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.

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Sunless Skies (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Forever Live The Queen! The Empire, In Its Infinite Wisdom, Has Replaced The Traitor Sun With A Clockwork Marvel. More Inside, Along With The Scandalous Dealings (And Deals) At Magdalene’s!

Although this screenshot is from an earlier version, how could I not include the talented melding of Terry Thomas and David Suchet as a dastardly bureaucrat? So good!

So… Here we are again. Failbetter, from browser game Fallen London, to Sunless Sea, to today, have created an interesting world, a dark, funhouse mirror world of the Victorian, Lovecraftian Empire. Cosmic Horror, Dunsanian Phantasy and Afternoon Tea, if you will. And now? We’re in the railways of space. Yes, you heard me right. Flying trains. Through space. But, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For example, resource management remains important, as you have limited cargo space (Even with improvements), and the very fact that running a space train is kind of expensive immediately throws you into the politics and mysteries of the area. The Company will keep you in fuel and money, so long as you regularly supply them with Port Reports, and don’t deal overmuch with those violent blackleggers and revolutionaries, the Tacketies. Which is amusing, when you consider that in the Station of New Winchester (The capital of the first area of the game, and currently the only available one), Victory Hall (One of the homes of the Tackety Movement) is quite near, in fact, to Company House. But such is life here.

Each area, each floating township and station has their own feel. Their own mysteries…

Right now, while there may not seem like a whole lot (And the developers, ever cognisant that you might have trouble paying the bills, give a generous starting payment to get you going), the stars of Sunless Skies are still intriguing. It’s a living, breathing Space, with the fungal remains of vast creatures, singing bees, and, of course, various Fallen Londoners in space. The most recent update, accessible by beta branch, is something well known to Sunless Sea players: The world having segments that are, themselves, static, but placed procedurally. So, sometimes, Port Prosper is, as the main branch would tell you, far to the Northeast. Sometimes, it’s to the Southwest. Sometimes, it’s to the NNW. But it will always be a tough prospect to reach without having some supply stops in that middle ring to help ensure you don’t die in what is, despite the Queen’s meddling, the cold of space. You’re rewarded with experience for finding places, filling out that map, doing tasks, but, in the end, the Sunless Skies will swallow your character whole.

Of course, if you die, at least some of your knowledge gets passed on to the next Captain, some of your goods, some of your wealth. Perhaps all of it, if you reach what’s currently the first goal of the game’s lineage based RPG fun: Having a home that isn’t the Cab of your (admittedly glorious) space train. The controls are simple, explained well by the game, and from there? Well, the choices are out there, ripe for exploration. I quite enjoyed Sunless Sea, Sunless Skies is looking to be an improvement on that formula, and I look forward to seeing where this looking glass leads.

Those who are impressionable may feel that this is an eldritch sigil, rather than a path of exploration along common trade routes. Please ignore the howling winds from the ground itself and tentacled beastie behind me, thanks in advance.

The Mad Welshman would, for obvious reasons, prefer to be referred to by his proper title: Captain D’Urbin of Her Majesty’s Windward Company, 4th Merchant Fleet. Thankew.

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Oriental Empires (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam

A key to good 4X design, I’ve often found, is understanding. That seems like a simple thing, but sadly, we’ve seen it proven time and time again over the years that it’s not. Oriental Empires is a strategy game set in ancient China, and its UI is… Not the friendliest.

The latest heir of my empire, being annoying and blocking my authority/culture meter.

In fact, the game as a whole isn’t very friendly. Considering that games don’t exist in a vacuum, this… Is kind of a big deal. Small text, smaller tooltips, and further information behind easy to miss subtabs left a bad taste in my mouth.

A bad taste that, sadly, only worsened when I found out about Local Factors. Hidden behind about three layers of interaction (Click banner, click unrest icons for general unrest details, click Dissatisfaction) is a number, contributing to your chance of revolt… That cannot be directly affected, and changes over time because… Well, to all practical intents and purposes, because reasons.

There’s not so much a tutorial as “A 40+ page in-game manual and an advisor that will tell you about things after you’ve worked out how to do them.” The actual effect of buildings and research (Outside of combat related improvements, it generally boils down to “Gives Happiness”, “Gives Authority”, “Unlocks a resource exploiter”, and “Makes some bad events less bad.” ) are hidden under popups (The wee texty bars lookin’ icon shows or hides that.) Occasionally, those popups will obscure information that you need, such as when an Heir comes along, randomly, and covers up the Authority and Culture meters you need to, for example, judge how many settlements you can build without added resentment (A brief irritation, but one of, as noted, quite a few.) Does it play well?

Okay, so I want you and you to flank so as to cut off retr- Which part of “Cut off Retreat” did you not understand, soldiers?

Honestly, not really. Outside of combat largely seems like an afterthought, especially in the early game, where resources are rare, and you are both encouraged to land grab and, er… Not exceed your Authority (which controls how many cities you can own without dissatisfaction) for fear of rebellions. Buildings have a high upkeep, so you’re rarely dealing with that, conquering things is a bad idea, due to that aforementioned Authority issue…

It makes the early game painful, in more senses than one. It doesn’t really help that combat, also, doesn’t feel like you have all that much control over it. Simultaneous turns means that you may well have trouble pinning down your opponent for a fight, and when you do get in a fight? Well, enemies will escape, so you have to start the whole palaver again, having multiple battles in a single round with a single force if you’ve preset your movement right, or fighting over multiple turns if you don’t (The correct method, generally, seems to be “Into the enemy and past them in the direction you think they’re most likely to run for as many movement points as you feel you can manage.) It doesn’t particularly feel engaging, especially as multiple fights are likely to break out in a single turn, and combat tactics are limited. Why did my units mill about aimlessly for most of a combat with a charge, but efficiently (if extremely widely) flank when I asked them to? No idea. I’m not told. Oh, and no, cutting off retreat with just the units you have is not an option. The enemy will retreat. Multiple times.

Really, these problems, these lack of clarity, kill the game for me, and it doesn’t particularly help that, visually, it doesn’t feel all that interesting either. The music is fitting, at least, but it doesn’t really redeem a game that will sometimes tell you useful things after you need them, sometimes just not tell you, and has many a turn passing with… Well, nothing of note happening. Kind of saddening, really.

This rain turned red as blood, and almost caused a rebellion. Funnily, most bad things seem to be “Causes unrest.”

The Mad Welshman finds no happiness here. 

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BattleChasers: Nightwar (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £24.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Ahhh, Battlechasers. An interesting comic about a young girl called Gully, who inherited her late father’s magical gauntlets, and now… An interesting RPG mixing turn based combat with real-time exploration. So, with the foreknowledge that I mostly like this game, let’s get the “Your mileage may vary” bit out of the way, shall we?

Er… No, Monika. Although you’re one of the few I *don’t* miss in this game.

Nightwar is, as I stated, based on a comic called Battlechasers from Image back in the late 90s. It was written by Joe Madureira and Muneir Sharrief, with a variety of artists, although the pencils were all done by Joe Madureira (Who, not coincidentally, was the art lead on Nightwar.) Even though it ran for only 9 issues, it’s had a cult following, and the art style is very distinctive. Also distinctive are the sometimes implausible costumes that mainly seem to affect the women (His work can be male gazey. Like… Juuuuust a tadge.) This is a good segue into the visuals.

So yeah, while I’m not the biggest fan of the more implausible lady costumes (Which isn’t a huge pool to choose from, and mostly consists of Red Monika, the heavily Red Sonja inspired and largely unsupported rogue of the group… And yes, I was talking about the boob cup), I cannot argue that I like most of the character and monster designs of the game. Gully is perhaps the best example of a teen punchwitch I know of, Calibretto is an interesting and cool design, and there’s a lot of dynamic, colourful, and well crafted art on display here, and not just in the characters and creatures. The overworld map gives the impression of an actual map, with little crosshatches, designs, and other nifty little elements, and the world is both colourful and clear. The battle animations are meaty as heck, and quite a few hours in, I’ve yet to tire of even some of the more basic ones. Soundwise, the game’s a little less impressive, but only a touch, and so, aesthetically, it’s been quite the pleasing experience.

Example of the charm: I genuinely appreciate a Lich who has the brass to try something like this.

Writing wise, well, it’s high fantasy where Mana, the source of magic, is a mineable resource, and technologies both ancient and new have arisen as a result. Our heroes go to a forgotten island, get shot down by unexpected pirates, and get embroiled in deeds that threaten the wooooorld. So, on the surface, the writing isn’t exactly going to win awards. But, with the exception of Knolan, who is presented in barks as quite the unlikable asshole of a wizard (and not much better outside), again, it seems to work. Quest steps are mostly well explained and reasonable, there’s at least a little bit of character in everyone (From the snobbish, jaded alchemist to the Lycelot who believes his tribes have lost their way in following… [DRAMATIC THUNDER] The Dark Lady) , and everything has a sense of place, fantastic as it is. Mana mines that have been abandoned due to some unforeseen taint (Not to mention the fact that they’d almost run dry)? Reasonable. A shanty-town with industrial elements as a bandit stronghold? Reasonable. Heck, not even all the bandits are willing to fight. It’s one of those things where I’d feel silly trying to explain its charm to someone who’s never seen high fantasy of any sort, but it is, nonetheless, pretty well put together.

So… We’ve established that, narratively, there’s charm… What about the damn game, Jamie, what about the gaaaame? Hold your horses, because that, also, is reasonable and with a charm of its own. First up, this is fairly friendly for an RPG. You don’t die, you get knocked out if you screw up, lose some money, and end up back in town. And the difficulty curve is reasonable enough that the only times that’s ever happened are either when I’ve unwittingly disturbed something way above my pay grade (For example, an Elder Elemental Deity. Ohhhh, they’ll get theirs, the rocky, fiery asshole…) or during trap-heavy dungeons (Traps, being in the real-time exploration, are somewhat harder to deal with than, say, a magic/coal powered mechanical device built for ramming people with spiky, speedy violence.) Heck, I haven’t even been grinding that much, and I’ve been Doing Okay. Part of this is that stats are mainly linked to your level, with some boosts from equipment, some from perks that let you mix and match two paths of each character, and some from the Bestiary, which improves your stats the more goals you fulfil… Most of which you’ll be doing organically through play. Kill 50 beasts? Yeah, no prob, thanks for the 1% increase in health! Similarly, each character has abilities that either affect the world (See stealthed enemies, smash secret walls), an impending fight (Inflict bleeding if you hit with Calibretto’s cannon, for example), or both (that smashing secret walls? Also stuns enemies at the start of a fight if you get it off.)

This was 0.1 seconds before EVERYTHING DIED (Also two XP bonuses, possibly three)

What I guess I’m getting at is that Battlechasers: Nightwar, for all its niggles, is a solid, charming, and, for an RPG, a friendly experience overall. I quite like it, and I definitely see myself aiming for finishing New Game+ .

The Mad Welshman would like to know where one can get these self-propelling tanks. Answers at the tradesman’s entrance, please.

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Oxygen Not Included (Oil Update, Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I can, even at this relatively early stage of Klei’s survival sim, see a few obvious things. Firstly, due to the very nature of Oxygen Not Included, I get easily frustrated. Secondly, plumbers and electricians are deities among humankind. Not a lot of this makes sense until you realise that the core element of the game is that it’s a survival management game… In a closed system. Oxygen is most definitely not included. It must be earned. And, past about day 10, this is a near constant struggle.

Yes, I get frustrated with it easily. But that definitely doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the vision here.

When Digging Out Water-Pools Backfires Horribly, a TMW Special.

In any case, the basic idea is very simple: You start with three “Duplicants” (clones, basically), stranded mysteriously by a teleporting gate (that also, periodically, is able to “print” new Duplicants.) They start with a ration box, and a small room that has some oxygen, and from there? Well, everything. Outhouses. You need those. And sinks to clean up. Wait, now you need water to wash with. Beds. Food. Electricity to power de-oxidisers and research stations. Algae to run those de-oxidisers, and dirt and more water for research. Wait, crap, you forgot about the carbon dioxide buildup, got to put that somewhere… And the poop. And the bad water. And so it goes, on and on until you’re trying to displace all the waste heat your generators and de-oxidisers and wires and pipes are making.

It is, perhaps, the first game I’ve come across where it becomes more complicated the more established you are. Because, of course, all of these actions, from growing to laying pipes to manning fans and giant hamster wheels, take time. And sure, more people will mean more gets done, but more people also means more CO2 generated. More food eaten. And, because Duplicants have flaws like consuming more oxygen than their compatriots, having a weak bladder, farting a lot… You have to choose your Duplicants wisely, as well. Heck, everything has to be chosen wisely, and, as I’ve mentioned, the further you get, the bigger the scale of the things you have to do, to deal with the buildup of problems over time. I highly expect, by the time I get to day 50, that I’ll have to build an oxygen pump at the top of my base, running a heat dissipating pipe through several areas I don’t care about (but will have to dig through and survive), before finally pumping that good, and most importantly, cooler air near the bottom of my base. Not the exact bottom, you understand… I have to have somewhere the CO2’s going to… Oh wait, now I need to dig down. Crap.

Not Pictured: Me panicking as I realise I’m going to run out of Algae *and* Hydrogen before I can build and power a Slime to Algae Converter.

Right now, there isn’t an end-goal to the game, although there are tantalising hints and things to be discovered. Offices, isolated in the middle of this asteroid in nowhere. Vending machines, with notices not to put harmful materials in. Brains in jars, that give your Duplicants new or improved skills, providing you find them. And, of course, beasties. The simple Hatch, which can be useful for their ability to eat things and poop coal, but will also, unchecked, eat the food destined for your colonist’s bellies. The Slimepuff, which can make slime in areas of polluted oxygen… Whether you want them to or not. And, of course, germs. There’s more, obviously, but I want at least some mystery for the new player.

Overall, I look forward to seeing where Oxygen Not Included goes, because when it comes to survival games, you can’t really top this in terms of challenge without becoming deeply unfair and unfun. As it is, I can see the long-term frustration inherent to its core premise turning folks off, but I also appreciate the thought and craftsmanship that’s gone into making even surviving to 100 days plus possible without resorting to “Eh, this thing just makes the air cooler/adds oxygen/just removes a need” to this point.

MYSTERY!

The Mad Welshman is pleased to announce that Klei have entered the hallowed ranks of “These developers slightly intimidate me.” He politely asks that they not abuse this honour.

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