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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Basingstoke (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Welcome to Basingstoke, a town filled with sausage rolls, quaint pubs, AND THE LIVING DEAD. We hope you enjoy your stay in the picturesque recycling bins, sewer pipes, and assorted possibly-safe buildings. There is no escape.

My character’s name sounds a bit like Gordon right now. There is no reason I find this fitting at all.

Basingstoke, the latest offering from Puppygames (and not the small English town, although it is set there) is an interesting game. It’s definitely an action game, but avoidance and stealth, rather than killing, is the main focus (Although weapons do exist, only a few are guaranteed a quick kill, and most of them are loud.) It’s procedurally generated, and has older game concepts just kind of strewn about, like save items, level-based gameplay, and the like. It is, in short, a mix of old and new ideas, starting with perhaps one of the older ones: Science going wrong, because a big company delved into things Man Was Not Meant To Know (Never goes wrong in a videogame, amirite?), and so Basingstoke is now a hellhole filled with zombies, mutants, aliens, and death-robots. A hellhole that you, the latest interviewee for Omnicorp, have to escape.

And it works. It works really well. Part of that is that Puppygames is no stranger to adding their own touches to arcade based play, and have a solid grasp of the low-poly aesthetic, with good sound design and occasional music. And part of this is that, most of the time, it feels fair, with the difficulty escalating sensibly, except when you screw up and trigger a loud noise, in which case the sudden horde of zombies is, definitively, your fault.

My last thought was “DO NOT RUN IN THE HALLWAYS”, oddly.

There’s also good variety in play. Myself, I mostly like non-confrontational play, creeping around, distracting enemies with sausage rolls or sandwiches, occasionally setting groups of zombies on fire with a molotov or flamethrower, if I can get hold of the salvage needed to build them. And the game supports this quite well. Get some Instant Coffee (freely available from drink dispensers, relatively common), and you can mix it with a sandwich, kebab, or the like to turn the zombie that eats it on its fellows. Or, y’know, just have a nice cup of coffee. Still, running hell for leather everywhere is, definitely on the early levels, still a valid and workable strategy if you’re clever about it.

And each has their downsides. My stealthy play, for example, is mostly slow, and I don’t get to explore everywhere. As such, my item use suffers somewhat. Running, meanwhile, attracts Tentacles, and even the twitchiest of players will occasionally get caught out by one that spawns either on top of them, or in such a way that it’s going to grab you. And in Basingstoke, one hit is a kill for your player character.

With revolutionary new RECYCLEBIN-O-VISION, you can see exactly how boned you, in fact, are.

There’s a fair amount to like about Basingstoke. For example, I can start from later levels if I really want to, and the Insurance Policy, if I can afford it, means I get to save mid-level (once.) There’s infinite retries on a level. It can turn down the flashing and gore, and it’s largely pretty clear how to play, tutorialising well. It also feels tense, without being aggravating. Yes, I can die at any second. But I know the progress from the previous level won’t be undone, and I can still try again. I know my progress overall won’t be undone. And I find myself, overall, looking forward to whatever evil thing the game is going to throw my way, be that for me, like when I made a proximity mine, or against me, like the large alien carnivores of the Underground. Well worth a look if you like stealth action titles.

The Mad Welshman sprinkled coffee, breadcrumbs, and bean juice over his egg and bacon sandwich, and smiled nastily. Somewhere, some zombie was going to have a very, very Full English day.

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Catacomb Kids (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam
Version: 0.1.4c

Feel is a very important thing, from the feel of movement, to the feel of fairness. Like Vagante, which I reviewed, Catacomb Kids is dark… Has plenty of instant death traps… And mixes roguelike and platformer. But, unlike Vagante, Catacomb Kids feels more fair, more fluid, more fun. And it’s not even finished yet.

A hectic, joyful combat, just seconds before I combat-identify… A potion of flames. MY BAD.

So, how does it feel better? It’s a lot of things, adding up. Combat, for one, is somewhat easier. Yes, there’s rolling, and even bats and rats can harm you, but healing is fairly common, swings are mostly rapid, and there’s a sense of impact to even lighter blows. Magic, similarly, is very common, and can even be used by the most magic averse (with some risk.) More intelligent enemies run away, find friends, and even use potions, which makes it feel like, y’know, a living, breathing place. The traps still kind of suck, but I rarely find myself knocked back into spikes for an instadeath or the like.

No, more commonly, it’s the panic that results from rolling into the “SNAP” of a burning oil trap… Ohgodohgod the oil’s pouring, and if I do-FWOOSH. Dead. It’s quite avoidable, much like everything, and the signposting is there (the ceiling spike traps being the least signposted, the lava and crusher blocks the most.) But it’s a scary trap, and this, too, adds to the feel.

Popcorn also adds to the feel, in a pleasant way.

At the present time, the four classes appear to be locked in: Bullies, who can willingly alert nearby enemies and specialise in hitting things rather hard; Tinkers, who have a mechanical buddy for assistance, and are generally quite smart; Poets, also quite smart, but specialising in magic; and Wanderers, who can get an idea of their surroundings well, and specialise in being quick. Kids in each class are generated by set, and there’s a lot of choice in rolling a new character, from spending a little money to roll a new random Kid, spending a fair amount of money to make a custom kid who maybe, maybe, has the skills and equipment to do better than you did, to spending no money at all, and sending these poor, adventuring young adults to their doom, getting a new set when you exhaust the current one. Since each class is only limited in weapon use by things like wanting to use a weapon they like or have skill with, or not wanting to use a weapon they don’t like, and therefore suck at, there’s a lot of room, a lot of potential depth, in each run. And I like that.

The base tutorial for the game is good, but it should be noted that the character customisation screen isn’t terribly informative right now, so it’s a good idea to memorise those icons, checking what they do in play, before taking the leap of a custom Kid.

Visible representation of kit is pretty good, both in portrait and in the game.

That niggle aside, though, I’m having a lot of fun with Catacomb Kids at its present stage. It’s got a lot of tension, but not so much pressure, a fair amount of toys in the toybox to play with, and to see it so enjoyable, so early pleases me.

The Mad Welshman sometimes feels like a slime. Alas, no takeout in this world offers the good stuff.

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Going Back – Death Coming

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So here we are, looking at a game where the main character, after having died, is employed by death to… Use various items around the levels to crush, burn, boil, freeze, and, generally speaking, make a lot of pixel people very, very dead. Death Coming is a good dictionary definition of “Guilty Pleasure”, considering its subject matter.

Yup. Pushing tourists into toxic goop by means of plant is one of those “Guilty Pleasure” things.

But y’know what? It’s fun, and I’m somehow shocked I missed this one back in November of last year. Ah well, let’s take a look now.

As noted, the basic gameplay idea is very simple: You have a town, and a certain number of items around town are imbued with the power of death. What this amounts to is that, when clicked for the first time, they (mostly) show you roughly what they’re going to kill, and, the second time around, they activate (With some later additions like guards who stop things going awry, and more complex, multipart death traps.) Aided with this knowledge, two goals are in sight: Kill a certain number of people (Who Death informs you have lived past their time), and kill three specific people in each level, because they, apparently, are both past their time and linked, in some fashion, to your own death.

Aesthetically, the game’s isometric, pixel artwork and ominous tunes give a good backdrop to this strategy game of mass murder, with a whole host of animations that only gets bigger as the varieties of death get stranger and stranger. Here, the manhole cover is opened, and there’s just a frame of suspension, before the fall into darkness, a meaty crunch, and an FPS style announcer deeply intoning “MEGAKILL.” This is not a game trying to step around its subject matter.

Some folks, apparently, need to die more than others. At least some of these can be related to the level’s narrative.

I like how it progresses, and I also like how there’s a very real sense, as the game goes on, that Death is maybe not playing ball, and that maaaaybe we’ve been duped. THE POLICE ARE HERE, as angels descend from the heavens to try and stop your murderous shenanigans. Wait, if the people really are past their time to live, then why… Ohhhhh…

The game does a fairly good job of adding to its replayability, with each area having a new wrinkle, unique feature, or extra step in difficulty (such as the introduction of changes due to different weather conditions. Dagnabbit, I missed my 3 minute window to use a manhole!) , and this leads me to the two niggles I have with this game: That it’s somewhat short (Delightful, but short), and that it has a single save system.

Otherwise, Death Coming is an interesting take on hidden object puzzle gameplay, with a solid focus around its theme, some black comedy, and good replayability. Worth a look.

Every level adding something new, some new wrinkle. Today’s wrinkle? Weather, part the second!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot more to say. The game kind of speaks for itself.

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Ghost of a Tale (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

A lot can be said about how intimidating it is, playing a largely pacifist mouse in a world of giant, angry rats, that it’s taken me this long to take a look at Ghost of a Tale, the stealth action RPG by SeithCG. But, like Tilo, the mouse bard protagonist of this game, I’ve gotten over that, and honestly? I’m glad I have.

I feel you, little guy… They *are* scary!

Ghost of a Tale is, at its most basic level, a game where you, Tilo the mouse bard, must explore an ancient keep, hoping to save your wife Merra (Imprisoned, like you, for treason) and escape. Of course, if it were that simple, we wouldn’t have either the tension or the interest, so there’s a pretty wide cast of characters, some friendly, some not quite friendly, and many of which aren’t friendly at all, considering that they’re either beasties out for any blood they can get… Or the rat guards, who, understandably considering the charge you’ve been imprisoned under, aren’t exactly fond of you.

Of course, this doesn’t bring secret doors, shortcuts, a hint system in the form of a seemingly friendly blacksmith, a small web of intrigue, and something about an Emerald Flame, a great evil that may or may not be rising again… And some fine characters, all set in a beautifully rendered environment. There’s a fair bit to do in Ghost of a Tale, and I appreciate how, while the rats are a threat, they’re a threat that can be dealt with in a variety of ways, including running away (Even walking, you are slightly faster than the rat guards) and hiding until they return to their posts. Failing that, slime trips them up (if they’re not wearing boots), bottles knock them out (if they’re not wearing helmets), and, eventually, two sets of armour that allow you to move unchallenged… Past the guards, anyway.

I get the distinct feeling I’m not meant to be up here… Yet.

There’s a fair amount I like about Ghost of a Tale, as the shortcuts are helpful, the world is pretty, and the characters are, when they speak, charming and amusing (Kerold the Frog Pirate, for example, has a fine example of breaking the fourth wall with items that don’t turn up until you know they’re there… I won’t spoil it for you.) But this isn’t to say there aren’t things I get a bit grumpy about. There’s a fair amount of the game that can best be described as “Collectathon-ing” , and some of the puzzles are a little obtuse. There are maps, but it’s a case of finding a safe spot to look at your inventory, and memorising.

Still, overall, I find Ghost of a Tale more charming than frustrating, and, despite being intimidating looking in the early game, it’s a cool game that emphasises exploration and trickery over violence, and a pretty accessible one at that. Worth a go!

Top of the world, ma! (No, really, highest point in the game’s rather large map, apparently)

The Mad Welshman is not ashamed to admit the Rat-Guard scared him. It just means they’re doing their job well, is all!

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