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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Iratus: Lord of the Dead (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 (£25.25 for Supporter Edition, £7.59 for upgrade to Supporter Edition)
Where to Get It: Steam

Iratus: Lord of the Dead has, very often, been described to me as “Darkest Dungeon, but you’re the villain.” This isn’t, on the face of it, a wholly inaccurate statement. But it is, in many respects, its own, shambling beast. In a good way.

So, as you might expect from the title, you are a necromancer. One who almost managed to conquer the world, until those pesky heroes shot you down. For a long time, you were locked in a casket (Normally a prelude to insanity, but, let’s face it, that’s Tuesday to a necromancer), but now you’re free, and… Have to escape a four level dungeon complex that was built over your tomb.

Good thing you can create undead, huh?

Things rapidly begin going south. We lost our Zombie. Along with his BIG CANNON.

So, combat wise, yes, the game is quite similar to Darkest Dungeon. You have four slots, they have four slots (not always filled), and you have class abilities based on what undead you are. Where it begins to differ, however, is that units have three potential base damage types instead of two. Beyond the “Magic” and “Physical”, you have… “Dread.” And this is where the comparison mainly comes in, as some units specialise in causing sanity damage to enemies, who, after a certain point, will either have some form of insanity (although sometimes, that is a benefit in disguise), or are inspired (get a buff, regain all their sanity, very annoying.) Mixing and matching the two for maximum synergy is highly encouraged, especially as… Not everything has sanity. Lookin’ at you, Golem that wrecked my Dread based party the first run through.

My lord, we can’t scare it… WE CAN’T SCARE IT!

Beyond this, there are only a few similarities. Buildings exist, including the healing building, for sure, but they cost minions as well as resources. Your minions aren’t hired, they’re constructed, from parts of your enemies, or bits you dug up. You can make better parts, spec into spellcasting (I haven’t done this, having too much fun with brains, alchemy, and DREAD), refocus your minions using two choices of ability change per ability, and the dungeon itself is procgenned, sure, but it’s a map where you know roughly what’s ahead, ahead of time (Although enemy composition was, until the most recent updates, a mystery.)

So, in short, it’s got a lot of depth, and the game even has little things to help you recover from losses (brains, for example, automatically level up an undead to the same level as the brain, allowing you to quickly get units of comparable strength to the ones you lost onto the field), and I don’t really have any complaints mechanically. Similarly, aesthetically, the game is pretty clear, the music is suitably ominous and villainous, the soundwork is fine, and Iratus… Well, Iratus’ snark game is on point. Okay, maybe one gripe: Every female minion is of the big-breasted, eerily attractive variety. But mileage varies on that gripe, for obvious reasons.

“For a given value of smiled…”

So, what we have here, essentially, is a pretty polished turn-based strategy/roleplaying hybrid, which I quite like, and seems to be well on track to being a fine release.

The Mad Welshman always appreciates villainous snark. It expands his own repertoire, for the next heroic break in of his lair. So much tidying up afterwards…

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Godhood (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £22.39 (£9.29 for Supporter Edition upgrade)
Where To Get It: Steam

A nonbinary option for a deity is, honestly, just common sense. Sometimes, you want to manifest as a rock, and sometimes, you want to manifest as an enby. Sometimes, you want to be a wholesome deity, and… Well, it will come as precisely no surprise to anyone who keeps up with me that I have mainly been playing a Dark God of Endless Thirst. Chastity? PFAH. War or Peace? PSHAW. My deity advocates for shipping!

There are currently six potential virtues, two of which are locked off for now, in the next step. But this, honestly, is not a bad character creation screen.

Getting back to talking a little more specifically about the game (ahem), Godhood is a turn-based strategy title by Abbey Games, where you, the newest religion in the mesoamerican world in which the game is set, are kicked out of your home village for your beliefs, and swear, as a result, to spread the name of your deity, by force, by cunning argument, or, as is the case with my head prophetess, by flirtings and smoochings. And it’s a good idea to mix it up a bit, as some enemies are immune to your core attacks when you go looking for believers.

There’s a fair bit going on in the back of this game (to the point where the “Stats” subtab is an intimidating list of numbers), but the main elements are actually pretty clear. You level up by converting folks, it’s a good idea to keep your prophets of various types as happy as possible, and, over time, you build up a village capable of proselytising to ever greater audiences, balancing the faith and levels of your prophets against improving the village through the fact you can only inspire three prophets a day.

The virtue of Lust, obviously, means that pre-battle barks are more “Come hither…” than “Come at me!”

It’s good stuff, and I felt challenged so far without being overwhelmed, and, due to the ability to see what a village has by planning to convert it then painlessly backing out to the city (not wasting my turn, as normally a conversion uses a turn) allowed me to use my prophets efficiently (as, after all, the turn will go on, so anyone you don’t send can do prophet things at home)

Aesthetically, it works pretty well so far. Everything (except the stats tab) is clear, you know what resists what while you’re planning things, you get some idea of what keeps the faithful faithful, and what builds what, and the animations are alright.

So, while it’s obvious there’s more development, it’s got a pretty good start, and I’m quite enjoying my time as a thirsty deity.

The Mad Welshman would become a dark deity of Endless Thirst in reality, but alas, Vaudevillain Union rules dictate that I keep my quota of three failed grand schemes a year.

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Deck Hunter (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

The feel, the flow of progression is an awkward line to balance. Give nice things too much, and you devalue them. Punish the player too much, or give nice things not enough, and it feels… Well, not worth the time. This is the line Deck Hunter… Isn’t currently treading very well. And it’s a shame, because there’s a couple of decent ideas in there. It’s just there’s also a rather silly amount of grind, and the requirement for good play… Or no play. Well, no win, anyway.

Disclaimer: Cards must be low level, and this reduces the size of your deck. Terms and conditions may apply.

The general idea is one we’ve seen a fair amount before (heck, even this month): You, an adventurer, use cards as attacks, fighting monsters, defeating bosses, going through areas marked as combats, treasures, spin-to-win, and rest sites. Where it gets a little interesting is that cards upgrade through use, and can also be mixed with Alchemy cards to create new, different cards. Crafting items, two card combos…

It’s such a shame then, that, outside of the combos (a mixed blessing, as we’ll discuss), I haven’t been able to see much of it in hours of play. What I’ve seen… Is the first area, again… And again… And again. And, funnily enough, that palls pretty quickly. So… Let’s talk about the why, as I see it.

Thanks to that Corrosion effect, I am, essentially, just going to take damage. The question was “How much?”

A basic combat is, on its face, pretty simple: You have a five card hand, which, at first, consists of strikes (5 damage, 1 energy), defenses (5 damage blocked, 1 energy), and some other cards like a healing potion (usable once per combat, 1 energy… 3 hp recovered.) You have three energy per turn. Okay. So far, so simple. There are even three combos associated with this. And one of them… Is annoying. Strike, then Defend, as opposed to Defend, then Strike. See, the latter gives you another Defend card (can be useful, if you have energy to spend, and, say, had no other Defend cards.) The former, on the other hand, drains one energy, gives you… 2 defence, and… Well, it’s not worth the hassle.

Okay, now let’s look at our enemies and… Huh. 27 HP and 17 HP, with… 11 attack and 7 attack. And here, friends, is where we start to see problems.You can, if you have 3 Defend cards, defend against this, due to the Defend+Defend combo. 5+5(+3)+5. Cool. If you want to deal no damage. Similarly, if you have three Strikes, you can kill the one with less HP. 5+5(+5)+5. Cool. But you will take damage. The question is: Who’s got the 11 damage attack? And, more to the point, without either of these options, the math is not in your favour. Rarely does any enemy have less than 15 HP (or a Two Strike combo’s worth.) There is no defence against status attacks (such as the shroom’s Corrosion/Piro attacks), some of which do damage regardless of your armour. Sooo… On the Micro level, it’s actually pretty damn hard to avoid taking damage somewhere. Unless you play well, right out of the gate. Even if you do, certain enemy combinations are, essentially, a big middle finger to your desire to keep your HP up. Oh, hey, it’s a mushroom and a thief! A thief who has 34 HP, and the Unloader special skill (reduces your energy to 1 next turn.) Plans? The hell are those, you got none!

My best shot at the boss, in which several cards upgraded during the fight. Not that it helped.

Enemies, in general, seem to scale faster than you do.

Now we add in that, to upgrade a card, it has to be used a certain number of times. And those upgrades… Well, gee, my Defence got upgraded to… A slightly better Defence. As in, 1 point. And it can’t be used in Defence combos anymore, only Improved Defence combos. Thiiiis might not be the best plan unless I have several upgrades in a row real soon. (Narrator: It wasn’t. He did. It didn’t matter.)

And then you get to the first boss. Gee, I sure hope you have a plan which involves 40+ damage and some unblockable damage, 104 HP, and two adds that like to add corrosion, and, more importantly, boodles of defence to the boss!

Overall, right now, Deck Hunter feels more like a losing battle of attrition than a game of skill and tactics. It looks alright, but playing through that first area, with that first area music, and those first area enemies, time and time again, has palled me on it, and I just want to move on.

The Mad Welshman sighs. The Balance has been disturbed…

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