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Call of Cthulhu – The Verdict

Call of Cthulhu – The Verdict

It’s 1924 and alcoholic ex-serviceman turned private investigator Edward Pierce is sitting in his quiet office, drink in hand, wondering where the next job is going to come from. All of a sudden there’s a knock at the door and before he knows it, he finds himself whisked off to a remote island to investigate the death of the Hawkins family in a fire that consumed their home.

The intro to Call of Cthulhu may seem a little cliche but that’s probably because because it’s the beginnings of a tale of Lovecraftian horror, a genre of horror that until now I thought I had no experience with. Truth be told H.P. Lovecraft has huge prestige in the genre and whether you directly choose to read one of his books or not, the chances are that if you enjoy horror in any of it’s mediums you will most likely have come across his influence. It’s at this point that I feel Cyanide Studio have set themselves a hard task, to convey their twist on a story told many times before while making it fresh and interesting.

The first couple of chapters of Call of Cthulhu feel a little on the slow side to me. Characters are introduced, you go to a couple of new areas but nothing much actually happens. Thankfully at chapter three things start to pick up and I begin to sense there is something not quite right with the island I have found myself on. While investigating various points around the island I get the same feeling as when I watched The Wicker Man, that everyone knows something that I don’t and that something is not good.

As this is my first real experience with a pure Lovecraftian story I find that the mystery behind the island and the deaths of the Hawkins family are one of the strongest points in Call of Cthulhu and they really carry the game forward. The developers have really nailed the setting, game design and atmosphere on the head and this creates a really spooky (but enjoyable) environment in which to explore and find out information from the other islanders.

Another strong point in the game is the stealth. Call of Cthulhu doesn’t afford you many weapons and being able to take out others by yourself is very rare. Instead you slip about the levels causing distractions that let you into areas you otherwise couldn’t reach. While some people may see this as a cheap way of making the game harder, in my eyes it increases the intensity and feeling of unease when trying to reach your goal. You feel a little helpless and less likely to just run about destroying everything and for a horror genre game I’d say that’s no bad thing.

On the whole the voice acting and writing is good although there were some irregularities with the volume of the voice acting from the main player character. Sometimes his voice would be really quiet compared to everything else. However I’m going to put this down to me playing an early release of the game as there really were no other problems with the game or settings what so ever. It ran really smooth and I was able to play through on the highest settings without any problems at all which is impressive considering how old my PC is.

There are slight RPG elements to the game also. You have the classic conversation options but in most cases you need to exhaust all options in order to advance anyway, so there’s not a whole lot of choice aside from a few occasions. The other element is the skill tree, which works much like Focus Home Interactive’s other game The Council in that it allows you to grow your character in the way that you see fit. You can put your skill points into things like being able to better spot clues or being more able to influence people when speaking.

Unlike in The Council I didn’t notice much of a difference when levelling up the skill tree and almost feel like they would have been better not even including skills in a game with only 10-15 hours game time. It almost seemed like an illusion of choice because if you explored each area thoroughly enough and spoke to each person for long enough you generally discovered everything you needed to advance anyway. This leads me to my biggest bug bear with the game that it seems to be very on rails. Yes you can explore areas, yes you can choose conversation topics but for the large part the game seems to pull you to the same point regardless of what you do.

The last few chapters of the game also feel a little disappointing in that they seem far more rushed than anything else. I get that towards the end you want to ramp up the intensity and finish on a bang but there were moments when I wasn’t quite sure what was going on in terms of the Lovecraftian lore and the game didn’t explain well enough for a newcomer like myself. Was it possible that the game was rushed to release or did they perhaps overlook the fact that a complete Lovecraft beginner wouldn’t be able to fully understand every aspect with ease?

On a whole I enjoyed the game but would have loved to have seen it fleshed out a little more to include more explanation of the lore and more scary areas to investigate. It would have been great to be able to better understand why I got the ending that I did as I know there was multiples ways for the game to end and again wasn’t entirely sure what I had done to reach the one I did. The gameplay was enjoyable, especially when investigating new areas and reconstructing crimes much in the same way you would in a Batman game and when dealing with the games ‘bosses’. Production was lacking in a few areas but like I said this could be down to having access to the early release version of the game.

The Verdict – On Target

Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch
Platform Reviewed – PC

Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.

The Council Episode One: The Mad Ones – The Verdict

The Council Episode One: The Mad Ones – The Verdict

The Council is an adventure game set in 1793. Playing as Louis De Richet the first episode titled The Mad Ones begins with an invitation to a mysterious island by the secretive Lord Mortimer. Unsure of the reason for your presence on the island or that of the other bold characters, many questions are raised in your mind. Having recently been informed about the disappearance of your mother you have reason to believe that she may be on the island but know little more than that. It is your intention to discover the motives behind your mothers disappearance and piece together the goals of the other guests who all seem to have their own strange stories.

Character development is a key part of The Council‘s unique approach to the adventure genre. Adding RPG elements to a point and click game is certainly a new direction and one that feels like it’s been implemented well for the most part. The first thing to notice is that you have to choose one of the three skill trees; Diplomat, Occultist or Detective and then further advance this tree with specific talents. I chose the Detective tree as this is a mystery game after all and I wanted to feel adept at spotting the smallest of clues. From this tree I can choose to further advance my Questioning, Psychology, Vigilance, Logic and Agility skills with each point added meaning using these skills during main gameplay costs less ‘effort’.

Effort is a points based resource that can gathered and used during main gameplay. You start with six points of effort and utilising skills from your chosen tree uses a couple of these points or less depending on your skill advancements. The good thing is that just because you chose a certain tree doesn’t mean you will always be locked out of skills from other trees, it just means they will cost a lot more effort. Running out of effort is not something you will want to do as it usually means things will not go your way. People will see through your motives, you will miss hidden clues and some conversation topics will be closed off to you.

In past adventure games when making key decisions you are sometimes tricked into feeling as if you have majorly affected a plot, dialogue or outcome in some way but with The Council this – at least initially – doesn’t seem to be the case. Depending on how you developed your character you are literally locked out of some options as your talents have not been improved. This might sound a bit unusual but it fits well and the RPG element helps you role play the story and become more involved in it.

During conversations you can use items to help sway the outcome in your favour, unfortunately the inventory and item usage is not the most intuitive. There are four items that help you with things like gaining effort points and discovering character weaknesses but learning what these do and which symbol corresponds to which during the heat of a conversation took me a while to get used to.

Occasionally during conversations you will have a confrontation with another character. During the confrontation the opposing character is basically sussing out your integrity and your aims. This is an interesting part of the game that unfortunately seems too rushed to enjoy properly. Between the amount of text on screen, the timed dialogue answering and balancing the use of items I find it hard to focus properly during these moments, meaning I occasionally miss out on lines of dialogue or text. As enjoyable as these sections are I feel they should be a lot more manageable and streamlined.

Voice acting in The Council can be a bit hit and miss. During the thick of things It’s often quite good, but there are the odd moments where things sound awkward or unusual especially with the protagonist and this can be off-putting. Unfortunately the exact same goes for the script writing. During most conversations and narration the script is good, but again there is always the odd line that stands out as slightly strange. The developers Big Bad Wolf hail from France and I wonder if somewhere along the line the translation has not been handled in the best way. It’s only minor however and for some people this might not even be an issue at all.

One area the developers have really nailed is the design of the game and the character design especially is great. Each character has a strong and memorable image that makes them stand out as individuals and is among the best design I have seen in recent games. The level design is also top notch. Never did I feel like anything was out of place or that repeated textures and items had been used in a way that seemed lazy. Every room and building had bold and unique design.

After this introductory first episode I’ve been left with an overall good impression of The Council. I’m very interested to see where it goes with the rest of the episodes, how the characters and story develop and how the choices you make in the game really affect it.

The Verdict – Headshot

Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One, PS4
Platform Reviewed – PC

Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 Is Brilliant

Divinity: Original Sin 2 Is Brilliant

The revival of the CRPG is still going strong and with each big release comes a whole host of improvements. The recent release of Divinity: Original Sin 2 has continued that trend and with a $2,000,000 Kickstarter to back them up you would certainly expect that to be the case. Immediately the most noticeable aspect of improvement are the visuals of DOS2. I played the enhanced edition of Original Sin and while I don’t remember it being bad for 2015, graphically DOS2 has definitely seen an improvement. The UI is also a lot easier to use and the level design is excellent, I mean it. Some of the best that I’ve ever encountered in any game ever. There is more of a focus this time around on spinning the camera so that you can see the map from all angles, finding hidden paths and loot that you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed and this gives a lot of added depth to the maps that almost seemed a little flat in the original.

The audio and writing has also received an improvement with most characters having voice over lines and conversation topics. This can sometimes be a sticking point in RPG’s with the sheer amount of NPC’s that can occupy a city or area of the map, but Larian have done a good job of making each character sound unique and have a unique character to them. Every time I come across a new NPC, whether that be a main character or just someone with a few lines, I feel like I owe it to them to listen to what they have to say and that’s really testament to the writing of a game when there are probably hundreds of NPC’s in the entire game.

One of the main sticking points for me in the original game was the combat mechanics and while they are largely the same there is definitely an increase in difficulty and tactical depth. It’s a lot harder to take on groups of enemies that are one or two levels above that in your party. In fact there have been battles that after trying to beat a few times I have had to give up and mark on the map for later in the game. This is far from a bad thing, I love it, it reminds me of a lot of games I played as a kid. There should absolutely be enemies and areas of the map that are unreachable unless you are very powerful or very clever, it adds a certain sense of mystery to these areas and encounters and makes them more than an encounter with ‘nameless mob’ in ‘random map area’.

Along with all of these improvements is also a sense of huge scale, in terms of the map, the story, the game world and really just the game as a whole. I shied away from calling this article a review because even at this stage having played 40 hours I can tell this game has much much more to offer and will easily end up being a 100+ hour game. To review it properly for me would just not be practical unless you want to wait a few months. That’s obviously not a dig at the game as the content they have added is top notch and I’m pretty sure I will enjoy every one of those 100+ hours. If you enjoyed the first Original Sin then this will definitely be up your street with bags of content and improvements, highly recommended so far.

Tyranny: Bastard’s Wound – The Verdict

Tyranny: Bastard’s Wound – The Verdict

Ten months after its release Tyranny has received its first DLC ‘Bastard’s Wound‘ which adds additional areas to the map and with it new NPC’s, a new quest arc, companion quests and achievements. Obsidian have also released a free patch along side the DLC that expands the content in the third and final act of Tyranny as well as including additional voice acting and a new path to the ending of the game.

The main story behind Bastard’s Wound surrounds a hidden encampment, yet untouched by the invading forces of Kyros. The settlers of this camp have been forced to pitch up in the Old Walls, a sacred place that is usually punishable for entering let alone setting up a village in. Within this small community people and beasts of various factions have decided to work together to keep themselves hidden from the armies of Kyros and so rule themselves. The only problem is that you are the Fatebinder and, well you guessed it, you happen to find out about this hidden village.

The good news is that if you liked Tyranny as much as I did then I feel you will enjoy a lot of what Bastard’s Wound has to offer. I finished the base game pretty quickly after release, so having not played for about ten months it was really easy to pick the game back up and play this DLC without feeling like I was lost in the game world or that I had forgotten every decision that I’d made. In a way that could be a good or bad thing depending on what you prefer. Bastard’s Wound can certainly be played outside the main game without affecting the central story arc too much as far as I can tell, but for those who wanted a more involved DLC this might just seem like more fluff added for completionists of the game. Don’t get me wrong this ‘fluff’ is as well scripted and polished as the main game and adds an semi-interesting story line to the game, but I just felt like it had no affect on anything outside of itself.

If Bastard’s Wound has one saving grace it’s that the newly added companion loyalty quests are pretty good. There are only three which is a shame, but none the less they help to flesh out the characters a bit more and build up their individual stories. In general though the decisions you make don’t feel like they carry as much weight, the characters you meet are not as memorable, the DLC as a whole is quite short much like the main game when compared to it’s peers. Bastard’s Wound is a nice enough addition to the main game but I feel nothing would be missing if you didn’t happen to pick it up. For those who are looking for more Tyranny, it has some decent missions and delivers exactly what you would expect from a 10-15 hour DLC.

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.

Tyranny – The Verdict

Tyranny – The Verdict

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.

The writers don't shy away from being in your face about their characters feelings.
The writers don’t shy away from being in your face about their characters feelings.

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.

I really enjoyed the medium level depth of the combat, skill and ability system in Tyranny.
I really enjoyed the medium level depth of the combat, skill and ability system in Tyranny.

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.

Niffelheim – Early Access First Impressions

Niffelheim – Early Access First Impressions

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.

The Technomancer – Gameplay Trailer

The Technomancer – Gameplay Trailer

If you’re looking forward to a holiday on Mars this year, and fancy something with a different pace to Doom, you might just want to check out The Technomancer, an upcoming RPG from Spiders and being published by Focus Home Interactive. Unless I am very much mistaken, The Technomancer is sharing the same universe as Mars: War Logs, a game which I thought was interesting, but rough around the edges when I reviewed it a few years ago. I enjoyed the setting and story that Spiders were trying to tell in War Logs, but it was lacking in polish and a second chapter which dragged its feet. Judging by the gameplay trailer below, The Technomancer has received a bit of spit and polish, and hopefully makes more use of the morality system where your choices will have clear consequences later in the game.

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Evoland 2 – The Verdict

Evoland 2 – The Verdict

Evoland 2 is the successor to the 2013 game Evoland, developed by French studio, Shiro Games. Created for Ludum Dare #24, the original game found near universal praise from fans for taking the RPG of yesteryear, cherry picking best parts of what made them great and sticking them all together with a great soundtrack, strong visual aesthetic and some on point cultural references. The icing on the cake was to take the player on a journey between the 8 bit and 3D worlds depending on the narrative developments. This combination of features led to some people regarding it as one of, it not the best indie RPG ever made.

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When you give the sequel its full name Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder, you get a feeling for the unique selling point. Not only are you transferring between 8-bit and 3D worlds, you are also travelling forwards and backwards in time. The farther back you go, the older the game looks. You start off in the tutorial with a green-screen Game Boy mode and move up to the present which is portrayed in wonderful smooth HD.

You are not alone on your adventures. Companions follow you around for most of the game granting you abilities to help traverse the environments removing boulders or tough foliage as well as providing a combat ability in any of the scenarios the game throws at you, be it in RPG mode or any of the other modes the game possesses. Companions are invisible most of the time only popping out in person during story points.

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While playing you will trip over references and nods to other popular RPG’s. One moment you will be reminded of Zelda while opening a chest and whacking weeds, next, you will be thinking about the Warcraft games while you are having a conversation with King Arthos about an attack from the city of GENOVA which then reminds you of Final Fantasy VII. You get the point. If you like spotting references, you will love this game.

There is an entire section where you escape from a dungeon in stealth…while hiding in a box. The game even MAKES you choose a preset nickname for your hero at one point. I chose “Solid Snail” as an homage to that dungeon escape and characters occasionally reference that choice, guaranteeing a chuckle..

Evolandstreetfighter

One of the few complaints about the first game was the length. You won’t be able to make that complaint with this game. More levels, more short mini games, more story elements. More of everything. Yet it’s the story that I have a gripe with. This an issue with any text based game. It can take several minutes to complete a conversation between your characters while you are just watching and not interacting. While, that is typical of old style RPG’s and is a deliberate choice, it’s just not one that works very well when long periods of plot are being churned out on screen.

If that is the worst side of the Evoland 2, the good stuff is a whole lot better.

Evolandsolid

Without so much as a warning the game throws you into other genres so you are not just playing a top down RPG. All of a sudden you will be in a platformer, scrolling left to right and jumping onto blocks. Or a scrolling spaceship shoot’em up! and many more. They also included genuinely difficult puzzles you have to complete in order to progress the story. In a scene in a library you have to pass 6 of 8 trials. They too are challenging and will take longer to do then you would expect. These changes to the tempo and style in this manner is a refreshing change up to what would otherwise be a traditional RPG.

The core of the game is a perfect modern representation of old RPG’s in the 8 bit sections and then switching to a side scrolling platformer was very intuitive and at several points you spot throw backs to games from that genre too. Super Mario Jellyfish and Echo The Dolphin style air pockets underwater, amongst many others.

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The game also has many collectibles for masochists. Gold Stars, Achievements and even a card collecting based mini-game are all present. (Think Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad.) All of which are available purely as an optional pursuit. There is a rudimentary crafting system with a blacksmith providing the highest tier items if you can provide him with the rare ore which exists scattered amongst the time zones and a witch who can improve your companions skills and provide potions if you have the correct items for her. The is no map or objective list at all. This is probably a design choice to throwback to what the classic RPG’s were like but I did find that when I returned to the game after a break, I had forgotten what quest I was on and had to roam around looking for where I was supposed to be heading.

Overall, I had a blast with this game. These days every time there is a sequel to a much loved game you are almost pre-programmed to think that they will mess it up, betray what the original stood for and cash in. Not in this case. The sequel has been done correctly. It hasn’t cheapened the core values of what came before,  it has expanded on them in every direction and has been an utter delight to play.
The Verdict: Head Shot

Platform Available/Reviewed – PC

Review code supplied by PR for the developer.

Blackguards 2 Gameplay Preview

Blackguards 2 Gameplay Preview

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.

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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.

Lords Of Xulima – Early Access First Impressions

Lords Of Xulima – Early Access First Impressions

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.

Lords of Xulima is available on digitally on Steam or you can buy physical editions directly from the Lords of Xulima store.