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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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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Deep Sky Derelicts (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Balance can be a very difficult thing to achieve. I don’t think that’s always a well understood thing. The more complex a game is, the more likely one of its pieces can fail to interact with its siblings. And although I am certain it will be fixed, it’s interesting to note where Deep Sky Derelicts hasn’t quite got the balance down just right yet.

This combat, which I foolishly walked into, could be a metaphor or something.
But no, it’s me about to be clowned by a superior force.

Before we get into that, however, what the heck is a Deep Sky Derelicts when it’s at home? Well, it’s a procedurally generated, turn based game involving entering ancient hulks, fighting aliens, pirates, and robots, all to find two dreams of humanity: The Mothership on which humanity arrived, previously thought by the game’s spacefaring civilisation to be mythical, and citizenship, for lo, the spacefaring civilisation is a wee bit dystopic. Hand drawn art in a comic book style, some solid music and sound effects, and a mostly clear UI. Good stuff, potentially, and, aesthetically, already shaping up very well.

And mechanically, a fair amount of it is shaping up well, too. Most of the various classes work well, each having specialities of their own, such as the Bruiser’s Heavy Melee (at the cost of not having a ranged weapon, or a second tool), the Leader’s flexibility, and so on, with guns and addons being the main methods of customising your character’s deck of cards for the fights. There’s a certain joy in finding new and effective methods of murderising the opposition while ensuring your health or suit energy doesn’t get too low, because regaining the former is expensive, and losing all the latter (Drained by both exploration and turns of combat) is an instant death state… Similarly, the tutorialising is good, and mostly feels natural.

Even the most basic of attacks look good.

Alas, not all is currently well, and some things feel a little lacklustre. The Bruiser, for example, has the lowest ratio of combat cards to non combat at first, so they are, oddly, a class you have to build up before it really gets going, whereas others, such as the Engineer, can mostly get going straight away. Equally, not all weapons are equal, with the Assault Rifle getting the least use in my runs because… Well, without a high Weapon stat, it rapidly becomes useless against anything with the least amount of armour. At the moment, the ships feel relatively empty, which, in a way, is fitting, but also makes for minutes of… Well, wandering just to find something, and it’s very important to check the level of the ship you’re invading before embarking. There are four ships to start with, and closest does not mean friendliest. Just so you know. Finally, and this is definitely something that is being worked on to my knowledge, the game is not complete, so unless you’re gunning for the main goal as directly as possible, yes, you’re going to run out of missions, and consequently money. Money you need to re-energise your suits and survive.

These points aside, though, Deep Sky Derelicts is shaping up to be pretty fun. Some of the questlines are well written, and give a sense of a universe which has a lot of odd things going on, like God Machines (or machines with delusions of godhood… Take your pick), creative means of getting around the limitations of a space suit (and the disgusting results thereof) , and, of course, the things that populate ships. What makes all the janitor robots so damn murder happy? We may never know. Finally, when a run goes well, it goes very, very well, and I’ve been dissuaded from wanting to murder my entire team by… Well, finding some particularly juicy pieces of loot that make the combat go by even quicker, new things to see in the comic frame presentation of moves, and convinced myself “Okay, you don’t get cut off yet. Your kit’s too good.”

On the one hand, minimalist, and not a whole lot of events over the whole ship. On the other, this is clear as crystal.

So that’s the current state of Deep Sky Derelicts: When it’s good, it’s entertaining and fun, and when it’s bad, it can get sloggy quickly, which, thankfully, is fixable. It’s an interesting take on an idea we’ve seen quite a bit of over the years, with a good aesthetic, and I look forward to seeing where it goes, because, as mentioned, balance problems can be fixed, and the writing of what’s in there so far is giving me confidence that, by release, I’ll be more positive about the game.

The Mad Welshman would give you more today, but he needs to get a suit refill. Stupid oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere…

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Subnautica (Review)

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

Well, Subnautica is out. And oh boy, there’s a lot to take in there. The possibility of escape from this watery world awaits, to those brave enough to… Er… Brave the horrors. Although, as I’ve said previously, I’m not entirely sure I want to leave, considering how damn cool the world is.

Why are floaters doing this? Because. That’s the kind of answer you get when the lone survivor is not a marine exobiologist.

Enigmatic caves, mushroom forests, islands held aloft by gigantic floating creatures bonded to the rock… This is before the plot of the game properly kicks in, that, thankfully, you can mostly do at your own pace. The Aurora is shot out of the stars by… Something, and you, seemingly the only survivor, must not only find a way off this rock, but also solve an ancient mystery. A mystery that gets quite personal, as you are rapidly infected by… Something.

I’ve gone through a lot of emotions playing Subnautica. Consternation as I hunt for Lithium and Magnetite. Amusement, both the gentle kind when I’m cheered on by random space truckers, and the black kind, when I discover how some survivors… Were real candidates for the old Darwin Awards. Bed wetting terror, the first time I met the Reaper Leviathan. Mostly, though, I’ve been pretty relaxed, because the world is a beautiful one, with a thriving ecosystem that, as a lone human, I can’t really despoil. Mmmm, that feels good.

…Not that I haven’t tried my damnedest. Even built a scanner room or three to try harder.

So, after three Early Access reviews (Each a good indicator of how far things have come), is there much left to say? A little. After all, it was only in the most recent updates that things like the Prawn Exosuit let me clomp around the sea bed, and building the Cyclops, the submarine that’s been almost emblematic of the game, seemed a pipedream up until fairly recently.

But that’s the thing with Subnautica: It brings you in with friendly, accessible survival gameplay in the kinds of biomes you haven’t really seen anywhere else, then gives you more to hope for, more to achieve, more to explore, and in the end… Gives you a chance to escape from even that.

Sorry, but even if I had gotten that far, I probably wouldn’t take the option. Subnautica’s world… Is just too damn pretty to leave, and I have so much more to do.

Join me. It’s a wonderful experience.

You… You are my new best friend. And I shall call you… John Bigboté!

The Mad Welshman is going for a swim. He’s also bringing two tonnes of TNT, because god-damn, that Reaper NEEDS TO DIE.

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Dimension Drive (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £9.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Dimension Drive is a good shmup game that I have a love-hate relationship with. A total of 26 levels (13 in normal, 13 in NG+) spread over three worlds, with an interesting story, a good aesthetic, and it’s mostly clear. It does interesting things, it’s pretty cool.

My brane hurts just looking at this representation of the multiverse.

But oh boy, am I bad at it. Which both amuses and frustrates me, because I can quite clearly tell it’s not the game’s fault. It’s giving me all the clues, but I can’t save myself from, for example, bashing into a wall. Because, where I’m looking, there isn’t a wall, but where I should be looking, there is.

Oh. Yes. That probably needs a bit of explanation. Dimension Drive is the story of the pilot of a multidimensional space fighter, the best in the multiverse, trying to save said multiverse from a nigh immortal conqueror who’s had millennia of experience at conquering entire dimensions (And, naturally, the resources of several of those dimensions.) This interesting twist further extends into gameplay with two screens of play. One is one dimension, the other’s another, with different walls, enemy patterns, and powerups. Flipping between the two is essential, both for bringing up that score multiplier, and avoiding what would be seemingly inescapable obstacles if we were limited to one or the other dimension.

Killing lots of things dramatically and having fun, about five seconds before I crash into that square outcrop on the left. Foolishly.

It’s interesting, because, difficulty wise, the individual screens are about on par with your average western coin-op (It doesn’t get into bullet hell territory until much later on), with relatively simple bullet and enemy patterns. But together? Together, they weave a web that has you nervous. Making mistakes. Clever stuff. And while it doesn’t truly take the gloves off until later on, it still has segments where care is very important. Like level 3’s trench run through a collapsing and exploding space station.

Considering this, considering the score attack nature of the game (with leaderboards and all), and considering the New Game + , the game at first seems short, but what it’s doing is using limited tools to great effect. Switching worlds. Flipping round. Picking good weapons for the level (as later weapons aren’t always more useful, they just expand your options), or trying something new.

I like Dimension Drive, its music, an at least okay story with some twists, and, of course, its own clever twist on gameplay. But boy, I wish I was better at it!

Another incentive to come back to earlier levels is that some tools make earlier bosses easier.

The The Mad Mad Welshman Welshman Loves Hates Multiple Multiple Dimensions Dimensions. They They Are Clever Do His Nut In

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