Iratus: Lord of the Dead (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 (£25.25 for Supporter Edition, £7.59 for upgrade to Supporter Edition)
Where to Get It: Steam

Iratus: Lord of the Dead has, very often, been described to me as “Darkest Dungeon, but you’re the villain.” This isn’t, on the face of it, a wholly inaccurate statement. But it is, in many respects, its own, shambling beast. In a good way.

So, as you might expect from the title, you are a necromancer. One who almost managed to conquer the world, until those pesky heroes shot you down. For a long time, you were locked in a casket (Normally a prelude to insanity, but, let’s face it, that’s Tuesday to a necromancer), but now you’re free, and… Have to escape a four level dungeon complex that was built over your tomb.

Good thing you can create undead, huh?

Things rapidly begin going south. We lost our Zombie. Along with his BIG CANNON.

So, combat wise, yes, the game is quite similar to Darkest Dungeon. You have four slots, they have four slots (not always filled), and you have class abilities based on what undead you are. Where it begins to differ, however, is that units have three potential base damage types instead of two. Beyond the “Magic” and “Physical”, you have… “Dread.” And this is where the comparison mainly comes in, as some units specialise in causing sanity damage to enemies, who, after a certain point, will either have some form of insanity (although sometimes, that is a benefit in disguise), or are inspired (get a buff, regain all their sanity, very annoying.) Mixing and matching the two for maximum synergy is highly encouraged, especially as… Not everything has sanity. Lookin’ at you, Golem that wrecked my Dread based party the first run through.

My lord, we can’t scare it… WE CAN’T SCARE IT!

Beyond this, there are only a few similarities. Buildings exist, including the healing building, for sure, but they cost minions as well as resources. Your minions aren’t hired, they’re constructed, from parts of your enemies, or bits you dug up. You can make better parts, spec into spellcasting (I haven’t done this, having too much fun with brains, alchemy, and DREAD), refocus your minions using two choices of ability change per ability, and the dungeon itself is procgenned, sure, but it’s a map where you know roughly what’s ahead, ahead of time (Although enemy composition was, until the most recent updates, a mystery.)

So, in short, it’s got a lot of depth, and the game even has little things to help you recover from losses (brains, for example, automatically level up an undead to the same level as the brain, allowing you to quickly get units of comparable strength to the ones you lost onto the field), and I don’t really have any complaints mechanically. Similarly, aesthetically, the game is pretty clear, the music is suitably ominous and villainous, the soundwork is fine, and Iratus… Well, Iratus’ snark game is on point. Okay, maybe one gripe: Every female minion is of the big-breasted, eerily attractive variety. But mileage varies on that gripe, for obvious reasons.

“For a given value of smiled…”

So, what we have here, essentially, is a pretty polished turn-based strategy/roleplaying hybrid, which I quite like, and seems to be well on track to being a fine release.

The Mad Welshman always appreciates villainous snark. It expands his own repertoire, for the next heroic break in of his lair. So much tidying up afterwards…

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Grizzland (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I like me some Metroidvanias. I do love me some lo-fi pixels. And so, Grizzland immediately caught my interest, because it is, essentially, a short Metroidvania, with lo-fi pixels, that still has encounters, boss fights, and challenge.

Not pictured: The actual fight, because they disappear and summon MANY TRIANGLES OF DOOM.

Maybe a little too much challenge at some times… But what the hey, checkpoints are mostly reasonable, so I’m not too irritable with that.

In any case, Grizzland’s premise starts out simple. It’s a fantastic world into which you’ve somehow teleported, except… Not all is as clear cut as it seems, from the very first journal you find. Wait, landed? Computer? Buddy, I’m swinging a sword and there are magicians with giant triangles comin’ at me, what is this gobbledegook?

Even basic enemies will dodge out of the way of your sword most of the time. Which isn’t as frustrating as it sounds, since they don’t jump very far.

Well, it quickly turns out that someone did land here, destroying the trees as they went toward the centre of the world, and, considering there’s only 5 of them, and they’re sentient? Well, that’s deep trouble indeed… Away we gooooo (to save the day)

Now, one thing that should be made clear is that enemy routines, combined with the fact that very little can be slain in one swing, make combat more difficult than you’d expect. Whether it’s the bats, who wake up, and mercilessly chase you, but retreat on the first blow far enough that you may have difficulty getting the three hits you need in before they hit you, or enemies which revenge fire when hit, it’s something to consider about the game’s difficulty.

“Not everything has to make sense.” Well, yes, but I do appreciate bears.

Happily, I can say I’ve enjoyed my time with Grizzland. The world is basic, but the journals, some of its stranger (1-bit) enemies help bring some oddity, as do the secrets, which are sometimes… Quite amusing. As the first you find states: Not everything has to make sense.

So yes, overall, there’s a solid attention to a consistent style, there’s some good chiptunes and sound effects, and, as a short Metroidvania, it can still pretty easily eat up an hour or four of your life (more if you’re looking for eeeeeverything. Which I am.) Reasonably priced to boot, I would definitely recommend Grizzland.

The Mad Welshman would probably also go on a quest of sword swinging if he found people uprooting trees. He’s very pro tree.

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Abyss Manager (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Running a dungeon is, as we’ve seen multiple times in the thematic genre that is Dungeon Management (be it RTS, management sim, or some variety of adventure game), quite tough. There’s always those pesky murderhobos out to kill your monsters, raid your gold hoard, and ruin your plans for world domination, because apparently they’re the kind of jerks who don’t want the world to be under your totes-gentle-honest hand… Adventurers are such assholes.

AAARGH. I was researching workplace improvement, you bastards!

Unfortunately for Abyss Manager, it’s also currently a slow descent into hell to play. It is, on the one hand, turn based, so it gives you, in a sense, plenty of time to decide things. However, you are almost constantly assailed by adventurers, meaning that your two main considerations are “Where can I put my exhausted staff to productively recuperate their stamina?” and “Ohgod, who can I pull from one kind of work to fight this set of beefy bastards of various races?”

Progression in the game is, essentially, over grindy on Normal difficulty, with buildings costing many, many turns worth of work, tournaments between the various dungeon masters that totally aren’t mandatory… If you like having Prestige and Sponsorship for your dungeon, that is, and always, always, the choice between spending what renown you have (for lo, Altars don’t regenerate renown all that well), and whether swapping someone out will be worth the 20 stamina lost for retreating mid battle to be replaced, or if they can soooomehow survive the next turn, to make it slightly less painful to do so.

What do these sponsorships actually do? Couldn’t tell you.

Finally, on the gripes, the game doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Oh, it has tooltips, but tutorialisation is thin on the ground, and tooltips can only take you so far. So, that’s the gripes over with… What’s enjoyable?

Well, the sound effects and pixel aesthetic are alright, and a research tree which costs more the more you research (but can be researched in several different directions) is an alright idea. There’s a fair few races, lots of skills, exploration of the world… The problem being that aforementioned “Oh hey, you can’t do a lot of it a lot of the time, because you’re being assailed a whole hell of a lot, and you’re playing the stamina shuffle constantly (with the added annoyance that exploration and matches take several turns to complete, leaving you relatively open to attacks)

Everyone I can tag in from other work is tired. The adventurers keep coming, and we will not last out. – Last journal entry.

While Abyss Manager does have some interesting ideas, hot damn, it really needs to cut down on that grind, maybe explain things a little better, before I could really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman does, however, appreciate that running a lair is hard. His imps absolutely refuse to help with the dishes, for example.

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Godhood (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £22.39 (£9.29 for Supporter Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

A nonbinary option for a deity is, honestly, just common sense. Sometimes, you want to manifest as a rock, and sometimes, you want to manifest as an enby. Sometimes, you want to be a wholesome deity, and… Well, it will come as precisely no surprise to anyone who keeps up with me that I have mainly been playing a Dark God of Endless Thirst. Chastity? PFAH. War or Peace? PSHAW. My deity advocates for shipping!

There are currently six potential virtues, two of which are locked off for now, in the next step. But this, honestly, is not a bad character creation screen.

Getting back to talking a little more specifically about the game (ahem), Godhood is a turn-based strategy title by Abbey Games, where you, the newest religion in the mesoamerican world in which the game is set, are kicked out of your home village for your beliefs, and swear, as a result, to spread the name of your deity, by force, by cunning argument, or, as is the case with my head prophetess, by flirtings and smoochings. And it’s a good idea to mix it up a bit, as some enemies are immune to your core attacks when you go looking for believers.

There’s a fair bit going on in the back of this game (to the point where the “Stats” subtab is an intimidating list of numbers), but the main elements are actually pretty clear. You level up by converting folks, it’s a good idea to keep your prophets of various types as happy as possible, and, over time, you build up a village capable of proselytising to ever greater audiences, balancing the faith and levels of your prophets against improving the village through the fact you can only inspire three prophets a day.

The virtue of Lust, obviously, means that pre-battle barks are more “Come hither…” than “Come at me!”

It’s good stuff, and I felt challenged so far without being overwhelmed, and, due to the ability to see what a village has by planning to convert it then painlessly backing out to the city (not wasting my turn, as normally a conversion uses a turn) allowed me to use my prophets efficiently (as, after all, the turn will go on, so anyone you don’t send can do prophet things at home)

Aesthetically, it works pretty well so far. Everything (except the stats tab) is clear, you know what resists what while you’re planning things, you get some idea of what keeps the faithful faithful, and what builds what, and the animations are alright.

So, while it’s obvious there’s more development, it’s got a pretty good start, and I’m quite enjoying my time as a thirsty deity.

The Mad Welshman would become a dark deity of Endless Thirst in reality, but alas, Vaudevillain Union rules dictate that I keep my quota of three failed grand schemes a year.

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Dungeon Munchies (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10.99
Where To Get It: Steam

A while ago, I reviewed Battle Chef Brigade, and… Well, I liked it. It presented an aspect of fantasy worlds we don’t think about too much. And now, we have dungeon cooking… Well, not really explored, per se, but at least a mechanical element in Dungeon Munchies.

BEST. ZOMBIE TELEPORTATION. EVER.

It’s… Alright? Okay, obviously I can’t leave it at that. What it is is that it has this interesting mechanic… That it doesn’t quite play with enough to be excellent, but does give enough to see the fun potential. Food as buff. We’ll come back to it, because first… What the heck’s going on?

Well, we are a zombie. A zombie raised by a necromancer chef who does her best to do the whole evil overlady schtick while also having a corporate overlady schtick. And it mostly works, to boot. She charges us, as seemingly the only “employee” who’s been able to do this so far, to get her magical cookbooks from various places, fighting bosses along the way. From there, things get… Interestingly complex, story wise.

Even main level enemies can wear you down. The bees shoot lasers. The crabs shoot water jets and slash hard.

Also along the way, we use the monsters as ingredients to form a limited set of buffs, some of which become permanent later on. One of the earliest, for example, is a double jump, made by giant skeeter wings, while others add things like elemental damage, extra damage, extra healing… And with 6 slots allowed, you can’t become some godlike undead shitwrecker through these, which is a nice touch. It has a cool animation (honestly, the animations in general are pretty good, even if weapons don’t really have that much impact, everything else works either smoothly or in a cool fashion), but, essentially, it’s like any other crafting: Got the ingredients? Bam, thing is made.

Structure wise, it’s more of a linear level dealio, although revisiting earlier areas is possible if, say, you need some earlier ingredients too. You wander through, hopefully not dying a lot (You thankfully don’t lose much by dying, but it is annoying to go through an area multiple times), with, of course, a boss at the end. And the bosses, happy to say, are alright to deal with. No super annoying ones, and, since your movement and combat are fairly easy to get the hang of, you can learn their tricks relatively safely, only taking maybe two or three tries until you get the general idea.

Ah, gotta love those fishing photos. Oh, wait, no I don’t, I hate fishing.

Right now, it definitely has charm, and the story seems like it’s going interesting places, with some equally good ideas within the crafting, and I wouldn’t feel guilty saying it’s worth a try right now.

Writing this review has made The Mad Welshman hungry. He could murder a good Beholder Sautee…

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