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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: Caves of Lore

Infinitron

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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.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Caves of Lore
 

Arthandas

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Kalarion after reaching the front page of the Codex:

richguy.png
 

felipepepe

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Excellent game, glad it's getting more recognition. As mentioned, combat and lore are cool, but what really makes the game is how fun the exploration is. It's really one of the best I've experienced in an RPG, outside of blobbers.

It's kinda arcade-like, the map even shows "2/4 secrets in this area", but you actually need to put in the effort, read the books and put the pieces together. Feels like the dev loved Morrowind and managed to successfully transpose parts of it into his game, focusing not on the form but on the experience. A lot of the game feels like that, it doesn't directly copy any old-school RPG, but feels like playing one of those for the first time.
 

Lady Error

█▓▒░ ░▒▓█
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Strap Yourselves In
Wow, was not even aware of this very promising indie. Sounds like it might be another unexpected classic like Underrail (with different mechanics).
 

Tyranicon

A Memory of Eternity
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I wish I wasn't so busy just so I can finally play this. Dev is also super chill from my brief interactions on the discord.

Props Kalarion, and I'm not just saying that cause you rated my entire vampire thread :-D
 

Falksi

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It's stuff like this which keeps me gaming. Enjoy my money Mike, I'll be pushing others to give you theirs in order to experience CoL too :salute:
 

leuMOX

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Looks good. Will definitely try it.
Whoa, why is the Android version double the price of the Steam version? I assume regional pricing wasn't enabled?
 

LoreMaster

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Looks good. Will definitely try it.
Whoa, why is the Android version double the price of the Steam version? I assume regional pricing wasn't enabled?
I was unaware of this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I will dig deeper and see if there's an option somewhere to do this.

And thanks to everyone for the great reviews and commentary.

Edit: In Google Play I don't have an option to automatically do regional pricing adaptations. It defaults to whatever the US price is, plus Tax. Can I ask what region you are in?
 
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Quantomas

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I am now a published author, with a byline in a prestigious magazine.
Good review, and it seems also for a worthy game, so thank you!

I got the info that the pathfinding zigzagging has been resolved in a recent patch, also the ranged attacker putting themselves in jeopardy. Can you confirm this?

PS.
Unreliable pathfinding for the attacker positioning that is. Quote: "Never, ever, ever, ever click-to-attack with a ranged character when the desired target is outside of attack range"
 
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leuMOX

Literate
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Jun 2, 2023
Messages
20
Looks good. Will definitely try it.
Whoa, why is the Android version double the price of the Steam version? I assume regional pricing wasn't enabled?
I was unaware of this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I will dig deeper and see if there's an option somewhere to do this.

And thanks to everyone for the great reviews and commentary.

Edit: In Google Play I don't have an option to automatically do regional pricing adaptations. It defaults to whatever the US price is, plus Tax. Can I ask what region you are in?
I've DM'd you. :salute:
 

Lyre Mors

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Thank you for the excellent review on one of the best games of 2023, Kalarion! And thanks for submitting it to the best videogame forum on the internet ;). It's a shame so many people around here who constantly bitch about there not being good new RPGs to play have for some reason decided to pass this gem up. Shame on them!

Number one flaw was outlined well in the review: the camping needs to be more restricted. Luckily encounters can be pretty brutal to get through on the hardest difficulty.
 
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AdamReith

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Enjoy the Revolution! Another revolution around the sun that is.
Played a bit of this last week. Very fun and having the tooltips to explain how the party skill scores get aggregated is pretty great.

I hate having to leave a game to figure out how mechanics work.

That said, could somebody verify for me that the lock pick and bargain skills used is the one belonging to the current party leader?

Or does it just use the highest relevant skill present in the party?
 

Fireblade

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That said, could somebody verify for me that the lock pick and bargain skills used is the one belonging to the current party leader?

Or does it just use the highest relevant skill present in the party?
From what I could tell...

Lockpick: you have to make the person you want to do the picking your party leader. That's easy, because you can just drag and drop a character on the right side of the screen to swap with your current leader.

Bargain: when in the shop interface, you need to select which character you want to do the buying/selling, and it uses their skill.
 

AdamReith

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Enjoy the Revolution! Another revolution around the sun that is.
Thanks, it's a pity he couldn't have automated that stuff. Probably one of my only gripes is needing to swop around the party in those situations.
 

Optimist

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My team has the sexiest and deadliest waifus you can recruit.
So, LoreMaster put together a game about exploring all of Lore's caves?

Thanks for bringing this to my attention, wishlisted.
 

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