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RPG Codex Interview: Monsters of Mican

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 8 June 2024, 20:35:23

Tags: Blankitt Productions; Monsters of Mican

Monsters of Mican is an unusual-looking Might & Magic-inspired indie dungeon crawler with a "whimsical" sense of humor released on Steam back in March. It's the kind of game that surely would have remained in complete obscurity if it hadn't been randomly spotted last month by our own JarlFrank, who as a fan of all things eccentric gave it a try and found that he liked it. In fact, he liked the game so much that he decided to contact its developer, a gentleman who goes by the name of Skittzo, to learn more. In the interview, Skittzo tells us what led him to create such a game, his thoughts about bespoke content vs procedural generation, and also about his plans for an open world follow-up called Magic of Mican. Here's an excerpt:

2. Monsters of Mican is very whimsical. Pretty much every piece of writing contains a joke and the majority of monsters are visual puns. What made you decide to go for this tone? Is it because funny monsters are easier to create with a limited budget? A lot of them feel cobbled together from various asset packs.

My writing style has always leaned heavily on humor and more particularly puns. I blame/cherish the QFG series for instilling that in me. Also as I noted above I was also using Dragon Quest for inspiration, which is also known for excellent monster puns.

Even if I had a larger budget and better modeling skills I think I would've used the same style of monster design. I have modeled a few from scratch before, and they'd all still wind up named Tyrannosaurus Specs (a dinosaur with glasses) or Raybee (a bee that shoots lasers from its stinger). A light, jovial tone is just something I've always appreciated in games that really resonate with me.

As for how these monsters were made, I would actually say that did more to inform the story of this game than it did the tone/sillyness. I started off under the presumption that most of the monsters I made would be placeholders until I could secure funding to contract artists, but I kept having so much fun combining and editing things that it made the story concept of the "amalgam anomaly" just click into place. I had always planned on there being an ancient event that brought all the monsters to the world but the way I designed this game is what really inspired me to write it in the way I did.

3. My favorite part of the game is its variety. Every dungeon level is different, with unique traps and puzzles and boss fights. How did you approach the level design for this game? Did you have any major inspirations to draw from (other RPGs, pen and paper modules, etc) or were most of your ideas original?

I approach game design as a player first, so I always look at what I've made and say "if I was playing the game would I enjoy this?" To that end one of my biggest gripes with RPGs specifically but a lot of games in general is the lack of meaningful variety in both combat and exploration. Sure, you can happen upon some aesthetically cool area in Skyrim like Blackreach but you'll still wind up traversing it the same way you would any other area. Or, in Breath of the Wild you'll see a new enemy but it's just a stronger reskin of the same thing you've been fighting over and over.

I wanted to make sure you never have that kind of feeling in my game. The variety needs to actually be meaningful- one level introduces collapsing floors, then the next powerful water currents, then lava fields and crushers. It serves both the effects of keeping the gameplay fresh and also actually reasonably reflecting the world/area you're supposed to be in. A mine can have collapsing floors, that makes sense. It probably won't have lava, and probably not pirate ships making waves. So save that for other levels!

Many of the actual features were my original ideas. Obviously a minecart ride is something that's been done (and I just wanted for the quick thrill of it) but that pirate ship idea, or freezing the water in the kraken lair, or giving the Zebrarian boss literal plot armor (made of books) were my original concepts.

4. Avoiding repetition is a worthy goal, and I feel like your dungeon design achieved that quite well. It's a great approach to level design especially in today's gaming world where procedural generation is being used more and more by both indies and larger companies - think of Skyrim's radiant quests and the flood of roguelikes and roguelites released nowadays. What do you think of this popularity of procedural generation among developers? Is level design becoming a lost art because of it? In my opinion, procedurally generated levels always feel the same, there's no variety because it's just an algorithm recombining the same elements over and over, unable to think outside of the box. Do you think we can fight back against this trend by developing games with excellent hand-made level design?

I tend to agree that procedural generation can be looked at as one of the root causes of games becoming stale and repetitive, but I don’t think it’s necessarily always the case or the only cause. Specifically for something like Skyrim, I believe the scope of the game is more to blame- you have hundreds upon hundreds of dungeons and NPCs and quests, and only a limited development team, so it is just a necessary fact of development that you’ll need to repeat certain themes, mechanics and elements. So in this instance I think the issue is more the scope of most bigger games from AAA publishers- the amount of content they think is necessary for consumers (rightly or wrongly, I can’t say for sure) drives the need for repetition.

That’s something that is mostly not an issue in the indie space. An exception as you mentioned is with roguelikes, and while I don’t necessarily agree that they always get repetitive (personally I think Binding of Isaac is one of my favorite indie games of all time) you can run into that trap. But here’s something I didn’t really understand fully until I started developing my own game:

Hand-made level design is hard!!! Like, really really hard!

Taking a completely blank slate and deciding on a theme, mechanics, gimmicks, and then eventually putting all the pieces together is an incredibly overwhelming and draining experience. It’s no wonder why procedural level generation is so popular, because it removes so many of the pitfalls and difficulties with this.

I’ve played with the idea of using procgen to come up with a base map, and then just editing that to match an idea in my mind, but even that can begin to feel repetitive and predictable for players, so I did wind up just making everything by hand, piece by piece, and I think I plan to do that for the next game too. Hopefully (for my sake) I can make a few custom tools that help make this process a bit faster to actually carry out, but mentally it is still quite draining trying to fill a blank slate like that.​

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RPG Codex Review: Neverwinter Nights – Darkness Over Daggerford

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 13 April 2024, 00:38:08

Tags: Beamdog; BioWare; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Darkness over Daggerford; Ossian Studios

Last month, we published a review of Ossian Studios' Tyrants of the Moonsea module for Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition by our resident Neverwinter Nights expert Gargaune. I'm happy to report that Gargaune decided to follow that up with a review of Ossian's other Enhanced Edition DLC module, the Baldur's Gate-ish adventure Neverwinter Nights: Darkness Over Daggerford. Unlike Tyrants of the Moonsea, the original free version of Darkness Over Daggerford was basically complete when it was released following the cancellation of the NWN premium module program back in 2006. Its 2018 Enhanced Edition rerelease offered mainly audio/visual improvements and bugfixes, which normally wouldn't be significant enough to merit a review. However, since we never actually published a review of the original module, it's a fine opportunity to finally give it the attention it deserves. Without further ado:

Per Ossian themselves, their ambition for Darkness over Daggerford was to recreate a Baldur’s Gate-like experience, referring to the BioWare title’s open-world structure in particular. And to that end, Miranda’s little studio delivered a feature that was sorely lacking in the original release and one that remains among NWN’s standout post-launch additions – a true and proper world map! Indeed, DoD is the most “open world” NWN module I’ve played to date and Ossian genuinely succeeded in recapturing that original BG feeling of roaming the countryside looking for trouble. After being set loose from Daggerford itself, situated in the northern part of the map, you’re free to explore a large, semi-contiguous region stretching out to the south, along the Trade Way heading to Baldur’s Gate. The world map in DoD isn’t just a nice visual flourish on your destination list like in the later TotM, but consistently involves discovery – e.g. to reach the Wild Hills for the first time, you’ll have to travel in its direction from the Western Farmlands, Gillian’s Hill, or the Wild Pastures, but you can’t just hop over from the Eastern Farmlands unless you’ve already visited the Wild Hills before. Quest destinations will reveal some major locations on the map, while others you’ll discover as proximate to your current location.

Daggerford isn’t the only civilized settlement in this area either, as you’ll also visit the hamlets of Gillian’s Hill and Liam’s Hold, while veering off from the Trade Way to either the East or the West will reveal farmlands, wilderness and the odd surprise. As a nice touch, the developers also took a moment to make Daggerford and Liam’s Hold seem more alive with ambient NPCs who shut nearby open doors and clear the streets after dark, replaced by torch-bearing watchmen, though it’s a purely cosmetic affair and won’t afford any special gameplay opportunities. Each map location has its own quests and encounters, and the designers crisscrossed objectives over the world map efficiently, such that you can expect to be doing some regular back-and-forth and getting to know Daggerford’s environs quite well. Areas don’t respawn, but travelling from one to the other has a chance of triggering one of a number of repeatable random encounters which also net a little bonus XP. Additionally, DoD is the originator of the fatigue system I mentioned in my TotM review: going for more than 36 in-game hours without resting will afflict you and your henchmen with a -1 to all Ability scores, unless you’re immune to Ability Drain, and have characters play a tired animation (which will bug you when you’re trying to swap gear while exhausted). DoD’s map scope and travel times are (unsurprisingly) well suited to seeing this mechanic in action with some regularity, particularly when you’re first unlocking locations on the map, though leaving from a random encounter area results in an auto-rest. As became the standard post-HotU, resting advances the clock by 8 hours and doing it in dangerous locations has a chance of spawning a hostile encounter right on top of you, so you have a theoretical incentive to make use of your room at the Happy Cow or other local accommodations.

But if everything I’ve said so far sounds pretty good, it’s time to change gears for a moment because DoD doesn’t put its best foot forward. Whereas the open world has plenty to get excited about, you’ll have to clear Daggerford before you get to it… While none of its content is bad, it’s nonetheless a rather drab affair and DoD’s weakest stage by far. Along the main plot, you’ll be chasing up some leads for Amara and you’re also given ample opportunity to load up on side quests that you’ll be tackling later on, once you’re actually free to leave town, but it just drags on for a bit too long. The town of Daggerford consists of roughly two rows of buildings in a rectangular courtyard, opposite the ducal palace, and a small, separate docks area, and it’s just not a very inspiring locale. There’s enough quest content to keep you going and even the odd unmarked opportunity, but you’ll quickly find yourself pining for more even on your first time, let alone replays.

Mercifully, once the plot progresses and you’re free to come and go, you’ll be introduced to the world map and find that DoD’s various areas have a solid amount of thematic and quest variety. The thrill of exploration should soon follow and it’s hard to overstate just how different an experience it is from NWN’s mainstream linear modules like HotU, let alone the drudgery of its original campaign. From peaceful farmlands to a besieged castle perched atop the Blade Cliffs, from a swampy Lizardfolk village to a wizard’s tower looming over an impassable chasm, “I wonder what’s going on over there” is a recurring thought for the rambling player. Sometimes it’s the regular adventuring fare, others it’s surprisingly creative, such as the aforementioned Lizardfolk village, which you’ll be infiltrating disguised as a scaly critter yourself, courtesy of a hag with a chip on her shoulder. Another quest will have you undertake a quaint little investigation at a wake with your choice of amusing resolutions. As for the looming wizard’s tower I brought up, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise you to learn it’s puzzles all the way to the top, and not the lean variety, get ready to break out some pen and paper! There are puzzles and secrets in a few other quests and locations, but this is clearly where that one guy on the dev team went “okay, my turn to mess with the player!” And all of these examples are optional side content, the sort you pick up through organic exploration or get brought to your attention under no obligation to complete.

[...] When Beamdog first announced they were publishing the EE version of Darkness over Daggerford, I was fresh off the PM edition a couple of weeks prior. It was early days for NWN’s Enhanced Edition and the big player-side improvements were still to come, but I was chuffed enough with Ossian's work and their sporting decision to release their cancelled project all those years ago that it yanked me right off that fence.

Darkness over Daggerford’s EE treatment added a coat of QA and audio/visual polish to complete the project and it does that very well, bringing it up to a full and proper commercial standard. That said, we have to be fair and recognise some missed opportunities as well. I grant that developing whole new quests and levels might’ve been costly propositions for what was already a complete module, but restoring that cut dragon attack to the stronghold questline or fleshing out the henchmen situation could’ve been some great and affordable ways to add value. I was also surprised that more comprehensive alignment reactivity wasn’t added, though clearly that was a design oversight rather than a budget constraint, since Ossian did undertake an extensive review of conversations and associated scripting. Darkness over Daggerford was already bigger and better rounded than most PMs, indeed it’d have likely been the best of the bunch had Atari given it its commercial release, but there was still room to grow. The final package is good value notwithstanding, but the EE revision comes across as a more modest commitment than Beamdog’s and Ossian’s later collaboration on Tyrants of the Moonsea and the focus seems to have been to fill in the PM’s blanks in quality control and production value rather than revisit and expand its development.

Bottom line, DoD caters to some RPG fans more than to others. If you're looking for a dungeon crawl, this isn't the module for you. If you're in it for a grand, sombre plot, it ain't that either. But if you want something to recapture that Baldur's Gate-like sense of exploration, of roaming the countryside in search of adventure and curiosities, it doesn’t get much better than Darkness over Daggerford for NWN or many other contenders. It’s a charming and lively open-world adventure, which is equally true for the new EE revision with its polished production values (for sale on GOG, Steam, or directly from Beamdog) as it is for the old PM release (available at the Neverwinter Vault). Either package is well worth checking out if that speaks to you, but the EE version will certainly yield the best experience if it’s within your budget, and if one good turn deserves another, Ossian absolutely did NWN fans a solid back in the day.​

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RPG Codex Review: Neverwinter Nights – Tyrants of the Moonsea

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 16 March 2024, 00:02:55

Tags: Beamdog; BioWare; Luke Scull; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Tyrants of the Moonsea; Ossian Studios

Of all of Beamdog's Enhanced Edition rereleases before they switched to making DOA multiplayer games, Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition was probably the most poorly budgeted and least hyped. Ironically, it might be the Enhanced Edition that ended up providing the most value to the game's legacy. In part, thanks to its belated recognition of Ossian Studios' cancelled premium modules from the 2000s. One of these was Neverwinter Nights: Tyrants of the Moonsea, an adventure set in the Forgotten Realms' Moonsea region which was finally completed by its creator Luke "Alazander" Scull in 2019 as an official DLC for the Enhanced Edition. In the years since then, Luke has continued to remaster his other classic modules for free while working on his upcoming Blades of Netheril sequel campaign and appears to have earned a good reputation on our forums. Yet it's not clear how many Codexers actually played Tyrants of the Moonsea. As I recall, many users were unhappy about having to buy Beamdog's version of Neverwinter Nights in order to play it. One of our resident Neverwinter Nights connoisseurs, the esteemed Gargaune, feels the module never got the attention it deserved. I suspect his outstanding review might persuade some of you to give it a second look. Here's an excerpt:

Structurally, the module can be split into three main segments. The sequence that takes you from Voonlar through Hillsfar and two major locations after that is a fairly linear progression despite already presenting you with a beautiful world map, a feature that Ossian first brought to NWN with the original release of DoD. You’ll have a good supply of optional side content to engage with but, by and large, you’re on a straight path taking you from one place to the next, Icewind Dale-style. Once you’re through with that, however, and have experienced a couple of plot twists to boot, you get access to a ship that puts you within striking distance of the four other major destinations you get in the Moonsea – Mulmaster, Thentia, Melvaunt and Zhentil Keep. At this point you’re told to tackle them in whichever order you like, digging up leads on your quarry, picking up side quests and, naturally, hitting the shops. Each one of the Moonsea’s urban centres will have a couple of quests to be started in them, some resolved locally, others requiring travelling to other places, and an optional dungeon of some manner. Aside from this, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of serendipitous exploration, as the odd unmarked location can turn up questless combat encounters and, naturally, loot! The format here is similar to Baldur’s Gate 2’s non-Athkatlan locales (think Trademeet or the Umar Hills), each city has one or two main areas and a tidy amount of content but none of them are massive mainstays to explore nor does TotM ever set you loose on a contiguous countryside, like Darkness over Daggerford or the original Baldur’s Gate. Once you’ve had your fill of the open world and turned up some key leads for your main plot, you can chase up those directions and get nudged (albeit not exactly shoved) into the adventure’s climax, and I can honestly say it’s a pretty epic affair!

But if the plot demands you visit all city hubs, is it a TRÜE open world? Sort of... Per the old BioWare formula, you'll find yourself strung along to all the major locations at some point or other, but the game won't force your nose into every nook and cranny and some significant things can change depending on how you prioritise certain steps. In other words, there is a point of no return which can lock off an amount of side content, a point which may be intuited but isn't necessarily signposted. I'm being coy because I don't want to spoil stuff for you, and if you want to experience TotM completely blind, you should stop reading this paragraph right here and move on to the one below (seriously, right here!). If, however, you want to be sure you maximise content on your first playthrough, I'll give you the slightest hint - make sure you wrap up all your sightseeing before you go galloping across any wilderness, you'll know when you get to it.

I’ve mentioned dungeons and TotM has a healthy supply of them. Ossian’s other NWN entry, DoD, was quite lacklustre in this department, so it’s a relief that this module alternates open wilderness and proper dungeon areas regularly, with the usual variety of traps and bespoke encounters. The biggest criticism I can level at them is that they don’t tend to be particularly labyrinthine – some are large enough to accommodate a couple of forks and traversal loops, though quite a few come down on the smaller and more linear side. But while none of them could make a claim to being branching “mega-dungeons” filled to the brim with secrets and puzzles, and you’ll find much more impressive constructions in other modules, TotM’s spelunking sessions aren’t five-minute affairs either, they’re well-paced and well-stocked and should be able to hold your interest for the duration. Puzzles aren't all that plentiful or memorable, either the dungeon or quest sorts, but they are present and range from rote "find the four thingamajigs to slot in here" to more organic affairs, e.g. some players will know what's up when told they're to fight a Magic Golem, the rest had better explore available dialogue or they're in for a nasty surprise.

Difficulty-wise, TotM is pretty much along the lines of vanilla NWN content like Hordes of the Underdark, which is to say it isn’t especially hard while also not a walk in the park. Grizzled Swordflight veterans are unlikely to find anything particularly challenging, but regular gamers can be well served by playing on D&D Hardcore Rules, meaning the steady string of trashmobs will be effective as a source of progressive attrition, softening you up for some boss encounters which can genuinely put you through your paces, and controlling for disabling factors like Fear or save-or-die abilities is meaningful. The game swaps enemy palettes regularly and with wide variety, you'll fight undead in one place, cultists and demons in another, goblinoids over there or even hostile adventuring parties and so on. There's enough variety that you could make good use of all the different specific enhancement bonuses offered by the Altar of Blessings if you cared to, but most trashmobs aren't difficult enough to warrant it. This is common for Epic-range 3E D&D, as the power curve past level 15 tends to favour the player and it becomes challenging for designers to guard against all moving parts while also not making the game impenetrable to the average consumer, and I probably wouldn’t advise playing on low difficulty levels unless you’re new or really struggling for some reason. The module’s generous with special utility loot, trinkets like Gems of Seeing, Ioun Stones or magical rods, which will expand a given character’s abilities beyond their natural competencies and provide that additional versatility in tackling various battlefield situations. Personally, this is more up my alley and I found TotM to be gratifying in terms of general challenge, but hardcore min-maxers aren’t likely to break a sweat.

I suppose this would also be the appropriate time to remind people of Beamdog’s upgraded Party Control feature – this isn’t a TotM system, it’s an (unfortunately hidden) engine-level option that was added to NWN:EE, but it can make a big impact on the quality of your gameplay. Basically, these new controls allow you to manually select one or more party members (including your own PC) and issue precise instructions to “move there” or “attack that.” To enable it, go into \Documents\Neverwinter Nights\settings.tml and change the value of player-party-control to true. Then, in-game, you can select one or more party members by holding down Ctrl while left-clicking them or their portraits (or you can even hold down Ctrl and click-drag a marquee selection) for a blue circle highlight, then hold down Shift while left-clicking a target location or enemy. Note that a single click is “walk to” while double-clicking is “run to”, and you may want to issue a Stand Your Ground order beforehand if you don’t want henchmen to come right back. Restricting it to movement and combat might seem short of modded solutions (e.g. Balkoth’s Minion Control) but it also means it’s applicable to all NWN content, limiting the potential to break properly-scripted modules, and while it’s not a panacea for the game’s obstinate AI, it’s more than enough to make a huge difference in play. All classes will benefit tactically, but especially ranged and mage types (also endowed with spellcasting AoE indicators in the EE), who can now enjoy more build variety safe behind a leading warrior.

[...] Looking back to the Infinity Engine and even many of its contemporary peers, Baldur’s Gate 2 is king (no matter how much that might make some of the local fauna seethe), but why? Icewind Dale had better combat, the first Baldur’s Gate had better exploration, Planescape: Torment had better writing etc. – all of that is true, but Baldur’s Gate 2 was pretty darn good at all of it. That's what gets it top billing and the same qualities apply to Tyrants of the Moonsea for NWN – you should easily find other modules, official or fan-made, that do better in various individual respects, but Ossian's title scores high on all counts and if you enjoy NWN at all (if you don't, you should never admit it!), passing on TotM would be a big mistake.

Now, if the byzantine brandings and histories have left you confused, allow me to make it simple – Tyrants of the Moonsea is for sale on GOG, Steam and the Beamdog Client. If you also want to check out its prior episodes in the Alazander series, they're free on the Neverwinter Vault as Siege of Shadowdale Enhanced Edition and Crimson Tides of Tethyr Enhanced Edition or in NWN:EE's integrated content browser. For historic purposes, links to the Diamond Edition distributions of those two modules are on their respective Vault pages under Related Projects.

So there you have it, I've led you to the water, I've even forced your snout in, the rest is up to you. Drink and you'll get the full flavour of competent writing and design, solid production values and artistic direction, fun combat and exploration… To put it simply, Tyrants of the Moonsea is, at this time, the definitive single-player NWN experience.​

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Lucky Number 2 - RPG Codex Editorial on Matters Most Pressing

Editorial - posted by Darth Roxor on Wed 6 March 2024, 21:33:02

Tags: Deus Ex; Divinity: Original Sin 2; ELEX; Fallout 2; Fallout 4; Prey (Arkane Studios); Shadows over Loathing; South Park: The Fractured But Whole; South Park: The Stick of Truth; Space Wreck; Streets of Rogue; The Witcher 3; West of Loathing

RPGs rely on a variety of factors, some of which include combat, storytelling, exploration and simulationism, in combination or otherwise. Many of these aspects are based on design elements such as dice rolls and worldbuilding, and this is exactly what esteemed community member lukaszek decided to analyse in his latest editorial.

Or well, at least to some degree that's what he's discussing there. As the introduction puts it:

Rolling 19 feels bad – so close to critical success! This is probably the reason behind the introduction of weapons with critical ranges. Pick the right one and you’ll be graced with big numbers more often.

On the other side of the spectrum is number 2. I guess players are more relieved that they didn’t roll 1 – it’s so close after all. And while that’s true for several RNG implementations, it’s not how physical dice work: 7, 19 and 13 are where the close calls are at.

Still, it never received the treatment that 19 did, and I felt that it was time to appreciate it a bit more.

Obviously, I’m talking about functional toilets in RPGs, and through these pages we’ll be plunging into the depths of restroom interactions and hygiene.​

Go ahead and dive right in to find out why RPGs aren't actually going down the toilet as much as you'd expect them to be. Satisfaction guaranteed. Just remember to flush and wash your hands once you're done.

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RPG Codex GOTY 2023: Results & Cool Graphs

Community - posted by felipepepe on Sat 24 February 2024, 05:35:29

Tags: GOTY 2023

Beat the drama drums, it's time for the RPG Codex best RPGs of 2023!

This is our second year going back to a Codex-only vote, on a 1-5 scale. In total, we had 430 votes (as opposed to 364 last year), voting on 162 RPGs (157 last year).

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

RPG CODEX'S 2023 GOTYs:
#1 - Jagged Alliance 3
#2 - Baldur's Gate 3
#3 - Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game

For the full results and fancy graphs, just follow this link: RPG Codex GOTY 2023: Results & Cool Graphs

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RPG Codex Review: King Arthur: Knight's Tale

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 17 February 2024, 20:36:23

Tags: King Arthur: Knight's Tale; NeocoreGames

NeocoreGames' tactical RPG King Arthur: Knight's Tale took a respectable third place in last year's RPG Codex GOTY awards. Some might argue that it should have ranked even higher. To be honest, this sort of mission-based tactical combat game, with a "dark Arthurian"-themed setting that has somehow become overused in recent years, isn't typically what our community is most interested in. Knight's Tale achieved its ranking through the sheer excellence of its combat design, a particularly impressive feat for a studio's first turn-based title. Some of you may have noticed that I've been itching for an official Codex review of the game for some time, and I'm happy that in the end it was Darth Roxor himself who contributed it. Here's an excerpt from his review:

With these basics out of the way, I would like to state one thing very clearly. Knight’s Tale is a paragon of system design. I don’t remember the last time I played something that had mechanics this well thought-through – you can tell that Neocore was focused first and foremost on making the combat work. Usually in such games you can easily identify features that could be removed with no harm to the mechanics, or others that are cheap bandaids put on glaring issues, but here everything just clicks together organically. Likewise, it’s great that Knight’s Tale avoids the pitfalls of most deterministic systems, where the fights feel like chess puzzles to arrange and essentially ‘pre-win’ on turn 1. There are enough variables involved in combat to make sure that the fights actually play out on a moment-to-moment basis where plans can go wrong, forcing you to adapt to the consequences of failure and unforeseen circumstances on the fly.

Most importantly, all of this is accomplished without universal death timers or constantly spawning reinforcements, which are something I’ve learnt to very strongly loathe in modern ‘tactics’ games, which need to retreat to (and abuse) cheap tricks like that to offer any semblance of difficulty or variety in encounter design. Meanwhile Knight’s Tale hardly ever gets old despite almost never using anything of the sort. In fact, I don’t think I can remember a single instance of needing to win a fight within X turns. There are also no ‘puzzles’ to be had anywhere, in or outside combat, which is almost as surprising as it is refreshing, because these also tend to be forced in modern tacticals. Simply everything in Knight’s Tale is just about battle.

At the same time, although the missions are all about wiping out the enemy, they’re still diverse enough thanks to other factors, that ‘kill them all’ as the universal objective is never really a problem. For starters, the levels and encounters are all hand-crafted, and typically with a lot of care. It would be too much to call them ‘open-ended’, but being able to choose in which order you’d like to pick your fights still gives you a good enough sense of agency – this is made all the more obvious in the few missions that are actually railroaded. Furthermore, the maps have single-use campsites and shrines strewn about, with the former giving you a pitstop for fixing armour or HP and the latter working a bit like in Diablo, in that they have various effects that can be both positive and negative, adding another important element when it comes to planning your course of action in a mission. Finally, the locales are varied enough to give each level a different flavour, even if some of the maps are recycled to a certain degree. You’ll be busting your way through enchanted groves, wastelands, ancient crypts, battlefields, downtrodden villages and many more.

[...] In the end, Knight’s Tale gives us a game that is first and foremost about combat. It’s obvious to me that the primary objective behind its development was to make sure that everything about the combat worked right, with no exceptions or handwaves, and that everything else was ten priority levels under that. Neocore knew precisely what they set out to accomplish and they did it with great success. This game simply knows what it’s about and it sticks to its guns exactly where it matters. Playing something with a focus and vision this clear and well-realised is always a true joy. As far as the genre of ‘Turn-Based RPG Encounters: The Game’ is concerned, Knight’s Tale is definitely one of its highlights. Its secondary or tertiary features may be lacking in some aspects, but that really doesn’t matter when the core gameplay is so well done. The atmosphere and style are also the icing on top that elevate it above many other entries in this genre, which tend to offer just the combat and nothing else really worth noting.

It took me a whopping 100 hours to finish, and frankly speaking, I was somewhat happy when it was over. Primarily because at some point I realised it was taking way too much of my free time, but also because by the end you’re mostly progressing on autopilot with your overpowered heroes, and the fatigue that eventually settles in just makes you look forward to the finish line. That’s why I strongly recommend playing on the hardest difficulty, and maybe even trying the roguelite mode if you’re feeling adventurous. But make no mistake – this is not a game that is best ‘dropped midway’. By quitting early, you’ll be depriving yourself of a significant part of the experience. Technically, there’s also post-endgame content that I think is supposed to be super-challenging, but I never even tried it. I couldn’t really be bothered.

Still, I had a great time with Knight’s Tale. Neocore has already announced a new standalone campaign for it too, which is Roman-themed and about the ‘lost’ IX Legion crawling out of Tartarus to end up in Avalon. It’s unbelievable, but for once I actually have something to look forward to among upcoming RPGs.​

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Gorasul: The Legacy of the Dragon

Codex Review - posted by Darth Roxor on Tue 9 January 2024, 17:34:49

Tags: Gorasul: The Legacy of the Dragon; Silver Style

It seems that no matter what you do, you can't escape Baldur's Gate clones past, present or future. If it's not another creatively bankrupt studio announcing one, then some guy submits a review of it. Finally, when you're spared either, out comes community member lukaszek with his arm shoulder-deep in the bargain bin to fish out another clone from 20 years ago to present you his retrospective on Gorasul: The Legacy of the Dragon.

Lukaszek discusses many things about the game, including the finer points of the Polish voice acting and sneak archery, so you can be sure that you'll learn everything there is about it. Have a snippet for your convenience:

Exploration is a mix of BG1 and BG2. Clearly the devs couldn’t decide which one they liked more. Locations will appear on your map based on your interactions with NPCs. Sometimes however it will be a wilderness location and you’ll first have to enter that one and leave via a proper exit. A few times, locations will disappear as devs are goading you to do x/y/z first. As you travel, you might run into a standard ambush – a wilderness area with trees that is recycled on each encounter. Technically you can easily farm XP in them as the enemies there can be quite high level. However, your weapon will wear down quickly and you also won’t find any good loot there. As such it’s only something that mage characters can do freely.

[...] As an aside, there are a few important features that can be found only if you carefully scroll through all the hotkeys. One is auto running, another is quick save – which is mapped under ctrl+s so you can feel like you’re at work – the proper German experience. It also overwrites your active save, which is a curious implementation.

While Gorasul is focused on combat, it’s not an encounter-driven game. There is a strong narrative and plenty of dialog involved. It’s all quite a pleasurable read even though it doesn’t offer much in terms of C&C. Not of a book/masterpiece variety, more like a short, high fantasy story that you read before you hit the bed.

In fact, you might get into trouble with a munchkin/murderhobo mindset.​

The review was extremely helpful in persuading me to never play this thing, so I highly recommend diving right in! Read the full article: Retrospective Review: Gorasul: The Legacy of the Dragon

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RPG Codex Review: Islands of the Caliph

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 23 October 2023, 22:23:41

Tags: Islands of the Caliph; Schmidt Workshops

Originally revealed in 2022, the Arabian Nights-themed single character dungeon crawler Islands of the Caliph was abruptly released last month in time for the annual Realms Deep event. In a year insanely packed with RPG releases, the game might have quickly been forgotten if it hadn't caught the attention of a certain Darth Roxor, who has an interest in such things. Although its core gameplay mechanics appear to be rudimentary at best, Roxor is a fan of the game thanks to its murderhobo-friendly exploration, ambitious choice and consequence, and unique implementation of the Islamic faith. Here's an excerpt from his review:

Another important part of the simulation experience is the game’s elaborate religion system. You could say that one of the main quests is to become a good Muslim and perform the pilgrimage to the Kaaba (aka the Hajj) – but before that you have to discover the remaining pillars of Islam, which include the creed, prayer, almsgiving and fast. And the fantastic thing is that all of these, except the first one which is just learnt once, have a direct representation in gameplay. IotC uses the full Muslim calendar, with Arabic names of days and months, and even gives some significance to the phases of the moon, which change daily. Every day is divided into prayer times, and keeping up with your prayers gives you a steady flow of XP – this even has a dedicated tool in the form of a prayer rug that you can carry around everywhere to perform your emergency prayer. Then there’s also the annual almsgiving, which entails giving away a percentage of your money, and fasting during Ramadan, which gives you XP boosts for each day of completed fast.

There are several factors that I really like and appreciate about the inclusion of religious practices in this game. For starters, they’re very respectful to both the subject matter and the player, in that they are authentic and woven well into the gameplay without feeling preachy or intrusive. In fact, I would hazard guessing that one of the major motivations behind the development of this game was to present Islam in a good light as opposed to the dumb ways it’s usually depicted in media – and the remarkable thing is that the goal was achieved successfully without having everything else suffer for it, as is often the case with works of media that are focused on religion. If anything, perhaps there was even a little too much restraint applied here, given that these practices are largely optional, and in the one situation where they truly matter, you can somewhat hand-wave them away by visiting your local mosque and getting all the “faith bonuses” without effort.

Nevertheless, the religion mechanics also have some nice conveniences to them. For instance, when you rest, you will always wake up in time for prayer, so there’s no need to keep very close tabs on that, the prayer rug makes sure you don’t have to haul ass back to town every three hours to pray, while the details on Ramadan and alms are clearly listed in your journal.

Mentioning the journal brings me to the final point I’d like to discuss in this chapter, and which also left me positively surprised. The quest design.

For the major part, the quests are very simple and basic. Usually they entail fetching something from a dungeon or delivering a message from one island to another. Nothing really ground-breaking, to be sure, but some of them, particularly the main quests, can form very long chains that can be a headache to finish. That is because they can be very expansive and involve the entire world map, but also thanks to how the game rewards paying attention to things and keeping notes – and it doesn’t hold your hand at any step of the way.

In fact, you aren’t even expected to take and finish every single quest. Some of them have borderline glowing neon signs that tell you “this is a bad idea, turn back now,” and if you do go through with them and bring a calamity upon the world with your actions, then you have only your dumb ass to blame.

Because the consequences for some of these “bad quests” can be truly catastrophic, and I have to say that you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that makes gameplay repercussions for bad choices severe enough to actually make you feel like you truly screwed up. We’re talking entire cities getting wiped, half of them being blocked, and numerous quests being temporarily inaccessible. It takes massive balls to go through with such design, and I have nothing but respect for this, especially since it’s also tremendously fun to try to fix the mess you’ve caused.

The only major point of criticism I have on this front is related to what I mentioned at the beginning of the previous chapter – there is simply no introduction or context or mention of what you’re trying to do in this world, and why you’re embarking on this whole adventure. It would have been perfectly enough to say that you’re a foreign traveller who came to the archipelago to learn about Islam. There, this is your motivation for going forward. But as it is, there’s simply no main objective to be had in this game until you progress very far into it.​

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RPG Codex Review: Black Book

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 2 September 2023, 19:53:15

Tags: Black Book; Morteshka

Black Book is a "dark RPG adventure" released in 2021 by Russian indie studio Morteshka, in which you play a young village witch in 19th century Russia. We didn't cover the game on the Codex front page at all (card-based combat isn't really our thing) but it did find a handful of fans on the forum. One of these is esteemed user BosanskiSeljak, who decided to contribute a review. He finds Black Book a worthwhile title for fans of setting and atmosphere, although it sounds like its mechanics are pretty basic. Here's an excerpt:

Once the game picks up, you’re given a surprisingly well thought out & fluid core story/gameplay loop. Your main base is your Grandfather’s Izba (traditional country home) which houses your Grandfather, any companions picked up along the way and is the place to manage everything related to your character. To top it off, you get the true Ruskiy roleplaying experience of playing Durak with a bunch of old men. Once the day starts, you will assume the role as the local Koldun, dealing with visiting peasants/villagers asking you to solve their problems.

Each adventure starts with a main goal related to the plot, usually through a visiting NPC at your Izba. It’s not terribly subtle considering your Grandfather will chime in and outright say there’s a chance you’ll run into something you need. However, you never know where the adventure will take you, or what to expect. You’re presented with a map highlighting where you need to go, and the stops along the way, including detours for hidden quests, combat & lore.

However, the pacing really shines here, with the game never letting you get too comfortable. The second any feeling of repetitiveness or boredom starts to creep up, you find yourself stuck somewhere unfamiliar, sometimes for an entire chapter. On top of story pacing, gameplay changes wildly as well. From typical countryside exploration, to solving a village mystery, to escorting caravans, all the way to dungeons. Another point for atmosphere in this regard, because making it back from your journey really emphasizes the feeling of being at home.

No good a time as this to point out this is not an open-world, walking simulator, sandbox exploration. You travel on the map, reach your location, and more often than not deal with your problems through dialogue unless you trigger a combat encounter. Experience gained, items & lore received; you can now go on your merry way.

Final destinations differ slightly from the formula, many times forcing you to deal with pseudo-dungeons. Most commonly you find yourself on a plot of land to navigate and investigate, eventually leading to a dungeon. This was not the main focus of the game, so it’s nothing special in and of itself. No 4-hour dungeon crawling for you! Consequently, their size and narrow focus avoids the sin many games make by keeping you locked in trash encounter hell for hours at a time between the same grey walls. Instead, the dungeon stays true to the exploration you experience on the surface with small side areas providing lore and occasional combat. Even better, the aesthetics vary wildly due to the variety of places you visit. Forests, beneath a lake, villages, underground lairs, even Hell itself all make an appearance. In some cases, these dungeons can last for days of game time, keeping you away from the Izba & your regular compatriots.

With this loop Morteshka nailed the pacing, providing the player with nearly 0 filler content. As a result, nearly 99% of the game time will be dialogue, combat, reading & managing gameplay elements. It’s not the best exploration, its not the most innovative, but it does the job very well for what it’s trying to achieve.​

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RPG Codex Review: Jagged Alliance 3

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 26 August 2023, 18:31:32

Tags: Haemimont Games; Jagged Alliance 3; THQ Nordic

In retrospect, it's pretty wild that the long-awaited third installments of two different beloved roleplaying series from the 1990s were released within the span of three weeks this year. Haemimont Games' Jagged Alliance 3 has now been completely overshadowed by that other game, but given the franchise's track record over the past two decades, their achievement is no less impressive. A Jagged Alliance sequel received with near-unanimous positivity on our forums (give or take an ArchAngel). Such a feat could not go unrecognized, and so we present our extensive review, written by talented community member Strange Fellow. He finds that despite certain questionable combat mechanics, occasionally overly campy writing, and an overabundance of loot containers, Haemimont's game is a Jagged Alliance title worthy of the name. Here's an excerpt:

You’ll spend a lot of time juggling operations in the strategic view, but the real meat of the game takes place in the tactical view, where you control each individual mercenary in turn-based combat. This is where Jagged Alliance made a name for itself, and where any sequel absolutely needs to deliver.

And what do you know – it does. The game once again copies a number of its systems from Jagged Alliance 2, and since that is probably the pinnacle of the genre, as you’d expect it all works very nicely. The control you have over your mercenaries is very granular, and you can specify everything from whether they should be running, crouching or lying down, to exactly how many action points they should spend zeroing in on an enemy, as well as what part of the body to aim for. Unconventionally (though not for the franchise), chance to hit is not displayed, and you will have to eyeball each shot, while mercs provide helpful comments whenever they think a shot is likely to succeed or fail. It’s a great system, which strikes a good balance between uncertainty and feedback, and it’s nice to see it make its return.

There are other such nuances to the combat as well, which are not new to the series but are rarely seen elsewhere, especially these days. With the option to target body parts comes location-specific damage; so a shot to the leg will decrease movement, a shot to the arms will decrease accuracy, and so on. Guns fire bullets with real trajectories and real penetration, which means that a missed shot might hit something else, or a shot with a high-penetration weapon might travel right through the target and hit something else behind him. Cover can be destroyed, visual contact can be broken with smoke, characters can be suppressed by gunfire and flashbangs, and combatants can get panicked and lose their turn entirely.

Energy and morale are also in, although the energy and morale metres of the previous game have been replaced by a ladder of cumulative status effects. If forced to operate for a long time without a break, mercs will gain the “Tired” status, reducing their maximum action points by 1. If forced to keep going, they will eventually become “Exhausted”, losing another action point. On top of that, exhausted characters are liable to fall unconscious if they’re hit with more energy-draining attacks. Likewise with morale: it can drop to low or very low, decreasing AP, if mercs take significant damage or if someone dies, and rise when mercs score good kills, complete quests or progress in the campaign. Overall, the effect works out to be about the same as in the previous game, if presented in a slightly more cumbersome way.

One aspect of combat that deserves particular praise is the level of environmental destruction the game supports. You can break a lot of scenery in Jagged Alliance 3. Certain things you will not be able to blow up, such as the skeletons of larger buildings as well as bridges and other things essential to the traversability of the map. Still, the level of damage that you can do to most structures is impressive and a delight to play with. Level the second floor of a building with a rocket launcher, and have enemies rain down from above into the waiting arms of your knife-wielding melee specialist on the first floor. Blow the roof off a building with a grenade, then chuck a second one through the hole into the cluster of enemies huddled inside. It is simply great fun, and makes explosives specialists very valuable additions to your team, quite apart from their direct damage potential. There are plenty of sector designs that provide good opportunities to make use of their potential, too. It doesn’t reach the level of mayhem that you can cause in X-COM: Apocalypse or Silent Storm – the kings of the genre if all you want to do is raze the entire map – but it’s miles above most of the competition.

[...] There are other issues as well, and the most serious ones all have to do with how combat is initiated. Firstly, there’s the matter of stealth mode, and more broadly, enemy awareness in general. Enemies in this game are deaf, dumb and blind to a ridiculous degree. The vision range of your own mercs is more than twice as long as that of the enemies, which ensures that you'll always spot them before they spot you. Even in broad daylight you can freely run around in the open without having to be particularly careful. Engage stealth mode as well, which at the cost of movement speed makes your mercs even harder to detect, and you can run rings around enemies without them noticing. Now add the detection system, where enemies have detection bars that need to fill up before they’re considered to have spotted you, and the result is that the only time you won’t get to initiate combat yourself is if a patrol happens to walk right into one of your mercs while you’re busy controlling someone else.

And that’s not all. Alongside the stealth system there is a stealth kill system. Essentially, there is a percentage chance of an attack made from stealth to result in an instant kill. There are mercs who via perks and high stats have a higher chance of achieving stealth kills, and with these you are all but guaranteed that the first attack you make results in a fatality. Did I mention that you can re-enter stealth in the middle of combat? And that silenced weapons are so easy to come by that you can have several after the very first tutorial sector? It is an absurd system, and fundamentally warps balance in favour of long-range weapons – sniper rifles, in other words. The tragedy is that the balance in the utility of different weapon types is quite good otherwise, and every weapon type has its niche. It is a shame that by far the best strategy in terms of preserving the safety of your mercs is to ignore them. Perhaps bring along a single machine gun when things get hairy, but otherwise stick to silenced rifles and pick enemies off from stealth. The game doesn’t have to be played this way, but any other approach is far, far more likely to land your mercs in trouble.

The developers obviously realised that setting up devastating stealth ambushes was inordinately powerful, so they came up with a solution. Unfortunately their solution is, once again, terrible. What they did was allow the enemies a small quasi-turn at the beginning of combat to reposition themselves. In other words, whenever you start combat by shooting a bad guy, all his friends are allowed a moment to scurry for cover without there being anything you can do about it. This destroys any potential of a well-executed ambush – or it would, if you could not set up overwatch over every enemy and watch them get shot as they do their little scramble. In any case, it takes away your control of the situation. It would seem to be a natural thing, in a game about tactical operations with a small squad of elite soldiers who are vastly outnumbered, to reward the player for setting up a good ambush. Clearly, though, in Jagged Alliance 3 this is so absurdly easy to do that the player can’t be allowed to do it, so control must be taken away from him in however arbitrary a fashion. This is a textbook example of how bad design begets bad design.​

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JRPG Codex Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie

Review - posted by Darth Roxor on Mon 14 August 2023, 12:27:01

Tags: Falcom; The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie

Every now and again, some degenerate can't help but tell the entire world about his uncommon fetishes, and so he sends us a review of a JRPG. This time, it would be community member Rean, who has delighted us with his wall of text about The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie.

Suffice to say, he seems to be fairly positive about it. To give a snippet:

Since Trails in the Sky came out, the series' strongest point has always been its capability for immersion in the world. The reviews of the series starting in 2004 have traditionally mentioned the astonishing attention to detail, with reviewers being impressed by the fact that each character had their own name, background origins, personality and aspirations, rather than just being "NPC #12" and "Character #24". These games truly feel alive, in ways that no other series ever has. The world of Zemuria itself never just displays happiness incarnate, but it's never pure gloom either. It's a balanced, objective world that is realistic and alive, in every meaning of the word, where every non-player character feels important and worth your time learning about and talking to. No other series has been able to achieve this level of fleshing out for its setting. And the great thing is that as events are always on the move and organic, the player is always kept on his toes. If you're a series veteran, get ready for the twists and turns of Reverie, where certain parts are once again turned on their heads!

(...)

Once again you will get to control a massive cast of characters, each one with their own personality and combat abilities. You'll meet old characters and new alike – among them, the protagonists of every past series, a political terrorist leader, a powerful villain re-emerged and even a sentient doll. The characters whose lives you will closely experience constantly struggle with their own morality and place in the world, such as the former contract killer Rixia when she encounters a duo of young assassins, and Rean, when he meets a master of both the blade and life that far surpasses his own abilities.

The characters come and go throughout the game, much like in previous entries. Don't get too attached to anyone for too long and try not to equip your absolute strongest equipment or gems on anyone but the main characters until you have plenty enough to go around; the way the game flows is entirely dependent on the plot.

And the enemies do include just everything this time as well, from dancing ant-eaters to krakens and demons, assassins, perverted versions of your own characters and more. Some of the creatures are throwbacks to Trails in the Sky from 19 years ago, others are brand new. Regardless, figuring out and exploiting or working around weaknesses and resistances is as fun as ever, especially when you introduce the high difficulty tactical element.​

The article is fairly in-depth, and many of the details mentioned here managed to spark the interest of even someone as jaded as yours truly. To find out if you are also able to connect with your inner weeb, dive right on in. Read the full article: JRPG Codex Review: The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie

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RPG Codex Review: Black Geyser

Codex Review - posted by Darth Roxor on Fri 28 July 2023, 18:29:16

Tags: Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness; GrapeOcean Technologies

Time flies, people change, ice caps melt, but you can always bet on the release of another Baldur's Gate clone every now and again, and that some poor sod is going to be duped into playing it. This time around, we're happy to present our review of Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness, as written by community member Lady Error.

Surprisingly enough, this strong contender for the weirdest title ever plastered on an RPG made by a bunch of nobodies actually turned out enjoyable. As with any other game, it has its ups and downs, but some things it manages to do fairly well. As Lady Error puts it:

The writing is concise and to the point, which already makes it much better than in Pillars of Eternity. There are also no gods that you have to deal with all the time, except indirectly on rare occasions. And while many quests are nothing special, quite a few do stand out with creativity.

For example, there is a time travel-themed quest in an underground area where the party needs to retrieve an antidote from a hostile group of cultists in the past and find a way to bring it to the present to save some allies. The difficulty is that all small magical items get destroyed by the time travel device, including the antidote.

The main quest focuses heavily on royal diplomacy in different kingdoms, which is a relatively new theme compared to the Infinity Engine titles. The majority of the quests can also be resolved in more than one way – often there is a pacifist solution available. There are even a few quests with heavy choices and consequences. Without spoiling too much, one of them really surprised me: when helping someone in need resulted in wiping out an entire peaceful settlement. And all the unresolved quests from that settlement were lost, though I did get a very powerful item as a "thank you."

Overall, this game is not too short, with a similar amount of content as the original Baldur's Gate. Black Geyser does not overstay its welcome.​

But there is more to like and dislike about it, all neatly arranged in a tidy list of what's right and wrong. Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Black Geyser

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RPG Codex Interview: Sérgio Gil on Project Haven

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 15 July 2023, 18:09:56

Tags: Code Three Fifty One; Project Haven

Of the various indie turn-based RPGs that have appeared on the scene in recent years, Project Haven seems to be among the more anticipated. It's a cyberpunk/dystopian-themed tactical RPG where you command a mercenary crew fighting for survival in the last city on Earth, made by Portuguese couple Sérgio Gil and Joana Dimas under the banner of Code Three Fifty One. The game has actually been in development for quite some time, but it recently resurfaced with the release of a new demo build during Steam's Tacticon event back in May. It made such a good impression that our man udm, apparently on a roll after writing his excellent Ctrl Alt Ego review, decided to hit up Sérgio (who is known on the Codex as re.var) and ask a few questions.

Hey re.var, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I think it's safe to say that Project Haven is one of the most anticipated games of this year (if it doesn't get pushed back again) for many Codexers. First of all, can you give us an introduction to Code Three Fifty One, as well as what got you guys into game development?

Hey! Thanks for having me. Truly appreciate the interest in Project Haven! We've always been avid gamers since childhood back in the early 90's, and like many always wanted to make our own games. I've personally started my professional game dev career in 2000 and have been making games since. Joana has a master's in Psychology and a PhD in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, she always loved games, particularly games with a good story. Back in 2015 we started creating a game together for fun, and it eventually turned into Project Haven when we saw its potential.

If you could describe Project Haven to an audience of grognards who love CRPGs and tactical games, how would you do so?

Project Haven is our attempt to recreate the same feeling you had in firefights in games like Jagged Alliance 2, Silent Storm and the original Xcoms. Essentially it's a turn based game where fights are very messy, uncertain, and you have to deal with a lot of variables in the field at the same time. You have very granular control of your characters (it's not a simplified experience) allowing you to engage each encounter exactly as you like. In Project Haven we've paired this gameplay with a cinematic storyline that will push the player forward through the streets of Haven city.

The implementation of a non-grid-based system to provide the player with more granular control is an interesting one not seen in too many tactics games. Furthermore, players are able to do things like sidestep, free aim, etc. In an era where tactics games have become increasingly streamlined to appeal to more gamers, why did you choose to go the other way?

From the start we wanted to have significant emphasis on the characters' mechanical control. Free Aim was actually one of the first features we tried, it started out as a test to see how it felt, but in the end, for us, it improves the experience and the immersion in the world. It does depart from the percentage based hit systems that are more common, though Free Aim arguably seems like a more "fair" system as you can visually assess how likely you are to hit. The gridless movement comes together with all the rest of the features we have in Project Haven like strafe, lean, direction of facing being important, etc.... It would be a disservice to the game to have gridded movement when we have all the other means of controlling the characters. I personally don't think steamlining increases the appeal in general, look at games like Path of Exile or Escape from Tarkov, they are very complex experiences and can't really be considered niche, they have massive audiences too. I think it's more risky to do a complex game, since there's more opportunities to shoot yourself in the foot as a developer, but if managed and tested properly it can definitely be a plus.

Let's talk about one of the most intriguing features of Project Haven: the implementation of true ballistics, where bullets have trajectories and can even penetrate soft surfaces like wood. How does it work, and how difficult was it to implement and balance across the different gun types?

We tried to model the ballistics in a fairly realistic way. We didn't implement bullet drop off as the ranges aren't that long in the game, but otherwise it behaves as you would expect a real bullet to behave. When a bullet hits something the material type and thickness affect how much energy the bullet loses. We also have different ammo types like regular FMJ, hollow point and armor piercing which all affect how a bullet performs. For balancing reasons we have to stray from reality on the damage, effective range and how much material a bullet can actually go through. For instance, say a normal 9mm may not deal any damage in reality when it hits an armor plate, but in Project Haven it will deal a certain amount of damage to the armor and potentially the character too. Iteration and playtesting is king here. Fun is the most important factor.​

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RPG Codex Review: Ctrl Alt Ego

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 1 July 2023, 22:27:03

Tags: Ctrl Alt Ego; MindThunk

Codexers love playing immersive sims almost as much as they love arguing about the term "immersive sim". They might not get to play them as often as they'd like, as it's generally believed that developing immersive sims requires a budget that only professional AAA studios can provide. However, in recent years some indie developers have begun to experiment in the genre. One such title is last year's Ctrl Alt Ego, an immersive sim with a unique premise from one-man English indie studio MindThunk. You play as a disembodied consciousness on board a virus-stricken space station with the ability to assume control of robots and other machines. It's a humble title, but esteemed user udm was impressed enough by it that he decided to write this insightful review. Although the game starts out feeling more like a Portal clone, it eventually reveals itself to be something greater.

And this is where the fun really begins: there are a total of 11 skills that Bug 22 can learn, with each skill having a small but varied selection of upgrades. These skills range from mundane ones like turning your arm into a shotgun, to turning it into a drill to break down other bots, to being able to convert any object into an unstable explosive. At harder difficulties, I would recommend against taking the straightforward options because alerted enemies automatically have a shield that makes them invincible (unless you have a certain upgrade in a certain skill that certainly instakills them).

Apart from the aforementioned, because of how varied the skills and upgrades are, you can accomplish tasks in almost any way you please so long as it is feasible within the constraints of the map. It never gets old converting an enemy MOM into a walking bomb, then having it enter a room full of other enemies. You can even do a pacifist run if you so please, turning yourself invisible and using the VacQ (a vacuum cleaner to suck up small objects, or to suck YOU towards big objects) to dart about swiftly from room to room. A lot of times, you don’t even have to use any of your skills if you don’t want to, as you can just hide behind boxes and wait for imminent threats to pass you by. Stealth isn’t light-based for those of you wondering, though it is still very much a viable option.

The maps are an absolute joy to explore and exploit. The initial chapters start off more like linear puzzle maps, though despite that, you still have many ways to overcome challenges: other than Bug 22's skills, you can also turn the environment to your advantage. Most items can be moved around and used as a tool of some sort; rarely will you enter a room that does not have at least one exploitable feature. It’s up to you how you want to play within the constraints of the game’s physics. Hide or confront, sabotage or ignore, there are so many ways to overcome a given problem.

The AI is also competent at tracking you down. If you try to hide behind a box right in front of a hostile, it will start to grow suspicious. When you move the box around, the hostile machine’s suspicion grows, until it decides it’s had enough of your nonsense and zaps away your cover. It is also quick to pick up on your presence if you take control of an enemy and start attacking them with their own mate. But, again, because there are so many ways to accomplish an objective, you can mix and match strategies. You can use a combination of stealth and brute force, or a combination of sabotage and subterfuge. It’s your playground.

There are a total of 8 chapters, and I must say that from Chapters 1 to 6, I treated the game more like a puzzle game than a simulation. It was very reminiscent of Portal in the way the maps of these 6 chapters were designed. I might be going out on a limb here, but it felt like the design philosophy for those earlier chapters was to only present the player with a series of challenges of escalating difficulty as games from the puzzle genre normally do. This was evident in the various MacGuffins that you had to go after, with a simple narrative to tie everything together. I did have a good time as each chapter got progressively more difficult, but I never really felt like I was playing an “immersive sim”.

And then, I was greeted by Chapters 7 and 8.

The map layout and design of these two chapters blew my mind. Not only were the maps huge, easily beating Chapters 1 to 6 in scale, but there was so much to do. There was so much to discover, so many access points and routes to traverse across the stations. Many games tend to fall apart towards the later levels, but CAE maintains a strong consistency in quality. At no point did I feel the developers dropped the ball and got sloppy to rush out the product. Bear in mind that this was developed by a team of two to three guys, making it even more mind-blowing!

I can’t say more about these last two chapters without ruining the surprise you get when you reach that point but be prepared to do a lot of exploration. Not only are they huge, but most major areas are interconnected in some way. It’s a very nice mix of closed corridors and big open spaces, two glorious playgrounds for you to mess around with whichever tools you fancy.​

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RPG Codex Review: Caves of Lore

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 10 June 2023, 23:26:11

Tags: Caves of Lore

Hopefully you remember Caves of Lore, the pixel art retro RPG by Mike Robins aka LoreMaster released back in January. These early year indie releases are often forgotten by the time summer arrives, but perhaps not in this case. Over the past few weeks, some of our users have finally gotten around to trying the game out and have found that it's really good, perhaps even one of the finest RPGs of its kind. One of these users is the esteemed Kalarion, who decided to write an exhaustive analysis. Although the game is not flawless, he's definitely a fan, particularly of its exploration mechanics.

Caves of Lore features isometric movement and exploration over a gradually-expanding range of maps. It is not open-world, but each area is expansive enough (and in many cases, revisited enough) that it never felt restrictive or predictable. Exploration is distinguished by the game's lunar system, which tracks the position of the game's three moons and sun. Each moon, or combination, can have various effects depending on their position and the time of day. The effects range from combat, granting bonuses to spells and skills and activating certain feats, to exploration, opening up new paths and unlocking secret areas or treasures.

The game also has an in-game automap, filled in as you explore. There is just enough detail on the automap to jog your memory and aid you when trying to recall bits and pieces of unfinished puzzles, without being so explicit that it gives the game away. The automap also allows for an (as far as I know) undocumented auto-travel feature, useful when backtracking or moving about in town and so forth. It also keeps track of how many of each area's secrets and ores you've discovered. Normally I wouldn't appreciate such a tracker, but in this case, with the myriad secrets and some uncertainty about whether the doodads on the map are actually used in the game or not, I didn't mind it too much.

Let's get this out of the way now: I'm a huge fan of this game's exploration mechanics, and I believe it is by far its most enjoyable aspect. You never feel bored wandering around. There are always new areas to explore, or old areas with expanded avenues opening up, or interesting opportunities to interact with the environment. Discovering the mechanics behind the game's lunar system is the best kind of joy: frustrating at first, then deeply satisfying once you've attained mastery. And since treasure unlocked via lunar mechanics is by far the best in the game, it's always a huge rush to figure out a given puzzle. Learning the little peculiarities of each type of puzzle was also fun and satisfying.

For those (like me) who had a difficult time figuring out the lunar system solely through in-game experimentation, there are a series of books giving more detailed explanations, while still leaving room for further discovery, and several spells which are solely exploration-related to expand options as the game progresses.

Camping is conducted anywhere with enough room to seat your party of characters. You have a range of jobs which can be performed during camp, as well as some options for passing time, both in terms of hours/days and moon phase. Your hp and mana will regen while encamped, dependent on each character's Survival skill.

A few sour notes detract from the overall experience. First, a game tied to a lunar system which depends on the passage of time necessarily entails a lot of time spent waiting in the game (usually via camping). You're going to spend a lot of time staring at the game's sundial while encamped if you want to unlock every secret. I'm not sure how to solve this problem (or even if it's wise to mess with it), since the feeling of time passing is tied so tightly into exploration.

Second, one character's exploration ability is absolutely required in order to unlock several secrets, which does not in my opinion fit with the other characters' theme of "useful but not necessary" exploration abilities. In particular there is a great deal of pressure placed on the player to conduct a ton of grinding in order to bring this character up to speed with the rest of the party, so he can be useful to the party in combat (which also ties back to the character development issues talked about earlier).

Finally, camping is effectively a risk-free refill mechanic. The only potential throttle is the possible amount of time required to completely refill the mana of mage characters. Especially at higher levels it's usually faster to stay the night at the inn or dormitory since it instantly refills health and mana overnight. The developer recently added the ability for nearby monsters to ambush you while encamped, but practically speaking you will only risk this happening if you camp right on top of a monster (within a couple tiles).

Still, I cannot emphasize enough how happy I've been to enjoy exploration so much. As I've commented elsewhere, I don't remember the last time I looked forward so eagerly to finding out what's just around the corner. Maybe the Exiles, from when I was a teenager. A very impressive feat, and the developer deserves major kudos.​

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RPG Codex Review: Pathfinder Wrath of the Righteous

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 22 April 2023, 18:58:30

Tags: Owlcat Games; Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

It's easy to forget what a surprise Pathfinder: Kingmaker was when it launched back in 2018. Its unlikely success turned Owlcat Games, a previously unknown Russian studio, into one of the primary isometric RPG developers of our time practically overnight. Released three years later, its followup Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is viewed in a somewhat different light. The game is definitely extremely popular, including on our forums, but there's a sense that some players have grown a bit weary of the Owlcat formula. "The same, but even more epic and extreme" might sound good, but it amplifies the parts of a game that people don't like as much as it does the parts that they do like. In his review of Wrath of the Righteous, the esteemed Roguey reached a similar conclusion, though he ultimately still finds the game worth playing for fans of the genre. Here's an excerpt:

In my Kingmaker review, I hoped for a pseudo-isometric fantasy RPG without lengthy exposition dumps. Well, once again, that isn't this one. Walls of text are a frequent occurrence, which is made all the more exasperating when they're fully voiced. Lengthy books, notes, and letters you can collect in the world are fine — I could just do without the long monologues.

Like Kingmaker, the journal entries are written by someone who isn't the player character. It soon becomes obvious that they're written from the perspective of the primary antagonist, which I believe may be a first for the genre. It's an amusing novelty, even if I found myself annoyed by the verbosity, though I'll admit it fits the character's personality. It also led to a giddy sense of pride when my character asserted ownership of the journal with the final quest entry.

WotR has another colorful cast of characters, though this bunch is far more queer in both senses of the term. Owlcat wasn't afraid to be polarizing, though I found myself not ultimately disliking how any of them were written. As an example, Lann's Whedonesque quipping aggravated me at first, but as the game progresses, he behaves more seriously and gets less obnoxious with the jokes. I don't know if that was a deliberate character arc, but it worked for me.

Naturally a game where the player character gains mythic powers to defeat a demonic invasion will be as ego stroking as it gets. The various mythic paths cover a wide variety of motivations: you can be a lawful zealot who corrects all wrong-doing, a tough but fair judge meting out justice with mercy, a free spirit who defeats demons with the power of friendship, a rival evil who wants to eliminate the competition, or someone just having fun. Unlike Kingmaker, there weren't any spots where I felt unsatisfied with the number of decisions available for the character I had in mind.

The story covers themes of corruption and redemption. Unsurprisingly, your allies aren't entirely good or infallible, and some of your enemies aren't entirely bad. As a good character, I had to make some pragmatic decisions for the greater good. For example, early on I met a commanding officer who's revealed to have ordered one of your companions burned at the stake out of belief she was a secret cultist. My initial desire was to execute him on the spot (which would be justified and isn't considered an evil action by the game), but given the dire circumstances of the war, I decided I didn't have the luxury of being too particular about who my allies were. Sure enough, his presence had a beneficial effect on an event many dozens of hours later.

Reactivity like that is abundant throughout the game. The first act has a soft time limit with changes to certain maps after you reach it (or a potential reward if you manage to initiate the act-ending quest before the event can trigger). The second act has reactions to how long you take and your crusade's losses and morale. The availability of certain companions changes depending on what decisions you make, and some can permanently turn on you. Your choice of mythic path will open up certain exclusive options (including at the end) and each has its own particular questline. Multiple companions can have interjecting conversations among themselves and with other characters. Sometimes characters you meet will react to certain magical items you have in your inventory. There's even an ending that requires meeting a very precise set of requirements to unlock (you're gradually given the instructions how to do it throughout the game, with the last set of requirements revealed at the very end; I would recommend against metagaming it the first time you play given that it might not even fit your character concept).

[...] Before release, it was my hope that Wrath of the Righteous would address the biggest issues I had with Kingmaker and become an undisputed classic. Instead it's a whole-lot-more-of-the-same sequel that does some things better and some things worse. That's fine, but once more I find myself not wanting to go through it again even though I would like to explore more mythic paths and make different choices. Nevertheless, if you can accept that Owlcat is dedicated to filling their games to the brim with text and enemies and strategic management minigames, and you have the time to commit to it, then it's certainly worth playing.​

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Freedom Force

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 1 April 2023, 21:09:52

Tags: Freedom Force; Irrational Games

After making System Shock 2 but before they become known as the BioShock company, Irrational Games released several other titles from a variety of genres. Among these was 2002's Freedom Force, a colorful superhero-themed real-time tactical RPG inspired by the so-called Silver Age of comic books. Although well-received at the time and successful enough to merit a sequel in 2005, Freedom Force ultimately seems to have been too niche to remain in the public memory for long, its homebrew setting obsolete in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I'm not sure why Mr. Magniloquent decided that now was the time to write a (magniloquent) retrospective of this underappreciated title, but we're happy to publish it. As you'll see, he's a big fan of the combat:

Did I mention this game is true real-time with pause? There are no hidden pseudo-rounds. Timing is everything. From how fast you move to how fast you can act. The real-time action makes it possible to micro your character to dodge attacks--it’s often vital to do so. Hustling your hero behind a car for cover from a gangster robot raking his Tommy Gun across the avenue will feel genuinely cinematic. The duration of the execution and action point costs is correlated with how potent a power is. In true comic fashion, ultimate attacks are flashy and highly telegraphed, giving you time to respond by marshaling your defenses, fleeing for cover, or attempting to interrupt them. Interruption is an important tactic, and made the Alchemiss character’s quick and inexpensive Repulsion ability invaluable.​
Freedom Force makes full use of its 3D environment. Beyond your character’s own RNG, your attacks will have to contend with constant movement, line of sight, and range itself. It will be commonplace to miss your intended target or hit unintended ones. Collision is consequential, as both bystanders and environments are destructible. This isn’t pop-a-mole. Vantage points and cover will be destroyed, so don’t get too comfortable.​
Prestige will be lost from harming innocents and destroying civilian infrastructure, no matter the perpetrator. Your priorities will be impacted by the nature of the enemies you face because of it. A grenade wielding maniac who demolishes a building because you’re atop it will still incur prestige loss. It is frequently necessary to put your heroes in danger for the greater good in true comic book fashion. Collateral damage also makes discretion the better part of valor. Large explosions and penetrating ray attacks are dangerous to more than the villains. Non-urban environments where you can let loose will become cathartic because of it. On the same note, environments are often usable. Freedom Force was tossing exploding barrels 10 years before Larian made it cool. You can also throw cars, mailboxes, and other objects if strong enough. In melee, wield traffic signals and streetlights for wide and satisfying swings.​
No comic can be complete without rooftop action. Solasta made much ado about elevation, but this is another feature where Freedom Force was decades ahead. A higher position provides unimpeded line of sight, or can be a refuge from a blundering brute. Furthermore, fall damage is significant. Knocking a knucklehead from a lofty ledge or flying felon is often more damaging than a direct attack.​
All powers cost Action Points. Even the lowliest of basic punches will cost a few AP. All powers can have their potency increased or decreased, which also modifies the AP cost. The savvy player can be economical by diminishing their powers against weak or vulnerable enemies. This can often be a crucial tactic for success on certain missions. Likewise, you can also elevate your powers when you need it to count, or overcome a powerful foe's defenses. Be fore-warned, if you use more AP than is currently available, there is a scaling risk that the action will both fail and stun that character. Gripping scenes emerge when you execute a double-empowered ultra-attack just in the nick of time to save the day. Everything about Freedom Force works to exude super heroic style. Play this game already!​

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RPG Codex GOTY 2022: Results & Cool Graphs

Community - posted by felipepepe on Sat 18 February 2023, 11:29:30

Tags: GOTY 2022

Here we are again, ready to see the best RPGs of 2022!

This year we went back to a Codex-only vote. Also to a 1-5 scale, because I forgot to ask to change it to 1-4 lol. In total, we had 364 voters, who rated 157 RPGs that came out last year.

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

RPG CODEX'S 2022 GOTYs:
#1 - Elden Ring
#2 - Knights of the Chalice 2
#3 - King Arthur: Knight's Tale

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

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RPG Codex Top 55 JRPGs

Community - posted by Infinitron on Mon 17 October 2022, 22:18:43


The RPG Codex has published a number of top RPG lists and even a top non-RPG list, but it appears we never got around to organizing an official top JRPG list. Earlier this year, community member Gastrick decided to do something about that and set up a poll which ran for a month over the summer. He's already published the results in our forums, but now they have the front page stamp of approval. To no one's surprise, the Codex's favorite JRPG is eroge classic Sengoku Rance. There are plenty of other details to parse out in the list, which Gastrick has also split out by subgenre and individual series.


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RPG Codex Review: Jupiter Hell

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 28 May 2022, 15:52:51

Tags: ChaosForge; Jupiter Hell

Roguelikes have never been a primary focus of this website, nor of our chief content officer Darth Roxor, who in fact has very little experience with the genre. As a fan of Doom, one roguelike he has played extensively is DoomRL, the venerable Doom-based roguelike by Kornel Kisielewicz. So it's no surprise that Kisielewicz's DoomRL successor Jupiter Hell was of great interest to him when it appeared on Kickstarter back in 2016. Having played it extensively even before it left Early Access last August, Roxor has now turned in his review of this title, and his verdict is uniformly positive. Here's his appraisal of the game's core combat mechanics:

At a basic level, combat is very similar to DoomRL. Everything is turn-based, you get one action a turn, and the rest of the world moves together with you. Actions take time to perform, the baseline being ‘1 second’, but some are obviously faster than others. If you have a 50% movement speed boost, you’ll be able to take two steps over the same time as it’ll take most other enemies to take one. Managing the time taken to do things is extremely important, as quickness will often allow you to avoid getting whacked.

Guns have accuracy thresholds for distance, with all having optimal and max ranges, and some having minimum range. You will take an accuracy penalty for being at a distance lower than minimum or greater than optimal, while exceeding max range will down your accuracy to zero. One thing I don’t entirely get here is the purpose of optimal/max ranges greater than 6, because 6 tiles is the limit of your view, and you can’t shoot beyond that, even with blind fire. The only exception are shotguns, which aren’t subject to accuracy, and distance only influences their damage, while spraying blindly into the fog of war can actually hurt enemies beyond the 6-tile limit. It can also be extremely effective if you manage to lay your hands on a long-range shotgun.

Where Jupiter Hell strays from its predecessor is in its inclusion of cover mechanics. Anything between you and your opponent will act as cover – this includes props, walls and other enemies. Shooting something behind cover significantly influences accuracy, which makes positioning in combat a vital factor, especially since a number of perks also have an impact on cover, either by reducing it for your targets, or increasing its effectiveness for you. Thus, hunkering down behind some walls, spinning up your chaingun and using an extra action or two to aim can help you withstand even the most unfavourable odds. Similarly, a stupid zombie grunt with a handgun can become a much bigger nuisance when behind cover.

The maps in Jupiter Hell are generally rather tight as well, with big open rooms being a rarity, so cover is something to always keep in mind as you plan your approach. Plus, even in the bigger rooms you’ll find plenty of props, such as chairs or crates, to provide cover, though these are all destructible.

But that’s not to say that (ab)using cover is the ultimate way to go. It’s obviously going to be much less useful if you’re playing a running man. And even if you’re focused on entrenchment, there’s still plenty of things that can smoke you out, particularly acid pools and poison clouds that can be thrown by various enemies. Plus, no matter how much of a living bunker you are, some attacks will still go through and keep chipping away at your health – cover may be important, but it’s still just an individual mechanic, and not god mode, and Jupiter Hell is fortunately not a cover shooter.

Another thing to keep in mind is pain. As you get damaged, you’ll accumulate pain – some enemies even have special abilities that leave you in pain just by looking at you. Pain is a percentage that reduces your accuracy, so the more you get whacked, the worse your performance becomes. In my experience, this mechanic is primarily there to punish your mistakes – if you’re standing in the open like a dumbass, or you keep shooting at a fiend that’s in your face and slashing you, your pain will ramp up, and well, it’s exactly something you deserve. As mentioned before, the marine can cleanse pain and convert it into healing with his special ability, while other classes will have to either wait it out or use a medkit to remove all pain. Oftentimes, waiting it out in the middle of a slaughterfest is not an option.

One thing that I’ve come to realise is a bit of a bummer is that pain applies only to you. The game is generally fair and symmetrical when it comes to its mechanics, but pain is an exception that can sometimes be annoying when facing enemies with high health pools. With more straight-forward builds, the best thing you can do is take cover behind a corner, keep shooting and pray that none of their attacks go through – it feels a little arbitrary, especially when you reach a ceiling where your damage won’t be getting higher, but you’ll still encounter tougher enemies, which leaves you without some additional way to mitigate the risks.

Nevertheless, playing carefully and managing the risks is an important part of Jupiter Hell, since just like most other roguelikes, it’s extremely unforgiving when it comes to dumb mistakes. I’d say that most of my runs are interrupted by a sudden bout of dying due to losing focus. You keep tapping those movement keys like stupid, you run into an armoured ravager, you get blasted with rockets and die. You can’t be bothered to take a step aside and duck behind cover – that former CRI sergeant will be more than glad to spray you with lead. Even worse if you forget about the stuff you’re carrying, and realise only after dying that you could have teleported to safety with a phase kit or run away in a smokescreen. But you were actually too much of a cheapskate to use them, so quit whining.​

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