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.

Become a Patron!

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. 

Become a Patron!

Slay the Spire (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Slaying a sentient tower with all sorts of gribbleys living in, parasitising, and, to an extent, defending its ancient heart is, as it turns out, a difficult endeavour. Although it must be said that, at least some of the time, that’s definitely my fault. For example, spending lots of energy on a multiple attack card to try and kill something that reflects more damage than I’m handing out? That wasn’t a wise move.

Reading an ancient and maddening book when I was low on HP, and I already knew I didn’t have the HP to read it? My fault.

Ughhh… I will forever doubt if this grinning snake really was just giving me money.

Taking this path absolutely filled with monsters, and not a lot of healing or mystery options, because reasons? Yep, that bit me in the ass.

Still, Slay the Spire is, for all these things that were definitely my fault, a tough, turn based, choose your own path RPG brawler with a mechanic we seem to be seeing more of: Cards for skills, attacks, and powers, with what you can do limited by both hand size and Energy. And, you know? It’s got a fair few options spread among the 2 characters currently available.

The Ironclad, for example, specialises in defence, but also has nasty little tricks like Armament, a card that not only adds defense, but upgrades either a single card, or your whole hand. Or perhaps trading HP for strength, healing through murder, or Rampage, a card that slowly accrues damage with each use. Healing a little after every fight, he’s the long hauler.

The Silent, by contrast, has poison, and can quickly build up a deck where she builds up silly amounts of Energy and cards in the hand, for murderous barrages and a host of status effects. Sure, she doesn’t have a lot of defense, but when she gets going, things die very, very quickly.

Pictured: A lot of options, from the relics I’ve obtained, to the cards in my hand. How will I deal with this goshdarn ghost?

Add in the Relics, items that change up how things go the entire run, and the “Colourless” cards, available to all characters if they can find them, and you have a game with a lot of tactical options… If you can get them. After all, this is a procgen game, and there is no guaranteed route to a single build. The only thing that doesn’t really change… Is enemy patterns. Thieves gonna thieve, Priestesses gonna buff, and thorny orbs are only gonna get thornier the longer you leave them.

Visually, I’m quite fond of it. It’s simple, but it’s also very clear. You know what’s what, from the enemy intent, the tooltips are solid, and only with extremely silly builds do the cards become a little hard to distinguish. A little. Musically, the game’s orchestral tunes really set the scene, the drama, and fit well.

So, lots of tactical options, with adaptability required due to procgen? Okay, good. Good music? Yup. Accessible visuals, simple controls (It’s all mouse, and turn-based)? Good. Pattern based enemies and bosses being difficult the first time, but once you know the pattern, you at least know what you’re in for, all with interesting visual design? Yup. All in all, a solid game so far, very promising. When the worst things you can say is “Not for folks who hate turn based RPG combat, because it’s at the core” and “Some of the animations are a little lacking (Compensated for by solid soundwork)”, then you know you’re off to a good start.

The Silent is clever. She knows poisons that even affect the dread Slimes.

The Mad Welshman idly wonders about the Hexaghost’s backstory. I mean, was it a bad hexagon in life, or did it just have unfinished business?

Become a Patron!

Nowhere Prophet (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: $19.99 First Access (With further donation options)
Where To Get It: Itch.IO

The Scions of the Dreaming Dark surround my people. Their eldritch machines drain their blood, only to make them more violent, more willing to die for their leader. Their people may fall rapidly, but each time one falls, so do many of mine. And their leader… Their leader feeds off their hate, their rage, their death. He takes blows that would slay a normal human like rain off my jacket, shrugging, laughing.

My people are falling. We may never reach the Promised Land. And the longer this fight goes on… The harder it becomes.

Well… This is… Awkward. The combat plays *somewhat* like Hearthstone with the Momentum. But, y’know, without the monetisation. Sweet.

It’s intriguing, isn’t it, how games imply a world with mechanics. And Nowhere Prophet, by Sharkbomb Studio, does this so very well. Even for a game that currently has two areas playable.

The basic idea, storywise, is that you are a latter day Moses, except, of course, I really do mean “Latter” day, as the world has kind of gone to ruin, with some technology still being known, and used, but others, such as the satellite that crash lands near our titular Prophet, mystified and referred to in the simple terms of the day. It talks of safety, and knowledge. Isn’t that enough to make a grand journey for, and to share with others?

But here’s the thing: It’s all very well to promise a Promised Land. But how, in the end, will you lead your people? Praise knowledge? Kindness? How will you keep their hope up, when you aren’t there yet, and the journey seems so long… How will you defend them, in these hostile lands?

Hrm… Possibility of painful death, or Possibility of painfu… New followers? Sold!

While it’s not perfect, the game has this: How do you return hope? Well, the birth of a child can happen, that helps. But mostly, you’re passing round shinies, in the hope that it will distract them. It sounds cynical as hell, but it can’t be denied that yeah, a little luxury makes a journey go faster. Lose hope, and problems arise. Similarly, food. You sort of need that to live, last I checked. And so, tough decisions are made. Do you take that nastier route because it has food, even knowing that it’s going to cost food to get the food, and that said food is probably already claimed by animals, ancient and malfunctioning robots using it as bait, bandits, or an end-times cult? Or do you take the easier route in the hope that something comes along?

Combat, similarly, has options, due to the deckbuilding system. You start with 23 followers, and the clothes on your back, and, no matter how much you want to preserve these people you promised, if you die, everybody loses. Take out the enemy leader, or make them run away. Even here, there’s decisions to be made. Do you keep a lot of weaker followers that synergise well, but might die in droves if the fight doesn’t go the way you want it to? Maybe bigger folks, buying time with your followers. Use them too harshly, and… Well, you don’t have followers anymore.

As you might tell, I like and enjoy this game. That isn’t to say it’s perfect, but what imperfections it has? Well, it’s early days. But the writing is good, the art style really sets the tone for each faction, and my main criticisms right now can be fixed with time. Basically… More. A little more music, to break things up. Obviously, the areas that are already coming. For some of the events with options that require 50 followers or 26 Altruism to maaaaybe not proc in the first area where I don’t see reasonable ways of achieving this? That last one, honestly, is mostly a grump, these events can happen anywhere down the line, but… Yes, I’ve had a lot of enjoyment with Nowhere Prophet so far, and foresee more, because it makes interesting choices, has a cool art style, tutorialises well, and its mechanics sync well with its narrative. So, all in all? Thumbs up.

It’s important to note that not all paths are pre-mapped. There’s nearly always a way forward, even if it’s… Uncomfortable.

The Mad Welshman is a quiet Prophet. Mostly a prophet of interesting design choices that people seem to miss. Ah well, it’s a niche.

Become a Patron!

Stars In Shadow + Legacy DLC (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 Base Game, Legacy DLC £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I’d missed Stars In Shadow the first time around, sadly, but, thanks to a nice, cheap DLC introducing a new race, hey, I get to review it! Isn’t that nice? Wait, a cyborg race worshipping a computer that comprises most of their planet? Even better!

Awww, wookitdawiddle religious murderbots!

So, for those who, like me, missed Stars In Shadow, the basic idea is that it’s a relatively simple, very friendly to play turn based strategy game in space, where you raise an alien species (or, y’know, humans) with differing specialities and flaws to the stars in a micro-universe. Usually, it must be said, through building lots of ships and tanks, murderising the heck out of everyone else, while researching ways to keep your economy going and build better, murderier tanks and ships.

Okay, so there’s maybe other victory conditions too, like allied victory and winning the galactic presidency… But blowing ships up is, honestly, a skill you’ll need throughout. Also it involves building your very own Dread Star, and how many can turn that down?

Because this is mainly to do with the DLC, however, let us note that the majority of my playtime has been with the Tinkers, the cybernetic race who possess the upside of not needing food, and the downside of… Well, tying up an entire planet’s resources every time they want to increase their otherwise slow to grow population. Dagnabbit, game abstractions! They also convert population by, effectively, borging them, which is a shame, because they otherwise seem like very nice theocrats who worship a planet computer.

The Herald, who, sadly, had to make bank off someone else… Who got the sweet, sweet technologies I didn’t.

Which is a sentence I never thought I’d say. In any case, even if the Legacy DLC just involved a playable faction, it would be reasonably priced, but there’s also an added NPC race (The Arda Seed, who are treefolk), and… The Herald. The Herald’s an interesting one, as he flies about the galaxy, visiting pretty much every race, and offering them a leg up, research wise, in exchange for materials. It adds a bit of much needed spice.

There’s actually a fair bit added for the price, and that’s somewhat nice, because, as is, Stars In Shadow is very streamlined. It’s friendly enough that I would certainly recommend it as an entry point into Space 4X games, and the turn based combat is pleasant, as is the ship design system, but… I freely admit I have a little trouble saying much because I’m rather used to different fare by now. Is Stars In Shadow good? Alas, not for me personally. But, as mentioned, it’s a friendly and mostly accessible entry point into the 4X genre, and games are relatively quick. A 50 star game can be finished in a couple of hours, either to victory or defeat, and when it does end in defeat, it’s usually pretty clear what you had problems with. And the Legacy DLC? Well, it adds a bit more depth, a bit more challenge, and an entirely new race to play with for a very reasonable price.

A good example of an early game mistake: Taking on space pirates with only starting weaponry. So consider this “1 turn before Bad Things Happen.”

The Mad Welshman likes robot factions. It’s one of the easier ways to his heart.

Become a Patron!