Rogue Empire (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Rogue Empire tries. Really it does. I like its talent system, despite the fact it doesn’t… Really lay any groundwork for its fancier text. I like the between game incremental upgrades, slow as they are to establish. +1 STR doesn’t seem like a lot, until you’ve played a Roguelike. But Rogue Empire definitely has its problems, and it is definitely mainly for the traditional Roguelike crowd.

And so begins our quest…

That isn’t a bad thing, as the idea’s then easy to explain: Land of many races, most of which have history, big bad goes down, hero gets the call (A nice touch, each race gets their own introduction), you move with the numpad (Although, in a fair accessibility move, controls can be remapped), walk into things to hit them, pick things up to equip and hit with, most scrolls and spells are pre-identified… There is something a little comforting about how, once you’ve gotten the hang of one Roguelike, there’s that much less getting the hang of to deal with when you move to others.

Monsters slowly spawn in each area, so you’re rarely lacking for something to wallop.

On the other hand… A lot of Rogue Empire, even after release, feels placeholder. Sound effects aren’t balanced with each other, and some are clearly from other sources (such as the Chrysalid-like sound of the Panther death.) Talking to someone is as simple as walking into them, but the text of nearby folks rapidly obscures and confuses previous text (Unless you have the log open, in which case you’re relying on the log.) Forests and dungeons kind of blur into one another, and auto-exploration tends to get hung up on Items of Interest.

This… Is not a great implementation.

Rogue Empire is workmanlike in its implementation, and, while I’ve somewhat moved past that, I could see how fans of traditional roguelikes may well enjoy this.

The Mad Welshman gives a firm “Alright.”

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Heartbeat (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £11.39 (£14.92 for game + soundtrack, £5.19 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Heaaaart beat.. Why do I miss… Oh, wait, no, this is not, in fact, the TV show starring Nick Berry, but an RPG Maker game inspired by monster capturing games (Although to pick just one it’s inspired by would perhaps be a disservice.) A game that, while definitely interesting, is… Not without flaw right now. So… Let’s get this out the way right now.

BOULDERS. WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE BOULDERS?

If you are not fond of puzzle elements, especially, for example, block pushing puzzles, Heartbeat will probably turn you off within the first hour. It’s stylistically very fitting to its inspirations, it tries to do interesting things with its narrative of a world that lives with spirits (Mogwai.) It has a good soundtrack. Its combat is relatively quick and pleasant, and, while this isn’t something that would interest folks other than gamedev enthusiasts, I appreciate how the RPGMaker MV engine has been tweaked to good effect. It’s even pretty accessible.

But I freely admit I’ve found myself struggling to get very far, because of that combination of my own desire for completionism (CHESTS CHESTS CHESTS), and because the game frontloads about nine or ten block pushing/ball rolling puzzles in its first major segment, the Sol Tunnels. And, honestly, this is a bit of a shame for me, both in the sense of being a little ashamed, and feeling sad that this is so, because some of the puzzle elements are, in fact, quite cool.

Ahahaha. Oh, you sweet summer child…

With a tap of the Q key, you can select which party member leads, and each one has something that helps explore the world. Rex, for example, is a lightning cat Mogwai who can jump small gaps and fences. Klein, the protagonist’s primary companion as a Conjurer (Someone who makes pacts to share their souls with Mogwai, as diplomats and defenders of the uneasy truce), is small enough that he can fit through catflaps, and, being a Cait Sith, can talk to cats. The dialogue is a little cheesy in places, but it’s characters definitely have their charm, and it hits that right note between SatAm Pokemon, and a more serious monster training world.

Rex… So good, but they really need to stop rubbing their fur all over my nylon carpet…

Sometimes, alas, while you can see the charm about a game, something turns you off, and, in my case, it’s the front-loading of a puzzle type I have never been fond of. I would still say that monster hunting and JRPG fans check this out, because it does do interesting things, playing with the formula, but… It is, unfortunately, not really for me.

It happens sometimes. Still, I can appreciate the art. <3

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Project Warlock (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10
Where To Get It: Steam

Project Warlock, a retro styled first person shooter, is a game where my biggest criticism, after consideration, is its first level. Beyond that, it gets more reasonable, but its first level… Well, we’ll get to that.

Enemies vary from episode to episode. Which is also a nice touch…

In the retro stylings corner, we have pixellated enemies, deliberately low-resolution wall textures, and an in-game UI that wouldn’t look out of place in an early Doom clone, and difficulty settings where only the “Casual” equivalent has infinite lives. On the modern end, we’ve got a menu that looks decent-ish (if busy), some good painted art on the loading screens and title, mouselook, RPG styled between-level mechanics, and interesting weapon quirks. For example, the axe can, if you GIT GUD (or lucky) bat projectiles back at an enemy.

Equally, though, the retro stylings also mean that there are monster closets and enemy spawns in cleared areas at fixed points, and it’s around here where we talk about how the first level gives you such a taste of what you’re in for that it’s actually kind of off putting.

Ohhh yes. There’s also this ambush. I’d forgotten about that ambush, in among the others.

Starts fine, but in very short order, you’re dropped into a pit into a small room filled with enemies. Then you get a key, only to be ambushed by several enemies. Then a weapon, where you’re ambushed again, then a lift, where you’re frontally ambushed in a tight corridor by two big fellers who have large tower shields (requiring good aim, good “getting past enemies who really want to hem you in and smack you with aforementioned shields” skills, or… ???) and their ranged support. Funnily enough, later levels actually ease off on this, although some retro game annoyances do occur from time to time (Such as picking up dynamite from a random drop immediately before being ambushed in a corridor. Hope you noticed you just picked up the dynamite, or you are very, very dead.)

A large difficulty spike in the first actual level is, perhaps, not the best of difficulty spikes to have. But, as noted, once past that first level, the power curve very rapidly catches up, especially if you’re getting the secrets, which tend to come in two varieties: Walls that look different and can be opened, and walls that don’t necessarily look that different until you shoot them, at which point they’re revealed to be walls that take a fair bit of shooting to open up. Each weapon has two possible upgrades, stats get upgraded, skills get upgraded… And there are spells. But, of course, unless you’re doing particularly well, you don’t get to play with all of those, and the first, the Light spell… Is very similar to the original Doom 3 flashlight, in that you can’t use it and a weapon. So, er… Good luck in dark, confined areas?

Honestly, this screenshot felt the most emblematic of the issues I have with Project Warlock.

Finally, we have the fact that you have to get through a certain number of levels in a row before clearing a “stage.” This seems to be, at worst, 4 levels in a row. Die, you lose a life. Leave to the workshop before you’re done, lose a life. As noted, only on the lowest difficulty setting do you have infinite lives. In medium difficulty, you have three, with pickups very sparsely scattered around. At the highest difficulty… Well, I hope you’re good at Doom style games.

It is not, overall, a terrible game. I’ve had some enjoyment out of it, now that I’ve gotten over some of its biggest hurdles. But that was on the lowest difficulty, with the full awareness that I’d have eaten about twelve game overs, four of them in the first level of the first episode, and I have to conclude that this game is too much in love with its difficulty-as-feature. Its modern additions don’t really feel all that much of a boon, and, as such, I can’t, personally, really recommend Project Warlock to many folks.

The Mad Welshman is no stranger to Monster Closets, but, unlike shooter-protagonists, he likes them firmly closed.

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Book of Demons (Review)

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

It’s not often I mention a game’s trailer in a review… But Book of Demons is notable in that yes, it lets you know, ahead of time, that you’re going to get “jokes”, and a game that is, essentially, Diablo with the numbers filed off, with a strained meter to boot.

The Rogue. Still one of the more viable characters of the game.

Thanks, Paperverse, for making it clear in a review trailer some of the reasons I don’t recommend you before I’ve even written the release review.

Anyway, Book of Demons, as noted, is, at its base level, Diablo with the numbers filed off. The Bishop is now the Pope. The Butcher is now The Cook (And, if anything, is an even more annoying fight.) The Deckard Cain expy does exactly what you’d expect, except with references. But a lot of what’s different about Book of Demons… Isn’t exactly great. Like the try-hard, shitty humour. Hahaha, what a hated person this Gypsy Fortune Teller is! Hey Barmaid, do you remember the time when, or remember the time when, or remem- You get the picture.

Multi-stage boss who summons enough high HP adds that fighting them is mandatory damage (and poison)? Not the best design choice, is it?

Rather than a relatively open field, this only applies to monsters, whereas you are restricted to going along paths. Mandatory damage is rife, at least partly because of this, and partly because of enemies that require shields destroyed, or spawn enemies on being hit, or become faster and more damaging precisely because you were efficient at killing them. Ranged enemies can target you from off-screen, and if, funnily enough, they are in two of the four cardinal directions you can potentially move in… Saaaay… The same two cardinal directions you are allowed to move in down a corridor… Congratulations, eat more mandatory damage.

Aesthetically, it looks alright. But while the original stated goal was to add accessibility to games like Diablo, its changes are not,functionally speaking, all that different. Indeed, clicking multiple times on an opponent is technically worse than “Hold Left Mouse over enemy to attack it”, being restricted to certain areas of movement while enemies are not is technically worse than “Can move anywhere anything else can move”, and writing wise… Well, it’s a tired, uninspired clone with added “humour” that, most of the time, just isn’t funny.

TOTALLY NOT THE BUTCHER. NOPE. DEFINITELY NOT.

I started mildly curious, and somewhat sceptical about Book of Demons. And now, on release… Its papery aesthetic is a good metaphor for how thin it feels. For everything it’s reduced, it’s added tedium and frustration.

Paperverse is an apt name. Alas, perhaps not for the reasons the developers intended.

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Mad Crown (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Mad Crown is an interesting roguelike, coming with its own art style and quirks. It’s also a game where having a friend who’s playing the game too can really come in handy, as once you lose your items (due to Total Party Kill), your options are “Share a code and hope someone picks your stuff up” or “Share a code with a friend who’ll pick your stuff up.”

“BOW BEFORE YOUR NEW MASTER. Also give me all your stuff and run back to your camp yelling how great I am. Long live Lamda Omicron Lambda!”

There’s also the third one of “Ask Seggie to pick your stuff up”, but that rapidly goes into silly money territory. My Chapter 3 team, for example, lost their stuff, and that option now costs 3800 gold for them.

The story of Mad Crown is fairly traditional stuff in the modern day. Long ago, there was a crown, created by God, to grant wisdom. Now it’s vanished, and tentacley horrors with about as many eyes as they have teeth abound. Go get that Crown, it totally won’t have been cursed, and definitely won’t be the source of said horrors! But, honestly, it’s not the writing that really grabs me. It’s how it does its difficulty, and its aesthetics, that really work for me. Let’s start with the difficulty.

Essentially, as you progress through the dungeon, you accumulate Fel, a nasty, toxic goop that serves as a danger level. Let it get too high, and traps become more common, monsters get nastier, and you’ll, more often than not, be facing overlevelled opponents. It can be reduced, but you’re essentially balancing speeding through the dungeon (And not quite getting enough levelups or kit for the boss), and going carefully (More items, more levels, but you risk being underequipped.)

Some of the item descriptions, themselves, are quite good. Yes, throw that money, bask in that money, moneyyyyyeaah!

Now add in that, if monsters kill each other (A thing that can happen) … They level up. Significantly. It’s somewhat of a shock to suddenly see a level 7 creature triple its levels, and become your own personal nightmare. Sprinkle in some enemies immune to physical damage later on (The Gellyfish), monsters that steal your gold and run away, a lot of creatures having multiple attacks and status inflictions (Including Confusion), and you have something where thinking tactically is a baseline, and, by the halfway point of the storyline, becomes what is technically known as “Bastard hard.”

Is that a bad thing? It’s a tough call, because, as mentioned, your mileage on this will depend on if you have a friend or two who plays along, and can have your back, rescuing your stuff. If not, it becomes annoying as hell by the “halfway through the main plot” point (Let alone the later dungeons which add things that need to be identified.)

Still, its aesthetic adds just enough to keep it in the Recommended category, as it’s a somewhat unique one. Monsters look somewhat cartoonish, as do the characters, but it’s a style not seen elsewhere, and the music is calm when it needs to be, and hard, driven guitar when fights start. The cutscenes have a cool ink look to them, and, while there’s still a little jankiness in the translation, the Mandarin narration is interesting.

The Gellyfish. He’s an annoying little squib, especially if he’s on the front row. Smack him with guns and magic.

Overall, while Mad Crown’s mileage definitely depends on whether you’ve got a friend to play with you (or how much you like grinding through the midgame, ala Etrian Odyssey or other Nintendo-Hard RPGs), I quite like it. It does interesting things with its difficulty, it makes the threat of the monsters more than just their attack values, and this, combined with a cool aesthetic, make it a relatively solid game. Just… One that doesn’t pretend it isn’t hard.

The Mad Welshman appreciates a good experiment. Whether it fails or not, it adds a little to the phasespace of “What if?” developers can think about. I like that.

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