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RPG Codex Review: Krai Mira

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 5 October 2020, 22:30:41

Tags: Krai Mira; Tall Tech Studio

Before the arrival of ATOM, there were a number of considerably less successful attempts to produce a Fallout-inspired post-apocalyptic isometric RPG by various European (particularly Eastern European) studios. One of the last of these was Krai Mira, an isometric RPG set in a post-apocalyptic Crimean peninsula from Slovakian indie developer TallTech Studio. Krai Mira was widely disregarded as "Eastern European shovelware" when it was released in 2016 and was quickly forgotten. Yet there are some among us who still remember. With the impending releases of Encased and ATOM RPG: Trudograd, the esteemed Lord_Potato, who is a connoisseur of all manner of obscure and forgotten RPGs, has decided to revisit Krai Mira and tell us whether our prejudices were justified. Here's an excerpt from his review:

The game begins with a short intro cutscene, but there is no character creation sequence as such. Our PC starts out simply standing on a beach. We can name him, distribute several points between five main stats, and invest two points into one of three available perks. The stats are strength, health, agility, perception, and "erudition", which is basically intellect and charisma combined. Throughout the game the PC will gain access to fifteen perks, which are mostly focused on stealth and melee combat. Each perk has three levels of advancement. There are no skills in the game and hence no skill checks. Stat checks in dialogue are very rare. Sometimes high erudition provides you with an additional dialogue choice or allows you to talk someone into helping you without material gratification. But that is all you will get out of making your guy a smooth talker. Upon gaining a new level you get one stat point and one perk point, which you may invest as you see fit.

Unfortunately, the system is very basic and unbalanced. There’s only one way to build your character well. On my first try, I created the character I usually play in Fallout games: an eloquent gunslinger (high perception, agility, erudition). Soon I learned that such a build is simply unfeasible in Krai Mira. Erudition provides too few opportunities to justify the stat investment. And as for perception, while the game offers a wide selection of guns, rifles, crossbows, and flamethrowers that use five different types of ammo, it provides far too few bullets. A gunslinger cannot allow himself the luxury of a weapon of choice. He has to hold on to any ammunition he can find and carry several guns in order not to be caught with an empty barrel. Unfortunately, in order to carry those guns or operate heavier weapons, he needs high strength. And in order to deal with the game’s hordes of melee enemies, he needs high agility to get more action points during his turns, so that he can shoot and then flee to safety. High health, required to wear better armor, becomes an unobtainable luxury as you'd have to spread your precious stat points too thinly. After several hours of this, I abandoned my eloquent gunslinger and restarted. Playing such a character was just too tedious and unfun.

The one and only feasible build is a melee tank, which is also reinforced by the majority of available perks. You put points into strength, health, and agility and keep on doing it until they all reach 13-15 points (which is about when the game will end). This will allow the PC to wear the best armor and carry the best melee and projectile weapons, with tons of health points and a decent damage reduction. Of course, due perception being a dump stat he can only shoot the automatic rifle at point-blank range, but at least he can do it. A point-starved gunslinger would never be able to reach the strength value of 13 needed for such a feat. The melee tank mostly fights on the front lines, which is good since the few party members you meet in the game are extremely stupid and die easily. So you need to position your PC in front of these idiots so that the enemies hit him instead.

That said, the combat actually feels pretty solid. With only one feasible build, it's a simple matter of smacking enemies with the biggest club or blade you can find. Guns sometimes offer several fire modes and bursts can hit multiple foes, but you need to conserve ammo so going in guns blazing is rarely a good tactical choice. In true Fallout tradition you can only control the PC while your party members fight on their own, governed by the AI. When human allies are present on the battlefield you ought to take care to strike the killing blow against your foes, otherwise you won't receive experience points. There is an exception to this rule, though. Enemies killed by your most loyal follower, the dog Rudi, do grant you experience.

The enemy AI is simplistic but aggressive, and may pose a challenge through sheer brutality. Hostile combatants try to swarm you with their usually superior numbers and melee fighters do their best to protect the shooters. They attack with truly suicidal determination and retreat only when left with a couple of health points and no medical supplies. Since there are no grenades, the only effective method of crowd control is through the generous use of traps. But since traps pose a serious threat to your allies as well, it's best to avoid them if you're not fighting on your own.

Apart from that, most tactics revolve around choosing when to inject stimpacks and drugs into your PC's system. And of course, selecting your targets is also important. You should always go for the shooters first, even if it exposes you to numerous melee attacks on the way. Despite the system's simplicity, dispatching enemies with a large hammer, a chainsaw, or a katana is very gratifying (and gory). Even better, all the enemies move at the same time during their turn, so you don't have to wait for long minutes as in Fallout. While there is plenty of combat, it does not waste your time, which is a good thing.

Combat difficulty changes significantly over the course of the campaign. At the beginning, it’s similar to Piranha Bytes' Gothic series. You often have to rely on allies and in their absence may be forced to flee from the battlefield, as any confrontation can prove lethal for an ill-equipped and inexperienced PC. After you’ve gained some levels and acquired better gear, your situation improves drastically and fighting even large groups of foes becomes feasible. However, during the endgame you start encountering squads of heavily armed elite soldiers, and their machine gun bursts can quickly eat through hundreds of health points. At this point in the game you have to pick your battles, mind your positioning, and use every natural barrier to protect yourself from enemy fire. This evolution, combined with an acceptable level of enemy variety, helps keep things fresh.​

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RPG Codex Review: Pathfinder Kingmaker

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 23 August 2020, 16:21:45

Tags: Owlcat Games; Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Why did it take us so long to review Pathfinder: Kingmaker, our RPG of the year for 2018? Maybe it's because the game isn't good in a particularly interesting way - merely a well-executed visit to the not-Forgotten Realms. Or maybe it's because applying the kind of exhaustive analysis we value here to its implementation of the already familiar 3rd Edition ruleset would just be too much work for too little payoff. Whatever the case, we have recently appointed Codex staff member Roguey to thank for finally putting in the effort and filling this gap in our portfolio. Here's an excerpt from his review, including its approving conclusion:

Kingmaker has a gated open structure; you're able to explore anywhere you want in a certain region, but there are various plot gates that keep you from entering other higher level regions until another chapter unlocks them. I'm not one for high risk, high reward sequence breaking, so I don't mind. As for the main quest, it has to be followed in a step by step manner, though sometimes you'll be able to unlock a new area early if your perception is high enough. Even with these limits, choosing a direction to go in without knowing where the path will take you or what new locations will pop up really helps sell the idea that you're taming an untamed land.

Moreover, one novel aspect of the campaign is that once you've been given your barony, the NPCs come to you with their problems rather than the opposite. Sure, there are some sidequests to pick up while exploring the world, but for the most part, you'll be given the details of your quests from your throne room. A potential downside for some is that this means there is no part where you explore a big city looking for errands to run for random citizens, which is an expectation many fantasy RPG fans have; this would be inappropriate for someone of your character's station. It's eccentric enough to go around solving your people's issues personally, which some NPCs do observe with amusement.

I hope you like combat because Kingmaker has a ton of it. Too much in fact; combat areas on the critical path regularly have 10-12 encounters per map which feels like twice as much as there should be, especially since several areas contain multiple maps. In an interview conducted with us before his cognitive decline, Obsidian's Josh Sawyer said "Sometimes as a designer, when you look at a screen, and you realize like 'Wow, there's nothing there, oh I gotta put something there,' but it's okay. Or maybe that thing that you put there is like a container, or it's something to harvest, or just a little thing. The important thing is that it changes; it can't just be a fight, a screen, and a fight," which is advice Owlcat really ought to take.

Even if there are too many battles, I do like the pacing of combat difficulty for the most part, which consists of a mix of easy to medium and easy to hard battles on every map. Nearly every optional area has just a single encounter of medium or hard difficulty for its intended level, which is a welcome relief from the main quest, though the small number of maps available and the constant recycling of them will become quickly apparent. There are a few optional areas which contain something more substantial; I didn't care for the dungeon where you're locked in and have to kill skeletons over and over again until you're let out, but I loved the area where you climb a mountain to a fortress to kill a giant bird and take its egg (to deliver to an innkeeper or to keep for a one-use-only long-term buff recipe that will give you +3 to attack, damage, skill checks, and saving throws).

There are a handful of quests without combat at all, which is another welcome relief. The most memorable of these involve throwing a party for a sad companion, participating in some other-worldly debates, and competing in a series of contests at a festival. I enjoyed the comedic writing in all of them. Some areas have optional and mandatory puzzles to solve; I have a mixed opinion on these, though my favorite involved a dungeon in chapter three where you have to leave companions behind to press switches to open and close doors. There are also quite a number of well-done illustrated text adventures, which have seemingly become a standard feature in pseudo-isometric fantasy RPGs much to my approval.

When it comes to consistency, Kingmaker is a mix of fun and frustrating. I found the first two chapters a near-relentless grind with enough good parts to keep me going. While I hated the railroading in chapter three, it did ease up a bit. Chapter four was my favorite; unsurprisingly, it's also the shortest. I also loved chapter five up until the final combat area which is a grind of 18 combat encounters in a single map, with half of them tuned to make you give your all. Chapter six eases back a bit, while keeping the difficulty (Mandragora swarms are the cazadores of Kingmaker; I'll let you discover how for yourself). I'm grateful that most of the combat encounters in the final dungeon are off the critical path, so I only had to fight around ten, which may seem like a lot, but the dungeon is three maps with two world states each for a total of six with far more to kill than that. It's my understanding that Owlcat reconfigured the encounters in response to feedback, so props to them. There's even an optional bonus chapter after that depending on a decision you can make, but I didn't play it because I was completely satisfied with the ending I received thanks to my earlier actions; moreover, after 112 hours, I had more than enough, especially after glancing at the massively debuffed conditions you're expected to play under. I'll leave it to the powergamers.

[...] Flawed as it may be, Kingmaker is high enough in quality when it comes to core gameplay and content. My congratulations to Owlcat for making a rough diamond on their first try after many months of patches. While it has too many issues to be an indisputable classic, this is the game Neverwinter Nights 2 should have been, and the one Pillars of Eternity failed to be (even though PoE has better combat pacing even with all its encounters). It's too bad it goes overboard on combat to such a degree that it's the equivalent of two RPGs in one; I never want to play it again even though I'd normally want to try a different build and make different choices. Nevertheless, it's a must-play for any real-time-with-pause party-based fantasy RPG fan.​

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RPG Codex Review: Horizon's Gate

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 21 April 2020, 01:23:13

Tags: Horizon's Gate; Rad Codex

We're all sitting at home because of the coronavirus these days and yet it seems like the only RPGs on the immediate horizon are alpha builds of various Russian games. Why not take a look at the recent past instead? Codex indie enthusiast CryptRat has written a comprehensive review of Rad Codex's ambitious seafaring SRPG Horizon's Gate, which might just be the best release of the year so far. While he's not the biggest fan of some of the game's open world sandbox elements, they're nothing that would ruin his enjoyment of its rock solid character building and tactical combat. I quote:

Combat in Horizon’s Gate is turn-based and takes place on a grid directly on the map. Characters can cast protection and enhancement spells before combat and can also initiate combat by attacking with a long range attack skill. Unlike the previous games in the series, battles begin with a formation phase where you can arrange your characters in a small area and choose the direction they’re facing.

The combat system is based on time-ticks, with a queue that takes note of the turn order and remaining recovery time for each character. During a character’s turn he can move and use an action, in any order. Not moving or performing an action will decrease the recovery time until his next turn. Recovery times are not otherwise determined by a character’s last action, and different creatures have different recovery times. There are certain skills that also require a preparation phase. They can be interrupted during this time, though simply inflicting damage won't be enough - you'll need to stun or disable the character or use an ability which cancels skills. Pushing the character will only do the trick if the skill’s effect depends on him being in his original position. Some skills also cost magic points to use.

Characters have the following stats: movement, physical and magical damage, dodge and damage reduction, proficiency scores in the various weapon types, which are added to hit chance and damage, and affinity with elements, which determines both the power of elemental attacks and the character’s resistance to those attacks. Backstabbing allows you to ignore the dodge stat. All damage values in the game are fixed.

You can inflict many of the classic RPG afflictions on your enemies - burning, poison, frost, silence, poison and disabling. An oiled character will take more damage and will automatically be burnt by any fire attack, while a wet character won't take much damage from fire but will take a lot from ice and lightning attacks. Electric attacks will spread in water puddles (likely created by a previous ice attack) dealing damage to all characters standing in them. Weapons can be charged with elemental power, and many elemental skills with various areas of effect are available, both to your party and to enemies. I found that you don't really need to care about enemies’ elemental resistance, but it's a good idea to pay attention to their resistance to afflictions.

The layout of the battlefield can play a decisive role in combat, especially when you can push enemies off cliffs using wind attacks. Shooting explosive plants from a distance can also be useful.

Encounter design is one of the game’s high points. Some of the creatures you'll encounter were already present in Alvora Tactics, while others are brand new. When you're not fighting against swarms of poisonous flies, worms which duplicate when damaged by weapons, explosive beetles, or monsters whose shells can only be damaged with hammers, then you're probably fighting against a party of characters who can use the same equipment and skills as your own. They’re quite effective at using skills, and you’ll get their equipment if you defeat them.

Enemies are able to use many different skills, are smart enough to get out of the impact zone of any currently charging skills, and will punish you for positioning your character in a way that allows them to target many characters at once. The enemy AI is unpredictable which can make for some fun battles.

You’ll get to fight against a few lone boss enemies with extremely high health and defenses. These fights may take a while depending on your damage output. Magic point restoration skills and healing consumables will prove useful.

As previously mentioned, some towns have a dojo that offers a challenging battle against a party of characters. They’re typically all trained in a single weapon type but have different classes. These battles are fun, and your reward for beating them is a powerful weapon and also the ability to increase the proficiency of your entire crew with that weapon type for a price.​

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RPG Codex Top Non-RPG PC Games RESULTS!

Community - posted by felipepepe on Sat 4 April 2020, 05:44:55


Who's ready for some sweet nostalgia?

The results for our RPG Codex's Top Non-RPG PC games voting are out! Here's a sneak peak:

[​IMG]

You can see the full list and a lot more info here:

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RPG Codex Review: Broken Lines

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 15 March 2020, 17:01:50

Tags: Broken Lines; PortaPlay

The Codex front page can be a pretty weird place. Sometimes there's a game that everybody has played but nobody feels like reviewing (*cough cough* Pathfinder: Kingmaker). Other times, you might have a game that one guy played and found really interesting. Broken Lines is that kind of game - a WW2-themed tactical RPG with Frozen Synapse-style simultaneous turn-based combat, which is something I've personally been wanting to see more of for years. In his comprehensive review, the esteemed Strange Fellow finds Broken Lines to be a fun but somewhat lightweight experience. Here's an excerpt:

One perhaps controversial point that I want to make at this point has to do with the move away from simulationist design which has become fairly common in modern squad tactics, arguably heralded by the rebooted XCOM series. In a nutshell, games that do this will often treat guns, auxiliary items and physical abilities more like D&D spells than their real-life counterparts. This annoys me to no end when it's applied to games with more "realistic" backdrops, because in addition to throwing believability out the window, it also tends to hamper creative play across the board. Gone are the days of tossing a backup weapon from soldier to soldier when your front man’s gun jams in a tight spot, or rushing over to a fallen enemy to pick up the grenade he dropped – sacrificed for the commodification of tactical manoeuvres.

So where does Broken Lines fall on this scale? The answer is somewhere in the middle. Like Firaxis XCOM, grenades and healing items are not singular objects, but abilities of sorts, which are assigned to your units at the start of a mission and which have a set number of uses, replenish for each battle, and cannot be redistributed or dropped in the field. What’s more disappointing is that there is also no looting of any kind, apart from the aforementioned supply caches. Enemies will not drop their items, and you will find no stashes of weapons or auxiliaries in the maps themselves. The only way to gain new stuff is to buy it from the merchant. Your own weapons can’t be dropped or swapped mid-mission either, and all guns have unlimited ammo.

None of this gels at all with the premise of the story nor with the gameplay itself. You’re supposed to be commandeering a small group of soldiers stranded behind enemy lines, scrounging for survival, yet the resource management, which should have been a major concern, is practically non-existent. At no point will you have to think carefully about rationing supplies in the field (by which I mean actual supplies like grenades or healing items, not food), because they don’t really exist, and there are no overarching worries beyond making sure your soldiers don’t die. The best games manage to weave long-term strategic considerations into the moment-to-moment tactical decision-making; Broken Lines, despite the overall structure providing a perfect slate, doesn’t even try.

The actual combat mechanics fare a lot better in this regard, though they haven’t been spared completely. For one, bullets that miss their target will disappear into the ether when the maximum range of the weapon that fired it is reached. Then there are some downright silly abilities, like “Drunken”, which boosts courage at the expense of accuracy for a short while (to top it off, this is also completely useless).

However, there are a couple of cool systems that make up for it. First is the fact that bullets in Broken Lines are real game objects, which means that each one will travel until it hits something (or gets swallowed by the god of Balance if it travels too far), whether that something is an enemy, an ally, or a piece of scenery. This is good because it makes cover work like it should, which is by actually blocking the path of incoming fire rather than just conveying a flat reduction to enemy accuracy.

Another advantage of this is that it feeds into another cool system, which is stress. The stress mechanic is central to the combat of Broken Lines, and it works like this: in addition to HP, each soldier has a stress bar which fills up when bullets pass near them. When it reaches a threshold, the soldier will panic for a few seconds. A panicking soldier will look for an escape route, and if he finds one he’ll run for it, but most of the time he’ll just cower in place. You won’t be able to issue orders to a panicking soldier until he calms down.

Stressing out your enemies is essential to taking them down, which means that automatic weapons are going to be your new best friends. All weapons in this category fall under the "SMG" type, and in addition to the high rate of fire, they have another trick up their sleeve that make their suppressive capabilities even more powerful. Each weapon type in the game, in addition to its native properties, has a distinct special firing mode, and the special firing mode of the SMG consists simply of rattling off at full blast blanketing a specified area with heavy fire. It’s inaccurate, but guaranteed to cause any enemies within it to panic, and you can direct it at will rather than just have it target the closest enemy. This means that the primary usage of the SMG is to pin down enemies in cover and cut off any escape routes, while the rest of the squad moves in and takes them down from the flanks. This can be combined with camouflage from thick vegetation, as well as elevation bonuses, for some properly devastating manoeuvres. It's nice to see that after years of games that either ignore the potential of this mechanic or else half-ass the implementation, a game has finally been made that gets cover fire right.

So how do missions actually play out? Well, most of the time you’ll pick out a route at the beginning that takes you to the finish point, ideally via any supply caches that may be present, and then advance along it, engaging in the suppress-and-flank dance whenever you encounter groups of hostiles. That’s pretty much it.

And you know what? It’s a lot of fun. There are a few key things that make it work. First of all, there’s the fact that the onus is generally on you to advance while enemies wait for you to approach, meaning that there’s almost never an occasion to pull out the old “line up the firing squad and wait for the enemy to file into a bottleneck like lemmings” trick. The score system also helps here, since if you want to get a perfect score you can’t dawdle. This is thrown into relief during the few missions where you’re tasked with defending yourself against an enemy counterattack or ambush, at which point the game turns into a tower defence of sorts, which isn't nearly as much fun.

Moreover, battles also encourage you to stay mobile as much as possible. A lot of cover is destructible and will be decimated by machine gun volleys within a single turn, and grenades and heavier artillery, should the enemy have it, will wreck your soldiers no matter what sort of cover they're hiding behind, not to mention that enemy soldiers aren’t afraid to move to better positions if you let them.

This all combines to make battles very dynamic affairs. I’ve thought about why I’ve had more fun with this game than it feels like I should, given how basic it is. It boils down, I think, to the simple recipe of a few interlocking systems pulling in the same direction. The game wants to constantly keep you moving and moving around and behind enemies, and every facet of gameplay serves to reinforce this idea. It does this with very little variation throughout, since you'll mostly be fighting the same enemies from beginning to end, and you'll have access to all the weapon types from the get-go. And yet it works. If I might make another return to my XCOM vendetta, there’s a marked contrast here in that the tactical layer of Broken Lines seems to encourage you to explore its workings and get familiar with it, instead of covering a pedestrian foundation with an ever-increasing load of fancy toys.
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RPG Codex Interview: Chris Bischoff on Beautiful Desolation

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 26 February 2020, 19:18:26

Tags: Beautiful Desolation; Chris Bischoff; The Brotherhood

We’ve always had a soft spot for adventure games here on the Codex. Indeed, I like to think that our Adventure Gaming board is one of the top adventure game forums on the Internet, and there's a small group of independent adventure game developers who are long-time friends of the site. Among them is Chris Bischoff AKA Pyke, a South African game designer of many talents who alongside his brother Nic is responsible for 2015's sci-fi horror adventure Stasis and its standalone expansion Cayne. Their latest creation, out today on Steam and GOG, is the colorful post-apocalyptic adventure Beautiful Desolation. We interviewed Chris about Stasis back in 2013 and it's only natural that we should do so again for Beautiful Desolation, which features a distinctly RPG-inspired aesthetic and even has a combat system. So without further ado:

To start things off, let’s assume we haven’t read anything about Beautiful Desolation. Tell us about the game’s setting. What year does it take place? What planet is it set on? Who are these two brothers and what are they doing there?

Beautiful Desolation is an adventure game set in the distant future - starting in the late 1970s, when a monolith of unknown origin - the Penrose - appeared in the skies of Cape Town, South Africa. This sends the world on an alternate path of technological growth, development, and eventual war.

The arrival of the Penrose resulted in the death of Mark Leslie's fiancé, later he pulls his brother into the mystery and his search for answers. Trying to figure out just what the Penrose is, who (if anyone) is responsible for its sudden arrival and disruption of the world.

In general, how would you characterize Beautiful Desolation’s puzzle design? You’ve probably got an entire puzzle design philosophy that you’ve developed over the years. Can you share it with us?

Early on we set up 3 pillars of the game – story, character, and exploration - and all of our choices had to support these three pillars. As long as the puzzles worked within that framework we knew that they’d feel connected in the game world.

We were heavily inspired by Star Control 2’s integration of the story and puzzles, and how the idea of holy relics drove their narrative forward.

Because Beautiful Desolation is more opened ended and nonlinear, we modified the more traditional ‘lock and key’ puzzle design to fit into a game where you can find any door and any key, in any order. So, in this game we focused on characters and their stories in the world and tried to ensure the puzzles revealed the story – rather than the puzzles blocking the player’s path forward.

Beautiful Desolation is an adventure game, but it’s clearly been influenced by the RPG genre. It’s got that isometric camera, a combat system, and most recently you revealed some Fallout-esque dialogue screens. This is the RPG Codex, so we obviously have to get all the details about that. What other RPG-inspired features does the game have? Why did you choose to go in this direction, and which RPGs specifically have you been inspired by?

Structurally we looked towards 90’s Adventure games and RPGs as a reference for an open world experience but with a structured story. Steering away from the linear adventure game format, we wanted Beautiful Desolation to be a game that could be replayed. In addition, something that would ensure that every player could have a unique playing experience - that they couldn't get from watching someone else play.

When we chose Character as one of our pillars of the game, it was a natural progression to add in dialogue trees. But how we hoped to change it up – to avoid a regular list of dialogue options that you can return to – was by focusing on a natural conversation flow. Our characters react not only to what you say to them, but how you say it.

I think there is a lot of room to expand ideas in the adventure game genre. What a great way to tell a story! I’ve enjoyed the world-building the most in this process. I’ve recently begun playing and hosting tabletop games, and to let players loose in these worlds and seeing what they do is so enjoyable. We hope to extend a taste of this with Beautiful Desolation.
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RPG Codex Review: Der Geisterturm

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 8 February 2020, 22:10:09

Tags: Der Geisterturm; Graverobber Foundation

Back in September 2018, jovial Codexer zwanzig_zwoelf released his very first game, the cyberpunk dungeon crawler Das Geisterschiff. Sixteen months later, he's come out with a quick followup called Der Geisterturm while he works on a proper sequel. What sort of game could he have conjured up in the four short months since he announced it on our forums? Luckily for us, zwanzig once again managed to persuade Darth Roxor to review it and answer that question. His conclusion? Der Geisterturm offers expanded combat mechanics but has far less compelling level design and atmosphere than its predecessor. Here's an excerpt from the review:

Most, if not all, of the new things in Der Geisterturm are related to combat mechanics. The game expands the combat system pretty well when it comes to the tactics available to the player. Back in Geisterschiff, you were more or less limited to just picking the right weapon for the job, and that was it. Geisterturm builds on this by introducing damage types, fire modes and pilot stances.

Your arsenal remains the same – a submachine gun, an assault rifle, a laser gun and a bazooka. However, it is effectively expanded thanks to the fact that the laser gun is now an actual weapon and not just a glorified mine defusing tool. Still, all the weapons retain their original quirks and applications, but there are some new functionalities and mechanics that make it a bit less obvious which gun is the best to pick for a specific encounter. First of all, they differ in damage types (kinetic, energy, explosive), and certain enemies may exhibit resistances to these, so it’s no longer a no-brainer to blast a strong enemy with the bazooka, since he might have a high resistance to explosive damage.

Next up are fire modes. You can now specify the rate of fire for your guns, which influences accuracy, damage done and ammo consumption in obvious ways, but you can also select special fire modes like a charged shot for the laser gun or a critical crack shot for the assault rifle. Often, it’s also wise to combine a specific fire mode with the right combat stance. You can now choose between aiming (accuracy bonus, dodge penalty), normal (balanced) and evasive (dodge bonus, accuracy penalty) stances. For example, a glass cannon enemy is best dispatched with a critical rifle shot on aiming stance, while another foe that sprays you with minigun fire could call for an evasive approach.

All this lets you fiddle a lot with your approach to individual combat encounters, especially since some of the fire modes also require you to remain stationary, so you can’t combine shooting with movement. And staying on the move in combat is very important in Geisterturm, because unlike its predecessor, you can now face more than just one enemy at a time. Typically it’s going to be two enemies, sometimes even three, and certain “boss showdowns” will downright swarm you with baddies. And considering that the fights often take place in narrow corridors, where it’s easy to get surrounded, cut off and backstabbed for terrible damage, remaining stationary can be a death sentence. Still, if you’re feeling very brave, you can actively seek to be surrounded and pray for good dodge rolls, so the enemies miss you and instead shoot each other as their bullets fly wild. But I wouldn’t call it a particularly reliable strategy.

[...] There is also one aspect where Geisterturm is a very significant step back compared to Geisterschiff. Namely, the entire game feels much more like an “abstract dungeon crawl” rather than a “real” environment, and it suffers for it greatly. You might say it makes sense, because it takes place in military proving grounds, which would be “abstract” by nature, but there are quite a few problems with this approach.

Geisterschiff was very atmospheric, and its atmosphere or auxiliary worldbuilding added much to its otherwise simple presentation. There was a sense of adventure into the unknown in that game. Meanwhile in Geisterturm, the atmosphere is completely gone. Really, it just doesn’t exist. You are only moving through the same dull corridors all the time, with very little to no diversification in looks, each floor typically being characterised only by some gimmick inherent to it (“this is the spinner maze floor”, “this is the teleport puzzle level”, etc.). Also, unlike in the case of the expanded combat mechanics, I don’t think this game adds any new gimmicks or obstacles to the mix – I’m pretty sure I’ve already seen them all in Geisterschiff.

Simply put, in the long run this makes the game a kind of a chore. After getting to floor 8 or so, I started asking myself “what exactly is the point of all this?” and this question never really goes away. In fact, the higher you get, you more you just want it to end already, and that’s no good at all – especially since apart from the gimmicks, the further floors don’t have that much new to offer. Eventually, in the last 5 ones or so, even the enemies stop changing and you keep fighting the same assassin droids and heavy guard bots, with the only difference being that your stats get higher and your gear gets upgraded, which makes the enemies progressively more irrelevant.
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RPG Codex GOTY 2019: Results & Cool Graphs

Community - posted by felipepepe on Tue 21 January 2020, 00:33:22

Tags: GOTY 2019

Comrades, welcome to the RPG Codex 2019 GOTY Award!

This year we had 949 voters, who rated 62 releases from 2019. This is almost half of the 114 RPGs of 2018, as it was definitely a slower year. Hope you managed to clean your backlog, because 2020 looks overwhelming.

Once again we had three categories: Game of the Year, Best Expansion/DLC and Best PC Port/Remaster.

For those of you who just want the TL;DR, here are the winners:

Game of the Year
1st - Disco Elysium
2nd - Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
3rd - Slay the Spire

Best Remake/Port
Romancing SaGa 3

Best DLC/Expansion
Underrail: Expedition

For the full results and fancy graphs, just follow the link below.

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RPG Codex 2019 GOTY - VOTE NOW!

Community - posted by felipepepe on Sat 11 January 2020, 03:11:10

Tags: GOTY 2019

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time!

The voting for the RPG Codex's 2019 GOTY poll is now open: VOTE HERE

2019 was a slow year compared to 2018, but that's another good reason to make a poll and find out what are the highlights and the hidden gems.

As usual, the games are divided into three categories: GOTY, Best DLC/Expansion and Best Port/Remake. The poll is long, but just scroll past all the games you didn't play and focus on the ones you did.

Thank you, and have a great 2020!

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RPG Codex Review: Disco Elysium

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 5 November 2019, 16:03:47

Tags: Disco Elysium; ZA/UM

There was only a single review of Disco Elysium up on Metacritic when the game was released. Now there are many of them, nearly all glowingly positive. It's time the Codex joined its voice to that chorus, and I can think of no better person to do the singing than blessed bataille, our expert on all things literary and post-Soviet. Get ready, because things are about to get deep:

Instead of giving us the usual freedom to become a soon-heroic, god-chosen nobody, Disco Elysium puts the player in the tear-and-alcohol-soaked shoes of a particular *somebody*. That somebody has a name, a face (sort of), a semblance of life, and a long history of destructive self-abuse, all of which slowly resurface during the course of the game.

While it may seem somewhat restrictive to disallow self-insertion in a cRPG, it helps the story to focus on the inner turmoil of our character as much as on the people and events that surround him. After all, the game’s original title used to be No Truce With The Furies, and that alone illustrates pretty well how important it must have been for the authors to have a singular ruined soul at the epicenter of the narrative. Since one obviously cannot construct effective personal drama for all possible player avatars (the only guaranteed common trait being player agency), the authors made the furies torment our hero through his prior life. It’s one of the instances where Disco Elysium’s PC-centric pen-and-paper origins shine through and affect the standard cRPG conventions. The scope is narrower but more focused, intimate, intense. A bit like that other text-heavy RPG with a set protagonist.

To dial it back a little and return us to the dimension of *computer* role-playing games and their freedom to play as whomever thou wilt, ZA/UM employs an obscure literary trope known as “total retrograde amnesia.” Or was it a selective memory wipe? A mere pretense fueled by shame? Repressed memories? Something more supra-natural? The reason for blanking out is up to the player to establish later down the line. Whatever the cause, only our past is set in stone, and it is for us to decide what kind of person we will become by the time all hell inevitably breaks loose.

The first step on the path of self-discovery is to distribute 8 points between the four main attributes: intelligence, psyche, physique, and motorics. Each attribute governs 6 thematically appropriate skills that may range from something as simple as Logic or Endurance to the more esoteric Inland Empire and Shivers. I highly recommend everyone to read their full descriptions, even if you don’t plan on investing in some of the skills. Besides providing clues and tips on what attributes to pick for certain archetypes, they’re simply a joy to read.

What really stands out when you start familiarizing yourself with the skills is how difficult it may be to fit some of them into the existing RPG categories. It takes a bit of time with the game to truly get what Esprit de Corps is really about, for example. What do Shivers actually do? What’s the difference between Drama and Suggestion? The skill selection might be the player’s first encounter with the experimental side of Disco Elysium, a sign of things to come. It only gets weirder - and sadder.

After a binge of world-ending proportions, our nameless, featureless, and pantsless hero wakes up on the floor, in a room, in a city, on a continent; all of them totally unknown and mysterious (except maybe the floor). How does one proceed under such arcane circumstances? By initiating an inner monologue of course! But who does the talking? Your skills, my liege. Depending on your choices during character creation, it may be Inland Empire lamenting that we didn’t get to see what was on the other side of the killer debauch, or Logic trying to piece something together from what little information about our current situation we have, or Pain Threshold welcoming the anguish that comes with being alive. They start talking when you regain some of your higher cognitive faculties and don’t shut up until the credits roll.

The easiest way to understand how you interact with your skills is to imagine the bicameral mind and-- that’s it, actually. That is exactly how it’s done. The player is in control of what the cop (ah, that’s one mystery solved) says and does, and your skills do most of the background thinking, guiding you to failure and regret (and an occasional triumph).

Oddly enough, each of them has a distinct personality and a... portrait. In a lesser RPG, these could have been templates for the player’s potential party members. They’re chatty, opinionated, and, most importantly, often fallible. Half Light, the mix of a psychotic barbarian and a scaredy-cat which is supposed to represent your fight-or-flight response and vigilance in the face of danger, will misjudge the gravity of a situation as often as assess one correctly. Despite its strong-willed facade, Authority often acts as a feeble sleazeball that tries to exploit its position in the warrior caste and use it as a lever to subjugate other people and get RESPECT. Conceptualization is just a third year humanities student always looking for opportunities to turn life into a living canvas. Fair enough. 24 almost-people to see you through this week-long hangover.​

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RPG Codex Review: Tale of Wuxia

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 25 October 2019, 20:11:11

Tags: Heluo Studio; Tale of Wuxia

All right, that's enough JRPGs on the Codex front page. It's time for a CRPG. By which I mean a Chinese RPG of course. I've never heard of Tale of Wuxia before, but it must be good if Darth Roxor decided to just randomly review it out of the blue. Indeed, he considers it to have one of the best character systems he's ever seen in an RPG. So read on, gweilos:

Tale of Wuxia’s main tagline is that it “has been dedicated to providing gameplayers with a player-defined platform, where they can customize their own Wuxia” (“Wuxia” is Chinese for “martial hero”), so as you may imagine, character building is an important part of this game.

And what a platform for character building it is! When you look at the system at first, you might get suspicious, because it has all the elements that don’t work in most other games, and which lend themselves to a great many trap builds. I’m talking of course about the multitude of statistics (there are around 40 things to raise), and the fact that seemingly useless things (“tea-making”, “calligraphy”) are coupled with what looks like obviously superior options (combat stats). In another game, you’d identify the dump stats, pump your sword skill to maximum and set sail to victory.

This is not at all the case in Tale of Wuxia. Here, all the statistics, from floriculture to martial arts, are useful to some degree, for a number of reasons. For starters, most combat styles in the game scale off two abilities – a primary combat skill and a secondary skill. For example, there’s a Taoist sword-fighting style, whose effectiveness is influenced by your skill in calligraphy. Similarly, a throwing weapon style will need high chess-playing. A zither (yes, the musical instrument) fighting style requires a high score in music. So on and so forth.

Also, a word on how the styles actually work. Apart from being influenced by a primary weapon skill and a secondary support skill, they usually give you a set of three unique moves in combat, though the most basic ones may be limited to two moves. All the moves require energy (mana, more or less) to perform, while the higher-tier abilities are only unlocked when you reach enough proficiency in a given style, and they also go on cooldown when used. Switching between styles in combat is possible, but it puts all the better abilities on cooldown, so effective switching requires a modicum of planning to pull off. The move sets are all clearly focused on a specific purpose, and the abilities often work best in combos. To follow the example of the Taoist sword style – the first, basic attack gives you a mana shield, the second move buffs you with vampirism (leeching both health and energy from damaged enemies), and the third is an area-wide slash that ignores armour. Proper combination of the three can leave you almost unkillable.

The versatility and flexibility when it comes to the combinations of skills and fighting styles gives tremendous freedom and breadth to the character system. The ways of building your wuxia are numerous, and you might switch between different styles many times throughout the course of the game – whether it’s because a new one you’ve just unlocked is more powerful than what you had before, or because you got bored of the old one and want to try something different.

Furthermore, raising various skills to high levels often gives you various long-term boons. These might be unlockable choices in adventures, skill check opportunities, or entirely unique events that are triggered only at certain skill thresholds.

There’s also a nice synergy between the above aspects, as the events you unlock often serve to let you gain new combat styles, which might not even be related to the skill that triggered a given adventure. Of course, these events will also net you experience, new acquaintances, items and the like.

Another element that ties all these parts together are the “internal arts”. These are basically passive abilities that boost your character’s performance, and their functionalities vary wildly. Some simply give stat bonuses (some of which keep rising the longer combat goes on), but others are more involved, and may give you a poisoning aura, let you move freely through enemy zones of control, periodically remove debuffs, etc.

Obviously the final piece of the puzzle that makes the system whole is equipment. You don’t get to play dress-up too much in Tale of Wuxia, as you can only have three items equipped at a time (a weapon, an armour, an accessory), but the bonuses they provide are still significant. Apart from the obvious features like boosting your attack and defence, your gear will also grant you additional abilities, which are not unlike the internal styles.

When you combine all these parts – stats, combat styles, internal arts and equipment – you can get so many, so different character builds and playstyles, it’s honestly almost overwhelming. You can mould your character into an unbreakable, ever-regenerating bulldozer, an artful dodger, a toxic avenger, a mass-slicer and dicer, Cacofonix, a ranged pinner and kiter, an immortal swordsman, a fan-slapping paralyser… and more. Or combinations thereof. It’s completely crazy, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in an RPG.​

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RPG Codex Review: Sengoku Rance

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 19 October 2019, 01:40:51

Tags: AliceSoft; Sengoku Rance

Codexers don't usually like JRPGs, but when they do they're often games from the Rance series, the long-running line of satirical eroge RPGs by Japanese developer AliceSoft. Everybody knows the best game in the series is Sengoku Rance, the 2006 strategy RPG in which the titular character sets out to conquer a fictionalized version of Warring States-period Japan. After years of being played in the West exclusively using fan translations, Sengoku Rance was finally officially released in English last month. Which means it's time to finally publish this review of the game by Deuce Traveler that we've been saving up for over a year(!). Here's an excerpt:

I'm going to take a moment to compare the strategic layer of Sengoku Rance to grand strategy mainstays such as Europa Universalis or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series. During a given turn in a grand strategy game, you gauge the strength of your enemy and then build up the appropriate forces to take a territory you want. You are likely to be victorious on the field, but there are other factors which determine if the attack will have been worthwhile. For example, what resources were lost to ensure the victory? Were your best officers and units used up in the attack, leaving only scrubs and depleted troops available to defend what you won during that turn? What enemy resources were captured that would make the losses acceptable? How will the rulers of opposing factions react? Will your enemies seek an alliance, declare war, offer tribute in the hopes of staying neutral, or act in the shadows in an attempt to weaken your forces? There’s a lot of complexity in a typical grand strategy title, but Sengoku Rance is probably one of the most accessible and easy to learn of this genre.

There are continuous choices and consequences to your actions as the game unfolds. For example, one industrious clan sells powerful weapons to its sole ally but also offers to sell rifle units to you. However, if you attack the ally of this arms dealing territory they will begin to sell their weapons to everyone in the hopes of slowing your conquests down without having to actively engage you. To avoid this you could make the allied clan your vassal instead of invading them, but then you miss out on having greater control of their territory.

During the latter part of the game you find yourself having to fight on multiple fronts, but you have the option to shut a large gateway and trap one of your opponents behind it. Doing so protects your flank, but the gate cannot be opened again and you lose the opportunity to claim more territory and capture its powerful commanders. Most of the more well-known grand strategy games are sandboxes where events are essentially random. Sengoku Rance has a much more static world, but it compensates by having tons of scripted events, most of which are impossible to witness in a single playthrough. You will likely have to beat the game more than a half-dozen times to see the majority of its hidden lore.

Sengoku Rance's characters are some of the most distinct and memorable in the history of video games. The leaders and subordinate officers of the game’s various factions each stand out in their own small way thanks to its well-drawn art and visual novel storytelling. One of the first factions you go to war with is led by the leader of a strong unit of archers who has one of the best special skills for ranged units, but he’s beaten down by life and constantly pushed into making poor military decisions by his beautiful and spoiled wife. Another faction is led by a giant creature called a raccoon dog and his army of smaller furry ninjas. They inherited their territory after capturing it from their human oppressors and hope to take advantage of Rance’s rise to weaken their neighbors. A third faction is led by a corrupt court, but their greatest officer is the game’s equivalent of a virtuous paladin who will lead her unit in support of factions Rance declares war against. Ironically, she and her best friend end up having more to fear from the machinations of those she serves. Later in the game, Rance will come into contact with a nation of undead soldiers led by a samurai eyeball and his harem of supportive, monstrous wives. Most of the officers and units of this particular faction are subpar, but they lead huge forces and battles with them become particularly difficult if one of the wives is part of the attacking army. I can think of no other game where there are so many factions with such distinctly drawn characters, each of which gets their own small moment to shine. Sengoku Rance is one of the few games out there where the visual novel style of storytelling feels well-integrated with the flow of gameplay.

[...] Your ultimate goal is to take over this world's version of Japan during an alternate Warring States period, in which the historical figures have been replaced by political parodies. Combat is a simple affair. Place your melee fighters on the front row to protect support units that operate in the back. During battles, you can place up to six commanders and their units onto the battlefield to slog it out. You start off the game running the Oda Clan with a few basic types of units, such as warriors like Rance who have high offensive attributes and skills that allow them to perform special offensive maneuvers. Complementing them are commanders of foot soldiers, whose attacks aren’t as powerful, but have high defensive attributes and specialized skills for protecting allied units. You are also given a commander of archers, whose attacks are not as powerful as warriors either, but can attack from the back row and strike any enemy unit regardless of location. Archers are quite useful for disrupting spell casters who are preparing their more powerful spells from the enemy’s back row. Finally, you are given a tactician commander, whose skills can be used to enhance the fighting abilities of allied units or diminish those of the enemy.

Sengoku Rance starts you out with these basic units and gradually adds more diverse character classes as you proceed through the game. The ninja behaves in a similar way to the archer, but can quickly learn the assassinate skill which allows it to instantly wipe out enemy units. Monks are decent front row melee fighters who also have an assortment of skills, such as the ability to heal themselves or make foot soldiers drop their guard. Diviner commanders can throw up barriers to guard their allies, or spend some time chanting in order to cast a spell that strikes at each of the opposing enemy units. Musketeers are the most deadly units on the battlefield, but they can't take much damage and can only attack once or twice before exhausting all of their actions for the entire battle. Cavalry units are the ones I fear the most, since they can attack multiple times, have great offensive attributes, and can strike any unit regardless of whether they’re in the front or back rows. I still haven't touched upon some of the more unique commanders and their abilities, nor have I talked about the non-human units. In short, there's a lot of variation in the opponents you will face.

The handful of officers you start out with are a dubious group of misfits that you are forced to rely upon to survive (although Rance himself is the backbone of your offense at this stage). One of the game’s more charming aspects is how even the minor officers on both sides of the battlefield have their own personalities and quirks. By improving your relationship with your officers, upgrading their ability scores with books, and equipping them with items, you will have a chance to turn some of the more mediocre recruits into a respectable fighting force. Every officer has several attributes which determine how fast they can act, how hard they attack, how well they defend, how well they search, and how effective they are at diplomacy. Some officers also have unlockable special abilities, such as the ability to fire a volley of arrows that peppers an entire enemy force instead of just one opposing unit. You can only have thirty officers in your roster and by mid-game you'll find yourself having to make hard choices about who will make the cut.​

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RPG Codex Review: Stygian Reign of the Old Ones

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 12 October 2019, 00:10:04

Tags: Cultic Games; Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

It looked really cool when it was announced, seemed like vaporware for years, and eventually came to be seen as one of the most important releases of the year. I'm speaking of course about Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, the Lovecraftian RPG by Cultic Games released just over two weeks ago. Making his first appearance on our front page in many years, the inimitable Roguey has volunteered to review this somewhat beleaguered title. I would say that his review places Stygian in the same category as something like Serpent of the Staglands. It's an amateur effort that is styled in a way that particularly appeals to Codexian sensibilities, but which never quite comes around to being good enough. Here's an excerpt:

When it comes to setting, Stygian makes the same mistake games like Neverwinter Nights, Bloodlines, and Shadowrun Returns did by cramming in as many references as it possibly can, turning it into a Lovecraft theme park. Cthulhu, Randolph Carter, The Outsider, one of Herbert West's reanimated zombies, Pickman's models, the Terrible Old Man and the Strange High House in the Mist, the Dreamlands, the Witch House, the Mi-Go, the Elder Things, they're all here. I would prefer a more focused story that relies less on direct references, though I recognize the temptation is high to put in everything you can on your first and perhaps only attempt at an adaptation.

It's not all bad. The writing isn't brilliant or deep, but it is superficially entertaining and well-paced, which is a low bar many other modern traditional RPGs have been unable to reach. You won't get plagued by walls of exposition and prose descriptions during dialogue here. There are a few typos and English-as-a-Second-Language mishaps here and there. If your character goes insane, sometimes your dialogue options are replaced with Malkavian-esque lines which can be funny but are occasionally too childish. Sometimes non-player characters react specifically to the different line; other times their reaction remains unchanged. There are a good number of other "false" flavor options that lead to the same dialogue node, which is a shame.

Quest design isn't anything too ambitious: you find plot coupons, investigate a murder, infiltrate a cult, and engage in other Lovecraftian activities. How you're able to carry out these tasks is determined by your character's skills; you'll be locked out of certain interactions if you don't have the right build for it, but there's always a way through. There can be quite a bit of combat, but most of your time is spent walking and interacting with people and objects. As I wrote earlier, Stygian reminds me a lot of the first few hubs in Bloodlines; there's quite a bit of freedom in terms of supported character concepts and playstyles, but the story is on rails with only cosmetic narrative reactivity, no significant branches.

While the journal does give directions, it doesn't hold your hand; there's no quest compass here, so there were times where I felt lost as to what to do next, though I wasn't actually lost since exploring the world and following a thread on any active quest would continue the plot. It's a good feeling rarely found these days.

[...] The combat encounters themselves are incredibly lazy. The first potential fight in the game is against six people. Then you enter an abandoned bank and fight six lunatics up to three times. This is what you can expect to experience for the rest of the game. To the developers' partial credit, the bank had one additional encounter in the demo that was seemingly removed due to negative feedback. Additionally, there are only three of these lousy copy-paste-filled combat crawls (i.e. any location with multiple battles in succession), but going through them is still far more annoying than the usual one-and-done areas.

In addition to being lazy, the encounters are also pretty easy. Granted, I made a combat-oriented character, and I have an above-average (though not great) understanding of how to play cRPGs. There were only two fights that gave me trouble; the first involved reinforcements that pop in behind you after two turns, and the second was an annoying gimmick boss where reinforcements are constantly trickling in behind you while you have to dig up the boss before it can be damaged. Both were manageable once I figured out the ideal positioning within the environment.

Bad news for would-be brave diplomats: you can't totally avoid combat in Stygian. I encountered 21 battles, and you can sneak and potentially talk your way past most of them, but there were at least two on the critical path that can't be avoided (one of which is that annoying gimmick boss I just mentioned). A solo run seems implausible if not impossible on account of that one fight.

At least the endgame isn't an annoying combat crawl in its entirety. Unfortunately, what it does have is comparably annoying: a series of rooms where you have to do the same time-padding pattern matching puzzle over and over again. After a brief reprieve, you're thrown into an area where you have to navigate around real-time patrols. Cultic made the same mistake here Harebrained Schemes did with Shadowrun: Hong Kong; real-time stealth gameplay is inappropriate and out of place in a turn-based RPG. It's like the developers forgot they were making an RPG and decided to make an adventure game complete with stereotypical action-oriented gimmicks.

I'll avoid spoiling the details of the ending, but as Cultic themselves confirmed before release, it ends on a cliffhanger after about 20 hours. It stops after a dramatic moment, but it's not a proper climax by any means. The developers had a lot of hubris and optimism to end it like this; it was certainly within their ability to rewrite the story to give it a more definite ending with what they had available. Instead what we have is comparable to Bloodlines if it just suddenly stopped after the sewers and played a cinematic that teased what to expect in Chinatown. It's an Early Access or Episode 1 release that doesn't label itself as such, which is a dishonorable way to release a game.​

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RPG Codex Review: Legends of Amberland

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 17 September 2019, 00:15:28

Tags: Legends of Amberland: The Forgotten Crown; Silver Lemur Games

A whole bunch of indie RPGs came out last month - isometric tactical RPGs, narrative RPGs, roguelikes and more. However, the one that definitely left the deepest impression on us was the retro-styled Might & Magic-inspired blobber Legends of Amberland: The Forgotten Crown. Which to be honest is not so surprising on the forum that turned Grimoire into a cultic object. Indeed, who better to review Amberland than Dorateen, the author of our definitive review of Grimoire? It's not as positive a review, of course. Compared to a Wizardry-style blobber like Grimoire, Amberland's dungeons are simplistic. Its itemization is weak and its pixel art might be an acquired taste. But due to its great exploration and innovative mechanics, it ultimately gets a solid thumbs-up from Dorateen. Here's an excerpt from the review:

Battle is joined when the party steps on a tile occupied by an enemy, or in some instances when the enemy jumps into the party's face. While exploring, monsters and men alike are not stationary but move around in their own radius. This creates a situation where an adventuring party can decide each turn whether to advance, retreat or wait while the enemy reposition themselves like pieces on a game board. Sometimes monsters seek to block or restrict the player’s mobility. When both sides finally clash, they are locked in a life and death struggle until one side emerges victorious. And once vanquished, enemies are gone forever as maps do not repopulate.

There's a non-transparent initiative value which determines who gets to act first. Enemies who come in early are typically quick foes who will sneak in a hit before you can react. As for the heroes, the order that each character goes is determined by their position in the party. In a row of seven, it is the central spot that is considered Position One. This character will always be the first party member to take an action, and is also on the receiving end of most incoming attacks. Flanked on either side by characters in Position Two and Three, these act in sequence respectively and they are also treated as part of the front line. The formation ranks continue so that back row support characters are the ones on the far left and far right, who will always act last. It is a system that leverages initiative versus relative security from being targeted. However, once more dangerous enemies who have area-of-effect attacks show up, no party member is completely safe.

Opponents arrange themselves in rows of up to three at a time. Due to their mobile nature, it's likely that others in an area will join a battle in progress once a spot opens up. For example, imagine a large room filled with monsters, moving closer as they engage the party. The player might start out facing two or three of them, but could end up taking on a half dozen or more before gaining any respite. Another tactic enemies use is to crowd inside doorways. Thus, before successfully entering a chamber the party is forced to cut through what seems like an endless horde, which can make for some tense pitched battles.

Every class in Legends of Amberland has a Special Ability that a character of that class can use in addition to their standard attack. The Knight and its variants have a Charge attack that can hit all three enemies on screen. Warriors get a powerful Strike attack that is used to inflict greater damage to a single opponent. Bards can play a song that will replenish a percentage of Spell Points and Hit Points for all party members, while Healers have a lifesaving Recovery ability that will restore all characters who have fallen in battle. The catch is that these Special Abilities can only be activated once before requiring a rest. This becomes a strategic consideration for the player, who has to pick the right moment to use them and ensure that his characters have recharged before facing particularly deadly adversaries.

Resources are vital in a game with frequent combat. Heroes will lose hit points, expend their magic and trigger single use abilities. Thus it becomes necessary to rest, which in turn like in any good Might & Magic-type adventure requires food. There are two forms of nourishment that can be restocked in towns, with two corresponding modes of resting. A full rest is eight hours long and revives the party completely at the cost of both one vegetable ration and one meat ration. Then there's the quick rest, only four hours long, which uses up just one vegetable ration. The quick rest does not restore spell points and only restores half of the party's hit points, but it does reset Special Abilities and cure certain status effects. Therefore it can be used more strategically to save on resources.

Spells can sorted into three general categories. There's offensive magic, healing and curative magic, and preventative or enhancement magic. The latter takes the form of party-wide buffs, including spells like Regeneration, Inspiration (for extra strength), and Magic Armor. These spells do not have a fixed duration. Instead, all buffs expire at midnight on a twenty-four hour clock. It sets a pattern of casting your protections early in the day to take advantage of having them up as long as possible. Later in the game, I often had as many as seven effects running at the same time. (A single mass buff spell would have been a welcome addition.) As mentioned previously, all spells have mastery levels ranked from one to five which increase their power and efficiency. However, with direct damage spells being fairly limited, it seems spellcasters are more suitable as support characters for the fighters who deliver the majority of destruction.​

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The RPG Codex's Top 101 PC RPGs (With User Reviews!)

Community - posted by felipepepe on Sun 4 August 2019, 23:54:41


Greetings traveler. I hope your mouse wheel / PgDown key are in good shape, because is this one MASSIVE piece of content!

About 5 years ago we made a voting to determine the Top RPGs of all time. We had 234 codexers voting on 223 RPGs. After we got the ranking, we asked people to write why short reviews for each title. That was the RPG Codex Top 70 PC RPGs, one of my favorite things of the Codex and what later led to the CRPG Book.

But new games are released every day now, and we decided to make an updated version, with the same rules. This time 361 codexers voted on 278 RPGs. And instead of a Top 70, we made a Top 101! With reviews!

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As with the previous one, the rankings after the Top 20-30 are not as important, this should really seen as a list of interesting games to try out. Few people will enjoy niche titles like Elminage Gothic or Tales of Maj'Eyal, but those that do will absolutely love them.

You can check the full results of the voting HERE (plus a comparison with the previous poll), or just scroll down to start reading! OBS: Some entries share the same number, that's because they were tied in the voting.

Thanks to everyone who voted and wrote reviews, have a good reading!
:love:

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RPG Codex Interview: Underrail Expedition

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Mon 15 July 2019, 00:21:29

Tags: Stygian Software; Underrail; Underrail: Expedition

With the Underrail: Expedition expansion coming out next week, it's a fine time to publish Diggfinger's interview with Underrail creator Dejan Radisic AKA Styg. The original plan was for Diggfinger to actually visit the Stygian Software office in Belgrade, but that didn't work out. That may have been for the best however, because it gave him time to gather additional questions from the community. It's a brief piece and Styg isn't ready to talk about his plans for after the expansion yet, but there are a few welcome bits of information in here. Here's an excerpt:

Underrail: Expedition is releasing on July 22nd. Which of the expansion's features are you most excited about?

Not any feature in particular, but I'm very excited to see how people experience the new content as a whole. New mechanics and goodies aside, we put a lot of work in improving the quality of the content itself - the overall world design, dungeon design, dialogs, etc, so I hope that it bears fruit and that the players recognize it. Also, due to how the campaign is structured, players will have a lot of freedom on how and in what order they approach it. Will they side with this or that faction or no faction, will they rush into dungeons, wage war on the natives or maybe just explore the waters on their jet ski? It will be a lot of fun to watch people play the game on the internet.

The original development schedule for Expedition was around six months long, with the expansion slated for a 2017 release. What made you decide to extend development? Was it an ongoing process of adding new elements, or did you underestimate the time it would take to realize your original ideas?

A bit of everything. The project was overly ambitious to begin with and as we started fleshing out all the things we wanted to implement it turned out it'd take a lot more time to implement them properly. At this time we began raising the standards of the content that was being produced so zones started coming with more custom visual pieces, mechanics, lore, etc so it took a lot more time to make them than we originally anticipated.

Also we did a lot of work on the base game, some of which we considered prerequisite to the expansion itself - such as the water areas that connect Underrail and Black Sea. And now that we had those areas, we had to fill them with some content and quests and have this or that faction have its presence there and add narrative elements to support/recognize this… and so forth. We also added new creatures to the base game, fleshed out the difficulty levels, added the global map, which in turn required us to make the game (more) geographically consistent, which required adding more areas… you get the picture by now.

And also, sometimes we just get a cool idea how we can spice up some part of the game and we can't help but work it in, even though we are fully aware that we're being subject to feature creep. In the end I think that, despite waiting, you guys will be the end beneficiaries of our questionable project management.

Are there any major changes in terms of quest design in Expedition? Can we expect more choice and consequence than the base game, or is it more combat-focused?

Those are not mutually exclusive. The game will be as combat-focused as ever and this is never going to change. However, we did improve on C&C aspect of the content as well and also gave the player a lot of freedom on how they will approach the content. They can take an active part in the workings of one of the factions of the Black Sea (expedition or pirates, but not natives) and their conflicts, resolve certain events in favour of one or the other or just keep to themselves and let the factions go at it themselves.

Why did you choose to develop a mid-game instead of post-game expansion? Was it hard to balance it with the content of the base game (ie, ensuring players don't end up with overpowered characters in the endgame)?

It was probably a mistake. If we just made Expedition as a separate stand-alone campaign, I think we could have made it even bigger and saved up a year of development or so. We'd also be free from a lot of lacklustre design and mechanical constraints that are a result of having to keep the entire game world consistent. Aside from improving the difficulty spectrum during the development of the expansion itself, we didn't really do any balancing in that regard, so it wasn't hard at all. We might, at some point, go back to DC and up the challenge there for the playthroughs that went through the DLC. It will be development time well spent, since it's everyone's favourite part of the game.​

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RPG Codex Review: Druidstone

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 29 June 2019, 20:17:16

Tags: Ctrl Alt Ninja; Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest

Has it really been just a month and a half since Druidstone was released? It sure feels longer. These days small games are quick to sink into the depths of Steam without leaving a trace, even when they're made by the developers of the acclaimed Legend of Grimrock series. However, the Codex has not forgotten. After all, you could hardly expect Darth Roxor not to be interested in a scenario-based tactics game along the lines of Blackguards, despite his well-known disapproval of deterministic combat mechanics which Druidstone utilizes. Indeed, in the end it's not the determinism itself that Roxor finds fault with, but rather what may have been the developers' attempts to work around it. I quote:

Naturally, this deterministic approach has a huge influence on mission design. As everything is hand-placed and nothing in terms of the mechanics is random, Druidstone has to rely on a number of key measures to make sure that the player isn’t able to plan a successful route to victory from the very first turn. Some of them work, some are questionable, and many are quite annoying.

What works well are some of the abilities available to monsters, which can make the course of battle somewhat unpredictable, and which also make you consider your progress through a mission. These include wraiths that can resurrect dead enemies as skeletons an infinite number of times, mage-killing spiders that can steal your spells for a while, or an assortment of foes with healing spells. Obviously there’s more, and they are too many to list, since the majority of enemies have some unique quirk that gives them a specific and characteristic role on the battlefield.

Another aspect which I’d consider well done is the general way maps are structured. I’ve seen “full deterministic” tactics games before that were more or less glorified puzzlers, with only one obvious/optimal way of getting through each encounter. And while some levels in Druidstone also fall for this trap, most of them are broad or open enough to invite multiple ways of approach.

[...] As for the annoying bits, there’s a lot to talk about here. Let’s start with enemy reinforcements. I don’t think there’s any level in the entire game that doesn't have them, and they are always used in a very cheap and irritating manner.

Reinforcements are typically announced one turn in advance by dropping “teleporter beacons” on certain squares. These are pre-placed, they can spawn at any moment and in any square (including right on top of your party), and you have absolutely no way of telling when, where and what they will spawn. A reasonable approach would be to adapt the spawning points to the map design somehow – like make skeletons rise out of graves or have wolves run out of dens. But Druidstone disagrees, and it keeps deep striking seemingly random enemies into seemingly random places at seemingly random intervals, while you are left scratching your head, thinking who the hell thought this was a good idea. I dare say this feature is bad from the very start and never becomes less bad. At some point you kind of learn to live with them – because they become a simple fact of life, like mosquitoes, cars freezing in the winter and AIDS – but much like the doomsday timers, eventually they grow really old, and the only reaction they get from you is “not this crap again”.

However, Druidstone likes its monster deep strikes so much that you need to watch out not only for the telegraphed ones. Monster death squads can also spawn out of nowhere on top of your party unannounced, though fortunately this doesn’t happen as often.

The unannounced monster spawns are a part of Druidstone’s number one most annoying aspect. The “gotcha!” moments. This game really, really loves to pull absolute nonsense out of its posterior, rub it all over your face and strut around, yelling “I totally fooled you!” In my experience, triggering a gotcha usually results in immediate turn rewind or even a restart of a level, because more often than not, it puts you up against a battlefield reshuffle that makes most of what you’ve done until that point moot. Typically, the gotchas are of a “bait-and-switch” variety, where accomplishing an intermediate objective suddenly unleashes all hell, in a way that you could have never predicted.

My absolutely favourite example of the above is a big bossfight against the avatar of a god of fire. The avatar is basically a time bomb – after X turns, it will explode and collapse the dungeon. Your primary objective is to escape by unlocking the exit and leading all your characters to it. But there’s also an optional objective to kill the big boss. Since he has a lot of health and quite the numerous entourage of goons, with more that keep spawning, a reasonable person would assume that killing the boss is a challenging way of winning early. Imagine my surprise when vanquishing the wicked foe made one of my characters yell (literally), “oh no, the dungeon is going to collapse anyway!” and set the countdown even lower than it was before. Needless to say, my heroes were too far away from the exit at that point. Truly, this was the gotcha of the freaking century.

This is just one example, and while it might be the biggest one barring the final boss (and I’m not gonna discuss that one), smaller ones are no less annoying. Even further, they are so plentiful that they might even form the core of Druidstone’s difficulty, and that, dear reader, is not very good at all.

That’s because not all levels stoop to this kind of ludicrous and downright unfair design. Sometimes the game does have you face a properly outlined challenge that keeps chipping away at you through attrition and clever enemy composition and placement. In times like these, Druidstone can be loads of fun, and it gets your noggin joggin’ when you analyse your every option multiple moves into the future to escape from a perilous situation. One of my favourite levels that reflects this perfectly is a mission where you have to break through an army of the undead guarding the entrance to an ancient temple, all the while protecting another weak character from harm. The map is big, it gives you a number of paths to consider, it mixes strong dark knights with a horde of cannon fodder skeletons, and also drops a few of the necromantic wraiths along the way. No gotchas, no nonsense, pure planning and attrition.

Unfortunately, just when you think you’re starting to have fun, Druidstone goes out of its way to kick you in the balls with something stupid again. And while in the final tally I’d say that the fun-to-bullshit ratio is roughly 50/50, bullshit is much more aggravating by its very nature.​

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RPG Codex Preview: Copper Dreams Alpha

Codex Preview - posted by Infinitron on Sun 14 April 2019, 01:56:35

Tags: Mechajammer; Whalenought Studios

The Copper Dreams backer alpha has been out since last year, but not too many people appear to have played it. That's a shame, because the game has changed so much since it was Kickstarted back in 2016 that I suspect most of us have long since lost grasp of what it's about. Only Joe & Hannah from Whalenought know where this train is headed, but what we can do is take a look at the currently available alpha build, which is what esteemed user Diggfinger volunteered to do. Here's an excerpt from his preview:

Speaking of guns, let’s get into combat. One of the novelties of Copper Dreams is its ‘strategic turn-based combat with time-based resolution’ system (Whalenought’s marketing department is working on a snappier term). It’s reminiscent of the combat in Grandia, in that turns take time to execute. You can issue actions in order of initiative, at which point time stops. But having issued your command enemies can act and adapt their action, e.g. seek cover from grenades or dodge. Actions take ‘ticks’ to execute, i.e. pulling an aimed attack might cost 6 ticks. This can create interesting dynamics, where enemies might stun you with a quick attack before you can carry out your planned headshot. So it adds an additional layer of strategic planning, with more factors to take into account before issuing your actions. In the latest version, you can even use the mouse wheel to advance time in ticks (i.e. 0.25 seconds) while watching your party members carry out their actions. It’s surprisingly cool, and especially handy for tough battles where you want to keep everything under control.

Loot is basically nonexistent at this point. I managed to scavenge a few laser-SMGs from the guards and later on some knives, but I could not search or move their bodies.

Also of interest is the wounds system. Hit points are completely absent. Instead, your character’s status is determined by the number of hits they have taken. Wounds are applied to specific body parts: head, torso, arms, and legs. The penalties you get differ depending on where you are hit. I.e. a shot to the head might decrease your chance to hit, while getting hit in the torso or legs can cause bleeding and affect movement speed. In theory this is cool, but it seems the negative effects on player characters are not fully implemented at this stage.

My thoughts on combat are mixed so far. On one hand, I like how the turn-based system allows more player agency and adds depth to the classic formula, and it generally plays well. On the other hand, it still needs a lot of balancing and polish in that everything seems to happen way too fast. After you issue an action, the screen just explodes with enemies, shooting/ducking/moving at a frantic pace for a few seconds before everything freezes again. Added to this is the lack of sound effects and general feedback, meaning you are often at a loss as to how the situation is progressing. I also found it bizarre how apparently different attack types (targeted, burst, quick etc.) have identical damage potential. Intuitively, using more ‘ticks’ should result in more damage to compensate for the time needed. Fortunately, I think these issues are the fault of the game being unpolished in its current state rather than the system being inherently ‘bad’. If they manage to polish and balance it well enough, it has the potential to be interesting.

I really liked the wounds system. Having no HPs seems radical at first, but the decent visual cues mean you barely notice their absence. Aiming at heads and limbs can lead to critical hits, instant kills and ‘shock-effects’ which is fun to play around with. Strangely though, it seems that applying medkits during combat costs no ticks. That means you can effectively stitch and heal up your wounds ad infinitum while the enemies politely wait around. This will surely be addressed but sticks out in the game's current state.

As for stealth, it’s difficult to really assess at the moment. As mentioned, it is not possible to move/hide bodies which was a big deal during the Kickstarter campaign and subsequent updates.

Character progression also remains a mystery, as it is not featured in the alpha. According to Joe and Hannah, the game will start with the player being interviewed by the government officials. This will allow you to choose background traits, appearance and stats like aptitudes and proficiencies. It seems like you will be able recruits NPCs as well (including mind-controlled ones), a feature which is already somewhat present in the latest version of the alpha. But your followers just drone around, so I didn’t particularly enjoy that feature.

I’m slightly worried about the absence of XP points. Apparently, the goal is to scrap XP completely in favor of rewarding you with skill points for completing missions. Personally, I love getting XP both for killing enemies and completing quests. It’s a don’t fix if ain't broke issue for me, but I can see why Joe and Hannah want to try something different. Let’s hope it works out.​

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RPG Codex Preview: Disco Elysium

Codex Preview - posted by Infinitron on Thu 28 March 2019, 23:13:50

Tags: Disco Elysium; ZA/UM

We first previewed Disco Elysium back in 2017, when it was still called No Truce With The Furies. A lot has happened since then, but the game remains stubbornly unreleased. When is it coming out? Hopefully the answer to that question will be revealed at one of this year's industry events. In the meantime, we figured it was worth checking up on it again. It just so happens that our man Tigranes was in San Francisco last week during GDC. He wasn't there to attend the conference, but with a few quick DMs to the right people, we were able to arrange a special preview. It begins thus:

In 2016, the Codex was visited by a delegation of strange Estonians. They cold-called our resident newsbot to promise what they called a "story-driven isometric role playing game about being a total failure". Since then, Prime Junta previewed the game in 2017, describing it as a 'work of art in progress'. And now, because ZA/UM still haven't learnt their lesson, I've managed to take another look in person.

Now, this isn't a full blown preview/interview. It just so happened that a filthy Codexer was wandering the even filthier streets of San Francisco, and ZA/UM were showing Disco Elysium at the GDC. The filthy Codexer had neither money nor doritos to procure a GDC pass, and instead cavorted with them in a hipster cafe. What follows are a bunch of personal impressions from a sub-hour hands-on playthrough, and some chatting with the devs.

Where's your RPG badge, boy
What is an RPG, anyway? I don't know, but usually I know it when I see it. There's a familiar pattern that we all recline on: a comfortable blend of looting, pillaging and lying, or the obsessive numerical optimisation of the perfect murderhobo. Disco Elysium, from that perspective, is an odd one. The game constantly feels like both something you've played and loved before, and something you've never played before.

In the first five minutes, I thought I was going to say Disco Elysium feels like an adventure game. There's a point-and-click system in place, and an attention to detail in your environment that's the hallmark of the genre. But then, your physiology starts to talk to you. Electrochemistry wants you to smoke, or at least to think about smoking. How you respond helps shape your character. There are 'thoughts' you can pick up as a result of your decisions, which in turn define future options (more on this later). There's even highly customised, pseudo-turn based combat sequences (more on this later too), though I didn't get far enough to see one myself. It quickly lays on gameplay elements that feel clearly RPG-ish in spirit, but often distinct from the kinds of systems we are used to seeing.

At the same time, this is a game that knows exactly what it is and what it isn't, and it's a game that has gone through a great deal of iteration. There aren't any half-baked systems that are included just because we expect them from RPGs; every piece of the game works together in a natural way, to communicate to the player what kind of world they are in. Within 5 minutes, I understood what I was: a drunk fuck whose life is as fucked up as his room - which would translate into every interaction option, every dialogue line, and even skill names. Within half an hour, I birthed the grand ambition for the playthrough: to be the dirtiest, smelliest, most deplorable Herr Hobocop I could manage.

Choices & Consequences
In an earlier time, when the Codex was the bastion of civilised tastes, C&C was the holy grail of a good RPG. In my mind, C&C will be the difference between whether Disco Elysium ends up an interesting adventure game-RPG hybrid or a truly memorable classic. There's no combat system to provide variety in terms of party-building or tactical encounters, so the extent to which you can shape your character through dialogue, thoughts, interactions, is really the meat of the gameplay. In my sub-hour playthrough, Herr Hobocop struggled to get dressed (and partially failed), got insulted by almost every NPC he met, and nearly mutilated a corpse trying to steal its belongings. The real question, then, is how much those bumbling interactions are going to remain fresh and consequential.

From chatting with the devs, it seems they are fully behind branching paths & real consequences as a design goal at least. They're not particularly worried about making sure every player gets to see all the content, or that every option is similarly rewarding. I'm told that depending on your skills and choices, you might get to, say, a cafe, and see very different interaction possibilities; and if your particular guy can't even start a conversation with the barista, that's just how it goes.

Two design decisions, to me, indicate that their heart is in the right place. First, I'm told that anticipating & designing interesting failure states are a key part of the design. Though some catastrophic failures lead to game over, many others are par for the course, and update the state of the world in interesting ways. Second, choices are (partly) limited and irreversible. Interaction options are classified as white or red. Red options can only be tried once, and you roll with the result; white options can be tried again, but only after levelling up relevant skills, and/or changing something else in the world so that the odds of success have been modified. From my sub-hour hands-on, there's no way to tell how successful they'll actually be at this, but at least they understand the nature of the problem.

And yes, they've heard of Age of Decadence.​

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Knights of the Chalice 2 Pre-Kickstarter Interview

Codex Interview - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 5 March 2019, 11:29:11

Tags: Heroic Fantasy Games; Knights of the Chalice 2

I took the opportunity to talk to Pierre Begue, the developer behind the 10 years old cRPG gem Knights of the Chalice, about his upcoming Kickstarter campaign for Knights of the Chalice 2 among other things.

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The main story of KotC1 was inspired by old-school modules like "Slave Lords" and "Against the Giants". What inspired KotC2?

KotC 2 Augury of Chaos is a brand new adventure which does not really borrow much from any particular classic D&D module. Parts of it may have been inspired by the classic D&D module White Plume Mountain, other parts by the Slave Lords series, and yet other parts by Planescape: Torment, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands and the Baldur's Gate series. Cryptographic challenges were inspired by the adventure game Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. However, for the most part, Augury of Chaos is the result of a number of cool ideas I've been writing down over the years.

For the Kickstarter module, KotC 2 The Dark Arena, and the other modules in the planned trilogy, my sources of inspiration include the D&D module Red Hand of Doom, the games Dark Sun: Shattered Lands and Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager, the Baldur's Gate series, Conan books, Spartacus films, the book The Seven Serpents, the d20 module Mad Manor of Astabar and various classic D&D modules, such as Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Castle Amber, Castle Caldwell and Beyond, The Veiled Society and Lost Tomb of Martek (in it, particularly the Mobius Tower).​

Thanks to Pierre for the great answers.
The splendiferous return of turn-based D&D in video game form is at hand.
Also, offering a finished game as KS reward for the next module seems like an interesting plan.

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