First Impressions – Darkest Dungeon

Noticing a surge of purchases on Steam I decided to join the crowd and give this game a look. With some of these early access top sellers there are more problems than positives and the game has little enjoyment to be had. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by this solid roguelike game.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign Darkest Dungeon was released as an early access game on Steam. It lacks game settings and there are some balance issues with the adventures and the gold gained.  At least I found this to be the case; though in retrospect it might be part of the random elements. Red Hook Studios have stated that “The early response has been beyond our wildest expectations” and with how great the game is, despite its quirks, it’s well deserved.

You must restore your families honour by hiring adventurers to delve into the depraved depths of your house. This is easier said than done. Indeed the game includes a warning of its difficulty and that states that yes, some of your people will die.

Darkest Dungeon Warning

It is difficult enough that they add a warning.

Will you run away from the dungeon to keep your people alive, or trade a life for the chance at greater loot?

As you can see from the included screenshots, it looks awesome. The dark tones mixed with the flashes of murky reds and shiny golds adds to the depressing atmosphere. This is amalgamated with epic music and sound effects that really hit the mark. For an early access game, they have hit the presentation hard and the pay off is great.

There are a lot of rules and mechanics to get your head round, but the tutorial does a decent enough job of getting you to grip with these. Although it is a bit of a stab in the dark when you are buying provisions for an adventure and it is possible to waste quite a bit of money of unnecessary items that are lost at the end. Which is one of my bugbears with the game. If a potion of disease removal is bought, do the characters just throw it away at the end? Perhaps it has a limited shelf life and becomes useless? A small annoyance that I understand for balance but hope to be changed in future.

Bottom line, should you give this game a look? For its low (in comparison to AAA titles) price and promise of more in the future it’s a no brainer. Buy it, enjoy its glorious art style and breath of fresh air difficult gameplay. For those of you that don’t like pre-ordering, know that there is a lot of content already and they have not announced any day one DLC or other annoyances.

We welcome any comments so leave them below!

Darkest Dungeon Introduction

The old owner of the house writing to you during the intro.

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First Impressions “Life is Strange: Episode 1”

Life is Strange in a nutshell is an adventure game that offers moral choices throughout a normal high school students life. With the addition of a time travelling superpower.

Your controllable protagonist is 18 year old Maxine Caulfield, known as Max throughout the game. Her surname is interesting in that it is the same as Holden Caulfield from J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Max’s character though does not mirror the duality of Holden’s; where his is an existence of contradicting personality quirks, hers is a more typical teenagers. Her characterisation should improve with more episodes, along with further information on her supporting cast.

Max has moved back to her home town of Arcadia Bay to attend the acclaimed Blackwell Academy where she studies photography. During one of her classes she appears to blackout and experience the opening scene of the terrifying tornado. This she believes is a premonition of a catastrophe to come and somehow later she is invested with her time reversal ability. It does not delve any further into the abilities origin and it is probably a lesser evil leaving an unsolved mystery than giving an unsatisfactory magical or scientifically incorrect reason behind her new found power.

The tornado in Life is Strange Episode 1

The tornado that threatens to tear Arcadia Bay apart.

The bay without the tornado.

The bay without the tornado.

The setting is rendered in a nice way, with some parts that could be called beautiful. Traversing the various areas is simple and you’re never at that much of a loss as to your current objective. The world is populated with lots of collectables and Easter eggs for keen explorers. I’m not much of a collector in games so I was not that bothered about collecting photo opportunities or finding all the possible intrigues within the Academy grounds and the dormitories. For those that are more completionist though, they will not be disappointed even in this short episode. There is a gamut of various small additions that round off the environment and make it more believable. Whether it’s graffiti on a tree, the unique decoration in your classmates room or the various posters that litter the hallways you always feel like the area is lived in. The characters have an existence outside of the brief interactions you have with them.

For instance in the following quick video you can see Max walking down the hallway with characters interacting without her. There are missing posters on the wall, a kid getting bullied, vending machines and lots of other small things that you might not notice but add to the general enjoyable experience.

Although some of the dialogue and voice acting has been slated in reviews it serves its purpose and even raises a few laughs. Two of the more amusing lines included Chloe going to town Walter White style and Max’s friend Warren being a pop culture pirate.It was a shame these were delivered with sometimes distracting lip syncing; whether this was a graphical glitch personal to my play through or a common one I’m unsure. (Another players comments on Metacritic echo my sentiment, so it would appear I’m not alone.)

It is interesting that no one has picked up on the usage of “Arcadia” as the town name, at least in the reviews I’ve seen. In antiquity and the Renaissance, Arcadia was a reference to an unobtainable pastoral utopia. The setting is suitably pastoral despite being a small town. The area near the lighthouse is devoid of other buildings and evokes this image most throughout the first episode. It is also at first a utopian escape for the protagonist Max. Somewhere she can achieve a different self that she believes will be more fulfilling whilst studying at the prestigious Blackwell Academy, with her dream tutor. Like any situation it is far from the perfection she desired. Especially with the “unobtainable” hammer that is the tornado threatening to destroy the idealised Arcadia Bay.

A poster found in the dormitories.

“Social Media has a time and a place. Don’t let life flash you by.”

A poster highlighting help for depression in Life is Strange.

It’s nice to see even this fictitious Academy is taking mental health seriously.

The choices play out much like Telltale’s games, with very few of them resolved in the first episode. This is both annoying and great. It’s good because it makes you want to play the rest of the episodes and adds the tension needed to make a compelling story. It’s bad because the episodes are staggered and with such a large gap the choice may be forgotten and the tension built will dissipate. An interesting difference from the Telltale games is the lack of a time limitation on the choices, you can take as much time as you please agonising whether a or b is the right option. You can then, due to your ability to turn back time, change your choice. This is made more likely with Max’s questioning doubts after each choice you make. She has the habit of highlighting the negative possibilities from your choices; this though occurs with the vast majority of choices and becomes irritating near the end.

Finally, should you buy this game?

If you are looking for a cheap adventure game with difficult choices that draws you in through its narrative and are not hung up on the fact that you play a 18 year old American girl, then definitely yes. If you feel your connection with the story; my own was slightly hindered by not having experienced the traditional American high school life, won’t be sufficient and that you’d be alienated by the experience, then it’s not a game for you.

First Impressions Planetary Annihilation

Planetary Annihilation is the spiritual successor to the Supreme Commander series; with many of game’s structural elements emulating its predecessor. Its grandiose description on Uber Entertainment website is as follows “RTS for the next generation – Colonise solar systems, smash entire worlds, and obliterate your foes in epic battles with multiple players and potentially thousands of units. Planetary Annihilation is a next generation RTS that takes the genre to a planetary scale.”

The above sounds amazing, so with the new Galactic War update and price reduction on Steam we thought we would give it a look.

Within the battles the gameplay is similar to the Supreme Commander series. You start with your commander unit, (which has a few cosmetic variants, some of which can be purchased), who then goes on to build your resource and unit creation buildings. The resource system is the same as well, with only the two to worry about, metal and energy. In their video tutorial it was called “streaming economy”, which is apt as when buildings or units are created it siphons some of your metal/energy towards its construction. If you do not have enough to build it at peak efficiency it will still slowly be built. You create your units (including more builders) from the various factories. With the possible factories including bots (fast land units), vehicles (heavier land units), Air (planes and things) and Naval (Boats).

The commander unit in Planetary Annihilation creating an energy collector.

My commander building an energy collector.

Where this game differs from Supreme Commander is that the map is on a planet and you can launch onto other planets within the system you are in. It is also at a much faster pace than Supreme Commander 2, which at times was incredibly slow. Although in our playthrough there was no need to attack and acquire other planets it is an intriguing concept. One that adds a new level of depth to this style of RTS and an increased difficulty that hopefully does not spiral out of control. It was slightly overwhelming at first with so much going on (and having an allied commander confusing me at the beginning), despite the tutorial video and my experience with Supreme Commander. If I did have to think about my base on two different planets it would have probably been my downfall. However, due to the Sub-Commander Tech acquired in the Galactic War galaxy map stage, I was able to muddle along whilst they did the brunt of the work.

Not knowing quite what the coloured squares meant, the choice seemed a bit arbitrary.

When starting battle on a planet, you are given a couple starting points.

What is this “Galactic War”? It is the new single player experience Uber Entertainment have recently released. You start by selecting your commander, (purely cosmetic to the best of my knowledge) and the loadout you wish them to have. The loadout I used was the basic vehicle option as all the others are apparently unlocked through playing. The next part is a galaxy map which gives you new systems to move to. Once there you scan the system for new technology (referred to in game as tech), which is either freely given or held by an opposing commander. The enemy has to be defeated to acquire the tech they are holding. These techs vary from a helpful sub-commander, who plays with you when you attack enemy planets, to increased armour for your various units.

I selected the chunky looking commander and basic loadout.

I selected the chunky looking commander and basic loadout.

Planetary Annihilation Galaxy Map

The galaxy map showing the options you have available to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another interesting mechanic is the System Creator which allows you to make and customise your own systems and planets. Not something I’m particularly interested in, but I’m sure some people will labour for hours creating the perfect systems, or ones which reflect those already in existence within our own galaxy. The amount of variants for the planets is impressive, with velocity, mass, amount of resources, the number of engines (which can move planets) amongst a huge wealth of other options.

The game is visually impressive and the art style works well with its theme of planetary destruction. It helps enhance the gameplay elements and it will be interesting to see what the next big update for the game will be.

First Impressions: Heroes & Generals

Perhaps less people are trying to access the servers at the moment or perhaps Reto Moto have made some improvements but we finally got into the game! And we are glad we did! Don’t get me wrong it still took a good solid 20 minutes to log in to the browser side of things but fortunately once it had there were no issues. The interface you are greeted with is clearly laid out and feels intuitive, a good solid design.

Heroes & Generals: Browser Interface

Heroes & Generals: Browser Interface

It is inexorably simple to jump into a game at this point, you click “enter combat” and are given the opportunity to manually search for a server or be randomly placed in an appropriate mission. After playing a few “random” games we were pleasantly surprised to find the process worked well and we were never matched with pros or on servers where our latency was horrendous (a couple were hit and miss but most were flawless). The H&G forums hint at issues with this part of the process but we found it to work alright! Although perhaps we were lucky.

Once you’ve waited a couple of minutes for matchmaking you load into the game (which is surprisingly speedy!) you have to pick your spawn and jump into the action.

Heroes & Generals: Spawn Location

Heroes & Generals: Spawn Location

Heroes & Generals: Initial March

Heroes & Generals: Initial March

Once you have spawned you now have to dash to the nearest capture point. It would seem the primary (if only game mode) currently is a point capture system similar to most other FPS titles of the ilk. The spawn points feel like a goodly distance away. Not so far you are bored of running or finding yourself spending most of your time commuting but the not too close that each point is constantly spammed. The HUD is simple and clean and show you all the detail of any other FPS, stamina and health in the bottom left, current weapon and ammo in the bottom right. The scoring system works on a ticketing system with majority control of points earning you a greater amount of tickets.

Heroes & Generals: Bicycle Friend

Heroes & Generals: Bicycle Friend

From your spawn are a collection of vehicles. Namely the jeep and a handful of bicycles. Bicycles are a quirky addition that we enjoyed and believe it or not they can carry two people! It is interesting to see this addition and for the humble bicycle to be recognised as a fairly important transport in WWII!

As you can see from the above video there is still work to be done on vehicles though! As they often glitch randomly or clip into things. It is a beta though so we forgive Reto Moto at this point. As with every other game of this type once you are at a control point, as long as you have more soldiers at the location compared to the opposing team you start to neutralise and then capture each point. Fairly standard.

What we really enjoyed about this game is the necessity for strategy to win a match (we never won and apparently the Germans have a hard time of things most matches! We are not sure if there is an imbalance somewhere or just bad players pick this side…). In one of our matches we kept to the shadows, kept to the trees and cautiously made our way (after capturing the initial point) to the second. Flanking the enemy base we moved from tree to tree and patiently waited for the opponent to reveal themselves and started picking them off.

Heroes & Generals: Scoreboard  Leader of the Pack

Heroes & Generals: Scoreboard Leader of the Pack

As you can see from the above screenshot I wasn’t doing too badly! I have played a lot of FPS games but I am by no means a pro. Playing smart seems to win you points in this game. Unfortunately we did lose this round (although I am pleased to say I came top of the score board… even with a shoddy accuracy). I feel that if you were to have a handful of coordinated squads on vent or skype you would dominated these matches easily.

Heroes & Generals: Battle Report

Heroes & Generals: Battle Report

After your battle report the game closes and you come back to the browser portion of the game. You are awarded various currencies, ribbons and medals depending on how well you have done. We were pleased to see that the buying processes and the weapon modifications were described by handy tutorials (handy but slightly annoying in that you seemed to HAVE to do them to progress).

The game, for a beta, works fairly smoothly. Yes there will be bugs but it is free to play! And for those complaining about the high loads and the server issues I feel that you need to think it through a little more. Yes you can not play a game you are enjoying. But more players = more money for Reto Moto = a better game for everyone! If you have enjoyed your time with this game just be patient and you’ll be rewarded.

We look forward to playing more!

 

 

First Impressions Endless Legend

Endless Legend is currently in the alpha stage of development but is purchasable on Steam as an early access game. As I enjoyed Endless Space I thought I’d give this one a look.

Again much like Gang Beasts it is incredibly solid for an alpha build. Although some parts were lacking; though perhaps this was due to me not figuring these out properly, it is surprisingly robust. Despite the non-game breaking error screen I saw during my playthrough, I did not come into contact with other major technical flaws.

EndlessLegend Error Message

This serious looking error surprisingly did not break the game.

Endless Legend is pretty yet did not tax my gaming rig too heavily. The 4x strategy style is similar to that of the Civilisation series. You use your settler to build a base and then build supporting buildings, an increasing amount of which become available with further research. You then create armies which can be used to explore, attack enemy AI cities or partake in the quests that are randomly generated as you play. When exploring some ruins you may be shown a further explorable place which holds even greater treasure or be granted a quest where if x enemies are defeated you will be awarded y items and so on.

Other places it differs from Civilisation is its army movement and combat. Much like endless space you can gather troops together to form an army that holds one tile on the map. This army can then be led by a hero who grants various bonuses and they can be further levelled in an RPG style skill system. When combat starts a scene is played out where terrain and starting positions matter, I’ve have posted some images below to give you an idea of what this looks like.

Endless Legend Battle

As can be seen, terrain has an impact and the troops within an army split.

Endless Legend Battle

As can be seen, terrain has an impact and the troops within an army split.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This game is already looking to be complex, with added intriguing elements which will shine in single player games. You have to carefully manage your cities, armies, which technology you are researching, how you conduct your battles and the various quests that pop up. These variants inject interest into otherwise what could be a long slog to win or achieve anything within the scenario.

If the developers avoid the pitfalls of beta testing, listen to the community and use their experience with Endless Space this could become an awesome game. One that is detailed enough to hold attention for hours and hours, but not too statistics focused, a problem that sometimes afflicts similar titles. Much like Gang Beasts we will be watching this game closely to see how it develops.

Endless Legend Winter

The shift to winter affected troop movement, production and sight range.

Endless Legend Zoomed Out Map

Zooming out created this hexagonal map.

Endless Legend Tech Tree

A quick picture looking at the different tech trees.

 

First Impressions of Gang Beasts

After seeing this game on Yogscast Duncan’s YouTube channel, we thought we would give it a go. Whilst obviously an Alpha build in some respects, it is a surprisingly solid experience that the developers have worked hard to create.

The premise: Throw, bludgeon or incapacitate the opponent(s) three times to win the round.

Successfully throwing the opponent

Watching as his opponent gets further crushed by the trucks.

 

The informative tutorial helps set up the basic controls (which are easy to pick up) and you are quickly able to lift your fellow combatants into the various hazards on the different maps. The addition of a celebration, even at this early stage, is a stroke of genius as there is a special glee in being able to lord it up over your fallen opponent.

 

Celebrating at the start of the tutorial.

Both of us celebrating at the start of the tutorial.

The only bug we came across during our playthrough was on occasion one of the clay people got stuck on the side of the map between the bar and the wall (see the image below). The other telling signs of it’s alpha state was a slight awkwardness in setting up the controls and the lack of customisation. The different coloured clay people, although animated well, are a bit bland after a while.

Stuck Between the Bar and Wall

Here is the only bug we found, stuck between the bar and wall.

This game has a great deal of potential. With an increase in the number of levels, playable characters, a greater level of destructible environments and a cavalcade of weapons it could be awesome. For now we will leave you with the bitter-sweet victory red had over blue and a link so you will be able to get your hands on Gang Beasts.

Bittersweet Victory

Red has made his victory hollow as they too fall into the blades embrace.

Click this link to play it yourself: Gang Beasts