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RPG Codex Review: Serpent in the Staglands

Review - posted by Infinitron on Wed 15 June 2016, 20:06:46

Tags: Serpent in the Staglands; Whalenought Studios

Whalenought Studios' Serpent in the Staglands was an instant hit the day I posted about its Kickstarter campaign on our forums back in 2014. With its thoughtfully oldschool sensibilities and gorgeous pixel art, not to mention the developers' willingness to directly engage with our community, it quickly rose to the status of one of the Codex's "house indies", alongside worthy titles such as Underrail and Age of Decadence. For that reason, you'd think it would have been easy to find somebody to review the game when it was released in May 2015. Well, more than a year has passed since then, and the consensus on this still-unreviewed title remains unclear. Especially in the wake of Pillars of Eternity and all of its associated drama, many were eager to hold up Serpent in the Staglands as the true successor to the real-time with pause legacy. Others whispered that this alleged indie classic was not so great, and a few even lashed out at it using a particular acronym that I won't repeat here.

Clearly, only a Codex-sanctioned official review could clarify this matter once and for all. After two abortive attempts to produce such a review, including one that resulted in the mysterious disappearance of the reviewer from our forums, the esteemed Deuce Traveler volunteered to take a break from his Elder Scrolls review marathon to write one himself. It's fitting that today, just days after the success of Whalenought's second Kickstarter venture, I can finally offer you the official RPG Codex review of Serpent in the Staglands. Both the good:

This is going to sound odd, but my favorite aspect of Serpent in the Staglands is how it treats the player like an intelligent human being. You won't find a 30 minute tutorial explaining how to walk, manipulate items, or fight in this game. You will have to read the huge and detailed manual, and most likely consult it several times while you play, in order to understand its arcane user interface. I recommend ditching the in-game journal and writing down your own notes using good old pen and paper, and taking your time to read the dialogue. As stated earlier, combat can be extremely deadly and character progression is initially rather slow, so you'll have to pick your battles. There were many locations in the game that were too dangerous for my party at the beginning, so I had to temporarily abandon the idea of exploring them and find other, easier areas to develop my characters' combat proficiency before I could take them on. Money never ceases to be a concern - there always seemed to be some special item I wanted at the blacksmith's shop that kept me motivated to quest for further loot, even towards the end. It's hard for me to recall the last time I played a game that started off so challenging and didn't hold my hand, and it's hard to describe the thrill I felt when I finally earned enough money to buy my main character a better set of equipment, or when he reached his third level. Character progression is well-paced - slow enough to make you feel that you earned it, fast enough to prevent frustration.​

And the bad:

Serpent in the Staglands' combat is real-time with pause, but it's pretty tactically simplistic. Although I enjoyed trying out new spells and skills, I ultimately found it to be a boring experience. Because combat is so fatal and I didn't want to experience the game's ridiculously long loading times (about 53 seconds on average) every time I lost a character, I ended up taking advantage of its poor enemy AI. My main tactic was to position one of my melee characters just at the edge of an enemy's field of vision to get him to attack, then retreat back to the rest of the party, overwhelming the suicidal enemy with ranged attacks and superior numbers. Wash, rinse, and repeat to get through an entire dungeon or wilderness area. Enemy encounters aren't very diverse, either. Even in the game's final stages, my party was still mostly fighting heavily armored melee opponents, with very few ranged and magic-using enemies to be found. Enemies often drop loot that does not match what you'd expect them to have. Sometimes I fought bandits and found a weapon and shield but no armor, even though they seemed to be be wearing leather. But then again, with the game's low level of graphical detail, maybe they were wearing just brown clothes?​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Serpent in the Staglands

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RPG Codex Interview: Chris Avellone at Digital Dragons 2016

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sun 5 June 2016, 00:32:19

Tags: Chris Avellone; Fallout 3 (Van Buren); Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic III; Wasteland 2

On his second day at the Digital Dragons convention in Cracow last month, Codex representative Jedi Master Radek met up with former Obsidian creative director and current freelancing man of mystery Chris Avellone, who was there to give a talk. He arrived with a big list of questions contributed by our users, and in the resulting 54 minute interview, Chris answered every last one. There's a lot to unpack here, including new information about the unique mechanics in Black Isle's cancelled Fallout 3 (AKA Van Buren) and about Obsidian's unsuccessful pitch for Knights of the Old Republic 3. I'll quote those parts:

JMR: What was the storyline for the third KotOR game? What would the player do in the Sith Empire? Was it going to be structured like the first two KoTORs: prologue, four planets and then the ending? Or something else?

MCA: So it was gonna be a little bit different. So basically, I think I've said this before, but the player would be following Revan's path into the Unknown Regions, and he goes very, very deep into the Unknown Regions and finds the outskirts of the real Sith Empire. And that's a pretty terrifying place. The intention was that it would be structured on a basic level like KotOR 1 and KotOR 2, but what would happen is you'd have a collection of hubs, but every hub you went to had an additional circuit of hubs, that you could choose which ones you optionally wanted to do to complete that hub, or you could do them all. But ultimately there was just a lot more game area in KotOR 3, just because the Sith Empire was just so fucking big. But yeah, so, on some level it was a similar structure, but it was intended to... so one of our designers, Matt MacLean, had this idea for Alpha Protocol mission structure, where what would happen is, you'd sort of go to a hub, but it wasn't really a hub, it was like a big mission you had to do as an espionage agent, but then there were like six surrounding missions, that central mission, and you didn't have to do any of them, but by doing some of those, you would cause a reaction in the main target mission that could even make your job worse or easier. Or you could choose to try and do all of them, and he let each of them like cater to like, a speech skill, or stealth mission, or shoot 'em up mission, and that would cause different reactivity. And I always liked that, because I felt like you were being given a larger objective, but you were getting a lot more freedom in how to accomplish it and how to set the stage, so it was easier for your character. And that's kind of the mission structure I would have liked to have bring to KotOR 3, because I thought it was much more intelligent design.

JMR: When you worked on Van Buren, what aspect of it did you like the most?

MCA: I liked the idea that the interface was kind of like a mini-dungeon you could explore. The idea when Van Buren was... your Pip-Boy actually didn't start out with all its functionality. Like you had some basic programs, so it acted like a normal interface, but the more you did certain things in the environment, like if you discovered, like, how to set off a fire alarms or you set a fire in a building and the fire alarms went off, suddenly a new functionality of your Pip-Boy, ”Here, let me find all the emergency exits for you!” And then suddenly all of those would be lit up on the map. And you're like, “Oh, wait a minute, I can use this as like a tracking mechanism to figure out where all the exits are.” And you could do that for things like fire suppression system, things like... like where the power sources are in buildings. You could use it to do autopsies on robots and steal their programs, and suddenly your Pip-Boy sort of became like this arsenal that you could use to sort of like navigate the environment. That was cool. And the other thing was... the adversaries in Van Buren could also use your Pip-Boy against you to both cloak their location and track where were you going, so you could actually end up in like a Pip-Boy war, where you're trying to track down each other using a Pip-Boy. So we tried to do a little bit of that in Fallout: New Vegas - Dead Money, where the Botherhood of Steel guy was trying to use the... which basically could have taken over your Pip-Boy, but that was axed, and they were like, “No, you can't do that”, so like, “Oh, shit.”

JMR: Van Buren was supposed to have another party in the world that would wander around and complete quests. Can you tell us how that was supposed to work?

MCA: Yeah, basically what they would do is they would go to alternate locations, and they had their own agenda path they were trying to follow to accomplish certain objectives. And the trick with them is each one of the rival party members actually had a separate agenda, which they didn't fully share with everybody else in the party. So sometimes they would do certain things at locations where it worked with one of their agendas but nobody else's, but the other guys wouldn't know about it, so you could use that against them, where you're like, ”Well you know that guy in that location left a note for us to follow you”, and they're like, “Oh my god! Are you a traitor?” [shooting sounds] But... it was basically a very heavily scripted NPC mechanic, where we were like, we're trying to increase reactivity and the sense the world was moving on. So, when the player characters would go to one location and do a bunch of stuff, they would be notified that something else was happening in the location and those guys would take care of the quests in an area or conquer that location, and you were like, “Oh, shit”, like, “We gotta move.” But it was all intended to give the sense that something else was happening in the world without waiting for you.​

However, as interesting as those answers are, I have a feeling they might not be the most commented on part of this interview. You'll understand when you read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Chris Avellone at Digital Dragons 2016

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RPG Codex Interview: Feargus Urquhart at Digital Dragons 2016

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 24 May 2016, 22:13:20

Tags: Dwarfs; Feargus Urquhart; Hidden; Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; Tyranny

Two guest speakers were of particular interest to the Codex at the digital entertainment convention Digital Dragons in Cracow earlier this month. Both were related to Obsidian Entertainment, which is, as you know, the second most discussed video game company at the Codex after Bethesda. One of those was the Codex favorite Chris Avellone, who left the company not so long ago under mysterious circumstances. The other was Obsidian's CEO Feargus Urquhart.

Luckily for us, esteemed community member Jedi Master Radek from Poland volunteered to attend the event. We got him the press accreditation, and arranged the interviews. Today, we're posting his conversation with Feargus; Chris Avellone will be next.

Here's a snippet, with Feargus talking about Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and everyone's favorite RPG feature - romances:

FU: So. What was found out, I don't know how it was found out, but, so we hired Leonard Boyarsky, from Blizzard, and Leonard...[searches for good words] was one of the co-founders... was one of the co-creators of Fallout, and one of the co-founders of Troika. So we hired Leonard and Tim Cain works for us, and Tim Cain and Leonard are not working on Tyranny or Eternity or Armored Warfare, so we might be working on something and they might be the guys that are looking into what we're doing.

JMR: They are not working on Eternity? [I didn't hear Eternity in the previous sentence]

FU: Nope.

JMR: They are working together?

FU: They are working together, yeah.

JMR: How is Leonard Boyarsky doing? Is he working on-site?

FU: [laughs] Yes. So, yeah. Leonard's doing good. It's been interesting... it's funny to... you know, we worked so much together in '96 and '97 and we then... of course, Leonard left and I've talked to him a number of times, but not a ton since they left, I mean because when they left Black Isle, it was... it was complicated, you know. There was... I was... I would say, I was angry to an extent, because it was frustrating. I now had to go make a game, you know, suddenly and Interplay needed the revenue, so I had to get a game done fairly quickly and that was frustrating to me. And while this was all going on they were hiring people away from us... so I was sure some of it with Leonard was that I... I certainly didn't reach out, but you know, we've talked a number of times, you know, since Obsidian started and you know, it was interesting... he actually reached out to Chris Jones, who is one of the founders of Obsidian, who also worked, he worked at Troika and it was about like: Hey, you know what about and he's just really interested in doing single player RPGs again. And hey, we're the spot for single player RPGs. And so it's been easy in a lot of ways because it's like going back to someone you know, like, you worked with so much, so we kinda know each other even though twenty years have gone by. [laughs] You know, and I think it's worked out and I think Leonard's learned an amazing amount of stuff from having to run a company and then working at a big developer like Blizzard and so I think that... no, it's been good. I'm very hopeful that we'll come up with something cool.

JMR: A question you'll like - what does Obsidian think of romances?

FU: [laughs] So I... this is such a weird thing. I play romances in video games. I'm probably getting in trouble for saying this... I play the romances because it gets me experience and I get perks or I get things for doing them, right? So I don't gravitate to doing them. I know that's me personally. And I know, like... because I read a lot of fantasy books and to be honest, I... there's the romance part in the fantasy books and I like that part. Not too much, right? But I like that aspect of fantasy books. I don't read romance, like full romance, but I like that part. So it's interesting, I like it as the part of the book, but I just don't gravitate towards it in a game. But I reckon it is that people really enjoy them, and also what romances are, it's like when we don't talk about them, it's like we're ignoring this whole part of sort of, you know, the human experience. Like people are, people will go out and you know. So it seems like, you know... I think if we were to do them, like I want them to not feel forced. Like I think there's a number of games out there, which I'm not gonna name, that the romances feel forced. It just feels like I'm going through the motions. I feel like I'm just clicking the dialogue. Now I think some people really enjoy them, but still that's what I wouldn't wanna do. If we do them I want them to feel real. I don't know... I can't tell you if that means there needs to be full, you know, CGI sex scenes or not full CGI... I don't even know how would we do it. But apart from... you know, the goal is to have them feel natural.​

For the rest of the interview, be sure to read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Obsidian's Feargus Urquhart

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RPG Codex Review: Mordheim: City of the Damned

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 13 May 2016, 20:51:31

Tags: Mordheim: City of the Damned; Rogue Factor

As is well known, the genre of squad-based tactical games is distinguished from RPGs by the fact that there is an entire squad of people running around and killing things in turn-based combat. Mordheim: City of the Damned is one of these games. Developed by an obscure Canadian company and set in the world of Warhammer, it has you control a tactical unit known as warband and lead it... somewhere, preferably to victory. Standard stuff, you know.

But before you get all excited for a Warhammer tactical game, you have to ask: is it actually any good? This question is where esteemed community member Darth Roxor comes in with his review.

Here's his conclusion if you're curious:

Nevertheless, despite ending the previous chapters on rather negative notes, my overall opinion of Mordheim is completely different. I think the fact that I currently have 80 hours of the game clocked on Steam, and that I’ve been playing it all the time for the entire last month, is enough of an indicator how much fun I’ve had with it. In those 80 hours, I’ve only managed to get one warband to max rank (Skaven, took me a whopping 60 hours in total) and take another one half-way through its campaign.

Simply put, Mordheim is just a solid game of squad tactics. If you’re a sucker for the genre and for the world of Warhammer, you should get it immediately. But even if Warhammer is unknown to you, The City of the Damned offers loads of content and plenty of good, old-fashioned fun. You just have to make sure to turn a blind eye on its remarkably bad technical side.

To be honest, I have no idea how many of the things I’ve praised or lambasted in this article can be traced to the original tabletop, and which are the work of Rogue Factor. But whatever the case may be, as a debut loaded with expectations from an unknown studio, Mordheim is proof enough that the lads have talent.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Mordheim: City of the Damned

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RPG Codex Review: The Dwarf Run

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 3 May 2016, 21:10:26

Tags: Alexander Mirdzveli; The Dwarf Run

I must confess that, until now, I haven't even heard much about the indie tactical RPG The Dwarf Run and it slipped completely under my radar. I bet few of you have played it, or even heard about it, either. The dedicated thread in our General RPG Discussion forum can also hardly be described as particularly active.

Still, the Codex is the kind of site to review an obscure super-low-budget Russian indie RPG - and it looks like this time there may be a gem behind the rough facade. Good thing esteemed community member Bubbles actually played the game, liked it, and wrote this review almost literally overnight. Here's his conclusion:

The Dwarf Run is primarily a combat game, and a surprisingly good one at that. Sure, it has a number of flaws (most obviously the opaque movement system, the janky camera, and the mediocre AI), but it also offers enough complexity and variety to keep a seasoned RPG player fully engaged from start to finish. For a tiny indie operation from Russia, this is already a great feat; but even in comparison with other modern combat-heavy games, TDR looks pretty good. Pillars of Eternity is certainly a much bigger and grander game, but it's also insidiously buggy, vulnerable to overleveling and rest spam, and stuffed full of trash mobs, which are completely absent from TDR. Blackguards 1 features higher production values and a slightly larger array of spells and abilities, but its balance and difficulty curve are badly out of whack, and the writing is generally snoozy; meanwhile, TDR (on the hardest difficulty setting) offers a continuously challenging, well-tuned experience. And say what you want about TDR's writing, but it's certainly never boring or predictable.

Over the course of this review, I've compared The Dwarf Run to Blackguards 1, Anachronox, and Frayed Knights; I find all three of those games to be highly enjoyable, and putting The Dwarf Run in the same category is high praise indeed. However, I'm not blind to the fact that all of these titles only have niche appeal, even by Codex standards. Perhaps The Dwarf Run is one those games that can only be successful on an extremely low budget; Steamspy claims that it's currently sold about 1,000 copies at “full price” (meaning €8.99) and another 9,000 in a super cheap bundle sale. Fortunately, that seems to have been good enough: TDR's developer Alexander Mirdzveli has already started development on a prequel, and the franchise's future seems assured. I'm quite happy about that.​

Read the full review to learn about the game in more detail: RPG Codex Review: The Dwarf Run

Purely coincidentally, the game is 60% off on Steam this week.

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RPG Codex Review: Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 24 April 2016, 18:52:27

Tags: Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear; Beamdog

Around these parts of the internet, Beamdog are well-known - or should I say infamous? - for the paint job of an "Enhanced Edition" they did for the Baldur's Gate series. Building on a not exactly uncontested series in and of itself, Baldur's Gate: Beamdog Edition turned out even more polarizing, especially when it came to the companions and other content Beamdog added to the original game.

Hence, it should not come as a surprise that a lot of people did not expect much from Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, Beamdog's recently released interquel set between Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, which got heaps of praise from none other than Chris Avellone pre-release. We all know Chris is the ultimate paragon of game industry friendliness who'd never say anything mean about any of his fellow devs' work, especially when it comes to projects he himself worked on - and he did apparently give some feedback on BG:SoD's writing and main plot. So, in search of a more impartial opinion (in before it's not impartial at all), we enlisted esteemed community member Delterius to act as the Codex judge of what the game manages to achieve and where it fails.

Here are some excerpts from his review:

There are a lot of choices to make in Siege of Dragonspear. Don't get me wrong, most of it is just fluff. Being rude or witty towards strangers isn't that big a deal, and the game has this habit of writing the plot into a corner by giving you too many choices and then railroading you back to the script by force. It's definitely no Age of Decadence. However, it still has a good deal of reactivity based on your class, race, which quests you complete and how you choose to end some of them. This builds up to something similar to the finale of Dragon Age: Origins, where the factions participating in the final battle are determined by your decisions. In the words of an old sage, that makes Dragonspear more of a 'full-scale RPG' compared to its predecessors. [...]

While I didn't find Siege of Dragonspear's monsters to be incredibly innovative, it's good that Beamdog didn't shy away from combining Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale's bestiaries to keep things fresh. Ghouls and Shadows have joined forces with Shades and Imbued Wights to make (un)life a bit more colorful. When helping the dwarven clerics I mentioned earlier, I had to deal with level and attribute draining, stuns, long-range health draining and enemy healing, not to mention those bastards who open fights with salvos of magic missiles. The dungeon caps it off with a final boss who far outclasses you, and who you may only be able to defeat by using a special item, much like the Unseeing Eye quest from Shadows of Amn.

Of course, enemies are more than just blocks of stats and abilities, and the AI in Siege of Dragonspear has also seen some good progress. I'd describe it as in between vanilla Baldur's Gate and the popular Sword Coast Stratagems mod. Thieves make use of invisibility and stealth to harass your squishiest party members (which won't always be your mage - the AI recognizes Stoneskin and other defensive buffs). Mages use their spells more judiciously and always buff themselves up with protective spells like Otiluke's Resilient Sphere and Minor Spell Turning. Archers in particular love to retarget, always on the lookout for an easier mark. Just about everyone uses consumables and even classic trash mob enemies like orcs and hobgoblins travel in larger numbers and have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Siege of Dragonspear's encounter design occasionally makes use of terrain. In one battle, poor Dynaheir was pelted by arrows fired through a broken window by a group of skeleton archers inside a locked room. Other highlights include an encounter with a squad of hobgoblins positioned on the other side of a bridge and an ambush in a dead magic zone. Unfortunately, battles like these are more the exception than the rule in Dragonspear. The expansion's more open areas tend to be stuffed with scores of filler trash mobs. [...]

I did not have high expectations for Siege of Dragonspear after my short playthrough of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. The new characters clashed mightily with the original game and Beamdog's original maps were atrocious. But now things are different. Simply put, the combat is what ultimately left me with a positive impression of the expansion. Sure, having played the original saga I've already seen most of these challenges in one way or another. Nonetheless, I feel that Beamdog have made good use of the wealth of assets built into the Infinity Engine games to deliver a solid experience.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear

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13 Shocking Facts about Fallout 4 That Will Forever Change the Way You Think about RPGs

Review - posted by Bubbles on Sun 10 April 2016, 20:41:34

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Fallout 4

It's the Year of Bethesda here at the RPG Codex, and we continue our coverage of the most successful RPG developer of all time with an exclusive look at their latest game, Fallout 4. It's written by one of my favourite front page writers, and he has a lot of insightful things to say about the game:'s perfectly logical that a decent, functional dialogue system would allow for a variable number of possible dialogue choices. That's how most RPGs have implemented their dialogues, and that's a perfectly sensible way to do it. Unfortunately, Bethesda chose a different path in Fallout 4 – here, you are always presented with exactly four dialogue options, no matter what situation you are in. This kind of strict formal requirement straightjackets the entire dialogue system; every single conversation node has been twisted into a neat “pick one out of four” pattern. Like so many things about Fallout 4, it's completely unclear to me why the designers have made this choice; maybe it's because controllers have four primary action buttons. Whatever the reasoning, the end result is a broken and unnatural dialogue system that is bloated with pointless choices.

...As it is, I got the feeling that Bethesda were more concerned with making the game look fun and visceral and exciting and “Whoa!” instead of actually doing the hard work of making it play that way.

...Intelligence gives 3% bonus experience per level and reduces the number of possible solutions shown in the hacking minigame. And that's it. That's what being intelligent means in the sequel to Fallout 1 and 2. Why couldn't they just remove the damn stat altogether? To be perfectly fair, Intelligence is also used for the three only (!) proper stat checks that I found in the entire game world, but that's not exactly a reason to rejoice and praise the Incline.

...It's no hyperbole to say that the writers at Bethesda are some of the worst storytellers in the AAA gaming segment. They are fatally attached to the idea of making a cartoon world full of cartoon characters living through Very Serious Stories. Unfortunately, this combination of narrative elements clashes rather badly, and results in a bunch of utterly idiotic stories that positively dare the player to find any sort of intelligent design behind them.

...And here's my analysis: Jesus Christ, are you fucking kidding me?​

Yes, but did he like the game?! Follow this MUST CLICK link to find out: 13 Shocking Facts about Fallout 4 That Will Forever Change the Way You Think about RPGs

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 1 April 2016, 20:45:25

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

After finishing his critically acclaimed review of Morrowind, Deuce Traveler wasted no time before plunging into the depths of its 2006 sequel, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Back in 2006, Oblivion was the searing edge of next-gen dumbed down consolization. The rage that it provoked played a huge role in the formation of RPG Codex culture as we know it. But how does look it now, a decade later? Well, for the most part, not so different:

You see, in Morrowind even fast leveling with minimal attribute gain was still a positive thing due to the maximum hit point and mana increases. However, once you introduce level scaling you now have an incentive not to level. Yes, Oblivion is a bizarro world RPG where you want to avoid leveling up. It may be the only RPG that has ever caused min-maxers to play with the intent of dragging out level ups. It works like this. You can choose seven skills as your major class skills. I typically lean upon Blade, Marksman, Security, Heavy Armor, and Stealth skills, with various magic skills for backup. I hardly ever use Mercantile, Hand-to-Hand, Armorer, Alchemy, Blunt, Destruction and Speechcraft. So of course I choose the latter as my major skills, and take the hit of poor starting scores for the skills I will actually depend upon in practice. Now I can almost completely control when I level up, and will likely be able to increase my desired attributes by five points each time I do. Enemies remain relatively weak while my character grows more powerful than the game anticipated. Thus a min-maxer can still game the system despite all the effort made by the developers to maintain difficulty throughout. Way to go!

[...] Honestly, I can't really get too upset with all of this streamlining, even if it dumbed down the game (100% casting success rates), took away roleplaying options (quest-related chests can't be opened by lockpicking), and broke any semblance of the world being governed by reality (omniscient guards). Oblivion isn't really much of a game anyway - I see it as more of an adventure construction toolset with nice presentation than as an actual roleplaying experience. The game world itself is so dull compared to what we saw in previous games. In Daggerfall, the various regions of the map were distinct from one another in architecture, terrain and mode of dress. In Morrowind even more so. Oblivion's version of Tamriel, in comparison, is incredibly bland. Except for a few Norse villages, the majority of the cities and towns look as if the art team took photos of Disney castles and stills from the movie Gladiator and used them as a template to build a squeaky clean civilization of white marble and bloom effects that don't make any sense in a world that still depends on burning wood and coal for heat. The actual daedric realm of Oblivion is even more disappointing, after the first ten minutes of initial terror. In Battlespire, Oblivion is described as an odd realm that is a sort of hell which the daedra fall into when 'killed'. It is a chaotic place that even they fear. This description is completely retconned in the game Oblivion - the realm is now highly organized and populated with enemy forces prepared to invade Tamriel. You gradually realize that it looks the same no matter where you decide to explore, with no surprises to be found after your first visit. There is only so much dark crimson and orange a player can take before it loses its charm. Which leads us to the topic of the game's main quest and the reason for entering the Oblivion gates in the first place.

[...] Oblivion starts off with your character in prison, a common theme in the Elder Scrolls series, before once again becoming entangled in a secret mission assigned to you by the Emperor. However, this is the last time he's going to get you involved in one of his schemes, as he is assassinated by daedra worshippers in front of your eyes. These cultists murder the Emperor because of his never-before-seen daedra-stopping magical powers, and now there's an invasion that only the last surviving descendant of the Emperor can stop with his magical bloodline powers. Note: You are not the Emperor's last surviving descendant, but rather his chosen fetch quest participant. While the last descendant is hanging out and training (which should totally have been shown as an 80s-style training montage), your character has to ensure that all of the actual work gets done for his final confrontation with the daedra leader. It's a generic, lazy, and forgettable plot, with only a few bright spots that stand out like jewels in dust.
What bright spots, you ask? Read the full article to find out: RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

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RPG Codex Interview: Eric Fenstermaker on Pillars of Eternity​

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sun 6 March 2016, 00:07:34

Tags: Eric Fenstermaker; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Pillars of Eternity: The White March

Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity has been a controversial game on the Codex, and there's probably no aspect of it that hasn't been discussed to death. To a large extent, discussion of the game has been driven by the online commentary of its director and lead designer, Josh Sawyer, whose opinion on all things is easily solicited on his Tumblr Q&A page. But dominant as he is, Josh couldn't have been responsible for everything that mattered in Pillars of Eternity. His response to a particular question that I asked back in November finally convinced me that we needed to look further to get in-depth answers on the topic of the game's narrative.

That's why after the end of the winter holidays, I asked Crooked Bee to establish contact with Obsidian and set up an interview with Eric Fenstermaker, Pillars of Eternity's Lead Narrative Designer and Lead Writer. Eric is a Harvard-educated computer science graduate who has been employed at Obsidian since 2005, playing key roles on games such as Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer and Fallout: New Vegas. Some people in the industry have described him as a genius, although he's never managed to occupy the spotlight the way George Ziets has, to say nothing of Chris Avellone.

To my knowledge, this is the first real interview with Eric about Pillars of Eternity that's ever been done, and we made sure to make the most of it. It took him over a month, but he managed to answer all of our questions too. All 27 of them! Here's one of them:

Josh Sawyer and Adam Brennecke have tended to downplay the significance of any content that may have been cut from the final version of Pillars of Eternity. Do you feel the same way? Is there any cut content you'd like to tell us about?

I'm not sure what the question is referring to regarding Adam and Josh. We made cuts. Some of the cuts made me sad. But they had to be made or the game wouldn't have gotten done.

Two big ones had a substantial impact on the story, although both happened early-ish in production, so the content was never built. One was that we cut the next-to-last level of the game - or rather compressed it down to a single map, which contained little content. (This is Breith Eaman, the prison.) That cut hurt pacing quite a bit. The end came up very abruptly. I'd have loved to spend more time at least doing some more repairs to that part of the story, but that wasn't possible. The time just wasn’t there, and I think I also underestimated the impact. Ultimately, when you are told you have to cut something in the story, you have to be prepared for that and have some answers. In this case, I was able to stitch everything back together so that at least it all made sense, but I'd have liked to have gone back and seen if there was a better way to solve the problem.

The other one was that we wanted to branch the middle of the plot. Some people have expressed frustration at the player's inability to influence the outcome at the ducal palace. Well, originally, we'd wanted the player to be able to do that. But it meant building two versions of the third act, and that's extremely expensive. That cut made me sad, but there was no practical argument to be made for keeping it. It was a clean cut that saved a ton of time and made our schedule semi-workable. Had to be done. Conceivably we might've allowed the player to save the duc without doing a major branching of the story, but even that would've required more time than we had. The game was delayed as it was, so there really wasn't room to add anything. As a developer at the end of a project, I think it's almost inevitable to find yourself thinking "man, the things I might've done with a couple more weeks." You're Liam Neeson at the end of Schindler's List, wishing you could have done more.​

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire (1997)

Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 22 February 2016, 13:06:26

Tags: An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire; Bethesda Softworks

Last year, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler embarked upon a quest to play through and review the entire Elder Scrolls series. Having finished his reviews of Arena and Daggerfall, Deuce had originally intended to continue right on to Morrowind. However, he was persuaded by our editoress Crooked Bee (who is currently on a top secret mission deep in the heart of Europe) to take a break from the main Elder Scrolls series to give some attention to a favorite of hers, a game called An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire.

Released in 1997, Battlespire was the first of two Elder Scrolls spin-off titles released by Bethesda during their pre-Morrowind hunger years. Largely unsuccessful and nowadays semi-obscure (Bethesda didn't even deign to include it in their Elder Scrolls Anthology boxed set), Battlespire used the Daggerfall engine to create a more traditional first-person action-RPG centered around a single detailed environ - the titular Battlespire. Think of it as the Ultima Underworld to the main series' Ultima.

No big fan of Daggerfall's gameplay even in its original context, Deuce Traveler was understandably not greatly enthused with Battlespire. Still, his review gives it a fair shake. The game's contribution to the Elder Scrolls lore, for example, is singled out for praise:

The Battlespire is a research facility and school that has been overwhelmed by attacking daedra (the demons of the Elder Scrolls setting), who seek to use it a staging point for a greater invasion of Tamriel. The attack comes as your character is visiting the installation, and you soon discover that nearly every Imperial mage and soldier inside has been killed. A friend you intended to visit is still alive and wreaking havoc upon the daedra, while the invaders themselves are split due to political rivalries. Over the course of the game, you discover that Tamriel is not the first world to have been threatened by the daedra, and you even get to visit other worlds that have suffered from such invasions. Your quest is to survive, sabotage the invasion as much as you can, and escape Battlespire (and the various planes of existence that are connected to it) so you can warn the Emperor.

The planes you explore outside of Battlespire help change up the scenery a bit, while adding to your understanding of the threat that Tamriel is under. You meet various characters and find books discussing what it was like before the daedra invaded. One particular plane is filled with lost souls that cannot easily be killed by the weapons you carry, and you must constantly flee them while trying to find clues on how to lay them to rest. Another plane is the home of an insane mage who was one of the few mortals to get one over on the daedric lords, but at a horrible price that laid waste to the surrounding land. I especially liked one level where you're chased by daedric hunting parties, a frightening charade where they acted as hounds while I was the fox. There's a lot of discussion of the plane of Oblivion - it's described as a purgatory of sorts for the daedra when they are defeated. The game hints that they can never be destroyed, only banished to that bizarre plane. This description of Oblivion does not match what we would later see in the Elder Scrolls game of the same name. It sounds much more dangerous and bizarre than that Oblivion, with odd beings that attack even the more powerful daedra trying to escape it.

Battlespire does contribute quite a bit to the lore of the Elder Scrolls series, specifically the lore of the daedra, who probably have their most in-depth representation in this game. They are shown to be highly arrogant, regarding human beings as we would regard animals. One amusing aspect of this is how often they mistake your character for another human survivor, despite age, race and gender differences. The invaders are often more concerned with jockeying for status and avenging ancient slights than they are with their invasion, and so are often willing to negotiate with you if it means you might be able to cause problems for a rival. However, the game does make it clear that the daedra are not to be trusted. Humans who have dealt with them in the past have suffered betrayals, twisted into monstrosities or tortured and killed when their usefulness ended. That adds a sense of danger to your conversations with them, and negotiations will indeed often break down into violence.
But alas, the game also insists on doing things like this:

Battlespire's interface is a very mixed bag. The standard movement and attack functionality works well enough, but everything else is quite the mess. When you access your inventory, some elements of the game pause while others do not. Enemies remain frozen in place, and attacks don't you, but time moves forward in other ways, such as the timer showing how much oxygen you have left if you're underwater. There were times when I was swimming and opened my inventory to look for a potion, only to find my character had drowned in the meantime after exiting it. Buff timers work in the same way - if you apply multiple buffs on yourself, the first one will have a reduced timeline remaining by the time you exit your inventory. Compounding the problem, the inventory screen can be difficult to navigate, although this can be mitigated with foresight. Hilariously, this flawed mechanic can also serve as an exploit, since negative status effects also wind down while you're in your inventory. A few times in the final level of the game, I went into the inventory screen, left my computer to read a page or two in a book, then returned to find that the poisoned status effect I was suffering from had expired, all without losing any health.​

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RPG Codex Review: Undertale

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 1 January 2016, 20:27:50

Tags: UnderTale

Absent an Underrail review, and to celebrate the newly arrived year MMXV-2, we have decided to review Undertale instead -- another great indie RPG and a surprise hit that took Metacritic by storm. Resident Undertale aficionado Bubbles having been occupied with another high-profile project (i-it's not like he wanted to review it anyway!), we asked esteemed community member felipepepe to explain just why Undertale is a brilliant game:

TL;DR: Undertale is a brilliant game, and the less you know about it before going in, the better.​

Still willing to proceed?

And that's because, despite the Earthbound-ish elements, Undertale stands on its own as something entirely unique. Not only due to its design choices, but also to the amazing quality of the game as a whole. From the artwork to the soundtrack, from character design to battle systems, Undertale is easily one - if not THE - most coherent and consistent game I've ever played, where everything exists for a reason and I couldn't imagine it any other way.​

Then do so at your own risk. Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Undertale

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RPG Codex Review: Hard West

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 26 December 2015, 18:39:47

Tags: CreativeForge Games; Hard West

You may have been wondering what exactly we had planned for the prestigious Codex Christmas Review. Wonder no more! Read this (turn-based tactical RPG) Hard West review by esteemed community member Ludo Lense instead.

People around these parts tend to cautiously flock around any title that has hints of being an RPG that isn't medieval fantasy-inspired, with bonus points awarded if it's not sci-fi either. In this case, we have an occult Western-themed tactical game with some RPG elements, that has received plenty of good will in the form of $100,000 of Kickstarter funding and endorsements from the likes of John Romero, Chris Avellone and Brian Fargo. But before Hard West, the Poland-based CreativeForge Games only had a subpar sci-fi strategy game to their name, even if their studio is made up of developers who worked on Call of Juarez and Dead Island. [...]

Hard West takes place in a “Weird West” setting, and those who are familiar with the Deadlands pen-and-paper RPG will spot a lot of similarities. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the project was a Deadlands pitch in its nascent stage. Roaming gunslingers, decrepit frontier towns, devilish cultists and mad scientists all dot this grim but colorful wasteland.

The game is made up of eight scenarios, each one about 2-3 hours long and with its own characters and its own specific goals, such as finding a legendary treasure or taking revenge on a band of murderers. Gameplay can be broken down into two main components - the tactical combat scenarios, which sometimes include a stealth preamble, and CYOA segments that are contextualized via a world map. The game alternates between these two modes, with each scenario containing around 4-6 combat maps.

To be clear, Hard West isn’t X-Com or Jagged Alliance. Each scenario is a self-contained mini-campaign with its own specific characters that form a posse, and they don’t carry over after the last mission, so you start from scratch with every scenario. It also doesn’t have the replayability of those games, something which would be impossible given the structure of its content. The focus of the game is on tactical set pieces, with some random elements when it comes to customization.​

Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Hard West

P.S. Before you ask: TCancer is dead.

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RPG Codex Review: The Age of Decadence

Review - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Mon 7 December 2015, 09:31:44

Tags: Iron Tower Studio; The Age of Decadence

Rejoice my brothers and sisters for in these desperate times darkened by the taint of FO4 the time has come for us to review Irontower Studio's The Age of Decadence. As usual, our review is superior to those of lesser sites like Gamebanshee or RPGWatch, but how neutral-positive will it be? Was that hipster Darth Roxor masochist enough to extract enjoyment out of the game?


Have this excerpt...

If there is one element of AoD that has greatly exceeded my expectations and, in fact, amazed me, it’s definitely the combat. Before playing it, I was absolutely certain that single-character turn-based combat that wouldn’t be very basic, very terrible or very random was unattainable. I figured that AoD’s “brutal, hard and unforgiving” combat system would simply boil down to praying for crits to go your way, similarly to Fallout & Friends. I was so wrong, I don’t even know where to begin.

For starters, it is amazing just how many tools AoD gives you to handle every situation and tip it in your favour. A typical combat encounter has you heavily outnumbered, with the odds usually being 3:1, but sometimes even putting you alone against ten opponents, many of them using all kinds of dirty tricks. Fights often look downright hopeless, but assessing your situation and adapting to it properly will easily take you to victory. There were many moments where I found myself thinking “that’s it, I can’t beat those gits”. But then I’d take a deep breath, analyse what was going on and what I was missing, and come up with the solution. “A-ha! If I switch to a different weapon, throw grenades all around, cripple that dude and smack the hell out of another one in the first two turns, I should hold out till the end since the rest of them are scrubs”. This is exactly what combat in AoD is all about. Analysis, preparation and planning.​

...and then proceed to read the entire piece here.

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RPG Codex Review: ICY

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 30 November 2015, 22:15:23

Tags: Icy; Inner Void Interactive

Post-apocalyptic games seem to be the vogue again as of late, what with everybody on the Codex playing Fallout 4, not to mention (the admittedly less fashionable) Wasteland 2, NEOScavenger, or the all too numerous survival sims. In the midst of this deluge, I bet a lot of you missed out on the indie Italian post-apocalyptic RPG with gamebook elements by the name of ICY -- set, as its name suggests, in a future ice age, which by itself makes for a rather fresh setting.

We are lucky, then, to have esteemed community member Deuce Traveler remind us about and review it.

After a quick tutorial that plays in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure gamebook, you are flung out onto the overhead map of ICY's frozen open world. In-game time progresses as you move around, explore and hunt. These activities use up critical party resources - as time progresses you consume rations, camping requires gas to start the campfire, firing weapons uses up ammunition, and healing your party members requires first aid kits. Without these resources, your party will suffer the detrimental effects you'd expect - with no campfire, your party will suffer from exposure when resting, while running out of food will lead to death by starvation.

Since these resources are critical to your survival, you'll find yourself constantly investigating the various abandoned structures and strange occurrences that you'll come across during your journey, in hopes of finding an extra gallon of gas, or valuable treasure that you can trade. Of course, exploration comes with risks - rickety structures have the potential to collapse, or might be inhabited by monsters. It may also use up items such as ropes, grappling hooks, crowbars, lockpicks, and so on - tools that you'll also want to collect to aid in your scrounging. Because you eat up these resources so quickly, it behooves you to try and map out potential locations to explore along the way to your final destination.

ICY's combat is also reminiscent of gamebook-style conflict resolution. The more party members you have, the greater your overall combat strength. Your party attacks turn-by-turn, hit points and morale fluctuating until all your opponents are dead or have fled. A "Balance" meter in the center of the screen shifts in or out of your party's favor depending on how successful the previous rounds have been for you, offering combat bonuses to the side with the advantage. I recommend investing some points into your Firearms or Bow skill, as enemy combat rounds are often interrupted by the option to take a pot shot at the enemy before he strikes a horrible blow against one of your companions. Once you've won, it's time to do some looting and use your medical kits to patch up injured companions. Each use of a medical kit recovers a number of hit points based on your character's skill level. Your main character's skills are crucial here, since non-player characters cannot use medical kits themselves, nor scrounge or employ any other special skillset. Overall, the game's combat lacks diversity due to its simplistic nature. It doesn't matter if you are facing off against beasts, humans or mutants - the combat unfolds in the same manner and therefore becomes uninteresting and repetitive by the end of the game.

[...] Normally we think of a post-apocalyptic world as more of a desert wasteland due to movies such as Mad Max and games such as Fallout, so playing one set in a frozen tundra is a welcome twist to the survival formula. Also, except for a few missteps, the game's character interactions are realistic enough, with a group of people who are stressed out because of their desperate situation, but find that they have to work together in order to survive the horrors of their world. There is enough fodder here for a larger story, with mutant creatures, forgotten military caches, and rival groups of roving bandits. It's a shame that the game is so short, as I would have liked to explore some of its mysteries further. I do suggest that fans of indie RPGs give ICY a try, especially if they're also fans of gamebooks and survival games. However, it probably won't have much appeal to the wider audience, and gamers who prefer better visual presentation and tactical combat should probably stay away.​

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RPG Codex Review and Digital Retrospective: Blood Bowl 2

Review - posted by Grunker on Wed 18 November 2015, 13:51:06

Tags: Blood Bowl; Blood Bowl 2; Cyanide Studio

RPG Codex has strong ties to Games Workshop's Blood Bowl title, as our users have been competing against each other in digital versions of the game since our first in-house league in 2009, run by Mantiis. The game has since served as the perfect venue for talking smack about and harassing fellow Codexers, and so it was with typical trepidation that we received the news of a sequel to 2009's Blood Bowl being in development.


In many ways, Blood Bowl 2 shares similarities with favourite Codex sequels like Baldur's Gate 2, Fallout 2 or Ultima VII: Serpent Isle in that it reuses so much from its original that it allowed its developers to focus more on content and polish than on developing systems from scratch. Does Blood Bowl 2 manage the same building-upon-solid-content improvements as the other games?

The question is whether Blood Bowl 2 succeeds in this delicate feat of renewal via reproduction. Did Cyanide manage to balance their new engine with the old systems to craft what is essentially a more polished, more playable, more content-rich, digital Blood Bowl game?

In the absence of an adequate ‘hahano’ gif, I have decided to instead provide you with the following review. Blood Bowl 2 is one-third regression, one-third status quo and one-third minor improvements.​

Well, we all knew where this was going. But at least the review also has a great look into Blood Bowl's digital past, which is coloured by Codex-favourite SSI! So there's that.

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RPG Codex Review: Shadowrun: Hong Kong

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 13 October 2015, 16:08:54

Tags: Harebrained Schemes; Shadowrun: Hong Kong

I think many can agree that Harebrained Schemes' first Shadowrun video game, Shadowrun: Returns from 2013, was more or less a disappointment. According to the general audience, HBS improved on the formula with 2014's Shadowrun: Dragonfall, which Codexers even voted the 2nd best 2014 RPG. I guess being able to enjoy Bioware-esque writing without Bioware's anathematized name attached has a certain appeal.

Today, esteemed community member Darth Roxor reviews Dragonfall's 2015 successor, Shadowrun: Hong Kong -- fueled by the same formula but, according to Darth Roxor, with less success this time. Here is but one snippet on why he finds the game lackluster:

As for the combat run, well, across all of this game’s 14 or so missions, there were only two that gave me a modicum of trouble. One was the aforementioned sandwich scenario. The other was an early mission that first puts you against two decently challenging fights that can burn through your medkits and finally makes you face a group of high-level deckers and riggers. Everything else, however, was like shooting fish in a barrel. A particular disappointment here is the mission where you face off Gaichu’s former Red Samurai team. They are supposed to be tactically superior commando supersoldiers, but end up looking like a pathetic band of chumps instead.

The greatest offender here is the AI. I’ve kind of already given up thinking that HBS will ever fix the AI in Shadowrun after DF, but, I swear to God, the enemies in HK are actually even more idiotic than before. I don’t know whether it’s because of the Director’s Cut changes to the engine or for some other reason, but the fact is that the AI is simply considerably more stupid. I’ve seen enemies grenade their own allies. I’ve seen them move out and then back into the same place and end turn. I’ve seen melee dudes run up to my characters point blank and end turn without attacking. I’ve seen them end turn after a single move even when they had no AP debuffs on them. It’s just crazy. After a certain point, you only start wondering what cabaret the AI is going to enact each time combat starts.

It’s just depressing because there are many fights in the game where the enemies SHOULD have the upper hand and SHOULD pose a challenge. Usually, it’s even true for the first turn when they carry out their (probably mildly scripted) alpha strikes. But after that, they just get completely confused and sabotage their own advantageous setups to let you pick them off almost unopposed.​

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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - Expeditions: Viking

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 1 October 2015, 19:40:22

Tags: Expeditions: Viking; Gamescom 2015; Logic Artists

Bubbles' final appointment of this year's Gamescom also makes for the final part of his report series, focusing on Logic Artists' second Expeditions game, Expeditions: Viking. (In case you missed it, we're also hosting the game's forum on the Codex). From the sound of it, Logic Artists want to get across the message that they recognize the first game's faults and are trying to set things right while also not straying too far from the original formula:

Some of the elements of Conquistador did get a bit tedious – like the camping system, at a certain point. We got a lot of player feedback, from the Codex, from Steam, from other forums, and a lot of people wanted to see something a little more interesting and engaging. So we put a lot of thought into how we can make that different, but not too different, because we want to maintain the theme of the Expeditions franchise. We don't want to go too “dynamic”... it's not a touchscreen minigame, right?​

Both Bubbles and the interviewee, Logic Artists' Alex Mintsioulis, were already exhausted after several days of that most terrible thing in the world, a gaming convention. And yet despite that, the interview turned out to be fairly lengthy, covering topics ranging from the game's premise and campaign structure to camping mechanics, character design, and C&C, to the Codex itself (a dose of ego stroking included):

AM: That's one of the things I love about the Codex. People are brutally, brutally honest with each other: “Yes, what you're saying is crap!” I read an interview with Chris Avellone, I think it was at PAX… It was a whole group of developers sitting together, and they were all kind of like “oh, oh, the Codex strikes fear in the hearts of developers.” And I read that and I thought: “That's not the way that I perceive the Codex.” I'm sometimes a very blunt person. I'm very straightforward, and I'll swear, but that doesn't mean that I want to hurt people's feelings – I just want to get my point across. So when I read something with a whole bunch of expletives and there's also a point in there, then I just read the point. Everything else is irrelevant. It doesn't really matter how people are communicating, it's what they're communicating. The whole point of the Codex is that it's a place where people can be themselves, and if they wanna be rude, they're gonna be rude. It's a sort of take-it-or-leave-it environment, and there's no reason to be afraid of that. You know, as game developers, we're a bunch of socially awkward people. And when you live and work amongst a bunch of socially awkward people, then talking to other socially awkward people should be fairly easy for you. And you should be a little bit empathetic and understand where they're coming from. I'm not always the most polite person myself, and that's something that I think should be easily accepted [by devs who read the Codex]. But it's important that everybody should have the same level of appreciation. You shouldn't get dragged into an argument, because that's not the point. It's about bringing up the things that you like and dislike about the game, and then be challenged on them. If you go back and forth based on that, then that's exactly the kind of feedback that game developers should wanna have. If you develop a culture of communication with your players where you only listen to the polite people, then you're not gonna get to the root of any of your problems. I mean, people are rude, but that doesn't mean they're wrong.​

At the end, Bubbles also gives his own thoughts on the game:

To be honest, I've never held a strong opinion on Expeditions: Conquistador either way. The game offered a respectable amount of C&C, but its travel and combat mechanics eventually became too repetitive for my taste; if it hadn't been for its novel and interesting setting, I'd have abandoned the game a lot sooner than I did. By contrast, the setting of Viking seems to be more familiar and predictable; at least for me, it doesn't hold quite as much appeal anymore. Thankfully, Viking's changes to the equipment system and the character development mechanics could potentially make the gameplay more dynamic and interesting than it was in the first game; and if the gameplay is good, what else matters? On the other hand, the super gory kill cams and the animated 3D camp screens are big warning signs for me; all the talk about achieving immersion by means of extreme violence and "showing the world from another perspective" sounds suspiciously like mainstream pandering to me. And then there's the concept of roaming large regions for hours on end without ever camping or advancing the day/night timer, which I really find enormously strange. Let's hope that the Codex gets lots of beta keys, so that we may help Logic Artists to stay on the path of righteousness.​

Finally, regarding what Bubbles may be up to next...

Next up: Nothing, I'm done.​

We should probably give the man a break. This series has been a long, and good, one.

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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - Project Daedalus, Hard West, XCOM 2, The Mandate and Fallout 4

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 22 September 2015, 13:07:55

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; CreativeForge Games; Daedalic Entertainment; Fallout 4; Firaxis Games; Gamescom 2015; Hard West; Perihelion Interactive; The Long Journey Home; The Mandate; XCOM 2

Esteemed community reporter Bubbles saw so much random stuff at this year's Gamescom that even now that more than a month has passed, he still has enough material to continue with our series of reports. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and so this is Bubbles' penultimate report, with just one more part left to go. Savor it while it lasts.

This time, the report begins with Daedalic's Project Daedalus, a surprisingly Star Control-inspired space game with a keyword dialogue system, which, as Bubbles points out, "strongly discourage[s you] from choosing violent solutions."

Project Daedalus is a game with great potential: especially the diplomacy systems could, in theory, provide players with a large variety of complex and dynamic challenges. Unfortunately, it's still completely unclear to me how deep these systems will actually be. If the gameplay just boils down to a series of moon lander minigames, combined with quests along the lines of "find item x to pass through the gate", "ask species y about item x to find out where it's located" and "praise z to make peace", then the game could get boring very quickly. The randomized races are also a red flag for me; much of the charm of the Star Control II races derives from their careful design, which couldn't possibly be emulated by a randomizer that simply throws different traits together. And yet, there are also many positive signs to be found: making a roguelike that has diplomacy instead of combat as its main gameplay element is in itself a laudable choice. Additionally, the introduction of constant ship attrition strikes me as a clever way of implementing complex resource management and maintenance mechanics without having to offer a traditional ship upgrade system; that kind of system simply wouldn't fit the premise of this game. The crew traits also add a welcome measure of mystery to the gameplay: how exactly could an interest in "quirky cats" ever be relevant to space exploration? And finally, the developer's excellent taste in pop culture should also not be completely discounted. Could a game inspired by Star Control 2 and Farscape really be all that bad? (Full disclosure: he also asked for "Firefly fans" at one point, but I would interpret that more as a last ditch attempt at mainstream popularity. Naturally, all the uncultured swine in the room knew Firefly.)​

Next comes Hard West, a squad-based tactics game from Polish developer CreativeForge...

Kacper was the lead designer on Hard West, and he began by laying out the main features of his new game: Hard West was a turn based squad combat game with strategy elements, not entirely dissimilar to the new XCOM. It was set in the "Weird West", a version of the Wild West that was "full of supernatural elements, ghosts, demons, shit like that." The player would lead a squad of up to four characters through eight story-driven scenarios (a better term might be "mini-campaigns", since each scenario contains multiple missions) that all had different plot hooks. As one example, he mentioned an "expedition scenario" that involved leading a group of explorers on a search for the golden city in Latin America. The scenarios would feature a variety of protagonists; the gameplay would be focussed on combat, but it would also offer resource management and a healthy amount of choices&consequences. [...] Hard West is scheduled to be released later this year on PC, Mac, and Linux. Apart from my concerns about balance and atmosphere, the game seems to offer a fun variety of scenarios and an impressive range of interesting combat abilities, which is a rare combination in today's gaming landscape. I'll be keeping a cautious eye on it.​

...followed by another squad-tactical title, the (currently PC-exclusive) XCOM 2. I'll quote the important part.

The 2k lounge was busy and ostentatious. The walls were littered with framed soccer and basketball jerseys; the spaces in between were filled by large flat screen TVs that covered various sports and racing events. The bar was offering several varieties of coffee, most of them sold out. Almost all of the people in the booth seemed to be developer and publisher staff; they chatted loudly about the challenges of child rearing, the weather in Ireland, and the stress of having a long commute. Finally, I made my way towards the presentation booths. There were about two dozen booths, all of them managed by three receptionists whose job was to stand in a long corridor all day while holding a clipboard to check off the names of the booth visitors. You may wonder why these poor people were not allowed to take a seat at some point: perhaps it is enough of an answer to tell you that they were all tall, slim women in their early 20s, wearing extraordinarily tight red dresses. When I approached the woman in charge of the X-COM 2 presentation, she was in the process of giving a series of increasingly tight hugs to a grinning booth visitor while giggling girlishly and screaming "He's my husband! Naah, just kidding!" "That guy must be from IGN," I thought.

[...] This was easily the biggest waste of time of my Gamescom experience.​

Or was it? In this year Gamescom's perhaps most unexpected turn of events, Bubbles got to attend a press presentation of the Codex's most anticipated RPG of all (recent) time, Bethesda's Fallout 4. When arranging this presentation, I was curious to find out if we were still on Bethesda's blacklist; apparently not anymore. (Fallout 4 review by Vault Dweller, anyone?)

When Crooked Bee had finally managed to secure this booking for me, she gave me two tasks: to take as many pictures as possible, and to steal a Fallout 4 branded cup. I accomplished both of these tasks, and very little else.

[...] If there's a lesson to be learned here, it might go something like this: don't waste your time with bad games from bad companies. Zenimax didn't need to offer us interviews or in-person presentations. All it took were a guard, a cinema, and some t-shirts to make Fallout 4 the most well-attended and most well-received presentation of my Gamescom visit. This game was a commercial success from the moment it was announced; the question of quality never even figured into it.​

And finally, since Bubbles didn't want to end the report on the Fallout 4 note, he has some words to say about the indie space RPG The Mandate, complete with a mini-interview and a Eurogamer cameo:

The devs smiled and said that they had this well under control and were well funded. As they were speaking, I noticed a sudden movement from my right: my Eurogamer colleague had stopped packing and was now leaning forward in his seat, staring straight at the developers with a strange, hungry look in his eyes. He interrupted their answer: "You know, I'm not impressed by what I've seen here today. I've seen failure many times, and this looks like failure to me." Mr. Eurogamer went on to explain that he considered the scope of the gameplay to be vastly unrealistic; a game like this had "never been achieved before", and the devs had not convinced him that they could achieve it. The Mandate was "at least three games in one." (By the way: one of the presentation slides had also mentioned planetary exploration and away missions, although the devs had not been eager to talk about those aspects of the gameplay.)

Our interview partners did not seem prepared for this change in atmosphere; they were dead silent for a while, just listening to my colleague tearing them to shreds. If the Codex had made a remark like this, they could have just shrugged it off, but this was Eurogamer – they could not ignore him.

[...] I couldn't quite tell you if the Mandate devs are scam artists, if they are delusional, or if they're merely suffering from some truly incredibly bad luck; either way, there seems to be something deeply wrong with this project, and I'm very excited to see what's going to happen next.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - Project Daedalus, Hard West, XCOM 2, The Mandate and Fallout 4

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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - SpellForce 3, ELEX, D:OS EE, The Guild 3, Daedalic and more

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Thu 10 September 2015, 20:18:24

Tags: AER; Amplitude Studios; Anuman Interactive; Artefacts Studio; Bounty Train; Chaos Chronicles; Corbie Games; Daedalic Entertainment; Demons Age; Divinity: Original Sin; ELEX; Endless Space 2; Forgotten Key; Funatics Software; Gamescom 2015; GolemLabs; Grimlore Games; Larian Studios; Mandragora; Microids; Pendulo Studios; Peter Ohlmann; Piranha Bytes; Silence: The Whispered World 2; Skyhill; Spellforce 3; Swen Vincke; Syberia 3; The ABC Murders; The Dungeon Of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet Of Chaos; The Guild 3; THQ Nordic; Valhalla Hills; Yesterday Origins

The lion's share of the latest chapter of Bubbles' celebrated Gamescom chronicle is dedicated to Grimlore Games' SpellForce 3, the latest installment in the semi-obscure German RTS/RPG series, and an interview with its technical director, Codexer and former Chaos Chronicles lead Peter "Hobgoblin42" Ohlmann. Indeed, at one point it was supposed to be its own article. However, Bubbles decided that he had enough room left (and also that he wanted to get this shit over with already) and so he plumbed the depths of his Gamescom experience to give you, dear reader, our most extensive Gamescom writeup yet.

And I do mean "plumbed the depths". Starting from decent games such as Larian Studios' Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition and Amplitude Studios' Endless Space 2, Bubbles worked his way through Piranha Bytes' ELEX, GolemLabs' The Guild 3, all the way down into the piles of shovelware from publishers Anuman Interactive and Daedalic Entertainment. But it's within Daedalic itself that he discovered the true heart of darkness, in a game called Silence: The Whispered World 2, sequel to 2009's The Whispered World. I quote:

“You know this from the cinema.”

“There's no inventory; we want to make something simpler this time.”

“There will be puzzles, but they will be easy and streamlined.”

“It's trial without error; you can't do anything 'wrong'.”

“Experience the story!”

“Not everybody will like this.”

Silence is the sequel of The Whispered World, a charming little point and click adventure from a time when Daedalic were still capable of producing good and complex games on a small budget. And they didn't just make good games then, they also made them quickly: Chains of Satinav, a fine, well-crafted game with an impeccable sense of atmosphere, was released in June 2012, and its sequel Memoria came out just 14 months later in August 2013. Memoria had good gameplay and a great story; it's one of my favourite adventure games of all time. As recently as 2013, Daedalic seemed to be doing everything right. And then, they changed. It's hard to shake the feeling that something horrible and traumatic must have happened to these people, warping their company philosophy into something unrecognisable. Is this what going mainstream looks like? Daedalic is certainly not suffering from a lack of funding: Uli proudly declared that Silence was the developer's “biggest project to date”, having already spent four years in development and needing at least another half year to come out just right. For comparison: Broken Age took roughly three years to develop. Book of Unwritten Tales 2 took two and a half years and was 20 hours long. Four and a half years is an utterly absurd amount of development time for an adventure game from a large studio, especially from one that used to pride itself on quickly and cheaply producing very good games just two short years ago.

Where have all the money and effort gone? Into “the most beautiful trailer we've ever made at Daedalic... at least so far!” And into the in-game graphics, of course. Uli was not shy to point out how stunningly gorgeous the game was in every aspect of its existence: it was “on a whole different level of quality from [their] previous games, really detailed,” with “fantastic looking” 3D backgrounds (more precisely, projection mapped 2D images) “offering the perfect scenery to capture the characters and their emotions” by means of “emotional close-ups,” “fast cuts,” and “unique hand crafted animations,” with “seamless transitions between cutscenes and in-game scenes.” Of course the story will also be “so, so complex”, but this complexity is only made possible because the game just looks so damn gorgeous. With these brain meltingly beautiful graphics, Daedalic can emotionally engage the player on a whole new level, and truly immerse them in the action. All distracting and disruptive elements – otherwise referred to as "gameplay" – have been filed down to a minimum.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - SpellForce 3, ELEX, D:OS EE, The Guild 3, Daedalic, and more

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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - The Dwarves, Daniel Vavra, inXile, Sword Coast Legends and HoMM 7

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 1 September 2015, 20:27:25

Tags: Dan Vávra; Gamescom 2015; Heroes of Might and Magic 7; inXile Entertainment; KING Art Games; Kingdom Come: Deliverance; Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X; n-Space; Sword Coast Legends; The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep; The Dwarves; Thomas Beekers; Torment: Tides of Numenera; Ubisoft; Warhorse Studios; Wasteland 2

Temporarily distracted by his fancy visit to Larian Studios, esteemed community reporter Bubbles returns to Gamescom 2015 coverage with a whopping 14,000-something word report on a bunch of (mostly) RPGs at once. Again, he's joined by the intrepid JarlFrank, who this time even ventures on his own for a bit.

Coming first in the report is The Dwarves, which just launched its Kickstarter today, developed by King Art aka the makers of the Book of Unwritten Tales and Battle Worlds: Kronos. It's physics-based, it's story-focused, it promises "epic real-time battles," and our dedicated thread in General RPG Discussion calls it "a horde combat action RPG." In the interview, The Banner Saga comparisons abound. Sounds like it should be right up the Codex's alley.

Bubbles: So you'll present a lot of the game through text?

KA: Yeah, you'll see more examples of that later. Since we're also an adventure developer, we really find this pretty cool, and we know how to deal with a lot of text. If you only care about the RPG, you may go through this much faster than an adventure gamer who cares about exploring the locations and clicks on everything. Content wise, this is a 50-50 split [between text-based "exploration" and combat], but we want to let players adjust that relation according to their preferences. Exploration players can just try to get through the combat ASAP and focus on the stuff that interests them more; for combat players we plan on offering a few interesting options for replaying battles.

[...] If you're from the RPG faction, I'm sure you'll be interested in this [very sweet and considerate guy, this one]: we don't roll dice when you make an attack, it's all physics based. If I swing my hammer, we check what the head bone – eh, the bone in my skeleton where the hammer head is – is doing, it's moving through the scene, and there you see shockwaves which level off based on the calculations of the simulation [technical bullocks imho] – and then something happens! Bodies move into bodies, into some sort of obstacles, and I calculate the force of these movements. If they're forceful enough, you'll be damaged, and if the forces are deadly, things fall over and die, and sometimes they just fall over and stand up again. Of course this is a model, not a realistic simulation, but it helps us avoid the typical problems you get when you're only faking this kind of stuff; pathfinding issues, models stuck in the scenery, that sort of thing.​

After that, it's our second reporter JarlFrank's turn to shine, as he interviews none other than Daniel Vávra​, a man who will change his life forever.

When I entered, Vávra was talking to some guys in Czech. I waited for a minute before I introduced myself as "Frank, the guy from the Codex", and Vávra responded with a grin: "Ah, yeah, you have an appointment. You're the guys who hate everything, right?"

Right. Vávra knew who I was, and he was pretty chill about it, and it stayed like that for the duration of the interview. And, frankly, his attitude was rather Codexian. He participated in Codex discussions about his game and he knows what our tastes are, but he never tried to shape his answers to fit our tastes. He has his own vision of what he wants the game to be, and he never tried to use any PR-speak. He was just plain honest with me, and that's something we see too little in developers. Now, that doesn't mean all his answers were the absolute truth and everything he promised will be in the game just the way he promised it. He just had an attitude of "This is the game I make, and maybe you guys don't like some of my decisions, but then that just means it's not your type of game" rather than trying to play the "EVERYONE will like it, promise!" angle.​

In the meantime, Bubbles was interviewing an inXile PR guy called Brother None. Incidentally, Brother None was the only person we interviewed at Gamescom (screw that, the only person we've interviewed ever) who asked us to run the interview by him before we publish it. Naturally, brows were raised.

Brother None, a consummate PR man at heart, chose this precise moment to make his entrance. We greeted each other cordially with the secret Codex handshake, then I immediately started complaining about how horrible the console controls were. My dear friend asserted that they were really quite good, that they would grow on me, and that inXile was very happy with what they had achieved. However, he also conceded that the controller might possibly not represent the absolutely perfect interface for literally every theoretically existant gamer in all the known and unknown reaches of the world. Brother None later sent us the following quote to characterize his stance: "as a PC gamer, I couldn't honestly say I wouldn't still prefer the PC controls myself."

[The draft version of the previous section read: "that they would grow on me, that inXile was very happy with what they had achieved, but also – crucially – that he couldn't honestly say that the console controls were as good as the PC controls. That's what a Codex Connection gets you: a little bit of straight talk to go with all the hair raising lies." Brother None objected to this representation of his words and supplied us with the above quote to use in its stead.]​

The upcoming totally faithful, I swear, computer adaptation of playing and DMing 5th ed. D&D in P&P Sword Coast Legends is also something Bubbles saw presented during the Gamescom. Naturally, he didn't miss his chance to have some fun, despite the rather fearsome, no-fun-allowed circumstances.

Our gracious hosts positioned themselves in the middle of the room, gave us a hearty welcome, and announced that we had a special guest: n-Space's CEO Dan O'Leary himself had taken the time to observe our presentation! In response, we heard a grunt coming from the entrance door. O'Leary was a large man with a big bushy beard, and he was in a foul mood. The man's breathing was slow and laboured, and his belt was at least two sizes too tight. His beard was an unkempt mess of brown and grey, with a few dark red strands twirling around his mouth. I studied his savage features; his gaze met mine. In that instant, I knew that Dan O'Leary hated me, that he hated Jarl (that part didn't shock me so much), that he hated the Codex, and that he knew about everything that we had done and all that we were about to do.

[...] Currently, the DM seat was occupied by a female journo, who had grown more and more worried as the presentation had progressed. Now, she was sweating bullets. “I… don't think I can do this.” she muttered. Worried, the presenters asked for a volunteer to take her seat. I had done my fair share of DMing back in the late 90s (using the vastly superior Dark Eye system), but normally I wasn't eager to waste my time trying to improvise a session for a bunch of Dorito munching nobodies. Now, however, I had a possibly very dangerous man hovering behind my back whom I was quite eager to get away from. I raised my hand and said “I'll be DM!” The poor woman sighed in misguided relief and switched seats with me.

What followed now was genuinely the most exhilarating half hour of my time at Gamescom. With the two presenters standing by my side, I embarked on a journey of on-the-fly dungeon redesign (mind you, the room layout itself is still not changeable by the player), laying down traps, hiding doors behind fake walls, promoting trash mobs to elite monsters in the middle of battle, and generally having a hell of a time. [...] After the run was over, the presenters were all smiles and praise for my exceptional DM performance, and slipped me their business cards the same way a middle-aged banker would slip his room number to a high class escort at the Sheraton bar. Even O'Leary appeared to be vaguely pleased with the goings on, his beard seeming more vibrant and less spiky than just minutes before. His power over me had vanished completely. Of course, I was not in the least bit swayed by all the adulation: I already had over four thousand brofists on the Codex, and I knew my worth very well.​

(JarlFrank too had his impressions of SCL, separate from Bubbles, also found in this report.)

Finally -- last but not least -- Bubbles and JarlFrank had a Heroes of Might and Magic 7 presentation with Ubisoft/Limbic folks to attend. Knowing how anticipated Heroes of Might and Magic 7 is on the Codex, and given how exclusive this presentation was, I will leave you to read this part in its entirety without luring you in with bastardized snippets.

Except, perhaps, this one:

I feel a great privilege to be writing these words, knowing that our HoMM 7 interview is not only one of our most anticipated reports in history, but also a fully Codex-exclusive piece of journalism. Mind you, it hadn't actually been planned to be Codex-exclusive in any way; that was just how it shook out in the end. Our appointment was scheduled for 6 PM on Wednesday as part of a large public developer Q&A in the Uplay Lounge; we had contacted Ubisoft in advance to make sure that we could still get a seat. Early in the day, we had visited the hands-on stands for Ubisoft's two biggest strategy games, and we had noticed something odd: while HoMM 7 had a measly four rather bored looking people waiting in line (including myself and Jarl), the neighbouring Anno 2205 booths had attracted at least 50 eager fans.​

It also has the latest official word on Might and Magic X's sale numbers, so be sure to read it in full!

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015: The Dwarves, Daniel Vavra, inXile, Sword Coast Legends and HoMM 7

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