Nowhere Prophet (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: To Be Released soon. (Was $19.99)
Where To Wishlist It: Itch.IO , Steam

Nowhere Prophet continues to impress. And frustrate. Its world is intriguing, its difficulty mostly solid at this point, even if those rare exceptions… Frustrate the hell out of me. Still, that’s something to get to, so let’s backtrack a second and remind ourselves about Nowhere Prophet overall.

Each area of the route is predominantly of a single faction, although events are common to all areas.

Nowhere Prophet is an Indian themed post-apocalypse (Untouchables stand side by side with cybernetic horrors, and Rajs with mutated beasts), in which you, a Prophet, hear the last, garbled words of a fallen “star” (Satellite), and set out for the Crypt, the Promised Land which may or may not have the power to heal this ruined world. You set out with disciples, facing the world, and trying to balance your own health, and the efficacy, health, and morale of your followers. It’s a battle of attrition, as only perfection will allow you to escape the fights and trials unscathed… And these are many, while you and your followers are… Not so many.

Since I last took a look at Nowhere Prophet, it’s actually mostly done, with a closed beta until release. Areas are in, the intro and map have been spruced up, and there is, generally speaking, the more I had been curious about last time. It still hasn’t got an amazing amount of variety music wise, but the music that’s there is good, the visuals are both clear and striking, and the events mostly interesting and adding a little to the world, with extra possibilities unlocked by certain types of followers, number of followers or batteries (the currency of the world), or your level in the three philosophies (Believers, Scholars, or Altruists.)

This is bad. This is very bad. Yup.

Combat, meanwhile, is a Hearthstone like affair where, each turn, you have a limited pool of energy from which to summon followers and effects, which grows each turn (or with certain abilities), a limited battlefield in which (mainly) only frontliners can attack, and interesting obstacles and items on the field, such as Soft Cover, which gives health to those summoned nearby, or Acid Plants, which, if destroyed, also damage the entire column they’re on. Killling the enemy leader wins you the battle, while if your Prophet is killed… Well, game over. And, over time, you grow more familiar with what lies where, and what factions have which sorts of decks.

And this, funnily enough, is where the frustration sometimes happens. You see, some Elite and Boss decks are nasty, and, regardless of how far I’ve come, meeting these particular ones can be a slow, demoralising death. The Barrier Swarm (Rusters, the Cyborg/Robot faction.) The ArmourBoi (Union of the Five Fingers.) The Endless Taunt (Feral Wanderers, the bandit/beast faction.) These three decks in particular are annoying, because… Well, there’s seemingly not that much that consistently counters them, and their entire focus is “No, you can’t, in fact, hit me, you got more to worry about.” And, since they’re on Bosses and Elites, well… You’d have to do a lot of damage to take them out before they get going.

YOU’RE NOT WRONG, TOOTHY ONE!

But this, essentially, is more of a gripe than anything else, and I can relatively consistently get to at least the third map, with still more to explore, such as Daily Challenges, and, of course, working out how to unlock various tribes and leaders, for more deck exploration. Nowhere Prophet remains pretty interesting, and I’m happy to report that.

Normally, I would wait until release. But I noticed that I hadn’t reviewed in a while, and it has changed… Quite a bit!

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Talisman: Origins (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Talisman is one of those games that, honestly, shouldn’t really have been made as much as it has. It’s not at Blood Bowl levels of “Oh, that’s just milking it now”, but… When the main thing I can say about Talisman: Origins is that it’s “Talisman: Digital Edition, but single player, and with story”, or “It’s Talisman: Prologue, but more expensive and with story/quests” , I kind of have to throw my hands up a bit.

This is now something like the third time I have seen this exact board. And, on reflection… I ask myself Why?

So, for those who don’t know Talisman, it’s an old Games Workshop board game, with elements reminiscent of Warhammer Fantasy (Eagle Lords, grim cities, dark magical artefacts), but its own, High fantasy world. You travel around the board, looking to reach the Crown of Power, the tile in the middle of the board, strengthening yourself, weakening others, occasionally running into trouble, and, because it’s not a game that really does progression (normally), every so often running into a string of unwinnable situations, swearing, and mentally flipping a table. It had a number of expansions, each one alone with interesting twists and scenarios, but, all together? A recipe for minutiae, and backstabbing, and many, many dice rolls.

I tried Talisman: Digital once with all the expansions. That was… An experience. See, the digital editions of the game have, with even one AI player, a certain amount of waiting for them to decide what to do. Even without, there’s dice rolling, waiting for animations, noise cues… It wants to be as clear as possible, but no, you do not get any option to skip said animations and cues and things that slow it down. It is, generally speaking, a game you play with friends, understanding friends who won’t get angry at you when its old school, adversarial play gets the better of them, and where conversation definitely helps it go smoother.

“An Epic tale, as told by dice rolls that can just as easily harm the narrative as help it!”

As such, you can maybe imagine my confusion. And this is as someone who likes hotseat 4X games and board game adaptations where yes, you can play by yourself. Talisman’s lore is… Not particularly deep (It is, essentially, a “chase’n’race” board-game with fantasy trappings and a lot of randomness), and adding lore doesn’t really make any of its shenanigans make more sense. And this, essentially, is where I find myself: Trying to work out where the audience lies here.

Does it really appeal to the folks who already have Talisman: Digital Edition? There’s nothing new animation wise, I’m pretty sure there’s not much new card-wise, and, as I’ve alluded to, Talisman’s expansions are… A lot. Does it, then, appeal to somebody new to Talisman? I’d argue no, because the lore is mostly unreferenced outside of this game (Apart, obviously, from the Crown of Power), and its first tutorial alone took me about half an hour (And not, it must be said, a terribly exciting half an hour.) It does, somewhat, prepare players for the PvP core of the game with AI characters, but… The same experience could be had hotseat. What it adds are lore, quests, and challenges, and… Honestly, that’s not the biggest of niches.

As it turns out, this Great Wizard has Weakness to Ghost types.

So, overall, Talisman: Origins just… Leaves me confused. With other games, I can clearly point and go “Ah, here’s this interesting core” or “Ah, I can see where this is appealing to X”, and, with this… If there were no DLC for the thing planned, I’d say “This is a cheaper alternative to the main Talisman, as the DLC for that comes to around ninety quid”, but I’m not certain about that, considering how even Talisman: The Horus Heresy (It’s 40K themed, less visually readable cousin) has about 9 DLC. The biggest draw of Talisman has always been the social aspect to it, and so… All the “for” arguments I can think of are rather weak.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t enjoy being confused. It is his least favourite status effect outside of “Hangry-Thirsty.”

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Invisible Fist (Review)

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

The Invisible Fist of Capitalism. It stands ready, waiting to grind you down under its knuckles, to pummel you with sudden charges and unexpected disasters. It feels nothing, being an idea, and yet, it’s an idea that hates you, yes, you, personally. You cannot bring enough to its gaping, central maw to satisfy it, so it will destroy you, singly or in groups. Welcome to Late Stage Capitalism.

That’s… a $15 film ticket. The film could at least not be shit for that price.

So yes, this is another one of those games that has the content warning “Too Fuckin’ Real”, even with deliberate parody. Joy of joys. I needed that in my life right now. And this, funnily enough, is Invisible Fist’s biggest obstacle to success: It does what it sets out to do a little too well.

Okay, let’s unpack that: Invisible Fist is a turn-based, resource management game where your opponent is the Invisible Fist of Capitalism. As one of three characters (In fact, for a while, it will only be one of three characters, more on that in a moment), you attempt to survive, as long as you can, and maybe, just maybe, fight the fucking thing off you.

Suffice to say, what with that “Too fuckin’ real” comment, the odds are not in your favour. Even as your starting character, a douchebag startup techbro who is trying to create and market MONA, Mother of the New Age, an AI claimed to be for “Millennials who need new mommies” (Yes, he’s a sickening shitlord, ignorant of the fact that yes, he’s a Millennial too), while meeting the demands of both capitalism… And his own, clinging mother (Do you, perhaps, see where he might be projecting a bit?)

Funnily enough, the Announcer works best when the excesses are, in and of themselves, ridiculous.

So… Starting as a rich kid exploiting his workforce, blind to the ills of capitalism could easily be described as “Oooh, aren’t they bold?”, but… No matter who they would have started as, the tone of the game itself would have made this one emotionally draining. Considering the other two are “Self made college student selling weed to get by” and “Indian Factory Worker far from their family and lover”? Yeah, this wasn’t going to be easy. And it could all too easily emotionally backfire, considering… The Announcer.

The Announcer is the fucknugget who enjoys watching the world burn. He’s the shitheel gatekeeper, the Trololol asshole… And his insufferable, hateful spin on things very often veers into “Okay, the writers need to take a fuckin’ step back and seriously consider this guy.” Put it like this… Techbro’s techy startup is emblematic of the worst excesses, just like seemingly everything in this game, and so… Oh look, let’s add a content warning here for a random chance of “Mentions of Non-consensual Sex”, shall we?

There’s a lotta layers to this asshole, and they’re all made of dog turd.

Of course, unlocking a new character means new challenges. For example, Rena, the student, has limited funds, and her work options… Well, they don’t always make the bucks that are worth your time. And relaxing costs money. It nearly always costs money. Or health in terms of her pet cat sometimes deciding that no, it wants to roughhouse (nastily) instead of be scratched behind the ears delightfully.

Individual games of Invisible Fist go by quickly, but only by doing well, by meeting its (sometimes deliberately bullshit) challenges, and by defeating the Fist with good work-play balance, can you earn… Two, more difficult challenges. Interesting ones, and with the same level of social commentary (Spun by the Announcer in as shitty a way as possible, sometimes even if you nail it), but… Yeah, this game gets too damn real sometimes, in uncomfortable ways. So… Well designed, in that sense.

The Mad Welshman isn’t sure what to add. The shittiness of Capitalism kinda speaks for itself.

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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.

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Faerie Solitaire: Harvest (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

You can’t please everyone all the time. This is the main thought running through my head as I look at Faerie Solitaire: Harvest, a sequel which has, at release at least, cut the story, cut the purchasing of building aspects, and made pets a little more accesible, but confusingly.

The thing is, its core is still solid, and its soundtrack is really bloody good. So these things shouldn’t matter so much. But it does, nonetheless, feel odd.

The meanest kind of layout… The one-card (or multiple one-card, in this case) blockage…

Okay, so, last time on Faerie Solitaire, faeries got trapped by an evil wizard (That you were apprenticed to) with layered cards in patterns you got rid of by going up and down the ranks of the cards (With help from powerups and the bottom deck, which could only be shuffled a certain amount of times.) Big combos were good, individual levels had tasks, there was a lot going on, but, at its core, was one particular solitaire variant.

Now, the faeries are again trapped, but somewhere else and by ??? , with the plucky young ??? to save them by matching pairs of the same rank, and, preferably for combos, the same colour, with the aid of the bottom deck, an ability (Wild Cards earned with combos), and, as before, there’s only a limited amount of reshuffles (One, either free, or due to paying 1000 of the ingame currency.) As noted, the core is solid, with exactly the benefits and problems you would expect from a solitaire game. For example, Oh look, the two cards you need to match are directly under each other, and you did not know this. Sod. Well, that happens sometimes, fine.

Pets! You can evolve them, and then… You can, er… Well, you can toggle whether they’re evolved or not.

On the one hand, I can definitely say it doesn’t stint on that Solitaire part. 40 areas, each with 9 levels, and increasingly devilish layouts. That’s the good stuff for someone who likes Solitaire, right there. But, alas, this isn’t just about this Faerie Solitaire, as, as noted, Harvest feels somewhat stripped down compared to its predecessor. A fair bit of that, to be honest, was bloat, trying to add more interest, and not always succeeding. But since some things have changed and others haven’t as much, it ends up feeling a little hollower than its predecessor.

Let’s take the currency of the game, pets, and resources, for example. It’s nice that, if you liked baby pets more, you can switch between baby pet and adult pet forms at will. That’s nice. But, beyond this and a little urge to completionism, with 32 pets to grow from eggs (By playing) and evolve (By playing and gaining resources), there’s… No real reason for them, or the resources. The main currency of the game also buys two of the abilities, an extra card slot, and a reshuffle if you hadn’t managed to land a BIG COMBO to get a free reshuffle. That’s… Er… It. And it is needed when layouts get meaner…

Ah, I got wood… Look, I’ve gotta wring some humour out of this, dammit!

…But, with these cuts, what you have is a pretty solitaire game with some knobs on, and a soundtrack that feels like it comes from an epic JRPG. If this is what you expect coming in, then you’re good. Having played the predecessor, I felt, as noted… A little odd.

The Mad Welshman always feels a little forlorn when a sequel strips things. Even if it makes sense. And he’s aware this isn’t a great feel.

…Doesn’t stop him feeling it, though.

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