Age of Wonders: Planetfall (Review)

Source: Hard parted with Cashmoneys. Worth it though.
Price: £41.99 (Look, there’s DLCs and a Season pass…)
Where to Get It: Steam

Space Opera is, in a way, a high fantasy all of its own. Want space elves? You can have space elves. Want space dwarves? Sure, no prob. Want a monolithic evil empire? Well, we all have those days. So Age of Wonders: Planetfall is not, strictly speaking, that big a leap from the fantasy shenanigans of previous games. Spells are now Tactical Operations, roving monsters are often NPC factions (Not all of which have a player faction equivalent), and overall? There’s a lot of interesting changes here, all of which seem to improve that AoW experience.

I get the distinct feeling we’re naming them, rather than using their names…

For those who don’t get the fuss about Age of Wonders, it’s a long running 4X franchise which has boasted many factions, asymmetric gameplay elements in later instalments, and some cool worlds of high fantasy. Well, now it’s science fiction. Turn based, with a hex based combat system when you get into it with units, and… Well, let’s talk systems.

As noted, there’s a lot of changes, but the two biggest, to my mind, are the Mod system for units, which extends the utility of units, especially Tier I units, quite a lot, and allows a fair amount of customisation, and the ability to research both your military and social researches at the same time, which… Really streamlines play, and I like that! In addition, factions and classes further mix things up both in the unit and research side of things (Species who choose the Voidtech class, for example, get Void Walkers, beings who can clone themselves before a seemingly unwinnable fight, and if they die? Well… Their clone is now them, because they were time travelling, and you had the bonus of doing damage to a creature outside of your current strength)

There’s many enemies, always enemies. But they will fall before the superior meld of biology… And technology

The system of base building has also been rejigged, and I also quite like this. Before this, it was done in a slightly more traditional 4X manner, with building cities, expanding them, and the main difference was in Outposts (to extend your territory without building another city) and Watchtowers (Extend the vision range of whoever owns them.) In Planetfall, it’s a collection of territories, and expansion is through exploiting a sector within range (preferably connected), and then building an exploitation on that point. Forward Bases can pre-emptively claim a territory, although anyone who wants to either destroy that or take that claim for their own can certainly try, so defending forward bases is… An interesting dynamic, since the game doesn’t generally encourage hordes of units, overall.

It’s somewhat refreshing, after the hullabaloo (enjoyable hullabaloo, but hullabaloo nonetheless) of Age of Wonders, to see the turns just… Glide by, relatively speaking. And it helps that, aesthetically, Planetfall is very much on point. The UI remains the same, and is mostly readable and well organised (occasionally, there’s a button or two that confuses a little, but it’s easy to learn), the music is fitting and gets the mood going along with things, and the worlds are, again, clear about what’s what. There is also hotseat, always a favourite of mine, for anything up to 12 players (Which is a fair bit more than the current number of factions, but the existence of a DLC Season Pass implies, as with Age of Wonders 3, that more is planned.)

I do enjoy a good warrior woman. Almost as much as my queer readers do.

So… I don’t really have any gripes about Age of Wonders: Planetfall. Some folks might get turned on by the extra login (as they might have done with Age of Wonders 3), but many a 4X or Grand Strategy player already has a Paradox account, so… Overall, it gets a recommendation for 4X players, with the only advice for those new to AoW being “Save often, but especially before fights, so you can learn how it all works without as much frustration.”

The Mad Welshman is torn between factions. So he spends most of his time with Planetfall banging his toys together and making “pew pew!” noises in Hotseat. He absolutely will not apologise for this. More 4X’s need hotseat.

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Oxygen Not Included (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £18.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When you can tell a release candidate is a big step up from its Early Access, it’s not only a pleasant feeling, it’s a relief. A game you can point to and say “Nice, I enjoyed this!” And Oxygen Not Included, having rebalanced and added More Stuff to the usual Klei brand of “Games I Love, But Seem To Dislike Me (While Being Enjoyable To Play)”, is definitely one of those kinds of games. What interests me most about it is that it also retains that feeling of a slow fight of attrition against a difficult situation (Being trapped in the middle of an asteroid, with Oxygen in limited supply, and the means of making it in potentially limited supply, and… Look, there’s a lot of things I could affix “In limited supply” or “Of limited effectiveness” to, from food to water to power, and beyond.

“Wait, whose idea was it to import fish to flop around?” [answered only by angry squeaking]

But it’s not insurmountable, although it definitely feels that way in the early game sometimes, and the game rewards you for that struggle, that fight for survival, with cool things to find, and more information about why you, for some reason, are squeaking, honking clones, finding yourself in a tiny space at first, with absolutely no context beyond “Hey, you’ll die if you don’t work at the whole staying alive thing! Chop chop!”

And a part of what it’s added, although part of that may well be me having gotten better at things (With the exception of wiring… Le sigh) is that you get to see it more, before it starts pulling the gloves off. And, for players who want a challenge, or just a change, there are several different types of asteroids to be trapped in, from your bog standards, to your boggy standards, all the way to “Oh heck, why did someone even do this, putting us in this hellhole to die?”

Speaking of “Why would you even?” Jean… Ellie… WHY WOULD YOU EVEN?!?

Now, overall, it’s indirect management. I can’t say all of it’s good (It still, oddly, has the speed settings as a sort of throttle, so to go from “somewhat fast” to “normal” is two taps, but I can somewhat forgive that, especially as the sleep period seems to go by quicker), and reading tooltips is a must, but… Scalable UI. That’s good. Clear fonts. Cool. And very little that seemed to affect colourblindness, with the tooltips aiding in letting me know “This is coal, this is granite, and this is a chlorine filled mess you’ll probably have to go into with insufficient protection, because there’s useful things here. Hope your air plan is gooood, LOL!” Finally, there’s been some streamlining. Research is more clearly delineated, and levelling up a Duplicant is now at the base duplicator, rather than a thing requiring its own research. Nice!

And it’s these things, these seemingly small (But actually kind of big) changes that make the game friendlier, without, obviously, being too friendly. You’ll still, eventually, have to do dangerous things, overstretch yourself, and bar some duplicants from using machinery just to cut down on their commute. And you’ll still, occasionally, be yelling at them, despite a priority system, to “Argh, fix that, fix that, you’re going to be in trouble if you don’t AAAARGH.”

Pictured: The transcendent experience of education. Not Pictured: My electrical systems shorting and my coal generators slowly making the air worse.

But, for the most part, outside the really early game, that AARGH is a slower process, a process you can come back from, if you keep your head together. And, since Oxygen Not Included was already interesting and charming, not pretending to be anything other than it is, it remains highly recommended to fans of these indirect management survival games.

Just don’t come crying to me if your wiring overloads and starts a fire. Not least because I won’t be able to help you either.

No, really… The Mad Welshman sometimes has trouble remembering whether CHA FAN is a usable motherboard socket for… A fan. Don’t ask him about wiring.

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Jupiter Hell (Early Access Review)

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

Doom: The Roguelike was an interesting experience. Not just because I personally find it pleasant to see ASCII renditions of various video game enemies, and enjoy roguelikes, but because it emulated the feel of Doom (swearing as you unload, wondering when the next health pickup will be found, and moving, always moving), while being its own thing.

Every time you die, it helpfully reminds you what killed you a few seconds ago, but also assesses how risky you played, and how many you killed (This is important for certain achievements!)

And Jupiter Hell? Well, those of us who know, know that it is basically Doom: The Roguelike… Remastered. And how does it shape up? Pretty well so far. Let’s get into that.

The basic idea is that, as with most roguelikes, when you act, the enemies act also, and each action takes a certain amount of time (Moving, for example, is the 1.0 to calibrate everything by, while shooting can be slow or fast, depending on the weapon, and some abilities), and the game limits your motion to the four cardinal directions. I mean, you can move diagonally, but that isn’t a single move, but two. The maps use seeds for generation, and they always follow the same set of patterns and general enemy difficulty, although sometimes you get a doozy like coming out of the first area to find seven corrupted soldiers looking at you. And then shooting you to death (In a recent patch, this has been toned down, at least for the first level.)

Ehehe. Ohhh, you poor, undead and demonic bastards…

But, thankfully, I only encountered that once, and I’ve always understood where I’d screwed up overall. Another hallmark of a good roguelike. Your objective? To find out what the hell’s goi- It’s to murder everything, because nothing on any of these godforsaken bases can be saved, and a good chunk of it wants to turn you into good chunks. There is cover, and taking advantage of it, as well as baiting enemies into leaving theirs, is part of the tactics. And there are skills you earn at each level, which increase your power somewhat. And there are level branches, each with their own situations to make you feel either really powerful… Or that this was a bad idea.

So, your goal is pretty clear. Your controls are pretty clear, and rebindable to boot. There are CRT effects (including glitching and tearing of the UI at low health), but they can be turned off in the options. While the game is often somewhat dark, your currently targeted enemy is highlighted clearly, as is the next, automatically, when you kill the first, and you can still, most of the time, see the enemies well enough to shoot them. The menus can be a little odd to get used to at first (Mainly, remember that you can hit left and right to see other information, such as what your boomsticks, generally speaking, do. Beyond a practical test for further clarification, obviously.) And musically?

The wise thing to do would be to run back round that corner. Suffice to say, I was feeling ballsy, not wise.

Well, I did say it’s Doom: The Roguelike Remastered, and the music is reminiscent of, but definitely not a copy of, various iconic doom themes. Little riffs, here and there, and the overall tone clue you in, but they’re hard, they’re driving guitar, and sometimes… Sometimes they’re just downright ominous.

And so far, the only thing that I could really say was a turn-off is exactly the same turn-off for many a roguelike: Until you get the situations you see in later levels, it can be frustrating, as can not finding health kits and armour when you feel you really, really need them right about now. But it doesn’t shame you for picking Easy difficulty (In fact, I’m almost certain the entire Bronze achievements of the game can be completed on any difficulty), it’s aesthetically good, it’s mechanically sound while not feeling incomplete (Just a few minor balance issues), and I would say it’s a contender for being a good “First Roguelike I’ve Played.”

Doom was great, and Id are mostly great. And they were actually cool with this keeping the name. Just a friendly reminder for certain assholes from your local, mostly friendly Mad Welshman.

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Robo Instructus (Review)

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

Programming puzzle games are, normally, extremely my jam. Teaching the logic behind programming is good, and, while it doesn’t teach actual programming most of the time, it does help understand it better. And that’s nice.

There. In the top left. That’s your options. That’s TINY by default!

Unfortunately, Robo Instructus doesn’t do a great job, for multiple reasons. Starting with a start interface best described as “Not great.” Okay, fun programmer joke, putting the save profiles in a 1d array. Cool. But when your options at the start are a small icon in the top left of a mostly black screen (even if it is one of the icons that is commonly accepted to be “Menu”), you’ve got some accessiblity problems. Add in the fact that while windowed mode is there, but it’s a resizable window, rather than one with options for common sizes, and it becomes needlessly difficult for streamers to get the right proportions, even with a scaling UI (and UI scale options, which, admittedly, is a thing done right.)

The level after this one is the pain in the ass.

Then, of course, there’s the things the game doesn’t tell you. Some of them are par for the course, and thus not a complaint (such as teaching the various parts piecemeal, so you don’t need to do a thing), but others… Well, for example, the third level taught me, although it took a while for me to realise, that a teleporter in a multiple level area (which is most of them) seems to either not count the teleporter as part of a robot_forward() command, or automatically call that command without a call on teleporting to a new area. Or it’s a bug. Finally, in terms of gripes, entering the program is, in places, needlessly pernickety, specifically on indenting. In most Object Oriented languages, anything contained between { and } (and with each command ending in a ; ) is considered as correct but in Robo Instructus, it needs to be indented correctly, and it only autocorrects to this formatting if you started with the instruction that isn’t indented (loop or if, for example.) Sooo, a lot of gripes here, which isn’t great.

The tower behind this wall-o-text(TM) is, essentially, your level structure. No, it doesn’t appear to widen out as it goes, terrible construction practices…

Aesthetically, it’s an odd mix. Most of it, visually, can best be described as “workmanlike” (or, possibly more accurately, a programmer’s visual design), but I’ll admit the actual robot section is visually pleasing, and the music is good.

But, overall? These gripes are certainly not trivial, for the most part, annoyances and accessibility problems that add up to make a programming puzzle game that, for once, I haven’t particularly enjoyed from the get-go.

The Mad Welshman knows enough coding to get him into trouble. Apparently, this trouble now also involves running robots off triangular cliffs.

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Nowhere Prophet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49 (£27.79 for all gubbins, £11.39 for soundtrack, artbook, and other gubbins)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

Nowhere Prophet has, over the course of its Early Access, been a promising, but sometimes frustrating ride. And with release? Well, there’s some improvement, including rejigging what the difficulty settings tell you, introducing and then toning down bosses for each checkpoint along the way to The Crypt, supposedly the salvation of this post-apocalyptic, Indian themed landscape, and rejigging items to create a more manageable version of the Leader decks, along with special abilities that can be used once a battle.

Aaaaaa, I got here, I got here! (and then never since. Oh Boo.)

In short, Nowhere Prophet has changed quite a bit from when I last reviewed it, and, on reflection, these changes are good, especially after some of the bosses have been toned down.

Because, hot damn, they were frustrating a day or so ago. To recap, Nowhere Prophet is a turn based game in which you balance food and hope versus progress and better gear, and the life of your followers versus your own life, because, in the fights, it’s a Hearthstone style of “Play units, play leader cards, get one more energy than the last turn, and your goal is to kill the leader.” There, a nice executive summary.

What complaints I have essentially still remain: Some decks are damn good, especially in the enemy’s hands, and the AI plays its deck well, grinding you down quite efficiently. Which is why the difficulty setting restatement is welcome: The AI does not play any better or worse on any difficulty, but does have less synergy in their own decks, and less powerful cards. On “Burdened” difficulty (Previously described as “Normal”), some of those decks can be, for want of a better word, bloody evil. But I’ve talked about things like Taunt and Armour boys before, so we’ll instead move on to bosses.

Oh no. Oh no. I am not ready for taunt/armourboi funtimes!

As mentioned, each checkpoint now has a boss fight, against one of 10 bosses (One for each of the factions), and the toning down has been good, because previously, some were intriguing, but many were downright frustrating, like the Union Bulwark essentially being the ultimate Taunt-Armour Boy, or the Blue Devil Tormented’s ability to level up all of his hand if you murder one of his folks. Now, those abilities are toned down, and, in some cases, limited to once a turn, for a limited number of turns, or both. Which means I can actually be excited about King Lizard’s clever trick without looking like a masochist.

King Lizard, on release, essentially straight up wounded/killed whoever attacked him when he didn’t have armour (Your Leader cards don’t count.) But now, it’s only the first unit a turn, and that is still tactical (Who do I sacrifice for the most gain?) without, for example, waiting to buff up some of your units so they really count toward that goal. Each has their own schtick, and it’s relatively easy to understand from the tooltips and what you’ve encountered of a faction.

Okay, so maybe I was. But I wasn’t in shape for what came next, and died.

I will say that, while there’s definitely a lot of replay value (even having beaten the game, there’s more I want to find), the final unlockable ability of convoys is brought about by beating… 25 bosses. And that, honestly, is expecting a bit much, considering there’s nine tribes to unlock this for, and four leaders, some of which you can only unlock through certain circumstances.

Still, overall, it’s visually impressive, its music is good, and even with that brief day one hiccup, it shows promise, with its daily challenges adding a little spice to the game. I would recommend this, because it does have some clever ideas, and playing it on the easier settings is not a guilt trip.

The Mad Welshman says Rusters are People too. This is in no way due to the nanocontrollers in his head.

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