Conglomerate 451 (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam

So… A city called Conglomerate, run by crimelord corporations, and we are… A not-crime corporation trying to take down the other corporations? Honestly, I find that last part the hardest to believe, and something that disqualifies it from being truly cyberpunk (more a… Dystopian sci-fi), but, whatever. This is the setup to Conglomerate 451, a step based, mission based RPG with elements from turn-based strategy games (between mission upgrades and research, expendable clone soldiers, healing, research, and some other things taking a mission or two)

The Uncanny Valley is alive and well.

And, having described the basics, I’m … Nah, there’s a fair amount of details, and critique to get through here, so it’s all good. And, honestly, apart from a few things that I don’t like, and a few things I’m giving fair warning on… It is pretty promising. Although, at first, it’ll seem a bit confusing, beyond the basics of “Move around (turning doesn’t cost a move.) If someone sees you, you start a turn-based fight where you can use one of four special abilities, until one or the other group is dead. interact with things, loot things, hack things, steal things. The mission is either to interact with a thing, kill a thing, or kill lots of things.” What are these special abilities? How do I upgrade them? What’s this “Vision” thing? And why does this bigass gun only have 9m range?

Pictured: An absolute beast of a gun that can’t aim for shit.

Thankfully, though, there are tooltips (Although the ones for stats are slightly hidden, which is annoying, and only slightly helpful, also annoying. Arrow next to the stat block, then select a stat.) The game also eases you in, giving you simple missions until you’ve gotten the hang of things, cheap research, and then slowly ramps up the difficulty. And what do missions get you, apart from loot and the ability to upgrade people? Well, they make each corporation a little less popular, a little less powerful, and they make you a little more powerful.

The only crit I’d really have here is that I seem, currently, to have less things to spend money on than any other currency, leaving me with silly amounts of money, but nothing to buy because I’m limited by Tech (less amounts per mission) or Lifeine (only available, currently, with side missions you don’t participate in, but send agents to, with a chance of failure)

Then there’s the maps. You find pretty early on that there’s only some map variation for each area, the devil being, again, in where something is placed. Sometimes, you don’t even need to fight anyone once you’ve got a mission, be it in the first part (getting to the mission through the city area, with a chance to meet vendors) or the mission itself. Sometimes… You’ll be glad of the option, if you find it in the city area and hack it, of “Always ambush opponents in the mission.”

Why… Whyyyyyy?!?

And then… There are the two minigames, one for hacking, one for extracting SPUs from whatever object apparently has them. The SPU game is a little off, but do-ably so, so long as you remember that you want to hit that square just before the wire hits it, and to switch panels by clicking on them once you’re done with (or want to prioritise) one. The hacking minigame, on the other hand… It’s tedious, there’s no other word for it. Find the correct highlighted memory address, port, or web address, click it… Now do that another two times. Sometimes, you luck out, and get 2 at once, but while it’s brief, it feels longer precisely because it’s dull.

Aesthetically, it works alright. Enemies are quite distinctive, and each area has its own types, from gangbangers, to drones, to that old standby of both sci-fi and fantasy, the infected zombiemans. The music is about what you’d expect (heavy synths, bass beats, and sometimes, contemplative treble tones), and the UX, with the one exception mentioned already, is alright. A bit workmanlike, but definitely alright.

These little gits are apparently named after Good Boys. They are not, in fact, Good Boys.

And that’s the state of Conglomerate 451 right now: It’s certainly not a bad game, and it shows promise, but it is a little grindy, slightly unbalanced in terms of game economics, and a limited map pool to work from (Which, honestly, isn’t that bad, considering it also lets you know roughly what to expect.)

The Mad Welshman reminds people that, to properly call it cyberpunk, it has to be punk

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The Surge 2 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £43.99
Where To Get It: Steam

What is it with posthuman cult leaders and bad fashion sense? Yes, I know, if you’ve heard about The Surge or played it, you know that’s the least of your worries, but… It nags at me. Anyway, about the game.

This is very me: “Mmmhm, yes, Posthumanism, yes… [You look like a bloody dork in that]”

So, let’s get the spoilers out of the way niiiice and early: Burke lived, and you find that out in the first area! Warren lived, and this is pretty heavily implied by the mysterious stranger you meet just outside the first area! Shit’s gone to hell, which is exactly what you’d expect for a sequel! There, we’re done. That wasn’t hard now, was it?

In any case, The Surge is a science-fiction… Deep sigh, because I hate saying this… Soulslike. You have checkpoints, which you return to when you die, minus what money you’ve earned. Combat is based upon pattern recognition, good dodging/parrying skills, and managing your stamina. The Surge even added its own touches, such as rewards increasing the longer you spend between returns to a checkpoint (an interesting risk/reward system, which I have not taken much advantage of because I’m a coward), and the ability to target specific limbs, something you need to do for specific rewards, such as a blueprint of the opponent’s exo-limb.

Oh, and the online functionality, which introduces revenge enemies (Enemies with more health who killed another player, but drop lots of resources if you kill them), tags, the occasional battery drop where a player died, that sort of fun stuff. You can play offline, but these additions do add a bit of spice.

And with the slo-mo… My god it’s satisfying! Gimme your arm, y’bastard!

Controller is recommended, because while the keyboard/mouse controls are okay, and remappable, parrying appears harder to do well in kb/m. Okay, base mechanical stuff done with, let’s get into what I like and don’t like.

Aesthetically, the game is good, and, if your rig can handle it, it can look beautiful. Some facets are a little confusing, such as targeting, or the very small “You can backstun this fool” prompt, but it, and the sound, are pretty good. Also, while the protagonist isn’t voiced, the others are pleasant to hear, fairly well acted, and it made my day to hear a proper South Wales accent in the game… It was tidy, you might say. Motion Blur as a default is… Annoying, to say the least, but having the amount of it as a slider, along with a couple of other effects? That’s a good move.

I’m also quite fond of the combat, being meaty, pretty well explained, and having a nice back and fore rhythm… Well, if you take the advice of timing your blows, rather than being a button masher like me. Still, I parry well, and I dodge okay, so I’m finding it pleasing to fight. Master one of these skills, and be at least okay with the other, or you’re going to have a hard time. Encouragement to use at least a partial set through partial and full set benefits is also a pleasing bit of incentivising styles of play, and that the first armour heals you a little when you finish off an enemy? That’s a good starter. There’s a few new weapon types, and, while I haven’t experimented with them much, they seem pretty cool, with nice tricks on the charge attacks.

Pictured: You must be this levelled to wear a full suit. Well, more levelled, obviously. It took a fair bit of grind to get the full set.

I am, however, less fond of the levelling system. Not the actual levelling itself, which is reasonable, but the Core Power being tied to your level. It’s about ten, maybe fifteen levels until you can properly equip a full set, and it was a little annoying to have to grind up to my first full set.

I could go on for quite a bit about all the quality of life improvements, but, essentially, if you played The Surge 1, it’s an improvement in many respects, and, if you’re starting out with The Surge 2, well… Going back to The Surge 1 may be a little tougher, although the basics remain the same. It feels pretty good, exploring this new, more open world with its diverse locations, it feels good to fight, and I would recommend this, even as someone who got very tired of games taking elements from the Souls series pretty quickly.

The Mad Welshman remains pretty easy to make in the majority of games. And he looks good in an exosuit. Nanomachines, son!

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Children of Morta (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Children of Morta isn’t a game you progress in easily (unless you are good at ARPGs), but, even with not progressing as far as I’d like, there is… A lot to like about this one.

I’ve been there. Sometimes, y’just gotta bite the bullet.

The general story is one you’ve heard before: Yada yada corruption, yada yada pilgrimage to holy sites to clean said corruption, yada yada monsters and bosses along the way. What makes this interesting, however, is that it’s also the ongoing story of The Bergsons, guardians of the land, who, despite having trained for generations, find themselves struggling, not only with their path to find and defeat the source of the corruption (hopefully for real this time), but also in bringing the family together in a time of crisis… A family that had, like many families, had its fair share of drama. Uncle Ben finds himself struggling with his own bitterness between him and Sheila. Kevin struggles with finding acceptance among his own family, because he wants to help, being a good Bergson.

They’re lives that make sense, even in this topsy turvy, high fantasy world of ancient evil, goblins, trolls… And while the gameplay is interesting indeed, I find myself just as impressed at how the narrative of the family tugs at the heartstrings. It helps that the narrator has a solid voice for fantasy narration, and that the soundtrack is… Melancholic, in its way. Peaceful when at home, tense when in the dungeon, but, at home, there is this sense of sadness hiding in the music.

That statue looks relatively innocent in this screenshot, but it pulses with gravity waves, and yes, those are spike traps.

Visually, the game is also solid. Although you only realise what certain dungeon features are once you’ve unlocked them, or encountered them for the first time, they’re easily identifiable, especially the ones that show up on the mini-map. Enemies, similarly, are interesting, and the pixel stylings are good.

And finally, we have the mechanics. As you might have guessed, this is the incremental sort of RPG, where upgrades and treasure gained are carried over, but in-dungeon items, for the most part, are not. Upgrades are unlocked as the game progresses, as are characters to play, and while everyone has some sort of dodge move, and quickly unlocks a damaging effect or upgrade to their abilities, each character has their own feel.

And when the family is united… Oh, that would be a terrible day for evil…

Kevin, for example, is an assassin, striking faster and faster the more his blows hit, but losing steam if there’s no-one nearby to kill, encouraging a rushdown style in which you’re looking for someone to fight. Kevin, after all, is not only trained, he has something to prove, as much to himself as his family. Meanwhile, Linda, the bard, is an archer, who can fire while moving, but does more damage, faster shots, if she’s still, raining death on her foes while needing to move away with the nastier enemies. In general terms, it feels somewhat like a twin-stick Diablo, complete with that “Ohshit, Runrunrun!” when an Elite or an ambush appears. But nobody dies, being saved on the brink of death to try, try again.

Children of Morta is definitely one I feel like coming back to, as individual runs are short, the story is charming and soulful, the aesthetic is good… It has a lot of character, and I would definitely recommend it to ARPG fans.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t root for nonspecific forces of evil. If you aren’t cackling wildly while giving away your secret plan, I’m not bothered.

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Re: Legend (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

As soon as I saw the farm, messy and strewn with rocks and trees, I knew. Or thought I did. “Ohhh boy”, I thought “I’m going to get halfway through this, and my energy will be pretty low.” Nope. I thought “Fishing is going to be my main source of income, because it’s easy.” Not… Quite true.

“aaaaaaaaa…” [later] “Oh, wait, that was easy. Nice!”

Essentially, I went in with expectations of a farm-life/adventurer sim in the style of Rune Factory, or Stardew Valley, and, while it is that… It’s also got its own flavour. Some good, some not so good, but averaging out, I feel, to “A’ight.” Which, considering it’s in Early Access (and parts of the review may be out of date by tomorrow, since the devs are updating at a steady clip), still gives it a fair bit of wiggle room.

So, let’s begin with the general idea, for those new to the genre: You, an amnesiac hero(ine), are welcomed into a small, rural community (In this case, on an island, so beaches and palm trees are common), given a farm, and, very quickly, you realise there’s adventure to be had in them thar hills. Or, y’know, you could do a lot of avoiding enemies (running doesn’t take stamina? Don’t you dare change that, devs, it’s wonderful!) to mine stuff you can’t get at home, farming, doing quests for folks, festivals, minigames… And, of course, romancing folks.

I haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I can’t tell if there’s some Good Gay options in there, but it’s all there, it’s mostly enjoyable, and those who’ve played this genre before not only know what to expect, they have some pleasant surprises. Like underwater plants (Trust me, if you’re new to this genre: Folks love more things to farm) and a pet system (And pets can have utility both inside and outside of combat, such as the Draconewt you start with, whose watery breath isn’t just useful in combat… It’s a nice, easy way of watering your crops, too!)

Immediately after character creation, you’re shoved off a cliff by some asshole. I hate it when that happens!

Aesthetically, it’s pleasing, with good, lowish poly character designs, a bright and cheery world, and a mostly clear UX (It took a friend pointing it out during multiplayer that I could add to my pet’s stats, for example.) I didn’t really find the tunes memorable, but that’s more because they fit just fine, and things that fit just fine… Well, you only tend to notice what doesn’t fit so well, generally speaking. Speaking of not fitting so well… Complaints and niggles.

Starting with the base stuff, tutorialising for things like fishing is a bit sparse (It took me a few tries to get the hang of fishing, for example, not helped by… ohboy, a bigger fish just ate the smaller one on my hook, and now I’ve got a bigger fight ahead of me), and not all of the minigames are enjoyable. Smithing immediately comes to mind, a “Hit the coloured bits on the bar” game where said coloured bits are… Rather small. Melee is, honestly, not as useful as the ranged options, especially when it comes to, for example, the first boss, who electrifies himself. And it can be fiddly to pick things up, water, or plant things, since you aren’t fixed to the tiles it uses (Also, if a pet is nearby, you can easily end up leaping on to ride them rather than pick up the thing your pet is standing over, necessitating leading said pet away. Every time.)

Yessssssss!

Finally on the crit, there’s multiplayer. It’s a relatively recent addition, so I certainly don’t mind the bugs, knowing that the community is pretty good at reporting them, and the devs, as I’ve noted, update pretty rapidly at the present time. I don’t even mind the lack of any sort of pausing, because synced pausing is unfun for the other player, and any other method would be a bloody nightmare. But the method of starting a co-op session is poorly explained, requiring you to copy the host’s Steam ID (the numerical one the game gives you, not your profile name or account name), and then pasting that in to connect (3 players can join a host, sharing a farm, and… The sales bin. Which, considering myself and my multiplayer partner have yet to find a means of expanding this, isn’t the best of times.)

But this is still relatively early days, the game is pretty solid overall, and, even now, I would recommend this to fans of this genre wot Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, and Stardew Valley belong to, the… Farmer-Adventurer RPG Lifesim? Not quite sure. Anyway, it’s reasonable right now, and certainly shows promise.

The Mad Welshman actually quite likes the humble farmer-adventurer. Sure, they can be massive jerks, but they’re massive jerks who put food on his table.

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Destiny or Fate (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99
Where To Get It:Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access

It just doesn’t seem to be my month for games coming out of Early Access. It seems it’s… Fated to be a grim one. Because yes, Destiny or Fate is another one which… Hasn’t really done much to correct the issues I talked about last time.

Oh gee, I love all party attacks on a regular basis! [said through gritted teeth]

When it goes well, it goes well. When it doesn’t, it’s a bloody mess, and a tedious slog. Because there’s not much return on your 3 energy, a lot of the time, special abilities vary wildly in utility, levelling up and buying cards is a grindy affair when you don’t actually have room to grind… And bosses… Ohhhh, bosses…

As defence stacks, some bosses have absolutely ridiculous defence that, sometimes, can’t even be broken through with every special used, and focusing on attack (A dangerous strategy at best.) Some curse the hell out of you, so you have to win the fight quickly, but… Whoop, this particular guy is showing that he’s going to lay down two counter attacks, sod! Enemies do show you what they’re going to do, and this can definitely help in not-boss fights… But bosses are just bastards, and it’s not often at all I reach the second area… Not least because even normal enemies can, if fights go even halfway badly, result in a total party wipe. Because a surprising amount of things have “Attack all” to some degree or another.

While we’re on the subject of enemies… Two of these look awfully familiar.

There remains, as far as I know, one JRPGish battle tune, which becomes wearing incredibly quickly, as does going through the first area several times. The first area… Of five.

Honestly, the most trouble I’ve had with this review is that, because nearly everything I’ve said in the last one, a year ago, remains true (That it’s humdrum in presentation, poorly balanced, wears quickly, and seemingly doesn’t seem to want me to explore its systems), and… What can I say to add to that? Not a whole lot.

This is, in short, a game I can’t even really recommend to experience procgen, card battler players. The few things you unlock mid game don’t stay unlocked, except for hero(in)es, and it’s not worth the grind to try and keep them both alive and levelled. I don’t often say a game is outright bad, but… This is definitely one of those times.

The Mad Welshman’s lot in life is mostly set. He thinks it was because he stole Fate’s lunch money in school. Look, sorry Fate, can I get a leg-up?

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