Warhammer Quest 2: The End Times (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Warhammer Quest has always been an odd one, for me, even among the many, many adaptations and games Games Workshop has put out over the years. A series they supported fairly well (From its earliest days as Hero Quest, to Advanced Hero Quest, to Warhammer Quest), it showed an aspect of the setting you’d think they’d have dealt more with, outside of some of the fiction, the groggy Fantasy Roleplay, and… I suppose Talisman counts: Adventurers.

Pictured: Perhaps the least likely group of adventurers. Three out of these four would normally, in the Warhams universe, kill each other on sight… But hey, these are the END TIMES…

I mean, you’d think Games Workshop would understand the appeal. But despite a fair amount of support, Warhammer Quest is one of the lesser lights of the studio. And the times it’s been adapted, it’s been relatively faithful.

Funnily enough, this is another one of those times where that’s precisely the problem. Because Warhammer Quest is a game that loves its random encounter tables. More specifically, hot damn it loves it ambushes. To the point where, very early in the game (approximately the fourth story mission), I was travelling from the dungeon to a town, got ambushed by around 12 Beastmen along the way, killed a few, and… Then got the text that presaged the ambush getting more ambushy with 5 more Beastmen. Considering one of my two heroes allowed for the ambush was downed the round before this happened, I noped the hell out. INJURY: Thankfully no permanent damage.

NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. NOPE! NOPE!

Yes, if one of your characters gets downed during a quest, there is a chance they will get injured, although this can be repaired by… Levelling up. Healing items are relatively rare, and take time to use. Taking time means more turns for the dreaded AMBUSH. More turns for ranged enemies to plink away at you. And meanwhile, a lot of things are beyond your price range, from better heroes, to better equipment. It does get sort of easier by the end of the first act, but characters will get downed, and the game seems to take glee in arranging this. Yes, I know, games don’t have feelings. But that is the feeling I ascribe to it. It does help that often, side quests have vastly better rewards than main quests, but that… Doesn’t exactly help, considering the main quests are what you’re incentivised to do…

Still, you may note a 2 there, and while Warhammer Quest 2 inherits some of the problems of its predecessor (The aforementioned Ambush fetish, level design which means you’re often choosing between party cohesion before the next door, and the chance of MORE AMBUSH, expensive gear that makes the early game feel a lot more punishing, partly perhaps from its mobile, microtransactiony roots, mostly from the random tables Warhammer Quest was well known for), it would be disingenuous to say that there hasn’t been improvement and change.

“So, er, DM, what the heck’s this shield thing?”
“Here, here’s a card explaining exactly what it is. It’s your quest marker.”
“OHHHHH…”

For example, while there are still some control frustrations (occasionally clicking a space instead of ending your turn, having to remember that the game thinks you’re looking at an enemy instead of shooting it again if you’ve shot it with a ranged attack, then don’t mouse away before clicking again), the UI is a little more clear, and a little more visually interesting… Although the Town UI has taken a slight dip from “Functional” to “Stylistic, but less functional.” Camera movement is a definite improvement, although walls obstinately refuse to get out of the way, meaning that you’re mostly going to be looking downward anyway, and, setting wise, putting the game in Warhammer’s End Times period (When Archaon, Chaos Lord, royally screws things up) helps explain why such very disparate adventurers are banding together. A Dark Elf Witch of Naggaroth, one of your first two characters, is, at any other time, perhaps the worst choice of travelling companion. Once it gets going (about halfway through Act 1), it does feel easier, and, as a result, your group feels more powerful, but ambushes remain at best an irritation or delay, and, at worst, a very unwelcome addition to an already dangerous fight. Finally, not every town has every facility, and this starts being felt once you have to deal with long travels (and thus, random events) every time you want to level someone up, but a town doesn’t have the right facilities.

Those dual colour sets along the bottom are your only not-kit customisations. Them’s the rules, I don’t make ’em.

Model wise, some are better than others (It does seem women get the shorter end of the stick, both in terms of how many women characters there are, and the relative quality of models), but all are at least okay, with the caveat that customisation choices are very limited, and only the first weapon equipped seems to affect visible representation (Armour does vis-rep.) The music’s alright, with some tense violin led numbers, and other, dramatic choral pieces, and the world’s stylisation does give it more character than the previous outing, looking somewhat like a tabletop map, complete with layered bits of terrain.

In the end, while Warhammer Quest 2 gets friendlier a little quicker than its predecessor, enjoyment very much depends on how well you deal with the dominance of the random encounter elements of the game. It’s definitely an improvement, and I can see myself playing it in short stints, but, sooner or later, an annoying ambush happens, or the game drops poor plot rewards once too often, and I peace out.

It is the End Times of the Warhammer universe. Brother fights against brother, the vile publishers seek to bleed the Empire dry. In this dark fantasy world, there is only… Game Reviews.

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Slay The Spire (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Ah, Slay the Spire. It’s charmed us so throughout Early Access, with its simple, but deadly card based combat, three characters, and its surreal, grim world of top-hatted slimes and the Shapes Museum…

…Yes, I said surreal and grim. But not without a touch of humour.

Yes, there is even humour in situations like this. Along with a healthy dose of “Oh sod…”

Since I last reviewed Slay the Spire, waaaay back when, a new character had been added (the Defect, an automaton whose deck revolves around the orbs that he summons, be they damaging lightning, cool, buffing ice, or other, more out there types), Ascension mode (where you can finally Slay the Spire, a living construct with a beating heart), and a whole host of balancing. So much more, on the other, similar looking hand, hasn’t changed, and what hasn’t changed… Hasn’t really needed to change.

It’s still a game where you’re thinking both in the short term (How the hell do I get through this fight with a Snecko without too much damage, despite the fact they’re a git who randomises my once cheap cards to expensive hell?) and the long term (Once I beat the Snecko, do I go ballsy and try the random events, which could lead to worse things than the Snecko, but greater rewards, or do I slog through these… Another boss monster before the final campfire? RANDOM EVENTS IT IS!) is optimal, and the mix of patterns (enemies have very specific strategies they employ) and randomness (drops, money, what cards you get to add to your deck) mean that a lot of the game is, effectively, risk management.

Snecko Eye, also known as the “I LOVE DICING WITH DEATH” option.

And very tense risk management it is, where even seemingly hopeless situations can be won through, only for an unfortunate series of events to bring it all crashing down. An unfortunate series of events that may have started… in the last map. So, while it can sometimes be hard to judge, I’ve rarely felt like the bad end of a run is not my fault.

Of course, just saying this doesn’t really help much, so let’s look at an example run, playing as the Silent. After your first run, so long as you’ve at least beaten the first boss, you get a benefit. From the beginning, I chose… Poorly. Specifically, I chose losing 7 of my max HP (normally fine) for a Rare Relic (normally fine.)

What I got was a relic where, so long as I didn’t play more than 3 cards in a turn, I’d get 3 more next turn. This, along with a few poison cards, actually played surprisingly well, if nerve wrackingly. I was always losing HP, because I was playing much more conservatively with my cards than I normally would as the silent, but when your “Poison everyone a lot” cards keep coming up, creatures still die quickly. I beat the first boss (Hexaghost) with… 8 damn HP to spare, and got the powerup (along with the one I’d previously gotten where enemies would now drop 2 cards instead of 1) where I could get 2 relics for each Elite enemy I successfully fought.

It’s rounds like these that make for glorious war stories… And, very quickly thereafter, tragedies.

And so, in my quest for a kind of power you don’t normally see the Silent possess, I continued to choose… Poorly. It didn’t matter that I’d fully healed, because the very first fight I got into (Three birds, which is normally an easy fight), I chose to fight according to my relics, and lost half my HP. Then I lost some more HP getting my max HP up. Then I came out of an Elite fight with less than 10HP again, merely four encounters in, and the very next encounter was… The Knight and Priestess. A deadly combo even normally, they killed me. Not without me killing the priestess, but, as with those ancient PSAs about knowing, that was only half the battle. Dead. Restart. And a lot of this was my choices.

Still, what with mods, the good accessibility, an excellent score, good aesthetics with a lot of visual clarity, that aforementioned humour breaking up the grim world, Slay the Spire is a tense, yet oddly compelling outing, and has remained so pretty much throughout.

The Mad Welshman goes with Snecko Eye whenever he gets the chance. That’s just the way he rolls.

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God Eater 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £46.49
Where To Get It: Steam

The God Eater series has always been an interesting one, even if aspects of that interest are more akin to watching a trainwreck than anything else (HI ROMEO, YOU SKEEVY ASS.) A series in the relatively small genre that is Monster Hunting (Wandering through limited arenas, hunting monsters, collecting items, and crafting better weapons so you don’t get stomped by the latest monster), God Eater has also been known for dramatically pulling the rug out from under its characters time and time again.

Combat is bombastic, chaotic, sometimes hard to parse, and finicky at times… But hot-damn, do I love a lot of it.

So… It’s actually been a pleasant relief to see the first three acts have mostly been an upward arc, narratively, from child-soldiers imprisoned and experimented on, to valuable members of a crew. I know there’s a rug pull incoming, but it wasn’t the one I was expecting, and I’m glad of that.

Okay, so, a little narrative backgrounder: God Eater is a monster hunting game where, essentially, Mother Earth has gotten so tired of Humanity’s shit, she decided to try and evolve them out of existence with the Aragami, horrific monsters that were, at least in the first game, originally human, but changed into various monsters. Humanity, somehow, has survived through at least two apocalyptic events (At least partly self inflicted), but things are grimmer than ever, with Fenrir (the organisation of the previous two games) mostly destroyed, and Gleipnir (No, not Sleipnir, totally not going with a Ragnarok themed naming, why would you think that?) being the “big” organisation this time. You can tell things are bad, because not only are the Aragami going Gray Goo on everything (the Ash Storms, and, theoretically… the totally-not-going-to-happen Ash Tempest), they’ve evolved again. Cue our protagonist, and their friends.

That’s me in the mid-ground. You may be wondering how I got here…

While I have not been able to get as far as I would like in God Eater 3 (The pressures of reviewing, sadly, wait for nobody it seems), I already have a pretty good idea of how the game has improved, how it’s added things, and how its writing seems to be on upward progression from the last outings. Some things remain, annoyingly, a bit of a problem, such as subtitles not properly distinguishing themselves from the background, the fact that, as a Monster Hunter type game, there are a lot of buttons and button combos, so a controller is heavily recommended (both controller and keyboard/mouse can be redefined, but, as mentioned, a lot of buttons), and step attacks, especially the new Burst Art step attacks, remain a pain in the arse to land properly (Locking on doesn’t help that much.) Mook missions remain mook missions, you will end up grinding earlier missions for upgrade materials and money (especially if you want to experience all the weaponry), and some enemy types remain more annoying than others. Specifically shielders, flyers, and ranged-focused enemies (Of which there is at least one who represents all three in Rank 3.)

Yes, this review is pretty long for me, and a big part of that is that there is a lot that has changed, been added, or improved. For example, I mentioned Burst Arts, and now there are not only Burst Arts (Requiring you to fit the Devour move into your combos to use, although Devouring your enemies remains a vital core function you won’t risk forgetting), but Engage mode (Essentially, linked abilities that trigger when two characters fill up their attack meters, such as sharing item usage or improving attack), and Acceleration Triggers, which, like Burst Arts and Engage mode, buff aspects of your fighting style, although some feel more useful than others. Wait, I need to Engage five times to… Improve the speed of that devour move I don’t really use, because quick devour is right there? HRM. The two new weapons, similarly, are new, and the Heavy Moon, a sort of Chakram/Heavy Axe combo, is definitively my favourite, threatening to depose my love of the lance and its pokey, chargey stylings.

From my stream save, the Heavy Moon, in all its implausible, yet chunky and exciting glory.

Visually, the game is an improvement on previous titles, without busting your GPU. Enemies glow, give good visual tells (for the most part), feel like believable creatures… Well, as believable as murder-monsters based on a hive-mind of single-celled hate amoeba can be, anyway. Characters remain relatively simply rendered, although the clarity does help when combat, and its heavy particle chaos ensues, and, despite seeming like a really unfriendly game, it tutorialises moderately well. Not really well, just moderately well, but it teaches most of its base concepts, even if it stumbles a bit by leaving weapon specific training to practice modes and database entries on their unique moves. The voice acting’s solid, the writing seems, as noted, to be on an upward arc from the last outing’s skeevelord inclusions (Although I may well have to write a going back or something once done, because, as noted, God Eater is well known for its dramatic rug pulling), and, overall, God Eater 3 seems to show quite the improvement, remaining a solid entry in the relatively small genre that is “Hunt monsters for kit and profit.”

jThe Mad Welshman always enjoys getting the drop on things that want to destroy Humanity. After all, that’s his job…

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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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