Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 19 January 2021, 18:31:08Tags: CD Projekt; Cyberpunk 2077
By the usual standards, CD Projekt's latest mega-AAA hit Cyberpunk 2077 should have been considered a huge success. It reviewed well enough on PC and managed to recoup its entire development cost via pre-orders alone. However, the game's console ports were a disaster, and in a year when we all had enough too much free time on our hands, it was enough to generate a massive negative publicity firestorm for the company, including class action lawsuits and an investigation by the Polish government. Several days ago CD Projekt published a video with CEO Marcin Iwinski apologizing for the poor state of the game, and a few days later it scored a comparatively pathetic seventh place in our all-important Codex GOTY poll. Now would be the perfect time to publish our own official review of Cyberpunk 2077, and thanks to a surprise contribution from esteemed user lukaszek, we actually managed to pull that off. It's a thorough examination of the game, including character building, combat, open world elements, quest design and itemization. Here's an excerpt from the review:
- You speak with a fixer. It’s either a recorded video message or a long dialog. If you get a chance to speak, there’ll be many options to pick, but nothing will matter, as you’ll get your objectives anyway.
- You follow the quest compass and there might be a locked door. If it’s locked, you might be able to unlock it. If you can’t – go jump out of the nearest window. Do it at full speed and without checking what’s behind. You will land safely on a balcony and will clearly see how to jump or climb to another open window. Sometimes it will be a ladder in the back of the building, but you get the idea.
- There will be enemies. Kill them silently, go blasting, sneak past them – it doesn’t matter.
- Approach the objective. There might be an optional pacifist option here, but that’s rare.
- Escape the area.
- Get a phone call.
On rare occasions the game will surprise you. Instead of following the quest marker on autopilot, there might be hidden objectives for you to unlock if you step off the marked path.
The start of the game is like Dragon Age: Origins. You get 3 origins that all forcefully converge into one path – one of the street kid. Without spoiling too much, you’ll get a choice at the end of the main storyline that mirrors each lifepath, but has nothing to do with your original choice. It’s all about flavor and some unique responses that, as I stated, usually don’t matter. The corp path is quite sad as you’re a suit for a few minutes, but the rest of the game has nothing to do with it. In that prelude, you’ll be forced to play a weakling vomiting from stress in the bathroom, while corp lines are usually about strong-handling NPCs to make them do what you want. Nomads and Street Kids can sort of continue their life. The corp origin also gets the weakest extra quest compared to the other two (although you do get the best tech pistol in the game).
Endings are not like in The Witcher where you have to live with your choices. You get a special save point, and after you end the game, you return to that save with a unique item based on the choice you’d made during the last quest. You can rinse and repeat to experience and obtain everything. A few endings are locked behind certain characters liking you, meaning completing their optional quest chains and not annoying them during dialogues. This is the only lasting consequence to your actions that I’ve found.
For example, consider blasting a powerplant during the main story – all you’ll see is a news flash during the loading screen or while waiting in an elevator. Side quests don’t get even such mentions.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Cyberpunk 2077
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Community - posted by felipepepe on Sun 17 January 2021, 06:52:34Tags: GOTY 2020
Welcome to the RPG Codex 2020 GOTY Award!
This year we had 1025 voters, who rated 76 releases from 2020. If 2019 felt like a slow year, this was even slower. But we still had some good games that will likely turn into classics as more people try them out. Since we had very few expansions & DLCs this year, I've cut the categories to just two: Best RPGs of the Year & Best PC ports/remasters.
For those of you who just want the TL;DR, here are the winners:
Game of the Year
1st - Wasteland 3
2nd - Yakuza: Like a Dragon
3rd - Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children
Persona 4 Golden
For the full results and fancy graphs, just follow the link below.
Read the full article: RPG Codex GOTY 2020: Results & Cool Graphs
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Thu 10 December 2020, 19:15:51Tags: Heroic Fantasy Games; Knights of the Chalice 2
Released in 2009 by eccentric Frenchman Pierre Begue, the original Knights of the Chalice was one of the Codex's first indie favorites. It achieved that status not merely because it was a rare turn-based RPG in an age of consolized cinematic popamole, but because it was genuinely well-designed. During most of its decade-long development, the biggest concern about Knights of the Chalice 2 was that its abstract, tabletop-like visual style lacked appeal. But surely whatever the game sacrificed in looks would be compensated with even better gameplay. Well, that's not how things turned out. Since its release in July, the inaugural Augury of Chaos module for Knights of the Chalice 2 has become notorious for its outlandishly high difficulty level and generally poor balance, issues which subsequent patches appear to have only scratched the surface of. Today our very own Darth Roxor is here to tell you all about it. As an added bonus, we also have some details about the game's module editor from the esteemed Dorateen. Here's an excerpt from the review:
But that is not all. One of the more insulting aspects of this game and its encounters are the enemy casters. For starters, they always know all the spells that are available at their level, so most of them act in the exact same way (unless scripted to do something specific on their first turn), and they are always ready for everything you can throw at them thanks to this. For reasons more than one, too, because they also always come pre-buffed with every single buff spell there is, even if they materialise out of nowhere. And believe me, the end-game becomes absolute nightmare fuel because of this. In the final chapter, every encounter has at least 4 supercharged mages, sometimes even more, sometimes it even keeps spawning more, all of them are pre-buffed to the point of stupidity, and if you don’t manage to somehow shut them down immediately, you just get nuked to oblivion.
What has to be said about the above is that this is not even particularly “difficult.” It's just depressing. The way all those enemy mages come pre-buffed with a mix of blur, mirror image, mind blank, foresight, good fortune, dispelling buffer, stoneskin and contingent break enchantment is depressing. The way they all know ALL the spells their class has to offer is depressing. The way they just keep spawning new ones is depressing. The way they always open up with accelerated spell into double instakill nuke cast is depressing. Their up-the-ass spell resistance is depressing. The fact they stand on freaking towers and can’t be reached by melee characters is depressing.
It’s like peeling a gigantic rotten onion. You keep stripping the layers one by one, you cry all the way through, your fingers stink, and ultimately it doesn’t do you any good. This is simply not how you make RPG encounters. Though fortunately, it has to be stressed that this madness is nearly exclusive to the endgame. Prior to chapter 4, the enemy casters are not yet high level enough to have access to all those spells, and they aren’t as numerous and omni-present in every fight.
Still, if only the nonsense were contained to the casters. Some of the fights in this game are just beyond the pale when it comes to the numbers, levels and types of enemies thrown against you, as well as the “battlefield conditions.” There’s a sequence of fights that first disables all the magical effects on your equipment. Your reward for defeating the boss in chapter 1 is getting stripped of all your stuff. The final fight has a “damage each turn” effect, which Pierre clearly wasn’t able to implement as a regular “environmental hazard,” so it’s instead a bunch of invisible fire tiles all over the place – which means you can’t use area spells like grease and quicksand and every single enemy (including mummies) is fire immune to mask this… and that’s STILL not all.
The worst thing still is that after some point, Augury of Chaos turns into a quick draw contest. Either you win initiative and can obliterate the enemy first (or at least shut down his most important characters), or you get blown up to hell. You will start noticing this around the middle of chapter 3, and the final chapter 4 has that in every single encounter, and I’m not exaggerating. If there is even a single mage who gets to act before you, he will open with a double cast of Prismatic Void (a cute mass-AoE version of Prismatic Spray, courtesy of Pierre’s unhinged homebrew experiments), and remove at least 75% of your party from the game.
Honestly, the campaign feels like Pierre thought that since everyone liked the optional final battle in KotC1 so much, every single battle here ought to be like that too. It’s a neverending slaughterfest established by a sadistic gamemaster, who would have otherwise been quickly abandoned by his players in a real life situation. If you watched the cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory, you might remember the D&D spoof episode, where Dexter keeps fudging the dice against the players and throwing increasingly impossible odds at them. Augury of Chaos gives you the same experience. Eventually, one of your sole motivations for pushing on will be this morbid curiosity what kind of sadistic punishment the deranged gamemaster prepared for you around the next corner. Because beating those ridiculously overpowered encounters often isn't even satisfying when your only reward is just more forceful violation to come, without even as much as a broken penny in return.
And the funniest thing about this? I can bet my right butt cheek that Pierre never played through the campaign in a legit way, from start to finish, to test how it plays. You can tell by the Kickstarter gameplay preview videos, where he fails to beat each and every single encounter presented. This game was simply designed in a vacuum.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Knights of the Chalice 2 - Augury of Chaos
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 5 October 2020, 22:30:41Tags: Krai Mira; Tall Tech Studio
Before the arrival of ATOM, there were a number of considerably less successful attempts to produce a Fallout-inspired post-apocalyptic isometric RPG by various European (particularly Eastern European) studios. One of the last of these was Krai Mira, an isometric RPG set in a post-apocalyptic Crimean peninsula from Slovakian indie developer TallTech Studio. Krai Mira was widely disregarded as "Eastern European shovelware" when it was released in 2016 and was quickly forgotten. Yet there are some among us who still remember. With the impending releases of Encased and ATOM RPG: Trudograd, the esteemed Lord_Potato, who is a connoisseur of all manner of obscure and forgotten RPGs, has decided to revisit Krai Mira and tell us whether our prejudices were justified. Here's an excerpt from his review:
Unfortunately, the system is very basic and unbalanced. There’s only one way to build your character well. On my first try, I created the character I usually play in Fallout games: an eloquent gunslinger (high perception, agility, erudition). Soon I learned that such a build is simply unfeasible in Krai Mira. Erudition provides too few opportunities to justify the stat investment. And as for perception, while the game offers a wide selection of guns, rifles, crossbows, and flamethrowers that use five different types of ammo, it provides far too few bullets. A gunslinger cannot allow himself the luxury of a weapon of choice. He has to hold on to any ammunition he can find and carry several guns in order not to be caught with an empty barrel. Unfortunately, in order to carry those guns or operate heavier weapons, he needs high strength. And in order to deal with the game’s hordes of melee enemies, he needs high agility to get more action points during his turns, so that he can shoot and then flee to safety. High health, required to wear better armor, becomes an unobtainable luxury as you'd have to spread your precious stat points too thinly. After several hours of this, I abandoned my eloquent gunslinger and restarted. Playing such a character was just too tedious and unfun.
The one and only feasible build is a melee tank, which is also reinforced by the majority of available perks. You put points into strength, health, and agility and keep on doing it until they all reach 13-15 points (which is about when the game will end). This will allow the PC to wear the best armor and carry the best melee and projectile weapons, with tons of health points and a decent damage reduction. Of course, due perception being a dump stat he can only shoot the automatic rifle at point-blank range, but at least he can do it. A point-starved gunslinger would never be able to reach the strength value of 13 needed for such a feat. The melee tank mostly fights on the front lines, which is good since the few party members you meet in the game are extremely stupid and die easily. So you need to position your PC in front of these idiots so that the enemies hit him instead.
That said, the combat actually feels pretty solid. With only one feasible build, it's a simple matter of smacking enemies with the biggest club or blade you can find. Guns sometimes offer several fire modes and bursts can hit multiple foes, but you need to conserve ammo so going in guns blazing is rarely a good tactical choice. In true Fallout tradition you can only control the PC while your party members fight on their own, governed by the AI. When human allies are present on the battlefield you ought to take care to strike the killing blow against your foes, otherwise you won't receive experience points. There is an exception to this rule, though. Enemies killed by your most loyal follower, the dog Rudi, do grant you experience.
The enemy AI is simplistic but aggressive, and may pose a challenge through sheer brutality. Hostile combatants try to swarm you with their usually superior numbers and melee fighters do their best to protect the shooters. They attack with truly suicidal determination and retreat only when left with a couple of health points and no medical supplies. Since there are no grenades, the only effective method of crowd control is through the generous use of traps. But since traps pose a serious threat to your allies as well, it's best to avoid them if you're not fighting on your own.
Apart from that, most tactics revolve around choosing when to inject stimpacks and drugs into your PC's system. And of course, selecting your targets is also important. You should always go for the shooters first, even if it exposes you to numerous melee attacks on the way. Despite the system's simplicity, dispatching enemies with a large hammer, a chainsaw, or a katana is very gratifying (and gory). Even better, all the enemies move at the same time during their turn, so you don't have to wait for long minutes as in Fallout. While there is plenty of combat, it does not waste your time, which is a good thing.
Combat difficulty changes significantly over the course of the campaign. At the beginning, it’s similar to Piranha Bytes' Gothic series. You often have to rely on allies and in their absence may be forced to flee from the battlefield, as any confrontation can prove lethal for an ill-equipped and inexperienced PC. After you’ve gained some levels and acquired better gear, your situation improves drastically and fighting even large groups of foes becomes feasible. However, during the endgame you start encountering squads of heavily armed elite soldiers, and their machine gun bursts can quickly eat through hundreds of health points. At this point in the game you have to pick your battles, mind your positioning, and use every natural barrier to protect yourself from enemy fire. This evolution, combined with an acceptable level of enemy variety, helps keep things fresh.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Krai Mira
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 23 August 2020, 16:21:45Tags: Owlcat Games; Pathfinder: Kingmaker
Why did it take us so long to review Pathfinder: Kingmaker, our RPG of the year for 2018? Maybe it's because the game isn't good in a particularly interesting way - merely a well-executed visit to the not-Forgotten Realms. Or maybe it's because applying the kind of exhaustive analysis we value here to its implementation of the already familiar 3rd Edition ruleset would just be too much work for too little payoff. Whatever the case, we have recently appointed Codex staff member Roguey to thank for finally putting in the effort and filling this gap in our portfolio. Here's an excerpt from his review, including its approving conclusion:
Moreover, one novel aspect of the campaign is that once you've been given your barony, the NPCs come to you with their problems rather than the opposite. Sure, there are some sidequests to pick up while exploring the world, but for the most part, you'll be given the details of your quests from your throne room. A potential downside for some is that this means there is no part where you explore a big city looking for errands to run for random citizens, which is an expectation many fantasy RPG fans have; this would be inappropriate for someone of your character's station. It's eccentric enough to go around solving your people's issues personally, which some NPCs do observe with amusement.
I hope you like combat because Kingmaker has a ton of it. Too much in fact; combat areas on the critical path regularly have 10-12 encounters per map which feels like twice as much as there should be, especially since several areas contain multiple maps. In an interview conducted with us before his cognitive decline, Obsidian's Josh Sawyer said "Sometimes as a designer, when you look at a screen, and you realize like 'Wow, there's nothing there, oh I gotta put something there,' but it's okay. Or maybe that thing that you put there is like a container, or it's something to harvest, or just a little thing. The important thing is that it changes; it can't just be a fight, a screen, and a fight," which is advice Owlcat really ought to take.
Even if there are too many battles, I do like the pacing of combat difficulty for the most part, which consists of a mix of easy to medium and easy to hard battles on every map. Nearly every optional area has just a single encounter of medium or hard difficulty for its intended level, which is a welcome relief from the main quest, though the small number of maps available and the constant recycling of them will become quickly apparent. There are a few optional areas which contain something more substantial; I didn't care for the dungeon where you're locked in and have to kill skeletons over and over again until you're let out, but I loved the area where you climb a mountain to a fortress to kill a giant bird and take its egg (to deliver to an innkeeper or to keep for a one-use-only long-term buff recipe that will give you +3 to attack, damage, skill checks, and saving throws).
There are a handful of quests without combat at all, which is another welcome relief. The most memorable of these involve throwing a party for a sad companion, participating in some other-worldly debates, and competing in a series of contests at a festival. I enjoyed the comedic writing in all of them. Some areas have optional and mandatory puzzles to solve; I have a mixed opinion on these, though my favorite involved a dungeon in chapter three where you have to leave companions behind to press switches to open and close doors. There are also quite a number of well-done illustrated text adventures, which have seemingly become a standard feature in pseudo-isometric fantasy RPGs much to my approval.
When it comes to consistency, Kingmaker is a mix of fun and frustrating. I found the first two chapters a near-relentless grind with enough good parts to keep me going. While I hated the railroading in chapter three, it did ease up a bit. Chapter four was my favorite; unsurprisingly, it's also the shortest. I also loved chapter five up until the final combat area which is a grind of 18 combat encounters in a single map, with half of them tuned to make you give your all. Chapter six eases back a bit, while keeping the difficulty (Mandragora swarms are the cazadores of Kingmaker; I'll let you discover how for yourself). I'm grateful that most of the combat encounters in the final dungeon are off the critical path, so I only had to fight around ten, which may seem like a lot, but the dungeon is three maps with two world states each for a total of six with far more to kill than that. It's my understanding that Owlcat reconfigured the encounters in response to feedback, so props to them. There's even an optional bonus chapter after that depending on a decision you can make, but I didn't play it because I was completely satisfied with the ending I received thanks to my earlier actions; moreover, after 112 hours, I had more than enough, especially after glancing at the massively debuffed conditions you're expected to play under. I'll leave it to the powergamers.
[...] Flawed as it may be, Kingmaker is high enough in quality when it comes to core gameplay and content. My congratulations to Owlcat for making a rough diamond on their first try after many months of patches. While it has too many issues to be an indisputable classic, this is the game Neverwinter Nights 2 should have been, and the one Pillars of Eternity failed to be (even though PoE has better combat pacing even with all its encounters). It's too bad it goes overboard on combat to such a degree that it's the equivalent of two RPGs in one; I never want to play it again even though I'd normally want to try a different build and make different choices. Nevertheless, it's a must-play for any real-time-with-pause party-based fantasy RPG fan.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Pathfinder Kingmaker
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 21 April 2020, 01:23:13Tags: Horizon's Gate; Rad Codex
We're all sitting at home because of the coronavirus these days and yet it seems like the only RPGs on the immediate horizon are alpha builds of various Russian games. Why not take a look at the recent past instead? Codex indie enthusiast CryptRat has written a comprehensive review of Rad Codex's ambitious seafaring SRPG Horizon's Gate, which might just be the best release of the year so far. While he's not the biggest fan of some of the game's open world sandbox elements, they're nothing that would ruin his enjoyment of its rock solid character building and tactical combat. I quote:
Combat in Horizon’s Gate is turn-based and takes place on a grid directly on the map. Characters can cast protection and enhancement spells before combat and can also initiate combat by attacking with a long range attack skill. Unlike the previous games in the series, battles begin with a formation phase where you can arrange your characters in a small area and choose the direction they’re facing.
The combat system is based on time-ticks, with a queue that takes note of the turn order and remaining recovery time for each character. During a character’s turn he can move and use an action, in any order. Not moving or performing an action will decrease the recovery time until his next turn. Recovery times are not otherwise determined by a character’s last action, and different creatures have different recovery times. There are certain skills that also require a preparation phase. They can be interrupted during this time, though simply inflicting damage won't be enough - you'll need to stun or disable the character or use an ability which cancels skills. Pushing the character will only do the trick if the skill’s effect depends on him being in his original position. Some skills also cost magic points to use.
Characters have the following stats: movement, physical and magical damage, dodge and damage reduction, proficiency scores in the various weapon types, which are added to hit chance and damage, and affinity with elements, which determines both the power of elemental attacks and the character’s resistance to those attacks. Backstabbing allows you to ignore the dodge stat. All damage values in the game are fixed.
You can inflict many of the classic RPG afflictions on your enemies - burning, poison, frost, silence, poison and disabling. An oiled character will take more damage and will automatically be burnt by any fire attack, while a wet character won't take much damage from fire but will take a lot from ice and lightning attacks. Electric attacks will spread in water puddles (likely created by a previous ice attack) dealing damage to all characters standing in them. Weapons can be charged with elemental power, and many elemental skills with various areas of effect are available, both to your party and to enemies. I found that you don't really need to care about enemies’ elemental resistance, but it's a good idea to pay attention to their resistance to afflictions.
The layout of the battlefield can play a decisive role in combat, especially when you can push enemies off cliffs using wind attacks. Shooting explosive plants from a distance can also be useful.
Encounter design is one of the game’s high points. Some of the creatures you'll encounter were already present in Alvora Tactics, while others are brand new. When you're not fighting against swarms of poisonous flies, worms which duplicate when damaged by weapons, explosive beetles, or monsters whose shells can only be damaged with hammers, then you're probably fighting against a party of characters who can use the same equipment and skills as your own. They’re quite effective at using skills, and you’ll get their equipment if you defeat them.
Enemies are able to use many different skills, are smart enough to get out of the impact zone of any currently charging skills, and will punish you for positioning your character in a way that allows them to target many characters at once. The enemy AI is unpredictable which can make for some fun battles.
You’ll get to fight against a few lone boss enemies with extremely high health and defenses. These fights may take a while depending on your damage output. Magic point restoration skills and healing consumables will prove useful.
As previously mentioned, some towns have a dojo that offers a challenging battle against a party of characters. They’re typically all trained in a single weapon type but have different classes. These battles are fun, and your reward for beating them is a powerful weapon and also the ability to increase the proficiency of your entire crew with that weapon type for a price.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Horizon's Gate
Community - posted by felipepepe on Sat 4 April 2020, 05:44:55
Who's ready for some sweet nostalgia?
The results for our RPG Codex's Top Non-RPG PC games voting are out! Here's a sneak peak:
You can see the full list and a lot more info here:
Read the full article: RPG Codex's Top Non-RPG PC Games RESULTS!
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 15 March 2020, 17:01:50Tags: Broken Lines; PortaPlay
The Codex front page can be a pretty weird place. Sometimes there's a game that everybody has played but nobody feels like reviewing (*cough cough* Pathfinder: Kingmaker). Other times, you might have a game that one guy played and found really interesting. Broken Lines is that kind of game - a WW2-themed tactical RPG with Frozen Synapse-style simultaneous turn-based combat, which is something I've personally been wanting to see more of for years. In his comprehensive review, the esteemed Strange Fellow finds Broken Lines to be a fun but somewhat lightweight experience. Here's an excerpt:
One perhaps controversial point that I want to make at this point has to do with the move away from simulationist design which has become fairly common in modern squad tactics, arguably heralded by the rebooted XCOM series. In a nutshell, games that do this will often treat guns, auxiliary items and physical abilities more like D&D spells than their real-life counterparts. This annoys me to no end when it's applied to games with more "realistic" backdrops, because in addition to throwing believability out the window, it also tends to hamper creative play across the board. Gone are the days of tossing a backup weapon from soldier to soldier when your front man’s gun jams in a tight spot, or rushing over to a fallen enemy to pick up the grenade he dropped – sacrificed for the commodification of tactical manoeuvres.
So where does Broken Lines fall on this scale? The answer is somewhere in the middle. Like Firaxis XCOM, grenades and healing items are not singular objects, but abilities of sorts, which are assigned to your units at the start of a mission and which have a set number of uses, replenish for each battle, and cannot be redistributed or dropped in the field. What’s more disappointing is that there is also no looting of any kind, apart from the aforementioned supply caches. Enemies will not drop their items, and you will find no stashes of weapons or auxiliaries in the maps themselves. The only way to gain new stuff is to buy it from the merchant. Your own weapons can’t be dropped or swapped mid-mission either, and all guns have unlimited ammo.
None of this gels at all with the premise of the story nor with the gameplay itself. You’re supposed to be commandeering a small group of soldiers stranded behind enemy lines, scrounging for survival, yet the resource management, which should have been a major concern, is practically non-existent. At no point will you have to think carefully about rationing supplies in the field (by which I mean actual supplies like grenades or healing items, not food), because they don’t really exist, and there are no overarching worries beyond making sure your soldiers don’t die. The best games manage to weave long-term strategic considerations into the moment-to-moment tactical decision-making; Broken Lines, despite the overall structure providing a perfect slate, doesn’t even try.
The actual combat mechanics fare a lot better in this regard, though they haven’t been spared completely. For one, bullets that miss their target will disappear into the ether when the maximum range of the weapon that fired it is reached. Then there are some downright silly abilities, like “Drunken”, which boosts courage at the expense of accuracy for a short while (to top it off, this is also completely useless).
However, there are a couple of cool systems that make up for it. First is the fact that bullets in Broken Lines are real game objects, which means that each one will travel until it hits something (or gets swallowed by the god of Balance if it travels too far), whether that something is an enemy, an ally, or a piece of scenery. This is good because it makes cover work like it should, which is by actually blocking the path of incoming fire rather than just conveying a flat reduction to enemy accuracy.
Another advantage of this is that it feeds into another cool system, which is stress. The stress mechanic is central to the combat of Broken Lines, and it works like this: in addition to HP, each soldier has a stress bar which fills up when bullets pass near them. When it reaches a threshold, the soldier will panic for a few seconds. A panicking soldier will look for an escape route, and if he finds one he’ll run for it, but most of the time he’ll just cower in place. You won’t be able to issue orders to a panicking soldier until he calms down.
Stressing out your enemies is essential to taking them down, which means that automatic weapons are going to be your new best friends. All weapons in this category fall under the "SMG" type, and in addition to the high rate of fire, they have another trick up their sleeve that make their suppressive capabilities even more powerful. Each weapon type in the game, in addition to its native properties, has a distinct special firing mode, and the special firing mode of the SMG consists simply of rattling off at full blast blanketing a specified area with heavy fire. It’s inaccurate, but guaranteed to cause any enemies within it to panic, and you can direct it at will rather than just have it target the closest enemy. This means that the primary usage of the SMG is to pin down enemies in cover and cut off any escape routes, while the rest of the squad moves in and takes them down from the flanks. This can be combined with camouflage from thick vegetation, as well as elevation bonuses, for some properly devastating manoeuvres. It's nice to see that after years of games that either ignore the potential of this mechanic or else half-ass the implementation, a game has finally been made that gets cover fire right.
So how do missions actually play out? Well, most of the time you’ll pick out a route at the beginning that takes you to the finish point, ideally via any supply caches that may be present, and then advance along it, engaging in the suppress-and-flank dance whenever you encounter groups of hostiles. That’s pretty much it.
And you know what? It’s a lot of fun. There are a few key things that make it work. First of all, there’s the fact that the onus is generally on you to advance while enemies wait for you to approach, meaning that there’s almost never an occasion to pull out the old “line up the firing squad and wait for the enemy to file into a bottleneck like lemmings” trick. The score system also helps here, since if you want to get a perfect score you can’t dawdle. This is thrown into relief during the few missions where you’re tasked with defending yourself against an enemy counterattack or ambush, at which point the game turns into a tower defence of sorts, which isn't nearly as much fun.
Moreover, battles also encourage you to stay mobile as much as possible. A lot of cover is destructible and will be decimated by machine gun volleys within a single turn, and grenades and heavier artillery, should the enemy have it, will wreck your soldiers no matter what sort of cover they're hiding behind, not to mention that enemy soldiers aren’t afraid to move to better positions if you let them.
This all combines to make battles very dynamic affairs. I’ve thought about why I’ve had more fun with this game than it feels like I should, given how basic it is. It boils down, I think, to the simple recipe of a few interlocking systems pulling in the same direction. The game wants to constantly keep you moving and moving around and behind enemies, and every facet of gameplay serves to reinforce this idea. It does this with very little variation throughout, since you'll mostly be fighting the same enemies from beginning to end, and you'll have access to all the weapon types from the get-go. And yet it works. If I might make another return to my XCOM vendetta, there’s a marked contrast here in that the tactical layer of Broken Lines seems to encourage you to explore its workings and get familiar with it, instead of covering a pedestrian foundation with an ever-increasing load of fancy toys.
Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 26 February 2020, 19:18:26Tags: Beautiful Desolation; Chris Bischoff; The Brotherhood
We’ve always had a soft spot for adventure games here on the Codex. Indeed, I like to think that our Adventure Gaming board is one of the top adventure game forums on the Internet, and there's a small group of independent adventure game developers who are long-time friends of the site. Among them is Chris Bischoff AKA Pyke, a South African game designer of many talents who alongside his brother Nic is responsible for 2015's sci-fi horror adventure Stasis and its standalone expansion Cayne. Their latest creation, out today on Steam and GOG, is the colorful post-apocalyptic adventure Beautiful Desolation. We interviewed Chris about Stasis back in 2013 and it's only natural that we should do so again for Beautiful Desolation, which features a distinctly RPG-inspired aesthetic and even has a combat system. So without further ado:
To start things off, let’s assume we haven’t read anything about Beautiful Desolation. Tell us about the game’s setting. What year does it take place? What planet is it set on? Who are these two brothers and what are they doing there?
Beautiful Desolation is an adventure game set in the distant future - starting in the late 1970s, when a monolith of unknown origin - the Penrose - appeared in the skies of Cape Town, South Africa. This sends the world on an alternate path of technological growth, development, and eventual war.
The arrival of the Penrose resulted in the death of Mark Leslie's fiancé, later he pulls his brother into the mystery and his search for answers. Trying to figure out just what the Penrose is, who (if anyone) is responsible for its sudden arrival and disruption of the world.
In general, how would you characterize Beautiful Desolation’s puzzle design? You’ve probably got an entire puzzle design philosophy that you’ve developed over the years. Can you share it with us?
Early on we set up 3 pillars of the game – story, character, and exploration - and all of our choices had to support these three pillars. As long as the puzzles worked within that framework we knew that they’d feel connected in the game world.
We were heavily inspired by Star Control 2’s integration of the story and puzzles, and how the idea of holy relics drove their narrative forward.
Because Beautiful Desolation is more opened ended and nonlinear, we modified the more traditional ‘lock and key’ puzzle design to fit into a game where you can find any door and any key, in any order. So, in this game we focused on characters and their stories in the world and tried to ensure the puzzles revealed the story – rather than the puzzles blocking the player’s path forward.
Beautiful Desolation is an adventure game, but it’s clearly been influenced by the RPG genre. It’s got that isometric camera, a combat system, and most recently you revealed some Fallout-esque dialogue screens. This is the RPG Codex, so we obviously have to get all the details about that. What other RPG-inspired features does the game have? Why did you choose to go in this direction, and which RPGs specifically have you been inspired by?
Structurally we looked towards 90’s Adventure games and RPGs as a reference for an open world experience but with a structured story. Steering away from the linear adventure game format, we wanted Beautiful Desolation to be a game that could be replayed. In addition, something that would ensure that every player could have a unique playing experience - that they couldn't get from watching someone else play.
When we chose Character as one of our pillars of the game, it was a natural progression to add in dialogue trees. But how we hoped to change it up – to avoid a regular list of dialogue options that you can return to – was by focusing on a natural conversation flow. Our characters react not only to what you say to them, but how you say it.
I think there is a lot of room to expand ideas in the adventure game genre. What a great way to tell a story! I’ve enjoyed the world-building the most in this process. I’ve recently begun playing and hosting tabletop games, and to let players loose in these worlds and seeing what they do is so enjoyable. We hope to extend a taste of this with Beautiful Desolation.
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 8 February 2020, 22:10:09Tags: Der Geisterturm; Graverobber Foundation
Back in September 2018, jovial Codexer zwanzig_zwoelf released his very first game, the cyberpunk dungeon crawler Das Geisterschiff. Sixteen months later, he's come out with a quick followup called Der Geisterturm while he works on a proper sequel. What sort of game could he have conjured up in the four short months since he announced it on our forums? Luckily for us, zwanzig once again managed to persuade Darth Roxor to review it and answer that question. His conclusion? Der Geisterturm offers expanded combat mechanics but has far less compelling level design and atmosphere than its predecessor. Here's an excerpt from the review:
Your arsenal remains the same – a submachine gun, an assault rifle, a laser gun and a bazooka. However, it is effectively expanded thanks to the fact that the laser gun is now an actual weapon and not just a glorified mine defusing tool. Still, all the weapons retain their original quirks and applications, but there are some new functionalities and mechanics that make it a bit less obvious which gun is the best to pick for a specific encounter. First of all, they differ in damage types (kinetic, energy, explosive), and certain enemies may exhibit resistances to these, so it’s no longer a no-brainer to blast a strong enemy with the bazooka, since he might have a high resistance to explosive damage.
Next up are fire modes. You can now specify the rate of fire for your guns, which influences accuracy, damage done and ammo consumption in obvious ways, but you can also select special fire modes like a charged shot for the laser gun or a critical crack shot for the assault rifle. Often, it’s also wise to combine a specific fire mode with the right combat stance. You can now choose between aiming (accuracy bonus, dodge penalty), normal (balanced) and evasive (dodge bonus, accuracy penalty) stances. For example, a glass cannon enemy is best dispatched with a critical rifle shot on aiming stance, while another foe that sprays you with minigun fire could call for an evasive approach.
All this lets you fiddle a lot with your approach to individual combat encounters, especially since some of the fire modes also require you to remain stationary, so you can’t combine shooting with movement. And staying on the move in combat is very important in Geisterturm, because unlike its predecessor, you can now face more than just one enemy at a time. Typically it’s going to be two enemies, sometimes even three, and certain “boss showdowns” will downright swarm you with baddies. And considering that the fights often take place in narrow corridors, where it’s easy to get surrounded, cut off and backstabbed for terrible damage, remaining stationary can be a death sentence. Still, if you’re feeling very brave, you can actively seek to be surrounded and pray for good dodge rolls, so the enemies miss you and instead shoot each other as their bullets fly wild. But I wouldn’t call it a particularly reliable strategy.
[...] There is also one aspect where Geisterturm is a very significant step back compared to Geisterschiff. Namely, the entire game feels much more like an “abstract dungeon crawl” rather than a “real” environment, and it suffers for it greatly. You might say it makes sense, because it takes place in military proving grounds, which would be “abstract” by nature, but there are quite a few problems with this approach.
Geisterschiff was very atmospheric, and its atmosphere or auxiliary worldbuilding added much to its otherwise simple presentation. There was a sense of adventure into the unknown in that game. Meanwhile in Geisterturm, the atmosphere is completely gone. Really, it just doesn’t exist. You are only moving through the same dull corridors all the time, with very little to no diversification in looks, each floor typically being characterised only by some gimmick inherent to it (“this is the spinner maze floor”, “this is the teleport puzzle level”, etc.). Also, unlike in the case of the expanded combat mechanics, I don’t think this game adds any new gimmicks or obstacles to the mix – I’m pretty sure I’ve already seen them all in Geisterschiff.
Simply put, in the long run this makes the game a kind of a chore. After getting to floor 8 or so, I started asking myself “what exactly is the point of all this?” and this question never really goes away. In fact, the higher you get, you more you just want it to end already, and that’s no good at all – especially since apart from the gimmicks, the further floors don’t have that much new to offer. Eventually, in the last 5 ones or so, even the enemies stop changing and you keep fighting the same assassin droids and heavy guard bots, with the only difference being that your stats get higher and your gear gets upgraded, which makes the enemies progressively more irrelevant.
Community - posted by felipepepe on Tue 21 January 2020, 00:33:22Tags: GOTY 2019
Comrades, welcome to the RPG Codex 2019 GOTY Award!
This year we had 949 voters, who rated 62 releases from 2019. This is almost half of the 114 RPGs of 2018, as it was definitely a slower year. Hope you managed to clean your backlog, because 2020 looks overwhelming.
Once again we had three categories: Game of the Year, Best Expansion/DLC and Best PC Port/Remaster.
For those of you who just want the TL;DR, here are the winners:
Game of the Year
1st - Disco Elysium
2nd - Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
3rd - Slay the Spire
Romancing SaGa 3
For the full results and fancy graphs, just follow the link below.
Read the full article: RPG Codex GOTY 2019: Results & Cool Graphs
Community - posted by felipepepe on Sat 11 January 2020, 03:11:10Tags: GOTY 2019
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time!
The voting for the RPG Codex's 2019 GOTY poll is now open: VOTE HERE
2019 was a slow year compared to 2018, but that's another good reason to make a poll and find out what are the highlights and the hidden gems.
As usual, the games are divided into three categories: GOTY, Best DLC/Expansion and Best Port/Remake. The poll is long, but just scroll past all the games you didn't play and focus on the ones you did.
Thank you, and have a great 2020!
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 5 November 2019, 16:03:47Tags: Disco Elysium; ZA/UM
There was only a single review of Disco Elysium up on Metacritic when the game was released. Now there are many of them, nearly all glowingly positive. It's time the Codex joined its voice to that chorus, and I can think of no better person to do the singing than blessed bataille, our expert on all things literary and post-Soviet. Get ready, because things are about to get deep:
While it may seem somewhat restrictive to disallow self-insertion in a cRPG, it helps the story to focus on the inner turmoil of our character as much as on the people and events that surround him. After all, the game’s original title used to be No Truce With The Furies, and that alone illustrates pretty well how important it must have been for the authors to have a singular ruined soul at the epicenter of the narrative. Since one obviously cannot construct effective personal drama for all possible player avatars (the only guaranteed common trait being player agency), the authors made the furies torment our hero through his prior life. It’s one of the instances where Disco Elysium’s PC-centric pen-and-paper origins shine through and affect the standard cRPG conventions. The scope is narrower but more focused, intimate, intense. A bit like that other text-heavy RPG with a set protagonist.
To dial it back a little and return us to the dimension of *computer* role-playing games and their freedom to play as whomever thou wilt, ZA/UM employs an obscure literary trope known as “total retrograde amnesia.” Or was it a selective memory wipe? A mere pretense fueled by shame? Repressed memories? Something more supra-natural? The reason for blanking out is up to the player to establish later down the line. Whatever the cause, only our past is set in stone, and it is for us to decide what kind of person we will become by the time all hell inevitably breaks loose.
The first step on the path of self-discovery is to distribute 8 points between the four main attributes: intelligence, psyche, physique, and motorics. Each attribute governs 6 thematically appropriate skills that may range from something as simple as Logic or Endurance to the more esoteric Inland Empire and Shivers. I highly recommend everyone to read their full descriptions, even if you don’t plan on investing in some of the skills. Besides providing clues and tips on what attributes to pick for certain archetypes, they’re simply a joy to read.
What really stands out when you start familiarizing yourself with the skills is how difficult it may be to fit some of them into the existing RPG categories. It takes a bit of time with the game to truly get what Esprit de Corps is really about, for example. What do Shivers actually do? What’s the difference between Drama and Suggestion? The skill selection might be the player’s first encounter with the experimental side of Disco Elysium, a sign of things to come. It only gets weirder - and sadder.
After a binge of world-ending proportions, our nameless, featureless, and pantsless hero wakes up on the floor, in a room, in a city, on a continent; all of them totally unknown and mysterious (except maybe the floor). How does one proceed under such arcane circumstances? By initiating an inner monologue of course! But who does the talking? Your skills, my liege. Depending on your choices during character creation, it may be Inland Empire lamenting that we didn’t get to see what was on the other side of the killer debauch, or Logic trying to piece something together from what little information about our current situation we have, or Pain Threshold welcoming the anguish that comes with being alive. They start talking when you regain some of your higher cognitive faculties and don’t shut up until the credits roll.
The easiest way to understand how you interact with your skills is to imagine the bicameral mind and-- that’s it, actually. That is exactly how it’s done. The player is in control of what the cop (ah, that’s one mystery solved) says and does, and your skills do most of the background thinking, guiding you to failure and regret (and an occasional triumph).
Oddly enough, each of them has a distinct personality and a... portrait. In a lesser RPG, these could have been templates for the player’s potential party members. They’re chatty, opinionated, and, most importantly, often fallible. Half Light, the mix of a psychotic barbarian and a scaredy-cat which is supposed to represent your fight-or-flight response and vigilance in the face of danger, will misjudge the gravity of a situation as often as assess one correctly. Despite its strong-willed facade, Authority often acts as a feeble sleazeball that tries to exploit its position in the warrior caste and use it as a lever to subjugate other people and get RESPECT. Conceptualization is just a third year humanities student always looking for opportunities to turn life into a living canvas. Fair enough. 24 almost-people to see you through this week-long hangover.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Disco Elysium
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 25 October 2019, 20:11:11Tags: Heluo Studio; Tale of Wuxia
All right, that's enough JRPGs on the Codex front page. It's time for a CRPG. By which I mean a Chinese RPG of course. I've never heard of Tale of Wuxia before, but it must be good if Darth Roxor decided to just randomly review it out of the blue. Indeed, he considers it to have one of the best character systems he's ever seen in an RPG. So read on, gweilos:
And what a platform for character building it is! When you look at the system at first, you might get suspicious, because it has all the elements that don’t work in most other games, and which lend themselves to a great many trap builds. I’m talking of course about the multitude of statistics (there are around 40 things to raise), and the fact that seemingly useless things (“tea-making”, “calligraphy”) are coupled with what looks like obviously superior options (combat stats). In another game, you’d identify the dump stats, pump your sword skill to maximum and set sail to victory.
This is not at all the case in Tale of Wuxia. Here, all the statistics, from floriculture to martial arts, are useful to some degree, for a number of reasons. For starters, most combat styles in the game scale off two abilities – a primary combat skill and a secondary skill. For example, there’s a Taoist sword-fighting style, whose effectiveness is influenced by your skill in calligraphy. Similarly, a throwing weapon style will need high chess-playing. A zither (yes, the musical instrument) fighting style requires a high score in music. So on and so forth.
Also, a word on how the styles actually work. Apart from being influenced by a primary weapon skill and a secondary support skill, they usually give you a set of three unique moves in combat, though the most basic ones may be limited to two moves. All the moves require energy (mana, more or less) to perform, while the higher-tier abilities are only unlocked when you reach enough proficiency in a given style, and they also go on cooldown when used. Switching between styles in combat is possible, but it puts all the better abilities on cooldown, so effective switching requires a modicum of planning to pull off. The move sets are all clearly focused on a specific purpose, and the abilities often work best in combos. To follow the example of the Taoist sword style – the first, basic attack gives you a mana shield, the second move buffs you with vampirism (leeching both health and energy from damaged enemies), and the third is an area-wide slash that ignores armour. Proper combination of the three can leave you almost unkillable.
The versatility and flexibility when it comes to the combinations of skills and fighting styles gives tremendous freedom and breadth to the character system. The ways of building your wuxia are numerous, and you might switch between different styles many times throughout the course of the game – whether it’s because a new one you’ve just unlocked is more powerful than what you had before, or because you got bored of the old one and want to try something different.
Furthermore, raising various skills to high levels often gives you various long-term boons. These might be unlockable choices in adventures, skill check opportunities, or entirely unique events that are triggered only at certain skill thresholds.
There’s also a nice synergy between the above aspects, as the events you unlock often serve to let you gain new combat styles, which might not even be related to the skill that triggered a given adventure. Of course, these events will also net you experience, new acquaintances, items and the like.
Another element that ties all these parts together are the “internal arts”. These are basically passive abilities that boost your character’s performance, and their functionalities vary wildly. Some simply give stat bonuses (some of which keep rising the longer combat goes on), but others are more involved, and may give you a poisoning aura, let you move freely through enemy zones of control, periodically remove debuffs, etc.
Obviously the final piece of the puzzle that makes the system whole is equipment. You don’t get to play dress-up too much in Tale of Wuxia, as you can only have three items equipped at a time (a weapon, an armour, an accessory), but the bonuses they provide are still significant. Apart from the obvious features like boosting your attack and defence, your gear will also grant you additional abilities, which are not unlike the internal styles.
When you combine all these parts – stats, combat styles, internal arts and equipment – you can get so many, so different character builds and playstyles, it’s honestly almost overwhelming. You can mould your character into an unbreakable, ever-regenerating bulldozer, an artful dodger, a toxic avenger, a mass-slicer and dicer, Cacofonix, a ranged pinner and kiter, an immortal swordsman, a fan-slapping paralyser… and more. Or combinations thereof. It’s completely crazy, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in an RPG.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Tale of Wuxia
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 19 October 2019, 01:40:51Tags: AliceSoft; Sengoku Rance
Codexers don't usually like JRPGs, but when they do they're often games from the Rance series, the long-running line of satirical eroge RPGs by Japanese developer AliceSoft. Everybody knows the best game in the series is Sengoku Rance, the 2006 strategy RPG in which the titular character sets out to conquer a fictionalized version of Warring States-period Japan. After years of being played in the West exclusively using fan translations, Sengoku Rance was finally officially released in English last month. Which means it's time to finally publish this review of the game by Deuce Traveler that we've been saving up for over a year(!). Here's an excerpt:
There are continuous choices and consequences to your actions as the game unfolds. For example, one industrious clan sells powerful weapons to its sole ally but also offers to sell rifle units to you. However, if you attack the ally of this arms dealing territory they will begin to sell their weapons to everyone in the hopes of slowing your conquests down without having to actively engage you. To avoid this you could make the allied clan your vassal instead of invading them, but then you miss out on having greater control of their territory.
During the latter part of the game you find yourself having to fight on multiple fronts, but you have the option to shut a large gateway and trap one of your opponents behind it. Doing so protects your flank, but the gate cannot be opened again and you lose the opportunity to claim more territory and capture its powerful commanders. Most of the more well-known grand strategy games are sandboxes where events are essentially random. Sengoku Rance has a much more static world, but it compensates by having tons of scripted events, most of which are impossible to witness in a single playthrough. You will likely have to beat the game more than a half-dozen times to see the majority of its hidden lore.
Sengoku Rance's characters are some of the most distinct and memorable in the history of video games. The leaders and subordinate officers of the game’s various factions each stand out in their own small way thanks to its well-drawn art and visual novel storytelling. One of the first factions you go to war with is led by the leader of a strong unit of archers who has one of the best special skills for ranged units, but he’s beaten down by life and constantly pushed into making poor military decisions by his beautiful and spoiled wife. Another faction is led by a giant creature called a raccoon dog and his army of smaller furry ninjas. They inherited their territory after capturing it from their human oppressors and hope to take advantage of Rance’s rise to weaken their neighbors. A third faction is led by a corrupt court, but their greatest officer is the game’s equivalent of a virtuous paladin who will lead her unit in support of factions Rance declares war against. Ironically, she and her best friend end up having more to fear from the machinations of those she serves. Later in the game, Rance will come into contact with a nation of undead soldiers led by a samurai eyeball and his harem of supportive, monstrous wives. Most of the officers and units of this particular faction are subpar, but they lead huge forces and battles with them become particularly difficult if one of the wives is part of the attacking army. I can think of no other game where there are so many factions with such distinctly drawn characters, each of which gets their own small moment to shine. Sengoku Rance is one of the few games out there where the visual novel style of storytelling feels well-integrated with the flow of gameplay.
[...] Your ultimate goal is to take over this world's version of Japan during an alternate Warring States period, in which the historical figures have been replaced by political parodies. Combat is a simple affair. Place your melee fighters on the front row to protect support units that operate in the back. During battles, you can place up to six commanders and their units onto the battlefield to slog it out. You start off the game running the Oda Clan with a few basic types of units, such as warriors like Rance who have high offensive attributes and skills that allow them to perform special offensive maneuvers. Complementing them are commanders of foot soldiers, whose attacks aren’t as powerful, but have high defensive attributes and specialized skills for protecting allied units. You are also given a commander of archers, whose attacks are not as powerful as warriors either, but can attack from the back row and strike any enemy unit regardless of location. Archers are quite useful for disrupting spell casters who are preparing their more powerful spells from the enemy’s back row. Finally, you are given a tactician commander, whose skills can be used to enhance the fighting abilities of allied units or diminish those of the enemy.
Sengoku Rance starts you out with these basic units and gradually adds more diverse character classes as you proceed through the game. The ninja behaves in a similar way to the archer, but can quickly learn the assassinate skill which allows it to instantly wipe out enemy units. Monks are decent front row melee fighters who also have an assortment of skills, such as the ability to heal themselves or make foot soldiers drop their guard. Diviner commanders can throw up barriers to guard their allies, or spend some time chanting in order to cast a spell that strikes at each of the opposing enemy units. Musketeers are the most deadly units on the battlefield, but they can't take much damage and can only attack once or twice before exhausting all of their actions for the entire battle. Cavalry units are the ones I fear the most, since they can attack multiple times, have great offensive attributes, and can strike any unit regardless of whether they’re in the front or back rows. I still haven't touched upon some of the more unique commanders and their abilities, nor have I talked about the non-human units. In short, there's a lot of variation in the opponents you will face.
The handful of officers you start out with are a dubious group of misfits that you are forced to rely upon to survive (although Rance himself is the backbone of your offense at this stage). One of the game’s more charming aspects is how even the minor officers on both sides of the battlefield have their own personalities and quirks. By improving your relationship with your officers, upgrading their ability scores with books, and equipping them with items, you will have a chance to turn some of the more mediocre recruits into a respectable fighting force. Every officer has several attributes which determine how fast they can act, how hard they attack, how well they defend, how well they search, and how effective they are at diplomacy. Some officers also have unlockable special abilities, such as the ability to fire a volley of arrows that peppers an entire enemy force instead of just one opposing unit. You can only have thirty officers in your roster and by mid-game you'll find yourself having to make hard choices about who will make the cut.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Sengoku Rance
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 12 October 2019, 00:10:04Tags: Cultic Games; Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones
It looked really cool when it was announced, seemed like vaporware for years, and eventually came to be seen as one of the most important releases of the year. I'm speaking of course about Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, the Lovecraftian RPG by Cultic Games released just over two weeks ago. Making his first appearance on our front page in many years, the inimitable Roguey has volunteered to review this somewhat beleaguered title. I would say that his review places Stygian in the same category as something like Serpent of the Staglands. It's an amateur effort that is styled in a way that particularly appeals to Codexian sensibilities, but which never quite comes around to being good enough. Here's an excerpt:
It's not all bad. The writing isn't brilliant or deep, but it is superficially entertaining and well-paced, which is a low bar many other modern traditional RPGs have been unable to reach. You won't get plagued by walls of exposition and prose descriptions during dialogue here. There are a few typos and English-as-a-Second-Language mishaps here and there. If your character goes insane, sometimes your dialogue options are replaced with Malkavian-esque lines which can be funny but are occasionally too childish. Sometimes non-player characters react specifically to the different line; other times their reaction remains unchanged. There are a good number of other "false" flavor options that lead to the same dialogue node, which is a shame.
Quest design isn't anything too ambitious: you find plot coupons, investigate a murder, infiltrate a cult, and engage in other Lovecraftian activities. How you're able to carry out these tasks is determined by your character's skills; you'll be locked out of certain interactions if you don't have the right build for it, but there's always a way through. There can be quite a bit of combat, but most of your time is spent walking and interacting with people and objects. As I wrote earlier, Stygian reminds me a lot of the first few hubs in Bloodlines; there's quite a bit of freedom in terms of supported character concepts and playstyles, but the story is on rails with only cosmetic narrative reactivity, no significant branches.
While the journal does give directions, it doesn't hold your hand; there's no quest compass here, so there were times where I felt lost as to what to do next, though I wasn't actually lost since exploring the world and following a thread on any active quest would continue the plot. It's a good feeling rarely found these days.
[...] The combat encounters themselves are incredibly lazy. The first potential fight in the game is against six people. Then you enter an abandoned bank and fight six lunatics up to three times. This is what you can expect to experience for the rest of the game. To the developers' partial credit, the bank had one additional encounter in the demo that was seemingly removed due to negative feedback. Additionally, there are only three of these lousy copy-paste-filled combat crawls (i.e. any location with multiple battles in succession), but going through them is still far more annoying than the usual one-and-done areas.
In addition to being lazy, the encounters are also pretty easy. Granted, I made a combat-oriented character, and I have an above-average (though not great) understanding of how to play cRPGs. There were only two fights that gave me trouble; the first involved reinforcements that pop in behind you after two turns, and the second was an annoying gimmick boss where reinforcements are constantly trickling in behind you while you have to dig up the boss before it can be damaged. Both were manageable once I figured out the ideal positioning within the environment.
Bad news for would-be brave diplomats: you can't totally avoid combat in Stygian. I encountered 21 battles, and you can sneak and potentially talk your way past most of them, but there were at least two on the critical path that can't be avoided (one of which is that annoying gimmick boss I just mentioned). A solo run seems implausible if not impossible on account of that one fight.
At least the endgame isn't an annoying combat crawl in its entirety. Unfortunately, what it does have is comparably annoying: a series of rooms where you have to do the same time-padding pattern matching puzzle over and over again. After a brief reprieve, you're thrown into an area where you have to navigate around real-time patrols. Cultic made the same mistake here Harebrained Schemes did with Shadowrun: Hong Kong; real-time stealth gameplay is inappropriate and out of place in a turn-based RPG. It's like the developers forgot they were making an RPG and decided to make an adventure game complete with stereotypical action-oriented gimmicks.
I'll avoid spoiling the details of the ending, but as Cultic themselves confirmed before release, it ends on a cliffhanger after about 20 hours. It stops after a dramatic moment, but it's not a proper climax by any means. The developers had a lot of hubris and optimism to end it like this; it was certainly within their ability to rewrite the story to give it a more definite ending with what they had available. Instead what we have is comparable to Bloodlines if it just suddenly stopped after the sewers and played a cinematic that teased what to expect in Chinatown. It's an Early Access or Episode 1 release that doesn't label itself as such, which is a dishonorable way to release a game.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Stygian Reign of the Old Ones
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 17 September 2019, 00:15:28Tags: Legends of Amberland: The Forgotten Crown; Silver Lemur Games
A whole bunch of indie RPGs came out last month - isometric tactical RPGs, narrative RPGs, roguelikes and more. However, the one that definitely left the deepest impression on us was the retro-styled Might & Magic-inspired blobber Legends of Amberland: The Forgotten Crown. Which to be honest is not so surprising on the forum that turned Grimoire into a cultic object. Indeed, who better to review Amberland than Dorateen, the author of our definitive review of Grimoire? It's not as positive a review, of course. Compared to a Wizardry-style blobber like Grimoire, Amberland's dungeons are simplistic. Its itemization is weak and its pixel art might be an acquired taste. But due to its great exploration and innovative mechanics, it ultimately gets a solid thumbs-up from Dorateen. Here's an excerpt from the review:
There's a non-transparent initiative value which determines who gets to act first. Enemies who come in early are typically quick foes who will sneak in a hit before you can react. As for the heroes, the order that each character goes is determined by their position in the party. In a row of seven, it is the central spot that is considered Position One. This character will always be the first party member to take an action, and is also on the receiving end of most incoming attacks. Flanked on either side by characters in Position Two and Three, these act in sequence respectively and they are also treated as part of the front line. The formation ranks continue so that back row support characters are the ones on the far left and far right, who will always act last. It is a system that leverages initiative versus relative security from being targeted. However, once more dangerous enemies who have area-of-effect attacks show up, no party member is completely safe.
Opponents arrange themselves in rows of up to three at a time. Due to their mobile nature, it's likely that others in an area will join a battle in progress once a spot opens up. For example, imagine a large room filled with monsters, moving closer as they engage the party. The player might start out facing two or three of them, but could end up taking on a half dozen or more before gaining any respite. Another tactic enemies use is to crowd inside doorways. Thus, before successfully entering a chamber the party is forced to cut through what seems like an endless horde, which can make for some tense pitched battles.
Every class in Legends of Amberland has a Special Ability that a character of that class can use in addition to their standard attack. The Knight and its variants have a Charge attack that can hit all three enemies on screen. Warriors get a powerful Strike attack that is used to inflict greater damage to a single opponent. Bards can play a song that will replenish a percentage of Spell Points and Hit Points for all party members, while Healers have a lifesaving Recovery ability that will restore all characters who have fallen in battle. The catch is that these Special Abilities can only be activated once before requiring a rest. This becomes a strategic consideration for the player, who has to pick the right moment to use them and ensure that his characters have recharged before facing particularly deadly adversaries.
Resources are vital in a game with frequent combat. Heroes will lose hit points, expend their magic and trigger single use abilities. Thus it becomes necessary to rest, which in turn like in any good Might & Magic-type adventure requires food. There are two forms of nourishment that can be restocked in towns, with two corresponding modes of resting. A full rest is eight hours long and revives the party completely at the cost of both one vegetable ration and one meat ration. Then there's the quick rest, only four hours long, which uses up just one vegetable ration. The quick rest does not restore spell points and only restores half of the party's hit points, but it does reset Special Abilities and cure certain status effects. Therefore it can be used more strategically to save on resources.
Spells can sorted into three general categories. There's offensive magic, healing and curative magic, and preventative or enhancement magic. The latter takes the form of party-wide buffs, including spells like Regeneration, Inspiration (for extra strength), and Magic Armor. These spells do not have a fixed duration. Instead, all buffs expire at midnight on a twenty-four hour clock. It sets a pattern of casting your protections early in the day to take advantage of having them up as long as possible. Later in the game, I often had as many as seven effects running at the same time. (A single mass buff spell would have been a welcome addition.) As mentioned previously, all spells have mastery levels ranked from one to five which increase their power and efficiency. However, with direct damage spells being fairly limited, it seems spellcasters are more suitable as support characters for the fighters who deliver the majority of destruction.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Legends of Amberland
Community - posted by felipepepe on Sun 4 August 2019, 23:54:41
Greetings traveler. I hope your mouse wheel / PgDown key are in good shape, because is this one MASSIVE piece of content!
About 5 years ago we made a voting to determine the Top RPGs of all time. We had 234 codexers voting on 223 RPGs. After we got the ranking, we asked people to write why short reviews for each title. That was the RPG Codex Top 70 PC RPGs, one of my favorite things of the Codex and what later led to the CRPG Book.
But new games are released every day now, and we decided to make an updated version, with the same rules. This time 361 codexers voted on 278 RPGs. And instead of a Top 70, we made a Top 101! With reviews!
As with the previous one, the rankings after the Top 20-30 are not as important, this should really seen as a list of interesting games to try out. Few people will enjoy niche titles like Elminage Gothic or Tales of Maj'Eyal, but those that do will absolutely love them.
You can check the full results of the voting HERE (plus a comparison with the previous poll), or just scroll down to start reading! OBS: Some entries share the same number, that's because they were tied in the voting.
Thanks to everyone who voted and wrote reviews, have a good reading!
Read the full article: The RPG Codex's Top 101 PC RPGs (With User Reviews!)
Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Mon 15 July 2019, 00:21:29Tags: Stygian Software; Underrail; Underrail: Expedition
With the Underrail: Expedition expansion coming out next week, it's a fine time to publish Diggfinger's interview with Underrail creator Dejan Radisic AKA Styg. The original plan was for Diggfinger to actually visit the Stygian Software office in Belgrade, but that didn't work out. That may have been for the best however, because it gave him time to gather additional questions from the community. It's a brief piece and Styg isn't ready to talk about his plans for after the expansion yet, but there are a few welcome bits of information in here. Here's an excerpt:
Not any feature in particular, but I'm very excited to see how people experience the new content as a whole. New mechanics and goodies aside, we put a lot of work in improving the quality of the content itself - the overall world design, dungeon design, dialogs, etc, so I hope that it bears fruit and that the players recognize it. Also, due to how the campaign is structured, players will have a lot of freedom on how and in what order they approach it. Will they side with this or that faction or no faction, will they rush into dungeons, wage war on the natives or maybe just explore the waters on their jet ski? It will be a lot of fun to watch people play the game on the internet.
The original development schedule for Expedition was around six months long, with the expansion slated for a 2017 release. What made you decide to extend development? Was it an ongoing process of adding new elements, or did you underestimate the time it would take to realize your original ideas?
A bit of everything. The project was overly ambitious to begin with and as we started fleshing out all the things we wanted to implement it turned out it'd take a lot more time to implement them properly. At this time we began raising the standards of the content that was being produced so zones started coming with more custom visual pieces, mechanics, lore, etc so it took a lot more time to make them than we originally anticipated.
Also we did a lot of work on the base game, some of which we considered prerequisite to the expansion itself - such as the water areas that connect Underrail and Black Sea. And now that we had those areas, we had to fill them with some content and quests and have this or that faction have its presence there and add narrative elements to support/recognize this… and so forth. We also added new creatures to the base game, fleshed out the difficulty levels, added the global map, which in turn required us to make the game (more) geographically consistent, which required adding more areas… you get the picture by now.
And also, sometimes we just get a cool idea how we can spice up some part of the game and we can't help but work it in, even though we are fully aware that we're being subject to feature creep. In the end I think that, despite waiting, you guys will be the end beneficiaries of our questionable project management.
Are there any major changes in terms of quest design in Expedition? Can we expect more choice and consequence than the base game, or is it more combat-focused?
Those are not mutually exclusive. The game will be as combat-focused as ever and this is never going to change. However, we did improve on C&C aspect of the content as well and also gave the player a lot of freedom on how they will approach the content. They can take an active part in the workings of one of the factions of the Black Sea (expedition or pirates, but not natives) and their conflicts, resolve certain events in favour of one or the other or just keep to themselves and let the factions go at it themselves.
Why did you choose to develop a mid-game instead of post-game expansion? Was it hard to balance it with the content of the base game (ie, ensuring players don't end up with overpowered characters in the endgame)?
It was probably a mistake. If we just made Expedition as a separate stand-alone campaign, I think we could have made it even bigger and saved up a year of development or so. We'd also be free from a lot of lacklustre design and mechanical constraints that are a result of having to keep the entire game world consistent. Aside from improving the difficulty spectrum during the development of the expansion itself, we didn't really do any balancing in that regard, so it wasn't hard at all. We might, at some point, go back to DC and up the challenge there for the playthroughs that went through the DLC. It will be development time well spent, since it's everyone's favourite part of the game.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Underrail Expedition
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 29 June 2019, 20:17:16Tags: Ctrl Alt Ninja; Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest
Has it really been just a month and a half since Druidstone was released? It sure feels longer. These days small games are quick to sink into the depths of Steam without leaving a trace, even when they're made by the developers of the acclaimed Legend of Grimrock series. However, the Codex has not forgotten. After all, you could hardly expect Darth Roxor not to be interested in a scenario-based tactics game along the lines of Blackguards, despite his well-known disapproval of deterministic combat mechanics which Druidstone utilizes. Indeed, in the end it's not the determinism itself that Roxor finds fault with, but rather what may have been the developers' attempts to work around it. I quote:
What works well are some of the abilities available to monsters, which can make the course of battle somewhat unpredictable, and which also make you consider your progress through a mission. These include wraiths that can resurrect dead enemies as skeletons an infinite number of times, mage-killing spiders that can steal your spells for a while, or an assortment of foes with healing spells. Obviously there’s more, and they are too many to list, since the majority of enemies have some unique quirk that gives them a specific and characteristic role on the battlefield.
Another aspect which I’d consider well done is the general way maps are structured. I’ve seen “full deterministic” tactics games before that were more or less glorified puzzlers, with only one obvious/optimal way of getting through each encounter. And while some levels in Druidstone also fall for this trap, most of them are broad or open enough to invite multiple ways of approach.
[...] As for the annoying bits, there’s a lot to talk about here. Let’s start with enemy reinforcements. I don’t think there’s any level in the entire game that doesn't have them, and they are always used in a very cheap and irritating manner.
Reinforcements are typically announced one turn in advance by dropping “teleporter beacons” on certain squares. These are pre-placed, they can spawn at any moment and in any square (including right on top of your party), and you have absolutely no way of telling when, where and what they will spawn. A reasonable approach would be to adapt the spawning points to the map design somehow – like make skeletons rise out of graves or have wolves run out of dens. But Druidstone disagrees, and it keeps deep striking seemingly random enemies into seemingly random places at seemingly random intervals, while you are left scratching your head, thinking who the hell thought this was a good idea. I dare say this feature is bad from the very start and never becomes less bad. At some point you kind of learn to live with them – because they become a simple fact of life, like mosquitoes, cars freezing in the winter and AIDS – but much like the doomsday timers, eventually they grow really old, and the only reaction they get from you is “not this crap again”.
However, Druidstone likes its monster deep strikes so much that you need to watch out not only for the telegraphed ones. Monster death squads can also spawn out of nowhere on top of your party unannounced, though fortunately this doesn’t happen as often.
The unannounced monster spawns are a part of Druidstone’s number one most annoying aspect. The “gotcha!” moments. This game really, really loves to pull absolute nonsense out of its posterior, rub it all over your face and strut around, yelling “I totally fooled you!” In my experience, triggering a gotcha usually results in immediate turn rewind or even a restart of a level, because more often than not, it puts you up against a battlefield reshuffle that makes most of what you’ve done until that point moot. Typically, the gotchas are of a “bait-and-switch” variety, where accomplishing an intermediate objective suddenly unleashes all hell, in a way that you could have never predicted.
My absolutely favourite example of the above is a big bossfight against the avatar of a god of fire. The avatar is basically a time bomb – after X turns, it will explode and collapse the dungeon. Your primary objective is to escape by unlocking the exit and leading all your characters to it. But there’s also an optional objective to kill the big boss. Since he has a lot of health and quite the numerous entourage of goons, with more that keep spawning, a reasonable person would assume that killing the boss is a challenging way of winning early. Imagine my surprise when vanquishing the wicked foe made one of my characters yell (literally), “oh no, the dungeon is going to collapse anyway!” and set the countdown even lower than it was before. Needless to say, my heroes were too far away from the exit at that point. Truly, this was the gotcha of the freaking century.
This is just one example, and while it might be the biggest one barring the final boss (and I’m not gonna discuss that one), smaller ones are no less annoying. Even further, they are so plentiful that they might even form the core of Druidstone’s difficulty, and that, dear reader, is not very good at all.
That’s because not all levels stoop to this kind of ludicrous and downright unfair design. Sometimes the game does have you face a properly outlined challenge that keeps chipping away at you through attrition and clever enemy composition and placement. In times like these, Druidstone can be loads of fun, and it gets your noggin joggin’ when you analyse your every option multiple moves into the future to escape from a perilous situation. One of my favourite levels that reflects this perfectly is a mission where you have to break through an army of the undead guarding the entrance to an ancient temple, all the while protecting another weak character from harm. The map is big, it gives you a number of paths to consider, it mixes strong dark knights with a horde of cannon fodder skeletons, and also drops a few of the necromantic wraiths along the way. No gotchas, no nonsense, pure planning and attrition.
Unfortunately, just when you think you’re starting to have fun, Druidstone goes out of its way to kick you in the balls with something stupid again. And while in the final tally I’d say that the fun-to-bullshit ratio is roughly 50/50, bullshit is much more aggravating by its very nature.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Druidstone