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RPG Codex Review: King Arthur: Knight's Tale

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

Tags: King Arthur: Knight's Tale; NeocoreGames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Review: Islands of the Caliph

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

Tags: Islands of the Caliph; Schmidt Workshops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Review: Black Book

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

Tags: Black Book; Morteshka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Review: Jagged Alliance 3

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

Tags: Haemimont Games; Jagged Alliance 3; THQ Nordic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(...)

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Review: Black Geyser

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

Tags: Black Geyser: Couriers of Darkness; GrapeOcean Technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Interview: Sérgio Gil on Project Haven

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

Tags: Code Three Fifty One; Project Haven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Review: Ctrl Alt Ego

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

Tags: Ctrl Alt Ego; MindThunk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Review: Caves of Lore

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

Tags: Caves of Lore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Review: Pathfinder Wrath of the Righteous

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

Tags: Owlcat Games; Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Freedom Force

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

Tags: Freedom Force; Irrational Games

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

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

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RPG Codex GOTY 2022: Results & Cool Graphs

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

Tags: GOTY 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Top 55 JRPGs

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


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


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RPG Codex Review: Jupiter Hell

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

Tags: ChaosForge; Jupiter Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RPG Codex Review: Soulash

Codex Review - posted by Darth Roxor on Fri 13 May 2022, 18:10:12

Tags: Soulash

Another day, another Codex review of another game you may have never heard about. Or may at least know nothing about. I know I did before reading this in-depth analysis of Soulash by community member Lukaszek.

I'm not exactly an aficionado of roguelikes, so I don't even know what to put here. Instead, I'll just let the text speak for itself.

Eventually you learn the ropes and start exploring. The world is handmade and general directions stay the same during each playthrough. Based on your seed, some settlements might look a bit different or enemies in a given area will change slightly. The same settlement might be a farmer village in one run, while in another you’ll only find burned down houses and orcs there. The next time, you find the buildings intact, but all the villagers have turned into zombies.

While this can make planning a bit harder, it’s nothing truly major. You might find some weak troglodytes with decent spears in one of the caves. You return there in the next life, hoping to loot their weapons, only to find bugs instead. It will hamper your early game if you were set on using spears, but you’ll obtain decent weapons soon enough.

There is one random factor that can easily kill you if you don’t pay attention. Every piece of equipment, be it crafted or generated in the world (on enemies), can be upgraded into an artifact. That scythe-swinging peasant can poke quite a hole in your body when he spawns with a unique spear.

There is no mechanic that will make you stronger on subsequent runs. There are no unlockables, secret powers or anything of that sort. The only difference is that during character creation, the game will show the talents that a given class can learn at the appropriate levels, provided you’ve reached that level first yourself. If anything, I found that obfuscation annoying, although it can be easily fixed if you navigate to your data files. In general, the configs aren’t hidden and the game seems easy to mod.

With the world being same-ish with each run, you become stronger only by not repeating the same mistakes. Though it can be annoying if your mistake was being ambushed by an enemy with some nasty artifact. In general, you’ll learn to run into more newbie-friendly areas. There you’ll establish a base with food, water and a bed, and then proceed to clear out nearby enemies so that your beauty sleep won’t be interrupted. Those sleeping in the woods usually get ambushed.​

Artifact-wielding yokels are definitely a part of my definition of 'fun'. The article also examines the game's crafting system, world-building, general gameplay paradigms and the ecological repercussions of devouring gods responsible for certain aspects of the natural order. Read on here: RPG Codex Review: Soulash

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[Quickie No. 007] A Look at Railway Empire

Codex Review - posted by Darth Roxor on Sat 16 April 2022, 17:00:36

Tags: Gaming Minds Studios; Kalypso Media; Quickie; Railway Empire; Tacticular Cancer

Choo choo! I heard you like playing with train sets. I don't know if the same is true for community member Scruffy, but apparently his appreciation for railroading was big enough to write us a Quickie™ of Railway Empire, a lite train baron tycoon kind of game that supposedly isn't even complex enough to be called a simulation kind of game.

If you're only looking for the gist of it:



Railway Empire (from now on, R.E.) is a tycoon-type “simulation” game – in quotes, since it doesn’t actually simulate much – where you take up the role of a railroad baron tasked with connecting the East Coast of the United States with the West Coast.

For those of you who have no intention of reading the whole review: if you enjoyed Railroad Tycoon and Sid Meier’s Railroads!, or generally like railroad baron games, or have a thing for the First Transcontinental Railroad, you’re probably going to enjoy this game, for a while. If instead you’re expecting a proper simulation, down to micromanaging stuff, then you will not enjoy R.E., as it will be a bit too simplistic for you.​

I, for one, am always grateful when someone gives me the tl;dr right at the start of an article. For those of you with more patience and greater attention spans, you can read the full review here: [Quickie No. 007] A Look at Railway Empire

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RPG Codex Review: Wasteland 3

Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 12 March 2022, 22:02:09

Tags: inXile Entertainment; Wasteland 3

Wasteland 3 must be one of the more forgettable GOTYs in the annals of the Codex. Released in late 2020 after nearly four years in development, it turned out to be the closest thing we had to an all-around decent RPG in a year of niche titles and cyberpunk disappointment. But the game itself sparked remarkably little discussion. Maybe it was ignored by users who'd been burnt by inXile's previous offerings, or maybe there just wasn't all that much to say about it. Once again, we have our esteemed social media representative Roguey to thank for finally picking up the task of reviewing it. He finds Wasteland 3 to be a streamlined but generally solid title, which clearly benefited from its lengthy development and an additional year of patching. Here's an excerpt from his review:

The first difference you'll notice from Wasteland 2 is that it takes a page from Divinity: Original Sin and requires you to make or take just two rangers at the start. There's a greater focus on accessibility and the ability to immediately jump in and start playing: there are five groups of pre-made rangers, and they all come with unique background bonuses and utility items that no custom-made ranger can acquire to compensate for their non-powergamed attribute and skill allocation. In addition to this, they also have a few unique voiced banters with each other, though you'll hear them all in the early areas. Once you're past the tutorial, you can make or take two more rangers from a different and larger pool and/or fill up your roster with companions for a total of six; however, you must always have at least two rangers in the party and can have no more than four. Some purists may balk, but I was grateful I could start playing immediately and learn how I wanted to build my future characters through experiencing the game's content as opposed to making decisions for four different characters at the start with no context other than my previous experience with RPGs.

Wasteland 3's CLASSIC attribute system has also been modified from its predecessor. In Wasteland 2, the system encouraged only two kinds of builds: a useless-or-less-useful-in-combat charismatic skillmaster and a character who puts a roughly equal investment into attributes that maximize initiative, action points, and skill points. The initiative system that gave individual characters multiple combat turns in comparison to their opponents excessively rewarded high-initiative builds and excessively punished low-initiative builds; that's been replaced with the characters on each side going at once, though occasionally you may get lucky and receive a free use of action points. Action points themselves, while still important, aren't absolutely necessary to max out on every character; there are incentives to put those points elsewhere. Putting points into intelligence gives you one skill point per level of intelligence instead of modifying the number of points you get per level. Overall, viable build variety with regard to attributes has noticeably improved.

The skill system has been streamlined; the era of multiple container-unlocking skills is over. Lockpicking and Safecracking are now just Lockpicking, Handguns and Shotguns have been folded into Small Arms, Assault Rifles and Submachine Guns form Automatic Weapons, Bladed and Blunt Weapons are now Melee, Field Medic and Surgeon have been combined into First Aid (and it's no longer a requirement for reviving downed rangers), and Alarm Disarming and Perception have become Sneaky Shit. Brute Force is gone; now if you can't be bothered to invest in Lockpicking but still want to open a locked door, just attack it normally. The Smart Ass talking skill is also gone. They did add Armor Modding as a skill to complement Weapon Modding, but that's the only new one. Even with the fewer number of skills, a perfectly-optimized party won't be able to max out everything by the endgame; at least four skills won't be able to hit those final numbers (at least as far as the base game experience curve goes).

Additionally, annoyances like skill timers, chance-based skill checks, critical failures, and gun jamming are gone. I could take or leave the last two, but I don't miss the first two at all. Using a skill isn't quite instantaneous, but it's fast enough, and not having to keep clicking on an object until you succeed or critically fail is a welcome relief.

The inclusion of quirks and perks from the Director's Cut of Wasteland 2 has been carried over, and they've also added backgrounds that provide a small bonus. There are some good, great, and lousy options all around, so it's a pretty typical assortment for an RPG. With knowledge of the system, you can synergize all three to excel at a given role, so there's a decent amount of options here for the powergamers.

Inventory is now shared by the entire party and items no longer have weight, so encumbrance is no longer a factor. However, there are strength requirements to wear the strongest kinds of armor without penalty. While you can look at the inventory during combat, you can't equip anything you didn't have in your weapon and quick slots when combat started, so things aren't totally balanced in your favor.

Crafting was added in one of the patches. It saves you the trouble of having to backtrack to a store if you run out of a particular kind of consumable or ammo while out in the field as long as you meet the particular skill prerequisites. It's also used for making unique joke items that are worth a bit more than standard junk items, weapon and armor mods you absolutely want to have, and unique weapons, including final upgrades for the best weapons in the game. I'm usually not one for crafting, but I liked having it here. The presentation for weapon and armor mods could have been better though; there are roughly two dozen armor mods and fifty weapon mods and they're listed in alphabetical order instead of organized by type and rank. As a result, it's irritating to scroll through them while holding shift to look at their stats to find what you want.

[...] If "reactivity and choice" was the mantra for Wasteland 2, then Wasteland 3 adds "transparency and accessibility" as another design pillar. inXile pulled off a heavily-reactive turn-based, party-based RPG that looks and sounds slick and is largely frustration-free when it comes to starting and playing. They re-examined their systems and modified them without throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in contrast to other studios who have tried to do the same in the past. Sure, it's not the second coming of Jagged Alliance 2, and no, it's not a party-based Fallout, but it's my favorite Wasteland game. Its status as the 2020 RPG Codex Game of the Year is well-deserved.​

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RPG Codex GOTY 2021: Results & Cool Graphs

Community - posted by felipepepe on Mon 28 February 2022, 14:47:05

Tags: GOTY 2021

It's time to see what the Codex enjoyed in 2021!

This year we had 569 voters, who rated 154 releases from 2021. This is the largest numbers of games we ever had in the poll. It was a bit harder to vote, but I think it worked well to help us sort what's worth a second look outside of the obvious big releases.

Best 2021 RPGs

The competition for GOTY this year was tight, three titles stood out - Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous was the most popular, The Chronicles Of Myrtana: Archolos had extremely positive reviews, and ATOM RPG: Trudograd was right between them in popularity & positive reviews.

Since the voting system was made to reward quality over popularity, Archolos was the big winner. Only 20% of voters played it, but over 90% rated it positively - almost 85% of votes being 4/4! Congratulations to the team, it's an impressive result for a mod that got released just 2 months ago.

Pathfinder was second. It's a good place, but it performed a bit worse than the first game. Kingmaker was played by 54% of voters and had a 67% of positive votes back in 2018, while Wrath was played by almost exactly the same percentage (53%) but only got 54% positive votes.

On the other hand, ATOM: Trudograd kept almost exactly the same results - the original ATOM had 88% positive votes in 2017, Trudograd got 85%. The % of people who played it also only had a slight decreased from 35% to 33%.

Honestly, it's remarkable how the Codex is consistent in its interests, with sequels getting almost exactly the same play % as the first games.

Here's the Top 10:



Read the full article: RPG Codex GOTY 2021: Results & Cool Graphs

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RPG Codex Review: Maneater - The Mutant Shark Vendetta

Codex Review - posted by Darth Roxor on Mon 7 February 2022, 17:06:53

Tags: Maneater; Tripwire Interactive

This world is much too short on RPGs where you get to become one of the mutant abominations that threaten the world instead of hunting them down.

Fortunately one such game is Maneater, the subject of our most recent review submitted by Lukaszek. If you ever felt like morphing into a monstrous shark and ravaging the land and sea alike, this game might just be for you. As the noble reviewer would put it:

Your role is to survive in a hostile environment and grow up. Since your first meal ever was human flesh, and given the tragic backstory, some revenge in the future is to be expected. To help fuel it, it turns out that the first two areas have plenty of toxic waste to go around, and even a submerged nuclear power plant. Eating weird, mutated albino fish does put weird ideas in your head.

Will you carry out your revenge? Will you lose or keep your humanity sharkanity? Sharkness? Is there a good and a bad shark in all of us, constantly whispering to our gills?

(...)

Eventually you’ll be dealing with explosives. They start with dynamite, then progress into some sort of proximity explosive devices and eventually end in torpedoes. All of those can be grabbed in your jaws, delaying the explosion a bit. This leads to my favorite playstyle of grabbing random objects and tail-catapulting them at my targets. Once you grab anything, you can toss it both underwater and in the air if you jump upward.​

Sounds like there's plenty excitement ahead, but, in the end, is it actually good or just gimmicky? For more details, read the full article here: Maneater Review - The Mutant Shark Vendetta

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