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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!

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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.​

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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.

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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.​

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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.

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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.​

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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.​

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RPG Codex Review: The Banner Saga

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 15 June 2015, 16:52:26

Tags: Stoic Studio; The Banner Saga

The northern wind is stiff, but I could never tell with this featureless terrain if not for the red banner flapping. The combat variety may not be great, but I press on. I feel the game's heart and hear it sing its Nordic blues. Most of my characters are dead, and I blame the fake C&C for lulling me into a false sense of security. I am playing Stoic Studio's 2014 tactical RPG The Banner Saga.

So would my review go. But thankfully I am not the reviewer. It is rather the esteemed community member Bubbles. So have a few snippets from his take on the game:

The past year has given us strong evidence to suggest that the RPG industry would be tremendously helped if our Canadian friends were to cease operations immediately and released all their herded up talent into the indie wilderness. Stoic, the studio behind The Banner Saga, follows in the tradition of other ex-BioWare developers who, upon leaving the company, suddenly began to exhibit a talent for making good role playing games (Daniel Fedor's NEO Scavenger being the most prominent other example). In fact, the crowdfunded Banner Saga is more successful at offering a “BioWare experience” than anything that company has put out since Dragon Age: Origins. This game features a compelling story, well-drawn characters operating under a constant threat of perma-death, choices with a wide variety of consequences, and a surprisingly complex and novel combat system that prevents the battles from feeling like repetitive trash combat. It is also very pretty.

[...] After close inspection, I can attest that Stoic's C&C system is quite cunningly implemented. Let us start with what would normally be the worst consequence of them all: you lose a battle against a horde of merciless enemies. Your heroes all fall unconscious on the battle field, and all hope is lost. What happens now? Reload to last save? That would be the bland, safe choice, allowing you to simply redo the battle until you get it right and can reap the rewards of victory. So, no, that is not what happens. Instead, a text window pops up and tells you how you got saved. Usually, some of your nameless supporting troops rushed to your aid and hurtled themselves onto the spears of your enemies, thus paying the ultimate price in the service of a smooth gameplay experience. Rarely, one of your less important companions made a heroic sacrifice, forever removing himself from your party roster in the process. Sometimes you wake up, battered and defeated, without really knowing what happened. Much e-blood has already been spilled over this mechanic; many of the game's harshest critics absolutely abhor the fact that it is (almost) impossible to get a game over screen from a party wipe. Other, more tolerant and progressive minds have come to appreciate the advantages of this implementation.

[...] The Banner Saga has a good battle system. Before the game's release, the system was tested in a multiplayer Free-to-Play game – The Banner Saga: Factions – which was released a full year before the single player game. Being able to study their players in a competitive environment provided Stoic with ample opportunities to discover the weaknesses of their systems design; the result has been a highly polished battle system that feels well thought out and fully coherent. That is not to say that this system is uncontroversial; in fact, it is probably the most hotly debated aspect of the game.

[...] The Banner Saga is an immensely unique, and, by no coincidence, immensely good game that combines great artistic design and robust C&C mechanics with a highly entertaining and deceptively complex battle system. The Banner Saga has only a few outright flaws; the shoddy dialogues and the constant need to click-click-click through them line by line are a blemish on an otherwise engaging narrative. Moreover, the startling lack of enemy variety and the relatively dumb AI keep the battle system from realizing its potential for true tactical greatness. The game's system of choices and consequences also has far less of an impact on the story than Stoic's PR department has been trying to claim; nonetheless, it still offers an engaging and immersive range of decisions that will directly influence your battle performance and can occasionally result in major character deaths.

I suspect that The Banner Saga will always be the subject of great controversy; it has a kind of self-assured swagger, flaunting all of its little weirdnesses and weaknesses without making much of an effort to look like a typical tactical cRPG or a typical casual story game. The game features heaps upon heaps of idiosyncratic gameplay systems, like the strange combination of a broad C&C system with a fully pre-determined linear story, the fact that you will rarely if ever be able to see a "game over" screen, the "sit back and immerse yourself" approach to map travel, and a whole slew of novel and deeply unrealistic combat mechanics. You may choose to accept or reject these mechanics according to your personal preferences; all I can tell you is that all of these elements stand in the service of a fully coherent and extremely tightly designed gameplay experience that I deeply enjoyed playing through.​

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RPG Codex Review: NEO Scavenger

Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 8 June 2015, 18:23:59

Tags: Blue Bottle Games; NEO Scavenger

NEO Scavenger is a hardcore post-apocalyptic survival-focused roguelike, developed by Daniel Fedor of Blue Bottle Games. Released last December after spending over two years in paid beta/Early Access, the game got lots of love from the relatively few Codexers who bothered to play it. It was brave Gamasutra warrior Felipepepe who volunteered to review this worthy title, and many months it took him to uncover its secrets. Today, I am proud to (finally) present the official RPG Codex review of NEO Scavenger. Have a snippet:

Combat in NEO Scavenger is very special - so much that even the mainstream gaming media devoted an article to it.

It is presented in a simple interface, with your actions and current status on the left, the enemy's on the right, and the current terrain characteristics in the middle. Just like in other events, you select commands, such as “Shoot”, “Kick” or “Walk towards”, and the combat log will describe what happened. There's a wide variety of combat actions that can be performed, depending on the circumstances and on your position, traits, and equipment.

For example, if the enemy is unaware of your position, you can shout to reveal yourself and then try to strike up a friendly conversation (or trick him into believing you are friendly), or you can remain silent and try to sneak up on him. On the other hand, if you are the one being ambushed, then your options will be restricted to searching for the enemy, taking cover, fleeing or [Stoic] just waiting. If the enemy is far away, you can slowly walk towards him or make a quick charge – but that leaves you more vulnerable and increases your chance of tripping and falling over. If you do fall over, you can try to get up, roll in any direction or even attempt to grab the enemy's leg to pull him down too. A character with the "Tough" trait can headbutt enemies, a "Strong" one can create obstacles, a "Trapping" one can set traps, etc. Even your equipment plays a part here - a character wielding a powerful weapon or maybe even just wearing a creepy clown mask can be a lot more persuasive in getting enemies to surrender or flee.

Of course, there's not a single frame of animation in NEO Scavenger, and combat is no exception. The combat log is all the feedback you'll ever get, apart from the occasional nasty status alert popping up on your status screen or the enemy's. While this may seem crude, it allows for actions that even AAA developers would find a challenge to animate, such as headbutting, leg tripping or parrying - all while wielding a frying pan and pushing a shopping cart.​

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RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity, by Decado

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 2 June 2015, 17:20:20

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

June 2, 2015: Bard's Tale IV Kickstarter launched, taking inspiration from Hearthstone. Larian's composer Kirill Pokrovsky dies at the age of 50. Fallout 4 is teased by Bethesda, with Chris Avellone siding with the latter against the Codex.

Last but not least: RPG Codex publishes a second, positive Pillars of Eternity review submitted by esteemed community member Decado. (Check out the negative review by Darth Roxor here.)

Have a snippet:

PoE is more than the mechanic it uses, and in this regard it exists as more than just a cheap appeal to nostalgia. A lot of people were worried about this project because of Obsidian's (unfairly bestowed, in my opinion) reputation for buggy game play. Apart from some ridiculously silly bugs in the first few days of the game’s rollout, the experience is mega solid and highly polished. I run a custom rig with a lot of silly nonsense running in the background and the worst bug I ever had was the loading problem at Raedric's Hold which was fixed within two days. I am not exaggerating when I say Fallout 3 and Skyrim were more buggy in their initial releases than this game. Solid work on that, Obsidian.

I also need to qualify this review slightly, which is something I almost never do. Playing through the game it seems like, for better or worse, it will appeal to the above-mentioned separate demographics in different ways. To the battle-hardened CRPG nerd there are parts of the game that will no doubt disappoint. And indeed, Darth Roxor's review pretty much covers those complaints in detail. I disagree with many of his points, and I disagree with his final conclusion that the game is a let-down, but some of his criticism are spot on.

[...] When I first started PoE I made some comments in the various threads about the game being at least as good as -- if not better than -- the original IE games. I still stand by that. This review is filled with nitpicking, with only very few heavy-duty complaints that make the gameplay suffer. And if I could summarize my demands into one coherent sentence it would be this: Give me more, and make the complexity count.

There is some brilliant stuff in this game. The setting is familiar enough to conjure memories of other games, but it is just weird enough to feel unique. Many of the characters are gems, with terrific writing and voice acting. Whatever my gripes with encounter designs and/or combat difficulty, most of the time I was having fun, which is really the best way to judge if the combat is any good. Rolling a Monk and changing the difficulty level have both contributed to creating a different experience this second time around, which tells me that the game has replay value (though how much, I am not sure. We'll see). The scripted interactions are a cool addition that could stand to see more implementations, and I think Obsidian needs to bite the bullet and be willing to start gating content ala Wasteland 2, so that player choices feel a bit more hefty. But again, these are minor nitpicks. Overall, I had a really good time.

It is a testament to what Obsidian has made that most of the time, I’m playing a game I really like, sometimes in spite of itself. I spent a good portion of this review complaining, but I still like the game, and am playing it again. Which, if you really think about it, mirrors the experience of playing IE games almost perfectly. All of the IE games had problems, some of them glaring: Torment had lousy combat; BGII had a goofy combination of DnD rules, was often too easy, and the rest mechanic allowed for unlimited cheese; IWD could be underwhelming or even boring at spots, etc. I said before that going nostalgic, as Obsidian has done here, often results in friendly fire, that whatever was good in the old games could be better, but whatever is bad could be worse. With that in mind, one thing you cannot say about PoE is that it fails to accurately mimic playing an IE game back in the late 1990s. If you think PoE isn't a real spiritual successor to the IE games, there is a good chance you are misremembering how the IE games actually played.​

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

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RPG Codex Review: Telepath Tactics

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 27 May 2015, 23:58:36

Tags: Sinister Design; Telepath Tactics

Telepath Tactics is that tactical RPG you kickstarted back in 2013... You know, the one inspired by Fire Emblem... Er, does Final Fantasy Tactics ring a bell?.. Um, well, Telepath Tactics is basically like Blackguards except not randomized and it's made by Craig Stern who posts here on the Codex occasionally... Good. Got your attention now? If not, then maybe esteemed community member Zetor can explain it better.

So have a snippet from his review:

Telepath Tactics is an SRPG/TRPG (RPG-wargame hybrid with a focus on turn-based tactical combat) in the spirit of the console Fire Emblem series, released this April after being successfully Kickstarted back in 2013. [...] Make no mistake, behind the cartoonish 1990-era console graphics lies a hard and unforgiving wargame-ish RPG with impressive combat and encounter design that sometimes rivals the best titles in the genre.

[...] In the end, overcoming challenges in a mission is done through a series of risk:reward decisions, and this game has them in spades. In fact, one of its greatest strengths is that there are so many ways to deal with those. You can play it safe or be super-aggressive; you can kill everything that moves or win a map without really fighting any enemies; you can even re-arrange the map to create your own strategy for winning the battle. Some examples that came up during my playthrough:
  • Do I move in tight formation to protect my squishies, even though this exposes me to AOE attacks and getting flanked by ranged enemies?
  • Do I split up my team to deal with enemies attacking from three directions, or do I keep everyone together and try to block off some approaches?
  • Do I send off my fastest units to open treasure chests behind enemy lines, thus possibly exposing them to danger while leaving me with less units to carry out the main objectives? Or do I leave treasure chests alone until I've dealt with the main threats, thus risking their contents getting stolen by an NPC thief?
  • Do I keep out of movement/attack range of potentially dangerous enemies while I get everyone in position (possibly allowing them to get reinforcements), or do I rush to the most important targets ASAP and try to protect my vanguard?
  • Do I move slowly and methodically through the map, destroying all enemy forces for extra gold / experience / item drops at the risk of taking more damage and losing resources, or do I send a flier to beeline for the main objective to avoid getting outmatched?
  • Before engaging the main enemy force, do I constantly reposition my casters in reaction to enemy movement to keep them as safe as possible, or do I try to get them into a moderately safe position in the first turn and then pass their turns to gain 5 energy instead of 1 per turn (and perhaps keeping another unit back to babysit them as needed)?
  • Do I save that suicidal NPC and expose my own units to danger, or do I let them die and possibly miss out on a new party member or even a side mission?
  • Do I burn consumables to burst down an enemy with a dangerous attack, or save them and prepare to take the attack?
  • Do I partially destroy a bridge to create a chokepoint and take the risk of the bridge getting completely destroyed by enemy Crossbowmen as a follow-up?
  • Do I attack from max range with my casters to avoid exposing them to danger, or walk to a 2-tile range from the target (or even melee range with Mind Blast and some point-blank AOE attacks spells) to get more damage out?
  • Do I kill this target by focusing attacks on them, or do I just push them into the water to make them waste their next turn swimming to shore?
  • After gaining the upper hand and having the option of finishing the battle at any time, do I let my lower-level characters pick off the last enemies to gain experience and possibly expose them to unneeded risk?
  • Do I switch to a weaker/cheap weapon to dispatch a near-death enemy, or do I keep using the good stuff in case the character gets attacked and needs to make the counterattack count?
Now keep in mind that some battles are long... and some are VERY long. They are also mentally exhausting -- once I was done with a 2-hour monster of a fight, I was typically not up for playing the next mission immediately. This is definitely a game that's best played in bursts with some time to recharge in between!

[...] There is basically no randomness involved in combat. I consider this to be -- arguably -- the best feature of Telepath Tactics. Consider that in a typical 'tactics' game, your plans may be thwarted by your sniper missing a 97% headshot (and this will happen every 30 shots), or the last remaining near-dead troll rolling a natural 20 and hitting your fighter for 30 HP, instantly killing him. In some cases this can increase tension and force the player to think of a backup plan... But let's be honest here, most of the time people will just reload a save, restart the fight, and possibly post an angry rant about the unfair random number generator (RNG) while conveniently ignoring the fact that the RNG can screw the AI over just as much. Not so here! If you miss with an attack, it's because you're deliberately using a risky low-hit move, trying to hit someone in defensive stance or attacking while blinded. Similarly, if an enemy one-shots any of your party members, it's your own damn fault for overextending or exposing them without controlling all potential threats first.​

But really, just read the full review because it's good and I couldn't really find the best snippet to quote from it: RPG Codex Review: Telepath Tactics

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RPG Codex Interview: Umbra

Codex Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 22 May 2015, 15:22:53

Tags: SolarFall Games; Umbra

Umbra is a hack-n-slash action RPG from the frenchies over at SolarFall Games. RPG Codex would normally not bother too much with a game of this sort, but Umbra is an unusually interesting game. At least to me, and that's all that matters (haah!). So I sent them some questions, and I received answers from their Game Director and Lead Programmer Daniel Dolui. I should probably mention that they're currently running a successful Kickstarter campaign for Umbra, and that it's a good place to read up more about the game.

Here are the first two questions and answers – mostly because it's the norm for us to post small interview snippets. You really should just read the interview in its entirety!

RPG CODEX: SolarFall Games is a new studio. You seem to have a lot of experience with visual technology and CryEngine. What else can you tell us about yourselves? And what led you to creating an action RPG as your first title?

DANIEL DOLUI, SOLARFALL GAMES: Well since we are on RPG Codex, it is important for us to let you guys know that we are also classic pen & paper RPG players. It has helped us a lot designing some of the cool feature of Umbra, like the Apocalyptic Form and the universe of the game. We are also huge video game players. Among our favourite games are Diablo, Morrowind and Dungeon Keeper.

Umbra’s development started as a modding project. At the time, Crysis modders were looking for a way to change the FPS into an RPG game, but didn’t have programming skills to do so. I decided to create an open-source “platform” for people to use and develop their own mod. The project evolved a lot, and quickly oriented to a Hack & Slash system. Then it soon became clear that Umbra should become a game it in its own rights.

We chose to develop an ARPG simply because it is the kind of game that we enjoy the most, and we had several cool ideas that have never implemented before. That’s how Umbra was born!​

Aside from the graphics – what sets Umbra apart from the legions of other action RPGs?

The Apocalyptic Form is the feature I am the most excited about. Apocalyptic Form is a customizable ultimate power every player will get. It allows you to turn into a personalized Avatar of Destruction for some time. It is built from up to three “Apocalyptic Upgrade” options, unlocked by your character according to your play style. Apocalyptic Upgrade can very different, for example, getting horns on your head to rush and knock down every enemies, or getting wings to make huge leap and access unreachable areas, having a third hand to equip with a new weapon and fight, or having an Aura of Death raising undead everywhere you walk. I can’t wait to see the combos that players will find and how they will manage to get the most out of it!

The freedom of development, allowing you to pick any skill from any specialization will also bring a lot of interest to me. I always wanted to be a barbarian with a huge mace walking in the middle of my zombie horde!

Our crafting module is also really cool, and quite a bit different from other games. We hope that people who don’t enjoy crafting will actually like ours, since it is a quite addictive and rewarding skill based mini-game.

Elemental Effect Interaction, managing the effects of Lightning / Fire / Water / Ice is also a very cool addition to the gameplay and will bring tons a great combos to the game.​​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Umbra

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994)

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 13 May 2015, 15:06:44

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; The Elder Scrolls: Arena

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away from Australia, there was a good company called Bethesda Softworks. During that fabled time, Bethesda used to release computer role-playing games, mostly open world (like their masterpieces Daggerfall and Morrowind) but also dungeon-crawling (like the underappreciated Battlespire). Unfortunately, the company went (creatively) bankrupt just after the release of the last Elder Scrolls game, Morrowind, in 2002, and all that remains of it now is the name.

It wasn't the 1996 Daggerfall that started the Elder Scrolls series' rise to fame, though. It was the simpler, half-forgotten The Elder Scrolls: Arena from 1994. In this look back at the often neglected title, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler tells you why Arena can, despite its shortcomings, be worth playing today - and how the experience of playing it differs from its less than stellar reputation. Have a snippet:

I had originally never intended to play The Elder Scrolls: Arena, as I'd heard enough about this imperfect creation from other RPG fans to keep me away from it. It was said that the game is unbalanced. That it feels incomplete. That its main quest and characters are shallow when compared with that of contemporary RPGs such as the Ultima games or Betrayal at Krondor. But in the end, I decided to give the game a go as part of a larger project I am working on, in order to ascertain these facts for myself. What I found was a game that is indeed quite unbalanced, with many gameplay elements that feel rushed and incomplete, and a main story arc filled with cliche fantasy tropes. And yet, the game was a total joy to play, like a B-movie that manages to be greater than the sum of its faults.

[...] Arena's main quest dungeons are surprisingly evocative. Certainly not the initial dungeon, which is a simple exercise in hacking and slashing, but the game's later dungeons are scattered with clues, which deliver deeper lore and all sorts of tales of tragedy. These tales speak of better times and ancient kingdoms felled long ago through wars and betrayals. For example, one memorable moment takes place upon entering an early dungeon, an abandoned keep where you find a sign forbidding violence and promoting peace within, followed by bloodstains and skeletal remains on the floor further down the hall. Deeper inside, you find messages suggesting that the last defenders of the keep were retreating further in hopes of finding safety. You find no further messages by them, a grim reminder that Tamriel is quite the dangerous world despite the power of the Imperial government.

The main quest dungeons are also fairly diverse in terms of aesthetic presentations. There's the initial dungeon which looks like a cross between a prison and a sewer, dungeons which take place in fallen and decrepit keeps, towers, outdoor gardens, and the game's final dungeon which starts in a palace. As the game progresses, your enemies change and become more difficult, though the last third becomes a bit repetitious through overuse of the same difficult monsters. Exploration is rewarded, with randomly generated treasure laying in hidden vaults off the direct paths. Sometimes keys have to be discovered before you can progress, and environmental hazards such as pits and lava are not uncommon. At times, you might even have to answer a riddle in order to proceed through a dungeon unmolested, encouraging even veteran players to fall towards the habit of saving the game constantly in case a mistaken reply has dire consequences. Often, failure to answer a riddle correctly will result in a tough combat encounter from which you can continue on if you survive, but there is at least one occasion where failure to answer correctly can break the quest line. In summary, dungeon explorations ranges between the interesting and the frustrating, but rarely is it boring.​

Read the full article (with pictures!): RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994)

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