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Lords of the Fallen (2023)

Game Reviews - posted by WaterMage on July 13th, 2024, 18:17

Lords of the Fallen was initially a Polish Dark Souls clone launched in 2014, published by City Interactive and developed by Hexworks. This game is a "reboot," but in many game files it is named LotF2 (indicating it may have been planned as a sequel). What can you expect from this souls-like? The same thing as every souls-like: difficult bosses, punishing traps, awful platforming, and deadly gravity

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OVERVIEW :

But this game also does some things uniquely. The main difference between Lords of the Fallen and other souls-likes is its navigation method. You need to travel to a parallel dimension (similar to the upside-down from Stranger Things), called Umbral, in order to progress in many regions. If you die while in Umbral, you return to the "bonfire", and drop your "souls" (called vigor in this game). If you die in the real world/Axiom, you just go to Umbral. You can use your lantern, infused with dark blue Umbral magic, to peek at Umbral. Staying in Umbral for too long brings the attention of many nasty enemies, including a "red reaper."

The magic in the game is more otherworldly. Radiant magic is associated with the Church, Infernal with Adyr Cultists who worship the Demon God, and Umbral, which is similar to Dark Souls 2 Hexes, scales with both infernal and radiant attributes. The game has only six attributes: strength, agility, endurance, vitality, infernal and radiant. The other main difference between this game and Dark Souls is that around mid-game, you can infuse special runes into your weapons and shields. The game also differs from Dark Souls because, at NG+, you can put modifiers into the game. The unique difference between the classes is the starting point in attributes and gear.

CLASSES & CHARACTER CREATION :

The basic classes are: Hallowed Knight, Udirangr Warwolf Partisan, Mournstead Infantry, Blackfeather Ranger, Exiled Stalker, Orian Preacher, Pyric Cultist, and Condemned. Condemned is like the deprived in Dark Souls; they start with almost nothing. The hallowed knight is the typical knight with a sword and shield and a grenade as a starting ranged weapon. Udirangr Warwolf is the typical "barbarian" with a two handed swrod and a hatchet as a throwable weapon. Partisans start with a flail and crossbow. Mournstead Infantry starts with a spear and shield. The Blackfeather Ranger starts with a bow, axe, and shield. The Exiled Stalker is the dagger assassin. The Orian Preacher starts with a mace and powerful holy spells. Pyric Cultist starts with a staff and powerful fire magic, but I recommend for those who play as one to get the infernal scaling axe early on.

There is no class for Umbralist casters in the game. If you plan to play the game as one, you will have to start as a Pyric Cultist or Preacher and get a catalyst in Skyrest, the main hub of the game. 

The game has four hidden classes: one locked behind a relatively long quest and three locked behind the game endings. Dark Crusader is a class unlocked after a very long questchain, and the last 3 classes are "hybrids" of the mage and melee classes and are respectively the Lord and Radiant Purifier. Both start the game with great armor and long-range damaging spells. Below is an image of the "Lord" class and the "Purifier" class. The lord is the "red" one on the left, and the Purifier is the yellow one on the right. 

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The Lord and Purifier classes

The last class is "putrid child" and requires the hardest to obtain ending to unlock. It is a hybrid of melee Umbralist with caster Umbralist. The class starts with a Putrid Child Sword, a short sword that inflicts frostbite and has a very subpar catalyst. The character creation in the game is very good in every aspect and allows you to choose everything that you could ask for, including tattoos, skin tone, hair, and facial hair, among other things. My only problem with character creation is use of "body types" instead of gender. 

Contrary to other games, in Lords of the Fallen, every class starts, and stays, good at range and melee. Yes, this includes casters. Casters can get good Inferno or Radiant scaling melee weapons early on, and umbralists, despite taking a very long time to get a decent weapon scaling with both, can use poison weapon spells and have a decent weapon relatively early on. Martial arts classes always start with a bow, crossbow, grenade, or any other long-range tool, but instead of mana, they use ammunition.

Radiant builds are considered the best in this game because you can get a "lightsaber" from a boss with a short blade, a very fast moveset, and a pure radiant scale early in the game. Many umbral creatures and demons are weak or non-resistant vs. radiant damage. The sword also deals "smite," which deals massive damage after some strikes and makes the enemy vulnerable to holy damage. 

LEVEL DESIGN :

Level design is excellent in this game. The game is very well interconnected, similar to Dark Souls 1. It is full of shortcuts and secrets. Level design helps with the combat a lot. For instance, you can use your "umbral lantern" to spirit-move deadlier enemies into a place where they can die. Umbral is a really nasty place, and the mimics are a unique twist over Dark Souls mimics; they drag you into Umbral and eat most of your life. Each location has its own lore and is very interesting to explore. The unique problem of level design is some platforming puzzles for optional stuff. Jumping in the game is a problem. Many times your character ignores the "jump" command, and you need to start running before you can jump.

The unique problem that I found in my run is the following: if you progress too fast in a certain area of the game, an NPC will kill another NPC who sells the best items for mages. There is no indication of it. Many quests are also nearly impossible to complete without a guide. 

COMBAT & BOSS DESIGN :

Combat in this game is great. I personally didn't like the fact that some enemies are protected by a strange umbral parasite, forcing you to go umbral or use the lantern to kill the parasite before the enemy. Many reviewers, like Asmongold, and many Steam reviewers, complain about the enemy density. In my opinion, this is just a matter of taste. I had no problems with enemy density in my playthrough. When you beat the game, you unlock modifiers (details later in the review); one of the most popular modifiers is increasing enemy density. There are a lot of ways to deal with the huge enemy density in the game. You have grenades, large AoE spells, and halberds, among many other things. 

Many bosses become regular enemies, and the boss design in the game is great with few exceptions. If you are having trouble with a boss, there is always a strategy that can help you negate the boss's main advantage. I had problems with one boss, whose name I will not spoil. Not because he was too hard but because the arena was too small. The camera made it very hard to know where I was and where I should go to escape his deadly magma attack. I only won against him by spamming Barrage of Echoes.

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The Barrage of Echoes Icon

The spell creates a barrage of umbral orbs, each dealing a bit of damage. If all orbs hit the enemy, which is not hard to do in melee, the spell works like Shrapmetal in Might & Magic VI, dealing incredibly high damage.

But if someone wonders about seeing shittier bosses like Bed of Chaos or Dragon God in this game, I haven't found any bosses like them in Lords of the Fallen. 


GRAPHICS & PERFORMANCE :

This game is gorgeous but is considered "too heavy" by many. I wouldn't judge much on the performance of the game. Why? I played in Debian 12 on a GTX 1050 Ti, below the minimum requirements. It wouldn't be fair for me to judge a game in this aspect. And played with everything in minimum, and to run in Linux, I had to use the proton 8 and run with: 

VKD3D_SHADER_MODEL=6_6 gamemoderun %command% 

Without gamemode, there is a huge delay between key presses and movements. Without VKD3D_SHADER_MODEL=6_6, the game stuck in "running" forever, and I only managed to find this problem via protonlog. With a high end PC, the game look gorgeous. But I played with everything as low as possible.
► How I played the game :
NG+ :

This game in NG+ allows you to change a lot about how it runs. After completing the game for the first time, you can choose to replay with modifications, such as random loot, permadeath (essentially transforming the game into a roguelike), increased enemy density, upgraded weapons, and no place to rest. This makes subsequent runs more unique, similar to how NG+ in DS2 is better than 1 and 3. In DS2, NG+ features new enemy placements and changes in enemy bosses. 

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The NG+ Modifier Menu

SOUND

The sound design in the game is great. The sound enhances the atmosphere while in Umbral. The voice acting of most NPCs is great, and everything is fully voice-acted. However, if you plan to play without sound while listening to podcasts, many "clues" that you destroyed a umbral parasite protecting an enemy can only be heard through sound. 

Overall I rate this game 8.5/10. It would be 10/10 if it had: a starting Umbralist class, no small arena bosses with bad cameras, no easy-to-miss item merchants, and more enemy variety.
5 Comments

SKALD: Against the Black Priory

Game Reviews - posted by 1998 on July 2nd, 2024, 18:41

SKALD: Against the Black Priory, is an 8-bit turn-based RPG that successfully Kickstarted in 2019. It has finally been released, after its original June 2020 target was pushed back by almost 4 years. This game was created by a single Norwegian developer who was heavily inspired by the Gold Box games and Ultima. You control a party of up to 6 characters in a fully turn-based environment for exploration and combat. As you travel by land and sea, your goal is to uncover the grand scheme of the Gallian Empire, explore a progressively maddened world, and fight countless horrors along the way. The game successfully strikes a great balance between combat, exploration, and story sections.

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Firgol is not as peaceful as it may seem.

Setting the Stage
The game throws you into a familiar scenario: trapped on a struggling ship headed towards a distant continent in search of a mysterious girl. You awaken on a strange shore after a dramatic crash. A brief flashback tutorial, set two weeks prior, prepares you for your quest.

A significant portion of the story is conveyed through illustrations and in text form, featuring consistently good artwork. The same is true for the background music. At no point does it take over or try to be overly dramatic or melodramatic. Instead, it always nicely underscores the events happening on screen. Consistency is also demonstrated throughout the rest of the game's presentation. It is clear that Skald was created with one vision in mind, skillfully executed.

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Much of the plot is advanced by illustrations of this type.

Venturing Forth
Exploration unfolds like combat - in turns. You navigate through smaller, handcrafted maps that are designed to be easily memorized. In some cases, these maps guide you along a linear path. Although you don't have a map or a minimap, navigating through more open areas should not be too difficult. Even if you need to backtrack, you can traverse entire maps quickly thanks to the fast movement speed. Each map is uniquely designed, featuring interesting locations waiting to be discovered. It always feels rewarding to explore every corner of each area.

On your journey, you will find an abundance of crafting resources for alchemy and cooking. You will find recipes for both along the way, but significantly fewer for alchemy than for cooking. Alchemy does not offer any effects beyond the usual healing and protection options, which are also available from other sources. On the other hand, cooking is crucial for your party's health as it provides a resource for resting, which is the only way to heal wounds. The only difference between different recipes is the food value, determining how much you need to eat to fully heal up. You can further enhance your party with minor buffs by assigning them different activities while resting at camp, although these activities are limited to just four options.

Travel between different areas is facilitated through an overland map. Despite free movement, the exploration experience feels rather limited. Random encounters and basic loot can be found here and there, but in general, you are quite clearly directed towards your next objective. These random encounters tend to be considerably more challenging when compared to quest battles. Skill checks can be attempted to avoid them, and by the midpoint of the game, I found myself doing just that. Due to their repetitive nature and weak rewards (basic loot or XP are no longer necessary at this point), these encounters become tedious quickly.

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Exploring the lands.

Character Development and Lack of Depth
You will only gain XP for active companions, not for followers left behind in camps. XP can be gained through combat, completing quests, and to a lesser extent, by using out-of-combat skills. In addition to your PC, you can recruit up to 5 companions by either allowing written companions to join you or hiring mercenaries along the way. Mercenaries are essentially walking stat sheets, while even written companions do not come with their own quest lines, romances, or any other overbearing narrative. They chime in occasionally, and you can use them for various skill checks.

There are a total of 9 skills. There are few instances where failing a skill check leads to an instant game over; usually, the effects are much less severe, such as missing out on some loot or lore. Sometimes, failing a skill check even yields XP. In most cases, characters can be freely switched out for skill checks. In at least one instance, however, the PC is forced to be the checked character. This may have unfortunate consequences.

I did not hire any mercenaries, and I only filled the last roster spot by the halfway mark. There are no respecs, but everyone levels up from scratch, regardless of when they join the party. During level-up, you get to increase the ranks of the specific skill trees for that specific class. Most skills are not terribly interesting or capable of changing the gameplay in any way; they are simply number increases. For most classes, the choice feels rather obvious. In fact, for some classes, I didn't even bother allocating my few remaining levels' worth of skill points, as all the relevant skills, even the mediocre ones, were already maxed out.

In total, there are 9 classes to choose from. You can further customize your PC by selecting one of 15 backgrounds, granting you minor bonuses to attributes. Usually, I always choose a magically related class, but after hearing that magic was only an afterthought, I went melee instead.

And indeed, magic is clearly underdeveloped in many ways. Your arcane caster has only 3 schools available: fire, air, and earth, each with a mere 11 spells per school. There are a few spells that deal significant damage; the most powerful skill I encountered during my playthrough, Thunderclap, came from my arcane caster. However, spells have limited utility beyond causing damage. There are a few crowd control and debuff spells available, but I found none of them particularly useful (though others have reported higher-level utility spells can be useful). Additionally, the use of magic is severely restricted by mana (or attunement, as it is referred to in this game). Attunement only replenishes during rest, and there are not many potions available to restore it during a quest (although some flexibility is provided via attunement potion crafting).

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Straightforward choices during level-ups.

Combat on Autopilot
There are also no standard enemy casters in the entire game, so no mage duels. The only caster enemies are certain bosses. You also have the usual support casters such as clerics or rangers, which offer a wider range of spell choices. Many of the healing or buff spells can only be cast upon targets within touching distance. Additionally, spells, attacks, and movement can only be directed over the cardinal directions. There is no diagonal targeting.

Mobility should be crucial. Instead, combat is unfortunately static. There are no dedicated combat maps, and the turn-based combat takes place on the regular map. However, the grid size is quite small. Prior to each encounter, you have the opportunity to position your characters within a specific range of tiles. By the second round, most of your characters are usually engaged in duels.

Frequently, the grid becomes so cramped that movement becomes impossible. Additionally, disengaging does not trigger an opportunity attack but instead immediately ends your turn. Although swapping places is technically feasible, it also brings an immediate end to your turn. As a result, after planning the initial positions, starting from the second round, the combat primarily revolves around smashing down the mob before moving forward. You have only a limited number of combat maneuvers at your disposal, such as flanking or backstabbing. The lack of alternatives makes them seem like obvious non-choices.

Besides not having to worry about enemy casters, you don't need to be overly concerned about debuffs. Stun can be problematic, but other negative status effects are inconsequential. While there are ranged enemies, they will switch to melee when you approach, giving you the opportunity to engage in a duel once more. Additionally, enemies behave in a very static manner. Once they commit to attacking a specific tile, there is no turning back for them. The combat system as a whole feels very focused on melee, especially given the scarcity of arrows for your archers in the early to mid-game.

Early on, this is engaging enough. Combat is generally fast and fluent, and it's fun to experiment with different combinations of skills and positioning, especially when you have fewer characters and the grid is more open. However, the lack of depth in terms of options becomes apparent over time, which ultimately makes combat feel like a tedious slog.

The lack of options also applies to your equipment. Often, items only provide a +1 bonus to skills that you have already maximized. While weapons and armor may enhance your strength, they do not offer any distinctive abilities or significantly change your gameplay. It is rather uncommon, to say the least, to witness a thief backstabbing enemies with a dagger and a tower shield of thievery +1.

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No room to maneuver during combat.

Limited, but well thought out, scope
SKALD: Against the Black Priory is a short game, taking about 20 hours to beat. By that time, you have likely seen most, if not all, of the content. Along the way, there are a few side quests that are reasonably well-designed and different enough to keep you interested. In general, the game does a good job of pushing the plot along and provides motivation for the PC's actions. The pacing is consistently well-executed throughout the game, as it never feels like the developer is attempting to include unnecessary content solely to lengthen the playthrough time.

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Travel swiftly across the overland map.

Conclusion
Overall, the experience feels very harmonious. There is no filler content, no sudden difficulty spikes, and no half-abandoned ideas, with the exception of magic. The developer is self-aware enough to focus on what he is capable of and delivers a well-put-together game based on his original vision. The end result is a fun and enjoyable short adventure, although at times it may feel overly simplistic and predictable. Recommended for any RPG player who can overlook somewhat shallow underlying systems, such as character development and combat.
32 Comments

El Matador

Game Reviews - posted by Finarfin on June 9th, 2024, 14:01

Hello adventurers!

Today I am showing you the somewhat older and rather unknown game, El Matador, a 3rd-person shooter developed by the Czech developer Plastic Reality Technologies in 2006 and published by Cenega Publishing.

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PREMISE AND STORY/NARRATIVE
In this game, the player takes on the role of El Matador, a DEA special agent tasked with bringing down drug lords. A new drug cartel is on the rise in Central and South America, sharpening its claws and expanding its influence. Locate the camps, infiltrate the headquarters, and put an end to the cartel's influence.

El Matador has a generic action movie story in order to have a guns-blazing loner killing dozens of criminals.
Here's a short recap of the story with slight spoilers:

After Victor Corbet successfully rescued a DA’s daughter in a nightclub owned by a drug lord, he is sent to Colombia to help the police take down the La Valedora Cartel, who were involved with an incident that affected Victor in a personal manner. In Colombia, Victor works with Captain Enterrador and his fellow police officers: ADA Mia Rodriguez, Sgt. Gabriel Montego, and his close friend Rico Altemetra.

Victor's first assignment involves him eavesdropping on a meeting held in a Bogota Hotel. His team is then ambushed making him the sole survivor. He proceeds to go Punisher on the cartel and earns the nickname „El Matador“

Victor and Rico raid a factory serving as a drug operation base for La Valedora. They are tasked with arresting, a drug kingpin who is controlling the operations. During the raid, Victor destroys the Factory with C4 but the Kingpin escapes. Victor and the Team corner him and in the ensuing shootout, the Kingpin gets wounded and gets executed.

After that, the police find out that the cartel has a training camp in Columbia’s jungles led by a former Israeli Agent (Oy vey!), and Victor is sent to take care of it alone. Due to the information he recieves, the DEA learns about the leader of La Valedora - a former SS Soldier - leading to a high stakes raid on a island fortress.

During the final showdown, tensions rise within the team. Victor gets betrayed and has to make tough decisions. The Game ends with significant changes in the characters lives, hinting at new beginnings and future assignments.


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Unfortunately, the devs didn't include the iconic Paynesque comic book cutscenes and instead focused on conventional ones. However, they did take some inspiration from Max Payne in terms of the look and feel of the missions and some characters. For example, Alberto Marica is a spoiled brat gangster who loves to party, similar to Vinni Gognitti. He screams at everyone and even orders his goons to “fucking kill” Victor , echoing Gognitti's line: "Ow no! Payne! Not him! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! What are you waiting for?! Circle him and kill him! Kill the cop!" El Matador also uses the "Here's an important character, let's slow down time and show the players the name of the character" trope (see screenshot). Here's a fun fact: His last name is the Spanish word for Faggot

CAMPAIGN
It's going to be a short experience (4 hours) The game has 4 difficulties:
  • Easy, Normal, Hard, Nightmare
It has six Chapters - seven if you count the prologue - and a tutorial.

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The tutorial is set in a Costa Rican training facility for spec ops.
The first thing you might notice is that the game looks and feels like Splinter Cell but has the gameplay of Max Payne. That's because the game is developed on the Max-FX Engine, the very same engine used for Max Payne 2.

In the tutorial, you learn how to crouch, jump, and interact with the environment. Then you get to the shooting range, where you have access to pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, snipers, grenades, and C4.

The first real mission is set in Tijuana, North Mexico - specifically in the Baracuda night club. You and your "SWAT" team try and rescue someone here, blasting through criminals all while Disco music is blaring from every side. It sets the tone quite nicely and does hold up. It's also here where you first really have to use your “Powers”, meaning bullet time. Like his role model Max, Victor can slow down time while dashing to the sides or back and forth.

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The game has quite the diverse set of locations, be it a disco in Mexico, or even the most famous city in Colombia, Medelin.

ART DIRECTION

It doesn't exactly have one, though it is similar to Max Payne, except it has no deeply suicidal, pessimistic Philosopher as the main character and the game isn't overly depressive in it's depiction of the areas. In fact, most areas are hot, bright, and full of color. The graphics of the game do look good for a game that came out in 2006, but that also applies to Max Payne 2 too.
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(The Devs 100% took Max Payne and Punisher as their inspiration, see the picture here)

SOUND DESIGN
The voice acting is fine for a low budget title like this. The main character is voiced by Tom Clarke-Hill. He’s known for Sniper Elite and has a gruff low voice, perfect for a Max Payne/Punisher mixture. Most of the weapons that are usable, have the same sounds as the Max Payne guns. The soundtrack is also very similar to the soundtrack of Max Payne 2.

ENEMIES

STANDARD CRIMINALS- THE GOON SQUAD
They will be the enemy you most encounter, and in huge amounts. They have all kinds of weapons: pistols, assault rifles, grenades, shotguns. Everything you have, they do too. They will also wear protective gear and can take more damage.
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HEAVY CRIMINALS- FAT BASTARDS
Those are big fat brutes and will always have weapons that hit hard, Such as machine guns, grenade launchers and rocket launchers.
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BOSSES- IMPORTANT PEOPLE
They will be either in the middle of a mission or at the end, with a closed off area (an arena of sorts) where you can take cover, run away, or flank them.
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(Ignore the 100.000 Health, since these screenshots were made after completion of the game)

EQUIPMENT
You have a arsenal of weapons at your disposal, I'll list some examples

HANDGUNS
  • Beretta 92FS- Pistol ingame
  • Colt Anaconda - Dirty Mary (Easter Egg/Reference to Dirty Harry)
  • Colt M1911 variant - with silencer - Silencer ingame
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SHOTGUNS
  • Pancor Jackhammer
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SUBMACHINE GUNS
  • Heckler & Koch MP5A3
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ASSAULT RIFLES
  • M16A1, when fitted with scope, looks like the M16 from Golgo 13
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SNIPER RIFLES
  • Remington 700 AICS
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MACHINE GUNS
  • Hand Held M134 Minigun
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LAUNCHERS
  • Type 69 RPG
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GRENADE LAUNCHERS
  • DefTech 1315
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TIDBITS
The devs were a small team and it shows as it only got mixed reviews and they also had to close doors in the same year. Almost all devs went on to Illusion Softworks, a.s - now known as 2K Czech, s.r.o. responsible for Mafia 1 & 2.

In itself, the game is solid and does many things just as well as its role model. For example, the allied AI is smart and can efficiently eliminate enemies before you arrive. But it also has one unique thing going for it: if an enemy is protected by bulletproof glass or other means, you can shoot somewhere close to them so that the bullets ricochet and hit your target, provided the material allows for it.

NEGATIVES
I'd say there are almost none. The game is very responsive. Gunplay feels good, graphics hold up quite nicely, voice acting is fine, there are plenty of different types of guns, cover and enemies. Most Levels have clutter that act as cover, be it walls, fallen over columns or tables, which is good because enemies come from all sides to deal damage. The last time I played, it had some graphical glitches, but those didn’t appear in my most recent playthrough (but that may have been due to playing on GOG this time, instead of Steam) The game usually doesn't tell you where to go next. Some might dislike that, but it wasn't exactly rocket science to know where you need to go.

CONCLUSION
It took me about 4 hours to beat the game on normal. There are no secrets to discover or achievements to 100% complete the game. It's a straightforward action shooter that just wants you to go on a fun killing spree akin to the Punisher.

If you enjoy Max Payne-like games, i'm sure you'll enjoy "El Matador" too.
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PROS:
The gameplay is almost exactly like Max Payne, along with some unique little twists that make it it's own game
Diverse set pieces with their own feel
Bullet Time is well done and can even be extended by killing enemies
Main Character is a no-nonsense Punisher of Criminals, no sparing them
Saving is possible at all times

CONS:
Short game, might be disappointing for people
Steam version of the game is basically dead and does not have any support unlike GOG version
Simplistic gameplay could be a deterrence if one wants more

El Matador feels like what would happen if Remedy handed their Max Payne homework to Plastic Reality Technologies and said, 'Just don't copy it exactly,' and Plastic Reality Technologies replied, 'Sure thing.'
Overall I do recommend it as it's a short and fun experience for small change.
5 Comments

Wuthering Waves: A Genshin Clone (?)

Game Reviews - posted by SoLong on May 30th, 2024, 19:29

PC Specifications:

Processor: Intel Core i7-4790
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960
Memory (RAM): 16 GB RAM

Game Version: 1.0

Game Type

Wuthering Waves is a free-to-play open world sci-fi fantasy with gacha elements. "Gacha" means that you can use a currency (in this game called Astrite), found in chests and from quests, to pull new characters you want to use, as well as their weapons. Astrite can also be bought with actual money, which I don't recommend because the prices are unreasonably high (think microtransactions minus the micro).

The game has a pity system, meaning after a certain number of pulls on a character or weapon banner you're guaranteed to get what you want (90 to 180 pulls for characters, 80 for weapons). The game released with plenty of goodies and has a permanent starter banner that allows you to get a starter character of your choice, using currency it gives you for free for leveling up in-game. Due to the review being written in version 1.0 I can't comment on the long-term generosity. Historically, the previous game released by this company didn't get any better or worse in that regard as the game aged.

If you think you'll stick with the game and don't mind spending a little money you can buy an optional subscription-like pass at $4.99 a month. It's by far the cheapest and most effective way to get more of the gacha currency (it gives 3k of the currency in total, 300 immediately and 90 a day for 30 days). I call it subscription-like since the pass doesn't renew automatically. If you stop playing the game it won't keep billing you or anything like that. I should point out that the counter isn't paused if you don't log in, so your daily claim is lost if you don't log in for the day. It does pop up automatically if you do log in so there is no need to take any other action to claim after login.

Wuthering Waves: So, what is this thing about?

Ah, the open world RPG. Isn't it wonderful? Can you ever have enough of it? If you're a game developer your answers would be "yes" and "no" respectively. So, here is the latest offering of Kuro Games, of Punishing: Gray Raven fame: Wuthering Waves.

In order to make this review as useful as possible, here is a warning: If you want to go into this game blind you should stop reading now. I will not describe every little plot twist and quest but some of the criticism and praise I intend to inflict/lavish on this game is inevitably tied to the game's plot. If you do not want to see spoilers, stop reading this now.

Ok? Ok. So, we wake up on the world of Solaris-3, a conveniently open world sci-fi fantasy planet which has inconveniently undergone a major apocalypse. And not this pussy asteroid-hits-the-planet apocalypse, oh no. This is the bitchy PMS-ing girlfriend of apocalypses. It ruins your day and, after you picked yourself up and swept away the broken civilization, it comes screeching back to ruin your day all over again.

This bitchy apocalypse is fittingly enough called the Lament.

Our protagonist has a bad case of amnesia with the intriguing twist that while he has no idea who he is, the local authority not only knows him but was expecting him. This skips the whole annoying, "Why do all these people trust this random yahoo" plot chasm many such games fall into five minutes after the game starts. We walk through the valley where two ladies, Yangyang and Chixia, have found us and are quickly assaulted by the local variety of eldritch abomination. We're told that these are called Tacet Discord and they look, fittingly enough, like someone ate a number of hallucinogenic substances and tried to draw people, animals and plants. These annoyingly persistent freaks of nature are spawned by something called a Tacet Field, which we are informed constantly vomits out an inexhaustible supply of these things. Usually pseudo-magically talented people called Resonators kill these adorable balls of murder before they overwhelm and kill what passes for the rest of civilization. After we kill a particularly aggressive boss version called a Crownless and baffle our companions by doing so the tutorial ends and we can progress to the first city.

I'm sure you've noticed by now that the game has a theme: Sound, music and noise. That's why terms like tacet, discord, resonance and forte are thrown around in the tutorial.

The Plot: It's less of a line and more of a branching tree.

The main plot isn't setting the world on fire, but honestly, compared to some of its contemporaries (notably Genshin Impact), it is a definitive improvement. There are some genuinely great moments in places. Outside of the convenient amnesia in the beginning everyone has a reason why they're doing what they're doing. The main character is a driving force in the plot, rather than just a bumbling tourist who rubs shoulders with strangely indulgent yet lazy deities a la Genshin.

Even the enemy factions have reasons to do what they're doing. The exiles are criminals who rob people, the animals are wild animals just hunting and doing their thing and the eldritch abominations want the world to burn. Interestingly the game does something Genshin and many others never do: If enemy factions meet each other in-game they will actually attack each other. They will also attack the friendly guards, who will fight back and even defend you if they see you getting attacked. I hate that this is rare enough to deserve a mention but it does.
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Even corrupted monster wolves have to eat you know?
Remember how I compared the apocalypse to a PMS-ing girlfirend earlier? Well, she's on her period again so our protagonist gets dropped right into a growing war situation: while the city is still relatively peaceful, war is brewing in the north and a secretive band of terrorists called Fractsidus are summoning more eldritch abominations to make it worse. The story goal of the game as it is now is basically to do the following in order:
  • Make sure the city stays stable.
  • Find out what the hell is going on.
  • Go north to the front to tell the bitchy apocalypse that she should damn well pack her bags and leave the world the fuck alone.
This is the main plot thread of the game up until now and, having finished the entire main questline, I'm actually surprised that it was fun. Even the short war strategy meeting near the end to prepare for the assault shows that yes, even the protagonist can't just walk up to the ominous floating doom rock by himself.

Let's talk flaws: A story is only as good as its execution.

Let's start with the technical side of my criticism. Texture pop-ins, pop-outs and general visual errors never caused crashes, but seriously annoyed me all the same.
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I'm reasonably certain their clothing wasn't meant to look like it was made of roughly 1/4 of the planned pixels and covered in grease.
Honestly, after my first day of playing I was ready to give this game both barrels over some of the flaws and programming fuck ups. But several updates later those issues have completely disappeared, making this section of my review somewhat awkward for me. The game runs very well now, I no longer have visual glitches and I haven't seen a texture so much as flicker in a suspicious manner.

Next, the writing: like I said, it's not setting the world on fire anytime soon but the only actual flaw I could find were typos and some writing errors I'm sure were caused by autocorrect ("Fury Fugue" becoming "Fury Fudge" in the skill description is an excellent example and made me chuckle). Other than that I've seen little to complain about.

Now, the voice acting. Ohohoho, the voice acting. If I was a charitable soul I would describe Yangyang's voice acting as severely understated. Unfortunately I'm an abrasive prick so I'll instead say that her voice actress sounds like she was told to imitate a narcoleptic stroke victim with no vocal inflection. They were going for demure lady and ended up with the auditory equivalent of the Dull Surprise meme. And we're stuck with just her for company for an entire mission! She also gets next to no character development, and we learn nothing about her outside of the fact that her tacet mark (that's the tattoo every resonator has) lets her sense things and that she's a friend of Chixia. The general we meet near the end of the game (Jiyan) has more character than her - between his Tacet-induced PTSD flashbacks and survivor's guilt - yet we've only known him for about an hour!

Finally, the good stuff.

Chixia is about as well-rounded as you can get as a supporting character: she's a wannabe hero (the good example of this stereotype), loves spicy food, is liked in the city for her work as a patroller and a helpful presence to those around her. She's a good example for a well-written side character and I'm honestly confused why this is not reflected elsewhere. Granted, characters outside of her and Yangyang haven't had nearly as much screentime yet.

As you might imagine from someone who made P:GR the combat system is a definite highlight. It's not quite at spectacle fighter level but it's much, much more strategic than Genshin where you can facetank basically everything. I made the unfortunate error to go off track and absentmindedly wandered into the way of a mutated murdercar with spiderlegs.

The game then proceeded to tell me that not learning how to dodge, counter or interrupt enemy attacks is not something it is willing to tolerate after the tutorial. Fittingly enough I went and used the tutorial function to practice the combos for my characters, after which I returned and showed the murderous spidercar what usually happens to arachnids who annoy me too much. Also, I learned to dodge stylishly.

This is also a fitting moment to inform you on how this game handles equipment. Outside of your weapon, you don't collect discarded jackets or delve into ruins for trinkets. Instead, you use your terminal (the gourd looking thing every character carries) to suck up the remaining resonance of defeated enemies. That's right, there is a creature collecting element in this game! You equip up to five of your defeated monster echoes and gets set bonuses for it, every echo has a fixed stat and a random one (hello there gear grind, I missed you!). But honestly, I like this more than the whole relic/artifact/gear stuff in other games. It makes it actually worth it to fight the random beaties you come across and gives fighting monsters some actual weight outside of the pittance of money they drop in other games.

Especially exciting is that you can use the first equipped echo to turn into the monster for a while and use a relevent skill of it. You can turn into a fire-spewing heron or turn into Hellrider to beat your enemies with a flaming exhaust pipe. Or just summon Hellrider to ride really fast across the landscape, your choice.

Also, the movement options are amazing. You can actually parkour across the city, zipline through the sky, use the aforementioned Hellrider to drive around and even wallrun up a mountain!
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Sure, the apocalypse sucks. But on the other hand, gravity is now an optional feature!
By the way, standard running does not decrease stamina in this game as long as you're not in battle. There are even a few nice semi-platforming challenges in the game where climbing is disabled and you'll need accurate jumping to beat the challenge.

Next, the graphics. You might have noticed from my pc specs that what I play on is less a pc and more a museum exhibit. I'm mentioning this because even with my potato this game has some very, very pretty visuals.
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The camera function of the game, on the other hand, seems to decrease the resolution for some reason.
Monster design is also very nice, the aforementioned eldritch abominations are nice to look at while they're not teleporting or flying around in an effort to rip your face off. The only truly bland enemies are the exiles, and even there is some variety.

Environment design is also something to consider. I'm also a Genshin player and this game finally helped me put into words what bothers me about Genshin's open world: it's a basically a colorful fantasy themepark version of a world. There is one big city in each region, almost everything up to Fontaine is nearly spotlessly clean and the nations seem to have very few means to actually feed the people in those cities. Probably because farms and the like have all but disappeared (Mondstadt in Genshin for example has exactly one production facility: a winery). Instead we have vast stretches of nothing much at all.

The map in Wuthering Waves is, while smaller, a lot denser by comparison. You have the main city, a mine, research centers, production facilities and two separate harbours to do trade. All together it gives the image of a region that would actually function instead of suffering a famine after a single week because no-one grows food or produces anything.

Many buildings and models are also rusting or noticeably worn like you would expect in the middle of yet another apocaplyse. The model quality is noticeably higher due to different artstyles compared to the more cartoony cell-shaded Genshin look.

Lastly, the music: I really, really like it. The overworld theme is a bit bland but the fighting themes are all very good and considering that I considered Genshin's OST some of the best game music ever made my standards are quite high.

A few more points.

So, is this a Genshin clone? No. No more than Genshin is a Breath of the Wild clone. I actually think Genshin fans by and large will be annoyed by the more complex combat system because the game is much less forgiving of fuck-ups in that regard than Genshin. I actually had to unlearn some bad habits I acquired there.

One criticism I've read about before playing is that the game tosses too many new words at you in the tutorial. This is a criticism I frankly don't understand but which reminded me that gamers are a bunch of nerds. Apparently the nerdiest of us have decided to treat game terminology like they're studying for the SATs. "Ah, this thing trying to kill me is called a Tacet Discord and it spawns from a Tacet Field." Very complex stuff there guys.

No, you don't need to know what a Retroact Rain is or what Waveworn Phenomena are. I'm pretty sure the game will tell you when you actually encounter these things. Maybe focus on not getting disemboweled first. (Spoiler alert: You do encounter the rain later and yes, the game explains it then.)

Game optimization was absolutely horrid the first day, but now it plays perfectly well so I'm honestly not in the mood to bash them for that. The uneven voice acting and writing hiccups are a much better target for criticism in my book. At least the devs duly apologized and gave a few very generous rewards to make up for it while fixing it.

Conclusion

Personally I recommend the game if you like the genre and prefer a more complex combat system. In particular I would commend the devs for making the different boss enemies more than just differently colored HP sponges and giving them very nice themes to fight them to. The combat is definitively the highlight, and even with all the other flaws in the game was never something I felt needed improvement.

The main storyline by itself is very nice to play through and honestly better than what I would rate the starter missions in its primary rivals Genshin Impact and Honkai Star Rail. I do hope they can keep the momentum going after the horribly rocky start this game had.

Rating: 7.5/10
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Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

Game Reviews - posted by Adeptus on March 19th, 2024, 18:43

It is a 2019 cRPG firmly rooted in the works of Lovecraft. The starting point is as follows - one day a certain Dismal Man arrives in Arkham (not the madhouse from Batman, but an important town in Cthulhu mythology, home to a famous university with an extensive library of secret knowledge). His actions lead to the so-called "Black Day", when the local elite perish, while the city and its surroundings are torn from our reality and transferred to another, warped dimension. Two factions take power - gangsters led by the enigmatic "Wax Face" called the "Invisible Emperor" and the cultists of the Great Eternals, who come out of hiding and become the dominant religion. Our character at one time met Dismal Man and now intends to talk to him again. At the beginning of the game we have a dream in which this gentleman urges us to visit the (stone-collapsed) gates of Arkham University.

When it comes to character creation, we have quite a lot of options. We choose an Archetype - that is, a de facto profession (e.g. soldier, aristocrat, artist or criminal) and the belief system our hero follows (e.g. divine - that is, Christian - esoteric, materialistic or nihilistic). We separate Attributes (physical and mental qualities, such as dexterity, senses, or will) and Skills (such as hand-to-hand combat, firearms, occultism, science, or speech) and begin.

As befits a Lovecraft game, our character is characterized by mental health in addition to the usual life points, which we lose by communing with uncanny creatures and objects, or simply by staying in the dark without a source of light. We regain it by taking actions in accordance with our belief system, by taking various substances and during rest. Rest is of great importance here - not only that it regenerates our strength, but we have to take it from time to time otherwise our character will be tired, which will affect its efficiency, and moreover, during it we can perform various interesting activities depending on our skills, belief system and possessed items, such as. additionally heal the wounds of companions, pray, learn spells from found scrolls (mental health acts as mana), build inventions based on schemes (eh, my dear Arcanum comes to mind), identify artifacts, and sometimes even visit the World of Dreams. If we let our mental health drop too low, we may acquire some unpleasant traits, causing, for example, the replacement of some dialogue issues with crazy gibberish (I don't know if it's possible to die from dropping to zero, I've never let it happen). In addition to resting, we also need to eat every so often, with which canned food comes to our aid.

Combat is turn-based, we have action points that can be used for movement, attacks, or taking a defensive stance, and spells. As befits a world straight from the mythology of Cthulhu, magic is dangerous - each spell (there are about 10 of them) can cause some negative effects, such as cursing the companion instead of the enemy or blinding the casting player for a while. Also, artifacts have both positive and negative effects (to discover both, you have to identify them twice). Importantly, there is often an opportunity for a "special" escape during battles - if you use it and stand on a special field, you advance the quest and gain exp as if you had won (although, as far as I recall, you don't gain loot).

Various kinds of substances play an important role - no, not magic potions, but mundane alcohol and drugs. Various types of liquor and psychoactive drugs allow you to regain your health and sanity or give you temporary bonuses to your stats - but beware, you can become addicted to them, which forces you to take them systematically.

Our stats and character background affect the available dialogue options and ways of solving tasks, and in many cases we have the option to choose different paths.

During the game, our team, in addition to the main character, can consist of two "permanent" companions and one temporary one (E.g. a mercenary who takes a certain portion of the local currency - cigarettes - every day, or a character who helps us with a specific task). Of the permanent companions, we can recruit the Outsider - a mysterious bandage-wrapped humanoid (the only mage among the companions), Sonia Carter (the non-canonical wife of Randolph Carter, searching for her husband lost in dreamlands - an allusion to her namesake, Lovecraft's wife), an undead soldier resurrected by the Re-animator. In addition, the Aristocrat starts with a faithful butler, and the Explorer starts with a dog (presumably equally faithful). With the team members we can dialogue and discover their past, although this is not a biowarfare level of relationship expansion.

Of course, during the course of the game we will encounter various allusions to the works of the Lonesome of Providence - sometimes all too explicit (one of the tasks is actually an adaptation of the short story "Whispering in the Dark". - that's what it's called, by the way). There are characters, monsters, various references. Although also without exaggeration - the creators do not limit themselves to slavish copying of motifs, but add a lot of their own elements, which fit into the reality of Arkham after the Black Day. It seems to me that the atmosphere is quite well preserved, despite the fact that the "secret world" is a bit less mysterious in this game than generally in works referring to the mythology of Cthulhu (as I mentioned - the cultists act openly, moreover, e.g.. the existence of ghouls is no secret at all, as they have seized part of the city - however, still most of the inhabitants of Arkham, including our protagonist, are unaware of the nature of the world they have come to live in and most of its elements, so it's not like we get a complete descripyion of everything, killing Lovecraftian understatement).

Graphics - it looks hand-drawn, both in terms of the game area and the character portraits (I think each caller or monster has one). It didn't impress me, but it's OK and again - I think it fits the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the game is far too short. The world is small, and the main storyline cuts off in the middle - literally, the moment we complete about half of the instructions given to us by Dismal Man, a final animation is attached informing us that "now the journey into the abyss of madness is about to begin!" or something like that - and we're done. Did they run out of...time? ideas? Kickstarter cash? I haven't heard that the creators are planning some kind of supplement to close the threads, which is a shame. Nevertheless, I encourage you to check out this game, especially Lovecraft fans.
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