Shop!” probably wouldn’t go down well.

Vagante (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Humble Store
Version Reviewed: Build 59i

When things are this close to release, and the nicest things I can say is “Mages seem to work better, and bows are sort of viable now”, you may be able to figure that I am, as before, distinctly unfond of Vagante’s particular flavour of difficulty. I will, grudgingly, admit it has improved a little. But it still has many of the same issues.

Yup. He died, and so did I. WELP, RESTART.

To recap, Vagante is a procgen platform action dungeon crawler, where you pick a class, attain gear, try to defeat bosses and levels, and level up with each level you beat. Healing is very scarce, and if I felt the game were well balanced around that, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Unfortunately, bosses can best be described as “Absolute arses.” In more technical terms, even the first area bosses (Of which you will encounter all of them: A goblin warlord, a dragon, and a poisonous worm) are battles, not of tactics, but of attrition. Not all classes have an active defense (and those who do, only attain it through levelled abilities) , so taking damage is, in most cases, pretty much a certainty, as options with any sort of decent range are, to put it bluntly, crap. Bows don’t do a heck of a lot, Magic Missile doesn’t do a heck of a lot, wands have cooldowns and the same problems as any spells they own. The reason I found the Mage had improved somewhat as a class? Eleclance (One of the few spells with infinite charges per level, and a consistent, relatively high damage rate) by default.

Of course, this is all talking about the first area. Once the second area is hit, all bets are off, as bosses not only have vastly increased hit points, they also have some seriously beefy attacks and defenses. One boss, for example, has a ring of damaging projectiles circling it, and it can phase through walls. Good luck running away. Good luck getting close enough to hit it. Good luck surviving long enough to plink at it from range. I can’t tell you about later areas, because I haven’t gotten to them. I’ve beaten Spelunky. Heck, I’ve beaten LaMulana, and this game not only resists being finished, the kinds of deaths I’ve encountered make me, honestly, not want to finish it.

The Woods, the second area, is somewhat lighter. Still dark enough that you can’t tell what’s going on with a thumbnail.

I’ve fatfingered jump, very lightly, and died on spikes from a tile high. I’ve been lovetapped to death by misjudging a bat… After having beaten all three bosses of the first area. Heck, at times, I’ve known, before I’ve even found the boss, that I’m not going to win the damage race, because a goblin got lucky, or the aforementioned bat misjudging happened, or I came across a situation where I was going to take damage, be that due to unfortunate enemy configurations, or an enemy blindsiding me that I was sure I’d be able to murder (Explosive moths, for example, are best avoided, rather than attempting to attack them. Their movement is only technically predictable.)

Is there good? Yes, and that, really, makes how I feel about this game worse. The music is good, fitting mood pieces for the areas. The sound isn’t bad. The enemy designs, while not all new creatures, are still interesting. The skills are more clear. But if a weapon isn’t of at least Normal speed, odds are high it just isn’t worth working with timing (and some weapons have minimum ranges, less than useful when any melee enemy just wants to get right in your face), the first area is very dark, making it an eye straining and awkward experience to play… And, considering that all content is now in the game, bringing it fairly close to release? All these little frustrations, these decisions that seem more based on arbitrary difficulty than challenge, don’t make me confident that I’m going to be changing my mind about not liking Vagante on release.

Skills being more clear. Note: The shield blocks *physical* damage. So 2 out of the 3 bosses in the first area can still hurt you.

The Mad Welshman was correct in his last Early Access review: He’s already sick of the damn caves. Also the dagger remains what appears to be the best option.