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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.​

Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: ICY

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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.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Shadowrun: Hong Kong

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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.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - Expeditions: Viking

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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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RPG Codex Report: Divinity: Original Sin 2, or, A Visit to Larian Studios

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 26 August 2015, 15:03:15

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios; Sarah Baylus; Swen Vincke

You may have been wondering why Part 2 of our Gamescom report has been delayed for so long. That is because, in the meantime, we sent sold esteemed community member and our Gamescom reporter Bubbles off to Larian Studios for a closed, all expenses paid hands-on presentation and interview for Divinity: Original Sin 2, where he mingled with Real Game Journalists from European websites like Eurogamer. (All thanks to Bubbles' charming personality having won Swen over at Gamescom, of course.) Now that the D:OS 2 Kickstarter campaign has gone live and the preview embargo has been lifted, you can read all the juicy details Bubbles managed to collect.

These include, but are not limited to, what it's like being bribed by a games developer, what Swen thinks of the Codex, as well as a shocking Roguey-related scoop. Also, an interview with the writing team, including the person who wrote the Codex-Watch questline in D:OS.

A few weeks ago, Larian's PR department sent out a call to European gaming journalists: “come to Ghent on the 20th of August and see Original Sin 2 in action for the first time!” Or at least that's how I imagine it went for the other invitees. For me, contacting Larian involved cornering Swen Vincke in a darkened Gamescom doorway while he was under massive time pressure, and pestering him with convoluted questions until he asked me for a Codex staff contact to organize “an event in two weeks.” Swen first suggested contacting “the man in Australia”, but I already anticipated that Dark Underlord would be too busy with his numerous law suits (and possible jail time) to take care of such petty things. Instead, I suggested that Swen talk to Crooked Bee, who then promptly handed the entire matter off to me. Thus, I was off to the magical metropolis of Ghent on an all-expenses-paid three day trip, from the 19th to the 21th of August. Indeed, I will forever remember Ghent for its abundance of highly aromatic public pissoirs, a startling lack of traffic lights, and the tens of thousands of dead eyed tourists staggering through its crumbling streets. To be fair, the city also had lots of very nice restaurants, where I thankfully got to fill my tummy free of charge. Speaking of which…

Hey Bubbles, what's it like being bribed by a game developer?

Feels pretty good, I'd say. Of course, free transport and accommodation are perfectly normal when you've been invited to a press event, so it was quite sensible that Larian should cover these costs. In my case, they amounted to €228 for first class train tickets and €248 for two nights in a lower-middle-class hotel, plus the cost of a couple of taxi rides. Then, there was the cost of the free food and drink I received on Thursday. However, Larian had to accommodate a dozen journalists as well as a respectable amount of their own staff at these outings, so they couldn't afford to offer quite as top-tier a menu as one might have expected for such an occasion. Between a two-hour lunch, a four-hour dinner, and a four-and-a-half-hour pub crawl, I estimate that I did not consume more than 160 Euros in solid and liquid merchandise, which is really an utterly small amount for the circles that I was moving in. Still, I eventually became aware of the fact that my enthusiastic approach to fine dining was, to a certain degree, open to misinterpretation. My precise moment of epiphany came around 11 PM, when Swen, fresh off his fifth refill of a 2010 Château de Lussac (a pleasant, but rather ordinary vintage), whipped out his cellphone, snarked “Looks like the Codex got corrupted!” and photographed me while I was munching on a delicious cherry-ginger chocolate ice cream cake confection. I mention this incident here both to head off the inevitable tweeted exposé of my indulgence, and to forcefully assure the good Codex community – my friends, my comrades, one and all – that I maintained a clear and critical eye throughout my entire visit at the studio. In fact, I bring you many exclusive scoops, one of them Roguey-related, directly from Swen's mouth. You don't believe me? Then read on, brave readers, and soothe your troubled minds with some twelve thousand words of undiluted, fully objective information.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Divinity: Original Sin II, or, A Visit to Larian Studios

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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015 - The Technomancer, The White March and Kingdom Come

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Tue 18 August 2015, 14:04:49

Tags: Adam Brennecke; Gamescom 2015; Josh Sawyer; Kingdom Come: Deliverance; Obsidian Entertainment; Paradox Interactive; Pillars of Eternity; Pillars of Eternity: The White March; Spiders; The Technomancer; Warhorse Studios

Attending the Gamescom trade fair in Cologne, Germany has become an annual tradition on the RPG Codex. In 2013, our representatives were staff members Grunker and JarlFrank, whose all-expenses-paid invitation by Ubisoft kicked off the tradition. Last year it was Darth Roxor, who accurately predicted his own reception of Pillars of Eternity, but not so much for Blackguards 2. This year, the honor has fallen to elite collaborator Bubbles, who has come a long way since his early days as a fake Realms of Arkania HD fanboy, joined once again by lovable administrator JarlFrank.

With a full complement of German efficiency this time around, this year's Gamescom coverage has turned out to be our most extensive yet. As such, our report will be divided into several parts. In the first part, Bubbles and JarlFrank share their impressions of The Technomancer, the latest offering from the curiously omnipresent French console RPG house Spiders, Pillars of Eternity: The White March - Part 1, Obsidian Entertainment's soon-to-be-released expansion pack for the Codex's top-reviewed game, and Kingdom Come: Deliverance, the authentic medieval RPG and contemporary culture war totem from Daniel Vavra's Warhorse Studios. Have a snippet:

Paradox had no presence in the business area of the fair, instead electing to hold all their meetings in the public area. I had assumed that the highly exclusive "trade visitor only day" would let us take a sedate stroll through clean, bright halls full of business people in smart suits, just like the organizers had promoted it on the website. Unfortunately, I had overlooked a crucial piece of information, buried in the fine print: "The organizers may grant special access to select members of the public." As soon as we stepped past the fortified barricades of the trade area, we ran into a yelping teenage boy who was jumping up and down with a "Free Fucks - Gay 4 Pay" sign in his hands. The halls were throbbing with select members of the cosplaying public, who shared with us their deep appreciation of Final Fantasy XII, Mad Max: The Game, and the brave resistance fighters from Homefront. More than a hundred people were standing in line at the Fallout 4 cinema to see the latest trailer and take a picture with PipBoy. I did not understand any of the things I was seeing, but I knew that I hated it all.

I could barely talk to JarlFrank through the din. I looked at the publisher's instructions again: "Paradox Interactive will be in Hall 9.1, at Booth A053. The actual demos will be given in private booths located at the end of the hall, following the aisle from our booth, outside the hall facing the hotel Dorint An der Messe Koln. " We flittered through hall 9.1 like carrier pigeons flying over a giant magnet, bouncing from wall to wall and looking out the exits in a futile attempt to figure out which side of a windowless hall was facing the hotel Dorint. Finally we turned around and asked one of the nameless interns at the Paradox booth, who told us to take the southwest exit and turn straight left. They might have just written that in the invitation to begin with. We staggered to the exit, half deaf and mentally scarred.

The Paradox booths were housed in a large white block made of sheet metal sitting on stilts above the convention grounds, so that all visitors might bask in its majesty. Unfortunately, that also meant stepping outside into the blazing sun, which our delicate German temperaments could not withstand for long. We resolved to flee to safety as soon as humanly possible. The greeters at the entance were busy with another pair of visitors, so we swiftly snuck in behind their backs and climbed up the great set of stairs to the top. Up there, we were immediately caught by a bunch of guys sitting in a cramped room resembling a cargo container, who questioned us on our credentials. Thankfully, they were just PR people, so we verbally identified ourselves as serious journalists and were promptly presented with cooled bottles of water. Now we had to wait for "the Pillars of Eternity guys", who were "just coming from dinner".

We still didn't know who exactly we were meeting, so it was pointless to speculate about the wonders that might await us. Instead we struck up a conversation with another attendee, a sweet guy from Munich whose company made children's games. He had a personal interest in Hearts of Iron 4, and had decided to come visit the devs in his spare time. He also, inexcplicably, thought that we were Dutch. He seemed an innocent man with an untarnished soul, but we eventually got to talking about hardcore turn based games, the word "grognards" was mentioned, and before he knew it, we'd exchanged business cards (ours was just a handwritten scribble of our front page address - maybe we should do a community contest for a proper Codex Calling Card). In retrospect, I feel rather bad about sending any mentally stable person to the Codex front page, so I want to mention his company (Studio 100 Media) here to give him some exposure in recompense. He would ultimately prove to be the most interesting person we'd meet during our stay at Paradox.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2015, Part One - The Technomancer, The White March and Kingdom Come

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RPG Codex Top 74 PC RPGs of All Time: Boxed Edition

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 3 August 2015, 19:51:56

Surely, you all know esteemed community member mindx2. And not just as our intrepid PAX East reporter or a quality poster on our forums, but most importantly, as an RPG connoisseur who knows a good box when he sees it.

In light of that, it shouldn't come as a surprise that our definitive Top 72 PC RPG list from last year caught his attention and made him want to fill it with boxes. Here is the result.

Early last year, the esteemed Brazilian Codexer felipepepe took on the monumental task of compiling the RPG Codex’s Top 50 RPGs of all time. That in and of itself was quite the challenge, considering people were voting for games made over a thirty year long span. After the flamewars discussions finally died down, the result was a Top 72 RPGs Of All Time list. As I looked through this admittedly well rounded list, nostalgia began to take over.

[...] Since so many of these promises for a return to “old-school” boxes were turning out to be empty, I decided to return to the true old-school games of the past. As a collector of computer games, I already owned many of the Codex’s Top 72 RPGs, so I decided to track down the ones I was missing and create a photographic archive of each one's box. In the process, I realized that in this digital distribution age, we've lost a piece of what made PC gaming great. Those old boxes did a lot to enhance our enjoyment and dare I say “immersion” in those game worlds that we spent so many hours exploring.

I have tried to collect only IBM-PC versions released in the US, as well any Collector’s or Special Editions which were produced for each game when possible. For each game, I've photographed its box's front and back cover artwork and original contents, as well as any clue books/strategy guides, tie-in novels, pre-orders, etc, that were also an important part of the overall experience. I hope you enjoy this trip down nostalgia lane as much as I did while documenting it. In the process, maybe you’ll also see that we have lost a little something along the way.

Readers, I present to you a visual record of the RPG Codex’s Top 74 RPGs of all Time “Boxed Edition” (it’s 74 rather than 72 since I had to include Blade of Destiny and Chaos Strikes Back in honor of Crooked Bee!). I’ve included some general notes and observations about many of the games as well.​

Warning: This article is extremely image-heavy.

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AdventureDex Review: The Magic Circle, an RPG without the "RPG" - or, On Games and "Notgames"

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 27 July 2015, 14:47:14

Tags: Question Games; The Magic Circle

Looking Glass Studios was a unique game development wonder that went out too quickly. Instead of pursuing Doug Church's and Randy Smith's ambition of giving the player enough freedom and tools to "co-author" the game, the industry has taken a turn towards severely controlled (and controlling) AAA design, on one hand, and in an important sense no less restricted "notgames" or "walking simulators," on the other.

Made by a trio of ex-Ion Storm, Irrational Games and Arkane developers, The Magic Circle is a meta-game about the the past, present, and future of this thing called video games, which makes fun of those and other industry trends while digging deeply, but also humorously, into the tensions of the game development process and calling for a return to Looking Glass design principles.

That is what makes The Magic Circle's commentary on the industry so interesting, but also ultimately so old-fashioned and so, dare I say, aligned in an important way with RPG Codex's sensibilities. It is coming from a very specific design perspective, best encapsulated by terms like "player freedom" and "emergent" (or tool-based) gameplay. Putting you inside a Looking Glass Style-style first-person RPG with unfinished "RP" and "G" parts, The Magic Circle has you play the video game development equivalent of Wizardry IV's Werdna, half-forgotten, half-reviled, stripped of his powers, having his revenge on the "do-gooder" developers themselves and constructing his army of minions with in-game tools he discovers along the way.

I think the issues that The Magic Circle raises are generally important, and so this review, too, is "meta" in that it doubles as an essay on games and "notgames." I want to explain not only what The Magic Circle is like as a game, what it is trying to tell and do, and where it succeeds or fails, but also what "notgames" are and why, pretending to be a deconstruction of what makes a video game, they must be deconstructed themselves in order to go from notgames back (or rather, forward) to games -- a sensibility that, I believe, The Magic Circle exemplifies.

Have a snippet:

Notgames like Tale of Tales’ titles, Dear Esther, Journey, Kentucky Route Zero or Gone Home, also known derisively as “walking simulators,” attempt to subvert the expectations of what a video game is. To that end, they usually focus on the narrative, the atmosphere, and the player’s feelings in contrast to (the traditionally conceived notion of) player agency, exposing the latter’s limits as they have been internalized by the industry. Notgames are literally de-constructive, as they disassemble gameplay down to its basic components like walking around and triggering narrative or evocative events. For the most part, they present themselves as empathic experiences that purposefully avoid challenging the player, except emotionally. No matter how hard Adrian Chmielarz, the developer behind The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, criticizes Tale of Tales’ latest output, Sunset, his game is itself prefaced by “This is a narrative experience” – and indeed, has no gameplay “obstacles” to speak of. As such, it is perfectly in spirit of Michaël Samyn’s manifesto.

Now, deconstruction can be important to lay bare what makes a game. However – and here you can see that The Magic Circle has followed these developments closely – what if we start from that zero point and have the player re-construct gameplay instead? Given that notgames eschew challenge, this zero point can also incorporate the flip side of the same industry, AAA player convenience (quest markers, linearity, conveniently placed collectibles). In fact, I believe the term “notgame” can easily be extended to include the AAA side, too, as well as something like Telltale’s “experiences”. However, now that the industry has gone from games to notgames, what if we go in the opposite direction? After all, even if some or even most players are content with being stripped of their free will, what if there is one player who is not?

In asking these questions, and following them through in its gameplay, The Magic Circle breaks with the notgame design – and calls for a return to Looking Glass sensibilities. At first glance, the two have a common goal: doing away with things getting in the way of the player’s immersion. However, they approach it in conflicting ways. Gone Home’s developers may have been influenced by LGS, but The Magic Circle is at its polemical best in showing that notgames and Looking Glass-style games proceed in opposite directions. “Environmental storytelling” is by itself not enough. Notgames choose to outright ignore gameplay instead of reassessing the ways player freedom can be brought about or enabling interactive tool-focused design. By emphasizing obstacle-based exploration and emergent gameplay, The Magic Circle sides with games against notgames, even as it starts from the latter as its point of reference.

The Magic Circle is, in other words, a de-construction of a notgame and a re-construction of a game. At the same time, it is also aware of game development’s limits. A game with infinite player freedom may be impossible due to technical, financial, and time constraints, while a non-game stripped of the more complex forms of active agency is unsatisfactory – not to the developer maybe, but certainly to you, the odd player. Not coincidentally, it is precisely from a notgame that Old Pro sets you free – and it is another notgame that you disrupt under the guise of the E4 demo.​

Read the full review: AdventureDex Review: The Magic Circle, an RPG without the "RPG" - or, On Games and "Notgames"

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996)

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 22 July 2015, 16:48:32

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

After reviewing Arena, the Elder Scrolls game that started it all, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler now moves on to the 1996 The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall. Daggerfall is famous, or infamous, for both its scope and its sprawling randomized dungeons, which I dearly loved, but how does it fare today?

Deuce Traveler has all the answers.

Ah, Daggerfall. Both stunning in its depth and a hot mess when it comes to its glaring bugs. It's a game which doesn’t deserve the hype lavished on it by its nostalgic fans, despite being groundbreaking for its time. I spent months playing it, and my feelings continually wavered between frustration and amazement. I found Arena to be more fun, but Daggerfall to be better structured. I found Morrowind to be more immersive, but Daggerfall’s main plot to be more interesting. There is one thing that most of us can agree upon, though - it’s a better game than Oblivion.

[...] No review of Daggerfall is truly complete without mentioning the massive amount of pixelated boobs that this game provides. And no, I’m not talking about fools. I’m talking tits, jugs, gazongas, hooters, knockers, fun bags, bazoombas, cha-chas, num-nums, cantaloupes, flapdoodles, mounds, torpedoes, rack, neeners, soombas, mammaries and milk bombs. They are simply everywhere, although they do change from location to location. If you're a religious type, the finest examples can be found in temples dedicated to Kynareth, goddess of air, and Dibella, goddess of love (and there are also barechested men in Dibella’s temples for all the female gamers out there). The sophisticated aficionado can also find a varied assortment of bare sweater puppies in personal chambers inside castles, at some mage guilds, on monsters in dungeons and among the daedra princesses. Unfortunately, we would have to wait until The Witcher to get in-game collectible cards, but there’s always CTRL-F5 in DOSBox. I used to think that some of those Oblivion mods went a bit over the top, but after playing Daggerfall, it's tempting to view them as a return to form.

[...] I will admit that some of the side quests are complex in clever ways. One quest that stood out for me was a Knights of the Dragon quest where I was asked to help a witch hiding in the depths of a dungeon. Upon finding her, she tasked me with locating and delivering a young girl to her to so that she could become the witch's apprentice. I took up the quest, but when I approached the girl she screamed for help and I found myself in a running battle with the nearby guards who followed me all the way to the dungeon. After delivering the girl, I still had to fight my way out of the dungeon, I took a reputation hit with the local people, and the next time I talked to a random child I was told off by the little tyke. All this was quite clever, but also a bit messed up. The leadership of the Knights of the Dragon distrusts magic-users, so why this was one of their faction quests is still a mystery to me. Once I realized I was kidnapping the girl, I could have turned her over to the authorities and asked for forgiveness, but that would have resulted in a loss of reputation points with the knighthood for the failed quest, instead of being rewarded for making the more moral, citizen-friendly decision. Also, the witch was near an underwater cavern, so to get to her I had to swim through a crowd of soldiers who were standing in place waiting for me on the pool floor without drowning. Have I mentioned that the citizens of Daggerfall's cities can walk on water? In summary, the copy-and-paste nature of Daggerfall's side quests and dungeons leads to an endless stream of glitches and nonsensical moments that emphasizes the game's design flaws, harming immersion more than it helps it.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall (1996)

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TC Retrospective: X-COM: Apocalypse

Codex Review - posted by Whisky on Sat 18 July 2015, 17:42:03

Tags: MicroProse; Mythos Games; X-COM: Apocalypse

Local Strategy Game expert and veteran potato farmer Darth Roxor has taken it upon himself to do a retrospective of the ever-controversial X-COM Apocalypse. But was it really as bad as people make it out to be? Let's see what he has to say.

Welcome to Mega-Primus. It’s a silly place.​

Hey! Do you know X-COM Apocalypse? Of course you do. It’s that bad rtwp game that killed the X-COM series and gave way to horrible games like Enforcer and Interceptor.

But a much more important question that I would like to ask you today is whether you have actually played Apocalypse. I suspect the most common answer to this will be “no”. I can’t say I blame you. After all, it took me over 15 years to gather the courage to do it myself. I was put off by so many things that I’d heard about it – that it was buggy, unstable, unfinished, nigh-impossible to run, outright bad, etc. For a longer while, I was even certain that it only featured rtwp combat, even though the turn-based mode is still there. But what I found suspicious was just how vague all of that sounded - it felt like Apocalypse was branded as a terrible game simply because it crashed a lot. So after figuring I might as well finally take the plunge, I picked it up at Gaben’s trinket shop (“hey, if it’s on Steam, that should mean it’s playable now!”) and once again took command of X-COM to stop the gosh darn aliens from stealing my freedoms. And I ended up glued to my computer for a whole month.

Read the full article: TC Retrospective: X-COM: Apocalypse

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RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity, by PrimeJunta

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 15 July 2015, 01:10:56

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

Fourth time's the charm, right?

Unlike most games these days, difficulty levels up to Hard don’t change the rules or the enemy stats in any way. Instead, you get tougher variants of enemies in bigger groups — adra beetles in addition to stone and wood beetles, shadows upgraded to shades, shades to phantoms, guls to darguls, darguls to fampyrs, and so on. Only the hardest level, billed as a special challenge for the truly hardcore, adjusts the numbers.

That’s a shame, because on Path of the Damned Pillars plays a lot more like it ought to. Status effects start biting. Enemies have hard enough defences that attacking them with the right combinations is often a requirement. They hit hard enough that repeating good-enough tactics won’t always cut it. You start paying serious attention to consumables and crafting. And even so, some of the optional fights are truly punishing, at least if you go into them early.

Pillars suffers from the design decision to produce difficulty levels by changing the encounter composition rather than adjusting the numbers. Casual players who can’t be bothered to learn the mechanics at all will find Easy frustratingly hard, whereas more experienced players will soon snooze through Hard by mechanically applying a good-enough strategy they happened upon. There are more efficient and more fun ways to play, but the game leaves it up to you to discover them.

The game would likely have been received a good deal better among the hardcore crowd if Hard had been more or less like Path of the Damned with, perhaps, the mobs a little smaller, and another, even higher difficulty level above it, or a second difficulty slider tuning the numbers so it would have been possible to play against Hard enemies with Path of the Damned rules. As it is, Path of the Damned is the most enjoyable difficulty level in the game, but it doesn’t live up to its billing as a Heart of Fury spiritual successor.

[...] Baldur's Gate would likely have been forgotten had it not been for Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment. If Obsidian can build on Pillars' success, improve on the areas that need improvement while maintaining its strengths, Path of the Damned can point the way to Path of the Incline. Pillars is a first, somewhat faltering step to reviving a near-stagnant genre. A few years ago, the very idea of a Baldur’s Gate 2-scope, top-down, isometric, party-based cRPG from a major studio seemed like a pipe dream. Whether this new flowering can survive between the siren song of a mass market and the grumbling of the grognards — let alone come close to making both groups happy — hangs on the followup. For some of us, Pillars delivered. Others are still waiting. The space it and the other big-ticket Kickstarters has helped clear benefits us all.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity, by PrimeJunta

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RPG Codex Review: Legends of Eisenwald

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 8 July 2015, 15:39:49

Tags: Aterdux Entertainment; Legends of Eisenwald

Somewhere in Eastern Europe, there is a country called Belarus that is totally not a part of Russia. There, a studio called Aterdux Entertainment has been working on a medieval Strategy RPG Legends of Eisenwald, now out of Early Access and available on Steam. It took them more than three years to release the game after the Kickstarter they did in early 2012 (promising the late 2012 release date), so is it any good?

Esteemed community member sser is here to answer that question and generally tell you all you need to know about the game.


The full review can be found here, but first, have a snippet:

Legends of Eisenwald is a solid game.​

There, now go ahead and read the full thing instead of just basing your judgment on a random snippet. In contrast to my ramblings here, it's really well-written, to the point, and deserves to be read in its entirety.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Legends of Eisenwald

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RPG Codex Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Review - posted by Angthoron on Sat 27 June 2015, 00:14:24

Tags: CD Projekt; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Taking a break from the regular reviewing of niche RPG games and a certain game that shall not be mentioned, the Codex is finally subjected to a proper AAA experience - The Witcher 3. Have the Polish developers created a perfect ending to the Witcher series, or is this another victim of the modern open world RPG trends? The official RPG Codex review by Angthoron is finally out:

A lot can be said about The Witcher series - it manages to combine excellent ideas and their successful implementation with ideas that are nearly equally as poor. It is a series of games with a curious amount of trials and errors, and with an unexpected amount of ambition. A lot could be said about the series, but its introduction at this point is ridiculous - instead, let's see whether The Witcher ends on a triumphant note, or whether it's a sad and mangled mess that no-one has really asked for. However, if you do want to read up on some of the things already said about the series, head on to Witcher and Witcher 2 reviews and take a look. They're probably shorter than this one, too.

[...] What can be said about the writing of Witcher 3, then? Well - simply put, it is one of the best-written games to have come out in well over a decade. Perhaps even the best-written RPG since Torment, tackling serious topics and pulling no punches, placing the player in a position of one of the last sane men in an increasingly insane world and never shying away from showing what insanity actually is while avoiding the pitfalls of cheap shock value. The mundaneness of cruelty; the commonness of greed, treason, cowardice; the quiet acceptance of murder, rape, despair, racism and hate - Witcher 3 is all about that. Witcher 3 is about total war without its typical glamor.

[...] The atmosphere of Witcher 3 does its best to support the writing - and succeeds to do it almost perfectly. Visual and audio design serve to reinforce the writing and create a sense of place. The world hardly feels like a theme park - instead, it is a fairly logical, if occasionally repetitive.

[...] Many of the smaller stories, be they a monster hunt, a secondary quest, or a "chance" encounter are well-voiced, thought-out and placed into proper context. Some of the lengthier ones can actually be surprising - and many of these little stories actually offer you a choice. Will you let a lynch mob kill a Nilfgaardian deserter? Will you do what seems to be the right thing, and help him out, causing four times more deaths in the process? The choice is yours.

[...] at a glance, Witcher 3 provides a robust Sawyerian stat system of +5% stat increments that are apparently the pinnacle of RPG design at the moment, and you definitely can get through combat by left-clicking a lot, just like in Pillars of Eternity.

[...] The animations, too, are needlessly drawn-out and, once started, impossible to interrupt with anything short of rolling away, thus offering Geralt more chances to acquire extra scar tissue. This issue extends to just about any type of animation, from swinging a sword to quick-throwing a bomb and is a good source of rage.

[...] Witcher 3 is a bit of a mixed bag. Weak in its gameplay yet surprisingly strong as a story and a game world, console-centric but intelligent, it is likely to be a very divisive game for many, on the Codex in particular, and yet, when the dust will settle, it is likely to end up as a game to ride to a rather high position in the local pantheon of story-heavy games.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Witcher 3

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RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity - By Vault Dweller and the Spirit of Grunker

Review - posted by Zed on Sun 21 June 2015, 20:05:37

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

We just cannot help ourselves from posting even more impressions and reviews of Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity. This one comes from Codex old-timer and Age of Decadence designer Vault Dweller (with a special ghostguest appearance by Grunker).

Vault Dweller has written some of the RPG Codex' most seminal reviews in the past, and perhaps this review will finally have you make up your mind about this much-discussed title. If not, we may have even more reviews coming your way.

Here's a bit about how RTwP is shit. Enjoy!

I’ve read many discussions where people argue to death over things like the engagement system or encounter design, forgetting the bigger picture: RTwP is flawed by default.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the pause is an honest admission that fast-paced, party vs party, real-time combat is too chaotic to be controlled on the fly and the AI is too retarded to be relied on, and thus you have to pause this interactive movie to issue some basic orders and show the AI how it's done.

Sequential combat is a lot more complex and a turn, yours or the enemy's, isn't a pause - it's a window to plan, respond to what the enemy's up to, execute strategies, and most importantly, ensure that your party members will survive the enemy's turn. In fact, planning for the enemy's turn is what makes TB so engaging. Any idiot can pick some targets to attack during his turn, but making sure that all your men survive the enemy's turn and the battle (like in XCOM, for example) is the real challenge.

To be honest, I think Obsidian did a fantastic job designing the combat mechanics and I couldn’t help but admire some of Sawyer’s design decisions. Had PoE been a challenging TB game, the system would have shone. Sadly, its potential and all the clever ideas are wasted on a game that often plays itself and goes extra mile to ensure that all your choices are totally awesome (because you’re awesome too!).

Still, neither Black Isle nor Obsidian games were known for great combat. In fact, they’ve mastered the art of making great RPGs with Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Combat: PST, KOTOR 2, MotB, New Vegas, so let’s leave the combat talk to people who have nothing better to do than compare one RTwP system to another and debate which one is worse all day.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity - By Vault Dweller and the Spirit of Grunker

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