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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Fantasy Strike (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79 (Soundtrack £6.79)
Where To Get It: Steam

Fighting games are sometimes difficult to learn. Sometimes, they’re also difficult to master. But sometimes, as in Fantasy Strike, they’re mainly difficult to master. Which I appreciate, even if a tutorial before you can even change the window settings is not something I appreciate. Still, let’s talk Fantasy Strike.

“…You’re already painted.”

The philosophy behind Fantasy Strike’s fighting shenanigans is twofold: Firstly, to make a more accessible fighting game. But secondly, the game is all about David Sirlin’s favourite part of fighting games: Yomi.

It’s got multiple potential meanings, even in fighting games, but, essentially, the idea is that high level play involves reading your opponent well, so that you can adapt your strategies on the fly, be that conditioning your opponent into certain reactions (that you then punish with a different moveset), or simply knowing that an opponent likes a certain pattern, then punishing them for using it (It can go many ways, as you can see.) So, how does it do this? Well, multiple ways.

Firstly, there are a total of six buttons: One for light, one for heavy, two for specials, one for throwing, one for jump, and one for super moves. Also there is no crouching. Okay, that’s a relatively simple set up, especially since many characters don’t really have the need for both specials (although directional inputs change a fair few moves, as do, obviously, jumps.) There’s also a more limited health bar that gets chipped away if you block three attacks consecutively (some moves do double damage, such as Midori’s Dragon Throw, but most either deal one, or combo, so blocking it is effectively one damage, or two for not blocking.) It’s still somewhat twitchy, requiring good reactions and not button mashing to win the day, but that is, honestly, not bad. Enemies also flash various colours for invincibility frames (white), throws (blue), and special throws requiring a jump prompt to escape (green.) That still requires good reactions, but it is helpful.

Geiger, having a watch that controls time, counters and specials by… Being an asshole, essentially.

Secondly, beyond the things that you normally do with the concept of Yomi (pattern punishes, baiting, jump cancels, etcetera), there is the concept of the Yomi Counter. Somebody wants to throw you, and normally this is tough to counter, but in Fantasy Strike, the way you counter it is by… Doing absolutely nothing. Not moving, not punching… Just very briefly letting go of the controls. In practice, this is something that still requires mastering the specific reaction needs of Fantasy Strike, but the mechanical theory, at least, is clever.

Finally, the game lets you know what kind of character you’re playing, and, like other fighting games, allows you to see the moveset. “Wild Card”, alas, is a needlessly nebulous term, as the two fighters in this category, DeGrey and Lum, still have overlap with other categories. Lum is a sort of zoner in practice with random items as his special, while DeGrey is a sort of meld of grappler (slow-ish, but hard hitting), and “doll” fighter, with his ghost friend being a ranged grapple. But the other categories of zoner (specialises in controlling the battlefield in some fashion, and making areas of the battlefield dangerous. By the way, no crouch means projectiles are more dangerous), rushdown (relying on getting in someone’s face and comboing them with mixups (different attacks to different areas) to murderise them), and grappler (You hit hard, are slow, and mostly rely on throws) make sense. The majority category, by the way, are zoners, giving you some idea of the priorities here.

SIIIIGH. On the one hand, feels. On the other, in retrospect, the fact this lady is dragged off by oppressive government, then never mentioned again is bad.

Aesthetically, the game is honestly not bad at all. The characters are interesting visually, and you get a rough idea of what they can do by their look, the stages are lovely, and the music, while a little generic at times, is fitting and doesn’t steal the limelight. The voicework, on the other hand, is variable. Yes, I get that Valerie is a “Manic Painter”, but that isn’t always full ham, buds. And she is full ham. Which is a shame, because she’s my personal favourite. Similarly, the writing of Arcade Mode is… Well, it’s a little like earlyish fighting games (we’re talking Darkstalkers era more than original Stret Fighter), in that the plots are mostly silly, and told via beginning and end cutscenes. Although Valerie’s does start on a dark note, as her lady love is carted away by the oppressive government of the world that… Doesn’t really get that prominent a story role, to be honest? So, while there’s some queer rep, the cast is, honestly, pretty white as far as it goes, so it doesn’t really win any points for diverse representation overall.

I’ve already mentioned my main gripe (the tutorial being right at the beginning, rather than, say, a prompt before playing your first game that then allows you to change your options before play), and I will also mention that online requires a separate signup (Something I know some people aren’t a big fan of), but, overall? It isn’t a bad game, although I will say that the limited character roster is, considering the price, also a potential turn off. Finally, I’ll mention that yes, pro players will still kick your ass until you master things, with it being more to do with pattern recognition and timing than that and a hefty moveset. Otherwise, it honestly does most of what it sets out to do, isn’t a bad fighting game, and I found myself having an okay time with it, despite being normally bad and frustrated at fighting games.

The Mad Welshman dislikes explaining a lot, but, with fighting games, it’s kiiiinda necessary. There’s a lot of terms that only exist in fighting games.

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Ritual of the Moon

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Being ostracised, for whatever reason, is… Painful. If you have any kind of mental health condition, it becomes that much worse, as you’re cut off from support networks, and what’s left is your own mind… Which might not be the friendliest to begin with. And, funnily enough, this can sometimes impact on your day to day remembering of doing things. Little things or big, it can… Just get forgotten.

There is also, interestingly, a third option. But that’s a seeeecret.

The Ritual of the Moon is a game played in five minute chunks, once per day, for 28 days, and then… You begin again. It remembers when you last played, and if you happen to miss a day? Well… We’ll get back to that.

You see, you’re a witch. Banished from Earth, to the Moon, you have the power to save the Earth from the daily bombardments from space of comets, and it doesn’t even take you that long. You look at the Earth, musing about your exile. You enter your module, preparing the ritual (By clicking objects and mouse dragging a line over stars to make shapes), the comet starts arriving, and you drag it away. Or into the Earth a little harder, that’s your choice.


Sometimes, those we trust turn on us. And that hurts.

But you are alone. Your imprisonment was unfair. Close partners and friends betrayed you to whatever hateful regime did this… And you are alone, uncertain if you’ll even have the oxygen to last out the month. And, since the game relies on your participation… Well, sometimes, you will forget. And each time you forget, people die. Forget enough, and the Earth dies. This burden is also unfair.

So… How do you react? The dialogue makes it clear that the Witch, nameless, alone, is bitter, and angry… But she also doubts, and clearly is unhappy. Every time you forget, she reminds you “Not doing anything is as good as doing it myself.”

It’s short, and simple… But that’s its charm. It’s also very direct about its subject matter. Ostracism for who you are, depression, and isolation, while still having a burden to the society that pushed you out. The unfairness of that, and the choices you make. I chose to try and save the Earth. I wasn’t perfect. I forgot. And so the Earth was saved, but cratered, its seas dried. It was a bittersweet victory, as my reward was… To go back and do it all again. Forever.


MOOD.

I can’t say Ritual of the Moon is one of those “Fun” games. It’s a game which reflects you, to a certain extent. But it’s a game where I appreciate its tight, minimalist design, its mood, and its aesthetic.

The Mad Welshman is always available for hugs, for Witches and Warlocks in need of comfort.

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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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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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