City of Brass (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.5

City of Brass, last time I looked at it, showed promise. A game of quickly executing your plans in order to progress further into a city cursed with greed and everlasting life (of a sort) , it was already drawing me in, luring me with its traps, its enemies making for interesting, emergent challenges, and its middle eastern setting.

Mmm, the sweet smell of incense on the – oh, that’s burning undead? Huh, learn a new thing every day!

With blessings to match the burdens, further customising difficulty, I’m somewhat happy to say that the game has, overall, improved on its original promise. Even if some things remain roughly the same. Specifically, the Gatekeepers, bosses of each of the game’s five areas.

Before we get into that, though, let’s recap what remains good. Aesthetically, the game is on point, from its lush setting that subtly changes as you get further into the city, its musical and sound cues, and the clarity of everything. This is a treasure, I can tell by the noise, and the sight. This is a windtrap, clearly identifiable from even a fair way away, which is important if I want to know what not to randomly back into for instant death funtimes. That noise signifies I’ve been spotted by a sorceress. Not an archer, a sorceress. Maybe I can use that. I can, with the knowledge I’ve built up over three areas of the game so far, use a lot of this, if I play my cards right. And this is definitely a strength of the game.

Keeping the core gameplay simple, and challenging, is also of note. While items may affect, for example, the strength of your throws, or lure treasure to you, or change something about your basic weaponry and armour, you still know, roughly, what to expect: Here is your whip, for pulling and shoving enemies and items, triggering traps, and swinging off things. Here’s your sword, for walloping things. Here is your armour, and, normally, it will sort of protect you. Sort of. Three levels per area, three wishes you may or may not wish to spend (Including using all three at the beginning of the game to shortcut to the third area), it’s all simple to understand, and explains itself well. Similarly, blessings make things easier, but deny you a place on the leaderboard, burdens make things harder, and give you extra gold or XP.

Wishes, if not used on skipping areas, can sometimes change the tactical landscape greatly. A good case in point are the trap genies, who now serve… ME.

The only wrinkle to this is that, once you get used to enemies and traps, you’re inevitably going to reach that third level, and find yourself facing off against something rare, that’s simultaneously harder to learn, and less likely to give you lots of chances to learn it: The Gatekeepers. Based on enemies previously encountered, the Gatekeepers are a leap in difficulty, and I’m thankful I have the option to skip three of the five with my wishes. Because oh boy, they’re hard. Take the first, the Sorceress analogue. Okay, so sorceresses are a pain. They don’t let you get close for long, take about as many hits as a guardsman (three) , and fire ranged attacks that, if they hit, hurt. They’re still something you can work with. The Sorceress, on the other hand, is, like her Gatekeeper Brethren, a gimmick enemy of a sort. No hitting her until her shield’s down, and how do you knock that shield down? Whipping homing projectiles back at her.

On the upside, you don’t have to hit them directly back at her. On the downside, you will, every few seconds, have to whip, block, or run the hell away from those projectiles, and you never have many hits with which to do it. It’s not insurmountable. It is a leap in difficulty, so these Gatekeepers are aptly named, skillgates of sorts, where, while they don’t take many more hits (not counting shields and the like), the difficulty is in getting those hits in.

These shutters, thankfully, block some of the projectiles, and give you a temporary chance. Make the most of it.

Despite this, I still feel City of Brass definitely comes out more positive than negative. The developers have been very thoughtful in providing means of skipping some of these once they’re beaten for the first time, and the addition of blessings, in order to provide an easier experience, are a godsend. The game is clear, lush, and, for the most part, teaches its world and rules very well, and I continue… To look forward to what’s coming next.

After writing this review, The Mad Welshman had a run where he got to level 10, using the Extra Health and Damage blessings. They make a Big difference!

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Slasher’s Keep (Early Access Review)

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

One thing that has always interested me is the use of older game design techniques, but with the quality of life improvements and changes that come from modern game design. So when I quite quickly noticed that Slasher’s Keep mixes hand drawn, eight angle “sprites” , mixed with cartoonishly textured 3D models, I immediately thought “IN.”

Why thank you for the kind offer of your loot, Mister Moleman. Nothing to do with this hammer I wield, I hope!

I’m happy to say that it’s been charming me more, the further I get. At least partly because, in its quiet way, it is ensuring I get further. And it feels good. Surviving to the second level means I can start finding chutes, through which I can drop equipment from higher levels to the beginning. It also means a shop, somewhat useful when I have vendor trash. Get to the third, and those bits of crafting materials I’ve found can be made into new, spankier weapons… Which it may sometimes be a good idea to just drop in the chute already, knowing that even the swanky kit won’t guarantee my continued breathing abilities.

Each time I die, yes, I lose money, stats, and all the kit I didn’t bung down the shoot… But stat gaining potions, the fact that potion drops scale with you, and the fact that a quarter of your XP can easily be regained (and a bit on top) in a good run, means that slowly, but surely, I’m making my way up, and, importantly, seeing more of the comedy of errors that is Slasher’s Keep.

And there’s no doubt, from the mumbling stone idol that occasionally crops up, goblinoid pin-ups (Including one I was cruelly… Okay, I wasn’t forced to destroy a really good goblinoid pin up, but it was in the way of a treasure chest), and even the introduction show that yes, this is a light hearted game. I mean, if you’d been locked in a cell all the time, with a hole in the wall showing keys just out of reach, would you just… Try pushing the cell door, to realise it didn’t have any hinges?

I like to think I craft metaphors as well as deadly, flaming-icy weaponry.

Well, okay, maybe you would, in reality. But this is a dungeon hack in a comic fantasy world, we’ll have none of this “Common sense” malarkey!

With all this gushing, you’d think, perhaps, that Old Grumpy Reviewer Durbin wouldn’t be unmasked as the monster this time, that there’d be nothing to criticise, and that the Mystery Gang wouldn’t have to pull his latest monster mask off his head to muttery grumblings. But alas, as I often say, no game is perfect, and Slasher’s Keep does do some things that get on my (perky) norks.

That map generation needs a bit more work is understandable. Procgen maps are surprisingly hard, and I can’t really begrudge that. But it must be said that yes, there are dead ends to no good purpose, sometimes at the end of a rather long corridor. Less forgivable, perhaps, are some of the ranged enemies. Specifically, the bugs and skulls. See, it’s Slasher’s Keep, not Waiter’s Keep, and I get rather annoyed when, due to an unforeseen mana shortage, I have to either laboriously trick my insectoid opponent to maybe not retreat over the chasm for the twelfth time, or my bony friends to maybe, just maybe, get on with that screaming plunge attack that inevitably leads to their demise, rather than the floating and shooting me from afar thing they seem so fond of? Mana shortages, in this context, are usually unforeseen because only one wand is effectively hitscan, and so shooting at bugs and skulls rapidly loses me all my mana. As such, skulls and bugs are rapidly achieving the not-really-coveted status of “Well, they’re FUCKING BATS to me, mate!”

Especially as, occasionally, challenge rooms (Where the challenge is “You walked into the room, and now you’re locked in until everything but you (or you) is (are) dead”) will entirely consist of… Bugs or skulls.

I mean, okay, I lost stuff, got stripped, and thrown back in, but not only am I stronger… I’m still hot. So my jailors can suck it.

Otherwise, it’s very enjoyable as a first person procgen comedy murderbrawl, and comes highly recommended otherwise.

The Mad Welshman kindly asks for confirmation whether the stone idol’s accent is indeed Brummy. He still has the scars from confusing Liverpool and Hove, and would like to avoid further accent related injuries…

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Delver (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (or thereabouts)
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Site

Well, it’s been a wee while since I last looked at Delver, and now it’s hit release. And you know what? The game’s pretty solid, for what it is: A first person, moddable dungeon crawler building levels out of pre-built rooms, with random potions and kit, and fixed enemy types per area.

G’bye, broken dagger, you were an ok dagger while you lasted, but now you’re crap and gone!

A lot of what I’d previously said about Delver remains true: Weapons degrade over time, so you’re deeply encouraged to change things up (Unless you want to be walloping things for a grand total of 1 damage over and over again), inventory management is something you generally try not to do in the middle of combat, and you’ll want ranged options, and a fair amount of them, by the time you hit the second area. But it’s the little things, sometimes, that help.

What little things? Well, bigger room variety, for a start. The game really uses the vertical element now, and so rooms feel more fleshed out, more interesting. A few extra enemy types, a bit of rebalancing, and the addition of bombs (and bomb vases… Be wary of darker coloured vases, they go boom) all go a little way toward adding a little more flesh to what was already a fairly accessible, chunky dungeon crawler with a bit of charm to it. Potions can be exploded, if you use them right, and all of this goes toward giving a little more depth to a moderately simple game.

As such, yeah, Delver still charms me. Sure, there’s no incremental play (beyond gold carrying between runs), but it’s not designed around that, more about getting right in there and delving. No one combat option is superior to another, it’s simple to understand and get into, and deaths are simply a pause, a learning experience. Oh. Yeah. I maaaaybe shouldn’t stab the dark red vases, huh. Oh. Yeah… Wands and bows are actually useful. So that’s what that Skeleton does.

With the addition of bombs, things can get a little chaotic. The Fire Bomb is both the most rare and best example of this.

Another addition is that there are more… Sssseecretssss. Doors that don’t seem to be openable, locked areas, little branching paths. While I haven’t found the key to unlocking them yet, it is there, and the rewards, from what little I’ve been able to see, are pretty juicy. The sound really helps to create a living dungeon, and some monster noises echoing from further away really helps hit home that no, you are never safe.

The price has gone up since I last reviewed it, but I still feel, so long as you’re aware this is a pick up and play game, rather than The Big Roguelike of Complexity And Nuance (or something) , then I would still recommend this as a fun experience with a consistent, well put together aesthetic. And, of course, it’s got a mod scene. Not a big one yet, but the game is moddable.

A room? Just devoted to this elaborate patterned spike trap? Oh, you *shouldn’t* have! <3

The Mad Welshman gives this game the Sheev Palpatine Award for Health and Safety. Can confirm that handrails are mostly lacking over bottomless pits, and explosives are placed wherever the heck. Keep it up, villainy’s proud of you!

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Subnautica (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, Subnautica is out. And oh boy, there’s a lot to take in there. The possibility of escape from this watery world awaits, to those brave enough to… Er… Brave the horrors. Although, as I’ve said previously, I’m not entirely sure I want to leave, considering how damn cool the world is.

Why are floaters doing this? Because. That’s the kind of answer you get when the lone survivor is not a marine exobiologist.

Enigmatic caves, mushroom forests, islands held aloft by gigantic floating creatures bonded to the rock… This is before the plot of the game properly kicks in, that, thankfully, you can mostly do at your own pace. The Aurora is shot out of the stars by… Something, and you, seemingly the only survivor, must not only find a way off this rock, but also solve an ancient mystery. A mystery that gets quite personal, as you are rapidly infected by… Something.

I’ve gone through a lot of emotions playing Subnautica. Consternation as I hunt for Lithium and Magnetite. Amusement, both the gentle kind when I’m cheered on by random space truckers, and the black kind, when I discover how some survivors… Were real candidates for the old Darwin Awards. Bed wetting terror, the first time I met the Reaper Leviathan. Mostly, though, I’ve been pretty relaxed, because the world is a beautiful one, with a thriving ecosystem that, as a lone human, I can’t really despoil. Mmmm, that feels good.

…Not that I haven’t tried my damnedest. Even built a scanner room or three to try harder.

So, after three Early Access reviews (Each a good indicator of how far things have come), is there much left to say? A little. After all, it was only in the most recent updates that things like the Prawn Exosuit let me clomp around the sea bed, and building the Cyclops, the submarine that’s been almost emblematic of the game, seemed a pipedream up until fairly recently.

But that’s the thing with Subnautica: It brings you in with friendly, accessible survival gameplay in the kinds of biomes you haven’t really seen anywhere else, then gives you more to hope for, more to achieve, more to explore, and in the end… Gives you a chance to escape from even that.

Sorry, but even if I had gotten that far, I probably wouldn’t take the option. Subnautica’s world… Is just too damn pretty to leave, and I have so much more to do.

Join me. It’s a wonderful experience.

You… You are my new best friend. And I shall call you… John Bigboté!

The Mad Welshman is going for a swim. He’s also bringing two tonnes of TNT, because god-damn, that Reaper NEEDS TO DIE.

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DUSK: Episodes 1 and 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15 (For all three episodes. The third isn’t out yet, and will be covered separately)
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, the early 90s. A time of ‘tude. A time of textured, low-polygon worlds, often heavily interlaced. A time where plots were paper thin, gibs flew freely, and nobody asked “What’s my motivation?”

Okay, so this isn’t entirely true, but a lot of people remember it that way, and DUSK? Tickles that nostalgia gland. Looking for a nuanced protagonist? Nope, you are a shootman. You shoot, and you shoot, and you shoot some more, because folks and creatures who are most likely evil want to shoot you. Puzzles? Sort of, if by puzzles, you mean finding walls that look suspicious, blowing them up, or finding switches to open them, and, of course, the hunt for up to three colour coded keys you need, Red generally being last.

The satisfaction of both a job well done, and the possibility of the last key nearby.

Honestly, even if Dusk wasn’t quite my cup of blood (and it is), I would appreciate the sheer commitment to aesthetic. The world is low poly and grungy, everything is chunky, and while there’s no need to reload, hitting the time honoured R key will spin your weapons in a cool way that vaguely looks like somebody reloading stylishly. Similarly, the music is hard, dark, and fitting with the grimdark sort-of-plot that Dusk has. Namely, evil experiments, a cult of worshippers who need stopping, and teleportation experiments. If that seems familiar, yes, it’s hammering together elements of Quake, Blood, and Doom in ways that, honestly? Don’t have to make sense. There is no fall damage, so feel free to look awesome as you drop from the sky raining explosive death.

So far, I’ve been quite complimentary, but it mustn’t be said that Dusk takes only fun lessons from 90s shooters. Bosses aren’t too challenging, beyond the fact that they have boodles of life and do a lot of damage if they hit. Some of the levels (Looking at you in particular, The Steamworks!) are dark and mazelike for the sake of being dark and mazelike, and are a sod to navigate, even for a 90s style shooter. Homing attacks from some enemies are annoying, even as they add a dimension to the combat style the game wants you to be playing with: Always moving.

The weaker weapons are all dual wield capable. The shotguns, in particular, are a joy to use.

Still, so far, I like Dusk Episodes 1 and 2. Since the game is episodic, I can quite happily cover these two episodes separately as actual reviews, and the third when it comes out as its own thing. The gunplay is a surprisingly clever game of resource management, as, while using a hunting rifle on mooks is entertaining, you’re probably going to need that ammo for more dangerous enemies, and the pistols see use pretty much throughout.

In the end, Dusk is an entertaining throwback to the days of swearing at your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT , without all that swearing and asking why the hell you have to reboot your computer because a game doesn’t like what you put as your HIMEM, and with a few design lessons of the modern day thrown in. If you like love letters to Ye Olde Days of Gibbing, that Tarnished Golden Age, then yes, Dusk is worth a go.

It even preconfigures the Soundboomer card correctly. Bloody magic, that is.

Commitment to aesthetic, thy name is [Clicking and whirring as of a struggling 486DX hard drive]. As you might guess, that’s somewhat hard to pronounce for anyone who isn’t a 90s kid.

The Mad Welshman is pleased. The portals work.

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