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RPG Codex Review: Trials of Fire

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 22 August 2021, 23:32:08

Tags: Trials of Fire; Whatboy Games

Due to the popularity of Slay the Spire, there's been a flood of deckbuilding roguelikes over the past few years. It's a genre that isn't really in this site's wheelhouse, with many a Codexer having spotted a game that seemed interesting to them only to learn to their disappointment that it features "card-based combat". We do have some users who are into these games though. Among them is the esteemed Lacrymas, who has contributed a review of a game called Trials of Fire. It's a tactical deckbuilding roguelike set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world that was released back in April after two years in Early Access. He's a big fan of the game, praising it for its intricate mechanics and a lesser emphasis on RNG compared to other titles in the genre. Here's an excerpt from the review:

The game part consists of two connected strategic and tactical layers. As mentioned previously, you move your party on the strategic map and explore areas with a hovering question mark on top. The most important aspect to keep track of here is your food. The more your party wanders about, the more the members get exhausted and need to rest, for which you use food. There are five levels of exhaustion, each of them putting an ever-increasing number of Exhausted cards into your deck, which clog up your precious card space and are only good for recycling (more on that later). On top of that, there is a morale system which governs bonuses and maluses to armor and redraws (ditto). Your morale is dependent on how far you are straying from the main quest and whether you are traveling while tired. You cannot die of overexertion, but you can give in to despair and lose the game that way.

On your journeys, you will come across various events that give you food, currency, mystic herbs, items, and crafting materials (some events might also hurt you). I've already covered food; obsidian coins can be spent in settlements across the map to acquire anything you can think of, to hire companions, or in narrative events for specific outcomes. Mystic herbs are used for upgrading cards and healing persistent wounds (represented by harmful cards in your deck). The items give you armor (bonus health) and cards. This is a particularly genius move. It raises the value of equipment tremendously and pulls them up from the mire of being only stat sticks. There are no randomly-generated items. They are all unique and each item will give you the exact same card in every playthrough. Which items you get however is random, and not every class can equip every type. This is where the most impactful RNG lies. You can not pre-plan your builds because you don't know which items you will get.

I'd argue this is a right way to provoke "item fever". Hear that, Swen? There's a place and time for everything. You may take notes. Getting certain items can dramatically change your playstyle in unexpected ways, and this is the norm, not the exception. Items are technically classified in five tiers and are MMO color-coded for your convenience. Grey, green, blue, purple, and orange. Guess which color corresponds to which tier. Grey items are only the starting armor of the classes. You will never find them while adventuring. The higher the tier, the more cards (up to three at purple) and armor an item gives. Orange items, being legendaries, also grant you unique passive traits that are triggered in battle under certain circumstances. The most straightforward example is +2 damage on the first magical attack each turn. It gets wild after that. But wait! There's a twist. An item of a more prestigious color doesn't automatically mean it's better than the one below it, even if they give the same cards + the extra one(s). I'll explain why momentarily. Which brings me to the last strategic resource - crafting materials.

They are used to upgrade and "hone" equipment, or to permanently add a card granted by an item to a character's deck (i.e. you don't need to have it equipped anymore). Upgrading an item only improves the card(s) it gives, not armor or any traits (if legendary). Cards can only be upgraded once and each one has a unique way it improves. Sometimes it's very plain, like +1 damage or -1 willpower cost, but other times it even acquires additional effects. Honing is where it gets interesting. Remember how I said higher tier items aren't automatically better? The reason is you don't always want to fill your deck with junk cards which waste space in your hand and don't contribute to a build or tactic you are conceptualizing. The deadliest killer in this game in my opinion is having too many cards in your deck. This is where honing comes into play. Honing uses the crafting materials to remove a single card from an item. This allows you to keep cards you want and discard cards that uselessly take up space. This is not to say some cards are always garbage and unusable. I've found all cards have utility in some situations. It depends on your build and what other cards you have. There is one more thing in the strategic portion - followers. These are characters which you hire or get from quests that come along with you and provide you with passive non-combat buffs, like more health while resting or reducing the amount of crafting materials you need. There isn't much to say about these. They are a nice bonus, but nothing game-changing.

I can't get through a strategic overview without mentioning the classes. There are nine, but you start out being able to select just three (the Warrior, the Hunter, and the Elementalist) and you have to unlock the others through play. This is something I've always been fond of in roguelikes harking back to Tales of Maj'Eyal. It gives you very significant rewards for playing the game without lowering the difficulty of subsequent runs. These classes are much easier to unlock than in something like ToME however, and you are given an option to just unlock everything from the start (which I advise against). I suspect this is for players who once unlocked everything, but have long lost the save files and have no way to get them back. ToF's optional online feature doesn't track this kind of progress like ToME's does (but I digress). Each class has its own starting set of cards and special ability. The Warrior, for example, gives +2 defense to all heroes after playing a card while adjacent to an enemy. Even though this may seem abysmal, there are ways to make these abilities very powerful and the cornerstone of your build. The starting set is always very basic and mostly consists of universal cards like a melee attack or movement, but every class has some unique cards in the starting arsenal and is always given unique cards when leveling up, up to four you can choose at each level. You can opt to either replace a card you already know (cards from items don't count) or upgrade an existing one. This keeps the decks from growing exponentially and wards off power creep.

Outside of character levels in the current adventure, there's also a soul level that persists through runs. This is where the roguelite element (one element) appears. When you win or lose a run, each character individually gains soul experience which contributes to the soul level. Each soul level up to 10 grants you a unique class card which you can choose while leveling your characters in an adventure. I didn't get a card at soul level 11, so it either stops at 10 or granting cards gets more infrequent the higher level you are. As far as I can tell, this is something the developers implemented fairly recently. I was able to find forum threads in which people ask what the soul level does (during Early Access) and a developer responds with "nothing right now". Here's the kicker however. This can potentially make subsequent runs harder and not easier. I argued in the beginning that the roguelite element is a wolf in sheep's clothing and the reason is that it could oversaturate your class pool and make it harder to get the class card you want while leveling up. It's quite paradoxical and I'm not sure whether this is a con or simply neutral. For now, I'm going to say it's neutral because adapting to what RNGesus gives you is half the game. I haven't yet lost a run because I couldn't get the class card I want, but I also haven't played on a higher difficulty than hard (which is the third out of 13 difficulty levels). As a bouncing off point to talking about the battles, it's worth mentioning that some classes have mechanics and resources that others don't. Combined with the uniqueness of the classes themselves, this makes every party composition surprisingly diverse in terms of playstyle.​

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RPG Codex Review: The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 11 July 2021, 14:17:23

Tags: Artefacts Studio; The Dungeon Of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet Of Chaos; The Dungeon Of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet Of Chaos - Ruins of Limis

Artefacts Studio's The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos ended up being way more popular on our forums than anybody would have expected for a niche tactical RPG with cartoony graphics and cheesy humor. But what is actually so good about it? According to staff member emiritus Grunker, it all comes down to the game's abundance of systems. None of which are particularly complex individually, but which come together in a way that elevates Naheulbeuk beyond its superficial nu-XCOM trappings. If you can stand the chicken puns, you'll learn a lot from his extremely thorough review:

The way Dungeon of Naheulbeuk is designed to play is ultimately the reason why I will end up recommending a purchase - even at its admittedly high price of 35 of the European Union's rainbow dollars. You control no fewer than 8 characters – the seven members of the core party as well as one additional party member you pick up later – in a tactical hybrid of oldschool RPG combat and modern, nu-XCOM-ish fights. In most aspects, Dungeon of Naheulbeuk is a weird amalgamation of strange niche inspirations blended into a somehow functioning whole that thrives in the constant push and pull between the oldschool and the new school. Nowhere is this as apparent as in the core combat mechanics.

Yes, the combat is nu-XCOM in the sense that it has half- and full-cover mechanics as well as the “move and hit or move twice” simplified action system. But it also places immense importance on a character's facing: your characters can face in 8 directions on the tile-based battle maps, and three different rules govern attacks from the front, from the sides and from behind. Even without factoring in the game's other positional rules, facing alone means a level of positional complexity that very few RPGs can match, and it is is all handled by an interface so intuitive that you soon forget how utterly annoying you thought constantly controlling your characters' facing would be when the game first introduced the concept.

The game’s abilities are also of the nu-XCOM variety: they are cooldown-based and most characters have a maximum of around seven at any time – more realistically 3-5. But they also cost resources like Astral Energy or Stamina and their effects are incredibly impactful. Most of them have branching upgrades in the talent tree that change their effects fairly drastically.

The attribute system is another tug-of-war between tactical modernity and oldschool RPG affinity: on the one hand, Dungeon of Naheulbeuk sports 6 different attributes which you can assign points into, and they have a massive impact on the characters' ability to deal damage or even hit their target. On the other hand, an attempt has been made to make all attributes have some use for all characters, giving you reasons to put points into all six stats for every character. This attempt is less successful, however – you will only ever put points into Intelligence on your mage, and for nearly everyone else it’s a numbers game about having just enough Agility, then just enough Constitution (if necessary), and then dumping the rest into Strength. Still, no stat is useless for anyone and only Agility is really required on some. In the same vein, some stats have unique effects for certain characters, like Charisma being the primary stat for the elf's healing power. I'm sure someone out there made it through the highest difficulty with a team going all-in on Charisma.

The core attributes lead up to a flurry of derived stats – everything from simple things like “Health”, which is just your pool of hit points, to less obvious stats like “Support”, which governs how much a character improves a party member’s ability to hit targets that they are both adjacent to.

There are more examples, but the point is that Dungeon of Naheulbeuk is a game with very modern and simple systems - but there are a lot of them, and the interplay between them gives the game's combat a very real complexity. To this mix, the game adds sufficient enemy variety that throw wrenches with different levels of ingenuity into your well laid plans, ensuring that fights do not become too alike even if they draw their paint from the same palette of colours.

Many haters of the nu-XCOM model undoubtedly stopped reading when they read about the cover system, which feels ubiquitous to so many games today. However I’ve never seen the practical gameplay results that this system has in Dungeon of Naheulbeuk. The enemy variety is great enough, and your characters’ toolbox so deep, that in some fights you literally don’t notice the existence of the cover system at all, while in some fights it is essential. Mostly, cover is a luxury you take when you can afford it, but it is not mandatory and you often ignore it. As such, the cover system ends up speaking to what Dungeon of Naheulbeuk does well: it encourages tactical diversity and each encounter dictates a different pace of play and strategy of attack.

The way the game does this is through the connectivity of its systems. For example, the reason you might want to take cover is obviously due to the shelter it grants you from ranged attacks, but the reasons you might not want to do it are plentiful. Firstly, cover is often very sparsely placed throughout the battle maps and since positioning has such a defining importance in Dungeon of Naheulbeuk, often it is not worth giving up the great placement of an ability or an aggressive formation to gain the cover bonus. Secondly, there are plenty of enemy abilities that simply don't care about cover. Thirdly, full cover blocks valuable line of sight. And fourthly, cover restricts your characters own abilities depending on their function, so it's a tradeoff. The result is that you spend time thinking about whether to take cover or not, and as we all know, that daft cunt Sid Meier said something about good games being a series of interesting choices or some such nonsense.

Now add to this knowledge that the game's basic design consists of having a lot of these subsystems that play off of each other, and you feel yourself being constantly pulled in different directions, having multiple options in each round of each fight.​

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RPG Codex Review: Vendetta - Curse of Raven's Cry

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 4 July 2021, 14:46:06

Tags: Reality Pump Studios; Vendetta - Curse of Raven's Cry

During the dark age of popamole, a German publisher by the name of TopWare Interactive and its Poland-based in-house development studio Reality Pump Studios managed to gain some renown for producing the Two Worlds games, a series of generic fantasy Oblivion clones. With the money earned making those, TopWare set out to create a title that seemed significantly more ambitious, a pirate action-RPG called Raven's Cry. First announced in 2011, the original developer of Raven's Cry was a now-defunct Finnish studio called Octane Games, a subsidiary of mobile developer Nitro Games. Apparently things did not go well there and in 2013 development was transferred to Reality Pump, who finally released the game in a disastrously unfinished state in early 2015. Faced with a predictably negative reception, Reality Pump would rerelease the game as Vendetta - Curse of Raven's Cry in late 2015 and continued to update it throughout 2017, but the damage had been done and it seemed doomed to be forgotten. Which it was, until its recent rediscovery by the esteemed Lord_Potato, our resident expert on obscure and forgotten RPGs. Is the updated and patched Raven's Cry an underrated gem? According to Lord_Potato, the answer is a qualified yes. The game's ship management and combat systems are certainly more extensive than I expected:

Once you secure your first boat (and there are at least two ways to achieve that – one that makes you dependent on a certain faction and another that allows you to stay independent for a while longer) you can try your luck on the high seas. This is where the game truly shines: it offers true ship porn and lets you have lots of fun. You start with the most basic vessel: a schooner. It’s fast, agile, and can be crewed by a few dozen men. It allows travel between islands but has a weak hull, limited room for cargo, and only a few cannons. You will not do a lot of pirating with this one. Thankfully, when confronted by enemies at sea, the schooner can easily outrun them. However, you’ll soon want to find something larger and more dangerous. There are six types of vessels in Vendetta, ranging from small galleons and maneuverable frigates all the way to powerful man-o-wars and ships of the line. Each ship type has a number of stats: the hull and sails, speed, maneuverability, maximum crew, and cannons. These stats can be improved thanks to an upgrade tree with numerous enhancements, which are usually acquired at the expense of cargo space. Additional upgrades can be unlocked as a reward for quests for certain individuals and factions. The only limitation is that you can only have one ship. When you purchase a new one, the old one automatically gets sold (although you do get back some of the money you invested into upgrading it).

In order for a vessel to sail, it requires a crew – both regular sailors and officers. The former can be recruited in any settlement. The latter must be tracked down in various places ranging from taverns to jails. Some will join the crew for cash, others after completing certain quests. There are first officers, boatswains, gun masters, navigators, doctors, and carpenters. Officers come with numerous advantages: they can improve the aim of cannons and shorten reload times, conduct repairs without having to stop at a port, heal the wounded, or improve crew discipline which increases morale and lowers salary costs. However, some officers can also decrease your reputation or cause dissatisfaction among the crew. You can check their stats and biographies in the crew section of the menu. Officers add some character to your crew and allow for a bit of min-maxing. Your people also require food rations and salaries. The larger the crew, the more expensive each sea voyage becomes. Add to that the cost of ammunition and repairs and you get quite a serious list of expenditures.

How do you earn enough money to satisfy all these needs? There is a certain amount of gold to be claimed by completing quests and plundering ancient temples. But the only stable and reliable source of income is sea trade. You have your cargo hold, so use it! There are eleven categories of products that can be bought and sold, ranging from tobacco, rum and cannabis to ebony, sugar and silk. Each civilized island produces certain products and requires others. The rules of supply and demand will determine your trade routes throughout the Caribbean. However, keep in mind that the system is dynamic. If you sell too much rum to an island that wants it, you will flood the market and the prices will drop. Sometimes if you have full cargo of a certain product, it’s better to sell it in several colonies rather than just one in order to receive the best prices. If you try to buy too much of a certain product, its price will increase due to increased demand and lower supply. The system forces you to think and consider your options. When you have a quest objective on the other side of the map, you will most likely plan your journey so that you earn as much as possible before reaching your destination.

Of course, this is a pirate game, so you don’t have to pay for stuff: plundering ships on the high seas is also an attractive option. When sailing from one island to another, various random encounters will be offered to you – other ships or flotillas which will appear nearby – and you can choose to try your luck and engage them. Sometimes Christopher’s ship will be attacked by enemy vessels and then battle becomes inevitable, although it is possible to run away from tough fights if the wind is favourable and Raven’s vessel is fast enough. Sea battles are mandatory during certain quests (including the main quest), so it’s best to be prepared and keep a cargo hold with every possible type of ammunition.

Vendetta’s sea battles require some training and getting used to, but they’re even more enjoyable than their land-based counterparts. You maneuver your ship (taking into consideration the direction and strength of the wind), select an ammunition type and aim your cannons. By changing the angle by which the cannons are raised, you determine how far the cannonballs will fly. The game offers no visual aid to help you target enemy ships. You simply choose an angle, fire your cannons, evaluate the result and then adjust for better accuracy. Keep in mind however that ships are constantly on the move and the waves hitting them can make it more difficult to aim. Sometimes there are also weather impediments, such as a deep fog that limits visibility. This requires you to fire into the mist and look for explosions to see if the cannonballs hit.

Each ship has three HP bars – hull, sails, and crew. Accordingly, there are three types of ammo that target these bars – cannonballs which are best used against hulls (although they can destroy sails too), grapeshot which is used for killing crewmen, and chain shot which is the most effective at destroying sails. If the hull is breached, the ship simply sinks and you cannot plunder it. When sails and masts are destroyed, it is no longer able to maneuver, but may still fire when other ships pass by. If the crew is eliminated, the vessel will stop sailing and firing and basically become a ghost ship.

When nearby foes are defeated and only one enemy ship remains afloat, you may try to board it. It is a risky (an unsuccessful boarding means game over) but rewarding business. The surviving crew members will put up a fight and then the boarding mini-game begins. Surprisingly, unlike regular land and sea battles, it is turn-based. Christopher Raven does not personally board the enemy vessel but commands his men from afar. The choice is between engaging in melee combat and firing your cannons at point-blank range. After each turn the result is calculated (losses to both crews and destruction of both vessels). You then evaluate the situation and make another decision. Be careful – barraging an opponent’s hull at point blank might sink his ship, which means you won't get your hands on his precious cargo. If your foe has fewer men, a melee attack is usually the better course of action. After the enemy crew is butchered, you can decide what to plunder from the captured vessel (the size of your cargo hold is a limitation here). And when you’re done, you get to make one final decision whether to leave the ghost ship be or set it on fire.

Vendetta allows not just small sea duels but also larger clashes between several units or even flotillas from different factions. The largest battle I participated in during my playthrough pitched more than twenty vessels from England, France, and Spain against each other. Surviving such battles requires tactical thinking, careful positioning, and choosing one’s targets wisely. Positioning your ship between two enemies means trouble – your hull will be barraged from both sides with catastrophic results. You can try to use hostile ships to your advantage in a similar way by hiding from the volleys of more powerful foes behind them. All in all, Vendetta’s sea combat system can produce some very memorable and impressive fights. It may seem difficult and unnecessarily complicated at first, but once you understand and master it, you’ll have a great time pirating your way through the Caribbean.​

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RPG Codex Review: Cyberpunk 2077

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 19 January 2021, 18:31:08

Tags: 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 might wow an NPC in dialogue with your tech knowledge. All it will accomplish is the NPC not coming up with the same solution in the next sentence. In most cases it doesn’t matter what you say, as the outcome will be the same. The quest design formula is usually as follows (main story quests included):
  • 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.
Every. Single. Time.

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.​

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RPG Codex GOTY 2020: Results & Cool Graphs

Community - posted by felipepepe on Sun 17 January 2021, 06:52:34

Tags: 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

Best Remaster/Port
Persona 4 Golden

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

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RPG Codex Review: Knights of the Chalice 2 - Augury of Chaos

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Thu 10 December 2020, 19:15:51

Tags: 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:

The bullshit in this game’s encounter design is all-encompassing and ever-present. I already mentioned the enemy equipment. Now consider that you are always outnumbered and out-levelled, often even very significantly. Then you have the monster spawns out of nowhere, which can include cannon fodder as much as horrible abominations of terrible doom. Then there are the hundred million billion weird-ass abilities like breath weapons, death explosions, arbitrary critical hit immunities (hello, evil cultist fighters) and “spell-like abilities” that everyone packs in large numbers and which are all nothing but bullshit – bonus points if they are spells from spellbooks unavailable to a given caster class, and which just so happen to benefit the owner’s loadout and traits. Of course, there are also plenty of “surprise” encounters where you can’t even avoid the surprise because, to quote, “suddenly enemies appear all around you.”

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.​

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RPG Codex Review: Krai Mira

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 5 October 2020, 22:30:41

Tags: 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:

The game begins with a short intro cutscene, but there is no character creation sequence as such. Our PC starts out simply standing on a beach. We can name him, distribute several points between five main stats, and invest two points into one of three available perks. The stats are strength, health, agility, perception, and "erudition", which is basically intellect and charisma combined. Throughout the game the PC will gain access to fifteen perks, which are mostly focused on stealth and melee combat. Each perk has three levels of advancement. There are no skills in the game and hence no skill checks. Stat checks in dialogue are very rare. Sometimes high erudition provides you with an additional dialogue choice or allows you to talk someone into helping you without material gratification. But that is all you will get out of making your guy a smooth talker. Upon gaining a new level you get one stat point and one perk point, which you may invest as you see fit.

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.​

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RPG Codex Review: Pathfinder Kingmaker

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 23 August 2020, 16:21:45

Tags: 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:

Kingmaker has a gated open structure; you're able to explore anywhere you want in a certain region, but there are various plot gates that keep you from entering other higher level regions until another chapter unlocks them. I'm not one for high risk, high reward sequence breaking, so I don't mind. As for the main quest, it has to be followed in a step by step manner, though sometimes you'll be able to unlock a new area early if your perception is high enough. Even with these limits, choosing a direction to go in without knowing where the path will take you or what new locations will pop up really helps sell the idea that you're taming an untamed land.

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.​

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RPG Codex Review: Horizon's Gate

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 21 April 2020, 01:23:13

Tags: 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.​

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RPG Codex Top Non-RPG PC Games RESULTS!

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:

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You can see the full list and a lot more info here:

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RPG Codex Review: Broken Lines

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 15 March 2020, 17:01:50

Tags: 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.
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RPG Codex Interview: Chris Bischoff on Beautiful Desolation

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 26 February 2020, 19:18:26

Tags: 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.
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RPG Codex Review: Der Geisterturm

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 8 February 2020, 22:10:09

Tags: 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:

Most, if not all, of the new things in Der Geisterturm are related to combat mechanics. The game expands the combat system pretty well when it comes to the tactics available to the player. Back in Geisterschiff, you were more or less limited to just picking the right weapon for the job, and that was it. Geisterturm builds on this by introducing damage types, fire modes and pilot stances.

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.
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RPG Codex GOTY 2019: Results & Cool Graphs

Community - posted by felipepepe on Tue 21 January 2020, 00:33:22

Tags: 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

Best Remake/Port
Romancing SaGa 3

Best DLC/Expansion
Underrail: Expedition

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

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RPG Codex 2019 GOTY - VOTE NOW!

Community - posted by felipepepe on Sat 11 January 2020, 03:11:10

Tags: 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!

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RPG Codex Review: Disco Elysium

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 5 November 2019, 16:03:47

Tags: 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:

Instead of giving us the usual freedom to become a soon-heroic, god-chosen nobody, Disco Elysium puts the player in the tear-and-alcohol-soaked shoes of a particular *somebody*. That somebody has a name, a face (sort of), a semblance of life, and a long history of destructive self-abuse, all of which slowly resurface during the course of the game.

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.​

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RPG Codex Review: Tale of Wuxia

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 25 October 2019, 20:11:11

Tags: 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:

Tale of Wuxia’s main tagline is that it “has been dedicated to providing gameplayers with a player-defined platform, where they can customize their own Wuxia” (“Wuxia” is Chinese for “martial hero”), so as you may imagine, character building is an important part of this game.

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.​

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RPG Codex Review: Sengoku Rance

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 19 October 2019, 01:40:51

Tags: 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:

I'm going to take a moment to compare the strategic layer of Sengoku Rance to grand strategy mainstays such as Europa Universalis or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series. During a given turn in a grand strategy game, you gauge the strength of your enemy and then build up the appropriate forces to take a territory you want. You are likely to be victorious on the field, but there are other factors which determine if the attack will have been worthwhile. For example, what resources were lost to ensure the victory? Were your best officers and units used up in the attack, leaving only scrubs and depleted troops available to defend what you won during that turn? What enemy resources were captured that would make the losses acceptable? How will the rulers of opposing factions react? Will your enemies seek an alliance, declare war, offer tribute in the hopes of staying neutral, or act in the shadows in an attempt to weaken your forces? There’s a lot of complexity in a typical grand strategy title, but Sengoku Rance is probably one of the most accessible and easy to learn of this genre.

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.​

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RPG Codex Review: Stygian Reign of the Old Ones

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 12 October 2019, 00:10:04

Tags: 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:

When it comes to setting, Stygian makes the same mistake games like Neverwinter Nights, Bloodlines, and Shadowrun Returns did by cramming in as many references as it possibly can, turning it into a Lovecraft theme park. Cthulhu, Randolph Carter, The Outsider, one of Herbert West's reanimated zombies, Pickman's models, the Terrible Old Man and the Strange High House in the Mist, the Dreamlands, the Witch House, the Mi-Go, the Elder Things, they're all here. I would prefer a more focused story that relies less on direct references, though I recognize the temptation is high to put in everything you can on your first and perhaps only attempt at an adaptation.

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.​

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RPG Codex Review: Legends of Amberland

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 17 September 2019, 00:15:28

Tags: 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:

Battle is joined when the party steps on a tile occupied by an enemy, or in some instances when the enemy jumps into the party's face. While exploring, monsters and men alike are not stationary but move around in their own radius. This creates a situation where an adventuring party can decide each turn whether to advance, retreat or wait while the enemy reposition themselves like pieces on a game board. Sometimes monsters seek to block or restrict the player’s mobility. When both sides finally clash, they are locked in a life and death struggle until one side emerges victorious. And once vanquished, enemies are gone forever as maps do not repopulate.

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.​

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