Tag Archives: rpg

The Pokémon Studio’s New RPG Sets Itself Apart

Little Town Hero, out October 16 for the Nintendo Switch, is a Game Freak role-playing game about a young boy who’s charged with fighting a bunch of viciously powerful monsters as adults stand idly by. No, not that one. Little Town Hero is totally its own thing: a deceptively simple RPG-card-game hybrid with light tactical elements that manages to be addicting.

My co-worker Joshua Rivera joked that my taste in games was “hardcore,” politely clowning me for gravitating toward games about “anime and math,” so it was no big surprise that Little Town Hero is my cup of tea. In it, your protagonist, Axe (or whatever you name him), fights off monsters suddenly invading the town using the power of a mysterious gemstone he found in the nearby mines. He’s guided by the irresponsible knight who was previously sent there to fight the monsters but hurt his back and now spends too much time in the tavern. The townsfolk must figure out the mystery of how these monsters are getting into the village in the first place. How does Axe fight these ferocious beasts? With the power of ideas.

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Little Town Hero’s battle system revolves around ideas charmingly called “Izzits” which function like cards do in card-battle games. You can hold up to five at a time, while others remain in your Headspace to be summoned to the front of mind when space opens up. You have a set amount of “Power” each turn that you can use to turn Izzits into “Dazzits,” or usable moves. There are three types of Dazzits: Blue Dazzits, which have an immediate effect on yourself, your opponent, or both, Yellow Dazzits, which can be used again and again until they break, and Red Dazzits, which can be used once per turn or until they break and can be used to inflict damage directly on your enemy when the opportunity arises. Most involve attacking or defending with your pickaxe-shield weapon, but some involve picking up rocks or throwing a firecracker, for instance. Both you and your enemy have health represented as hearts, as well as “Guts,” a buffer that must generally be broken before you can inflict direct damage. It’s important to be careful about how you do this damage, because several enemies have powered-up states they go into when their guts are reduced to zero. After direct heart damage, guts are restored.

The core of the gameplay is simple, but there are a lot of ways to use the finite tools at your disposal, meaning that there’s a lot of predicting and planning and customizing you can do when it comes to your actual playstyle. You always see your opponent’s available Dazzits and the particular one they’re using each turn, which guides your strategy. I’m using a high-risk high-reward playstyle, taking opportunities to gamble by sacrificing health in order to make big plays on my opponents. The combination of Red, Blue, and Yellow Dazzits allows a static set of moves to be mixed and matched in a variety of different ways, especially once you start powering them up and unlocking new effects. The key to winning the game is breaking your opponent’s Dazzits to score a direct hit. Taking direct damage yourself automatically restores all your used-up ideas, which keeps the matches from becoming too one-sided at any given time. The game is easy enough for anyone to pick up but has a lot to offer a fledgling min-maxer.

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Between turns, you move around on a party-game-style map. On this map are other townsfolk, who can give you bonuses. Axe’s buddy Nelz, for example, reduces the cost of turning one random Izzit into a Dazzit to zero. His rival Matock can do direct damage to the opponent’s body, regardless of its Dazzits. There are a variety of townsfolk ready to jump in and support this small child battling monsters, and you can find more via sidequests and story progression. Some of them offer inspiration for new ideas mid-battle. There are also environmental effects called “Gimicks” you can tap into if you have the right Dazzit. For example, I’ve taken on a very aggressive play style, so I enjoy strategically using the Barrel which does direct damage to both your and your opponent’s Dazzits and body, strategically sacrificing some of my guts to go ahead and deal heart damage to an energy. There are lots of these options to explore and thus lots of strategies to mess with during the battles, which can easily take 15 or 20 minutes a pop, if you’re like me and enjoy mathing out every possibility.

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You may be wondering what you do between battles. You can take on sidequests to get to know townsfolk and gain rewards like Eureka Points, which you can then use to upgrade your Dazzits or increase your Guts on an upgrade grid. This adds a nice, if light, layer of customization to the game. You also fight Matock… a lot. And just like other Game Freak rivals, he is both relentless and unperturbed in his endless quest to get his bell rung by the protagonist, over, and over, and over, and over again. One chapter of the early game had me fight him three times, pretty much consecutively. I didn’t mind so much, since the battles changed slightly each time, but, man. The sidequests and between-battle moments are charming and provide some color for the town and townsfolk you fight so hard to protect. It’s banal but makes complete and total sense within the game’s themes of small-town fellowship, and it’s wholly inoffensive when punctuated by the solid battles you get to think through.

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Like the little town Axe works so hard to protect, Little Town Hero is straightforward and earnest. Comical moments between characters and a Toby Fox-made soundtrack keep the boring parts manageable, and the battle system’s mix of a simple core with a variety of ways to execute makes the game work. You have a finite level of actions you can take and a clear layout of your enemy’s attack options. It’s the type of game that makes you feel clever for doing exactly what it’s designed to allow, and that’s always a great time.

Source: Kotaku.com

Indivisible Is Overwhelming In The Best Way

Fifteen hours into Indivisible, the long-awaited action role-playing game from Skullgirls creator Lab Zero, I’m still meeting new playable characters and discovering new ways to explore its gorgeous 2D world. I’m overwhelmed every time I play, and I love it.

First announced in 2015, Indivisible is an action RPG that comes out Tuesday for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It combines the four characters, four buttons combat style of Valkyrie Profile with the platforming exploration of Super Metroid. It tells the story of Ajna, a young girl living on the outskirts of a rural village. Trained in combat by her father since a young age, Ajna sets off on a quest for revenge after a powerful enemy destroys her home. Like all epic fantasy RPGs, Ajna’s personal story turns out to have global stakes, as a mysterious power grows within her that could change her world forever.

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It sounds so serious, and it is, but Indivisible is also the tale of an impetuous teen traveling the world, gathering a veritable army of quirky and exciting companions. One of Anja’s power is that she can absorb people and carry them around in a pocket dimension inside her mind. It’s basically like a camping screen, where she can talk with party members, upgrade her attack and defense with collectibles, and do certain other side activities. At any point during her travels she can go inside herself into that magical world and hang with her friends. They’re indivisible, see?

You could say she’s a one-girl army, but that would be discounting the colorful individuals who join Ajna on her lengthy adventure. Dhar, her first companion, is an enemy soldier involuntarily absorbed during the attack on Ajna’s village. Zebei the archer, is a good-natured guardian brought to life by voice actor Matthew Mercer. Ginseng & Honey are a diminutive botanist and their prize specimen. There is a dog named Lanshi, whose abilities include being pet.

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention the greatest party member of all, the gleefully gloomy Razmi, a reclusive shaman who’s cool with dying in a fire for sport and feeding her friends bugs while they sleep. She has a friend who is a dead tiger that she wears on her head. Voiced by Stephanie Sheh, Razmi is the only character aside from Ajna who is always in my combat party.

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That’s a great honor, considering how many characters are available to rotate in and out of the four-person party at any given time. I’ve had as many as 13 different characters lined up for duty at one time. It’s almost too much. The anxious feeling I get when I’m playing a role-playing game and neglecting the characters not in the active party is in full swing.

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Making the decision even tougher is that each character has some sort of utility in the game’s combat system. Some are ranged. Some cast magic. Some can attack high, or specialize in juggling opponents in the air. There are enemies that cannot be damaged by ranged attacks, are healed when hit by magic, or take more damage in the air than on the ground.

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Each character has three basic attacks, performed by pressing the button on the gamepad assigned to them or holding the up and down arrow while doing so. For instance, Ajna’s basic attack is a swing of her axe. Her down attack is a two-hit combo that knocks the enemy back. Her up attack launches enemies into the air.

Combining her attacks with those of other characters creates combos. Characters like the archer, Zebei, or the brawler, Tungar, have attacks that hit multiple enemies multiple times, so it’s worth keeping them around to deal more damage. There’s strategy involved with which characters to keep in which position for maximum effectiveness. I struggled with an early boss who didn’t take damage until it was hit a certain number of times. Swapping in Zebei made that battle easy. Eventually Ajna and friends meet a trainer, who takes up residence in her head, giving the player a perfect way to test out strategies and team composition between fights.

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As player characters attack or successfully block enemy attacks, the “Ihddi” meter in the top corner of the screen fills. When a segment fills, players can hold down the right bumper on their controller to use one of their character’s special abilities. It’s like a super meter in a fighting game. Using one bar, Razmi casts a party-wide heal. Using three bars at once, she calls a rain of fire down upon her opponents. You get more bars on the Ihddi meter as you upgrade through combat, letting you more varied special attacks more often.

When not fighting or loving on Razmi, Indivisible is a challenging platforming adventure. Ajna starts off jumping and dashing, as one does, but soon her absorbed companions begin teaching her advanced techniques, opening up the game’s hand-drawn 2D world to further exploration. With her axe, Ajna can leap to greater heights. With Zebei’s bow she can activate switches and eventually create safe paths through hazardous terrain by sprouting plants with magical arrows. She learns new ways to jump. She gains the ability to air dash and hang from the ceiling. She gains the Scrooge McDuck-like ability to use her spear like a pogo stick to hop across hazards.

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None of these travel abilities are one-off, throwaway skills. Lab Zero has filled the game with segments requiring the use of some or seemingly all of them in tandem. There are brutal sequences in one of the most recent areas I passed through in the game that had me cursing the studio’s name. But, thanks to what little patience I possess and mercifully frequent save points, I made it through. The sense of accomplishment was exquisite.

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Everything about Indivisible so far has been exquisite. The visuals are mesmerizing. The character design and animation are gorgeous. Each new area is a feast for the eyes and the ears as well, courtesy of music from legendary composer Hiroki Kikuta of Secret of Mana and Kouldelka fame. Lab Zero has crafted a wondrous, mythology-inspired fantasy world that I can’t stop exploring.

Indivisible can be overwhelming. It feels like there’s always a new character popping up or a new skill being unlocked. I sometimes lose track of all the things I can do or the people I can play. It’s not the worst problem to have.

Source: Kotaku.com

The First Puzzle Quest Is Still The Best

2007’s Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords combined tile-matching puzzles and role-playing game mechanics to create an incredibly compelling hybrid game that was near impossible to put down. One sequel, several spin-offs, and countless copycats later, the Switch version of the original Puzzle Quest is just as captivating as it was 12 years ago.

Launching on September 19, that Switch version is subtitled “The Legend Returns,” and for good reason. The original game is indeed legendary, a perfect marriage of match-three mechanics and turn-based fantasy RPG. Players and their foes take turns making matches on a Bejeweled-style game board. Matching skulls does damage to their opponent. Matching coins harvests gold to purchase items and equipment. Matching purple stars grants players experience points to raise character levels and learn new skills. Skills are activated using mana, collected by matching colored orbs.

Each battle is a one-on-one turn-based RPG battle. The player has to collect the mana needed to pull off their spells and abilities while denying their enemies the same. Do I match yellow gems so my bard character can sing a healing song, or do I collect red gems to keep my ogre enemy from using its devastating “Thump!” ability? There’s a depth of strategy to Puzzle Quest that belies its simple appearance. It’s a mix of tactics, skill, and sheer luck that’s intoxicating.

Though the graphics have been sharpened for the Switch re-release and some of the mechanics re-tuned (players are no-longer penalized for trying to make illegal moves), this revamp looks and feels much like the original. The impactful feeling when a match is made, the tingling sound when four gems or more are cleared, signaling an extra turn, the way the music changes when the player’s or the enemy’s hit points drop dangerously low—it’s all here, only bigger and brighter.

(This was one hell of a close battle.)

Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns combines the original game, developed by Infinite Interactive as a spin-off to the Warlords series of turn-based strategy games, with its 2008 expansion Revenge of the Plague Lord and a brand-new storyline with more than 100 new quests. There are new monsters, new bosses, new puzzle mini-games, and four new playable character classes.

It’s almost too much Puzzle Quest. I spent 15 minutes flipping through character classes before settling on an old favorite, Revenge of the Plague Lord’s Bard. Each class in the game plays drastically different from the others, so while the quests are largely the same in every playthrough, the way you must vanquish your enemies varies wildly. With dozens of hours of questing required to level every character class, I doubt I’ll ever be completely done with this game.

The Puzzle Quest series fell off a cliff after this first version. 2010’s Puzzle Quest 2 added a layer of complexity with attack and defense and statistics that, while not entirely unwelcome, muddled the successful formula of its predecessor. 2009 sci-fi spin-off Puzzle Quest: Galactrix was super-challenging and incredibly dense. The most recent games in the series, Marvel Puzzle Quest, Magic the Gathering Puzzle Quest, and Adventure Time Puzzle Quest, are free-to-play games that are hollow licensed shells, lacking the depth of story and strategy established in the original.

So this is one of those rare instances where going back to the first game in a relatively long-running series isn’t a matter of rolling back years of innovation and improvement. Puzzle Quest started in a very good place; Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns takes me right back there.

Source: Kotaku.com

Grandia Has Reignited My Love For Role-Playing Games

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

When I was in my impressionable pre-teen years, I spent vast amounts of my summer tucked away in a musty little basement down the street. My closest friends would visit at their grandma’s house near me every year while school was out, and when we weren’t “ripping and running,” playing basketball with the “mannish” little boys next door and riding our bikes back and forth up the bumpy brick streets, we gathered around our consoles for hours and hours of gaming. One summer, they brought with them a Dreamcast—the console that would impact my gaming palate more than any before it with games like Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur, and Power Stone. One game stood out and ate up those hot summer days: Grandia II. It became one of my favorite games of all time, and playing its predecessor, Grandia, has been a trip in every imaginable way.

Grandia, like its sequel, is a role-playing game with an overhead view and a battle system that takes the best parts of both real-time and turn-based battle systems and squishes them into a neat package. Your characters’ physical positions affect whether they’ll be able to damage or take damage from enemies, and a turn gauge lets you anticipate when each character will move, allowing you to cancel or counter enemy actions. It is by far my favorite battle system in any game, and it’s almost always the first thing I mention about Grandia II, next to the fact that I stubbornly prefer its plot about nefarious churches and crises of faith to Final Fantasy X’s.

What I forgot over years of not revisiting Grandia II was the deep and gripping sense of wonder the game gave me. I forgot what it was like to actually get swept up in a game’s sense of adventure. So playing the first Grandia for the first time, years after I’d played its sequel, gave me an eerie feeling of deja vu and sentimentality. It was nostalgia for a game I’d never played before. I genuinely felt like a kid again, lost for a moment in a feeling of adventure and possibility. I forgot what it was like for excitement to feel this earnest.

Moment by moment, I found myself falling into old RPG habits. Talk to every character in the town, check. Explore every area, check. Look for hints or extra items, check. But instead of the feeling of compulsion that drives me to do those things in a lot of other games, Grandia kept me excited to talk to new NPCs—the woman pacing back and forth and fucking fuming, then bafflingly complaining to a kid about her gambling husband. The little boy hiding by the fountain to avoid being caught by his mom and getting dragged to the dentist. The mom hunting for her truant kid, who you can choose to help out or con into looking elsewhere. The old woman telling stories about her time as a child, when the entire town was forests and woodland creatures, before industrialization happened. The powerful men from the Joule company puffing up their chests about how they brought growth to such a small town with the power of industry. As I talked to each one, multiple times to see all of their dialogue options, I found myself feeling verklempt: Oh, shit. I actually used to like doing this.

It reminded me why I mechanically read through every text box in games nowadays, even when I find the writing banal. This is how video games used to make me feel. This is where I’d learned that behavior—from a series where curiosity actually felt worth it. Exploring the overworld wasn’t just a mad dash to find every item there, a series of actions guided by a long-curated cache of RPG tropes—I wanted to play around with the game’s battle system, figure out where it overlapped and diverged with its sequel, learn about the mysterious ancient cities teased at in the game’s opening and the museum my young protagonists visited.

If there’s a downside to playing Grandia for the first time today, it’s the little annoyances that were fixed in Grandia II. The overworld map feels a little finicky after playing the more polished second game. The monsters’ pixelated visages, while nice-looking in the HD collection, are a little hard to track, making the strategic movement of trying to approach them from behind for a surprise attack tricky. The characters’ movements on the battlefield feel slow and unwieldy, and after playing the sequel, the rudimentary turn gauge in the first Grandia feels more like a test pilot than the innovative and well-tuned system the series is known for. And like news editor Jason Schreier mentioned, the Grandia HD collection lacks the fast-forward button that’s present in emulators and many other retro re-releases, making the tedium of slower gameplay all the more pronounced.

What really struck me, though, was the fact that, as impossible as these things were to ignore, I… did not care. It’s always tough to play a game after you’ve played its sequel, especially in a series that’s been out for decades, but actually wanting to read everything I saw made piles of text boxes and unskippable cutscenes feel like a treat. Imagine that—long cutscenes feeling like a reward. I might feel differently when I play through it a second time, once I’m no longer new to the game and ravenous for story developments, but for now, I’m enjoying my slow stroll down memory lane via a game I’ve never even played.

Source: Kotaku.com

Oninaki: The Kotaku Review

When I first played the demo for Oninaki, an action role-playing game out tomorrow from Lost Sphear and I Am Setsuna creators Tokyo RPG Factory, I was optimistic. The gameplay wasn’t particularly captivating, but the story seemed unique and dark enough for me to push through the repetitive combat. Unfortunately, by the time I finished Oninaki’s story of faith, religion, and the afterlife, it just felt soulless.

Oninaki tells the story of Kagachi, a brooding young man who is a Watcher, a person tasked with helping lingering souls of the dead address their remnant concerns. He does this by going “beyond the Veil” into a kind of purgatory, an alternate dimension overlapping with the real world. Where spirits go after that is unclear to start, but the people of his society believe in the power of reincarnation. What is clear is that souls who linger beyond the Veil for too long become vicious monsters called the Fallen. Partnered with powerful souls called Daemons that offer a variety of combat styles, Kagachi fights the Fallen to protect those in the living world.

Oninaki has a lot of weighty material, but it relies too much on tedious expository moments and monotonous side stories to really hit home. A couple’s son isn’t ready to pass on yet and may turn into a monster; as part of his duties, Kagachi offers to send them beyond the Veil with him. A cult called the Ark of Hope leads a mass suicide among its followers, leaving the Watchers to deal with their lingering souls and find the leader before he can do more harm.

Kagachi, jaded by the world of the Watchers and the precepts undergirding it, does his duty with a mechanical, almost heartless determination. Talking to the townsfolk reveals interesting tidbits about the world: Some are worried that fewer children have been born of late; some buy love charms that guarantee they will reunite with their lovers in the next life. It should be a compelling exploration of faith, fear, and fanaticism, but it falls short.

Moments that could be touching are dumped on you over the span of a few text boxes rather than delved into deeply. It’s a shame, because some of the ways relationships are tested by the bounds of death show promise. “You musn’t grieve,” one character is told when her infant sister dies, for the dead will worry about living loved ones who haven’t moved on and fail to pass on properly. The tension between grief and piety shines at times but is painted with too broad a brush to say anything truly insightful about the costs or benefits of faith.

Kagachi meets a young girl named Linne in his travels, and the two of them search to learn the nature of a dangerous, mysterious being called the Night Devil. The tenderness between Kagachi and Linne is a welcome change of pace but feels rushed and unearned. The story’s twists are bogged down in a slow penultimate chapter that takes the player through a series of tedious expository revelations. The few choices you can make through the game feel inconsequential, and I found myself not really caring that much about learning the difference between multiple possible endings. Oninaki’s story of death and rebirth is what drew me in, but I was so utterly exhausted by the time I got to its end that I just wanted my life back.

The hack-and-slash gameplay lacks needed variety, requiring you to fight through hordes of enemies to reach various objectives. Acquiring new Daemons offers Kagachi new fighting styles, and each has its own skill tree featuring passive abilities and usable skills that can be unlocked. For example, there’s Zaav, a spear-wielding former knight who was faced with the hard choice to murder a child he once protected, and Dia, a gun-toting noble who constantly felt out of place in her world of airs and intrigue. Kagachi can use powerful jump attacks with Zaav and ranged beam attacks with Dia.

Some Daemons, though, feel borderline useless relative to others; one Daemon’s shielding ability, for example, scarcely makes up for his slow speed. You can customize each Daemon’s weapons and skills, but it felt like it made little difference against the enemies and never livened up the sluggish, slightly brainless combat. Even the game’s highest difficulty, Maniac, didn’t make combat exciting; if anything, it made the sponginess of some enemies and the tedium of rarely having to form new strategies all the more obvious. There’s only so much you can fight palette-swapped forms of old enemies before you stop caring about the rare new enemy that appears.

Just about every area of Oninaki looks lush but feels empty. For each, there is a real-world version of the map and a version beyond the Veil that you can switch between at any time; these worlds are geographically identical but feature different enemies and color palettes. Most Veil areas start with Kagachi stricken by “Veil Blindness,” which renders him unable to fight, see, or interact with his surroundings and vulnerable to a one-hit kill. To remove the blindness, the player must find an enemy—usually just a larger or tankier version of a normal enemy—called the “Sight Stealer.” After that, the Veil Blindness fades, and… sometimes that matters. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you can open up a new path, or find treasure, or find a lost soul who will give you a sidequest, but with the exception of cases where you need to be beyond the Veil to progress, the backtracking isn’t worth it. Exploring these areas rarely provides any real dimension. There are consistently several extra hordes of mooks to fight, but it feels like they’re just there to fill space.

Ultimately, Oninaki comes out of the gate promising, but it doesn’t truly capitalize on its dark themes or religious introspection. The ultimate truths revealed about Oninaki’s world and characters were never enough to really make me feel like cutting through enemy after enemy after enemy was worth it. It’s unfortunate—there are a lot of genuinely cool ideas here, but none of them really makes the game special.

Source: Kotaku.com

Upcoming Exploration RPG Greedfall Has My Attention

When I was first asked to preview Greedfall, an upcoming RPG by Spiders, I didn’t really know what to expect. Its vast world, packed with ruins and frontier towns, captured a sense of discovery but also evoked a strange apprehension in me. Greedfall brims with potential and clever ideas, yet even after playing it, I can’t tell if it will mark a powerful recreation of BioWare-esque storytelling or a half-measured romanticising of the all-too-violent Age of Exploration.

In Greedfall, you play as De Sardet, a citizen of the old continent. Overpopulation has allowed for the rapid spread of a plague known as the Malichor. You are sent as a diplomat to an island across the ocean called Teer Fradee, where a cure to the plague might be found. While searching, you act as a sort of diplomat to the island’s various trade factions and native peoples. The vibe rests distinctly in the 17th century with tricorn hats, armored soldiers, vibrant heraldry, and lonely outposts. Teer Fradee proves to be a mysterious place, magical even, with strange creatures that feel lifted from games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. In fact, playing Greedfall for any stretch of time makes it clear the it’s angling to fill the gap created in the absence of games like The Witcher and Dragon Age. I learned as much when I recently sat down with Focus Home Interactive creative producer Tom Butler for a hands-on demonstration.

Greedfall proved immediately gorgeous to look at. Butler started the demo in a small swampland, where beams of light pierced through gnarly branches. Distant forest trees held sage-colored leaves dotted with faded hues. Teer Fradee felt real, as if I could tell what angle my foot would take stepping on a rock. As Butler gave a brief overview of the area, he mentioned that Spider’s CEO Jeanne Rousseau, the main writer on the game, found herself inspired by Baroque art and Flemish paintings. She also found inspiration in the historical accounts of various explorers and naturalists. Greedfall’s world design held a specific ethos: to evoke awe and wonder. What I saw, limited as it was, touched upon those feelings. It was a place I wanted to poke at and whose nooks and crannies held promise.

“We absolutely didn’t want to be strictly historical,” Rousseau said in a YouTube video about the world’s design. “Rather, it had to remain inspiration. We’re inviting players to dream, explore, and discover a totally new universe.”

The world is broken up into small subsections with quests to undertake and point of interest to locate, reminiscent of Dragon Age. As I started playing, I found myself in camp with various companion characters like the cavalier yet secretive sailor Vasco or the curious native Siora. Traveling with companions doesn’t just give advantages in combat but also affects how you might handle situations. For instance, Siora can act as a translator for interactions with Teer Fradee’s various peoples, opening up new dialogue options or helping to resolve situations. Each of these characters had sidequests of their own and stories to pursue. Butler warned me that ignoring them long enough in the main game might lead party members to leave the group out of frustration.

Camp also held a workbench where I could craft armor and weapons. Each item was customizable; I could decide what sort of half cape I wanted to drape over my armor or else adorn myself how I saw fit. For normal difficulty levels, this amount of customization seemed unnecessary, but I was assured that higher-level players would find it useful to min-max each armor piece for high stats. For my part, I mostly imagined how spiffy I could make my character look, wondering if I could maybe opt for something a little more Bloodborne and less conquistador.

I decided to pursue the main quest arc for the area I was in, working with members of the mercantile Bridge Alliance to find a lost foraging team and their lead botanist. Leaving camp, I was almost immediately thrust into combat against some wild boars. This was where Greedfall started to grab me. Players can choose from three initial disciplines at the start of the game: Warrior, Technical, and Magic. It was essentially the split between fighter, thief, and mage, though players can diverge from their initial path. For this demo, I was a mage. This meant tossing magical spells that ranged from simple “magic missiles” to huge spells that exploded energy around me. If I wanted to, I could also switch to my sword or even pull out a matchlock pistol.

Combat flowed well, and it quickly became intuitive to dash away from enemies and cast spells or else wait until my Fury meter filled so I could unleash a stronger attack. (You can watch above to see a clip of skill tree management and a fight against a dangerous monster.) It was similar to the lock-on swordfighting of The Witcher, but there was a welcome twist: At any given time, I could pause the action and play like a turn-based RPG. If things were hectic, a single button tap froze everything and filled my screen with a variety of attacks and spells to queue up. While it hardly felt necessary for my battle against the boars, I imagine it’s a valuable tool in boss fights.

My quest took me through ruined camps and a detective sequence where I followed a trail of blood. Finding a corpse led to discussion of the situation between my companions. My protagonist seemed dismayed that the man was killed.

“He was only a scholar, a sage, not a warrior on the battlefield,” they said.

Siora’s reply came quick: “Do you think my people see a difference when Bridge men steal our people from their beds? All the clans hide their children.”

A game about crossing the ocean to “explore” a new, magical world holds a lot of uncomfortable implications. This was at least some acknowledgement that Greedfall wasn’t going to completely ignore those, that characters would differ in their thoughts about what it meant to explore and what it meant when new groups of people interacted. Butler boiled the interaction down to a question:

“How do you explore that one person’s notion of expansion comes at the expense of other people?”

I mentioned that I was glad to see the moment but I was still apprehensive. How much would Greedfall acknowledge the destructive impacts of colonization? How much would it allow the player to navigate and negotiate a different path, even as it wore the trappings of the Age of Discovery?

Eventually, I came across two Teer Fradee natives in a clearing and approached them. I was greeted with welcome skepticism. Who the hell is this colonist and what do they want? Are they also here to cause trouble? For the purposes of the demo, I had a high charisma stat that led to fruitful discussion, but I also had the option to have Siora step in. I was told later that I could have also snuck close to eavesdrop on the conversation instead.

We discovered the lone survivor of the Bridge survey team, a feisty alchemist named Aphra. She introduced herself by dropping out of a tree and ambushing my party, a memorable introduction that made it clear she would be a companion character. Companions clashed. Siora and Aphra clearly did not see eye to eye when it came to the Bridge Alliance’s forays deeper into Teer Fradee. The mercenary Kurt noted that if Aphra lashed out at the party again, he would kill her himself. It made me wonder how these companions would play off each other throughout the game.

The rest of my time with Greedfall was spent exploring a few major towns and poking at the game’s character creator. It had a neat framing device—a portrait session that the main character is sitting through at the start of the game. This also gave me a chance to get a better sense of the various skills you could have, like Craftsmanship or Science. These could affect dialog but also give certain options in the game world. For instance, someone with a high science skill might craft bombs to create makeshift entrances to restricted areas like warehouses.

I walked away from Greedfall extremely curious. It could be just the sort of RPG that I’ve been craving. Companion characters, stats that affect dialog, a rich and interesting setting. There’s promise here, a chance to use a familiar video game frame to explore interesting ideas and characters, should the ideas be handled with care. Whatever happens, I won’t have to wait long to see the final result. Greedfall releases in September for PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.

Source: Kotaku.com

Playing Cool Games with Funko, The Adventure Zone, and More in Tabletop News

Clockwise from left: Cyberpunk 2077—Afterlife: The Card Game, Star Trek Chrono-Trek, Fiasco, and The Adventure Zone graphic novel.
Image: CMON, Looney Labs, Bully Pulpit Games, Carey Pietsch (First Second Books)

Welcome back to Gaming Shelf, io9’s column all about tabletop and roleplaying games. Gen Con 2019 brought us a bunch of exciting announcements for new and upcoming releases. We couldn’t possibly get through all of them, but here are some highlights!


News and Releases

An image of the starting heroes from Marvel Champions: The Card Game.
Image: Fantasy Flight Games

Marvel Champions: The Card Game

Fantasy Flight Games is entering the Marvel Universe with Marvel Champions: The Card Game, a cooperative card game where players work together as Marvel heroes to stop some of the franchise’s most dangerous villains. The Core Set has over 350 cards and starts with five heroes: Captain Marvel, Iron Man, She-Hulk, Spider-Man, and Black Panther. And since it’s a Fantasy Flight game, many, many more cards are on the horizon. In fact, the company says there will be new expansions every month. The core set is available for preorder at about $60, and comes out later this fall.

The Adventure Zone

The McElroys’ Dungeons & Dragons podcast-turned-graphic novel and nerdy phenomenon is now heading to the tabletop. Twogether Studios has announced it’s working with the McElroys on a tabletop game based on The Adventure Zone, a podcast that features the three brothers and their dad venturing through different D&D games, and has also inspired some fan-favorite characters and cosplay. No information or expected release date have been announced yet.

Sample gameplay from Star Trek Chrono-Trek.
Image: Looney Labs

Star Trek Chrono-Trek

Star Trek and time travel—they’re kind of a package deal. So, it only makes sense that Looney Labs has taken on Star Trek in its latest version of Chrononauts, called Star Trek Chrono-Trek. In this card game, players are trapped in an alternate reality and have to work to ensure certain events happen in the timeline…or maybe you have to prevent them! Either way, Tribbles are bound to show up. Star Trek Chrono-Trek is currently available for $25.

Broken Earth

Green Ronin Publishing has signed a licensing agreement with N.K. Jemisin to build a roleplaying game set in the world of the Broken Earth trilogy. The roleplaying game series will start in fall 2020 with The Fifth Season RPG—makes sense, since not only is it the first book in the trilogy, but it’s also the one TNT announced back in 2017 was being adapted into a TV show. In a statement, the three-time Hugo winner said she’ll be working with Green Ronin to “make sure the spirit and feel of the books is rendered successfully.”

Unmatched: Jurassic Park

Mondo Games and Restoration Games have announced that Jurassic Park is being added to the Unmatched head-to-head series of battle board games. The game’s first deck will feature “InGen vs. Raptors,” due later this year, with plans for a “Dr. Ellie Sattler vs. T-Rex” face-off and a solo expansion for Dr. Alan Grant coming out next year. According to Dice Tower News, Unmatched: Jurassic Park is replacing Jurassic Park: The Chaos Gene, which is no longer in development.

Cyberpunk 2077—Afterlife: The Card Game

Cyberpunk 2077 has been a video game several years in the making, and that’s an understatement. Now, it’s getting not just one, but at least two versions. CMON and CD Projekt Red have revealed Cyberpunk 2077—Afterlife, a card game based on the upcoming cyberpunk video game. In the card game, players take on the role of Fixers working in Night City to recruit cyberpunks and send them out on missions. Afterlife is set to come out sometime in 2020, presumably around the video game’s release date of April 16, 2020.

Funkoverse

The little figurines based on nerddom’s biggest characters are now getting a board game world of their own. Funko has announced Funkoverse, a series of board games based on its versions of characters from DC Comics, Harry Potter, Rick & Morty, and The Golden Girls (what?). The competitive, light-strategy games are designed to be family-friendly, and expansions are already available for some of them. The basic games run around $40, with expansions costing around $25, and are currently available on <a rel="nofollow" data-amazonasin data-amazonsubtag="[t|link[p|1836672341[au|5876237249235885598[b|gizmodo[lt|text" onclick="window.ga('send', 'event', 'Commerce', 'gizmodo – Playing Cool Games with Funko, The Adventure Zone, and More in Tabletop News’, ”);window.ga(‘unique.send’, ‘event’, ‘Commerce’, ‘gizmodo – Playing Cool Games with Funko, The Adventure Zone, and More in Tabletop News’, ”);” data-amazontag=”gizmodoamzn-20″ href=”https://www.amazon.com/stores/page/58E59F84-64FA-4387-9006-A88070BDE441?ingress=2&visitId=bf8a1571-7b74-4d4c-895c-0c0b2255b259&ref_=bl_dp_s_web_2592291011&tag=gizmodoamzn-20&ascsubtag=5406e92173b8030e382a4664cd321e2f8fba27a0″>Amazon.


Expansions

Bloodsoaked Fjord Domain Pack and more (Sorcerer)

White Wizard Games’ Sorcerer, a dueling mages game, is getting three new expansions that range from $5 to $10. As reported by The Gaming Gang, there’s the Character Pack featuring Virgiliu, a pyromancer; the Sylvanei Lineage Pack that focuses on druids; and the Bloodsoaked Fjord Domain Pack, centering around the trolls of the north. The expansions come out August 13.


Crowdfunding

Fiasco

Fiasco, a light GM-less roleplaying game that plays like a series of fun catastrophe films, is getting a version that’s more accessible to those who aren’t experienced with roleplaying games. The new card-based edition replaces the dice and index cards with playing cards, enabling players to create characters and change scenarios much easier. There are plans to roll out “old favorites and new surprises” in the future, ensuring a lot of variety and repeated gameplay. They’re also looking into developing tools for players to develop their own cards and future scenarios.

Fiasco is on Kickstarter through September 4. The minimum pledge for a digital copy is $10 and a box set is $30, and the physical version is set to ship by December.

Techlandia

What if evil corporations were, like, actually evil? That’s the plot of Techlandia, a new 1-4 player tabletop game where players are undercover reporters attending a press conference at Techlandia Corporation, the world’s biggest smartphone company. You’re not there to learn about phones, you’re trying to uncover a secret cult that’s hell-bent on global domination. I’ve had a chance to play it myself, and it’s a fun mix of quirky social commentary and Lovecraftian horror. Techlandia will be on Kickstarter through September 5. The minimum pledge for a copy is $39, and it’s set to ship in April 2020.

HEXplore It: The Sands of Shurax 

The Sands of Shurax is the third game in the HEXplore It series. The cooperative game centers around heroes working together to battle the Ravager of Shurax, which is causing havoc throughout the land. Players battle, trade, explore, excavate, and do all kinds of cool shit. The Sands of Shurax is on Kickstarter through September 1. The minimum pledge for a copy is $64, and it’s set to come out August 2020.

Paws & Claws

Paws & Claws is a tabletop roleplaying game inspired by the animal worlds of Watership Down, The Builders, and the Redwall series. Taking place in the fictional realm of Wudlind, Paws & Claws has players take on roles within a thriving animal kingdom as you all work together to keep the balance…or perhaps you choose to seize power for yourself. The game will be on Kickstarter through September 1. The minimum pledge for a digital copy is $20, and it’s set to come out September 2020. There’s also a free Quickstart Guide on DriveThruRPG for those who want to try it out before funding the campaign.

The Carniverse

For a hot second, I thought this was a roleplaying game set in the universe of Disney Pixar’s Cars franchise, and I was both terrified and excited. Instead, The Carniverse is a campaign skirmish system for two players that takes place in a Jurassic World 3-style realm where dinosaurs rule the Earth. Governments have fallen and humanity struggles to survive the new Age of Dinosaurs. There are no branded models for the game—instead, it’s designed to be played with your own 28mm miniatures. If you don’t have any, you can probably use whatever toys you have lying around the house. LEGO Dr. Malcolm, anyone?

The Carniverse will be on Kickstarter through August 29. The minimum pledge for a digital copy is $12, which will be released in October. A physical copy requires a $23 pledge, and comes out January 2020.


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Source: Kotaku.com

I Love When A Book Feels Like A Good Role-Playing Game

Concept art from Divinity: Original Sin 2
Illustration: Larian Studios
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

Role-playing games are one of my favorite genres. They’re also the genre I came latest to. I didn’t play video games for most of my teenage years, the time when I would have lost entire weekends and nights to them. Coming to love them as an adult has been a minor tragedy, because the amount of time I have to dedicate to 60-hour epics is shrinking dramatically with each passing year, and I am not quite ready to admit that I cannot play them all.

So I look for that sprawling feeling elsewhere when I can—books, mostly, since the time I spend in front of screens is probably best described as “unconscionable.” Strangely, I don’t really gravitate toward fantasy literature, since I’m not particularly interested in swords and magic and courtly intrigue. I specifically want the feeling of role-playing games: I want to be so transported I feel outside of myself, watching the beautiful little struggles of people who are ultimately small cogs in something incomprehensibly big.

Recently, I finished reading award-winning novelist Marlon James’ latest work, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, precisely because that’s what it offered. In a recent profile, James—who previously made his name in literary fiction with novels like A Brief History of Seven Killings—declared his intent to “geek the fuck out” with an “African Game of Thrones,” to give the kinds of people and folklore that rarely get centered in Western fantasy their due. It rules—partly because it feels a hell of a lot like playing through a Baldur’s Gate game.

The novel is about a man known only as Tracker, who recounts his personal history to a mysterious inquisitor who ultimately wants to know what happened when Tracker accepted a job to find a missing boy, a job that ultimately leads to something horrifying.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a dense, difficult book that slips in and out of focus from one passage to the next. It’s a tall, thick volume at 620 pages long—to read it for long stretches is to fall into a trance where you’re aware of the shape of things, even if you can’t always make out the details. It’s reassuring to have some kind of horizon to look toward, a wall to lean against when I felt disoriented.

That’s why I say it feels like a good role-playing game: The story starts with Tracker coming of age in the villages of the Riverlands and follows him until he comes to a city and joins a party. They venture out and face monstrous horrors on the road, and then, at another city, they find answers. Along the way, we meet characters who tell their stories at length and have their own agendas and side quests, some of which seem like they’re detracting from the main plot but ultimately end up being diversions you’re glad you took. (The story of Sad Ogo—a massive man you should not call a giant—is devastating.)

This isn’t something we haven’t seen in fantasy literature—it’s good narrative structure. You can recognize this in all sorts of stories across media. It’s just cool to see video games fall so neatly in this tradition, another voice in one big story that we’re all telling. It’s becoming more explicit, like the way the current generation of fantasy authors are openly influenced by Japanese role-playing games. (If you want something that will rock your goddamn world, put Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings next to Suikoden II.)

Reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf, I felt small. Maybe it’s weird to say this, but that’s one of my favorite feelings in video games—I like big sprawling games that suggest a wealth of stories unfolding around me, with nothing but my time and attention keeping me from finding them. And man, how I wish I had more time.

Source: Kotaku.com

Nintendo’s Mobile Game Dragalia Lost Has Finally Lost Me

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

From its launch in late September through mid-May, Nintendo’s mobile RPG Dragalia Lost was part of my daily routine. I only missed one daily login during the entire period, and that was because I was recovering from surgery. But, over the past couple of weeks, the game’s pull on me has faded, and my play sessions are growing more and more sporadic. The events are predictable. The summoning draws aren’t as exciting. I’ve lost the will to Dragalia Lost.

I have to give developer Cygames credit. Dragalia Lost has held my attention longer than any other collectible character game. Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes only lasted about four months. Nintendo’s tactical mobile RPG, Fire Emblem Heroes, kept my attention for three months, but now is a game I only hop on occasionally to harvest any free character summons I’ve accumulated. Eight months of near-daily play isn’t bad at all.

Now, the glue that stuck me to Dragalia Lost is wearing thin. I remain impressed that every new warrior or dragon added to the game gets their own story; there are no throwaway characters. It’s just that I’ve collected 94 of the 124 or so adventurers in the game. New faces are a rarity in my game. The same goes for dragons. I’ve got most of them, and the ones I don’t have only pop up during special summoning events.

Summoning new characters and dragons is my main motivation for playing Dragalia Lost. I play through quests and events to earn the crystals needed to do ten summons at a time (there’s a better chance of rares in a ten pull). It takes time to gather the 1,200 crystals required, and when the results are a handful of duplicate characters and the odd four or five star dragon, it’s not worth the trouble.

Left: Dupes Middle: My characters Right: My most recent pull, another dupe

Some of that is my fault for playing so religiously. There’s only so much to collect, and I’ve worked hard to collect a lot of it. But Cygames hasn’t helped, either. Earlier this year, the developer removed character-enhancing Wyrmprints from the summoning pool, as they weren’t as exciting for players to receive than heroes or dragons. More duplicate characters and dragons in summons was an unfortunate side effect of that change.

It’s not all about the summoning, though. After months of exciting new raid and facility events popping up on a near monthly basis, Dragalia Lost’s special events have started repeating themselves. Right now, one of the game’s earliest special events, “A Wish to the Winds” is back, which is lovely for newer players who never got a chance to reap its rewards, but not so good for a long-time player desperately searching for something new.

I’ve no doubt that Cygames and Nintendo will continue to bring fresh content and ideas to Dragalia Lost. April’s crossover with Fire Emblem Heroes introduced a new type of cooperative mission to the game (as well as some kick-ass new music). Another significant happening along those lines could easily drag me back for a time.

Does leaving during the wedding summoning event count as leaving the game at the altar?

For now, though, Dragalia Lost is officially no longer a part of my daily routine. I’ll still keep it on my phone, maybe hop in from time to time to see if the developers dropped any “thank you” or “sorry for the inconvenience” currency into players’ inboxes following milestones or technical difficulties. If I see a cool new character or dragon pop up on Twitter, maybe I’ll drop in to see how the summoning roulette treats me. I still love the game. I’m just not in love with it anymore.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Outer Worlds E3 Demo Featured Flexible Combat And Strategic Lying

E3 2019It’s time for the biggest gaming show of the year. We’ve got articles, videos, podcasts and maybe even a GIF or two.  

This week, my colleague Jason Schreier and I had a chance to sit in on a demo for The Outer Worlds, the newest game from Obsidian Entertainment. Outer Worlds is a first-person role-playing game where you find yourself stranded on a distant planet fighting against a giant megacorporation. I get the feeling this might be that role-playing shooter I’ve been craving.

The Outer Worlds demo we saw started in the outpost’s central town, where you can change up your load out, accept missions, and meet new companions. From there, the developer ventured out into the hostile colonized planet and faced both human enemies and monsters. The demo featured a plasma carbine rifle that was effective at range on human enemies but could be charged up for a huge blast for larger monsters like the Mantiqueen: a giant mantis-like alien that the developer avoided, explaining that it could jump into the middle of a fight and give you even more to manage on the fly. They also showed off a glowing samurai sword that could be used for stealth takedowns and melee attacks, though sadly, they just swung it in the air a few times and put it away.

The companions you can choose to venture out with each come with unique combat specializations. Nyoka, the “Big Game Hunter,” has a massive gun that doles out tons of damage for larger foes. Ellie, another companion, is a medic who can help keep the group alive. However, characters also have out-of-combat stats that can help you during certain interactions. Ellie, for example, has a decent amount of points in the “lying” category, which allows her to access dialogue options that would otherwise be unavailable. As a result, choosing companions is flexible and offers a variety of gameplay possibilities.

My favorite part of the demo was in a control room that overlooked the next room they needed to enter. There was a main terminal that could have been used to manipulate the robots and eliminate all of the human enemies inside, making the room trivial. Unfortunately, no team members had enough hacking points to select that option. Instead, there was the intercom—and using Ellie’s ability to lie her ass off, they basically told everybody to leave the room. Which they did. I love that.

The level of depth in the dialogue choices, combat, and even mission structures was fun, and I can’t wait to tease out what else the game has to offer. Jason will have an interview with one of the developers of The Outer Worlds on Splitscreen, so be sure to listen to that, too.

Source: Kotaku.com