So as you are all no doubt aware, I have my grubby little mitts in a number of different pies. And I hear things. So, when I got the chance to try Valko Studio’s new game; Labyrinthine I jumped at the chance. It’s pre-Alpha and not many people have got their mitts on it yet, so i’m clearly the man for the job.
You might remember that back in January, when life was normal, I previewed Adventure in Aellion based on my hands-on time with it at EGX last year and a chat with Luke O’Donoghue, director of developers The Game Product Company. I described it back then as “a Zelda-like with drop-in drop-out multiplayer”, and if you want to check it out yourself a beta is now available, with all the details and a new trailer below the cut.
Here I was alone on my spaceship. Minding my own business. Basking in the bliss of eternal solitude, when all of a sudden I noticed a distress signal coming from a nearby ship ‘The Alabaster’. I took one look down at my control panel and decided “not today my friend”. I turned off incoming transmissions and slowly continued on, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. Free from responsibility and game mechanics…
In these Corona filled times, sporting events and leagues across the country are being postponed. One such example is the Elite Ice Hockey League, the best place to go to watch some hard hitting brawling with a dash of ice hockey. Where might I find something than can quench my desire for some fighting? Later this year, Fights in Tight Spaces might fill the puck-shaped hole in my heart.
Coming from Ground Shatter, with publishing duties helmed by Mode 7 (Frozen Synapse, Tokyo 42), Fights is a card-based tactical fighting game that looks extremely stylish.
With over 150 cards to choose from, you’ll be able to create a fighting style that suits you down to the ground. Along the wy you will pick up injuries or enhancements, all while bringing down criminal organisations across the world.
For me, as long as I can get fighting like this, I’ll be happy.
As I look back through my drafts from last year during some time away from the day job, I realise that I haven’t written about Adventure in Aellion which I saw at EGX. As I catch myself up with the progress the devs have made in recent months, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they deep in planning for Early Access, and are also offering members of their Discord channel a chance to try out an even earlier version of the game.
But what is Adventure in Aellion? Coming from The Game Producion Company, comprising Luke O’Donoghue and Elliott Dodsworth, Aellion can best be described as a Zelda-like with drop-in drop-out multiplayer. After playing Aellion at EGX, I asked Luke about his inspiration for starting work on the game:
we were sat there thinking about why you can’t play Zelda multiplayer…we’re going for an older style Zelda mixed with Jak and Dax adventure. The main feature is the easy drop-in drop-out multiplayer, local and online.
I saw some of this drop-in and drop-out multiplayer action at EGX. I started the demo on my lonesome, quickly jumping on a horse and exploring the countryside…but in the opposite direction of the dungeon that was playable during the demo. After getting myself back on track, I was joined a companion as I neared the dungeon, from where we tried to work our way through the variety of puzzles on offer.
The puzzles were well crafted, offering a welcome mix of straightforward box manoeuvring to climb to different levels along with others which required more patience and logic to solve. Despite not communicating with my random partner, nothing was too difficult to prevent progress being made. Lone rangers should have no fears as the core experience will work for solo players as well, with Luke telling me:
the main story itself, which will cover 9 dungeons, will all be playable single player. We will have some special side-story quests and puzzles that will require multiplayer, but we wanted the story to be completed single player which was an important factor when we were designing the dungeons.
Luke revealed that the dungeon on show at EGX was taking players 30-60 minutes to work through based on their experience with similar games. Further dungeons are expected to take closer to an hour, even for experienced gamers, to complete. The final dungeon (complete with requisite boss) is expected to be a 90 minute encounter, although won’t necessarily be the most complex dungeon in the game.
You will be able to, in theory, head straight to the final dungeon from the very start of the game if you were feeling brave enough. By doing that though you will be missing out on the six distinct semi-open world areas. In the EGX demo I travelled through a handful of farms and small villages, testament to the idea that a large open world without stuff to do isn’t much fun. It means Luke and Elliott are focusing on developing a well populated world to explore and get stuck into, rather than a massive but sparsely populated lan.
Judging by the discussions in Discord, the team are making good progress already this year, with updates to their Discord community build expected to drop more regularly than before. Of course, if Discord isn’t your cup of tea, you can follow the game on Steam and wait for the Early Access release.
You might have figured out by now that I’m a huge rally fan. I’ve written about my journey to find a worthy rally game, I’ve been out in the forests of North Wales a couple of times to see the cars fly past, an experience which nearly undermined my initial enjoyment of GRID. It turned out that EGX this year came only a couple of weeks after the Welsh round of the World Rally Championship, and when I arrived at the ExCeL in London town, I was still in full rally fandom.
It all meant that while wandering the indie section, I was immediately seized by a need to check out art of rally. There was a lengthy queue at the stall, which I later found out from creator Dune Casu was likely thanks to his work on Absolute Drift which I remember hearing positive things about some time ago.
art of rally is described on the official site as a “stylized rally experience”, something which seemed quite apt once I got a chance between the crowds to play it. My first experience of this isometric racer was on a fast tarmac stage in Sardinia which ended up with my car against the trees more often than not. As Dune told me:
It’s not the easiest type of game, but for those who play racing and rally games they are pretty into it and seem to be getting along with it.
That’s very much true as my next attempt was on a lovely gravel stage in Finland, and with a car not quite over lethal as the Group B Audi Quattro alike that I drove on Sardinia. A more sedate 60s styled Lancia was my choice, and it proved to be much more welcoming. I still dumped the car off the track a couple of times, but was able to get around in one piece.
Dune explained that while career mode covers the “classical age of rally, so 60s through to 90s…the goal isn’t to win everything but to go through tracks and enjoy them.” I’m so happy to see indies getting into the rallying scene, and the concept of enjoying the action rather than feeling you have to win is music to my ears.
Those who are more competitive will be pleased to know that there will be daily and weekly challenges, compete with online leaderboards, but I’m going to be more than content to tootle casually around the various locales and soak up the atmosphere.
You can find out more on art of rally on the official site or follow Dune on Twitter. Did I mention that music is fantastic? No, well it is. art of rally will be out next year and can’t come soon enough.
The first time I played Northgard was on the PC in December 2018. For reasons still lost to me, I didn’t try to start off in the story mode, but instead jumped straight into a singleplayer game against three AI opponents without any idea of what was going on. I didn’t last long, but the aesthetic and setting of the game still appealed.
When I heard that Shiro Games were bringing their Norse strategy survival game to the Switch, I was extremely keen on taking another look. I didn’t make the same mistake as last year this time around; this time stepping into the story mode to try and get myself a foothold in the game.
Filled with Norse mythology, the story sets you in the shoes of Rig, Viking son of the High King who must search for a new home for his clan in the new continent of Northgard. The first couple of story missions are a gentle introduction to the mechanics of Northgard, that is until the third level where the brutality of this new land starts to be revealed.
Fortunately, the console version of Northgard is more welcoming than the classic PC version. As you start a new level, you don’t have to fear about being lost as to what to build to get your clan going. An array in the centre of your screen gives you a contextual view of the buildings that might be suitable for construction.
There dynamic control wheel opens up a wider range of options, open it when on a clear part of a zone and you see the full build menu, while opening it on a building gives you the requisite choices for upgrading a building or setting production targets. At the press of another button you can choose to see details of what your clan members are up to or refresh yourself with your victory conditions.
It’s easy to control and got me involved quicker to a much greater extent than on the PC. There is still great depth to the seemingly easy job of looking after your friendly clan. As the year progresses towards winter, you want to ensure you have adequate supplies of food and wood to keep your horde happy and healthy.
Balancing your resources in the early game against the need to expand your reach around the map is a key challenge. With each zone on the map only supporting a limited number of buildings, you need to expand to build the houses you need to increase your population limit, but each additional zone you want to bring into your domain requires more food to acquire.
Even when you think you’ve got a grip of things, the world of Northgard itself throws challenges at you. You’ve got a good thing going with a farm and some sheep being tended to? Rats will appear requiring silos to keep your food safe and healers to prevent the spread of disease among the clan. A severe winter will eat into your resource supplies quicker than ever, while Draugr can rise from demonic portals and wreak havoc where you were previously safe.
You can’t afford to let your guard drop at any point in Northgard with the tables able to be turned on you at any moment. It’s almost crying out for an Easy mode so I can explore a map and work my way up the Lore tree and build more breweries to keep my people happy.
While it is disappointing that the latest free content updates that have appeared on the PC version haven’t yet made their way over to Switch, it’s clear that Shiro Games have already spent a lot of time and effort ensuring their console adaptation is as good as it should be, they’ve done a great job with this console version.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch Platform Reviewed – Switch
For more on our scoring policy, please read this post. Review based on code supplied by PR.
One of the first games I checked out at EGX this year was Yes Your Grace, the upcoming kingdom sim come father sim from Brave Night with No More Robots handling publishing duties. I wasn’t expecting to see Yes Your Grace having missed the initial announcement a few weeks ago. Rather I was playing Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition (on which I’ll have more soon) and saw Yes Your Grace elsewhere on the No More Robots stand.
It immediately caught my eye as something that I had to check out, and as soon as a spot opened up I was all over it. The demo started at some point in the future, a point where your kingdom is about to face an onslaught the likes of which you have never seen.
After speaking to some advisors, you take your king to the battlements where you are posed with some choices; you can give your troops a rousing speech, instruct them to open fire…or raise the white flag and surrender.
I of course chose to give an inspirational speech, while the person playing next to me decided to surrender, a decision which promptly ended their game.
My words to the troops didn’t help much, leading to a scripted defeat and flashback a few months to a time before the kingdom found itself at war.
It’s from this point that the game opens up and you get to do kingly and fatherly things. You sit at your throne and receive visits from your friendly tax collector who fills your coffers, peasants who want you to spend money and provisions to keep them safe and happy. Agents, such as a general who featured in the demo, can do some dirty work for you by venturing out into the world via your strategic map.
Perhaps the most important interaction comes with your family. You quickly learn of a threat to the kingdom if you don’t wed your daughter to a rogueish figure, while the squabbles between children also require your attention.
As the weeks progressed, I decided that wedding my eldest to a friendly king’s son could secure a military alliance. A wedding was planned while I arranged for supplies to be stocked up in case of attack.
The demo ended with the wedding, and me ever so keen to see more. Flavours of Game of Thrones and Reigns: Her Majesty ring through, which paired with an enchanting art style make for a very exciting proposition.
There is a rough release date targeted for early 2020, and things are feeling pretty polished already. Definitely one to keep an eye on, and an early contender for my game of the show.
Trouble has struck the lands of Farhul, the King has been slain and the minions of Chaos are roaming the lands, spreading their evil across what was once a friendly, happy land. This is For the King where your trio of characters aren’t adventuring and questing for fame or fortune, but to avenge their King!
Well, that is the case if you are playing
the vanilla For the King experience. I’m
playing the recent Switch release which includes all the free updates IronOak
have released since the original PC release last year, updates offering endless
dungeon crawling or all new adventures around Farhul. I briefly dallied with
the PC version during EGX
last year, and initially had some concerns about how the game would
transfer over to consoles, let alone the portable mode on the Switch.
I needn’t have been concerned. This is a
mighty fine port, while I’ve seen some slight performance drops in combat, you
get the full experience here. Things are made smoother thanks to the hex-based
map that is used within For the King,
plotting your path around the map is smooth, and most actions are easily
accessible on the joy-cons. The one strange decision is to put the End Turn
button on the minus button, but I quickly settled into my rhythm.
When starting your adventure, you have freedom
to create your three characters from a welcome variety of clothing options,
with everyday professions like Blacksmith, Hunter and Scholar open to choose at
the start of any adventure. Fitting archetypes to fit in my character names of
Gendry, Arya and Sam (see where my influence is coming from?), with each
profession bestowing special abilities upon your characters.
While the professions I chose from map
across to heavy weapons, ranged and light weapons and magic seamlessly, the
Minstrel profession offers an insight into the fun nature of For the King. A Minstrel will start with
a high rating in the Talent stat, which allows them to bring a Lute or other
musical instrument into battle.
Lute bearing Minstrels aren’t the only
touch of fun that IronOak have included in For
the King. Ghosts are named after their former living selves, while Jellies
are just that, giant blobs of jelly. It should come as no surprise that you can
unlock more entertaining items from the Lore Store. Lore is earned through
completing quests for the Queen, side-quests picked up from the towns of Farhul
or by complete the numerous dungeons that you find on your way.
Upon entering a dungeon, the overworld hex map
disappears and your focus is on the combat. It is sensible to approach a
dungeon with a well-stocked party, even if it means spending all your hard-earned
gold at the nearest town. Unless you find a chest holding some much needed
supplied, smaller dungeons won’t give you any chance to re-stock which can make
a series of three or four battles, along with potential traps, a bit of a challenge.
It isn’t the end of the world if one of
your characters die along the way, providing you have enough hearts remaining
in your Life Pool. As part of your adventure, you can bring a character back to
life, for the right price. If your Life Pool depletes completely and your trio
gets wiped, then sadly it will be game over.
Fortunately, various special locations
offer you a chance to add to your Life Pool, or decrease the Chaos that plagues
Farhul. With Chaos rising, special Chaos Hexes will start spawning which you
will want to avoid, while enemy health with start ratcheting up as Chaos rises.
Putting everything together, and you have a
very fine RPG from IronOak, once that offers a nice level of replayability
thanks to the procedurally generated maps, numerous character choices and
various game modes.
While I fear For the King might have got lost in the shuffle on its original PC release, this console release has brought new life to what is a gem of an RPG. If you spy this one, I would suggest you check it out.
The Verdict – Headshot Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch Platform Reviwed – Switch Reviewed based on review code. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.