SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech

Image and Form Games has been producing PC and Console games for about a decade now, with their SteamWorld series being loosely related but also standalone. What you can come to expect from a SteamWorld game is that there will be robots of various sizes and shapes doing a variety of things. If we go back to the first game released, SteamWorld Dig, we’ll get a western-themed Metroidvania that was fun to play but ultimately fell a little short for me. I enjoy that style of game, but it was packed in with a Humble Bundle and I didn’t give it the time it deserved, I also got bored along the way. Fast forward a couple of years to SteamWorld Heist, and I was on board. Rather than being an action platformer like its predecessor, we got a turn-based strategy game. Instead of western feeling, it was sci-fi in space. It was a lot of fun and I played it through its end on PS4. Later, SteamWorld Dig 2 would release, but I already knew I probably wasn’t going to be into it, being a direct sequel to the original. Finally, we come to the latest game in the series, SteamWorld Quest. It was released last year, but I only got around to getting a copy during the holiday sales. It’s still the same SteamWorld we know and love, with plenty of robots and a hand-drawn art style. However, we go back in time to the middle-ages in this romp.

As the story goes, some bad things happened and yadda yadda. If you’ve ever played a video game you can extrapolate from that. You’ll take control of Armilly, a fighter robot that wants nothing more than to be part of “The Guild.” Along your path to trying to get involved with the guild, you’ll meet various characters and some will of course join your party. The story is told via the cutscenes above along with in-game dialogue. Hopefully you’re good with subtitles, because you don’t speak whatever tongue of robot that is actually audible during these cutscenes. Part of the time you’ll be wandering around various landscapes until you happen upon enemy robots, at which time you’ll enter the battle screen, which is where the majority of actual gameplay is.

What makes combat unique in SteamWorld Quest, is that it uses a combination of card game deckbuilding along with turn-based RPG mechanics. Each character on your squad comes equipped with a deck of cards. There are three types of cards, those that do something supportive, those that are basic attacks, and unique skills that cost special action points. The former two types of cards will also provide you with said action points, while the latter consumes them. Each turn, you can play three cards from your hand before passing. The enemies will play one or more cards each turn as well, and then the actions will take place. Cards from all of your characters decks are shuffled together so you’ll have to pick and choose what is right for each situation. So for example, if you have a card in hand that requires two action points, and two other cards that will produce those action points, you can play the two cards first netting two action points, and then spend those points with the third card. When you get further along you can also create chains by playing three cards from the same character, and a bonus action will occur. In the case of Armilly, you’ll get another strike that also heals you.

As you gain experience you’ll level up, providing more base stats like health and attack power. You’ll come across new comrades to join your party, and assume more will pop up over time, as some dialogue has implied that it could happen but I haven’t looked this up due to spoilers. I have only made it a few chapters in but I have enjoyed what I’ve seen and it’s a nice combination of genres that I find engrossing. Overall I’d say the game is worth it’s normal asking price but even better on sale. That’s just me though, you might not have qualms at paying full price for games. I would recommend picking it up if you’re a fan of the SteamWorld series, are into unique RPGs, or just want something new to try out.

Apex Strategies

As I mentioned in my recent round-up post, I’ve been playing Apex Legends again pretty regularly. Outside of the initial complaint of there not really being enough new content to keep me coming back, there have been some decent content patches in the interim and I’ve been enjoying myself in the game. Some observations before we get to the meat of this post:

  • I’ve found that the population seems unharmed regardless of negative press and the fact that this title fell off the charts shortly after launch while others like PUBG and Fortnite continue to be at least listed on the top income charts. I didn’t have queues to begin with and I don’t now. Wait times between games are minimal.
  • While playing the game during launch I had exactly one win. It was actually the first round I had played. I didn’t touch Apex Legends at all during the first season, but have racked up 6 more wins during season two, and honestly I don’t think my play pattern has changed. Practice makes perfect and all, but for whatever reason things have clicked and I’ve been doing really well. I’m not sure if this is a reflection on the quality of players still playing on the Playstation 4, or if it’s a reflection of personal skill growth. I prefer to think it’s the latter.

This brings me to the topic of this post. I feel like my experience being at the bottom (prior to the first season) and losing repetitively but learning the core mechanics of the game has now combined with being relatively good at the game. As such I feel pretty confident sharing some tips with you that might help you to become a better player as well. So let’s get to it shall we? Here are some of my personal tips for getting better at Apex Legends, in no particular order:

Situational Awareness:

The first tip I have for you is to try and have situational awareness. You should know if you have short-range weapons equipped, so don’t fire at long range targets giving away your position. Shooting shotgun shells at someone on top of a cliff isn’t going to do anything except give away your position, and that means getting flanked by the enemy team. Perhaps your team isn’t ready for an altercation — one guy is looting a death box and another is heading in the opposite direction. Your mini-map can help with this information in split seconds. You should also be calling out enemies seen and where you are going using the game’s ping system. Sometimes it’s tempting to be a commando/hero and go it alone, but you should stick with the group. You are more powerful as a unit than on your own (despite the fact that there will be times you will have to carry your teammates). Listen to the environment for incoming threats — the game’s sound is there for a reason, and you’ll hear the enemy’s movements oftentimes before you see them. Know your enemy’s abilities! Every playable character has special abilities, you need to know how they work and how you can respond to them. For instance, Wattson’s ultimate will protect you from air strikes, but only if you’re inside its sphere of influence!

Environmental Awareness:

This comes down to being aware of escape routes, jump stations, ziplines and etcetera. Constantly check your map for your allies and for pings. Also, pay attention to where the ring is and where it’s going next. I’ve found that in my early game sessions I used to always try to be as close to the middle of the ring as possible throughout the match. Oftentimes this meant leaving teammates behind and heading off on my own, which I clearly no longer recommend. What I have found now is that hugging the edge of the ring seems to be more effective. Not only will you be able to pick off stragglers, oftentimes they will have been damaged by the ring so they are easy pickings. You also tend to see more teams trying my old strategy and being closer to the middle so you avoid some of the bigger conflicts. Staying alive is the name of the game after all.

The rest of my tips are less meaty:

  • Holster when you run long distances. This makes a huge difference, especially when trying to outrun the ring.
  • Always try to revive or respawn teammates but be safe. Don’t dive on a downed teammate immediately. Try to make sure threats are eliminated or distracted first.
  • Don’t carry items you don’t need. Give syringes and shield cells to teammates if they need them. Use the ultimate accelerants as soon as you pick them up.
  • Keep your shields and health topped off. Don’t be afraid to use these items during fights, but be aware of how/when you can do so.
  • Don’t forget to use your grenades!! I was guilty of not using my secondary equipment very often but now I try to do so every match.
  • Don’t use finishers if you only down one member of an enemy squad. You’ll get caught mid animation if you do. I believe there is a way to shortcut the animation but I’d avoid it until it is safe to do so.

That’s all I can think of for now, but hopefully these tips stick in your head and you are able to implement them. You can see me following many of these ideals in the following video, which ended up being one of my better matches in the game and one that I remembered to record.

Thoughts on DOTA Underlords

In another story where Valve went ahead and took the idea made by modders and made it their own, DOTA Underlords is the result of the success of another company making a mod for DOTA 2 (made by Valve, but in turn being originally created by a modder of Warcraft III) and its success being measurable by the company. A new genre of sorts is emerging, these games are being called “Auto Battlers.” What’s being pointed to as the original is called DOTA Auto Chess and was developed by Drodo Studio and was actually only just released at the beginning of this year. Turns out this ended up being fairly popular, by May they had 8 million unique players. The Wikipedia describes the genre as featuring “elements derived from chess, along with those from DOTA 2,” but the devs said they mainly referenced Mahjong for inspiration (which I was unaware is traditionally a multiplayer game). Since their popularity boom (they also created a standalone variant called Auto Chess), several mobile versions of the game have cropped up (I actually tried one recently and didn’t really care for it) and now it’s come full circle where Valve themselves had developed a new version. Currently in Beta on Steam, I decided to check it out to see what they hype was about.

I’m not really up to speed on the lore of DOTA, so I don’t really know anything about these characters or their abilities which probably puts me at some sort of disadvantage, but at this time I’ve only played against AI and can honestly say it’s not really the sort of game I’d normally play. Strange to say because I absolutely love Chess, but I wouldn’t compare this to Chess in any way, shape or form so there’s that.

Apparently there will be seasons so there will be a ladder and competition and all that. I’m not overly interested in trying to climb this ladder though, mainly due to some of my first impressions with the game. I understand this is a beta, but when the game crashes your entire PC when it’s been running for under two minutes is not a good look. I eventually got things set up and got into a game which started me off with a tutorial that explained things mechanically, but the knowledge of the different races and characters and how they interact is not inherent and I didn’t really get what worked better than other stuff. I generally just went for the more rare characters to run and made sure that I opened up the maximum number of heroes I could run at a time as fast as I could.

The game play is simple enough. There is a small grid (think game board) that you share with your opponent. You’ll get some currency to buy characters to dispatch into battle. Each has different stats, is a particular race/class, and has different abilities. They are arranged by rarity and the more rare characters cost more to buy. You have a bench where you can store them and swap them out between matches in order to have a better fight. You’ll place these units on your side of the board where you prefer, and then you’ll start the round. That’s where the game play stops, at this point you’ll watch your forces fight the enemy army and then a winner is declared. You’ll get currency and experience between matches, and you’ll level up as you go. Your level determines how many characters you can play per round, so you’ll want to level quickly to get an advantage. Otherwise it feels like a bunch of luck.

Getting through a single game seems to take an excessive amount of time. It’s not like playing a round of DOTA where you’ll expect to play for 30-45 minutes but you’re constantly doing things so the time just flies by. No, in this case you’ll click a few times and then watch the action unfold. Then you’ll click a few more times and repeat. You spend much more time watching things happen than actually controlling things, and that’s boring to me. I guess it’s not much different than the mobile titles with automatic battles, and honestly most of those haven’t held my attention either, so I guess your mileage may vary.

I ended up playing through a whole first game, which took over an hour, just to “win” and have the game lock up when it should have been providing me with rewards and salutations. Again, I know it’s a Beta but it’s not a good look. This might appeal to you, but at this current juncture this doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather micro manage one character than watch a crew fight automatically.

The Legend of Solgard

Being famous for games like Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heroes, it would be safe to say that I haven’t been too interested in titles that King has produced. The last time (and only) time I’ve talked about the company was back in 2015 when they were acquired by Activision/Blizzard. Having written them off completely, I was surprised to find they released a new title this month, and I was intrigued because not only is it a Match-3 style of game like many of the titles the company has already produced, but it also mixes in RPG and “gotta catch em all” elements. If you’ve every played a game like Puzzle Quest or Gems of War you’ll sort of know what to expect. The game in question, is Legend of Solgard.

I really learned to love this style of game with Puzzle Quest 2, a game that was gifted to me way back in my early Steam days. It differed a bit, because the battles were you against a single enemy and the gems you would match would correlate to attacks or spells you could cast. When the battle ended you’d move around on a map until you hit the next encounter. It was a fun game that I spent a lot of time with nearly a decade ago. The same company made other games in a similar vein, Gems of War being one of the newer iterations. I believe they were also responsible for the Marvel and MTG puzzle quest games, but I’m uncertain and too lazy to look at the moment. Another cool game in this genre was Ironcast, which made the match-3 correlation by powering your Steampunk Mechs actions. This game is similar enough to these titles I’ve mentioned but does it’s own thing pretty well.

The tutorial explains things well enough, but if you’ve played similar games you’ll be able to jump right in quickly. You’ll start each match with a variety of unit types that match up with one of the four basic colors that comprise your bestiary. Matching at least three of them puts them into an attack position, which occurs after you use your three moves. There are lanes in which your creatures (and the enemy’s creatures) inhabit, and they will attack in a straight line (unless an ability allows something else to happen). The goal of each level is to destroy the portal on the enemy’s side of the screen, and you’ll have to break through their defenses to do so.

The four colors are red, yellow, green and purple. It seems that each type correlates to a sort of class system, but I haven’t dug deep enough to confirm that. The red creatures seem to be melee, yellow are swift, green are defensive and purples are magic oriented. You’ll start with a few and open others eventually, as each match rewards you with gems that eventually unlock the new creatures. Those same gems will also upgrade your existing creatures and as they are upgraded they get abilities that change what happens when they are merged into their attack position. Most of the time this is an ability that triggers upon merging, and usually with shoot something either directly forward or at a random spot on the enemy’s side. Your player character also gains experience and unlocks abilities, the only one I’ve seen so far shoots a spear at a random enemy.

The campaign map is rather large and I’ve completed 25 or so levels. Most are pretty straightforward, but occasionally you’ll come across a boss fight, and those are a little more challenging. You’ll also eventually open up other Match-3 mechanics, like making t-shapes, squares and horizontal matches that produce different effects. They have been pretty good at keeping things simple and adding new mechanics sporadically so people who have never played this sort of game should be able to adapt quickly.

Of course being a mobile game, there’s a cash shop. Hell, these days it doesn’t matter if it’s even a mobile game, there’s usually some form of microtransactions so we’re used to this. It doesn’t seem necessary to buy anything, but I guess if you enjoy the game and want to throw the devs some coin there’s nothing wrong with that. There are chests, gems and gold to buy so similar to what you’d expect out of other games (Clash Royale offers the same sort of thing). There are also daily quests that are easy enough to complete and give you gold/xp and chests. A daily login bonus usually provides the creature gems and upgrade dust (used to level up the beasts’ abilities). There is also a guild feature. I joined a random one and am not sure of the benefits as of yet. There is a gold donation option which looks to give all clan members bonus stats, and there are guild boss fights but I’m not high enough level to participate just yet.

This would probably be enough to keep the game interesting, but King went ahead and added additional layers. At a certain point you open up the “Treasure Caves” which is a zone that is filled with jars and coffers that contain loot. You make the matches and attack those containers to break them open and grab the goodies inside. No challenge, but a nice way to level things up, though you can only do so a couple of times a day. There is a whole screen full of other game modes that are fairly self explanatory but don’t unlock until a higher level. I’m sitting at level 5 at the moment and am about half way through the first campaign, so I’ll get to these bits eventually. I’ve been liking having additional games to play on my phone outside of Clash Royale, and am surprised that I found something else that has kept my attention. I’d recommend it if you like Match-3 games, it’s quick and fun!

Thoughts on The Banner Saga 3

I’m not a huge Crowdfunding/Early Access fan, but I have participated in both gaming ideas. I’ve purchased somewhere in the ballpark of a dozen Early Access games, and have seen most of those actually make it to a released state (whether or not I actually kept playing it that long). In that sort of light, Early Access sounds pretty great despite the fact that you can find plenty of terrible tales about money hungry devs that don’t finish their work. On the other side of the coin, I’ve only participated in Crowdfunding twice, using Kickstarter to back the upcoming MMO Crowfall, along with the title we’re talking about today, The Banner Saga 3.

The first two games in this series, created by indie devs Stoic Games, were also Crowdfunded, and though I bought and played through both of them, I missed out on being able to back them, so I rectified that this time around. I backed the game back in 2016 I believe it was, and it has finally released!

I started up the final chapter of the journey the other day, and I’ve already enjoyed it thoroughly. Your mileage may vary. I said it best on Twitter:

That’s really all that can be said. The game still has amazing hand drawn art, it still plays like The Oregon Trail. There are still choices, there’s still tactical combat in between the lulls in action. And the story is still intriguing and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends. But if you didn’t care for the original nothing has really changed so you should probably skip it. Here’s some screens of my initial session, which could contain some spoilers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you are a fan of the series, The Banner Saga 3 is on sale now on PC and Console. It’s totally worth the asking price!