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They Are Billions – Early Access First Impressions

They Are Billions – Early Access First Impressions

Early Access arrival They Are Billions Steam page describes the game with tags like ‘survival’, ‘strategy’ and ‘base building’ and while these are certainly aspects of the gameplay my first impressions of it remind me more of a mix between RTS (real time strategy) and tower defence. As a long time RTS fan the initial moments feel very familiar. Locating resources, creating basic buildings, managing population and setting up basic defences. By mid game you are certainly base building with solid walls, advanced defences and armies but the lead up to that is more a hodgepodge of trying to become efficient and defending the small hordes that attack you, often with many automated towers.

In fact there’s a lot of automation going on and it seems to me developers Numatian Games are trying to focus the player more on the combat and less on the minor details of being the best possible base you can. For example, when a you place a building it is auto-built (as long as you have available population) and if placed next to a resource that resource is auto-collected. Some resources are collected over time and some are auto-generated as soon as you place a specific building. Towers also auto-attack enemies within their available range. This isn’t a bad thing though as on higher difficulties things can become quite hectic and this allows you to focus on enemy encounters and how best to tighten up your defences before the next wave hits.

There’s no tutorial in They Are Billions as of yet so I found enjoyment in my initial game discovering how everything worked and pieced together with each other. During my second playthrough I was disappointed to notice that I had completely explored the depth of the games base building and unit creation the first time around. It seems that at this stage of Early Access there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the game, but maybe that’s just my mind subconsciously comparing to other RTS games as the gameplay feels quite similar at times. There are no multiple development trees, no factions with alternate technology and no unique units. Everything felt the same from one game to the next apart from the difficulty which I increased after my first game. Explore the map, collect resources, expand, defend, attack, repeat. I think They Are Billions would really benefit from a bit of tactical depth, but who knows what is to be added in the future of this games Early Access phase.

I feel like I’m being unfairly critical as They Are Billions is a good game at heart. If you are used to the RTS genre then getting into this game will be fairly straightforward. You start with a fairly small area of available land on which to build, but can expand this area over time. Expanding too far to fast can leave you open to attack, but not expanding quick enough can leave you lacking on resources and stunt your recovery in between defending waves of zombie hordes. Building placement is key to success mostly because there is not a lot of time to recover on the hardest difficulties and having to rebuild and use resources which should be spend on units will most likely mean you get overwhelmed the next time around. This can be somewhat averted by using some smart tactics like funnelling the undead waves down a walled off corridor lined with turrets.

As this is essentially a game about managing units and resources it seems to be missing key management fine tuning like selecting idol units or keyboard shortcuts to make things easier. Of course you can pause the game to sort these things out too. Units also get stuck on each other quite easily which is frustrating at times. I get an overall good feeling about They Are Billions and enjoyed my time with the game but as this is early in EA there is still much that can be improved upon at least in my mind.

Evoland developer announces Norse strategy game, Northgard

Evoland developer announces Norse strategy game, Northgard

Shiro Games, the team behind the innovative Evoland  have today announced their next game, and you won’t be role-playing your way through different eras of gaming this time. Northgard is a strategy game steeped in Norse lore and features, among other things, Vikings! We here at Reticule Towers are big fans of Vikings, and have gathered a few screenshots and details after the break.

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Faeria In-Depth Early Access Preview

Faeria In-Depth Early Access Preview

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.

Faeria Booster Pack

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: 1Faeria 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. 2Faeria 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. 3Faeria 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.

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.

Xenonauts Hits Kickstarter With New Demo

Xenonauts Hits Kickstarter With New Demo

Chris England’s spiritual successor to X-com, Xenonauts is nearing completion and has the funding from pre-orders to get released on Steam and Desura. However, in order to maximise the potential of the game Chris has launched a Kickstarter with a goal of raising $50,000 by June 10th. In his own words, Chris says “We’re hoping that the Kickstarter will raise enough money that we can pull together a small full-time team in London, and will give us the financial breathing space to be able to make something really special”.

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The Reticule’s Guide To Soul Calibur V

The Reticule’s Guide To Soul Calibur V

Soul Calibur V releases in Europe today, having been available in North America and Japan for most of this week. It came away with a headshot in Tuesday’s Soul Calibur V review, and if you’re thinking of joining the fight you’ll need to do some catching up to the rest of the world, especially as my main criticism was of how the game doesn’t do quite enough to get you up to speed on its new systems and massive move list. The info is all out there if you’re willing to spend time researching it though, so here’s some of the fundamentals of the new game:

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What’s All This Then? – Xenonauts

What’s All This Then? – Xenonauts

When 2K’s Christoph Hartmann said that “strategy games are just not contemporary”, what he actually meant was “we can’t market and sell a strategy game on a console”. That was in defence of the abominable idea of turning X-Com into an FPS. Gentlemen, gentleladies, I am afraid that we may never see another strategy game in the X-Com series. One would think there were lessons to learn from Enforcer and Interceptor, but you would apparently be wrong.

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