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…

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Hazardous Space (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19 (£9.51 for collector’s edition (Artbook, Soundtrack, Game))
Where To Get It:
Steam

Hazardous Space, if I was given an elevator pitch, would be an okay game. Arriving at a station which has been infested by zombies, a group of three spacefarers has to make their way through the station, fighting and looting along the way.

And by ‘people’ , I mean ‘Me, Captain hardchin, with assistance from you two.’

And then it makes some odd decisions, and what would be an okay game turns into… An okay game with elements that bring it down. Like most of the conversation being about as far away from your centre of vision as humanly possible… In the top right, as opposed to everything interactable, which is… On the bottom half of the screen. So you’re wandering, picking up items, and, at points, text is auto-playing… And largely gets unnoticed. It’s not great writing, to be fair, and the auto-play, itself, is a bit of a problem, but… A definite low point.

Another odd choice is to split the game into “parts.” A more accurate term would be “Difficulty levels”, as each is its own run, but each has its own ending, goes on for longer, and extra equipment (with some extra enemies and story segments.) Since progress on blueprints, notes, etcetera, seems to be incremental, this… Does get easier and more do-able the further you get, but then we hit the final problem, and…

Note, convo in the top left. Also… Hehe, “Fire” Axe. Look, I gotta get my chuckles from something here…

…The fact is, it’s kind of dull. Weapons have roughly the same impact feeling (Some), but not a whole lot can fix that the core loop. Try to go right (Up, down, or, in extreme cases, left if not possible), taking 5 energy loss per room, maybe have a fight, walk into a trap, find some stuff, rinse, repeat. Sometimes the items are useful, more often they’re vendor trash. Sometimes the enemies feel impactful, mostly… They’re obstacles, things that pad out time. And through it all, a single track plays, seemingly emphasising the grind.

“Feel”, while a nebulous term, is, in fact, very important, and what it feels like, when playing, is that none of this is terribly important. The characters do get somewhat serious later, but it’s just another day, another chance to shit-talk each other, and get to know each other more. The enemies start getting more serious, but the tension in fighting them… Just isn’t really there, and the narrative, while meant to be about a terrifying sci-fi event where an Umbrella style Cacklingly Evil Corporation has done bad things, just… Falls flat, due to a lack of tension.

Expect to see this guy a lot.

Hazardous Space does do some interesting things, tying energy to exploration and levelling up (Run out of energy, run out of life-support, die, a-la Deep Sky Derelicts), and it does allow for some adjustable difficulty options that, genuinely, make the game a little more accessible (Such as turning the CLOUD OF DEATH, that means you can’t go back very far and have to reach the exit quicker, off), but overall, it feels grindy, and oddly arbitrary at times.

The Mad Welshman punched his monitor, and it burst into flames “Burning Does Not Work!”

Sure seemed like it did…

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Desolate (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99 (£22.30 for game and soundtrack, £4.79 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It:
Steam

It’s always dangerous on the Island, and it’s important to know when to creep, when to crawl, when to duck, when to jump. People have nice words for all the things that happen on the Island, pretty words like “Gravitic anomaly”, “Anomalous Localised Weather Phenomenon”, and a whole bunch of others, most of which translate to “Watch out for this, it can kill the unwary.” The traders are Uncles and Aunts, familial names for the vultures who claim to watch out for you while taking the lion’s share of your spoils, and eager scientists want to add to their store of pretty words… But not at their own risk. No, that’s for the Volunteers.

If there’s anything Victor Ognin’s gonna pay for, it’s this. Damn him.

If this is all sounding a bit like the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic, then you’ve correctly noticed this is a heavy inspiration for Desolate. Although STALKER would be a closer comparison, considering that the disaster on this island, the strangeness… Is at least partly the fault of scientists being over-eager about Things Man Was Not Meant To Wot. Specifically a man called Victor Ognin. So, a scientist to hunt, strange abominations, bandits and madmen, anomalies… All the while worrying about the strange effects of the Island, keeping yourself alive.

It’s such a shame then, that it feels more hollow than its inspirations. There have been moments, it’s true: A camp, surrounded by Zapper anomalies (electrical anomalies, that, like most anomalies except the “Black Hole”, hurt, but, like all anomalies, can mostly be seen just fine, especially during the day) made for a tense few moments (Although throwing rocks wasn’t really needed), and some of the enemies (From the not-dog Dorg to the whatever-the-hell-vaguely-quadruped Sapsy) are visually and aurally well designed (Others, such as the Wanogah, just made me sigh gustily. Really? Naked vomitting teleporting zombie lady with an oxygen reducing cloud of flies? Bit cliché, wot?) Sometimes they fight among themselves, which is interesting, although sometimes comical (A Dorg, for example, failing to catch a fleeing Gorlan (Some kind of prey/food animal that got changed by whatever the Event is of this world)

He’s permanently angry. Although, to be fair, nearly everyone seems to be.

But this is a Zone that, moments aside, doesn’t really feel that alive. Nor does it feel that desolate, as you can’t go twenty or thirty feet without running into a Dorg or some other beast, immediately crouch or run away, and… Well, back to scavenging. But, for all the subtle worldbuilding (Here be a bunch of zealots holed up in a church. Here be the Basecamp of Uncle Misha, from where you’ll be spending a lot of your time foraging and questing. Here be the spooky ghost who may have a big role in the plot, but mostly pops up to give you jumpscares), it’s lacking… Something. Maybe it’s that the enemies have very predictable AI, or are relatively easy to hide from (or run from) in the early game. Maybe it’s that there’s not a whole lot of conversation going on, beyond plot requests and the occasional bit of dialogue (most trading, for example, is simply “Hit E. Start trading.”) But quests don’t seem to have that same spice, being mostly of the “find X things to fix Y thing” or “Go to X potentially interesting place to kill Y thing” variety.

I will indeed find the dome once the moon co- oh, no moon? Well, when morning comes.

When night comes, it’s black as pitch, and, while your flashlight never runs out of battery (Oh, thank the heavens for this!), it nonetheless… Ends up detracting from what is actually some interesting scenery. The radar domes, the inexplicable pod of beached whales, and other such sights just kinda vanish (Not literally, I mean they’re so much harder to see and appreciate), without, due to the aforementioned “Relatively easy to hide/run from” thing, upping the tension significantly. The game, meanwhile, runs on a single save system with options for “Open” play (Haven’t tried it, not a social Volunteer, thanks) or solo, and death… Well, death is mostly an annoyance, because it means you have ten minutes to reach all that equipment you gathered (Be it in a dangerous area or no), or… Well, it’s back to trying to regain some semblance of the equipment you lost, perhaps a bigger frustration.

Maybe it’s something that will grow on me. Maybe, somewhere over the next hill, I won’t feel like trudging halfway across the island to kill another hellbeast or investigate an anomaly for masters ignorant (deliberately or otherwise) of the danger is more than “Just another day.” Maybe that’s the point, and I’m missing it. But DESOLATE, unfortunately, doesn’t scratch my itch. Next time, Stalker, next time!

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say here. The Island kinda speaks for itself, one way or the other.

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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.

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Subnautica: Below-Zero (Review)

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

Ahhh, sunny Subnautica, where the equatorial ice shi- wait, what? Equatorial region… iced?

Yes, folks, welcome to Subnautica: Below Zero, sequel to Subnautica where it appears either the world is stranger than first appears, or the crash of the Aurora was a major boo-boo that affected the climate drastically. It’s still a beautiful world, but now… It’s a beautiful, cold world, eyeball penguins and everything. And, like me, the player avatar is very excited to be there, being a xenolinguist who finally has a job.

“If you find useful tech, we’ll pay you less than it’s worth, and buy out your rights. If you find cultural items, we’ll just take ’em. Alterra, BECAUSE WE CARE [More about what you reap than you]”

Unfortunately for her, the Alterra Corporation is still a dystopian futurist hellscape, the alien artefact shenanigans are due for a repeat, but, like me, Robin Goodall loves the heck out of the world of Subnautica, even in the deepest of Arctic winters. Even when it really seems like she’s going to have a terrible time.

Right, quick refresher: Subnautica was a first-person survival adventure set on an oceanic world, where things started a little annoying (Grab X Lea- where the heck do I get lead? Oh, near the HELLBEAST. Great), but was able to shift its focus very quickly toward a more exploration based playstyle, with a moderately strong narrative about the sole survivor of a star cruiser being shot down, and their encounters with the lost technology (some of it very self-destructive) left behind by a now seemingly extinct alien species. There was a lot of swimming, submarining, and, while your goal was to leave the planet, many, myself included, felt the world was too pretty to really leave. Below Zero is, effectively, more of the same.

Since the MYSTERY starts earlier, I can post the obligatory MYSTERY screenshot now, yay!

There isn’t a whole lot of story in the game as of yet, but what Below Zero currently has going for it is that the main conflicts are established within the first couple of hours: An unfriendly remnant of the alien race that (indirectly) caused all the trouble in the previous game, the Alterra corporation (Who would want to exploit the alien tech that… Caused all the trouble in the previous game), and, of course, the world being colder, and somewhat different to the world we knew. Oh, still mostly oceanic, still beautiful as hell… But, for example, gigantic mantis shrimp are now a problem you didn’t have before, and the bubbling filter plants of the previous game have given way to other filter plants, that give a burst of oxygen, then deflate for a while. Cold hasn’t yet been implemented, but if the heating pads or strange, radiator like eyeball flowers (Which burn you if you stand too close to them) are any indication, it probably will be.

Subnautica’s world remains beautiful, and feels alive as heck. Example: This little Pengling is catching fish. Like a Penguin would. D’AWWWWW!

And there’s two parts to why I’m fine with this. In Subnautica, Unknown Worlds proved their mettle in making demand meters that add some challenge, without overriding their core exploration and narrative focus, and they appear to be bringing those same lessons to Below Zero. Good. Secondly, Robin Goodall is a bubbly, lightly snarky character who refuses to let her situation (Boring, then very suddenly rather dangerous) get her down. Just like me, she loves the world, and wants to explore it, wanting to know what’s going on, and demonstrating a fairly strong moral compass early on.

It is, as before with Subnautica, a relatively promising start.

The Mad Welshman, never having left Subnautica in the previous installment, is presumably to be found somewhere out here. Either as a popsicle, or drinking coffee and smiling at penglings playing from his vast underwater base.

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