Early Access Review: Downward

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Version Reviewed: 0.47

“It’s facing downward!” Yes, like the last twenty times. I think I get it now.

You know what I really loved about Prince of Persia 2008? Collecting lightseeds. That was, hands down, the best part of that game. Sod smooth platforming, sod weird not-deaths, the lightseeds were totally the best part of PoP2008. Followed closely by the backtracking to get those powerups I need to progress.

That preceding paragraph is, of course, complete bullshit unless you replace “best” with “worst.” So you can imagine how I feel about the Skypieces in Downward, a game that tries to take the nigh effortless free running of Prince of Persia or Mirror’s Edge, the collectathons from a lot of platformers of my youth, and the posthuman mystery elements of modern science-fiction/fantasy.

It achieves the collectathon, I will give it that. So let’s start with the story!

“As you can see Bob, Wormwood, Great Cthulhu, *and* The Giant Meteor have a really good platform this year!”

It is the year 1125AD. Except it clearly isn’t, because there’s technology, and the world has split into weird shards, ala Gravity Falls, and somehow people survived. Except they didn’t, because they killed each other off. I would like to think, in the interests of black comedy, that the AD stands for “After Donald” (or, if you’re a Brit like me, “After David”), and it’s days instead of years. You are an artefact hunter, who suddenly finds himself talking to someone who is clearly not an AI in a crystal lattice, I want to make that clear right now, and begins collecting things because this will solve the mystery of what happened to humanity. Somehow.

The protagonist shows his colours by exclaiming what useless things the mysterious KeyCubes are, or just expresses confusion, after he has already collected something like 30 of them, from jumping puzzles, angry, highly pattern based golems, and just general fucking about. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

Ooooh, mysteri- Oh, wait, not really. Sigh.

See, I’m not opposed to story justifying games. I’m not even necessarily opposed to bad story justifying gameplay. I am, however, opposed to jank. And jank, my friends, is what currently inhabits Downward. The Not-Lightseeds are used for unlocking powers. A good 90% of them are simple quality of life stuff, and the other 10% is the strangely thought out ability to trade the cost of Arbitrary Powergem Usage for placing teleporters, and teleporting to them for free, with the cost of sod all for placing teleporters, and costing Arbitrary Powergem Usage to teleport to them. Hrm. Infinite teleports to a limited number of places between refills (via fountains, which replenish health, gems, and stamina), orrrrr just four straight teleports, but I can choose where to place the endpoint infinitely…

…Already, I’m getting “the Not-Lightseeds can largely be ignored” and “I wasted 290 of them when I could have got more teleports.” Of course, by the point of this realisation, I had also realised that the space bar, used for most jump mechanics, doesn’t always chain like its meant to, and level placement of the parkour-able walls, some too low, some too high, some at awkward angles, meant that I couldn’t trust that chaining anyway.

Pretty. Disconnected. It… Kinda looks how the game *feels*

I want to say “Hey, it’s Early Access, at least some of this will be fixed by release”, as it’s at version 0.47 at the time of writing, but… It’s not going to fix how arbitrary, how hollow it all feels. Whither golems? Wherefore strange crystal turrets? To what end Skypieces? I don’t feel I’ll get answers, I don’t really feel motivated to explore these (sometimes pretty) not-quite-Arabic, not-quite-Medieval worlds, to interact with the few characters that exist, or to grind my brain and fingers, time and time again, against a world that isn’t dragging me in, only pushing me away with mocking removal of Skypieces when I die, itself hollow because, as I’ve mentioned, they largely don’t matter.

What I’m basically saying is: The platforming is currently finicky and unfun, the story feels arbitrary, and the protagonist is a tabula rasa that has somehow gained the power of speech… To his detriment. I’ll take a look again at release, but for now… I’m not impressed.

The Mad Welshman picked up his trusty keyboard, the eldritch symbols of power etched upon its slabs. “Hrm, what’s this for?” he mused, as he used it to write these words.

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Caves of Qud (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It:

It perhaps says something, whether about me, or the design of Caves of Qud, that I hadn’t actually noticed it was still in Early Access. “Oh, I haven’t gotten to this fellow yet!”

“That’s because we hadn’t put him in yet.”

Before you go thinking this is a bad sign, I’d like you to take a look at this map. This map is, as far as I am aware, entirely explorable, although certain areas are more deadly than others. It’s just, right now, there’s only a few quest lines, and you have to explore to find more than two of them, or, indeed, some of the other odd sights of the game.

Pretty much all of this is explorable. Each "tile" here appears to be about three screens wide/high. That's a lot of screens.

Pretty much all of this is explorable. Each “tile” here appears to be about three screens wide/high. That’s a lot of screens.

Good example, on my last run, I was curious about a fish, just sitting there in the open. Turns out it was a trader, and a pretty good one at that. So yes, this is emblematic of how Caves of Qud is meant to be played: Carefully, and with attention paid both to the in-game manual and the surroundings. Especially since even the starting areas are a threat. So let’s talk about the various early-games of Timot, Mutated Human Tinker.

Timot, in all of the universes we are about to discuss, knows how to move, has a stinger on his back with paralyzing venom, glows in the dark, and is strangely muscled for one of his slight stature. He has learned a secret of the ancient mechanisms of Qud (Usually, it must be said, some form of grenade or other easily understood weapon), and can make them if he has the materials (Again, he usually has enough to make at least one.) His story always starts in Joppa, a small village with a food problem, a Zealot of the Six Day Stilt (an anti-machine cult… The Zealot seldom survives), an irascible tinker named Argyve (Who Timot invariably makes friends with, by trading some of his gear with), a trader of the Dromad people (Camel like merchants), and several chests (Which Timot loots. So don’t feel bad about his many deaths, Timot is not a nice person. So few are in Qud.)

A Qudzu field. Qudzu, in this game, is even nastier than normal. It rusts things. And it *wants* to rust things close to it...

A Qudzu field. Qudzu, in this game, is even nastier than normal. It rusts things. And it *wants* to rust things close to it…

Even here, there is potentially death. In some universes, Timot is interrupted in his thievery by Ctephius, a glowing ray-cat, and the villagers’ justice is swift. Rarely, the Zealot is triumphant, and Timot’s corpse feeds the water giving vinewafers. But Timot soon sets off, either to the Rust Plains, to gather copper wire for Argyve’s communication device, or to the caves to the north, to deal with Joppa’s food problem.

To the east, canyons and caves. To the north, however, the universes diverge more readily. Sometimes, a road bisects the vinewafer marshes Timot tramps through. Sometimes, Timot encounters ruins of the ancients, with their defenses still active, and larger, nastier creatures. All too often, Timot has cried “I have found this ancient device, and divined its meaning, it is a fine weapon, and no-URK” , as the Chitinous Puma he hadn’t noticed, or foolishly ignored, eviscerated him. Yes, even on the way to one of the first quests, creatures vastly more powerful than you can be encountered, and you can’t always run away in time. Other things only look tough, thankfully.

In another set of universes still, a vast fungus or slime field lies between Timot and his goal of Red Rock. These also have potential for good or ill, as the Weeps of the fungal fields, long forgotten biological tools of the ancients, create many substances, whether water-spoiling salt, black welling oil, life giving water, and sometimes, stranger substances, such as acids, cider, wine, honey, and even, in one case, lava. But guarding those Weeps are the fungi themselves, infecting any who dare to come close with their own unique brand of fungal infection, from the relatively benign Glowcrust to the more annoying Azurepuff.

An extremely good example of the more dangerous Weeps. That creature is about to learn that no, dousing yourself in a river immediately after dousing yourself in lava is not a solid survival strategy...

An extremely good example of the more dangerous Weeps. That creature is about to learn that no, dousing yourself in a river immediately after dousing yourself in lava is not a solid survival strategy…

This is all before Timot even reaches Red Rock, although he could bypass a lot of this by virtue of quick travel. But then, why would he, when the rewards can be so grand? Admittedly, a lot of the time, it’s food, or basic weaponry to trade in exchange for items, trade goods such as copper nuggets, or that combination of lifegiver and basic currency, water. But a single Water Weep, especially early on, is the stuff of mercantile legend, and the canny (or lucky) explorer can find lost technology, from grenades of various sorts, to utility devices like those poorly understand teleportation devices, the Recoilers, all the way to the truly strange, such as symbiotic fireflies, spheres of negative weight, or the fabled gaslight weaponry, elegant and lethal symbols of forgotten glory.

Of course, death also comes in many forms to the unwary, and the game is not the friendliest to begin with. It’s definitely a game where reading the in-game help is highly recommended, and, while the alternate overlay mostly reduces clutter, I find it far more useful to use the older stat/message overlay, turning it off to reduce clutter when I’m not in a dangerous situation, and holding ALT to more clearly see certain terrain features (Trash, mostly.) Sadly, the alternate button overlay is somewhat cluttered itself, obscuring several portions of the screen.

Still, that there’s enough in the game already to explore and wonder at that I completely missed the fact an important NPC hadn’t been introduced until last week speaks well of the game, and roguelike fans may do well by themselves for checking it and its mostly readable tileset out. They’ll certainly find quite a few stories waiting for them.

...Stories such as Morookat, The Spiteful Thief and his Fiery End.

…Stories such as Morookat, The Spiteful Thief and his Fiery End.

The Mad Welshman looked around after he closed the door. Nobody, good. He opened the Joppa villager’s chest, grinning as he saw steel and water. And then he heard it. “Mrow?”

Fuck. The Cat had found him.

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Caves of Qud (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

The world of Caves of Qud (by Freehold Games, creators of Sproggiwood) is a harsh one. I’m too canny to starve, or go thirsty, but I’ve been killed by plants, by hyena-men, by mortars, and by bear-things that should not be. I’m having a whale of a time.

Genre wise, Caves of Qud is a roguelike set in a post-apocalyptic world. Three arcologies hold the last True Humans, who have all, in some fashion, been changed, and mutants are the “average” citizens. I’ve mainly been playing an Artifex, from the Ice Sheathed Arcology of Ibul, in the North, a caste not very good at fighting, but extremely good with the lost artefacts of the days where Things Weren’t Quite So Fucked. But that’s by no means the only option. There are four castes for each Arcology, and the variety of playing mutants, who start with much less money, but make up for it with powers like Light Manipulation (allowing them to not only light their surrounding area easily, but also create lasers by focussing light to a single, searing line). Of course, everyone has their flaws too, and no one build appears broken compared to the others. Perhaps because the world is so deadly.

The world is big, and even a trip to the nearest ruin or cave can lead to unexpected trouble.

The world is big, and even a trip to the nearest ruin or cave can lead to unexpected trouble.

If you’ve never played a Roguelike, you may be thinking “It’s turn based, and the graphics aren’t modern and shiny, where’s the tension, where’s the excitement?”

You would be surprised. A good example would be a monster found semi-regularly on later floors of the very first dungeon, the Slumberling. Basically a massive, speedy, nigh unkillable bear that, if woken up, can rip you to shreds without much effort at all. Imagine he’s in the middle of a cave, and you’re passing him, step, by step… And then a Snapjaw Hunter (A hyena-man with a bow) fires at you. He didn’t hit the Slumberling or you this turn… But there’s going to be a chance, even if he’s aiming for you, that he misses horribly, and wakes the organic death machine up. In the end, it’ll only be a small comfort that, after dealing with you, it’s probably going to kill the Snapjaw that killed you. What’s your move? Shoot him? Block the arrows as best you can with your body, and hope he doesn’t kill you before you close? Or worse, miss you and hit that Slumberling? Even with the game being turn based, tension is definitely there. It’s just you have all the time in the world to think how you’re going to react to the situation. Still doesn’t mean you’re definitely going to make the right choice.

Enemies can use items just like you can. Case in point: This acid cloud didn't come from me.

Enemies can use items just like you can. Case in point: This acid cloud didn’t come from me.

The interface for the game, as far as Roguelikes go, is actually quite good. Everything has a place, you can easily switch between inventory, or quests, or equipment, even if you went to one of the others without intending to, and everything is clear. The amount of artefacts isn’t huge, but it’s big enough that there’ll always be something you’ll find, providing you live that long, which makes you giggle and wiggle in your seat. And, if you want to stick with and master a single class, the option is there to replay your last character (Albeit with a different selection of equipment) There’s no single skill you have to have, and the skill tree gives you a fair bit of wiggle room. Do you go for Axes, tripping and headbutting enemies as you go? Long Swords, with a skill path that allows you to melee swathes of enemies at once? Or perhaps Persuasion, getting other people to do the dirty work for you, and taking the various traders to the cleaners instead of the other way around? There’s a lot of options, and I definitely enjoy that. Hell, some of the best fun I’ve had in this game is in getting lost, and encountering Gorilla cultists, hunting for water (Both the game’s currency and a necessity. Tip from one who found out the hard way: Don’t take traders for all their “money”, as they’ll die, and upset their friends. Some of whom are mutants with very big guns), and seeking strange new device plans, in equally strange locales (I really have to visit the ocean. I think I will, this run. Just for the hell of it.)

What I’ll admit I don’t enjoy so much is that some of the enemies are not entirely fair. I mentioned Slumberlings are nigh impossible to kill in the early game, but that won’t stop them spawning in the first caves you visit. Ruins are, in the early game, almost certainly deathtraps, with a much higher chance of encountering a still-active heavy weapon turret that ends your life than a much needed artefact. It’s not recommended for the easily frustrated, and it’s definitely not a beginner’s roguelike. But for the price they’re asking (£6.99), it’s definitely a good roguelike, with some interesting ideas. And there’s more on the way.

You may not understand if you've never played Roguelikes, but seeing this was both awesome and terrifying. I don't *like* it when the RNG likes me. And, sure enough, I died shortly thereafter.

You may not understand if you’ve never played Roguelikes, but seeing this was both awesome and terrifying. I don’t *like* it when the RNG likes me. And, sure enough, I died shortly thereafter.

The Mad Welshman wanders the jungles of Qud, forever dying, forever going back in time. Sometimes he’s a mutant, sometimes he’s a True Human. One day, he shall find the mythical “dying of old age.”

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Endless Legend: Guardians DLC (Review)

Source: Review Code
Price: £6.99
Where to Get ItSteam


Auriga: A sentient world, doomed to a slow death by an ice age it cannot escape. Many folks live on Auriga, and now, with the Guardians expansion, there’s a fair bit more to do. One of the difficulties with reviewing expansions to games is that, many times, you have to ask “But what’s it actually adding to the game?”, as quite a bit of DLC is cosmetic by nature, and so… Can be summed up by the phrase “Wellll… If you want to look like this, then yeah, sure, go for it, otherwise… Don’t really bother?”

Guardians lets you know, from the very beginning, that this isn’t the case. Global Events. Legendary beings. Co-operative and competitive quests… This DLC adds a whole new dimension to the game, and it’s been my pleasure to see how it changes the gameplay.

At least it wasn't the Drakken.

Awwwh crap, who’s building that before me… WHOOOOO?!?

And, from the very beginning, a new goal presents itself: The Museum of Auriga. A whopping 20% approval for each level of the building (Which is based on the city’s expansion), and +20% Research and Dust (the game’s nano-magical currency) across my entire empire if I build it first and keep people happy? That’s… One hell of a first prize, and I can see very few factions, AI or human, not wanting to go for that as soon as humanly possible. And already, I’m wary. Research and Dust are pretty much the core of at least two factions’ playstyles, and 20% at the first tier of the game is not to be sniffed at. The second tier, equally, is pretty powerful… 25% extra industry, over my entire empire, per level? These are game changers, and I’m not entirely sure I like that. I like it even less when I look at my research indicator and see that someone else is building it. That’s pressure, because firstly, I’m playing Broken Lords on this particular review playthrough, and both of those boosts could help my play, and secondly, because I have random factions as enemies, and I’m guessing, judging by the early score boost, that either the Drakken or the Ardent Mages are sharing my version of Auriga, and the empire building could just as equally help them. It’s not insurmountable (After all, I could, after a point, steal the improvement by conquering one of their cities)… But it adss tension I’m not sure I need so early. Helping, however, are Unique buildings, that help shore up weaknesses in strategy, and, later in the game, unique Legendary Units (1 in Tier 3, 2 in Tiers IV and V) with useful abilities like Mind Control and the like, armies unto themselves (No, really… They can’t join armies, they’re that big.)

Papa Nurgle loves you all.

It’s pretty rare this infected village doesn’t belong to somebody else. It’s even more rare they’ll deal with it themselves. Have fun!

Empire goals, on the other hand, are a little more welcome. They unlock technologies (Much like certain story missions do for each faction) or resources (The one I got in Tier 1, Wealth Harvester, gave me enough Dye to use its special bonus for much of the early to mid game), and, like Legendary Buildings, their bonus only applies on a first come, first served basis. Co-operative quests also fall into this category, as they require dealing with a common threat. The one I got early on in the game (Pictured), added tension in more than one respect, because the plagued villages in question, which were making all non-pacified villages more aggressive and lethal? Were firmly in the territory of the Necrophages, who were unwilling to relinquish their favoured sons for the good of Auriga. Again, it adds tension, it adds stories, and that’s the true value of the DLC.

Overall, this DLC is a game changer, adding tension to an already tense 4X game, and whether you want to purchase it or not genuinely depends on whether you want to add more swing to the game, more moments of crying “Oh shit, now they’ve got that thing” or “HAH, Now I am the better builder, and I worry about you no longer!”. Multiplayer is also a consideration here: I’m mainly a single player kind of guy, but in Multiplayer, global events and the competitive and co-operative quests add a new dimension that’s honestly welcomed as a shakeup, variation in what can often be a competition of adaptation and optimal building. The difference shows almost from the beginning, adding impetus to certain goals, and so, if this is what you’re after, then it’s definitely worth the £6.99 Amplitude are asking for. Just be aware that it can seriously change the dynamic of your game, and you won’t be disappointed.

I wish the one for food came earlier... :C

Either extra research, or shoring up a weak research town? YES PLEASE.

Endless Legend: Guardians was released on the 29th April 2015. It was the Ardent Mages who got the first Legendary Building before me, and they cleaned my clock in the mid-game. I was sweating the whole time.

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