Wildermyth Early Access

Wildermyth popped up in my Steam discovery queue at some point in the last few months, and when I see games I find interesting I tend to add them to my wishlist for later. Quarantine is definitely one of those “for later” situations, and as the game is only running $20 I pulled the trigger on it. I’ve been jamming through some games during this period of the wild indoors, but I’ve been looking for varied experiences to keep me engaged. As such, I’ve actually been looking into playing some of the games in my backlog that are different from what I’ve been playing lately. First person shooters will always be a love of mine, but sometimes I want something more laid back and story-rich. Wildermyth caught my attention because of its colorful art style and tactical RPG combat, a style of game I tend to gravitate towards. What sets it apart from other RPGs I’ve played in recent memory, is the fact that a portion of the game is procedurally generated, which is also something I tend to enjoy when it’s done well. Wildermyth is currently in Early Access, but as the description says, it’s mostly done and fully playable now. Features are already there, it’s just more polish and additional implementation and they seem sure that they’ll be releasing this year, and I’ll agree that they’re pretty close.

Like any party based RPG, you’ll start out with a group of youngsters that aren’t quite adventurers but are thrust into dealing with a world-ending problem. There are only three starter classes to choose from, but as the game progresses some expected and some unusual paths present themselves to give you additional strength and powers. The characters are randomly assigned names, character traits, appearances and you are forced to start with a Warrior, Hunter and Mystic. Sub classes naturally evolve from these and there are various build paths that I explored during my first game. You can take things further by fully customizing the characters but I let things pretty much lie after a few rerolls.

The entire first campaign is essentially a tutorial, but it took me a little over four hours to complete, so that’s more of a starter campaign than anything. Still, it is a good practice to roll through because by the end you understand the systems of the game but still see the potential for further adventures and this in itself is exciting. I haven’t had a game get its hooks into me so easily in quite some time, and were this already a finished title I still think it would have been good enough. I’m looking forward to see what happens with further development. So most of your time is spent pretty evenly between an over-world map where you move your heroes around and perform various tasks, while periodically getting story interruptions. Many of the story bits lead into encounters, and then you’ll shift to a randomized battlefield and participate in a turn-based battle. This controls as you would expect, with action points allowing you to move attack and sling spells. There are some unique facets to combat that I’ll cover shortly. Besides moving to new areas via the map, you’ll also need to build bridges, defenses/tile improvements and periodically need to repel incursions of enemy forces. You’ll also periodically gain access to new heroes via recruitment, and soon enough you’ll be training additional characters and have a full party of five and then some.

Combat reminds me of early iterations of D&D. The characters are sort of 2D paper figures that stand in a 3D space. They move as if they are on bases and someone is tapping them in each square as they progress. Attacks are pretty basic in their animation, but this gives it more of a feel of playing a well-penned D&D session that also has some pretty fun combat. There are only so many tricks that are thrown at you, but combat is still pretty satisfying. I was happy with how my characters developed, got new gear and new abilities and all along the way there was still challenge but also the sense of becoming more powerful.

Combat doesn’t always go like you would like, and characters can die or get maimed, but that adds some charm to the game. You don’t lose someone powerful that you have grown attached to, but they might lose an arm. This comes with some benefits as well, as one of my hunters ended up losing an arm, so he could no longer use a bow, but had a cool hook hand that he could use to attack with as well, so he became a stealthy dual-wielder instead. One of my Warriors ended up being enchanted by a crow spirit and got a crow’s head that provided a “peck” special move, and later I’d get the opportunity to further transform, gaining a crow’s claw that provided a strong attack. It’s stuff like this that’s a little off the wall but also really cool and reminiscent of D&D stories.

This campaign was split into three chapters and was the story was set up to have a specific villain. Each chapter closes when a main story objective is complete, however individual characters periodically ask more help with tasks and further their growth. You’ll be rewarded various crafting materials for how many territories you control on the world map and also gain a certain number of years worth of peace. During peace time, you’ll get little glimpses into your characters lives and even recruit your own progeny. My hunter’s son was trained as a warrior and already started with higher tier gear than normal recruits.

The third chapter leads up to the final battle, and because the passage of time occurs no matter what actions you take in the game, they grew old over the course of one session. The final battle was quite the challenge, but I managed to beat it while only losing one character who I believe was killed permanently, but it’s sort of irrelevant. The game is designed to give you compact stories in short-ish sessions. I imagine all three chapter games will take approximately the same amount of time to complete, while the larger five chapter games will probably add a few more hours per game. The Legacy system allows for some of this to continue on. At the end I was able to choose one of my characters to sort of have a second life, though they don’t go into detail about how this happens, but it means they start off a little more powerful for the next go-round. People that you memorialize carry certain things over as well, so there is a sort of rogue-like account progression that affects future games. From what I understand they are a ton of different encounters already programmed into the game, with more coming down the pipeline, and they’ve added a campaign creation tool as well. So Wildermyth might just be the next best thing when it comes to playing D&D. I really enjoyed my play session, and I look forward to playing it some more. I may look into making my own campaign as well, which could provide an additional creative outlet. Whatever the case, if any part of this sparked your interest I might suggest checking the game out. It’s fully worth the coin, and should only get better.

Thoughts on Beyond: Two Souls

I spoke very highly of two of Quantic Dream’s games already, and had mentioned that I would also be diving into a third game that came out in between Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human. That game, is 2013’s Beyond: Two Souls. This is going to be a relatively short post on the subject, because unlike the previously written about games, this one didn’t sink its hooks into me like the others did. I’ll now attempt to explain why.

Graphically, the game leans more towards the Detroit side of the scale rather that the first game, mainly due to the fact that the latter two games came out on PS4 while the former came out on PS3, so that explains the difference in fidelity. That isn’t to say Heavy Rain looked bad, it was just a sign of the times. It still had a better story line than this game, as did the third chapter. You begin play as a little girl, and there are various current time frame and flash back scenes that lay the ground work for the story. It seems that as a little girl, your character has an “imaginary friend” that ends up actually being some sort of entity that has a link with her. It’s not so much that she has control of it, but more so that she can ask it to do things. In gameplay terms, yes,  you do control this entity at certain points, and are able to choose to listen to commands or not. There’s still branching dialogue choices and things you can do that affect the story, but the story itself was less grounded in reality and I think suffered because of it. I realize that robots becoming humans is also currently far-fetched but still something I anticipate could happen whereas this spirit/entity is complete bullshit and made it harder for me to suspend my disbelief.

I do however, think it’s cool when games get fully motion captured actors and portray them as themselves in games. Willem Dafoe ends up being the girl’s “handler” so to speak, and it appears as time goes on, she becomes more than just a girl with a pet, and more of her own CIA spy bad ass. That’s cool and all, but it’s less cohesive with all of the jumping around the game did. Heavy Rain ended doing some flashback stuff but it made sense when they did so. Detroit: Become Human ended up making more of a beeline to the end of the story but you played multiple characters so you could tell it was all happening simultaneously. Beyond: Two Souls ends up making a stack of layers that when unshuffled makes sense, but otherwise seems like a mess. This is probably why they included an option to play the game in chronological order, but I wanted the “authentic” experience.

What frustrated me the most was controlling the entity. Early on you have to fly through walls to “cheat” and see what card a person is looking at so that you can match it to a card on the desk in front of you. Then Willem Dafoe asks you if you can do anything else (at this point they seem to think she is psychic/telekinetic) and you can throw shit around the room. Like the other games though, this is controlled via QTE/weird button combinations and it just didn’t do it for me. There’s some forced stealth with an invisible spirit and that’s where I drew the line. It just simply didn’t hold my attention like the others. As it stands now, I can’t recommend this one, but if you are a fan of their other games, you might be able to power through it. That’s all I have to say about it, so I’ll see you all next time!

Thoughts on Heavy Rain

Back in July, I wrote a post about a surprise hit for me, Detroit: Become Human. It happened to be a free release via Playstation Plus that month, and I decided to try it on a whim. I usually try out the free games each month, but oftentimes they simply aren’t for me and they get uninstalled. No harm no foul, considering no money spent (unless you count that $60/year fee, but it’s awesome value no matter how you look at it). It turned out that this was a game that would hold my interest, which isn’t something that happens very often to me anymore. Besides the base game, the Plus offering included a digital artbook, soundtrack and a copy of the company’s first Playstation title, Heavy Rain. We already went back in time a little bit with Detroit: Become Human (released last year), but end up going even futher back to 2010 with Heavy Rain and to some degree, it shows. This is the same style of game, but it’s not nearly as pretty. The controls are a little clunky as well, but the story is good, and that’s really what matters in this genre. Actually, part of what I said about Detroit: Become Human applies to this game as well:

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of narrative, story-rich games that don’t necessarily have a lot of game play so to speak. These types of games range from adventure titles to interactive story books. I’ve been a fan of some of the TellTale Games series, though now that the company is defunct it’s unlikely we’ll see more of those unless another company picks up the reigns. Another recent game of this style The Council was very good and had basically no game play whatsoever — yet the story was intriguing enough that simply controlling a character through a story arc and making some minor decisions was fine by me. Detroit: Become Human lines up pretty well with this assessment — I’d go out on a limb and call it a QTE game, because outside of dialogue all of the action is controlled by various timed button presses and other motions with the controller. Honestly this is one of the first games I’ve seen that uses the controller motion technology along with the touch pad on top of the normal controls — that part was pretty cool, but also kind of annoying at times.

Unfortunately, with games like these requiring you to be on the ready to quickly press buttons at any moment, so taking screenshots ends up being sort of difficult. As such I tried to include some pictures that show of some of the neat features of the game, but those that wouldn’t really spoil anything. But, the game is nearly ten years old, so if you haven’t played this you probably don’t have any interest. Whatever the case, there is an intriguing story here that I’d love to spoil but I won’t. Suffice to say that you can play as four different characters, and each have their own part to play in the story, along with interacting with each other before the game is over. There are branching parts based on your decisions, and clearly there were places where I could have chosen to go another route, but unlike Detroit, you don’t get the branching graph that shows you exactly how things could have gone. Obviously that was something that was thought of later on in the company’s game repertoire.

A true detective story, Heavy Rain is doing its best work while trying to convince you who the killer is. I really didn’t suspect the character who ended up being guilty, but as the story unfolded I wasn’t disappointed with it. I suppose there are other ways things could have ended up, but I don’t really see the point in playing through a thousand times. I made my choices and I enjoyed the ride, but I don’t intend to go back for more. The same happened with their other game, and I don’t feel bad about it.

One other note: I didn’t realize that Beyond: Two Souls (2013) was also produced by Quantic Dream, and it was also a free Plus game a while back. I went ahead and downloaded that one and intend to play through it soon. So expect more about that later on this month.

Thoughts on Detroit: Become Human

Sony announced this month’s lineup of free games via their Playstation Plus service, and it was lackluster at best. One arcade racing game reminiscent of, I don’t know, Pole Position? And a Soccer game that wasn’t FIFA, not that I’d care either way — nobody likes Soccer. There must have been some sort of critical mass of outrage thrown at them, because at the last moment they swapped out PES 2019 for Detroit: Become Human. Konami wasn’t even told it was going to happen. Nonetheless, I was more interested in trying out a newer Sci-Fi game rather than boring ol’ Futbol so I went ahead and downloaded it. I should mention too that the other game, Horizon Chase Turbo is actually pretty fun, but that’s all I’m saying at this juncture.

Detroit: Become Human was hyped up before its release. I remember hearing good things about it, but from video it didn’t really appeal to me and honestly I would have never played it were it not for getting it for free. Apparently, I was wrong when I judged this game by its cover, because it appealed to me on many different levels.

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of narrative, story-rich games that don’t necessarily have a lot of game play so to speak. These types of games range from adventure titles to interactive story books. I’ve been a fan of some of the TellTale Games series, though now that the company is defunct it’s unlikely we’ll see more of those unless another company picks up the reigns. Another recent game of this style The Council was very good and had basically no game play whatsoever — yet the story was intriguing enough that simply controlling a character through a story arc and making some minor decisions was fine by me. Detroit: Become Human lines up pretty well with this assessment — I’d go out on a limb and call it a QTE game, because outside of dialogue all of the action is controlled by various timed button presses and other motions with the controller. Honestly this is one of the first games I’ve seen that uses the controller motion technology along with the touch pad on top of the normal controls — that part was pretty cool, but also kind of annoying at times.

Graphically the game looks amazing. I honestly think it’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen on the Playstation 4, top five at least. The animations were stellar, there was no hitching, it ran well, looked beautiful and contained more heart than I would have expected. As the story goes, it’s the middle of the 21st century and Androids have become a large part of human society. They perform tasks that many would not want to do for themselves, including cleaning, manual labor, and even taking care of their own children. It seems that they are the perfect utility machine for everyone, and affordable enough for the average family to own one. Ironic that the game takes place wholly in Detroit, Michigan, a city that was known for its prosperity during the automotive boom of the 1900’s, but is more known as a ran down and broken city in more recent years. It seems to have regained its prominence in the nation in this game however, as these Androids are all created here in the city by a company called Cyber Life.

I honestly cannot go further into the story because it has so many branching pathways and spoilers that I’d have to play through it a couple more times in order to see everything. I don’t want to spoil that for you if you haven’t yet played it. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one as much as I did, and I played through it in just a couple of days which isn’t something that usually happens with me and games these days. The story is compelling — you’ll take control of several different Androids with different agendas and there are plot twists and turns along the way. Fuck up on some QTEs? You’ll have to live with the consequences (I did earn a trophy for not losing a single fight throughout the entire game). The same goes for your dialogue decisions. Things will happen, and it will be your choice how they happen. Just don’t expect everyone to like your choices.

If you have a PS4 I highly recommend you download this game right now and play it. Definitely for fans of Sci-Fi stories with artificial intelligence, detective work, dystopian futures, the love of a family, hero’s journeys and freedom.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 4

Skybound Games has finally released the very last episode of Clementine’s saga. An epilogue of sorts, it picks up right in the thick of things, as the last episode culminated in the exploding ship and uncertainty about everyone’s well being. Well except for James. He was definitely dead. I felt that this episode was the most rushed or perhaps the least well thought out. It felt shorter than other episodes, and felt like whoever wrote it wasn’t as invested in the game or the property. There was a clear end, and a nice twist that I didn’t see coming, but it felt a little hollow. I wasn’t left feeling like it was a clear end for the series… but I suppose I’ve felt that way when good TV shows end as well.

It appears that my choices were in line with most other players. All four of the major choices in the episode weren’t the most difficult decisions to make (nothing gut wrenching here), but it appears that more than half of players agreed with my choices. Since the finale was only released a couple of days ago, those results could be spoilers, but I won’t go into specifics. Let’s just say I didn’t feel like the choices had much weight to them, and the way things ended I just felt sort of blah about. I really wanted to like it, but I suppose it’s okay to only be disappointed with one episode of a four season game series. Clementine’s story has come to a close, and I’m satisfied to have completed this years-long journey.

There were more screenshots I could have shared, but they were very much spoilers, showing who died and how relationships between Clementine and other characters have changed. I did however include the above two shots that showed what my Clementine taught AJ throughout the season. Some of it is pretty inside, so you’d probably have to play the game yourself to understand them, but many are basic enough. I think my AJ will grow to be a decent human being, and that means I’ve done my job. I could easily see another season being doable, especially being able to perhaps kill off Clementine and then pick up playing as an older AJ. I don’t see why they don’t go down this route, but perhaps they have other Walking Dead stories to tell, or maybe another decent IP could be done in this style. I suppose time will tell what Skybound decides to do next.