Sword Coast Legends (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £31.99 (£44.99 for Deluxe edition)
Where To Get It: Steam

This is one of those times where I genuinely wish I could say more than “The developers continue to support the game and continue to introduce nice things.” I want to like Sword Coast Legends. I already like its voice acting, its environments, and how heavily abstracting the 5E DnD system makes it more accessible.

But right now, that’s just a wish. Because it’s clearly not for me as it stands.

Hommett, a wizard who had been thrown out by the Harpells (A Bad Sign)... One of the many characters, with great voice acting, that... Just don't grab me.

Hommett, a wizard who had been thrown out by the Harpells (A Bad Sign)… One of the many characters, with great voice acting, that… Just don’t grab me.

Sword Coast Legends, developed by N-Space, and published by Digital Extremes, just doesn’t grab me. It is improving, but it’s been almost two months since its release, and I fail to find the motivation to get very far, despite promises of an improved DM mode. And part of this, I feel, is that it’s quite clearly balanced towards a multiplayer experience. Dungeon Crawl mode, for example, has enemy groupings in its “Easy” dungeons that would quickly overwhelm a level 1 fighter, such as a pair of Level 2 Goblins supported by a pair of archers, and a shaman that keeps healing the bleeding lot of them. You don’t want to ask what happens to a level 1 mage, as the answer is nearly always a bitter frown and the word “squish” repeated in a deadpan tone, over and over. DM Mode is currently, and will remain until next month, a random dungeon generator where some monsters and simplistic quests can be added, and Story mode…

Look, I know that the Sword Coast is iconic. I know that Luskan is a hive of scum and villainy. I know that it’s right there, in the sodding title. But I’m somewhat tired of the Sword Coast itself, and I’m definitely tired of a plotline that can be summed up as “You might destroy the world you love because a great eeeeeeeevillll has chosen you to be its host!”

Luskan. Luskan never changes. Religion, Magic, Planar Politics... But Luskan. Luskan never changes.

Luskan. Luskan never changes. Religion, Magic, Planar Politics… But Luskan. Luskan never changes.

An Ancient Evil, if Forgotten Realms material to date is any indication, threatens Northwest Faerun once a week. I’m honestly surprised anything gets done in the setting, the amount of Ancient (and Current) Evils that are hanging around. It doesn’t help that the main players are introduced pretty much in the prologue (A Drowish sorcerer, some do-gooders who may have been tricked, some fanatical worshippers of Helm who may also have been tricked, and, of course, the Ancient Evil itself, a demon from the darkest, yet fieriest pits of the Abyss.)

This is all a terrible shame, because honestly? You can see a lot of love went into this, and the fact that N-Space Games are continuing to improve things says a lot. The voice acting is pretty damn good, and it felt right… Even the Scouse dwarf Larethar Gulgrin, which fits his character very well. The environments are pretty, and clearly abstracting the mess that is the Dungeons & Dragons Feat/Skill system into a series of easy to understand, and well compartmentalised trees? That takes effort, and it does work. The music feels like it could have been transplanted into pretty much any high fantasy game and still worked is more a comment on the genre’s conventions than the quality of the music (Which is also fairly nice.)

But how you feel when playing it is important, and I felt… Like it was busywork. Even with the pause for tactics that makes fights easier, you’re still going to be using the Stabilise (Get People Up Because They Fell Down) command a fair bit, and the items… This game is filled with vendor trash. So. Much. Trash. I have lockets and statues of various deities and rings galore, beer bottles and wine bottles and Luskan Coffee of various types… And I have no idea what might become important, and what’s literally here for flavour. The only things that are truly important to me are weapons, armour, and magical items, and, thanks to a procedural treasure system, beyond fixed drops, I’m never quite sure whether something I grab will be of any use whatsoever. Sorting through it all felt a chore, even with some of the ease of use features in the inventory. Combat never felt real to me, even with grunts and clangs and flashy spells going ZAP and thwaaaaBOOM.

The abilities often have evocative names. That doesn't always improve the experience.

The abilities often have evocative names. That doesn’t always improve the experience.

This, honestly, is a damn shame, and, in the interests of fairness, I am going to give DM mode another chance when the improvements hit in December, because, as Neverwinter Nights proved, you can have a less than stellar story, and still be a game worth remembering because of its other features. Folks who are less critical of high fantasy’s foibles than I am may find this a more interesting game, but… It really does seem to be rubbing me up the wrong way, and that makes me sad for reasons I can’t entirely articulate.

The Mad Welshman examined the statue of Sune Firehair he had found in the Goblin caves. Even with her warm smile, her hair tastefully lined with amethysts and opals, she felt… Lost, somehow. Her gown was cracked, and dust had settled in her blazing hair. Undeniably beautiful. Undeniably precious. But, equally undeniably, another religious icon to place in his pack.

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Maia 0.50 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.98
Where To Get It: Steam

Everything is broken. My atmosphere generators have caught fire, I have people trapped in the living quarters due to a planning mistake, and one of my astronauts is waiting in the airlock for a wingman who will probably starve a little while after Airlock Boy runs out of oxygen. Some of these problems are intended. Some are not. But most of them are hilarious either way.



MAIA, a science fiction survival and base management game by Simon Roth and the MAIA team, has had a patch history almost as interesting as Dwarf Fortress. Chickens once flocked to magma vents as soon as a game began. IMPs would, in proper Asimovian fashion, try to do impossible jobs. Cats and dogs would walk on the surface of the incredibly hostile world (Called, funnily enough, Maia), with nary a care in the world that they weren’t breathing oxygen, but an incredibly volatile mix of horrific toxins. But for all that, the core idea has come across quite well, and 0.50 continues the trend.

The game’s AI, for example, has gone through some fixing. This is a good thing… And a bad thing for those of us who have been playing somewhat differently beforehand. Before, turrets were a curiosity. Now, they’re a necessity if you want your home to stay powered, as the local megafauna think that your outside buildings are either really good scratching posts, or things they trip over and get annoyed at. But let’s talk about what can be done in the game for a bit.

Essentially, right now, you control a small group of plucky (doomed) british colonists, who have somehow managed to survive long enough to build a small base in a rocky outcropping on the world known as Maia. Or, more accurately, you plan rooms, buildings, and mining operations, vaguely hoping that they’ll do what you want. That’s harder than it sounds. But it’s also more fun and challenging than it sounds.

A little cluttered, but I don't want MegaFauna using my towers as itch-relief.

A little cluttered, but I don’t want MegaFauna using my towers as itch-relief.

For example, you need to leave room for your IMP robots (Yes, the Dungeon Keeper reference is intentional) to be able to expand the base. You have to make sure you don’t open the whole thing to the toxic atmosphere. You have to start from simple needs (Power and Air), working your way up the hierarchy (Air, Food, Sleep, Stimulation), and initiate research into the world that surrounds you. Right now, that process is mostly automated… But already, the first signs of having to ask your colonists to do more work than just putting things up are showing, with Necroscopy. All that is right now is being able to cut apart and study one of the Megafauna of the world, and, once your research level is high enough, build a reactor chamber and dope your water to help stop the colonists going stir crazy (Which… May have side effects), but research also already allows for better energy storage, better food production, bigger oxygen tanks… And a little something that helps save your colonists from endlessly having to repair things.

An intelligent servo-bot, currently equipped with a repair module. These little fellers will happily maintain your atmosphere generators… Right up until they develop a phobia of repairing things!

"I can't take all this BUILDING! BUILDING BUILDING BUILDING, GRAAAGH!" ...Okay, maybe not yet. But it's apparently in the game plan.

…Okay, maybe not yet. But it’s apparently in the game plan.

You can perhaps already tell, just maybe, that Maia is not going to be a game where things are safe once everything is built. From the beginning, team MAIA has talked of intelligent doors that refuse to co-operate, IMPs with a fear of the dark, things breaking down, things going wrong… And all the while, your colonists communicate with HQ in short messages and procedurally generated haiku. Pretty good ones, actually. It’s a black comedy of a game, which is why I’ve stayed interested throughout the Early Access process so far. The visuals and music pay homage, in their way, to 60s and 70s science fiction, with bulky space suits, tape-reel computers, and alien creatures that look goofy, but are threatening. The UI is quite minimalist (Although it does need a better way to examine completed research, and more clarity on which is LOAD, and which is SAVE), which is good, and the function of things is usually pretty clear, even when it’s currently “NOT YET DEFINED.”

So if you like the thought of a dystopian, understated, science fiction simulator with a fair dose of black comedy, MAIA is definitely one to keep an eye on. But be warned, as is often the case with Early Access games, there are bugs. There are problems. But they are definitely being ironed out, on a fairly regular schedule, and I’m pretty confident, by the time it’s done, that it will be a thing to behold.

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Satellite Reign (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £22.99 (£29.99 for Deluxe Edition)
Where To Get It: Steam

‘Satellite Reign is similar to Syndicate.’ I’ve been seeing this phrase a lot, unsurprising, because the game was billed as a spiritual successor to that second game, made by developers who worked on it, and it does, indeed, have similarities. But it’s not a terribly useful phrase. Let me try and do things a little better for you. For extra comparison, I’ve also written a Going Back on Syndicate.

The intro to the game is quite interesting, and quite fitting for a corporate overlord surveying the situation.

The intro to the game is quite interesting, and quite fitting for a corporate overlord surveying the situation.

So, let’s go back to basics: Satellite Reign is a game where four corporate “Specialist Staff” (That’s a nice, corporate way of saying “Wetworks Operatives”, itself a nice way of saying “Professional Killers and Saboteurs”) are sent on various missions to ensure that your corporation is the one that gets to continue doing business. If you guessed this involves murder, assassination, property damage, and general mayhem, you would not only win an imaginary cookie, you’d also win a visit to [insert corp]’s wonderful Human Resources Department… Specifically the Attitude Adjustment centre, because you’ve quite clearly got the wrong idea about how the Glorious Corporation works.

It is, however, somewhat loadscreen heavy. Once the game actually begins, there’s less, but with my setup being less than optimal, three loading screens is a significant time investment once the game begins. And then the fun begins.

See all those dots in the minimap? People. Many of them more important than you realise at first.

See all those dots in the minimap? People. Many of them more important than you realise at first.

Except… Once you leave the tutorial, the openness of the world works against you. The game, in a sense, resists being played. The camera refuses to move from a certain angle, despite tall buildings getting in the way, and you will be spending a fair amount of time paused in the mission control screen, poring over what you know of the map. It’s also pretty resource intensive, so it’s more important than usual to meet more than the minimum specs, or else you’re going to be waiting longer, and reacting more slowly to situations as they develop.

I have to admit, although I love me a good cyberpunk game (And, importantly, Satellite Reign remains cyberpunk until you get some serious kit. For all that you’re a rival corporation, and clones exist, you’re still only four folks), I’m not so fond of Satellite Reign. The game clearly colour codes and highlights the sorts of things you want to keep an eye on, the music is quite tense, and very fitting, but you’re in an information overload from the word go, and it’s difficult to filter that.

Do I go for ATMs? Do I rob a bank or three? Get researchers? Try and level up my agents by hacking, murdering, sabotaging and hijacking? I don’t knooooooooow!

Security is no joke, even at the beginning of the game. Most of the reason I prefer stealth.

Security is no joke, even at the beginning of the game. Most of the reason I prefer stealth.

I do like that there are multiple paths through a situation. For example, the first mission, you can sneak in the back door and avoid two thirds of the security, in and out if you’re quick enough. Or you can go in the back door, gun everyone down, and leave as you came in. Similarly, you can level your agents in interesting ways, and there’s leeway even within their roles. But personally, I’m feeling lost, torn between several directions, and while that sort of fits the mood of the game, it’s not really for me. It’s a game that seems to requires multiple losses to truly master, but, unlike a roguelike, which follows the same philosophy, losing isn’t a case of “straight back in”, but loading screens and the tutorial mission. Or reloading the save.

I also like that there’s a lot going on, in a sense. Civilians, police, drones, cars… They’re all constantly moving, making for a living tapestry, and the dystopian vision is quite clear every time you turn down a side road and see rubble, and the city’s dispossesed (Who you can take advantage of). Alas, I sadly don’t think this game is for me.

If you like open worlds with lots to do, skill options, are good at squad level micro play, and don’t mind a lot of info being thrown at you, then being left to your own devices, this is probably a good game for you. If you don’t feel that real time squad combat and stealthing is your thing, then you’re probably better off with something more focused.

The Mad Welshman sat on his corporate throne, head in his hands. The synthesised voices of his agents rang in his ears, and he thought very hard of the Bahamas HR Centre.

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Interstellaria (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam , Developer Page

Thank the Space Lords for the pause button. Without this godly power, I would probably be quite, quite dead. As it is, there’s several blank spots in my memory, with only the word “Dammit, reload” coming to mind when I think of them. But enough about my life, let’s talk Interstellaria, by Coldrice, with music by Chipzel, and published by Chucklefish.

My brave starter crew, unfazed by the fact they're shooting blindly at things in space.

My brave starter crew, unfazed by the fact they’re shooting blindly at things in space.

Interstellaria is a space trading, adventuring, and universe saving game involving crew and fleet management, exploring new worlds, and, if you follow the main plotline, saving the known universe from blob-like aliens who are mysteriously abducting entire worlds for… Reasons. It’s a game with wit, where your glorious career starts with you being ejected from your home by your room-mate for being a useless sponger, and where Humans are the most beautiful (and nigh useless) species in the universe. But if it weren’t for that pause button, the game would be unplayable. As it is, I recommend something the very moment you start the game, and at every point where something happens… Pause. It’s the space bar to do that. Without that, you will probably not see all the hotkeys. And you will want those hotkeys. Either that, or frequent use of that pause button. Because the game will not forgive you for not learning them.

Now, this may give the impression the game isn’t friendly. In a sense, it actually is: The function of things is either clearly explained as they come up, or quickly accessible via one of the subscreens like Inventory or Fleet Management, and the game isn’t slow to tutorialise. In another sense, parts of that tutorial UI interfere with your crew selection “quick” bar, the hotkeys for crew selection need you to remember what order you picked up your crew in, and… Look, it’s not the friendliest of UIs, even after hotkeys, so use that pause regularly, alright?

Looting a planet once it's safe is... Ennnnhhhh...

Looting a planet once it’s safe is… Ennnnhhhh…

Honestly, Interstellaria is a bit of a mixed bag overall. The tunes by Chipzel are pretty awesome, especially in space battles, but the pumping chiptunes and EDM feel less fitting when, say, you’re on a station selling the junk you’ve looted, or looting a planet. Speaking of looting a planet, it’s got to be my least favourite activity in this game, which is a shame because it’s pretty central to progressing. Basically, you make sure the area’s safe (By killing everything hostile beforehand), hit H(arvest), then F(ast Forward), and… watch them go to it.

In fact… This is, I think, the core of why I’m not enjoying Interstellaria perhaps as much as I could be… Combat, salvaging, space battles… They feel like busywork, and a fair bit of my time is spent in either tasks that don’t take much attention (like salvaging), fights which don’t seem to take much of my attention (ground combat), or fights which mostly don’t take much of my attention, except for when things go wrong, in which case I end up losing track of what the hell’s going on… That would be the space battles, where damage can lead to all your stations damaged, leaving you defenseless, immobile, and blind until you not only repair the damage, but also get your crew back on station. That last bit can be confusing, because it’s not completely clear, until you try to do something, that the station isn’t manned (navigation is the worst for this, while Scanning is the obvious exception). Efforts have been made in recent patches to fix this (Automatic crew assignments, for example), but I think it’s still got a way to go.

"Nawww, this ship isn't unlucky at aaaaallll!"

“Nawww, this ship isn’t unlucky at aaaaallll!”

And I feel slightly guilty for not enjoying this so much, because it’s a genre right up my alley, the only real obtuseness is in the UI and space combat, and there’s some interesting quirks and awesome things, like the variety of races and encounters… For example, Robots (Can’t carry weapons or armour, but don’t need food or sleep), an amusing parody of Captain Kirk from Star Trek (Who seeks out potentially beautiful new civilisations, hopefully with smoochable folks, and diplomatically has big guns), and, of course, the strange energy beings encountered in the first proper plot mission.

So overall, visually, the aesthetic is tight and interesting. Musically, it misses the mood mark, but is awesome on its own (And, indeed, can be purchased separately), and gameplay wise… Well, if you think you won’t mind the slight tedium of salvaging, I’d say give it a go. But it’s definitely not for the impatient, or skippers of tutorials.

The Mad Welshman felt slightly hollow as he opened another crate full of in-demand scrap. He knew there was something more out there… Perhaps a beautiful alien with a bee-hive hairdo asking “Show me some more of this Earth thing called Kissing.”

…Nah, that’d be silly.

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