Conan: Exiles (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £33.99 base game (£21 for the “Added goodie bag” content, or £54.99 for the whole deal)
Where To Get It: Steam

NOTE: Conan: Exiles is a game that comes in 3 flavours with the same base game/maps – PvP, PvE, and Single-Player/Co-Op. The majority of the review touches on the Single-Player experience. Thankew.

Conan: Exiles is a lot of things. The problem being, it takes a hell of a time to get to a lot of it, as, originally, Conan was a survival MMO. It shows, as the single player, on normal difficulty, is… Hell. To the point where I look at other reviews, and wonder what game these folks have been playing.

Approximately 15 seconds before the *first* time I lose all my kit to this small Darfari camp, and about 30 minutes before I switch to Easy difficulty.

For example, the usual survival game rule of “You die, you lose all the stuff it took you ages to craft” comes into play. In the very early game, this isn’t so much a problem. Woo, you need to get some stone and wood, and make a sword, some plant fiber, make some clothes. Big deal. But the further you get, the more of a pain this becomes. Got iron weapons? Odds are high this means you’re taking on things that need iron weapons, which means… Good luck getting your corpse back, and equally good luck with the trek to your nearest iron deposit (hopefully restocked), fending off the beasties there, harvesting, trekking back… It’s a game with a pretty hefty buy-in to each stage of the game, time and resource investment wise, and even the gains you’ve made in terms of buildings can be undone by… The Purge. Aka “A horde of AI that attacks at randomish times once you’ve gotten to capturing Thralls.”

CONTENT WARNING: Aside from the naked bits that people joke about, Slavery is a core mechanic of the game, treated pretty much as *a mechanic* . You have been warned.

If you’ve guessed that I very quickly switched to easy mode once learning how painful it can be to progress on Normal? You are, like me, a person of sense. Although, unfortunately, this doesn’t make building (a necessary element) any less of a pain. Want those neato iron weapons? Okay, first we’ll need 540 stone for a furnace. This is the easy part. Next, we’ll need 50 bricks, and 100 iron for a blacksmi- wait, you don’t know how bricks are made? Easy, that’s 10 Stone a brick, chuck it in the furnace, and use Wood or Coal to fuel it, and… What do you mean, “WHAT?!?” , it’s only another 500 stone and 200 ironstone! Oh, and the 40 ironstone you’ll need for a basic sword, ta.

Oh, you don’t know where ironstone is, or what it looks like? Look around, or look at wiki, like… Look, if you’re going to keep complaining, player, about stupid things like “Unreal Engine games disliking alt-tabbing”, I’m just going to take my crocodiles and go home!

I detect… Mystery! Also History! Mystory?

I’m sure that Conan: Exiles has an interesting world. What it’s shown me so far has been hints of awesome locations, and, for the early game at least, I’ve been levelling up like a levelling thing (Level 24/60 as of this review.) But it hides it behind so… So much grind. Even with a couple of friends to help out with the buildings, I definitely wouldn’t be playing this on normal difficulty, because of the pain of keeping everything going, and 7 hours of play and more than a third of the way through the levelling process before hitting iron weaponry can best be described as “Extracting the Michael.”

“And PvE?” I hear you ask. “Is it any different?” Well… Yes and no. Yes, once you have some friends or have managed to join a clan, it is. Your survivability goes up. You can descend like locusts on a resource node and gobble it up. But until that point, it’s like playing on normal difficulty, with the disturbing addition of the Unconscious, players registered but not logged in, littering the landscape like the introduction of Phillip Jose Farmer’s “To Your Scattered Bodies Go.” Oh, and the core narrative conceit, that Conan himself frees you (there’s your tie in), and that Thoth Amon, for some odd reason, is the one who put the murder-bracelet on you… Kind of falls apart.

See? Disturbing as hell.

Sometimes, you have to keep going, to get a better picture of how the game pulls together. But this is one of those times where I can see my future stretching out in front of me, and, funnily enough, it does not involve gathering 200 corrupted stone, whatever the hell else that Map Room which finally lets you access the equivalent of quick travel in the game, and beating Thoth Amon’s demons. Theoretically, having a friendly group of, say, 5 or 10 players clanning up immediately would make the game flow that much easier… But even then, this feels like Game as Job, which is a distinct turn off for me.

Ironstone, so you know what to look for without a god-damn wiki, and one of the many and varied beasts that will try to kill you on the way to or while harvesting it.

The Mad Welshman is already underpaid in this job. He has no desire to take on a second for nothing.

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For The King (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Soundtrack £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

Folks, I could tell a long rambling story here, blow by blow accounts of the heroic deeds of a blacksmith, a hunter, and a scholar, normal folks who almost saved the day as the last hope of the kingdom of Fahrul. I could talk about their exploits fighting such evils as the Hangman, the dread King’s Maze, and the seemingly humble (yet devilishly agile) Imps. But a lot of this would distract from the fact that these are stories I made up, based on some damn fine procedural RPG play.

eep.

So yeah, For The King is a procedurally generated RPG, with a lovely low-poly board game aesthetic, where balancing aggressively pursuing quests, and biding time to make sure you can really take on that dungeon. Move too slow, and things get more dangerous, until eventually, you either fall, or the world ends. Move too quickly, and you’ll quickly get out of your depth. Thankfully, the game’s pretty good at giving you some idea which end you’re tending towards, play by play.

And it feels pretty good, with a fair amount of depth to it. Enough that I’d have a little trouble describing it all without this review feeling more like a feature list. Oh, hey, here’s a cast of characterful enemies, from the Triclops Infant that… Well, I feel bad killing these, because their main attack is “Fall over really heavily on top of you.” I have the option of sneaking or ambushing, but that XP is direly needed, because I have to take on the Mind Melter. The animations are great, with visible representation of your equipment on the well crafted low poly models, a real sense of impact to them, and the game tutorialises quite well.

It’s a beautiful world. Even the bits which are decidedly pointy and evil and stuff…

That it also defaults to the easiest difficulty mode is a real blessing, because yes, the game is pretty hard, even on the easiest difficulty. But also, oddly, gentle about that. It reminds you that you aren’t meant to win on your first try, or even your third (My third run on the main campaign, I got about halfway through), but getting further, seeing new and interesting monsters, made me feel… Well, like a badass.

So… Good aesthetic. Good music, fitting without over-riding. A real feeling of impact, both on the world and the fights. Good tutorials. And a hefty amount of replayability, due to unlocks and the extra quests and classes that some of these unlocks represent. Multiple game modes. What’s not to like?

Well, it’s best if characters stick together throughout, keeping close so as to have a full party. As such, multiplayer co-op (Where you play one character) is something that needs a tight knit group to work. Beyond that, though, there’s a lot done right with For The King, both in terms of mechanics, and in terms of feel and aesthetic. I foresee a fair bit of enjoyment with this one.

Yeah, remember what I said about a sense of impact? That *definitely* felt like a finale to the quest. 😛

The Mad Welshman could probably have said a lot more words. But basically, the game is pretty good.

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Spy Party (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

I thought my disguise was perfect. Who would have suspected The Mad Welshman, noted vaudevillain and spotlight hogger, to dress as a distinguished old lady? Statues checked and swapped: Check. Ambassador bugged: Check. Guest list purloined: Check. All in under a minute. Time to enjoy my drink, and…

That final, fateful sip…

Well, in the middle of savouring the drink, a high velocity round, the only one the sniper has, enters through my ribcage, putting paid to my dreams of living high on villainy. My opponent calmly explains how they tagged me: They knew that the Pub was a git to see the statues in, so they suspected me from the get go, but it wasn’t until the guest list disappeared that they were sure. So close. The next game, they also steal the guest list, but on the move, so, instead of my rightful suspect, a diplomatic incident is created as the harmless old lady, who was enjoying a nice G&T, is snuffed out due to a case of mistaken identity.

Spy Party is a simple game, in one respect: There is a sniper, whose laser sight is visible, and who has one bullet, watching a party in one of several locales. There is a spy, who has to achieve a certain number of missions without getting sniped. You would think, considering that the possible objectives go up, but the number of objectives to achieve remains roughly the same through most of the difficulty levels, that it would be stacked in the spy’s favour: Anything up to 16 guests, only a few of which can be ruled out (due to being targets for the spy in one respect or another), and an average of 7 possible objectives per area.

The replay function, in combination with helpful players, is very useful for working out what went wrong… Or *so close to right, dammit*

But this is without accounting for the fact that there are any number of tells that can give you away. Sometimes, as with contacting the Double Agent, it’s loud. “BANANA BREAD”, the game declares. Sometimes, as with another game I played, they’re subtle. “Oh, you picked up your glass and went straight to the statue? The statues need to be picked up with both hands, so the AI doesn’t go to the statues unless they’re on their last sip.”

See? So obvious once it’s explained… But it caught me out. But it goes the other way, too. You can, if you’re clever (and a little lucky) grab the Ambassador’s briefcase, fingerprint it while walking, hand it to the ambassador, and bug them, all while strolling to the next conversation. One objective, and a part of a second, with no-one the wiser unless they’d already pegged you. A false contact, while the sniper’s looking at another of the two Double Agents, can get them suspicious of exactly the wrong people. There’s a lot of depth to it, and this is early days yet.

It’s not all roses with Spy Party, although it’s a solidly designed game with a lot of depth… The lobby’s an old school IRC type deal, with a little reading of the manual needed to understand how to, for example, make your own room (it’s /mr “[room name]” , by the way) , but playing publicly is currently alright, with players often explaining how they got you.

The Dossier, while not quite finished, nonetheless shows you what you can do, and is thus a useful source of tips… For both sides!

Spy Party is multiplayer only, but it’s definitely a multiplayer game I can get behind, one with depth in both perspectives, some good old fashioned psychological warfare, and a clever premise, well executed. Games are 1v1, and, if you have friends, it’s best to make a room, but if you want a multiplayer game with thought required, this is definitely one to look out for.

The Mad Welshman will snipe you. He’d snipe your little dog, too, but, y’know, Intelligence Service budget cuts…

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Angels Fall First (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.37 (No, really. Soundtrack £4)
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: Update 18

Flying through space in a giant brick with guns, with fighters swarming around me is, perhaps, one of the more powerful moments I have. Yes, the giant space brick (A Heimdall Lineship) steers like a cow, and it’s somewhat hard to see exactly what I’m aiming at, but that’s not really mattering too much, because all of my guns are firing, enemy ships are dying, and, in my own small, confused way, I’m contributing to the capture of the Ixion space station.

On the one hand, this thing steers like a brick with strings. On the other, goodness me, it makes things explode!

This is just one moment of Angels Fall First’s gameplay… In a 64 player botmatch. Well, 63, minus me. And it feels good.

A quick catch-up: Angels Fall First is a science fiction multiplayer team shooter, along the lines of a Battlefront, Battlefield, or COD, with space and ground based missions, a bewildering variety of builds, weapons, and vehicles, and locales, that essentially boil down to either taking an objective, destroying an objective, or defending an objective, supporting both multiplayer and solo, bot driven play.

Aesthetic wise, it looks good. Chaotic, but good. Everything has a chunky style that gives at least some idea of what people are using (I can tell, for example, a sniper by the long barrel as they run, or a heavy by the fact that their armour is bigger and chunkier), and the music is properly pounding and theatrical, changing as the battle comes to triumph… or disaster. Elements of the UI are somewhat confusing (The radar in the lower left, for example), and, sadly, the game’s loadout function isn’t as helpful or informative as it maybe could be, but being able to save your own custom loadouts for later use, working them out in botplay, then using them in multiplayer does help somewhat.

Yup, that sure is a thing I’m seeing… an LAV and a Mech fighting side by side, while infantry like me scream and hide.

So, it looks pretty good. It feels pretty good. It’s got its flaws, mostly to do with informing the player what their loadout does and what it’s good for. How’s the AI play?

Well, the AI is very objective focused. What this means in practical terms is that, on the one hand, defending in Incursion mode (where the attacking party has dropships that can be destroyed, but the defending party can’t regain any objectives they lose) is a tough proposition… But on the other hand, the AI is so mission focused that a player can, if they survive long enough to get to the dropships, do some serious, unregenerated damage, perhaps destroying a dropship in a single life. That’s highly chancy early on, when the enemy is pretty much streaming from a single LZ (so your chances of getting to the dropships are low), but once I got to the dropships… Well, the ship defends itself, but the AI infantry tended to only take potshots before heading off to their designated objective from the dropship. So that needs a little bit of work.

I don’t mind this *so* much… After all, I still feel like a badass for doing it. I just probably wouldn’t be able to against human players. XP

Still, for a small team, this is a big game, with customisation options out the wazoo, a variety of weaponry (and the weight of your loadout does matter), and a bunch of ships and maps. Even in Early Access, even with things it needs to iron out, this gets a thumbs up from one of the more multiplayer averse reviewers out there.

The Mad Welshman hasn’t really favoured multiplayer since Bad Company 2. That should give some idea…

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One Deck Dungeon (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Adaptations of board games, for better or for ill, generally have to be faithful to the original. And so it is with One Deck Dungeon, a game that toes the line between “Yeah, that’s fair” and some good, old fashioned table flipping. You might be unsurprised to learn that dice are heavily involved. But let’s get into that.

If I’m clever, and my Black Die of General Usefulness roll well… I can still take it. Let’s do this.

One Deck Dungeon is a game where the majority of the deck remains roughly the same. Here, a beetle, armoured up the wazoo, and able to run away with its loot rather than die (as it should) if its armour remains unbreached, regardless of how much it hurt. There, a Wraith, avoided by many an adventurer, not for the traditional reason of life drain, but because it converts items (Which give you dice) into XP (Which, while useful in a fair few contexts, doesn’t give you dice, and gives you nothing if you haven’t levelled up yet.) So, it’s a game where, like a traditional RPG, knowing what something is on first glance (even without things helpfully being labelled and clearly explained on encountering them) means you can answer that age old question: Kill, Flee, Disarm. Every dungeon has the same timer, ticking down by a base 2 per turn, ticking further down if time is spent murdering an enemy (IE – boxes with an hourglass in them aren’t fitted with a corresponding die), and, once time has been used up, staying in that level of the dungeon hurts the adventurers (Presumably they have a bad case of loot itch, a horrid affliction that means not-looking for loot somewhere more powerful than where you were causes physical pain.)

Where does the change come in, the challenge from trying different things? Well, mainly two sources right now: The Adventurers (each with different values of stats-as-dice, in five flavours, and different skills if you play single player or two player) and the Dungeons (Each of which has a different boss, and different, stacking “Bad Things” per level.) My Warrior has, generally speaking, had a good time in the beginner dungeon (even getting me my sole win so far), but, due to a variety of factors, from 2s magically disappearing because of a Weakness Curse to magic based armour and damage, hasn’t done so well in, for example, The Lich’s Tomb, or against the Yeti. So… Everything is understandable, at a glance, and this is good.

So… Close, dammit! [dies]

You would think, at this point, that I’d then point to the dice and cry “BULLLL!” But no. Mainly because, while victory against a boss is only assured if you’re both good and a little lucky (and, in cases like the Yeti, heavily weighted toward hitting things while also having some dice to take care of, say, Magic and Agility), getting to the boss is, generally speaking, okay. The majority of the dungeon deck doesn’t change, as noted, so there’s a careful balance between taking damage to Get Cool Stuff (XP so you can hold more stuff, potions so you can live long enough to get stuff, or use special abilities in your quest to get stuff, stuff adds to your dice, skills to more easily turn crap dice into good dice, so on so forth) and knowing when it’s good to Just Run (The Wraith, for example, I generally avoid or potion out of if I can. No stuff for you, mister Wraith, only meeeee.) The feeling of being fair is important, and, for all that it is, at its core, a game about rolling dice and hoping for high numbers, One Deck Dungeon mostly feels fair.

Could it be more fair? Quite possibly. As implied, without a bit of luck, some good stats, and preferably a potion stashed away, the bosses of each of the five dungeons will mercilessly muller you. But then again, I’ve come so close… So close… So I know that these bosses can be killed, they can be beaten. Is it fair enough to keep me coming in without a friend to play with? Maybe. It does have a two player local mode at the moment, with each player’s stats and Heroic Abilities halved in effectiveness, but a good mix (Warrior/Rogue, for example, has served me well so far in Yeti’s Cavern) goes a long way, and that “X skills/items per character” wears thin slower (normally, in a single player run, I don’t bother going for items on higher floors.) I can even build synergy, so it helps.

5 Classes, 5 dungeons, and the only one I’ve not felt cool with so far was the Paladin. I more put this down to being a vaudevillain than any mechanical demerit with their play, though…

Overall, One Deck Dungeon explains itself and its rules quite well, seems mostly balanced and fair (for a given value of fair), and, if there were anything I’d maybe get tired of, it’s the main dungeon deck. Oh, right, another Goblin. Two flame traps in a row? Yaaawn. Still, it’s an alright pick if you like two player local play, or a single player game where you’re relatively free to expand your tactics in interesting directions. We’ll see how that progresses as time goes on.

The Mad Welshman appreciates well how the appearance of fairness is just as important as actually being fair. The game, thankfully, is both.

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