Archive for the ‘Early Access Releases’ Category:

Risk of Rain 2 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Risk of Rain, it seems, has made the transition to 3D. And you would think that this could be a very good thing. It could. Right now, though, it’s not really for me.

For some odd reason (CAN’T think why), the majority of my screenshots are me lying dead near a boss. Mysterious.

Okay, let’s back up a second. Risk of Rain, the original, had you, one of several unlockable protagonists, trying to make your way back to the prison ship you had been ejected from, through a land filled with teleporting enemies that got increasingly more hostile the longer the run went. It was clever, because it forced you to balance going fast with being prepared, and its bosses were quite interesting. And Risk of Rain 2, essentially, appears to be more of the same, but this time in 3D. So… Let’s discuss that aspect of things.

Some enemies, like the Wisps, have become somewhat easier (to kill, anyway), but, overall, there’s a lot of added obstacles that 3D has brought. For example, in the first Risk of Rain, you generally had attacks from three directions. In 3D, well, that number has quite drastically multiplied, so where, in the original, a horde was theoretically still Not Really A Big Thing (Except in terms of the time it takes to murder them), in Risk of Rain 2, certain hordes make things very awkward for the player. Wisps are a prime example, because, while individually easy to kill, they have sniper like accuracy, and you only have so much dodge to go around to avoid their shots… If you’re aware of them.

Sometimes, though, you just have to appreciate natural beauty while your drones murder things.

Add in that running is oddly bound (Ctrl, because Shift is dodge. You might want to rebind that), and has a nasty tendency to stop after… Well, anything that isn’t running, really (Especially jumps and dodges), and playing solo has multiple issues. Honestly, snipes and beams appear to be the biggest source of woes here, and it may be a good idea for those to get toned down. Finally, while the teleporter was somewhat visually distinctive in Risk of Rain 1, it becomes much less so in 2, and so time can often be wasted by not actually knowing where the teleporter is, when you’ve run past it several times.

So… Some work is needed. I will say, however, that the worlds of Risk of Rain are actually kind of elegant in 3D, allowing for more kinds of secrets and interesting things to find, that everything except the teleported has translated well visually, and that the sound and music remain as good as the first Risk of Rain. As with the original Risk of Rain, once a run gets going, it’s pretty damn glorious and chaotic, as powerups add things like slowing, burning, detonating on death, giving health orbs on death… A lot goes on, and I feel that sticking with much the same powerups and enemies does give a sense of familiarity that helps ease players of the original into it.

Whether single or multiplayer, one thing remains the same… Damn, fights can get chaotic, and this is glorious…

So that, essentially, is Risk of Rain 2 so far. 3D has added challenges, some enemies seem a little more accurate than is necessary, but the basics are down and clearly working. While I haven’t exactly enjoyed it so far, I did enjoy Risk of Rain 1, so I think it may well grow on me as it makes its way through early access.

Before anyone asks, no, The Mad Welshman refuses to “Git Gud.” Beyond hating the phrase, he’s already perfect…

Destiny or Fate (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, Destiny is kind. Other times, I seem fated to look at unenjoyable things. At the present time, at least, Destiny or Fate, unfortunately, is the latter. Not that there isn’t a chance, as the basic idea, that of a turn based card battler, has been proven to work several times.

Kyle, Strider Hiryu’s lesser known, angstier brother.

The thing is, DoF is swingy as heck. When it goes well, it goes well. And when it doesn’t, it’s a tiresome, unenjoyable slog. And there’s a few potential reasons for this.

The basic idea is fine: Move between areas clearly labelled as normal fights, elite fights, shops, events, and bosses. If it’s a fight of some description, you get 3 mana a turn to play cards, and playing cards of the same type as currently unlit orbs on your character’s status gives energy for a special ability, which triggers when it’s full. Win a fight, you get rewarded with a couple of different types of currency, a new card for your deck, and a monster to add to your party from the ones you fought. At the shop, you can buy and upgrade cards, unlock heroes after you’ve met them in events, and upgrade both your hero and your captive monsters. Beat the boss to go to the next area, and no, you don’t get to buy the boss.

Skellington McSpikeyArmour here pretty much emblemises the problems. That 70 defence is going to take a while to get through, and he’s going to be doing X% of Max HP attacks in the meantime…

All this would be fine, if each individual step didn’t have problems with it. 3 mana a turn means a max of 3 cards (This is assuming you’re not inflicted with a card cost status effect) a turn, which makes fights go on. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad if the rewards were better, but, often, they aren’t that great. Special abilities, theoretically, encourage you to mix and match defence and offence, but a fair few special abilities are, basically, extra attacks. The ones that aren’t vary wildly in effectiveness, from poison being pretty weak, to powerful frailty effects that double damage. Speaking of rewards, the shops are expensive, and multiple battles are needed to be able to afford a single card or upgrade. This, again, wouldn’t be a problem, except that bosses are mean, and going into a boss fight without a good deck, a full, preferably half health or above party, and some nasty special abilities is basically a losing proposition… But going round the map to collect things is not only grindy, the success of that plan depends on the fights going well. Of the boss abilities, the “X% of Max HP all attacks” definitely seem to be the most common run-killers, because without good defensive cards, that one’s pretty much “Someone or multiple someones just die. Thanks for playing!”

That’s a lot of words, but basically, they can be summed up as “There’s a whole bunch of balance issues fighting each other over which is the worst, while the game feel suffers.”

Events do regenerate, but, as you can see, I’m in no shape to fight the boss…

Visually, it isn’t bad. It’s consistent, it’s clear, there’s some good designs here (and some very silly fantasy stereotypes, but hey), and it doesn’t take a whole lot of non-tutorial poking to understand what’s what. Soundwise, though… Well, there it falls again, not just because of a strange bug which resets the main sound volume (without affecting the option slider), but because it’s ho-hum. There is a battle tune (An awkward mix of chiptune and strings), some generic sound effects, and… Well, while it’s clear, none of it grabs, and the battle tune very quickly wears on you, as you’re going to hear it a lot. It doesn’t help that the dramatic, JRPG style it’s going for contrasts with “Play some cards, hit end turn, watch effects and numbers pop up.”

At the end of a run, what you preserve is… The heroes unlocked. Some stuff is early access problems (Such as some quests claiming you don’t have money when you do), and relatively forgivable, but, overall, while the game visually does well, it wears on the sound front, and feels, in turns, arbitrary, tedious, and humdrum mechanically. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I’d unlocked much in single runs, but, as noted, even basic unit upgrades take a while, and since the survivability of the lower-tier units is “A few fights at most”, it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Moments before the last screenshot… Yup, Elite battled, and… Can’t afford the sonuvagun…

So, that’s Destiny or Fate: A game which has a solid core idea, but whose execution is currently lacking on the balance front.

The Mad Welshman genuinely does hope things improve, but… Has been around long enough to know that’s no sure thing…

Thea 2: The Shattering (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Survival 4X. Not words you generally hear, those. And a big part of that is that a 4X, itself, isn’t easy to balance. Adding survival elements, narrative elements, and quest elements can make that process more painful.

Such, so far, is the case with Thea 2: The Shattering. A sequel to Thea 1, which had similar mechanics and themes, Thea 2 is a 4X where your small group must survive, grow, and survive as long as possible, hopefully to find some solution to the Shattering, the death of the world.

Yeah, about that… Good luck with it. See, there are two mandatory types of resource for survival, and if you do not have those anywhere within range, your options are fatally limited.

The upside is that this is potentially a pretty good site. The downside , however, is that one of my four team-members is already dead, and morale is so terrible some of the others won’t help. WELP.

You start with some food, and surviving for enough turns on Normal difficulty will earn you God Points, which can be used to get extra benefits on start, but even with those… Currently, surviving even the early game is a painful, frustrating slog. Sometimes, it’s because you can’t find a good camp-site anywhere nearby, and have to subsist, while the world and its inhabitants do their best to wear you down through random events (often hostile), wandering monsters and lairs (most hostile at night), and events that you want to complete for better resources, but not winning those events will likely lead to the death of group members, which, considering how few events give you group members (even fewer if you are all of one gender, as sometimes happens), is a lingering death sentence all of its own.

Find somewhere to camp, and, on the one hand, you now have somewhere to stay, that can support you within its (limited) range as you scavenge and adventure. The downside being that you still have the hostile events, beasts, limited replenishment, and whatnot, with not being able to take everybody adventuring, and… Well, should you lose adventurers out of range, well, that’s a different kind of slow, lingering death.

Both of these tasks are difficult. And even “Choose not to participate” may have results. Choose very carefully (and make sure you know your stats and abilities early on, otherwise you probably won’t choose wisely.)

There’s a lot of slow, lingering death here, is basically what I’m getting at. And part of this feels like conflicting directions of play, neither of which, at the present stage, feel balanced or complete. Quests demand that you wander, as does diplomacy with the other factions present, but once you settle down, your ability to complete those quests safely drastically goes down, even as you have achieved relative safety for your camp. At the same time, proper crafting and gathering, cooking, researching and rituals all demand a campsite, but that diminishes your ability to further the storyline. The game wants to deal with a small group, that much is clear. But it also wants you to roam free, which is only do-able after a lot of safety ensuring at the campsite to start with.

In essence, each play direction (both necessary for completion) brings down the other. And the frustrating part is that I’m sure there could be a balance between the two that changes it from what it currently is (Slow, frustrating, and often involving slow deaths where it’s much easier to cash in what few God Points you have, if any, before the game finishes its slow descent into “Everyone has died.”) to something genuinely interesting.

Tooltips are very helpful here, but the main thing you need to know here is that everyone except the house demon is dead, Dave. Everyone.

And, make no mistake, there are hints of something interesting here. There’s an interesting, Russian myth inspired fantasy world. There’s some solid hand-painted visuals, and, aside from the camp screen being a little cluttered and hard to decipher at first, it tooltips well. Its controls still have some issues (Mostly movement/selection frustrations, and the practice of making a second group a little more tedious than it needs to be), and, being an early access title, there’s been some particularly odd bugs (such as scavengers vanishing from trying to harvest a resource that simultaneously exists on the map, but presumably doesn’t in the code somewhere), but it shows promise. The problem being that the promise is currently obscured by imbalanced play goals, “Normal” difficulty still being a pretty harsh early game (Once the early game is passed, it gets somewhat easier), and nothing that prevents or even ameliorates a death spiral that I can see.

As such, Thea 2 is currently a game I want to like. But it’s not really letting me.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t really have much to add, unfortunately. It’s interesting, but distinctly unfriendly right now.

Demon’s Tilt (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£18.58 for Deluxe edition, £7.19 for Deluxe Content DLC)
Where To Get It: Steam

Pinball is, in the physical world, almost an artefact, an anachronism vanishing into the historical distance. Wires, magnets, rubber, LEDs… But for an entire generation, they were a cultural touchstone. In the digital world, however, they still live. And the best of them take advantage of their medium, to do things that would likely be impossible with physical pinball tables. Both, however, can get a little arcane if you try and describe them mechanically. This ramp, followed by these bumpers, followed by this ramp, and then this ramp again, earns you… But This ramp, followed by this ramp, earns you a quick bonus, and if you can repeat that same trick fifty times…

Pictured: The Abomination, destroyed by hitting each head multiple times.

So, it’s fairly safe to say I won’t be saying much mechanically, rather than what applies to all pinball tables: You hit the ball with the paddles, using what you observe of the ball’s physics to hopefully hit what you want, keeping it from falling “out” of the table. The ball falls out three times (or one, in Hardcore mode), and you lose.

Demon’s Tilt (Heavily inspired by games like Devil Crush or Crue Ball), specifically, adds a few things we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a Goth. Synthwave. Bullet hell. Pinball game. Now, don’t run away, it’s not as intimidating as I make that out to be, just… A lot to unpack!

Still here? Whew. Okay, so two of these are, essentially, aesthetic. Pentagrams, liches, and undead lions in iron masks mix with synthwave style neon splashes for score, jackpot, and other notifications, all to a hard driving, Sega Genesis style soundtrack (Itself having diverse motifs: Little bit of OutRun feel for a few bars, tiny bit of Castlevania for another, while still meshing really well.)

The Lion In The Iron Mask doesn’t appreciate taking a steel ball to the snout. And Lilith doesn’t appreciate you hiding in her headgear. Can’t blame either of them, really!

The “bullet hell” part is interesting, because, while the bullets kill momentum, they only get spawned under certain circumstances (Hitting one of the table bosses in their mid to late stages, for example), the enemies are mostly weak (and only kill downward momentum, which is really helpful), and, to help counter these extra considerations, the game’s tilt sensor (An anti-cheat measure, originally to ensure you weren’t just lifting the table and tipping the ball where you wanted it to go) is quite generous (to the point where it recommends you use tilt.) Although, like any pinball table, it can get pretty twitchy (and dealing with the twitchy portions is a key to mastery), the bullets are pretty slow, and thus, dealing with them is more a matter of perception, of thought, than of reflexes.

Finally, of course, it is a pinball table. While its table guide is a little sparse, the game helpfully tells you its Letter Goals (for the words ZODIAC, ARCANE, and HERMIT, aka LOADSAPOINTS, LOADSAPOINTS, and LOADSAPOINTS), and the UI is laid out fairly sensibly, with the central focus being… The three tiered table, each tier containing its own enemy spawns and bosses. Kill a boss’s multiple stages, and you get big points, before it returns the boss to its lowest stage. On the one hand, there’s a lot to parse, but it becomes almost second nature to identify certain things: Here’s where the jackpots are. Here’s the teleportals. Oh good, the untouched bumpers for the top-tier letter goal are highlighted, nice job!

It helps that your reward for certain tricks is also… Quite visceral. Lilith is really angry now!

There’s some minor performance issues, but, for the most part, that’s Early Access, and this is a well-polished, high-octane table that nonetheless gives you a little breathing room as it goes. Well worth a look for pinball fans, and, if you’re interested in how digital pinball tables can change the base formula in interesting ways, this one’s one to watch out for too.

The Mad Welshman Devil Crushed this review, in his opinion.

Hellsign (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Hellsign is an interesting concept, and one that hasn’t been done in quite this way very often: A paranormal investigator, using kit a paranormal investigator would, in a world where the supernatural threats are real, are dangerous, and are rising.

It is, then, perhaps a shame that the most common sentiment I hear when I’m having trouble in the game, right from the word go, is “Dip your toes into missions you can’t do yet, to get money to get better equipment.”

There is a phrase for that. Well, there’s a couple. Sometimes, it’s called Power-Levelling. When it’s throughout a game, however, it’s generally known as “Balance Problems.”

In the glare of a UV lamp, evidence is found. It's bullet holes... In a book.
The investigation aspect is interesting, using real world tools in a mostly sensible manner. Even if a book is not perhaps the best place to put this specific clue. 😛

Hellsign is, at the present time, a game where only a few of the builds on offer are truly viable without skilled play, even from the beginning. Pistols are openly a last resort, submachine guns require good handling to be useful, and the shotguns… Well, they’re videogame shotguns, alright. High damage, effective range of…A few feet. And currently, the best combat option I’ve seen in the game.

Dark Souls style Dodge Roll? Check. Shit Flashlight, upgraded to Marginally Less Shit Flashlight? Check. Fast, erratic ground based enemies that require specifically targeting the ground to fight as your earliest encounter? Check check checkedy check.

And this is a bit of a shame, as the investigation aspect is nice. Some tools are proximity based (EM Detector and EVP Recorder), some are more for seeing things that would normally be less obvious (UV Lamp, Thermal Imager), and all work in a predictable, solid manner that’s occasionally interfered with (Brief false positives or briefly not working, for example) that adds a tiny bit of challenge while adding to the mood, and fitting the narrative. There are even signs in some cases that the clue is there (Frosted breath for thermal, or quickly turning on the UV lamp to see if the blood spatter has a trail, for example.) It should be noted that some clues are outside the haunted houses you visit, so a perimeter check is advised. Very inconsiderate of those supernatural beasties bound to a location, counting the grounds!

Two large spiders rush an investigator. He has a pistol, and the aiming reticule is smaller than they are.
These little assholes will take away half my health by the time I’ve fixed my tiny reticule on them enough times to kill them.

From the word go, however, combat, and, more specifically, ambushes,are a common feature… And this is where it starts to fall apart a bit. As noted, the earliest enemies are fast, ground based, erratic, and… Oh, before I forget, arachnophobes can nope out right now,because yes, the most common early game enemy are cat-sized spiders in small groups, along with gigantic centipedes. Said beasties have an easily recognisable pattern (Attack, retreat, attack), but their speed, ability to glide under doors (despite their size), and the small combat reticule that, for ground based enemies, requires aiming mode, makes these encounters pretty deadly until you can afford some better armour and guns. It doesn’t help that these ambushes are generally from entering a room, and can spawn in even tiny rooms.

Enemy weaknesses exist, and entries on these can be purchased, but,in essence, most encounters follow this “Ambush, attack, retreat, repeat” pattern, taking advantage of poor light to up the encounter difficulty. Add in that larger creatures become bullet spongey, and that some are essentially immune to normal damage, and a lot of the difficulty comes down to “We don’t know what a thing does when we first meet it, and we have a crap light.” Narratively fitting, in a sense, but only the first few encounters are tense, after which…Well, it’s monster closets. Add in that dodging resets reloading (And anything with serious power behind it is slow to reload), and…Combat is a common aspect of the game, but also the weakest and most frustrating.

"Mate, I'm not gonna pull your dick for money" is not exactly a great dialogue option. In fact, it's kind of shit.
Content Warning: Dickheads.

Finally, we have… EDGY CHARACTER WRITING. Dialogue choices that make the main character seem like a homophobic prude. The main tutorial teacher liberally throwing the C-word around, bragging about having sex with twins, and generally being a loud shitheel. And, even in the intro, it turns out Hell wants to make you its bitch.

Hellsign is an interesting concept. But it has a long way to go before it becomes a workable interesting concept.

The Mad Welshman idly wonders why horror gets so obsessed with EDGE.