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…

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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.

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Baba Is You (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£2.09 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Baba is Love. Baba is Win. Baba is also frustrating at times, but thankfully, it sets out its mindbending premise succinctly, and Baba has Charm.

The world is pretty big, although completing all puzzles is by no means mandatory. Thankfully.

Effectively, Baba is You is one of those tile-based, turn-based puzzle games where your conundrums lie in the forms of combinations of game rules. Something has to be YOU, and if it isn’t… Well, crap (Although one potential workaround is to have a thing that has you in it, or to have multiple YOU to work with.) Something, equally, is WIN, although it’s not always defined at the beginning. And, to make matters more interesting, words in these simple rule phrases can be pushed around like objects. So long as YOU reach the WIN, it’s fair game, and, while not all puzzles have multiple solutions, some definitely do.

Things start relatively simple, but believe me, it doesn’t stay that way.

Which quite neatly leads me to how pretty much all of the problems I have with it are purely subjective, and temporary, leaving me with not much except to slap “Does What It Says On The Tin.” Some of the puzzles too difficult? Nah, I’m pretty sure that’s me not getting it. These aren’t your simple logic problems I’m comfortable with, these are “What rules, in what order, expressed in this specific way, get me to my goal”, and a fair amount of that is lateral thinking. The wobble of the screen can be turned off, and a grid can be added to help you think it out more easily. Everything is clear, and, as to the seizure warnings I had, I’m again pretty sure I can chalk that up to my secondary trigger of “Word/Math puzzles”, as opposed to any flashing or patterns (Yes, I had similar problems with Alphabear. Epilepsy with both primary and secondary triggers being things I enjoy, by the way, does indeed suck, thanks for asking.)

That’s… A lotta rules. o.O

And what that leaves me with, is, essentially, a clear game, that clearly sets out what it basically wants you to do, gives you the tools to do it, and steps aside to let you enjoy its low-fi aesthetic, its cute things that you don’t want to blow up (but sometimes have to), and its puzzles, which, hard or no, are pretty well designed in that nothing is really wasted. I can tell you it’s relatively cheap, and all the things, I’ve said, but all that’s really left is that this comes recommended. Baba is Win.

The Mad Welshman scratches his head. WELSHMAN is WRITE, and WELSHMAN is DRAW. But WELSHMAN is not Y- [pop]

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Hazardous Space (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19 (£9.51 for collector’s edition (Artbook, Soundtrack, Game))
Where To Get It:
Steam

Hazardous Space, if I was given an elevator pitch, would be an okay game. Arriving at a station which has been infested by zombies, a group of three spacefarers has to make their way through the station, fighting and looting along the way.

And by ‘people’ , I mean ‘Me, Captain hardchin, with assistance from you two.’

And then it makes some odd decisions, and what would be an okay game turns into… An okay game with elements that bring it down. Like most of the conversation being about as far away from your centre of vision as humanly possible… In the top right, as opposed to everything interactable, which is… On the bottom half of the screen. So you’re wandering, picking up items, and, at points, text is auto-playing… And largely gets unnoticed. It’s not great writing, to be fair, and the auto-play, itself, is a bit of a problem, but… A definite low point.

Another odd choice is to split the game into “parts.” A more accurate term would be “Difficulty levels”, as each is its own run, but each has its own ending, goes on for longer, and extra equipment (with some extra enemies and story segments.) Since progress on blueprints, notes, etcetera, seems to be incremental, this… Does get easier and more do-able the further you get, but then we hit the final problem, and…

Note, convo in the top left. Also… Hehe, “Fire” Axe. Look, I gotta get my chuckles from something here…

…The fact is, it’s kind of dull. Weapons have roughly the same impact feeling (Some), but not a whole lot can fix that the core loop. Try to go right (Up, down, or, in extreme cases, left if not possible), taking 5 energy loss per room, maybe have a fight, walk into a trap, find some stuff, rinse, repeat. Sometimes the items are useful, more often they’re vendor trash. Sometimes the enemies feel impactful, mostly… They’re obstacles, things that pad out time. And through it all, a single track plays, seemingly emphasising the grind.

“Feel”, while a nebulous term, is, in fact, very important, and what it feels like, when playing, is that none of this is terribly important. The characters do get somewhat serious later, but it’s just another day, another chance to shit-talk each other, and get to know each other more. The enemies start getting more serious, but the tension in fighting them… Just isn’t really there, and the narrative, while meant to be about a terrifying sci-fi event where an Umbrella style Cacklingly Evil Corporation has done bad things, just… Falls flat, due to a lack of tension.

Expect to see this guy a lot.

Hazardous Space does do some interesting things, tying energy to exploration and levelling up (Run out of energy, run out of life-support, die, a-la Deep Sky Derelicts), and it does allow for some adjustable difficulty options that, genuinely, make the game a little more accessible (Such as turning the CLOUD OF DEATH, that means you can’t go back very far and have to reach the exit quicker, off), but overall, it feels grindy, and oddly arbitrary at times.

The Mad Welshman punched his monitor, and it burst into flames “Burning Does Not Work!”

Sure seemed like it did…

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Thea 2: The Shattering (Early Access Review)

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

Survival 4X. Not words you generally hear, those. And a big part of that is that a 4X, itself, isn’t easy to balance. Adding survival elements, narrative elements, and quest elements can make that process more painful.

Such, so far, is the case with Thea 2: The Shattering. A sequel to Thea 1, which had similar mechanics and themes, Thea 2 is a 4X where your small group must survive, grow, and survive as long as possible, hopefully to find some solution to the Shattering, the death of the world.

Yeah, about that… Good luck with it. See, there are two mandatory types of resource for survival, and if you do not have those anywhere within range, your options are fatally limited.

The upside is that this is potentially a pretty good site. The downside , however, is that one of my four team-members is already dead, and morale is so terrible some of the others won’t help. WELP.

You start with some food, and surviving for enough turns on Normal difficulty will earn you God Points, which can be used to get extra benefits on start, but even with those… Currently, surviving even the early game is a painful, frustrating slog. Sometimes, it’s because you can’t find a good camp-site anywhere nearby, and have to subsist, while the world and its inhabitants do their best to wear you down through random events (often hostile), wandering monsters and lairs (most hostile at night), and events that you want to complete for better resources, but not winning those events will likely lead to the death of group members, which, considering how few events give you group members (even fewer if you are all of one gender, as sometimes happens), is a lingering death sentence all of its own.

Find somewhere to camp, and, on the one hand, you now have somewhere to stay, that can support you within its (limited) range as you scavenge and adventure. The downside being that you still have the hostile events, beasts, limited replenishment, and whatnot, with not being able to take everybody adventuring, and… Well, should you lose adventurers out of range, well, that’s a different kind of slow, lingering death.

Both of these tasks are difficult. And even “Choose not to participate” may have results. Choose very carefully (and make sure you know your stats and abilities early on, otherwise you probably won’t choose wisely.)

There’s a lot of slow, lingering death here, is basically what I’m getting at. And part of this feels like conflicting directions of play, neither of which, at the present stage, feel balanced or complete. Quests demand that you wander, as does diplomacy with the other factions present, but once you settle down, your ability to complete those quests safely drastically goes down, even as you have achieved relative safety for your camp. At the same time, proper crafting and gathering, cooking, researching and rituals all demand a campsite, but that diminishes your ability to further the storyline. The game wants to deal with a small group, that much is clear. But it also wants you to roam free, which is only do-able after a lot of safety ensuring at the campsite to start with.

In essence, each play direction (both necessary for completion) brings down the other. And the frustrating part is that I’m sure there could be a balance between the two that changes it from what it currently is (Slow, frustrating, and often involving slow deaths where it’s much easier to cash in what few God Points you have, if any, before the game finishes its slow descent into “Everyone has died.”) to something genuinely interesting.

Tooltips are very helpful here, but the main thing you need to know here is that everyone except the house demon is dead, Dave. Everyone.

And, make no mistake, there are hints of something interesting here. There’s an interesting, Russian myth inspired fantasy world. There’s some solid hand-painted visuals, and, aside from the camp screen being a little cluttered and hard to decipher at first, it tooltips well. Its controls still have some issues (Mostly movement/selection frustrations, and the practice of making a second group a little more tedious than it needs to be), and, being an early access title, there’s been some particularly odd bugs (such as scavengers vanishing from trying to harvest a resource that simultaneously exists on the map, but presumably doesn’t in the code somewhere), but it shows promise. The problem being that the promise is currently obscured by imbalanced play goals, “Normal” difficulty still being a pretty harsh early game (Once the early game is passed, it gets somewhat easier), and nothing that prevents or even ameliorates a death spiral that I can see.

As such, Thea 2 is currently a game I want to like. But it’s not really letting me.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t really have much to add, unfortunately. It’s interesting, but distinctly unfriendly right now.

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