Thoughts on X-Com: Chimera Squad

XCOM: Chimera Squad isn’t the next entry in the main XCOM series, which dates back to the early 1990’s. This means two things: it’s not a full priced $60 game, and it’s not as in-depth as a game in the main series. What some might call “XCOM Lite” or a mobile version of the game, I would argue has a surprising amount of things to do and still manages to keep you engaged for hours at a time. For those of you unfamiliar with XCOM, it was a grand strategy game from the 20th century in which you as the leader of the XCOM program, lead Earth’s defense against alien forces. A few sequels were produced, until eventually the series was rebooted in 2012 with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This title would later receive an expansion update, XCOM: Enemy Within which added new elements to the same formula. That same year there would be a spin-off title called The Bureau: XCOM Declassified which attempted to take the series in a different direction, and wasn’t as universally loved as the main series. Falling back onto known successful strategies, XCOM 2 would release in 2016 and the series would return to greatness along with receiving a bunch of updates and the full expansion XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. I would say that Chimera Squad falls somewhere between a spin-off in the same way as The Bureau, and a full XCOM title because the game is not too far off from the main series in terms of gameplay and also carries on the story from the two games that are part of last decade’s reboots.

Looking at the screenshots above, you wouldn’t think this wasn’t a part of the main XCOM series, and to a degree you’d be correct. The combat system present in Chimera Squad is familiar to anyone who has played these games in the past. This style of tactical combat is somewhat standard form in other genres as well, so you should feel at home with the mechanics right away. Where some differences emerge is in the new “breach” system, and the addition of encounters. Each mission will consist of 1-3 encounters in which your same squad will have to fight and survive til the end, along with completing other sub tasks as needed. Each mission starts with a breach, where you can arrange your squad in order of entry along with selecting differing entry points depending on your squad makeup. For example, if you have someone with a breach charge equipped, certain walls can be blown up to gain breach bonuses while one particular agent you can recruit has the ability to enter through vents. Otherwise, you’re pretty much playing as you would expect, and after missions end you return to HQ, much like you would in the main series.

HQ is probably the biggest change that makes this game feel like “XCOM Lite.” Instead of having a sprawling base and some options to customize, you’ll have what equates to a police station. Your crew of agents hang out in the locker room where you can equip them with new gear that’s found via missions or built by you. Research takes place, and takes days to complete, but will open up new options for your agents. You can buy stuff from a black market. You’ll spend most of your time looking at the city screen, where you essentially monitor the happiness of each borough. If people are scared/pissed, there will be anarchy, which equates to a new mission you have to complete in order to lower the angst. If too much angst happens all over the city, it’s game over. You do have tools to deal with this though, where you can send teams to each zone and have them do stuff to lower the overall terror level. Upgrading them provides you with abilities to automatically lower terror or freeze the level where it is so it won’t raise for a while. These abilities are on long cool downs though so you’ll have to use them wisely. There are different missions that advance the story, but you’ll have to wait days for an investigation to end so that you can properly enter that mission and progress. In the meantime, you’ll be trying to maintain order by doing side missions in different areas. It appears that there are different factions and though you can only choose one to focus on, I’m unsure if you end up investigating them all or just one per game session. Whatever the case I didn’t quite finish the investigation I am on at this point, so I can’t say exactly how a game is completed.

Though there is voice acting there wasn’t much time put into the story that brings everything together. Most story bits are told through cartoon like stills and barely animated sequences, though there is more dialogue and what have you during combat missions and in HQ as well. The overall story carries on from the 2012 reboot to now. In that first game, Earth was being attacked by aliens. In the sequel, the aliens had overtaken Earth and the last vestiges of humanity were working together to take Earth back. This continues from there, where essentially the war ended, much of the alien forces left, much of humanity was killed off, and the remaining humans and aliens have attempted to create a unified civilization. It seems to be working, but there are various factions of aliens and humans that are against unity and that’s the stuff we’re around to squash.

Overall I think the story fits well enough in the context of this universe and the gameplay is reflective of the series while being easier to just jump in and go. It really is a “lite” version of a game we already know but it somehow works. It’s also a very attractive price point if you are itching to play XCOM but can’t bring yourself to fire up the older games. At $20, you really can’t go wrong. Just don’t expect the same epic overtones as the originals.

New & Noteworthy: Wargroove

It’s rare these days when I get a game right as it releases (or at least this close to release). I suppose it should be noted that I didn’t actually purchase this one though, instead it was gifted to me by my father. He was congratulating me on my new job, which *side note* I’m starting tomorrow with an orientation at 8 am. So first of all, thanks Dad!

Wargroove is a game that I didn’t see coming. I happened upon it in the Steam discovery queue, and it was reminiscent of many old-school turn-based RPGs from years past. I added it to my wishlist and that was going to be that until later on when I had disposable income to check it out. Looking it over, I was instantly reminded of the Shining Force series, but most reviewers of the game hearkened it to Advance Wars — a series I’m familiar with but never played. There’s also elements that feel familiar to Langrisser (Warsong) of which I covered recentlyWargroove is a top-down tactical RPG created in-house by Chucklefish Games, whom you might know as the creators of Starbound, and also the publisher of Stardew Valley and a cool rogue-lite I played years ago called Risk of Rain. The one similarity all of these games have is a pixel-art graphic style, but that’s where the sameness ends.

The game opens with a short tutorial that explains a bit of what’s going on under the hood, along with a prelude to the storyline. You’ll start off as one of the evil characters heading to take care of the king of this land. Story bits happen in cut scenes that are layered over the top of the gameplay map, as is combat, done in an animation style that I adore. Your unit(s) will appear on one side of the screen, with enemy unit(s) on the other, and your unit(s) will cross over the middle border to attack and vice versa. A single unit on the map can represent multiple units though, which is mostly conveyed through their health bar. You can get an over view of the map to make strategic decisions, and also click on units or the map terrain itself for more information.

There seems to be a bunch of complexity here but it’s really rather simple. Some units do better against others, and weak to others still. Some terrain will benefit you, and some will slow you down along with lowering your defenses. Later missions introduce buildings that you can capture by first lowering their health to zero and then using the appropriate unit to claim them. You’ll also eventually get barracks and other buildings that allow you to purchase units once per turn. The story continues, and with your father being dead, you (the princess — now queen) must lead your people against the oncoming evil. Sounds pretty similar to most fantasy tales, no? You will end up being able to control other heroes, and your heroes themselves have what they call a “groove” which is essentially a hero power that can turn the tide of battle. Our queen can heal units in a small area. Another hero of this faction can lay down a stone that grants units within a small area a defensive boost. It’s all pretty straightforward when you get used to it.

Outside of the main campaign, there are a few other things you can do. There is a multiplayer option where you can play against friends. You can play Arcade, which essentially is a death match on a map with plentiful resources and you’ll progress through various bosses to complete it. There is also a map/campaign maker, and it’s fairly easy to use. I threw together the above map in under 5 minutes with minimal effort, and it appears that you could create some cool stuff if you wanted to go down that route. This gives the game near infinite replay-ability. There is also a puzzle mode that I have yet to unlock, but I’ve only played the game for a handful of hours.

It appears that the devs haven’t quite called the game done yet either. There is a post on the dev blog that tells us what we can expect in the future, from bug fixes to additional content updates and DLC. The main complaint I’m seeing around the interwebs is that the factions aren’t defined enough, and having played a bit I can see why there is this criticism. Indeed, your Pikeman will behave identically to the enemy’s spearman but will have a different skin to identify it. Essentially all units in the game are identical, so you’ll be seeing the same things over and over. Thankfully there is quite a bit of variety between units, just not between the factions outside of their heroes. Still, I have enjoyed the game and think you will too if you’re into this type of game. Perhaps future patches will add some new units to switch things up a bit. Either way, I adore this game so far and am thankful to have the opportunity to play it! Wargroove is available now everywhere besides Playstation 4, but that’s coming “soon.”

Early Impressions: Langrisser Mobile

A while back, I saw a “new” game that was coming to mobile devices and pre-registered for it. The game in question was Langrisser, and for some reason or another it looked familiar to me, despite not having any memories of playing a game by that name before. After digging around and doing a bit of research, it turns out that I had played a game in the Langrisser series, but as things were back in the 1990’s, many games that released in the West that were developed in the East were put out under different names. In Japan, Langrisser was a series that saw many iterations and wouldn’t have been something many of us would have played. In the US, one of the games in the series was renamed Warsong and released for the Sega Genesis in 1991. I once wrote a post about 25 of my favorite Genesis games and this actually should have made that list, but did not. Whatever the case, we’re now getting a mobile revision of this 90’s JRPG series that hasn’t seen a new title since then, outside of re-releases. It’s unclear if this new mobile version is a remaster of one of the titles or a whole new spinoff, but it is instantly recognizable once you dive into the game.

What appealed to me most was the fact that it is a turn-based strategy RPG, or tactical RPG depending on how you like to word things. In the same vein as games like Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics (and honestly, much like Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series), this is an RPG where your battles take place on a grid and you move and attack/use abilities accordingly. I haven’t played too far into the game’s main story, and there are clearly features that won’t unlock until I’m a higher level, but I wanted to give my initial impressions, because the game is hot off the press — it released this week.

Despite having its similarities to the other game series I’ve mentioned above, Langrisser sets itself apart in its combat system. You’ll still move about on a grid and when you do attack an enemy you’ll get pre-combat information about them, but instead of your units being individuals, they are a hero unit along with a battalion of soliders. The heroes themselves have special abilities and stats, but their units will also do the attacking when you do, so as you take damage the graphical representation is via your health bar and the amount of soldiers fighting along side of you. This is unique to this series, as other games typically focus on just the hero itself, regardless of if there is an animated cut scene for combat, or if it occurs right there on the battlefield. In this sense, it hearkens back to my youth and memory, but this version of the game is polished and pretty. Go ahead and search for Warsong gameplay on YouTube and you’ll see the vast improvement.

Many other RPGs have had the concept of various unit types being strong and weak against enemy types, so that’s nothing new but I thought I would highlight it anyway because it’s nice to see a little complexity in a mobile title. I played Fire Emblem Heroes a bit when it released and though it shared some design concepts, I didn’t end up sticking with it. So far, this game feels better and has some depth.

After completing a short tutorial, you’ll head to the world map and then a ton of other options start to open up for you. There are missions, events, and other ways to earn resources to do things. What all of the resources do, I don’t know just yet. I also can’t access features like training, bonds or the guilds, so I’ll have to get back to you on those. What I can say is that I appreciate the art direction, I feel the game runs great and I love tactical RPGs so it’s got a lot going for it. There are various currencies and I don’t know what all of those do just yet either, but there is a real world money component, and I’m not sure how pervasive or abusive it might be. To this point I’ve been able to play without feeling the need to spend any money, and that’s a good thing.

One feature that is very much like Fire Emblem Heroes and other Gacha games, is the summon mechanic. I’ve earned several of the tickets needed to summon various heroes of various rarities, but it’s unclear how they are used otherwise. I’m sure there are other tutorial sessions that just haven’t popped up yet for me, and I’m sure there’s either a way to expand your party with these heroes or to do some sort of PvP thing with them. Whatever the case, they are there and we’ll see how that goes.

As I said, I just wanted to give some early impressions, and so far they are good. I enjoy the combat and the mechanics to this point. I’ll report back when I know more. I’d recommend trying it out if you are a fan of this style of game, but otherwise you should probably pass. It’s nothing overly original but it is a fun little time waster.

Thoughts on Stormbound

My mobile game kick continues this month with another title I’ve found quite likable: Stormbound — developed by Paladin Studios and published by Kongregate (which has hosted a ton of these bite-sized indie games over the years). This particular title grabbed my attention because it features some deckbuilding but also has some turn-based strategy mixed in. These sort of hybrid genres have been becoming more commonplace, but it takes the right mixture of elements to keep things engaging, and Stormbound manages to pull this off. You’ll start the game with a tutorial that explains the basics.

The battlefield is pictured above. This grid is where all the action takes place. Your base is the bottom triangle with the 10 on it, while the enemy’s base is the top triangle. Your goal is to summon creatures on your side of the battlefield and have them make the journey to the enemy’s base, eventually entering and destroying it. Your minions (and spells) come from cards, and you’ll only have a few when you start off. As you beat the tutorial and the game’s campaign levels, you’ll open more cards from different factions and be able customize your deck. Each minion will have different strength (number on the left of the card) and movement (on the right). Some have other abilities that trigger based on certain game states, like doing 2 damage to an adjacent enemy or giving strength to a friendly. The strength of a unit is represented by the number of soldiers that occupy that unit’s square, while the movement stat applies the turn you play the card: if it says 1, then the unit will immediately move to the square ahead of it, attacking enemies too if they happen to be there.

After the tutorial the campaign lies in wait to be tackled. There are four factions consisting of four levels each, so it’s not a very lengthy campaign, but each level you beat will give you some additional cards. After that, it’s up to you to battle against other players and finish daily quests to earn gold to buy more cards. Of course, this means there are microtransactions as well, but they don’t seem to be necessary to win some matches and make some progress.

Gold is the earned in-game currency, while rubies are the RMT. You can buy some single cards and books (essentially packs) for gold, and other options require the rubies but it doesn’t seem too exploitative. I don’t intend to spend any money on it, but it’s still something I like to cover when I talk about mobile titles.

At this point I’ve opened up a handful of cards from each of the factions, beaten a couple of the campaign chapters, and won a couple of PvP fights. Each faction has some uniqueness to them, but they feel fairly balanced. I haven’t done much with the initial deck given, as I don’t have enough faction cards to devote to just one. It’s unclear how much you can mix and match between them either. In the campaign I’ve used nothing but the neutral cards that I’ve opened up, and of course you only face one faction at a time so there aren’t cards from other factions mixed in from what I can tell. Perhaps you can use a mix of neutral and faction cards, but it’s not likely that you can use multiple factions at once. Either way, I’ll find what works and stick with it.

At this point I’m still in the learning stages, but I have enjoyed the gameplay enough to keep going. I’m surprised because usually I can’t find mobile games that appeal to me on a long term — in the past couple of years I’ve only really played Clash Royale, but now I’ve got four titles I’m playing simultaneously and daily. Either that means the quality of mobile games has improved lately, or maybe I’m just finally giving them a chance. Whatever the case I’m glad to have found a few titles that I take with me everywhere I go.

The Banner Saga: Series Complete

The Saga has been completed. I started the game the day or day after it released, and I finished it up on Saturday evening. Having played all three and imported my saves throughout, it was a sweeping tale that was personalized for me due to choices I made while playing. I must say I rather enjoyed it, and will be sad to not have another to play in a couple of years.

I ran through the first game back in 2014, after hearing about it via Keen & Graev, though I didn’t provide much in the way of description or screenshots.

I beat The Banner Saga. Apparently there’s more than one ending though, so I’m interested to do another play through, but not right at the moment. My ending saw Rook’s daughter getting killed by Bellower, and us sending her off on a raft in a Viking-appropriate burial at sea. The abrupt ending didn’t really have much of an explanation, though I read somewhere that this is the first in a series, so perhaps more will make sense later. Either way, it was a fun game and I’d recommend it.

Things changed by the time I got around to the sequel in 2016, I was definitely more mindful of taking an abundance of screenshots to chronicle my journey here on the blog. You’ll have to visit that post for a recap of sorts, though I hadn’t finished the game to that point. I didn’t make a followup post, just mentioned beating it later on that year. At this point, having completed the trilogy, I’ve got a ton of spoiler filled screens in the gallery below. You should probably avoid those if you are planning to play the game yourself, but I’d be interested to hear about differences in your story. I know that in the first game either Alette or Rook die, so I assume in this last game that survivor will be in place to meet their end as well. I’m sure other variables exist, I know I was earning achievements based on certain things. I believe being a Kickstarter backer or buying the at release DLC provided you with some amazing allies that you wouldn’t normally have, and they helped me complete the game so quickly (and with minimal losses).

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As I said before about this game, and its predecessors, its more of the same, but it is a good same. I loved playing through this title, but the only thing that was a bit disappointing was the amount of questions I have now that it is done. The end was rather abrupt and left us hanging. Its clear that things didn’t go as you would have hoped, and yet there was a sense of finality to it. I guess it just wasn’t the ending I expected, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different. I’d still recommend this trilogy to anyone who asked, it’s worth the asking price and I’m sure it will be bundled up nicely soon enough if you’ve never tried any of them.