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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Jupiter Hell (Early Access Review)

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

Doom: The Roguelike was an interesting experience. Not just because I personally find it pleasant to see ASCII renditions of various video game enemies, and enjoy roguelikes, but because it emulated the feel of Doom (swearing as you unload, wondering when the next health pickup will be found, and moving, always moving), while being its own thing.

Every time you die, it helpfully reminds you what killed you a few seconds ago, but also assesses how risky you played, and how many you killed (This is important for certain achievements!)

And Jupiter Hell? Well, those of us who know, know that it is basically Doom: The Roguelike… Remastered. And how does it shape up? Pretty well so far. Let’s get into that.

The basic idea is that, as with most roguelikes, when you act, the enemies act also, and each action takes a certain amount of time (Moving, for example, is the 1.0 to calibrate everything by, while shooting can be slow or fast, depending on the weapon, and some abilities), and the game limits your motion to the four cardinal directions. I mean, you can move diagonally, but that isn’t a single move, but two. The maps use seeds for generation, and they always follow the same set of patterns and general enemy difficulty, although sometimes you get a doozy like coming out of the first area to find seven corrupted soldiers looking at you. And then shooting you to death (In a recent patch, this has been toned down, at least for the first level.)

Ehehe. Ohhh, you poor, undead and demonic bastards…

But, thankfully, I only encountered that once, and I’ve always understood where I’d screwed up overall. Another hallmark of a good roguelike. Your objective? To find out what the hell’s goi- It’s to murder everything, because nothing on any of these godforsaken bases can be saved, and a good chunk of it wants to turn you into good chunks. There is cover, and taking advantage of it, as well as baiting enemies into leaving theirs, is part of the tactics. And there are skills you earn at each level, which increase your power somewhat. And there are level branches, each with their own situations to make you feel either really powerful… Or that this was a bad idea.

So, your goal is pretty clear. Your controls are pretty clear, and rebindable to boot. There are CRT effects (including glitching and tearing of the UI at low health), but they can be turned off in the options. While the game is often somewhat dark, your currently targeted enemy is highlighted clearly, as is the next, automatically, when you kill the first, and you can still, most of the time, see the enemies well enough to shoot them. The menus can be a little odd to get used to at first (Mainly, remember that you can hit left and right to see other information, such as what your boomsticks, generally speaking, do. Beyond a practical test for further clarification, obviously.) And musically?

The wise thing to do would be to run back round that corner. Suffice to say, I was feeling ballsy, not wise.

Well, I did say it’s Doom: The Roguelike Remastered, and the music is reminiscent of, but definitely not a copy of, various iconic doom themes. Little riffs, here and there, and the overall tone clue you in, but they’re hard, they’re driving guitar, and sometimes… Sometimes they’re just downright ominous.

And so far, the only thing that I could really say was a turn-off is exactly the same turn-off for many a roguelike: Until you get the situations you see in later levels, it can be frustrating, as can not finding health kits and armour when you feel you really, really need them right about now. But it doesn’t shame you for picking Easy difficulty (In fact, I’m almost certain the entire Bronze achievements of the game can be completed on any difficulty), it’s aesthetically good, it’s mechanically sound while not feeling incomplete (Just a few minor balance issues), and I would say it’s a contender for being a good “First Roguelike I’ve Played.”

Doom was great, and Id are mostly great. And they were actually cool with this keeping the name. Just a friendly reminder for certain assholes from your local, mostly friendly Mad Welshman.

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Robo Instructus (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £10
Where To Get It: Steam

Programming puzzle games are, normally, extremely my jam. Teaching the logic behind programming is good, and, while it doesn’t teach actual programming most of the time, it does help understand it better. And that’s nice.

There. In the top left. That’s your options. That’s TINY by default!

Unfortunately, Robo Instructus doesn’t do a great job, for multiple reasons. Starting with a start interface best described as “Not great.” Okay, fun programmer joke, putting the save profiles in a 1d array. Cool. But when your options at the start are a small icon in the top left of a mostly black screen (even if it is one of the icons that is commonly accepted to be “Menu”), you’ve got some accessiblity problems. Add in the fact that while windowed mode is there, but it’s a resizable window, rather than one with options for common sizes, and it becomes needlessly difficult for streamers to get the right proportions, even with a scaling UI (and UI scale options, which, admittedly, is a thing done right.)

The level after this one is the pain in the ass.

Then, of course, there’s the things the game doesn’t tell you. Some of them are par for the course, and thus not a complaint (such as teaching the various parts piecemeal, so you don’t need to do a thing), but others… Well, for example, the third level taught me, although it took a while for me to realise, that a teleporter in a multiple level area (which is most of them) seems to either not count the teleporter as part of a robot_forward() command, or automatically call that command without a call on teleporting to a new area. Or it’s a bug. Finally, in terms of gripes, entering the program is, in places, needlessly pernickety, specifically on indenting. In most Object Oriented languages, anything contained between { and } (and with each command ending in a ; ) is considered as correct but in Robo Instructus, it needs to be indented correctly, and it only autocorrects to this formatting if you started with the instruction that isn’t indented (loop or if, for example.) Sooo, a lot of gripes here, which isn’t great.

The tower behind this wall-o-text(TM) is, essentially, your level structure. No, it doesn’t appear to widen out as it goes, terrible construction practices…

Aesthetically, it’s an odd mix. Most of it, visually, can best be described as “workmanlike” (or, possibly more accurately, a programmer’s visual design), but I’ll admit the actual robot section is visually pleasing, and the music is good.

But, overall? These gripes are certainly not trivial, for the most part, annoyances and accessibility problems that add up to make a programming puzzle game that, for once, I haven’t particularly enjoyed from the get-go.

The Mad Welshman knows enough coding to get him into trouble. Apparently, this trouble now also involves running robots off triangular cliffs.

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Nowhere Prophet (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49 (£27.79 for all gubbins, £11.39 for soundtrack, artbook, and other gubbins)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

Nowhere Prophet has, over the course of its Early Access, been a promising, but sometimes frustrating ride. And with release? Well, there’s some improvement, including rejigging what the difficulty settings tell you, introducing and then toning down bosses for each checkpoint along the way to The Crypt, supposedly the salvation of this post-apocalyptic, Indian themed landscape, and rejigging items to create a more manageable version of the Leader decks, along with special abilities that can be used once a battle.

Aaaaaa, I got here, I got here! (and then never since. Oh Boo.)

In short, Nowhere Prophet has changed quite a bit from when I last reviewed it, and, on reflection, these changes are good, especially after some of the bosses have been toned down.

Because, hot damn, they were frustrating a day or so ago. To recap, Nowhere Prophet is a turn based game in which you balance food and hope versus progress and better gear, and the life of your followers versus your own life, because, in the fights, it’s a Hearthstone style of “Play units, play leader cards, get one more energy than the last turn, and your goal is to kill the leader.” There, a nice executive summary.

What complaints I have essentially still remain: Some decks are damn good, especially in the enemy’s hands, and the AI plays its deck well, grinding you down quite efficiently. Which is why the difficulty setting restatement is welcome: The AI does not play any better or worse on any difficulty, but does have less synergy in their own decks, and less powerful cards. On “Burdened” difficulty (Previously described as “Normal”), some of those decks can be, for want of a better word, bloody evil. But I’ve talked about things like Taunt and Armour boys before, so we’ll instead move on to bosses.

Oh no. Oh no. I am not ready for taunt/armourboi funtimes!

As mentioned, each checkpoint now has a boss fight, against one of 10 bosses (One for each of the factions), and the toning down has been good, because previously, some were intriguing, but many were downright frustrating, like the Union Bulwark essentially being the ultimate Taunt-Armour Boy, or the Blue Devil Tormented’s ability to level up all of his hand if you murder one of his folks. Now, those abilities are toned down, and, in some cases, limited to once a turn, for a limited number of turns, or both. Which means I can actually be excited about King Lizard’s clever trick without looking like a masochist.

King Lizard, on release, essentially straight up wounded/killed whoever attacked him when he didn’t have armour (Your Leader cards don’t count.) But now, it’s only the first unit a turn, and that is still tactical (Who do I sacrifice for the most gain?) without, for example, waiting to buff up some of your units so they really count toward that goal. Each has their own schtick, and it’s relatively easy to understand from the tooltips and what you’ve encountered of a faction.

Okay, so maybe I was. But I wasn’t in shape for what came next, and died.

I will say that, while there’s definitely a lot of replay value (even having beaten the game, there’s more I want to find), the final unlockable ability of convoys is brought about by beating… 25 bosses. And that, honestly, is expecting a bit much, considering there’s nine tribes to unlock this for, and four leaders, some of which you can only unlock through certain circumstances.

Still, overall, it’s visually impressive, its music is good, and even with that brief day one hiccup, it shows promise, with its daily challenges adding a little spice to the game. I would recommend this, because it does have some clever ideas, and playing it on the easier settings is not a guilt trip.

The Mad Welshman says Rusters are People too. This is in no way due to the nanocontrollers in his head.

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Abyss Manager (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Running a dungeon is, as we’ve seen multiple times in the thematic genre that is Dungeon Management (be it RTS, management sim, or some variety of adventure game), quite tough. There’s always those pesky murderhobos out to kill your monsters, raid your gold hoard, and ruin your plans for world domination, because apparently they’re the kind of jerks who don’t want the world to be under your totes-gentle-honest hand… Adventurers are such assholes.

AAARGH. I was researching workplace improvement, you bastards!

Unfortunately for Abyss Manager, it’s also currently a slow descent into hell to play. It is, on the one hand, turn based, so it gives you, in a sense, plenty of time to decide things. However, you are almost constantly assailed by adventurers, meaning that your two main considerations are “Where can I put my exhausted staff to productively recuperate their stamina?” and “Ohgod, who can I pull from one kind of work to fight this set of beefy bastards of various races?”

Progression in the game is, essentially, over grindy on Normal difficulty, with buildings costing many, many turns worth of work, tournaments between the various dungeon masters that totally aren’t mandatory… If you like having Prestige and Sponsorship for your dungeon, that is, and always, always, the choice between spending what renown you have (for lo, Altars don’t regenerate renown all that well), and whether swapping someone out will be worth the 20 stamina lost for retreating mid battle to be replaced, or if they can soooomehow survive the next turn, to make it slightly less painful to do so.

What do these sponsorships actually do? Couldn’t tell you.

Finally, on the gripes, the game doesn’t tell you a whole lot. Oh, it has tooltips, but tutorialisation is thin on the ground, and tooltips can only take you so far. So, that’s the gripes over with… What’s enjoyable?

Well, the sound effects and pixel aesthetic are alright, and a research tree which costs more the more you research (but can be researched in several different directions) is an alright idea. There’s a fair few races, lots of skills, exploration of the world… The problem being that aforementioned “Oh hey, you can’t do a lot of it a lot of the time, because you’re being assailed a whole hell of a lot, and you’re playing the stamina shuffle constantly (with the added annoyance that exploration and matches take several turns to complete, leaving you relatively open to attacks)

Everyone I can tag in from other work is tired. The adventurers keep coming, and we will not last out. – Last journal entry.

While Abyss Manager does have some interesting ideas, hot damn, it really needs to cut down on that grind, maybe explain things a little better, before I could really recommend it.

The Mad Welshman does, however, appreciate that running a lair is hard. His imps absolutely refuse to help with the dishes, for example.

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