Every now and then I come across a game that surprises me in a good way. Usually these games are ones that I’ve had a brief glance at, said “Ooh, that looks cool” and then eventually got round to playing even if that has been months down the line. Odyssey is certainly in that category but this time rather than ‘getting round to it eventually’ I was lucky enough to get hands on with the demo so that I could let you all know just how interesting a game it really is. …
So here’s a question for people who like that kind of thing. What exactly is an evil man? Surely good and evil are simply decided by which side of an army or faction you are born into? Maybe it depends on which views you are brought up with or what you come to believe to be true on your own terms. Or is evil a more personal thing, something that is defined by your actions no matter where you come from or what your background is? Paradox Interactive’s new RPG Tyranny really poses this question to you from the get-go by allowing you to choose your backstory in the lead up to actually taking control of your character. The army of Kyros under which your loyalties lie, have taken over most of the known world aside from one small peninsula in the south. As one of Kyros’ leaders in the eventual occupation of these lands, you begin the game by deciding exactly how your armies go about capturing the district. I won’t spoil any of the important choices for you, as this intro literally shapes the game you play and choosing the level to which your evil or mercy extends is half the fun of the early game.
What I will say is that as with other Paradox games the writing and character development in Tyranny is of a very high standard. Rarely does it feel like you’re reading a piece of filler text but instead insightful and interesting dialogue and backstory, and taking part in decisions that literally shape the game and characters you are playing in and talking to. Just be prepared to do a LOT of reading. If reading is really not your thing, then I would seriously consider your attitude towards this game as skipping text would, in my opinion ruin the enjoyment of the overall game.
In a majority of games in this genre party interaction is something that I often find tedious and an endeavor that has no meaningful outcome. Party conversations in Tyranny however hold weight as each character that you talk to will react differently to you depending on your choices in game and the ways in which you interact with them on an individual level. You can gain fear or loyalty from them, making their own actions change according to yours. This is the same for larger factions and NPC’s in the game, who you can also gain and lose reputation with depending on your actions. This certainly makes conversation choices a lot more meaningful for me and means if you want to role play the evil guy you better be prepared to deal with the consequences. The only disappointment from the party members is that there is not a whole lot of depth to them after conversation. You may visit an area in the game that they have a connection with and they will hardly even talk. There’s also not much in the way of ‘loyalty quests’ or anything to connect them personally to these places and I feel like they lack a bit of depth in that department, which is a shame. A personal quest or two that included each of the characters you can add to your party would go a long way to solving this problem.
The voice acting is also of a high standard when it shows, but not all interactions are voiced. I’m not sure if this was due to me playing the early review release of the game which im told would be missing the odd bit here and there or if they decided that it just wouldn’t be practical to have every section of the game voice acted. Certainly the main story line arc was mostly voice acted and if I think about it long enough that’s probably enough for me.
There’s a lot to take in to account when getting into your first few proper combat situations in Tyranny, although if you have played Paradox’s other game Pillars of Eternity, you will feel semi-familiar here. Once you build up a party and level them to suit your play style things get a little easier, but initially I found it a touch hard to manage the ability overload you are faced with. There is the option to let AI manage your party members but this is best turned off if you’re thinking about tackling one of the harder difficulty levels as sometimes they can be infuriatingly slow to react, especially when switching between targets that are further apart from each other. Thankfully you can pause combat and manage each characters abilities and if things are moving to fast for you in real-time, there’s an option to toggle slow combat speeds.
Once you get into the thick of the stats, abilities and equipment management, it’s actually quite enjoyable if you like that kind of thing. The spell system allows you to essentially create your own spells and assign them to any character, with higher cost spells being restricted to characters with high lore values which are normally casters anyway. Spells are created with a ‘Core Sigil’ deciding what element or type of spell it will be, an ‘Expresion Sigil’ deciding how the spell will effect the target and an ‘accent’ which modifies anything from casting range to the strength of the spell or how long the effect of the spell will take place for. Each sigil has a lore value and this is what restricts you from just giving the strongest spells to every character. For your mage assuming you have one in your party, spell creation is something of a strong point in the game, allowing you to entirely shape the type of combat style you want later into the game once you’ve collected a lot of sigils.
On top of the spell system each character has their own skill tree with multiple options from which they can learn new abilities or improve combat traits like armour penetration or health. Certain pieces of equipment can also provide abilities but are mostly for stat improvement and aesthetic value. Overall the combat and ability system is fairly in depth and as a person who enjoys tweaking optimal stats and abilities I enjoyed the system that Obsidian have put in place here, certainly when compared to other games of the same genre which almost seem to shy away from making these things in any way complicated for whatever reason. In a game that isn’t entirely about combat it makes sense not to completely overload the player with combat based decisions and I feel this medium depth level worked well at not spoiling my enjoyment of everything else that Tyranny has to offer.
Graphically and in terms of level deign Tyranny is a really good looking game much on the same terms as Pillars of Eternity, which makes sense when you take into account that the same team developed it and it’s made with the same engine. The levels are really well designed both visually and the way in which they can be transversed and interacted with. It’s almost as if concept art has been improved upon by artists and designers leading to some stunning scenes and intelligent design. Throughout the whole game I don’t think there was a single area of the game where I thought the designers had slipped in quality.
Ultimately Tyranny is a game about making decisions and unlike some games who promise a lot it really makes these choices count. During my play I compared my choices and outcomes to that of a friend and I’m happy to say that there was no illusion of choice, your actions really do change things like the people you meet, the areas you visit and smaller sub areas that you may or may not have access to, how people react to you, what people call you, items you find in the game and probably much more than that.
To sum things up Tyranny is a well designed and enjoyable RPG that makes decisions count, has enjoyable combat, interesting characters and well written dialogue. It places itself in a fairly unique setting and certainly makes being evil a lot of fun. Above all of that I think the thing I like most about Tyranny is that it’s not very often in a game that I get to actually make the decision I want. In most other games I may be provided with options but certain game world rules mean that none of them suit exactly what I want to do in that situation. In Tyranny however I can happily kill off an NPC, slap someone in the face, throw them off a building, show mercy, save their life, take a bribe, or basically anything I want if I deem it necessary as I am literally the law bringer and in the end this is what makes it most enjoyable for me.
The Verdict – Red Mist
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is an upcoming CRPG developed by inXile Entertainment and is currently in Early Access on Steam. It’s the spiritual successor of Planescape: Torment, the cult hit from 1999, but unlike it’s predecessor will also release on consoles rather than just PC. In this article I aim to go over some of the major points of the early game and the stage at which the game is at in the development process.
First of all I should address the fact that Planescape: Torment was known for it’s well written dialogue and I’m happy to say that the writing in Tides of Numenera is excellent for the most part. Even the non-conversation, narrator style parts of the writing shine and quite often they feel like reading a sci-fi/fantasy book. The characters seem well developed even in this early stage. In my time with the game there were a few party members who jumped in and out during different quests and they all had unique personalities that fitted in well with the overall story arc. The city area I visited was well populated and each character seemed to have their own piece of unique written speech and a few side-quests here and there. There is the odd section where speech options or characters words were missing but this could be to protect the main story line or anything the developers don’t want to get out just yet and nothing that I would consider to be out of the ordinary.
The character creation event at the start of the game is a welcome break from the standard “choose your hero and modify every aspect of it” that is usually presented in an RPG like this. Instead you make your way through a scripted event which has choices at certain points. These choices decide where the stat points go into your character and so define your class, be that spell caster, melee or a mixture. As welcome as this change is it could do with being a little more in depth in its explanation. This will of course be your character for presumably tens, possibly even hundreds of hours worth of gameplay so you want to make sure that stats, abilities, classes, choices are explained in full detail. As far as I could tell there was no visual customization options at all and instead you can only choose male or female. After the scripted event you can adjust your character some more to suit your play style.
During my time with Tides of Numenera progression through areas seemed slow at first but I am the kind of person that likes to take a new map area and dissect it, talking to as many people as possible, exploring every area of the map and finding as many quests and secrets as possible. While progress for me continued to be slow when I encountered a new area, this proved to be more a credit to how well the developers have done at populating the maps with interesting people, engaging stories, quests and secrets rather than anything else.
So you’ve heard a lot of the good, now for some of the not so good. There were some bugs were present for me early on. One occasion of a game freeze before combat, not being able to read tooltips, missing text, pretty much what is to be expected for the early stages of an early access game. None of these aside from the game freeze actually disrupted my gameplay much and even that was fixed with a simple reload of a previous autosave.
Tides of Numenera seems nice graphically although not stunning considering it’s been built on the same engine as Pillars of Eternity which i feel looked a nit nicer. The game still looks good though and the levels are well designed but the UI and menus seem a bit clunky and are not great to look at. They’re probably going to need some work before the final release as in my opinion that could be something that really pulls a game like this down. Inventory management, map and quest checking and general menu navigation are main parts of the game and having an inadequate or ugly UI can sometimes put me off spending more hours with a game.
Combat is a very early stage as so doesn’t feel great yet. I have only come across once instance of combat and replayed it a few times just so I could see all the different options available to me. InXile have made it clear they are at an early stage of balancing the combat and that is clear to me. Skills are not explained well enough yet and some stats/spells have no tooltips or not enough info to explain how they affect a target or yourself.
Only odd snippets of voice acting have been added already and so there’s not much to be said about that just yet.
To summarize, Torment: Tides of Numenera certainly looks to be a very interesting game that is hopefully going to continue the incredible revival of CRPG’s in the past few years. The developers are doing a good job with the writing, characters and level design so far but still have a lot of work to do. While taking all that into account if you’re looking for a finished game to sink you’re teeth into, you’ll want to wait for the final release. There are still a lot of changes going on behind the scenes and the final game is probably still a good while off yet. On the other hand if you’re interested in the game and want to poke about to see what the developers have been doing so far, there is plenty of stuff to keep you satisfied, just be prepared for a few bugs, unfinished dialogue and the odd crash.
Niffelheim is a 2D side-scrolling RPG currently in development in Steams Early Access Program. In it you play as a Viking who’s soul has been diverted on its was to Valhalla. You can craft armour and weapons, collect resources, upgrade your home base and defend it against numerous foes. Niffelheim is a true early access game in the sense that there are a lot of features still to be released, but the games developers are hard at work and keep in regular contact with the players via the Steam forums.
To see what the game looks like click the video below where I go through
Niffelheim is cuurently available on Steam for £14.99 link can be found here.
As a well versed player of digital CCG’s Faeria is a game that instantly feels familiar to me. Upon launching the game up for the first time I find myself looking at the cards and even before I play my first game everything makes sense in terms of understanding the mechanics of the cards, which although under different names are shared with other digital CCG’s I’ve played in the past. What’s different about Faeria is the use of an environmental board on which the cards in your collection can be played and can move around before entering combat. This simple addition adds a whole new level of tactical thought to a game which already has all the layers of a normal digital card game. The combination works so well that I found myself sinking 4 hours a day over the first weekend of playing.
A typical game starts with an empty board and hexagonal shaped ocean pieces on which you place your land. Depending on which faction you build your deck from you can either place mountains, lakes, forests, deserts, neutral land called prairies, or a combination of any and all of these types. You can then place your creature cards onto these lands. Your creatures can only be placed on your own lands although they can be moved onto opponent lands after they have been on the board for 1 turn or more.
From here it’s basically a game of chess with your creatures facing up against your opponents. It’s important to note there are also four Faeria wells at the corners of the board. Faeria lets you use your cards and abilities and controlling these wells can sometimes be critical to winning either long games where your opponent will run out of Faeria if not managed properly, or rush games where you will be placing a lot of creatures and using a lot of event (special ability) cards within the first few turns.
Matching your card choice to your play style is also a large factor of success and it’s important to know what all your cards abilities are and how you can best play them. This of course takes time experimenting and refining your deck when you think something’s not quite right, or not exactly how you want it to be. Whether you play defensive, rush, or go for a deck themed around a particular feature like ranged combat or a focus on efficient trades it’s important to have a game plan.
Once you’ve had a good look at the cards and have drafted a deck you’re happy with, it’s time to get into the thick of the action, and there’s a few choices of game types to be made. Firstly you should be focusing your time in solo mode, where you unlock all of the codex cards (basic game cards) by defeating AI opponents from each of the factions; water, desert, forest and mountain. Once you have done this and refined you deck with any of the new cards you should head into battle mode. Here you can play against other real players in ranked or un-ranked play. Un-ranked is a good way to test new or experimental decks you have been creating, while ranked mode, going from 25-1 and then onto God rank is the ultimate test of your deck crafting and playing skills and stands as a mark of your commitment and skill with the game. Pandora is another mode players of CCG’s might also be familiar with and is also known in other games as draft mode, or arena. This has yet to be implemented in Faeria but is very near and from what I’ve heard will work much in the same way that it does in other games.
As you gain ranks and level your character there are certain awards that can be picked up. Gold for buying booster packs, card crafting material and avatar pictures. There is also a shop in which you can buy all these things and booster packs, but the good thing about Faeria is that in this early stage with not too many cards it’s strikes me as not very pay-to-win, which is of course a great thing. As the game progresses (as with all CCG’s) the struggle will be in keeping up with all these new cards and the change of the meta game towards these cards. That moment is not upon us yet and if you wish to get into Faeria I would say get in early and try to keep on top of the cards as much as you can.
At the moment Faeria costs £17.99 on Steam and with this you get 20 booster packs, 10 entries in to Pandora mode when it becomes available and exclusive aesthetic item for your god. Eventually it will be free-to-play but then the bonus for supporting development during early access will be gone. Assuming that Pandora entry is about 100 gold and ignoring the exclusive avatar items, this would have cost you 3000 in game gold, which takes while to farm though quests, so to get this quick boost as soon as you start the game feels worthwhile to me.
The Good and the Bad of Faeria
So you’ve probably heard enough about the in’s and out’s of Faeria to decide whether it’s your kind of game or not, but as a whole is the game worth playing or not? Let’s start with the positives.
Positives – The beautiful art style, familiar feel, smooth gameplay, the fact that it’s not pay-to-win, is easy to pick up and hard to master and lacks in RNG compared to other CCG’s are all great but fairly small reasons why you should play this game. The main three points for me are that: 1 – Faeria already has a great community of players who are all willing to help you understand the game and craft better decks and can chat to you thanks to the forum link you find in game. 2 – Faeria has a uniqueness about it in that it has an almost board game feel but it actually a CCG. The mix of evolving environmental board and chess game of your cards on this board is brilliant. 3 – Faeria even in this Early Access stage receives regular updates to balance the cards that people are playing every day. This is a great way to keep the community feeling in touch with the game and the changes that are happening whilst also receiving all the normal bug fixing and so on you would expect for a game in Early Aceess.
Negatives – Considering this game has only just entered early access on Steam there are actually very little negatives about it. This is probably in part down to the community and the open communication the developers have with the community, allowing them to suggest feedback and directly send screenshots or reports of bugs to a live developer and a team of moderators. However in the spirit of fairness I feel it would be unjust if I didn’t mention the minor negatives I have found with the game so far. 1 – There is a running battle log at the side of the screen, this is helpful but only has a history of a few turns. It would be nice to be able to scroll down this list and see what happened previously as occasionally your opponents turn can be comprised of several different moves, attacks and spells and the log quite often doesn’t even go back a full turn. It could also do with a little more explanation. Sure a creature attacked, but who did it attack? Quite often the target of spells and attacks are not shown. 2 – When opening booster packs and finding new cards, there is no indication of where these new cards are when you go back to the drafting stage. It would be nice if there was some kind of highlight that showed where these were for new players who were not acquainted with all of the games cards yet. 3 – There is currently no player interaction while in game. No emotes, no chat between friends, nothing. While some players may enjoy the silence it would be nice to have the option to chat to friends if you wanted. 4 – As the player base of Faeria is just taking off, matchmaking can be a bit unfair at times. You can be placed with an opponent five ranks above or below you, or even face the same opponent twice in a row. I assume this is because of the smaller player base and I’m sure it will be rectified in due course. It’s not like it happens all the time anyway!
If your interested in checking out Faeria further I’ve included a gameplay video below where I detail a couple of strategies for playing and talk about some other aspects of the game.
Faeria can be purchased for £17.99 on Steam, but will become free-to-play in September.
I’m sure many of you have already played ARK: Survival Evolved the largely popular open world survival game with dinosaurs taming abilities. Well either way you’re in for a treat with ARK: Survival of the Fittest as it includes almost everything from the main game but in a much shorter more confined time frame. If there’s one thing that I don’t like about these new wave of survival games, it’s that it always seems to take forever to establish yourself on a server and get to the good part of the game where you’re defensible and not being picked on by every player you come across. ARK: SotF immediately blows that out the water with game tending to last between 45 minutes to 2 hours, yet still contain most of the good parts of these longer survival games.
If you have ever seen the film Battle Royale (or The Hunger Games) you will have a good idea of what to expect here. Every player essentially starts with nothing, but can craft weapons and armour and tame dinosaurs just like in the main ARK game. It’s then a battle between all the players on the server to take each other out until there is only one left (or one team left, depending on the game type). The video below should give you a better idea of what to expect.
ARK: Survival of the Fittest is free-to-play and has only just made it’s way to Early Access on Steam a few days ago so expect there to be plenty of updates and changes before the game is fully released.
Distance is a game that frustrates me, not because I don’t like it or because it’s not a good game, but because I’m just not skilled enough to play it and therein lies the biggest problem I have with what should be a really enjoyable and fast paced arcade style racer. If it wasn’t for the fact that the rest of the game was so good I probably wouldn’t even mention it and off paper I’d put it down to bad design or lack of effort on my part. But the truth is that it’s well designed, fun to play, smooth running, has a great soundtrack and an increasing fan base that have already created thousands of custom maps to play on. It’s just a shame that this one mechanic slows all that down for me in such a way that I simply cannot compete with other racers in multiplayer and sometimes not even complete full race tracks at all.
If you want to see what Distance is all about for yourself, click on the video below.
With no solid release date set as yet, developers Refract hope to release some time in the first quarter of 2016. Distance can be purchased on Steam or via the official website for PC with other platforms to follow.
Deliver Us The Moon is fresh out of a successful Kickstarter funding campaign and after having seen a trailer or two I decided this sci-fi survival/adventure game was due a deeper look. Upon first booting up the game I noticed that for a small indie team based out of Holland, developers Keoken Interactive have done a brilliant job with the visuals. Sure there are the odd optimisation needed here or there but for a demo this rates up there with the standard of many AAA demo’s I have played in the past. Solid mechanically, responsive and easy to control, not glitchy, interesting level design and probably the stand out thing for me in this demo is the lack of hand holding. There are a few pointers here and there but in most cases it’s up to you to figure out how to use equipment and decide what direction you should be heading in.
The demo is a short one lasting about 15-25 minutes and you can find my gameplay/commentary of the demo below.
The Kickstarter campaign might well be over but Deliver Us The Moon is still available to back on the official website and the first episode (of five) is due for release August 2016.
There’s no denying it, the stand out attribute of Tormentum: Dark Sorrow is the brilliantly twisted artwork that fills this dark fantasy world with it’s unusual beings, scarred landscapes and hauntingly attractive design. In fact if it wasn’t for the incredible amounts of artwork, Tormentum would lose a lot of its character, however disturbing that character really is! At first glance Tormentum’s shadowy figure doesn’t seem like the kind that would be well suited to the point and click/adventure genre. But the game mechanics are implemented well and I never found myself scratching my head at an impossible combination of items or an unworkable puzzle as I have done with so many others. In fact I found Tormentum‘s puzzles to be a little on the easy side and I was able to enjoyably fly through the game in little over three hours.
Another thing I wasn’t entirely sure about to begin with was the silent protagonist and the games way of not really telling you much about him and how he came to be. Developers OhNoo studio explain this by means of the good old cliché of memory loss and I feel that there is a missed opportunity here to add lore and detail to the wonderfully designed world. I should point out that by the end of the game this sticking point had more than ironed itself out however and I was enjoying the freedom of imagination surrounding his past life. In fact much of what the character becomes is made through moral choices you encounter on your travels. There are a number of these choices throughout the game that directly effect the story and how you proceed in minor ways. There are also multiple endings in Tormentum that depend on your decision making and mean another playthough of the game is entirely viable if you want to discover all the outcomes for youself.
I find it hard to write a full review about a game that only lasts three hours and doesn’t have all that much of a journey in terms of written dialogue and back story. Instead Tormrntum’s strong points come from allowing you to have the imagination of what it would be like in the amazingly drawn world and to create the protagonists characteristics through the choices and decisions you make and it does this very well. It doesn’t focus too much on bogging you down with tough puzzles or forcing you to remember hundreds of plot points, but instead has a brilliant and very polished world filled to the brim with imagination, creativity, strange and interesting characters and a new approach (at least for me) to the point and click genre and that is something that should be applauded. The dialogue that is present in the game is not voiced but is well written and again adds to the feeling of the world and its characters and having played through the game twice already this is a world I would quite happily visit again in the future.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.
Clandestine is a stealth action game currently in the Early Access program on Steam. It’s developers Logic Artists aim to bring the genre back to it’s routes by doing away with the all too common feeling that your character is some kind of all powerful hero with every possible resource at their disposal to get the job done. Instead Clandestine is best played in co-op with one player taking on the roll of the spy and one the hacker.
The spy is the operative on the field doing the dirty work. Dispatching guards, picking up intel and traversing the maps like a stealthy ninja with a gun. While the hacker has no on field activities and instead has the job of supporting the spy using their various different cyber skill for things like unlocking security doors and disabling cameras.
I’ve put together a short video below that better explains the overall gameplay in Clandestine and what I feel are the good and bad points about the game.
So as you can see from the above footage, while Clandestine looks promising there are still a few changes that need to be implemented before the games full release. Remember this game is currently in Steam’s Early Access program that means many changes could be made before the official release.
Clandestine‘s release date hasn’t been set yet but if you like what you see and want to buy into the early access version on Steam, you can do so here.
If there’s only one thing that an adventure game begs for it’s a right decent story. To certain extents the puzzles, the aesthetic, the characters and the audio can all be held up by a story that excels and draws the player in at every moment. I don’t mention this because I believe Fictiorama Studios have created a one trick pony, far from it. I mention it instead to emphasise how far you can get with just a good storyline, something that Dead Synchronicity certainly seems to have during my first few hours of gameplay. Let me explain…
Michael, the main protagonist in this post apocalyptic adventure has awoken in a strange place, surrounded by strange people and what’s even stranger still is that he has no memory of who he is. No memory of his family, his life before the event that caused him to be lying on this dirty old mattress in what looks like a rusty caravan. It takes some explanation from a good Samaritan to make him understand that an event called ‘The Great Wave’ swept across the globe, destroying the modern world and bringing a new disease so horrible that it’s become a crime to hide the people who have it.
Most people would take this ending of everything they once knew and loved as a sign to give up hope on ever having a life worth living again, but not Michael. He is the type of character who demands to know what caused this atrocity to happen and the type of character that would never give up on finding out his true identity at any cost. It’s from here that the story really kicks off, letting you loose amongst a refugee camp controlled by the army who have seized power since everything fell apart. According to them it’s either their way or the end of a gun. The rest of the camp have given up hope of ever leaving this pile of junk and have instead resorted to surviving on their own wit and strength and whether you like it or not you now have to do the same.
Aside from the intriguing storyline Dead Synchronicity has a number of other high points. Let’s start with the soundtrack which is entirely created by the Spanish band Kovalski. The music sets the tone of the game really well and while it’s never overpowering I always noticed when a new tune popped up. The line up of Kovalski actually contains two members of the development team proving already that they are prepared to go further than most would to make sure their game is a good as possible.
Another high point is the games ability to deal well with mature subjects. In this post apocalyptic world some people are prepared to do what ever it takes to survive and Dead Synchronicity, whilst never being overly crude or graphic fittingly deals with subjects like murder, prostitution and death.
In the few hours that I’ve played this game I’ve been impressed with how much it has drawn me into its story and made me believe the world and characters it presents. Let’s just hope that continues to the end.
Dead Synchronicity is due for release on April the 10th.
Blackguards 2 is a turn-based, tactical RPG based on the rule book of The Dark Eye, the increasingly popular German role-playing game that challenges even Dungeons and Dragons for it’s fantasy crown. Made by Daedalic Entertainment, Blackguards 2 is a follow up to 2014’s original and is due for release almost exactly one year later in January of 2015. Various additions and improvements have been made since the first game was released making Blackguards 2 a more accessible and understandable game than its predecessor. As a newcomer to the series I was glad to see there is an in depth tutorial that explains the basic mechanics of the game including any changes and while I did feel there were portions missing that could really have been of use, this really helped me settle into the game with a basic understanding of how to move forward once I was set free on the world map.
For those unaccustomed to Blackguards 2‘s gameplay style the main portion of the game takes place in two places; your campsite and the battlefield. The battlefield is of course where you test your skills on a tiled map using a turn-based system. Your characters can be strategically placed before the first turn is taken and the map can also be fully viewed before you start. One stumbling block I ran into early on was that I would quite often find myself taking a couple of turns on a new map then restarting once I had a better gist of what my overall goal was. Blackguards 2 does allow you highlight interactive items on the map, but only once characters have been placed and turns are in play. There is also occasionally a bit of dialogue before the first turn, but in many cases neither of these fully explain the maps end goal and on the hardest difficulties this can be a death sentence if you make a tactical error early on.
Once clear on your map goals the combat becomes really enjoyable and the twists and turns of the story elements don’t seem so harsh. In a way it’s both a good and a bad thing that maps need to be scouted before you fully commit to them. On one hand this of course means that the overall goal is not well explained enough to begin with, but also means that maps and not just straightforward affairs and vary in approach, difficulty and layout to the point that after six hours of gameplay I don’t think I approached a single battle in exactly the same way.
The campsite is the second area where you will spend a lot of your time learning about your characters history and getting to grips with the very detailed and open ability system. As with the action based portion of the game this area holds a lot of positives and a few negatives. For starters the aforementioned ability system is great once you get to grips with it. You are basically open to build your characters as you wish, without having to stick to strict class restrictions. Of course this doesn’t mean that you can just spend your ability points without thought, as this will most likely cripple your effectiveness later on when the game takes a difficulty hike. Carefully reading over abilities and choosing a path for each character is your best bet and this is where one of the negatives comes into play. The specification options and statistics are just not explained well enough. For example what is the difference between offence and damage and how do they effect each other if at all? Do main-hand and off-hand attacks have the same stat values? How many points of endurance do I need to gain in order to raise my health? These and more are all the types of questions I wanted to ask in order to improve the way I levelled my characters and so improve the way I played the game. Blackguards 2 certainly seems like it’s pushing itself toward the hardcore tactical RPG crowd, but in order to please that crowd you have to be overly informative and highly detailed in every aspect of character building.
Blackguards 2 also allows for moral choices when dealing with certain aspects of the games storyline. As the leader of a group of growing power within the kingdom Cassia often has tough choices to make than can effect the story later down the line. The game is also not as straightforward as choosing which point you want to advance to after every successful battle, occasionally the kingdoms forces will try to take back one of your controlled points on the map and then it’s your turn to be on the back foot and defend what you have fought so hard for.
Blackguards 2 is currently in development and I have no doubt that come release day there will be advancements and improvements from what I have seen in the preview. For me if they are to get things just right it would be nice for there to be a bit more detail in the statistics side of things and continuation of the varying map styles and encounters. Blackguards 2 is clearly confident in what it wants to achieve, that being a solid tactical game set in a fantasy world with a rich backstory. Characters are likeable, combat is enjoyable and the game is generally well designed and I can’t wait to try out the finished product next year.
There comes a time in everyone’s gaming life when their machine of choice decides to call it a day and ascends to the heavens. For some this could be 20 years after buying your first Gameboy or in my case 8 years after buying my HP laptop. It had served me well in that time, but I now desperately needed an upgrade.
Now, I like to think of myself as somewhat of a tech savvy and money wise individual and after a couple of quotes for custom PC builds had come in, it just didn’t feel like I was getting the value for money that I really wanted. After a short period of despair I decided to undertake the task of building the new PC myself and I learnt a lot of useful information in the process.
I’ve since finished my build and am glad that I took up the challenge, but at the same time it took a lot more time and effort than I had originally anticipated. In this article I aim to layout my plan of action for anyone who’s thinking of building their first PC, in the hope that I can save you some time and maybe even some money.
Step 1: Budget
Budgeting is the single most important thing you should consider. It’s easy to say I want A, B and C, but what can you actually afford to spend. Before you even browse for components you should sit down and work out how much of your hard earned money you can dedicate to the new build. Once you have a good idea of how much you can spend, then start looking at the market and getting an idea of what specifications your new PC will consist of.
There’s nothing worse than getting ahead of yourself in this situation as costs can easily begin to spiral out of control, especially once you factor in all the different components. If like me you want to build a gaming PC I would recommend that as a very minimum to build a decent rig you are going to need to spend at least £450 on main components only. That’s Processor, Motherboard, Graphics Card, RAM, Storage, Monitor, Case and Power supply. If you can get something good put together for cheaper than this then you are in luck, but at this minimum level you would be expecting to upgrade parts within a year.
Step 2: Research
This was the longest part of the process for me as it took a while to decide exactly what it was that I wanted in my PC. In the end I decided to push the budget more towards the graphics card and processor as these would be taking most of the strain. Below I’ve listed the full specifications of the main components that I eventually chose.
Getting to this final specification list took a couple of steps. First of all I used Logical Increments to get an idea of what I could afford for the amount I was willing to spend. I then took the information from there and input that to PC Part Picker and adjusted various components to more suit my needs. A little less on a case and monitor and a little more on graphics and processor and I was almost there.
These two website were invaluable for me as without them I wouldn’t have even known where to start. They gave me a base idea and allowed me to adjust it to suit my needs while keeping a tab on price and compatibility. PC Part Picker was the most helpful, giving you a final summary of your specification, listing any incompatible parts or issues that you may have using certain components. For example if there was a case that was too small for the components you had chosen, or the monitor didn’t have HDMI input, it would let you know.
When putting your spec together, don’t forget to factor in costs such as Windows OS, mouse and keyboard, anti-virus, Microsoft office, external hard drive, headphones and anything else you might need or want for your particular set up. It’s easy to miss out the smaller things in your budget and they can often add unexpected cost to your overall build.
Step 3: Advice
Advice from friends was an important part of the procedure for me as a first time builder. That outside view from someone who had completed their own PC build can be invaluable in helping you choose the right components and spending money in the right places. If you don’t know anyone who has built their own machine, try using social media or searching for tips and answers on the internet. Beware though, people don’t always know what they’re talking about and might give you bad advice. It’s always best to double check everything.
If you have a bit of money to spare it might be worth popping into your local PC store and asking for advice there. I find independent shops to be much more honest and helpful than the large chain stores that try to push sales on you.
Step 4: Bargain Hunt
While PC Part Pickers is a great way to gauge what prices you will be paying for components, there are only a select few websites to choose between. It’s always a good idea to bargain hunt and if you’re lucky enough to find somewhere that does what your looking for a bit cheaper, that saved money could go towards improving other components or upgrades down the line. Certain websites can offer free postage or discounts if you buy more than one item, but remember to always order from reputable sources, a quick Google check always cleared my mind on this front.
Step 5: Build
Of all the steps I took, the build was both the part I was least confident about and most looking forward to.
Luckily an experienced friend agreed to oversee the construction (and by oversee i mean he did most of the work). In this short time I went from complete novice to having a good idea of what I would need to do if I ever had to replace or upgrade a component in the future. This experience was invaluable and if it wasn’t for my friend I would have probably looked up a guide on the internet instead. Each piece I ordered also came with a fairly in depth manual explaining exactly how it fitted into the motherboard or connected to the power.
Step 6: Game On
OK, so this is not so much of a step as a celebration of all that you have achieved, your machine is finally up and running! You’ve spent weeks buying all the components, waiting for delivery, building it, installing the OS and countless updates and you want to finally test it out. Make sure you have anti-virus installed and download your most graphics heavy game, turn everything up and test it out to make sure everything is running ok. No lag, no graphical or sound problems, unexpected crashes or faults with the system. Once this is all done you’re pretty much free to do what you want. Enjoy your system, you deserve it.
I hack and slash but the enemies keep at me thick and fast, surrounding me from every angle. Slowly they chip away at my health, forcing me to drain my soul reserves in order to replenish my health. I pull back to a previous area hoping to pick off a few grunts before the full force hits me again. Alas it’s no use, there are just too many. Fortunately I have one last trick up my sleeve. Not one that many mortals would openly admit to, but then again I am not just any mortal. I have already been resurrected once today and don’t plan on giving cause for a second time. My secret… well, you see I have a demon in my soul and can transfer to its shadowy world in a mere second.
And just like that… I vanished.
The cross dimensional mechanic is easily the best thing about Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms, meaning you can start and finish quests, find secrets, solve puzzles and encounter entirely different enemies in both the realm of the living and the shadowy realm of the dead. In fact one of the best moments of the game came when I discovered some poor betrayed soul haunting the afterlife, only to take pity on the story they told me and exact revenge on their betrayer back in the mortal world. It’s this added sense of depth that makes the questing in exploration in Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms all that more enjoyable, especially when travelling through previously visited areas. Another high point is the all too rare boss battles, which provide a real challenge even in lower difficulties. These encounters are filled with unique abilities and situations that make them stand out amongst the hundreds of normal enemies you will encounter over the course of this game. They require tactics, patience and often multiple attempts, which is exactly what I would expect from an ARPG that knows what it’s doing.
If Shadows: HK was able to keep up this level of performance across the entire game, then it really would be something special. Unfortunately just like a freshly unearthed gem you can see that it has value, that there is something special there, but it’s rough around the edges and needs some work to mould it into perfection. Shadows: HK has plenty of plus points but lacks the polish and overall direction of an ARPG that has larger funding behind it.
One of the main problems I have with the game is the way the story is delivered. There is a very short prologue that does little to set the story for you, the cutscenes are poorly processed and it’s not until you are a few hours into the game that the story really begins to open up thanks to the great voice acting and pick up and read lore books that you find dotted about the levels. Combat is also very slow to begin and again it’s not until a few hours into the game, once you have a full party of characters and you’ve had some time to level up abilities that the combat becomes more exciting. Even then it is still slow when compared to other ARPG’s.
Another major bugbear, although not necessarily a problem depending on what kind of a game you are expecting, is the looting and crafting systems. Gear drops are not frequent and I rarely found myself using the crafting systems to build myself armour or weapons. Instead most of my character progression was achieved through leveling up abilities and stats and by picking up the odd gear drop. If you are looking for an instantly fast paced ARPG focused on gear drops then you might want to look elsewhere.
Of course there are many good points to Shadows: HK and if you are willing to put in a couple of hours to get past the initial slow start, the games combat and story really begin to open up and become more enjoyable. Another positive to note is that the game is really easy to get to grips with in terms of understanding the UI, maps, combat mechanics, character movement and travelling through the levels. Questing is a particular plus point for me as I found the cross-realm mechanic really added a sense of depth to what would otherwise be quite linear quests. There are occasionally also moral choices to be made, that whilst not ultimately storyline changing, do directly affect the game world.
At first I wasn’t sure about Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms slower pace but found myself sinking hours into unlocking new characters and completing challenging quests just so that I could see every area of the well designed and smart looking levels. Upon completion it now ranks among the top games in my steam list for play time and that’s only with part one of the game. Book two is planned for release in 2015.
The Verdict – On target
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.
Back in November of 2013, Lords of Xulima closed a successful Kickstarter campaign to the tune of more than three times the $10,000 they initially asked for. The excitement for this game was almost palpable and since then over thirty updates have crafted this game into something that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who loves old school RPG games and more importantly a really good challenge.
I decided to take a look at the game in its final stages of Early Access and hopefully give you a good idea of what’s on offer when the game releases very soon. I’ll do my best to answer any questions if there was something I didn’t cover in the video.