Thea 2: The Shattering (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.99
Where To Get It: Steam

I appreciate modular difficulty sliders. I appreciate the ability to customise one’s experience somewhat. I appreciate survival, and I appreciate 4Xs. What I am not, strictly speaking, so fond about, however, is when the percentage of your “Normal” difficulty is 150% difficulty. That, and needing to survive 100 turns on “Normal” difficulty, are a fair portion of my irritation with Thea 2: The Shattering, a survival 4X that I had taken a look at in Early Access.

This, for example, has a better chance of happening. Which, considering how few folks you start with…

And, just to make this clear, the game has improved from last time, in several important senses. But in terms of feeling whether the devs actually want me, someone who isn’t dealing amazingly well with Thea’s particular brand of conflicting desires, to see more of its content? Thaaat’s not so hot still.

So, let’s back up a second, quick recap: World’s Nordic in flavour, pantheistic, got a bit of a problem with the world maybe ending sometime in the near-ish future. And your deity has chosen you to lead a small group of folks to grow, to expand, and hopefully to survive long enough to find out what the Darkness is, and, best case scenario, how to defeat it. And, being fair to the developers, they have introduced more to help deal with that. An extra modular difficulty setting, allowing you to autoresolve conflicts more easily (or with more difficulty.) A lumber building that gives wood, even if there’s no wood nearby. That sort of thing.

A new deity is useful, it’s true. But it takes about 400 odd turns of good play per deity to get one…

But, in the end, here’s the thing. As I mentioned right at the top, unlocking more things is a royal pain in the ass. I need 9 God Points to get a new Deity to try out. I need at least 5 to get new potential starting bonuses (At least some of which are locked behind their respective Deities.) I will, if I do well on “Normal” difficulty (Surviving at least 100 turns, completing various events) gain… Maybe 3. For about an hour and a half worth of play, maybe more. And “Normal” difficulty is tough, not least because of conflicting desires.

It wants you to move from Island to Island. It wants you to do events. But it also wants you to hunker down, because this adds its own benefits. It wants you to spread, but gives a pittance of children and growth, slowly depleting the resources, and increasing the hostility. And, in essence, the games feel the same, because they tread along the exact same path. Here, the Witch’s hut, and gathering food, and finding a settlement. There, the Cmuch prince, the Wisps, the Demon Games. That very sameyness means that, to unlock more Gods, more things that maybe help you get further, you have to tread the same path over, and over, and over again, and…

It’s well written. But it’s also something like the 20th time I’ve seen it.

…Thea 2 has some interesting ideas. It has an interesting world. But I’ve never really felt like the game wants me to explore that world, to look down its path. And, even with the narrative conceit that yes, the world is hostile, it is not a game that resists being played in a fun way. It merely resists, struggling against being enjoyed, and that saddens me.

The Mad Welshman wants games to be enjoyed. Sometimes, the games themselves don’t help.

Become a Patron!

Sigma Theory: Global Cold War (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£22.68 game+soundtrack, £6.47 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

The only distinction between a Cold War and a normal war is that it’s less obvious about the casualties. Back-room dealings. Thefts. Extractions. Wetwork. It’s a nasty world, the world of espionage.

Since you’re working on mind control technology right now, I wouldn’t blame you. BUT WE HAVE TO BE FIRST…

Similarly, paradigm shifts are often violent things. Every new technology or cultural wave brings with it things that governments and societies don’t necessarily properly get a handle on until decades later. And the most feared kind of paradigm shift of all (or welcomed, depending on your viewpoint and optimism) is Singularity: The point at which our technology takes such a leap forwards, it shakes the world. Free energy. Posthumanism. A workable virtual reality for everyone. Or perhaps the ability to completely accurately predict the financial market. A lot of these sound cool, until you realise they come with changes attached. Big ones, for which there may not be an answer anyone likes.

Sigma Theory: Global Cold War… Takes both of these concepts, and puts them into a (currently) tough turn-based strategy game about hopefully being the first to take the world into a new age, safely. And the hopefully isn’t there just because you’re competing with several other world powers. As noted, these technologies can bite, and since a game generally takes about a game-year’s worth of time… No, nobody really has that much time to prepare.

Fighting against the nation of one’s birth. For a variety of reasons.

Part of the reason the game is tough is because it only really tutorialises for your first game (Which you may not even complete), and, generally speaking, it throws you in at the deep end. This partly works due to the subject matter, and it’s quite clear that you are not expected to win your first, or maybe even fifth game (Taking about an hour to two hours per complete run), but it would be nice to see more tutorialising. Nonetheless, the basic idea is that you have four agents (Hopefully the ones you wanted, but failing to answer their own questions won’t allow you to recruit them), and, using these four agents, a pair of tactical drones, a pair of scientists, and your diplomacy, you convert and exfiltrate scientists (Or just kidnap them, although that’s less effective), play the game of politics for favours (and maybe even big favours, if you’ve played your cards right and got good blackmail material), and try to defend your own home turf as other nations do unto you… As you have clearly demonstrated you want to do unto them.

The UI is pretty clear (The one minor exception being that the menu is fond of that glitch effect that I know not everyone’s comfortable with, and no option yet to turn it off), and the notifications solid, so that definitely helps, as does the fact that once you’ve tried something like exfiltration (An affair where, ideally, you want to leave without the police or agents properly noting you, but the best you should hope for is getting out with the scientist), you know roughly how it goes. The music fits the mood, being ambient synth with that distinct Technothriller vibe, and the sound clearly fits with what’s going on, so… Aesthetically, it all works.

Both of these choices can go wrong. But which one works best depends both on context and your agent’s skills.

Where I think Sigma Theory works best, however, is in how it deals with the subjects in question. There’s a lot of groups interested in your work, not just the other nations, and while they want to embrace certain goals (the Hypercaps, the Ancaps, the Mind Control lovers, and at least one criminal syndicate, to nickname but four), that’s… Not necessarily the best thing. Nor, in fact, is just releasing the technology into the wild. Yes, free energy means we never have to worry about energy again… But it has a knock on effect on industry and employment, and, as noted, there’s no real time to prepare for that. Other technologies, such as mind control, are more easily spotted for their effect on the Doomsday Clock. If that runs down, everyone loses… But other nations may not care, for their desire to be first.

Sigma Theory is an interesting strategy game with some equally interesting takes on various singularity and posthuman related subjects (albeit in passing, mostly), and, while it’s tough as heck right now, it’s still enjoyable to play, and I would recommend it. Could do with some granular difficulty settings, though. That would definitely help.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t worry about the Singularity. His reasons are his own.

Become a Patron!

Pathway (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £12.99 (£3.99 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

There is little more cathartic, in most media, than giving a Nazi what for. A boop to the snoot. The old one-two. Especially since the Ratzis do have this nasty habit of exploring things man was not meant to explore, in an attempt to find that unbeatable, supernatural edge in their hateful war on that which is not them.

Blowing them to kingdom come also works, I’m reliably informed.

If you guessed, from that intro, that Pathway heavily involves some pulpiness and Nazi-murdering, then yes, you win a No-Prize. It does, along with zombies, Bedouin tribesmen, strangely intelligent dogs, and companions who aren’t always clean as a whistle themselves. It essentially comes in two main parts: Exploring a map in your jeep, encountering events and folks in your path, and trying not to run out of fuel (You can run out of fuel, but it’s never good, as your characters’ health becomes the next fuel meter)… And, if the situation demands it, tactical RPG action where you can move and take a single action, balancing risk and reward.

Do you trust your wolfhound to not only take out that Nazi, but take the punishment from his friend before you get there? Do you think your gun can do more damage than your bowie knife to that Zombie, and, considering it’s one that blows up after it dies, do you want to risk melee? The answer varies, but only some clever tactical thinking will let you out of a fight unharmed.

Alas, zombies have that tactical advantage known as “Sheer numbers.” I fought bravely, though…

Nonetheless, it’s all pretty clear. Go places, kill nazis, limited inventory, multiple characters, and where the icons aren’t all that clear, the tooltips help immensely. Being able to adjust the combat difficulty and fuel is nice, and, although it has no effect on the difficulty, being able to change what “Daytime” looks like is a nice aesthetic touch. The visual style works pretty well, being solid pixel art, and the animations not only make it clear what’s going on, they have a fair amount of impact to them (Especially vaulting over cover. Even with an eagle eye perspective, the energy is obvious.)

Musically, and sound wise? Well, the inspiration of Nazi-punching pulp media is strong here. A little Indiana Jones style tunes here, a little The Mummy there… It’s good stuff, and the sounds are solid as well. Although dog lovers, be aware that the Good Boy companion can pass on just the same as any other, and it breaks my heart, too, to hear that whimper. Just so you know.

A nice touch is that, if you lose one half of your team, a Good Boy may well come and join you. Good Donut, Bite that Ratzi!

The basic maps, as far as I know, remain pretty much the same, so you do know roughly how much fuel you need to get from start to finish, although what’s in the map is random, based on a variety of events, allowing a fair amount of replay value. Also helping this is a large roster of characters, each with their own up and downsides, and the fact that character skills have a bearing on how some events can be completed.

Overall, I’ve found this one interesting. While I wouldn’t say it’s amazing, or great, it is fun to me, a fan of procgenned RPG content, and while the Nazis-Seek-Evil-Occult-Power storyline is nothing new, it’s still enjoyable.

Nazis… One of the few kinds of villains The Mad Welshman will happily team up with those Dudley-Do-Rights to fight.

Become a Patron!

Destiny or Fate (Early Access Review)

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

Sometimes, Destiny is kind. Other times, I seem fated to look at unenjoyable things. At the present time, at least, Destiny or Fate, unfortunately, is the latter. Not that there isn’t a chance, as the basic idea, that of a turn based card battler, has been proven to work several times.

Kyle, Strider Hiryu’s lesser known, angstier brother.

The thing is, DoF is swingy as heck. When it goes well, it goes well. And when it doesn’t, it’s a tiresome, unenjoyable slog. And there’s a few potential reasons for this.

The basic idea is fine: Move between areas clearly labelled as normal fights, elite fights, shops, events, and bosses. If it’s a fight of some description, you get 3 mana a turn to play cards, and playing cards of the same type as currently unlit orbs on your character’s status gives energy for a special ability, which triggers when it’s full. Win a fight, you get rewarded with a couple of different types of currency, a new card for your deck, and a monster to add to your party from the ones you fought. At the shop, you can buy and upgrade cards, unlock heroes after you’ve met them in events, and upgrade both your hero and your captive monsters. Beat the boss to go to the next area, and no, you don’t get to buy the boss.

Skellington McSpikeyArmour here pretty much emblemises the problems. That 70 defence is going to take a while to get through, and he’s going to be doing X% of Max HP attacks in the meantime…

All this would be fine, if each individual step didn’t have problems with it. 3 mana a turn means a max of 3 cards (This is assuming you’re not inflicted with a card cost status effect) a turn, which makes fights go on. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad if the rewards were better, but, often, they aren’t that great. Special abilities, theoretically, encourage you to mix and match defence and offence, but a fair few special abilities are, basically, extra attacks. The ones that aren’t vary wildly in effectiveness, from poison being pretty weak, to powerful frailty effects that double damage. Speaking of rewards, the shops are expensive, and multiple battles are needed to be able to afford a single card or upgrade. This, again, wouldn’t be a problem, except that bosses are mean, and going into a boss fight without a good deck, a full, preferably half health or above party, and some nasty special abilities is basically a losing proposition… But going round the map to collect things is not only grindy, the success of that plan depends on the fights going well. Of the boss abilities, the “X% of Max HP all attacks” definitely seem to be the most common run-killers, because without good defensive cards, that one’s pretty much “Someone or multiple someones just die. Thanks for playing!”

That’s a lot of words, but basically, they can be summed up as “There’s a whole bunch of balance issues fighting each other over which is the worst, while the game feel suffers.”

Events do regenerate, but, as you can see, I’m in no shape to fight the boss…

Visually, it isn’t bad. It’s consistent, it’s clear, there’s some good designs here (and some very silly fantasy stereotypes, but hey), and it doesn’t take a whole lot of non-tutorial poking to understand what’s what. Soundwise, though… Well, there it falls again, not just because of a strange bug which resets the main sound volume (without affecting the option slider), but because it’s ho-hum. There is a battle tune (An awkward mix of chiptune and strings), some generic sound effects, and… Well, while it’s clear, none of it grabs, and the battle tune very quickly wears on you, as you’re going to hear it a lot. It doesn’t help that the dramatic, JRPG style it’s going for contrasts with “Play some cards, hit end turn, watch effects and numbers pop up.”

At the end of a run, what you preserve is… The heroes unlocked. Some stuff is early access problems (Such as some quests claiming you don’t have money when you do), and relatively forgivable, but, overall, while the game visually does well, it wears on the sound front, and feels, in turns, arbitrary, tedious, and humdrum mechanically. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if I’d unlocked much in single runs, but, as noted, even basic unit upgrades take a while, and since the survivability of the lower-tier units is “A few fights at most”, it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Moments before the last screenshot… Yup, Elite battled, and… Can’t afford the sonuvagun…

So, that’s Destiny or Fate: A game which has a solid core idea, but whose execution is currently lacking on the balance front.

The Mad Welshman genuinely does hope things improve, but… Has been around long enough to know that’s no sure thing…

Become a Patron!

Wargroove (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.99 (£17.98 for game+Soundtrack, £3.99 Soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, getting what I want to see feels like a monkey’s paw just curled. Thankfully, Wargroove is not one of those times. But oh boy, it could have been. After all, for all that the Advance Wars games were solid, they were definitely not without flaw, and irritation.

Not this bit, though. This bit has always been cool.

So let’s talk about that, and how Wargroove definitely seems to understand, and try new things. The general idea is turn-based strategy, in which two or more commanders send their soldiers (Who can move and attack within certain ranges) to either conquer the battlefield by capturing the HQ, or defeating the opposing commander. The more construction buildings they own, the more units they can build from each, and the more villages they own, the more money they have spare to actually construct those buildings. In addition, commanders have special powers charged by combat, which can turn the tide of battle. So far, so AW, even down to many of the fights in story mode being down to misunderstandings (except with the EEEEVIL Undead faction.)

Obligatory “Good Boy About to Inspire His Troops To Smack Bandits Down” image.

Where it changes, however, gets interesting. Yes, buildings get captured, but once they are, the side in question gives them HP before they can be recaptured, which replenishes slowly, but can also be used to heal surrounding units (A cool tactical consideration.) Units’ critical abilities encourage you to play in certain ways (Such as archers being stationed to guard choke points, pikemen grouping up to tag-team enemies, or knights charging across the battlefield), and the commanders being on the field also changes things up, as they’re basically super-units, balanced out by the risk of them dying if they overstretch, and the fact that commander powers are used by the commanders limits their utility somewhat. That still leaves a first turn advantage in multiplayer, from what I hear, but, overall, it’s an interesting move, and expands the tactical options somewhat.

I like Ragna. She seems to have been made for the sole purpose of being an Advance Wars style character. Both in and out of game. 😛

Now add in that the difficulty can be eased in several ways, allowing you to experience the game at the cost of completionist factor (Lower difficulties, which is also customisable, reduce the amount of stars you can potentially earn in a game), and a checkpoint system mid-mission, and the game is, mechanically, both pretty tight, and accessible. The UI is solid, the pixel art is good, the writing pays homage to its inspiration, and the sound and music is solid.

What I’m basically getting at here, is that Wargroove definitely gets the coveted “What It Says On The Tin” award, along with accessibility and aesthetic points, making it a good turn-based strategy, not outstaying its welcome, and what few flaws I felt I came across, are either relatively minor, or fixed with some sort of feature in recent weeks. Worth a look!

Vampire batladies, accessible strategy, good dogs, and cackling villainy. Yes, these are the good things in life.

Become a Patron!