Destiny or Fate (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, Destiny is kind. Other times, I seem fated to look at unenjoyable things. At the present time, at least, Destiny or Fate, unfortunately, is the latter. Not that there isn’t a chance, as the basic idea, that of a turn based card battler, has been proven to work several times.

Kyle, Strider Hiryu’s lesser known, angstier brother.

The thing is, DoF is swingy as heck. When it goes well, it goes well. And when it doesn’t, it’s a tiresome, unenjoyable slog. And there’s a few potential reasons for this.

The basic idea is fine: Move between areas clearly labelled as normal fights, elite fights, shops, events, and bosses. If it’s a fight of some description, you get 3 mana a turn to play cards, and playing cards of the same type as currently unlit orbs on your character’s status gives energy for a special ability, which triggers when it’s full. Win a fight, you get rewarded with a couple of different types of currency, a new card for your deck, and a monster to add to your party from the ones you fought. At the shop, you can buy and upgrade cards, unlock heroes after you’ve met them in events, and upgrade both your hero and your captive monsters. Beat the boss to go to the next area, and no, you don’t get to buy the boss.

Skellington McSpikeyArmour here pretty much emblemises the problems. That 70 defence is going to take a while to get through, and he’s going to be doing X% of Max HP attacks in the meantime…

All this would be fine, if each individual step didn’t have problems with it. 3 mana a turn means a max of 3 cards (This is assuming you’re not inflicted with a card cost status effect) a turn, which makes fights go on. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad if the rewards were better, but, often, they aren’t that great. Special abilities, theoretically, encourage you to mix and match defence and offence, but a fair few special abilities are, basically, extra attacks. The ones that aren’t vary wildly in effectiveness, from poison being pretty weak, to powerful frailty effects that double damage. Speaking of rewards, the shops are expensive, and multiple battles are needed to be able to afford a single card or upgrade. This, again, wouldn’t be a problem, except that bosses are mean, and going into a boss fight without a good deck, a full, preferably half health or above party, and some nasty special abilities is basically a losing proposition… But going round the map to collect things is not only grindy, the success of that plan depends on the fights going well. Of the boss abilities, the “X% of Max HP all attacks” definitely seem to be the most common run-killers, because without good defensive cards, that one’s pretty much “Someone or multiple someones just die. Thanks for playing!”

That’s a lot of words, but basically, they can be summed up as “There’s a whole bunch of balance issues fighting each other over which is the worst, while the game feel suffers.”

Events do regenerate, but, as you can see, I’m in no shape to fight the boss…

Visually, it isn’t bad. It’s consistent, it’s clear, there’s some good designs here (and some very silly fantasy stereotypes, but hey), and it doesn’t take a whole lot of non-tutorial poking to understand what’s what. Soundwise, though… Well, there it falls again, not just because of a strange bug which resets the main sound volume (without affecting the option slider), but because it’s ho-hum. There is a battle tune (An awkward mix of chiptune and strings), some generic sound effects, and… Well, while it’s clear, none of it grabs, and the battle tune very quickly wears on you, as you’re going to hear it a lot. It doesn’t help that the dramatic, JRPG style it’s going for contrasts with “Play some cards, hit end turn, watch effects and numbers pop up.”

At the end of a run, what you preserve is… The heroes unlocked. Some stuff is early access problems (Such as some quests claiming you don’t have money when you do), and relatively forgivable, but, overall, while the game visually does well, it wears on the sound front, and feels, in turns, arbitrary, tedious, and humdrum mechanically. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I’d unlocked much in single runs, but, as noted, even basic unit upgrades take a while, and since the survivability of the lower-tier units is “A few fights at most”, it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Moments before the last screenshot… Yup, Elite battled, and… Can’t afford the sonuvagun…

So, that’s Destiny or Fate: A game which has a solid core idea, but whose execution is currently lacking on the balance front.

The Mad Welshman genuinely does hope things improve, but… Has been around long enough to know that’s no sure thing…

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Wargroove (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99 (£17.98 for game+Soundtrack, £3.99 Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, getting what I want to see feels like a monkey’s paw just curled. Thankfully, Wargroove is not one of those times. But oh boy, it could have been. After all, for all that the Advance Wars games were solid, they were definitely not without flaw, and irritation.

Not this bit, though. This bit has always been cool.

So let’s talk about that, and how Wargroove definitely seems to understand, and try new things. The general idea is turn-based strategy, in which two or more commanders send their soldiers (Who can move and attack within certain ranges) to either conquer the battlefield by capturing the HQ, or defeating the opposing commander. The more construction buildings they own, the more units they can build from each, and the more villages they own, the more money they have spare to actually construct those buildings. In addition, commanders have special powers charged by combat, which can turn the tide of battle. So far, so AW, even down to many of the fights in story mode being down to misunderstandings (except with the EEEEVIL Undead faction.)

Obligatory “Good Boy About to Inspire His Troops To Smack Bandits Down” image.

Where it changes, however, gets interesting. Yes, buildings get captured, but once they are, the side in question gives them HP before they can be recaptured, which replenishes slowly, but can also be used to heal surrounding units (A cool tactical consideration.) Units’ critical abilities encourage you to play in certain ways (Such as archers being stationed to guard choke points, pikemen grouping up to tag-team enemies, or knights charging across the battlefield), and the commanders being on the field also changes things up, as they’re basically super-units, balanced out by the risk of them dying if they overstretch, and the fact that commander powers are used by the commanders limits their utility somewhat. That still leaves a first turn advantage in multiplayer, from what I hear, but, overall, it’s an interesting move, and expands the tactical options somewhat.

I like Ragna. She seems to have been made for the sole purpose of being an Advance Wars style character. Both in and out of game. 😛

Now add in that the difficulty can be eased in several ways, allowing you to experience the game at the cost of completionist factor (Lower difficulties, which is also customisable, reduce the amount of stars you can potentially earn in a game), and a checkpoint system mid-mission, and the game is, mechanically, both pretty tight, and accessible. The UI is solid, the pixel art is good, the writing pays homage to its inspiration, and the sound and music is solid.

What I’m basically getting at here, is that Wargroove definitely gets the coveted “What It Says On The Tin” award, along with accessibility and aesthetic points, making it a good turn-based strategy, not outstaying its welcome, and what few flaws I felt I came across, are either relatively minor, or fixed with some sort of feature in recent weeks. Worth a look!

Vampire batladies, accessible strategy, good dogs, and cackling villainy. Yes, these are the good things in life.

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Lovecraft’s Untold Stories (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Even grudgingly admitting that Lovecraft’s Untold Stories has improved in some aspects, this is one that remains poorly paced, difficulty spikey, and… Well, not drawing me into its world, because its world isn’t all that interesting in the first place.

Game number 1: From this screenshot, try to guess where, offscreen, the necromancer who keeps summoning these zombies has run to.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. A Lovecraftian twin-stick shooter with RPG elements (keys, inventory, special items, events, and, at least once a level, puzzles), Lovecraft’s Untold Stories starts you as a private dick who has been called upon by Raymond Legrasse (The inspector who formed a cameo in The Call of Cthulhu, the “iconic” Lovecraft tale.) From there, things rapidly get weird, from Lovecraft and the King In Yellow as shopkeepers, to a Yithian sanctum as your home base…

…Honestly, I can’t really carry on with that sentence without getting into why it feels wrong to say all that. Lovecraft’s Untold Stories is Lovecraftian in the same way that Ready Player One is Cyberpunk, or an Olde English Bar in America is, in fact, Olde English. Oh, it’s got surface elements, to be sure. Star Spawn and Mi-Go and what I’d finally worked out were meant to maybe be Colours from Space. But they fill much the same space as zombies and cultists with machine-guns: As things you shoot to leave the room. Similarly, books are not gateways to knowledge that man was not meant to wot, but one of the two forms of currency in the game (The other being money, most often obtained by collecting treasure.) Elements of horror fiction, distilled into enemies and powerups. Ye Olde English Yawn.

This… Is about as interesting as that gets.

“But come now, that’s not terribly fair. What about that old chestnut about going mad from said knowledge?” Ah, yes. The thing with little to no seeming effect on play beyond being a second, less readable health bar that partly obscures the actual health bar. If lots of purple gunk over the top left, maybe eat a bar of chocolate or three, and avoid pretty much any interactable event you don’t know the “safe” interaction with (At the cost of not finding secrets and earning less Information currency.) Bam, the unknowable has become the known.

“Okay, okay, so it’s not very Lovecraftian. What about the twin-stick elements?” Well, those have slightly improved, in that now you have mouse-aim. The first area has also become less of a pain in the ass, with seemingly none of those murderous (and inexplicable) cultist gun turrets to be seen, only cultists and gribbleys. This, of course, is assuming you’re playing as the Investigator, as there are other unlockable characters, unlocked by reaching the right area, and solving a certain puzzle.

Each one has their own starting area, and their defensive abilities take different forms. The investigator has a dodge roll and explosives. Whoop. The scientist has a high-explosive shot that is as likely to impact something you weren’t sure was an obstacle (or a rushing enemy) and kill you as not, and a defensive shield. I haven’t unlocked the rest because… Well, when a game feels more like a battle of attrition than a tense conflict in which worlds are at stake, and madness lurks around every corner, you know something’s gone wrong.

Game number 2: Spot the arbitrary spikes. Before you run into them, and inflict a long bleed status and damage.

Is it the darkness hiding increasingly arbitrary damage/status traps? Is it Chapter 3’s obsession with “Hunt the guy running away, otherwise you’ll never clear the room”? Is it that the puzzles either feel like arbitrary key/item hunts or things that don’t make sense even in the context? Yes, yes, yes, it’s all of these things, plus the endless… Interminable “spooky” rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” No, really, it’s main motif is the three keys of a children’s song.

It isn’t the only music in the game, and the intro narration is very nice, as is the pixel art. But the pixel-art is often obscured by darkness, and stylistic goodness is more than counterbalanced by what a tedious slog this feels.

The Mad Welshman has seen many things. Perhaps too many. Over many games, the monicker has become more and more accurate. IA! IA! D’Signu B’et’a!

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Touhou – Luna Nights (Review)

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

Oh, Remilia Scarlet, you’re such a card! Creating an entire alternate universe to play violent games with your maid, importing people from the actual world of Gensokyo for… Reasons. Most of us would make a game, or tell a story. You put your murder-maid in a metroidvania situation for funsies.

Metroidvanias generally are and aren’t, Sakuya. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.

Hello, yes, welcome to Gensokyo, which has had perhaps more misunderstanding based fights, bullheadedness based battles, and apocalyptic events caused by selfishness than Marvel Comics. Or, more accurately, welcome to an alternate Gensokyo, seemingly crafted for the sole purpose of being a Touhouvania for the entertainment of the protagonist’s bored, listless vampire employer(s).

Honestly, of the Touhou games, this has one of the more interesting stories, as the Scarlet Devils appear to have learned to become a tadge more responsible in their shenanigans, and there is, under the silliness, a story worth playing through for, if you’re into this sort of game. What would probably turn people off, however, is the one thing that isn’t really a fault of the game: That it is, indeed, bullet hell.

The first boss eases you in, but by the end, safe-spots are… Small.

Less bullet hell than many Touhou games, it’s true, but the patterns of the bosses definitely require memorisation and tactical thought more than your average Castlevania type game, and I was stuck, for the longest while, on Marisa, the second boss whose side-gimmick of “Stop your timestop” clouds was annoying to deal with. Not impossible, none of it is impossible, and the nature of bullet-hell means that it’s not all that twitchy either (Relying more on, as noted, knowing safe spots for each enemy pattern more than hectic dodgery), but it can be a turnoff for folks, and I respect that.

Otherwise, though, this is a solid game. Movement is tight, with interesting options, the core gimmick (Sakuya’s time stop ability) makes for some cool puzzles (Including the fact that water can be both a help and a hindrance when time is still, and not everything being affected), it tutorialises moderately well, and, as with many a Touhou game, fan-group created or otherwise, the music is excellent and the sound work is moderately good. Aesthetically, animations are good, and the telegraphing works very well, so… Apart from the potential genre turnoff, there’s very little fault to be found, and a fair amount of enjoyment.

Graze… Magic Bonus… Graze… Magic Bonus…

I’ve had a fun time with Luna Nights, and, despite being bad at Touhou games, this is definitely one I want to finish. If I were to pull some crit, the map screen isn’t as useful as it potentially could be, but when that’s the only criticism I can really find? Well, that’s always nice to be able to say!

Okay, so I got a bit annoyed with the graze/bonus loop, but that’s a niggle.

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Thea 2: The Shattering (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Survival 4X. Not words you generally hear, those. And a big part of that is that a 4X, itself, isn’t easy to balance. Adding survival elements, narrative elements, and quest elements can make that process more painful.

Such, so far, is the case with Thea 2: The Shattering. A sequel to Thea 1, which had similar mechanics and themes, Thea 2 is a 4X where your small group must survive, grow, and survive as long as possible, hopefully to find some solution to the Shattering, the death of the world.

Yeah, about that… Good luck with it. See, there are two mandatory types of resource for survival, and if you do not have those anywhere within range, your options are fatally limited.

The upside is that this is potentially a pretty good site. The downside , however, is that one of my four team-members is already dead, and morale is so terrible some of the others won’t help. WELP.

You start with some food, and surviving for enough turns on Normal difficulty will earn you God Points, which can be used to get extra benefits on start, but even with those… Currently, surviving even the early game is a painful, frustrating slog. Sometimes, it’s because you can’t find a good camp-site anywhere nearby, and have to subsist, while the world and its inhabitants do their best to wear you down through random events (often hostile), wandering monsters and lairs (most hostile at night), and events that you want to complete for better resources, but not winning those events will likely lead to the death of group members, which, considering how few events give you group members (even fewer if you are all of one gender, as sometimes happens), is a lingering death sentence all of its own.

Find somewhere to camp, and, on the one hand, you now have somewhere to stay, that can support you within its (limited) range as you scavenge and adventure. The downside being that you still have the hostile events, beasts, limited replenishment, and whatnot, with not being able to take everybody adventuring, and… Well, should you lose adventurers out of range, well, that’s a different kind of slow, lingering death.

Both of these tasks are difficult. And even “Choose not to participate” may have results. Choose very carefully (and make sure you know your stats and abilities early on, otherwise you probably won’t choose wisely.)

There’s a lot of slow, lingering death here, is basically what I’m getting at. And part of this feels like conflicting directions of play, neither of which, at the present stage, feel balanced or complete. Quests demand that you wander, as does diplomacy with the other factions present, but once you settle down, your ability to complete those quests safely drastically goes down, even as you have achieved relative safety for your camp. At the same time, proper crafting and gathering, cooking, researching and rituals all demand a campsite, but that diminishes your ability to further the storyline. The game wants to deal with a small group, that much is clear. But it also wants you to roam free, which is only do-able after a lot of safety ensuring at the campsite to start with.

In essence, each play direction (both necessary for completion) brings down the other. And the frustrating part is that I’m sure there could be a balance between the two that changes it from what it currently is (Slow, frustrating, and often involving slow deaths where it’s much easier to cash in what few God Points you have, if any, before the game finishes its slow descent into “Everyone has died.”) to something genuinely interesting.

Tooltips are very helpful here, but the main thing you need to know here is that everyone except the house demon is dead, Dave. Everyone.

And, make no mistake, there are hints of something interesting here. There’s an interesting, Russian myth inspired fantasy world. There’s some solid hand-painted visuals, and, aside from the camp screen being a little cluttered and hard to decipher at first, it tooltips well. Its controls still have some issues (Mostly movement/selection frustrations, and the practice of making a second group a little more tedious than it needs to be), and, being an early access title, there’s been some particularly odd bugs (such as scavengers vanishing from trying to harvest a resource that simultaneously exists on the map, but presumably doesn’t in the code somewhere), but it shows promise. The problem being that the promise is currently obscured by imbalanced play goals, “Normal” difficulty still being a pretty harsh early game (Once the early game is passed, it gets somewhat easier), and nothing that prevents or even ameliorates a death spiral that I can see.

As such, Thea 2 is currently a game I want to like. But it’s not really letting me.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t really have much to add, unfortunately. It’s interesting, but distinctly unfriendly right now.

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