Roguelike Tagged Articles RSS Feed | GameSkinny.com Roguelike RSS Feed on GameSkinny.com https://www.gameskinny.com/ en Launch Media Network Risk of Rain Returns Announced for 2023 Release https://www.gameskinny.com/hmkvd/risk-of-rain-returns-announced-for-2023-release https://www.gameskinny.com/hmkvd/risk-of-rain-returns-announced-for-2023-release Tue, 20 Dec 2022 18:00:22 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Gearbox Publishing and developer Hopoo Games are remaking the original Risk of Rain, it has been announced. A complete rebuild of the popular 2013 roguelike, the appropriately titled Risk of Rain Returns brings a number of enhancements and improvements to the formula, many of which were gleaned from the development of 2019's Risk of Rain 2. It will release on PC and Nintendo Switch in 2023. 

Though Risk of Rain Returns will remain "a 2D multiplayer action platformer with roguelike elements," according to the developers, HD pixel art will replace the old assets, and fans can expect to hear new tunes – alongside unspecified, enhanced original tracks – from composer Chris Christodoulou. 

Hopoo also confirmed that there will be new enemies to fight, new weapons to wield ("some returning from RoR2"), new items to interact with, and new "stage variants" to shoot, blast, and slash your way through. Perhaps most exciting is the inclusion of 15 survivors, two of which are new, and the additional abilities and items that unlock new gameplay possibilities and potential loadouts. 

As has been the case across the franchise, Risk of Rain Returns will still allow you to play alone or with a group of friends. The remake will have integrated Steam multiplayer at launch, and 1-4 players will be possible both online and via a single system on Nintendo Switch per the game's eShop listing. Additionally, a new code base will be implemented, something for returning Risk of Rain players to be aware of. 

There's still a lot we don't know about Risk of Rain Returns, but Gearbox and Hopoo released a swanky new trailer alongside the announcement, which can be seen above. The game can be wishlisted both on Steam and Nintendo Switch. 

Featured image via Hopoo Games.

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Rogue Legacy 2: The Same But Better https://www.gameskinny.com/t802d/rogue-legacy-2-the-same-but-better https://www.gameskinny.com/t802d/rogue-legacy-2-the-same-but-better Thu, 12 May 2022 15:50:34 -0400 Nathan P. Gibson

Rogue Legacy quickly became one of the biggest indie hits of the decade when it was released in 2013. Cellar Door Games' roguelike paved the way for other games like The Binding of Isaac. So when a sequel was announced, it was much anticipated by many. Rogue Legacy 2 launched in Early Access in 2020 and has now seen a full release for PC and Xbox platforms. 

The first game sees you play a character with random traits and abilities, traversing a dungeon that shifts with every run. Every time you die, you can choose between three new heirs to carry on the journey, although these undoubtedly have different skills or disadvantages. It makes every attempt at beating the game a very different experience and keeps the gameplay feeling fresh. 

Rogue Legacy 2 is a continuation of this basic concept rather than a revolutionary step in a completely new direction. That’s great news for those who love its predecessor, but Rogue Legacy 2 has to prove that half-step is worthwhile. Fortunately, it manages to do so (for the most part) and does more than enough to justify itself in a crowded roguelike market.

Rogue Legacy Review: The Same But Better

The most basic gameplay in Rogue Legacy 2 will be familiar to anyone who played the original release. You again assume control of a hero who battles through a procedurally generated dungeon full of enemies. You collect treasure and explore the different areas along the way.

The goal is largely the same as well: defeat a series of bosses to unlock a door that leads to the final boss. You can again use gold accumulated during each run to unlock permanent upgrades, slowly improving heirs for subsequent runs.

You should expect to fail  fail a lot. Rogue Legacy 2 is not designed for you to quickly blast through the entire dungeon and reach the final boss as quickly as possible. Everything is out to kill you, whether it’s the horde of enemies, the pitfalls, or the traps that lie around every corner. Progress can be painfully slow at times, with dying just a few rooms into the first area being common. 

Yet there’s always a sense of progress when playing. Rogue Legacy 2 has the uncanny knack of never causing any frustration. Sure, you might die quickly, but you can spend gold to improve your stats every time you get back to the hub. There’s no huge leap in terms of abilities, but the little improvements quickly add up and give you more and more confidence to tackle more formidable enemies and new locations.

The number of upgrades available might seem overwhelming at first, though they add some interesting new ways to improve and are pretty easy to understand. 

Rogue Legacy 2 also gives its heroes both positive and negative traits like the first game. Gigantism makes you a much bigger target and can make it challenging to navigate tighter spaces, while vampirism provides some healing with every attack. This time around, there are lots of new traits, and all of them either give some advantage or drawback, although even the negative traits come with a gold boost to make them worthwhile.

So while Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for example, might make fighting much harder because of the cooldown for attacks, it might be a good trade if you want to get a quick source of cash.

Similarly, there’s a greater range of classes to choose from. The sequel has 15 different types of heroes to unlock, and some of the new ones that have been added to the fray really mix things up. There’s now a ranger that can shoot arrows, a chef that can brew meals to heal themselves (and has a frying pan to deflect projectiles), a samurai-like ronin class, and a boxer. The variety of classes is one of the best features of Rogue Legacy 2, and the game rewards you for experimenting and trying out classes you might have reservations about at first.

Perhaps the most significant change in Rogue Legacy 2 is the inclusion of a spin kick. Platforming has been given a greater role in the sequel, and the spin kick is essential. It allows you to bounce off enemies and obstacles without taking damage, opening up new ways to move around. Mastering the spin kick is important to avoid damage and reach areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Feeding into this are the hidden heirlooms scattered in each of the seven areas. These provide you with new special abilities that are permanently unlocked. One of the first is the ability to dash while in the air; others let you double jump or use the spin kick on incorporeal items. Unlocking them often involves taking part in a difficult platforming challenge, putting everything you have learned to the test, adding yet another dimension to the game. 

One of the best additions is a new host of options known as House Rules. These allow you to shake up some of the mechanics. They can involve relatively simple things like reducing enemy attacks or increasing strength to more complex changes that can turn off contact damage when you run into monsters and make platforming easier through a flight toggle.

While experienced players will likely not touch House Rules that much, it's a great accessibility tool for those who are not as confident or familiar with roguelikes, ensuring people of all skill levels can find some enjoyment from Rogue Legacy 2

Rogue Legacy 2 is a vast improvement in presentation over its predecessor. While it has a similar style, the pixelated graphics of the original are thrown aside for a more pleasing hand-drawn look. This has given the developer more scope for exploring traits such as Synesthesia, which shoots vibrant colors onto the screen. It also allows the more varied locations to shine and be more distinctive; each area has its own atmosphere. The new art style is certainly a big improvement in that respect. 

Rogue Legacy 2 Review — The Bottom Line

Pros
  • The same great gameplay with lots of improvements and additions.
  • Great art style that ditches the pixelated visuals.
  • Bigger variations in classes, traits, and abilities.
  • House rules and new game mechanics are welcome inclusions.
Cons
  • No way to look back at what each hero achieved.
  • Some things are not explained perfectly.

Ultimately, anyone who played and enjoyed the original Rogue Legacy is going to love this sequel just as much if not more. Everything that made the first game so great is here, though it is all bigger and better than ever before.

With a host of new classes, traits, and abilities along with some welcome changes to gameplay mechanics, Rogue Legacy 2 is everything you'd want in a sequel and one of the best roguelikes available. 

[Note: Cellar Door Games provided the copy of Rogue Legacy 2 used for this review.]

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Conan Chop Chop Review: An Adventure of Highs and Lows https://www.gameskinny.com/toe0r/conan-chop-chop-review-an-adventure-of-highs-and-lows https://www.gameskinny.com/toe0r/conan-chop-chop-review-an-adventure-of-highs-and-lows Thu, 10 Mar 2022 12:14:07 -0500 Joshua Robin

After the surprise success of Conan Exiles, the Conan the Barbarian series has returned to the realm of video games with Conan Chop Chop. This entry, developed by Mighty Kingdom, is a 2D roguelike with a comedic tone, set up from the beginning by an introductory cutscene with a few charming, if not obvious, jokes.

That lighthearted throughline continues with the art style. It's reminiscent of the same style used by the webcomic Cyanide and Happiness, where each character has stick figure arms and legs but blocky torsos and heads. Playing Conan Chop Chop looks like you’re hacking and slashing your way through a Conan-themed version of the comic strip.

Despite being derivative everything looks nice and is readable. Enemies are always visible, and it’s clear when they’re about to attack. Similar to the visuals, the music is enjoyable as well, fading into the background and swelling when needed to give the sense of adventure through exploration and combat.

Beyond that, Conan Chop Chop is an adventure of highs and lows that feels like a game running in place. Its characters serve it well and combat is fun when it works, but other parts still need some work.

Conan Chop Chop Review: An Adventure of Highs and Lows

The story begins with Thoth-Amon failing to fully revive Xaltotun. Thoth’s ritual only restores half of Xaltotun, so he concocts a plan to start a competition of strength that will lure Conan and friends to their lair. Once the heroes arrive, Thoth-Amon plans to use one of their bodies to completely revive Xaltotun.

To reach Thoth-Amon's lair, you, and potentially up to three co-op partners, travel through the world of Hyboria exploring forests, deserts, tundras, and a volcano. Each area is made up of challenge rooms strung together, where entering one room locks you into that room until all enemies are defeated.

Once the enemies are gone, there are (most likely) multiple routes to choose from. Only one route leads to the area’s dungeon and the boss. Mighty Kingdom graciously marks the dungeon route by highlighting it a different color, so if you want to head straight to the boss, you can.

Hyboria itself is randomly generated. Starting a new run remixes everything from the route to the dungeon, the challenge rooms along the way, and all the loot found in those rooms, though it never truly changes how you play. Each of the enemy rooms never asks you to play differently or looks all that different from other rooms. There are different enemies with mildly different attack patterns, but they can all be finished the same way; whether an enemy attacks once or in a two-hit combo doesn't really matter. So a greater variety in enemy types would have lessened that feeling of familiarity.

The lack of enemy variety is especially disappointing since combat is interesting. Conan Chop Chop plays like a twin-stick brawler where melee attacks are bound on the right analog stick. Holding that stick in any direction has your character attack repeatedly in that direction. The combat is very aggressive with a focus on effective movement. Using your three tools — a shield, a roll, and an i-frame ultimate ability — to dodge enemy attacks while also pumping out constant damage is very satisfying. 

The four playable characters all have unique strengths that rely on their various abilities. Conan and Valeria both favor swords, but Valeria is more focused on moving around the battlefield with a large number of dashes while Conan focuses more on getting close to enemies. Pallantides is the slowest character, who depends more on parrying. Bêlit makes the most use of bows and is focused on constant movement to keep distance.

Each character manages to feel unique despite having the same tools at their disposal. Unfortunately, after multiple runs of the same structure and with the same character abilities, things still feel repetitive.

This feeling of repetition is alleviated somewhat by Conan Chop Chop's loot and progression systems. You can level up your characters with experience points gained in each run. After a run ends, your level increases and earns you points to be spent on intrinsic buffs or new skills.

These change how each character interacts with the battlefield and enemies. Bêlit gains increased movement speed after doing damage with her bow, for example. These buffs are all permanent across every run once unlocked, giving a sense of progress between runs. 

The loot found in chests or purchased in town can be one of four categories: Charms, Weapons, Armor, or Shields. These all have different stats and attributes that change how you might approach combat. A specific shield will spawn fire tornados by parrying or a certain charm can let you spawn allies by using your bow. These have the chance to create micro-adjustments that ask you to try parrying or using the bow more, but the amount these attributes change the flow of combat is pretty low. Generally, success comes from using all the tools at your disposal, not just one.

Conan Chop Chop already has playerbase problems. It heavily emphasizes its co-op nature from the character selection screen, from always showing slots for other players to a few charms only being viable in a party. Unfortunately, multiplayer isn't really an option. People aren’t using online matchmaking.

Even in what should be peak hours, there were too many times I went online trying to find another player and just found nothing. When I did find someone to actually test the online multiplayer, it worked well. Performance was solid. Gold picked up by one player earns gold for the whole party. Enemy health is scaled to the number of players. Players can still start Chop Chop solo; however, playing it that way feels like a four-course meal missing a course.

Conan Chop Chop Review — The Bottom Line

Pros:

  • Each character feels unique.
  • Combat is satisfying when everything clicks.
  • Art style and writing work well together to create a lighthearted tone.

Cons:

  • Online matchmaking playerbase is low.
  • Loot doesn’t affect gameplay enough
  • Fighting the same enemies becomes repetitive.

Conan Chop Chop is a conflicting game to play. For every clever or charming idea, there’s another idea that doesn't pan out or isn't implemented ideally, making the whole experience uneven. That, combined with multiplayer mostly being an option only if you know people already playing, makes Conan Chop Chop more disappointing than fun.

[Note: Mighty Kingdom provided the copy of Conan Chop Chop used for this review.]

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Risk of Rain 2: Survivors of the Void Bringing Second New Survivor https://www.gameskinny.com/mdipq/risk-of-rain-2-survivors-of-the-void-bringing-second-new-survivor https://www.gameskinny.com/mdipq/risk-of-rain-2-survivors-of-the-void-bringing-second-new-survivor Tue, 15 Feb 2022 16:51:54 -0500 Ashley Shankle

We're getting ever closer to the release of Risk of Rain 2: Survivors of the Void on March 1. Fans of the roguelite have a lot to look forward to with the expansion, which will undoubtedly add some much-needed variety to runs for those who have already dumped hundreds of hours into RoR2. (cough)

Survivors of the Void promises to bring 40 new items to the table to give some real build variety, along with five new stages, new enemies, and an alternate end boss that will surely be more interesting than fighting Mithrix. Because nobody — nobody — likes Mithrix or the base game's final stage.

Along with all of the above are the new Railgunner survivor, who will bring a kit akin to the Sniper from the first Risk of Rain, and the newly announced Void Fiend. Both will offer high risk and dynamic gameplay, for the chance to dole out some serious damage and feel like a total badass in the process.


The Railgunner being unable to fire for a short time after using her biggest damage-dealing shot and the Void Fiend being able to swap forms once overflowing with corruption both sound and look like interesting mechanics to add some extra spice to an already brutal game.

Along with the Void Field reveal is the announcement that Risk of Rain 2: Survivors of the Void will be releasing on the Epic Game Store at the same time as it releases on Steam.

There's so much to look forward to in Survivors of the Void that even someone like me with over 400 hours in the base game is absolutely vibrating in excitement! What are you looking forward to most in the Risk of Rain 2 expansion? Let us know in the comments below, and look for Risk of Rain 2: Survivors of the Void on March 1 on PC and in the second quarter of the year on console platforms.

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Fellowship of the Ping: Children of Morta Online Co-Op Update Arrives https://www.gameskinny.com/ehfmh/fellowship-of-the-ping-children-of-morta-online-co-op-update-arrives https://www.gameskinny.com/ehfmh/fellowship-of-the-ping-children-of-morta-online-co-op-update-arrives Mon, 14 Feb 2022 19:33:13 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Children of Morta has seen a treasure trove of updates since it was released in the latter part of 2019. New characters, new quests, and new modes have been brought into the family, while New Game+ and the Paws and Claws DLC have expanded on the game's original foundation in meaningful ways.

While Children of Morta lets you and your family members and friends team up in local multiplayer, online co-op has always been a big request from the community. After all, it's been part of the development roadmap since plans were first shared in December 2019.

Now, it's finally arrived — for some players at least.

The latest Children of Morta update, Fellowship of the Sanctuary, is free and adds two-player online co-op to the Steam version of the game. The Good Old Games version and those for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One still don't have it. Yet. Dead Mage said it's "hard at work" on those updates, though there's currently no time frame for when they might arrive.

Fellowship of the Sanctuary comes alongside a Steam free-to-play period from February 14 at 1 p.m. EST to February 18 at the same time. A Steam sale between those dates also discounts the game by 60% and its DLCs by 25%. 

Those who still haven't played Children of Morta should take the opportunity to join the Bergson family as they hack and slash their way through corrupted baddies attempting to overtake Mount Morta. In our review, we said that "Children of Morta is a standout roguelike RPG with a solid central hook, satisfying gameplay, and gorgeous art style all piled on top of huge replay value."

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Risk of Rain 2: Survivors of the Void Releasing with Railgunner https://www.gameskinny.com/a2ydl/risk-of-rain-2-survivors-of-the-void-releasing-with-railgunner https://www.gameskinny.com/a2ydl/risk-of-rain-2-survivors-of-the-void-releasing-with-railgunner Mon, 31 Jan 2022 13:01:32 -0500 Ashley Shankle

The survivor roster in Risk of Rain 2 is about to get a little bigger with the upcoming Survivors of the Void expansion. New items, maps, and gameplay elements are coming along with the new Railgunner survivor.

Reminiscent of the Sniper from the original Risk of Rain, the Railgunner boasts an M99 Sniper that switches the player's perspective to first-person for ridiculously powerful shots to targets.

To stay safe, the Railgunner brings two abilities to the table to move herself to safety or to keep enemies at bay; though the real tastiness of her kit lies in Supercharge, which overloads her railgun and boosts her damage to insane heights — at the cost of being unable to fire her M99 for five seconds.

Survivors of the Void will be bringing a lot more with it than the new Railgunner survivor. A whole list of new enemies, including deadly void enemies, at least one new map, new items, and new features will come with the expansion.

We won't have to wait long to play the next evolution in Hopoo's Risk of Rain 2, at least on PC. Survivors of the Void is scheduled to release on March 1 on Steam, giving us a mere month to hone our skills to prep for the new challenges coming in the expansion.

Those who play on console will have to be patient to get their hands on Survivors of the Void, though, as the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Stadia ports of the game will be receiving the expansion sometime in the second quarter of the year.

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Into the Pit Review: Rocket to the Crypt https://www.gameskinny.com/7ej2b/into-the-pit-review-rocket-to-the-crypt https://www.gameskinny.com/7ej2b/into-the-pit-review-rocket-to-the-crypt Thu, 11 Nov 2021 11:18:06 -0500 Thomas Wilde

I can't deny that Into the Pit makes a good first impression. It's got all the ingredients for a solid '90s-style first-person shooter: it moves fast, the soundtrack's loud and bass-heavy, and it's metal as hell. The enemies are horrific monsters that burst pleasingly when killed, like jam sandwiches in a record press, and are varied enough to keep you guessing.

It doesn't take that long for Into the Pit to wear out its welcome, though. It's an interesting experiment, and I would absolutely play a more structured, traditional first-person shooter made by the same team, but it gets obnoxious fast. It's an attempt to blend FPS action with roguelike mechanics, but the latter ends up watering down the former.

Into the Pit Review: Rocket to the Crypt

You play as a nameless traveler, who comes to an equally nameless village in search of your cousin Luridia. Both she and you are members of a family of occultists, always on the hunt for arcane lore and forbidden power, but Luridia's letters stopped coming as soon as she found this village.

When you arrive, you find the village's population is down to a relative handful of scared idiots hiding behind locked doors. The rest, including Luridia, have been lost to a demonic labyrinth, the Pit, that's opened beneath the town. Armed with a handful of spells from the village's rune-carver, you follow them in.

The good news is that magic is much easier to use in the Pit. You get to pick up to two spells, one bound to each hand, which are effectively wizard guns: you've got an AR-15 with burst-fire, a grenade launcher, a high-caliber hand cannon, a sniper rifle, and so on. The spell that works like a shotgun is actually called "The Shotgun." The developers knew what they were about.

Those wizard guns are what keep you alive as you explore the randomized rooms within the Pit. Each room is a monster closet, full of keystones to destroy, demons to fight, and resources to collect. Destroy enough keystones, and you'll eventually unlock the path to go deeper into the current dungeon.

Part of the ritual that opens the Pit involves the use of at least one gem, which determines which area within the Pit you'll visit on a run, such as a rotting swamp, haunted forest, or standard stone labyrinth. Each of those areas has a few villagers of its own for you to rescue, and the more of them you find, the more services become available back at the village.

One neat rule is that once you have more than one gem, you can install a couple at once to open up a new dungeon that fuses together two of the others, mixing up their monsters and architecture.

Now the harbor isn't just rusty, disgusting, and full of homicidal crabs; it's also poisonous. The swamp harbor still has a few villagers to rescue inside it, though, so you have to go no matter how bad an idea it is.

Each time you clear a room, you're offered a shot at one of three new passive bonuses, which can include status ailments, damage buffs, or a speed boost. None of them really change the gameplay significantly — your weapon choice at the start of a run does more to determine how you play than anything you'll subsequently pick up — but you do end up feeling measurably more powerful as you stack up bonuses.

All of them go away at the end of a run, however, whether you die or defeat the boss that's found at the bottom of the dungeon. It's complicated, and Into the Pit doesn't explain its mechanics particularly well, but it's easy enough to pick up as you go.

If the game does one thing right, it's the combat. Into the Pit feels, and to some extent looks, like a shooter from about 1998. Your character, without any bonuses or buffs, is still the fastest thing on the battlefield, with a usefully floaty jump.

Your best asset in any fight is your sheer mobility, as you can run circles around any of the demons that Into the Pit throws at you. Into the Pit is at its best when you're moving at a dead sprint, dodging around the army of demons that are hot on your heels, and picking them off two and three at a time.

That does set up a weird imbalance, however, where the actual bosses might be the least threatening part. Into the Pit is at its hardest when it's a battle of attrition, before you've found any of the runes or skills that enable you to regain health, and every incidental hit you take from some random demon is a big resource loss.

The bosses, on the other hand, are big, slow goons that you can virtually dance around. Sure, they hit like freight trains, but I'd rather fight them than half of the standard demons.

Going Rogue

If Into the Pit was just a fast-moving throwback shooter like Dusk, I'd happily recommend it. The problem is that it's also a roguelike — or it's trying to be.

The rooms in each dungeon are theoretically random, but they're not procedurally generated. They're a bunch of pre-made maps with enemies placed inside them, and it doesn't take long before they start repeating.

While a few of the maps and their associated hazards do seem like they're exclusive to one particular dungeon or another, it's not unusual to see the same map twice in a single run.

You also don't really evolve your strategy in Into the Pit. Part of the challenge and appeal of a modern roguelike is in being forced to put together an arsenal on the fly, assembling the random skills, treasures, and consumables you're given into a winning game plan.

Here, your game plan is effectively set in stone the moment you pick your two "guns" at the start of a run into the Pit. Everything you find from that point forward is strictly about damage: dealing it, withstanding it, recovering from it.

You won't find new guns with unusual effects, big buffs that come with significant drawbacks, or game-changing new features like, say, a melee weapon or the ability to see/shoot through walls.

All you get is slight buffs to what you're already capable of at the start, which turns a given trip through the Pit into a raw test of twitch reflexes.

There is a certain amount of challenge to that early on before you have a lot of ways to heal. Every hit you take at that point is potentially lethal, with no guarantee you'll be able to recover before the boss. It gives Into the Pit a unique tension.

You can pick up cheap new runes that give slight regeneration effects, however, which restore points of health whenever you grab resources or destroy a keystone. Once you install those, and maybe the passive skill that gives you some health for each demon you splatter, Into the Pit loses most of its challenge. I'd go so far as to suggest you avoid those runes if you really want to keep the game interesting for yourself.

Into the Pit Review — The Bottom Line

Pros:

  • It's basically an interactive Iron Maiden album cover
  • Very fast
  • Your character's incredibly agile, which is fun
  • Not a lot of plot to get in the way of the action
  • The combat does flow well once you get a handle on it

Cons:

  • The roguelike mechanics detract more than they add
  • It's impossible for any single level to get up a good head of steam
  • Insanely repetitive
  • Crashes a lot
  • Dodgy collision detection, particularly in the swamp level

I could nitpick some more, but at the end of the day, I think my biggest problem with Into the Pit comes down to pacing.

Its fights are fun, fast, and hyperkinetic, but because of how the game is built, they're all over in two minutes or less. No single room in the Pit holds more than about 20 demons, and even near the start of a run, most of them are glass cannons. They're placed to wear you down through attrition, rather than pose a genuine one-on-one threat.

If Into the Pit's random rooms were paced more like combat arenas in other games, it'd be amazing despite its flaws. As it is, even the well-built rooms feel like they're over before they get started, with little thought given to issues like enemy placement or individual AI.

It's possible I'm coming at this from a skewed perspective at the moment, because I've been playing a lot of twitchy first-person shooters in my free time, like the aforementioned Dusk. I was in exactly the right mood for another game in exactly that vein. Into the Pit looked like it'd fit the bill, but it doesn't quite work; its roguelike elements make up most of the game, and they're more annoying than truly worthwhile.

[Note: Humble Games provided the copy of Into the Pit used for this review.]

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Rogue Lords Review: Make Way for the Bad Guys https://www.gameskinny.com/zspb7/rogue-lords-review-make-way-for-the-bad-guys https://www.gameskinny.com/zspb7/rogue-lords-review-make-way-for-the-bad-guys Fri, 08 Oct 2021 14:39:04 -0400 Thomas Wilde

I've got a thorny relationship with the French development studio Cyanide.

 

It's not that their games are necessarily bad — 2018's Call of Cthulhu was at least playable — but they're often strange, like game design from an alternate universe. You don't so much review them as you sift through them in search of the black box.

 

Rogue Lords is no exception. It's Cyanide's entry into the increasingly crowded "indie roguelike/card game" genre, alongside other 2021 releases like Across the Obelisk, Griftlands, Black Book (sort of), and Roguebook. At some point, it seems like we should start calling these "Spirelikes."

 

As with the other Cyanide games I've played, Rogue Lords features that blend of odd decisions, overcomplication, and lack of polish that usually gets labeled as "Eurojank." Again, games with high levels of Eurojank aren't necessarily bad — Gamedec is Eurojank as all hell — but they're typically weird experiences. There's a lot in Rogue Lords I like, but just as much that I do not understand.

 

Rogue Lords Review: Make Way for the Bad Guys

 

So yeah, you're the Devil in this one. Happy Halloween.

 

Decades ago, you and your public-domain horror minions lost the final battle between good and evil, and you holed up in Hell to recover as best you could. A few years later, the flow of souls to Hell has slowed to a crawl, so you've got no choice but to bust back out and see what's going on.

 

It turns out that the demon hunters who banished you have started a new religion, the Sancta Lumen, with your archenemy Van Helsing at its head. The forces of good are closing their grip.

 

Now you've got to gather your last few surviving disciples — Dracula, the Headless Horseman, and Bloody Mary — and send them out in search of various surviving dark artifacts.

 

What I appreciate is that this isn't what I thought it'd be, which is some Dragonlance Kingpriest of Istar thing, where good and evil are cosmically required to stay in balance or bad things happen. Rogue Lords's Devil has no valid points or redeemable qualities. He is a cackling cartoon villain who would like to remain as such, and will murder hundreds to make sure that happens.

 

Weaponized Depression

 

In play, Rogue Lords isn't that hard to get, but it does come off as too complicated by half.

 

You can field a crew of up to three monsters, which you send into the field in search of each needed artifact. Each chapter of gameplay is a randomized map full of fights, minibosses, encounters, treasures, and potential bonuses, where you must carefully balance risk and reward. Even early on, elite encounters are rough, but beating one can earn you a tremendously useful relic.

 

Each character has up to five skills that you can initially employ, spending their costs from a starting energy pool of 5. A skill you use is considered "depleted," but each character also has a base active ability that you can use on your turn to recharge their current skill pool.

 

Rogue Lords treats skills in much the same way as other games like this treat cards; they aren't entirely interchangeable, but they're close enough.

 

Your characters also have five non-combat stats, such as Stealth, Occultism, and Ruse, which govern their chance of success in various random non-combat encounters. Success there can result in passive bonuses for the rest of the given stage, such as more health or small damage boosts, so they're well worth seeking out, as well as being darkly funny in their own right.

 

 

What takes a lot of getting used to is that every character in Rogue Lords has what amounts to two health bars: HP and SP. Deplete either to zero, and a character is made vulnerable. Land one more hit against the depleted stat, and the character is knocked out.

 

The requirement for that last hit opens the door to some really degenerate strats, because a character can't be reduced past zero HP/SP with a single big hit. It makes multi-hit attacks (i.e. Dracula's Midnight Kiss) very useful, and it really changes how you react to enemies' offense.

 

One big bruiser who's swinging for 50+ damage per strike isn't necessarily as dangerous as a little guy who's going to hit three times a turn.

 

In theory, these two health bars exist to force you into keeping a varied arsenal of moves. Generally, HP reflects physical health, while SP is mental strength. Many enemies will reliably have much less of one than the other, and outside of a couple of skill synergies, there's rarely any point in diminishing both HP and SP at once.

 

In practice, I didn't really get anywhere in Rogue Lords until I was able to put together a decent SP-targeting build, primarily because there's a status ailment called Depression that is flat-out busted. It hits a target with SP damage right before and right after their action, like a poison or bleed effect but better.

 

Once I had a couple of skills on Bloody Mary that could hit an entire enemy party with Depression, it felt like I'd disengaged Rogue Lords' parking brake. I was leaving a trail of bummed-out corpses from hell to breakfast. I made a bunch of hapless rank-and-file Sancta Lumen so sad that they died.

 

The Devil in the Details

 

The other habit that I had to break before I felt like I understood Rogue Lords is that it's not as concerned with overall resource conservation as many other recent roguelikes. Your characters receive full HP/SP at the start of each fight and get all their skills recharged between battles, so you can go all out against each new pack of enemies.

 

The only resource that you have to manage, outside of basic currency, is diabolic essence, which sits in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. If any of your characters drop in a fight, you automatically spend diabolic essence to keep them on their feet and fighting.

 

The trick is that you can also spend diabolic essence to cheat in almost every part of the game. In combat, you can burn essence to heal your characters, damage your opponents, and move status effects from character to character. Outside of combat, you can use essence to tweak skill checks in random encounters to boost the chance that a given action will succeed.

 

Any individual use of essence tends to be surprisingly cheap, even if you do something nuts like reduce an elite enemy's HP to zero, but it's difficult to replenish in the field. It's easy to go wild with your essence a couple of times too many, then start a run-of-the-mill fight that ends up being a surprise game over.

 

That actually happens a lot. The Eurojankiest part of Rogue Lords is the lack of elegance in how it presents the player with information. Much like Black Book, it has a real passion for constantly introducing more complications to combat, such as new buffs and debuffs, with a crowded UI that makes it difficult to obtain useful data at a glance. I had a boss fight where my Dracula was capped at 1 SP the entire time, and I still have no idea why.

 

It's also got a strange sense of timing by comparison to other games in its genre-pool. Rogue Lords consists of an introductory level followed by six big stages that make up its campaign. Each of the latter stages can take a couple of hours to complete, even if you've got an overpowered build going and you're reasonably decisive about your choices.

 

One of the things I like about "Spirelikes" — I'm making it a thing — is how bite-size they are, where they move fast and take little time to play. Rogue Lords combines a genuine time commitment with the same high chance for random, sudden failure.

 

Rogue Lords Review — The Bottom Line

Pros:

  • Cheating as a game mechanic

  • A great Halloween game, full of atmosphere and gleeful evil

  • The character designs and animation are a lot of fun

  • It has achieved maximum, near-toxic levels of Goth

  • Once it clicks, it's decent

Cons:

  • It can take a while before it clicks, though

  • It doesn't feel like it respects your time

  • Incredibly uneven difficulty curve

  • Cluttered UI

  • Dracula is basically a required party member

I saw Cyanide's name on Rogue Lords so I probably went into it with a chip on my shoulder. It eventually won me over with its Tales From the Crypt atmosphere, which let me play it long enough to start finding strategies that I could make work.

 

It's still a dramatically flawed game. Rogue Lords needs a lot more polish before I could feel comfortable recommending it. The UI's messy, the pacing is off, and it makes itself hard to get into, with overcomplicated mechanics presented in obscure, difficult-to-interpret ways.

 

I like its atmosphere and the glee it takes in letting you be evil, but if I wasn't reviewing it, I probably would've dropped Rogue Lords after the first hour. There's fun to be had here if you can push through it, but like a lot of Eurojank games, it doesn't feel like it's entirely finished.

 

[Note: Nacon provided the copy of Rogue Lords used for this review.]

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Dice Legacy Review — Is That It? https://www.gameskinny.com/jjh5q/dice-legacy-review-is-that-it https://www.gameskinny.com/jjh5q/dice-legacy-review-is-that-it Wed, 08 Sep 2021 13:56:04 -0400 Fox Doucette

Dice Legacy bills itself as a roguelike — the title, intentionally or not, evokes Rogue Legacy — where instead of hiding the random number generator behind the curtains, it turns that RNG mechanic into the main character. The dice are not only the random element that drives gameplay but also your army of peasants and soldiers fighting terrain, weather, and hostile forces on a bizarre, ring-shaped alien world.

The premise quickly falls apart once you actually start playing the game, however. Anyone with even a slight modicum of experience playing roguelikes or even games in general can quickly pick apart every narrative conceit here, seeing the game for exactly what it is — a straightforward, vertical-scrolling barebones resource management and strategy game rather than the roguelike it claims to be on the virtual box.

Dice Legacy Review — Is That It?

Your pawns are a set of six-sided dice — five at first, although that quickly grows to a maximum of 12 — which you roll in order to determine which kind of move the die can make on its turn. It could be building, gathering resources, exploring the world ahead, conducting research, engaging in battle, trading, or performing religious functions depending on the type of die rolled and the result of the roll itself.

There's a class system in place here, too. You start the game with orange peasant dice, capable of those first three functions listed above plus combat. Build the school and you get green citizen dice, who in addition to researching can also farm and build. The military academy gets you blue soldier dice, whose prime function is combat, but they're also capable of building.

The market nets merchant dice — their primary function converting resources into gold through trade, but they also explore and interact with “camps” on the map to turn potential enemies into trading partners and can do a bit of resource gathering as well. And finally, the temple nets priest dice whose function is that of healer and morale booster for the other dice on the board.

Later, late-game buildings can mix, match, and combine those basic types into hybrid dice, but the core functions you can roll on the faces of the dice are the limit of what those dice can ultimately do on the board.

This establishes a basic gameplay loop. Like any good RTS, you build a base, gather and use the resources provided on the map, forge ahead to find the enemy, then destroy the enemy base, a formula that's been enshrined in gaming canon since Warcraft: Orcs and Humans codified the genre way back in 1994. Once again, as much as Dice Legacy really wants you to believe it's a roguelike, it resembles one only superficially. Randomly generated resource locations do not a roguelike make, not on their own.

There are just a few critical flaws that prevent Dice Legacy from actually being good.

The first is that the gameplay loop is far too simple. I put about 12 hours into the game, one terminated playthrough to get to grips with how things worked followed by three playthroughs that became progressively less interesting for how easy Dice Legacy is both to pick up and, ultimately, master for anyone with a reasonable degree of experience playing RTS games. Granted, I've been playing them for 27 years (since the aforementioned Warcraft), but this game has even less depth than early Warcraft.

The second is this type of RNG is never really something to focus a game around. Maybe some people are into that — after all, pencil-and-paper RPGs wouldn't be what they are without a bag full of variously shaped dice — but in general, there's a good reason why dice rolls are usually hidden from the player's eye.

Even in tabletop, a good game master rolls the dice but then narrates to the players what happened in an in-universe tone. Abstracted randomness tends to be less immersion-breaking than literally seeing it play out in front of your face.

The third is that the “challenges” in Dice Legacy are less roadblocks and more speed bumps. Every time you roll a die, it loses 1 HP out of 16, but it is trivially easy to heal dice, with multiple ways put in place to restore those HP. Even combat, where a die that gets wounded in combat is killed if it gets wounded again, is solved super-easily through the apothecary building the game makes available from the start.

Along those same lines, the Dice Legacy has a summer/winter seasonal cycle, and winter is supposed to be a perilous time when you can't produce wheat (the basic food resource) and dice have a chance to freeze, taking them out of action until they thaw out in warmer weather.

The trouble is that it's easy to unfreeze those dice using the in-game ale resource, there's a policy you can implement to keep the farms working year-round, and generally, what's supposed to be a challenge is just another resource sink.

And the fourth is that despite the game trying to vary up play a bit with a few unlockable extra scenarios — changing the starting dice or a couple of the game rules — it's just a different coat of paint on the same car driving down the same road toward the same destination. You'll get bored long before you see everything because bluntly, once you've seen the gameplay loop once, you've seen everything.

It doesn't help that the difficulty levels are of the standard "how much do you want the computer to cheat" variety rather than the "AI gets smarter" variety, never a good sign.

Dice Legacy Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Stable, apparently bug-free experience
  • Clever concept
  • If you like rolling dice, this is the best thing outside of a Craps table

Cons

  • Almost no replayability once you've grasped the basic concept
  • Too simple to pose much of a challenge
  • Building a whole game around randomization is needlessly frustrating

Dice Legacy is just too shallow and too reminiscent of other, better games. It's just far too simplistic to have any kind of real replayability, and since your first playthrough will be done in four or five hours at most, that leaves little to play for.

Sure, the game does try to extend its replay value by offering different starting conditions and rule restrictions to try to get you to play it again, but it's the same meta every time with no real variation. There's no shortage of good roguelikes out there. Crack those open instead. You'll have a lot more fun that way.

[Note: Ravenscourt provided the copy of Dice Legacy used for this review.]

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How to Unlock Hades' Locked Doors https://www.gameskinny.com/8xdf7/how-to-unlock-hades-locked-doors https://www.gameskinny.com/8xdf7/how-to-unlock-hades-locked-doors Wed, 18 Aug 2021 12:07:06 -0400 John Schutt

On the western side of the House of Hades are two doors, both initially locked. At the north end of the hallway is Hades’ bedroom, the personal chamber of the lord of the Underworld. At the south end, a smaller door that he forbids you to enter. This latter leads to the administration chamber.

Both doors play an integral role in the story of Hades, and you’ll need to open both to complete the campaign completely.

This guide will tell you how to unlock both the door to Hades’ bedroom and the administrative chamber and give a brief overview of what you can do in each chamber.

How to Unlock the Administrative Chamber in Hades

There are two steps to unlocking the Administrative chamber. The first is progressing the story until you can actually rest in Zagreus’ bed. You’ll see a glowing objective point near the bed at this time, and rather than rejecting rest, Zagreus will actually go to sleep. This will trigger a flashback sequence.

You’ll learn a lot of narrative goodies in this first flashback, including what the chamber looks like and its general function. Once you’ve learned all you can, Zagreus can return to his bed and wake up.

Initially, the door will remain locked, but after a run or two, you’ll unlock the Administrative Privilege contract at the House Contractor. The price is steep for early-game: two Diamonds, rewards you only get from the second world boss, or the Wretched Broker for various other endgame currencies.

What’s Inside the Administrative Chamber

The chamber holds innumerable scrolls and two large shelving units.

The green shelves are Zagreus’ Permanent Record, which catalogs the weapons, Boons, upgrades, and other equipment he’s used in all his escape attempts. You’ll see both a bar graph and a numerical value for each item, letting you know what builds you favor and which give you trouble.

The red shelves are the Security Log. The Log details every escape attempt’s result (death or escape) and what loadout you finished with — your weapon, Boons, and all of that. You’ll also see whatever modifiers you attached with the Pact of Punishment and the total time each run took.

The Administrative Chamber’s most important function is narrative-related. You need access to complete almost all of the House of Hades NPC questlines. Without the door unlocked, you won’t unlock NPC House Contractor contracts and thus complete their individual stories.

How to Unlock Hades' Bedroom and What’s In It

Unlocking the big doors to Hades’ bedroom will take you much longer than the Administrative chamber. For starters, you’ll need to beat the final boss eight times, then speak to Achilles. Zagreus will convince him to give up the key to get in.

You won’t have full access to the bedroom until you complete ten runs total, at which point the room is free to enter whenever you’d like. There’s even a resource sink waiting for you for endgame grinding, though using it serves no purpose beyond throwing your hard-earned Darkness away.

That’s it for the locked doors in Hades. Check out our guides hub for more!

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Hades: How to Heal Guide https://www.gameskinny.com/yjwlj/hades-how-to-heal-guide https://www.gameskinny.com/yjwlj/hades-how-to-heal-guide Mon, 16 Aug 2021 12:24:47 -0400 John Schutt

Hades can be incredibly unforgiving, especially early on. The game offers no equippable healing items. You start with a weapon and your skills, but you’ll need to find heals throughout your run in the Underworld.

Thankfully, there are many ways to get your health back if you know what to look for, which upgrades to take, and how to strategize your way through a run. If Hades feels generous — a rare thing — you’ll be gifted one or more free heals. Don’t count on them because the next run isn’t likely to be so friendly.

How to Heal in Hades

Even though you don’t start a run with any way to heal, there are more than a dozen ways to get your health back while making your way through the Underworld. You won’t have easy access to all of them early on, so expect your first few runs to end violently.

Healing Shop Items

Most rooms in the Underworld can spawn a shop fountain filled with the purple water of the Styx. There are several different types of healing offered at these small shops, the most common being: flat amounts of health back, the ability to spawn healing items on kill, and increased healing on entering a new room.

Healing...Tacos?

Charon, Boatman of the Styx, sometimes sells healing tacos and with a side of fries. Don’t ask. Buying it for 50 Obol provides a percentage of your health back once purchased. There are buyable upgrades that make breakable pots also have a chance to drop the healing tacos, though these will only regenerate ten health per meal.

Centaur Hearts

Centaur Hearts will permanently increase your health by 25 points and heal you by the same amount. You can find these as room rewards or purchase them from Charon.

Sisyphus

Every time you visit the dead king Sisyphus, you have the option of receiving healing items once your conversation ends.

Healing Fountains

Initially, the only healing fountain you’ll find sitting in the room just after a boss fight. These heal you for 50% of your maximum. By visiting the House Contractor, you’ll eventually be able to add healing well rooms to each level of the Underworld, though these are expensive and not guaranteed to spawn.

Dark Regeneration or Chthonic Vitality (requires upgrade)

The Mirror of Night offers two healing abilities. You’ll only have access to one of them, Dark Regeneration, at the beginning of the game. This initial power grants you up to 3 health whenever you enter a new room, regardless of the dangers in the room or lack thereof.

Once you spend 300 Darkness at the Mirror, you’ll unlock a special conversation with Nyx in the House of Hades, and she’ll unlock a second set of upgrades.

Chthonic Vitality is the alternate to Dark Regeneration and gives you the ability to heal every time you pick up crystals of Darkness. You can upgrade the power to give back up to 60% of the Darkness’s value in health. Put another way, pick up a 10 Darkness crystal, get six health back, and so on.

HydraLite Gold

In Elysium, you have a slight chance of coming across an NPC named Patroclus. One of the items he offers is Hydralite Gold, which restores 30% of your health every time you enter a new chamber, up through five total chambers visited.

God-Granted Boons

Many of the gods’ boons give you ways of regaining health or increasing the effectiveness of your Death Defiance.

Infernal Troves

On the same platform you find Charon Wells, you might run across a large treasure chest. Using these Infernal Troves activates a time trial. You'll need to kill all the enemies that spawn, and the faster you do it, the higher the Trove's reward. One reward can be up to 150 health, though your likely to get around 100 or so at best.

Death Defiance

This MIrror of Night ability instantly revives you with base 50% health when your HP reaches zero, up to three times when fully upgraded. There are ways to restore uses of Death Defiance throughout a run, either at shops, Patroclus, or through god boons.

That's it for all the ways to heal in Hades, as you can see there are plenty of methods.. provided you know what they are. If you found this guide helpful, take a look at some of our other Hades guides here on GameSkinny.

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Hades Door Symbol Guide https://www.gameskinny.com/5tlb9/hades-door-symbol-guide https://www.gameskinny.com/5tlb9/hades-door-symbol-guide Mon, 16 Aug 2021 09:37:54 -0400 John Schutt

Whenever you clear a room in Hades, you see one or two doors with symbols above them. This symbol dictates the reward you’ll fight for in the arena beyond the door. There are two categories: Artifacts and Boons.

Boons come from the various Greek gods assisting Zagreus during his escape attempts. Artifacts are either currencies, weapon upgrades, or ability improvements. Which you choose will depend on the strategy and build you’re going for in our current run.

Artifacts in Hades

There are eleven artifacts in Hades, but you’ll only be seeing nine of them frequently. Diamonds, Ambrosia, and Titan’s Blood are exclusively boss/endgame rewards during an Underworld run. There are ways to get them in larger quantities, as we go over in our Titan’s Blood and Ambrosia guides, but you won’t be finding them in large amounts otherwise.

We’ve detailed the remaining eight artifacts below, in the same order as they're shown above:

  • Darkness: The base currency for the Mirror of Night, you’ll want as much Darkness as you can get your hands on early in the game. It’s usable for House Contractor and NPC mission progression as well.

  • Centaur Hearts: These items increase your total health by 25 points and heal you by that much, for a net healing amount of 0.

  • Chthonic Keys: You’ll use these items initially to unlock new abilities at the Mirror of Night. You’ll also spend them at the House Contractor and the Merchant in the House. Late game, they’re used to reroll Boons during a run.

  • Daedalus Hammer: These hammers offer a choice of three upgrades to your current weapon. Almost all of them are upgrades to the weapon’s capabilities but may not immediately jive with the build or playstyle you’re going for.

  • Gemstones: These jewels are used exclusively for upgrading the House of Hades at the House Contractor.

  • Nectar: This delicious beverage’s primary purpose is to improve your relationship with NPCs. An upgrade also causes picking a bottle up to increase one random Boon you currently have equipped.

  • Charon’s Obol: Coins usable only at Wells of Charon (the purple basin’s randomly spawning in rooms) and at Charon’s Shop rooms.

  • Pom of Power: These zesty fruits upgrade the effectiveness of one of three of your equipped Boons.

Boons in Hades

Whenever you come across a door with one of the Olympian god symbols, you’ll be able to get your hands on a Boon; powerful abilities keyed to that god’s portfolio.

Each god and their keyed ability types are below, in the same order as shown above:

  • Zeus: A damage-dealing set of powers themed around electricity.

  • Poseidon: Primarily damage-focused abilities based around the pushing of enemies around a map.

  • Athena: Defensive abilities themed around reflecting damage at enemies or straight-up reducing it.

  • Aphrodite: A mix of damage and debuff powers that increase your abilities and lower enemy defenses.

  • Artemis: Abilities focused on critical and burst damage.

  • Ares: Pure damage potential through saw blades or delayed burst.

  • Dionysus: Damage-over-time and confusion abilities that rely on stacks to function to their full potential.

  • Hermes: Upgrades that improve Zagreus’s speed and movement or the rate at which you accumulate money.

  • Demeter: Damage-over-time and slowing powers keyed to Ice and frost stacks.

  • Chaos: Straight upgrades to core character abilities like Attack/Special damage, Cast count, and other improvements. You must survive a set number of rooms with a random debuff to get the upgrade.

That's it for what you need to know about doors in Hades. Check out our other Hades guides here on GameSkinny.

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Devolver Digital is Bringing Loop Hero to Nintendo Switch https://www.gameskinny.com/xv7y1/devolver-digital-is-bringing-loop-hero-to-nintendo-switch https://www.gameskinny.com/xv7y1/devolver-digital-is-bringing-loop-hero-to-nintendo-switch Wed, 11 Aug 2021 14:29:40 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Devolver Digital's Loop Hero is coming to Nintendo Switch. The publisher announced the Loop Hero Switch port during Nintendo's August Indie World presentation (which came alongside the Axiom Verge 2 shadow drop from Thomas Happand said it will launch sometime this holiday season.

Loop Hero is about... well, a hero trapped in a loop. But it's a multi-layered, endless one, and the actual loops you create to help the hero reach their goal.

You'll use random sets of tiles to help move the hero along their path and, hopefully, give them some handy power-ups along the way.

They'll need all the help they can get. Loop Hero is a challenging game that's not too keen on forgiving mistakes.

It's also a unique one, a game we called clever and beautiful, with hidden depths that effortlessly blends difficult battles with intriguing background about the world before disaster changed it forever.

We've also got plenty of Loop Hero guides to help you on your way once you get started.

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Eldest Souls Review: Made With Love https://www.gameskinny.com/n0t37/eldest-souls-review-made-with-love https://www.gameskinny.com/n0t37/eldest-souls-review-made-with-love Thu, 29 Jul 2021 14:36:55 -0400 John Schutt

Eldest Souls makes no excuses for its Dark Souls influences; it revels in them. A boss rush game devoid of trash mobs of any kind, the team at Fallen Flag Studio focused almost solely on building some truly great boss fights. And since bosses are one of the big draws for any Souls-like game, it certainly wasn’t a bad call to make.

There’s also the genre’s trademark storytelling on display here; it's opaque, mysterious, and littered about the world rather than spoonfed to the player. Couple it with high quality (though not award-winning) pixel art and good music, and Eldest Souls makes for a tightly built game that’s worth your time.

The main issues arise in the gameplay, which is sadly the worst place for them to appear. Some wonky hitboxes and a few questionable design choices hamper the experience. The storytelling and world also aren’t as engaging as you might find in more narrative-focused Souls-likes.

None of this is a dealbreaker, but it did make for some frustrating moments during my playthrough.

Eldest Souls Review: Made With Love

As a boss rush game, the only enemies you fight in Eldest Souls are bosses with big health bars. There are no standard enemies, and the world is essentially empty except for one save point per area, several NPCs, and key item pickups scattered about.

Bosses, then, are generally good. There are 10 of them all told, and each is unique in both design and mechanics. Some use familiar aesthetics — ice, darkness, shapeshifting, and so on — but all of them have a few tricks up their sleeves. Good thing, too, because no boss has more than three attacks or so per phase, and they’re not hard to avoid once you know the dodge timing.

Each boss plays into its aesthetic quite well, using something as simple as “the darkness boss” and turning it on its head in new and exciting ways. Eldest Souls also plays with the mechanical expectations Souls veterans expect. Sure, the ice boss uses ice attacks, but it uses the arena as a weapon, too.

Like this, almost all of the bosses have some sort of arena mechanic, whether they be area-of-effect attacks, bullet hell projectiles, or something even meaner. Sometimes the arena gets in on the action, acting as a hazard or otherwise changing to make the fight more difficult.

Each boss fight is also unique enough that what you learn in one won’t necessarily translate to another. You will better understand how your build functions in a fight and the most optimal way to use it before relearning for another fight.

You’ll sometimes be able to learn about an upcoming boss based on the area they occupy. The ice boss lives at the end of an area frozen beneath a deadly frost. The animal boss lives deep in a corrupted forest. Sometimes the game gives you no clues, banking on the surprise of, say, a boss who uses light in a forgotten castle.

Learning the fights themselves doesn’t take too long; thankfully, the real challenges come from mastery, as with any group of good Souls bosses. The process is made much easier because the game provides a restart button, putting you right back into the action if you die. You can choose to go back to the area node to explore or take on another challenge.

It’s a nice feature and one that makes a lot of sense in a game without mooks to pester you from “bonfire” to “boss fog.” Having an instant-restart option also adds a bit of that “one more run” feeling you get out of a rogue-like. One failed attempt can quickly become 10 or 20, and unless you’re being bodied, you’ll have learned something with each death.

That knowledge won’t, necessarily, relate to how you play an encounter. I found the gameplay ultimately came down to spamming a specific set of actions and peppering in a special ability whenever it’s off cooldown.

With that in mind, the gameplay of Eldest Souls needs to complement every boss fight in some way. In many cases, parts of it only get in the way. There are three core issues that can make the moment-to-moment experience in Eldest Souls more tedious than enjoyable.

No Souls-like I’ve ever played got hitboxes right all of the time, so some of these issues I can forgive. One of the later fights sees a hitbox linger for more than a second after the attack animation finishes. In the same fight, an area of effect attack interacts oddly with the player character’s hitbox, making damage occur in an area larger than the attack animation itself.

At least for me, the bigger issue is the way boss hitboxes halt all momentum from the player. Rather than preserve forward motion as you move into a boss, like in a Miyazaki Souls game, if you run or dodge into an enemy in Eldest Souls, you just stop.

If one was occurring, your character’s animation also ceases, and suddenly whatever movement you had planned goes out the window.

Dodge invincibility frames don’t disappear, as the game still counts the dodge as having happened, so you can use this annoyance as part of a strategy in tight spaces. However, more often than not, the sudden shift of momentum put me on the back foot and sent me to the restart screen.

Many boss hitboxes also extend slightly above their pixel model or are otherwise deceptive to what they look like on screen. This exacerbates the collision issue and makes some arenas — many on the smaller side already — more dangerous to navigate.

Thankfully, these same janky hitboxes also make the bosses easier to hit. You’ll be able to do damage from ridiculous angles and distances. Your character’s sword also seems to extend about 50% longer than the model itself, which I’m sure helps.

Dodging is paramount in Eldest Souls. The primary difference in this game is that the stamina bar is divided into three chunks, and you can’t dodge unless at least one of them is full. Your stamina recharges significantly faster if you dodge through an attack, but if you’re caught with no charges, you'll take damage unless you can do some fancy footwork.

I understand why the dodge charge mechanic exists as a risk-reward mechanic that encourages intelligent use of the ability, but two problems exists.

One: some situations demand multiple dodge uses, meaning you’re likely to be down a dodge with no way to get it back besides waiting.

Two: your character moves at a snail’s pace by default, and for most of the game, that will be their only speed. Eldest Souls is a fast-paced game, and it grinds to a snore when you can’t dodge. Dodging, therefore, becomes more than a survival tool: it’s a basic movement ability.

Upgrading your character in Eldest Souls doesn’t mean increasing your health or stamina or a pool of stats. Instead, there are three skill trees keyed to activated abilities, each of which modifies your character in some way, though mostly in how they deal damage.

At the higher levels of these trees, your charged attacks have effects of their own, which is good because your basic attacks are worthless. Charge attacks are further emphasized because they grant lifesteal, giving you back a portion of the damage you deal as health. Your sword glows bright red when charged, and it attacks faster and hits harder, so it’s easy to know when you’re using basic attacks.

Thanks to this reliance on charged attacks for DPS combined with an early game item that instantly refreshes the charge on use, I found myself eschewing most strategy and just wailing on bosses until they died. It wasn’t until very late into the game that I had to stop to dodge or rethink how I approached a fight. I could, in short, hit my head against most fights until I won.

Even though the gameplay was a bit more sour than sweet, the art, music, and story of Eldest Souls help make up for it. The game is beautifully drawn, though the player character is little more than a colorful collection of pixels. My only quibble is in the cutscenes. Even rendered at 1080p, the individual pixels are big enough that whatever they make up become something of a jumble.

Boss and area designs are incredibly well-realized, and each space has its own personality. It’s also clear from the aesthetic and level design that this world is long past its prime. The NPCs will tell you as much, but they’re merely driving the point home.

The music fits the world well, too, and each boss theme plays off of who they are, were, or represented. None of the tunes will win any awards for musical achievement, but they serve their functions to a T and set the mood well.

Last, the story is, in a word, opaque. You'll need to read the various notes and item descriptions scattered about to understand the basics and then do some interpretation to arrive at a conclusion.

If you’re familiar with how Souls-games tell their stories, there’s nothing unfamiliar about the approach. As for my opinion on the story, it’s interesting, though I didn’t find it as engaging as others in the genre.

Eldest Souls Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Awesome boss fights that all feel unique and satisfying to overcome
  • Beautiful pixel art that creates a world worth exploring
  • Good music and Souls-like story that ask just enough of the player

Cons

  • Several gameplay decisions get in the way more than they help
  • Samey combat that demands less than it should
  • Janky hitboxes

Eldest Souls is a game with great bosses that’s somewhat held back by spotty gameplay design decisions. Its aesthetics are solid, and it’s clear the development team put their heart and soul into making the best boss rush Souls-like they could.

They succeeded beyond most expectations, crafting a world wracked by ancient cataclysms and occupied by beings of terrifying power. It’s also a world you’ll want to explore despite its small size, as the challenges and mysteries buried at its heart are captivating enough to demand investigation.

For fans of the Souls-like genre who want to test themselves against the gods of a forsaken land and uncover the world’s secrets, Eldest Souls provides.

[Note: Fallen Flag Studio provided the copy of Eldest Souls used for this review.]

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Rogue Lords Hands-On Preview: Darkest Dungeon Meets Classic Horror https://www.gameskinny.com/wipsa/rogue-lords-hands-on-preview-darkest-dungeon-meets-classic-horror https://www.gameskinny.com/wipsa/rogue-lords-hands-on-preview-darkest-dungeon-meets-classic-horror Fri, 25 Jun 2021 09:59:28 -0400 StevenGreen

Between the indie hit Darkest Dungeon and the dozens of similar strategy titles available on platforms like Steam, there is no shortage of difficult turn-based RPGs on the market. But for those looking to play something akin to Red Hook's popular title with a classic horror movie filter, Rogue Lords from Cyanide Studio (Styx, Call of Cthulhu) could be something to sink your teeth into.

While it's true that difficulty is often relative and can be either a positive or negative factor based on whoever's playing, Rogue Lords looks to find a balance between difficulty and accessibility. With a cartoony art style and unique mechanics, its gameplay so far, thoroughly enjoyable and noteworthy despite some difficult sections. 

I was able to go hands-on with the recent Rogue Lords beta build on PC ahead of the game's fall release, and here's what I think of it so far. 

Rogue Lords Hands-On Preview: Darkest Dungeon Meets Classic Horror

Lilith, Baron Samedi, and The Headless Horseman fighting two privateers.

Rogue Lords casts you as the Devil. After being driven into the depths of Hell from whence you came, you find yourself atop the black throne poised to incur payback and justice on the demon hunters of Van Helsing. To do so, you'll fight through the forces of good with a variety of classic horror movie monsters and fairy tale villains at your command.

The beta I played consisted of two levels: the prologue and a section set several hours into the game. The prologue unsurprisingly gets you up to speed, letting you familiarizing yourself with the map and movement. Your posse of monsters moves through foggy areas, discovering various paths and locations in the game's procedurally generated levels. These ultimately lead to a boss encounter at the end of each location which featured stringer enemies than normal.

As you move about the world, you'll engage in combat, buy abilities and health from vendors, and interact with classic horror characters like Dr. Frankenstein in narrative portions, all of which build up your characters' attacks and powers while leading you on your very own path towards world domination. 

With your pre-selected team of three, you'll fight your way through enemy units to learn new abilities or gain additional aid on your journey. For this pre-release playthrough, we were given the ability to try out three of what appears to be several available team members: Dracule, Bloody Mary, and the Headless Horseman. Each character has its own set of abilities and attacks, each embodies your standard archetype of tank, healer, etc.

A gaunt Dr. Frankenstein in a black cloak alongside dialog choices.

Combat consists of turn-based attacks where you spend action points to perform moves and abilities. Actions for opposing units are displayed to help you plan moves ahead or use abilities that negate some of the incoming damage or avoid attacks altogether, for example.

After a character's abilities have been used, they can't use them again unless they take the time to reset with a separate power-up. It's a mechanic that adds to the strategy as you use up some of your character's abilities while potentially saving others for later. 

While most of this type of gameplay can be found elsewhere, the unique thing about Rogue Lords is that you have the ability to cheat, just as the Devil would. You can lower the health of enemies, change the odds of passing certain checks, and even heal party members in exchange for your own health.

See, your team of three playable characters can never perish; instead, they get incapacitated. Once this happens, you, as the Devil, take damage directly. Deciding whether to use your precious health resources to increase your success is your call, but it could spell potential disaster down the road. 

Overall, Rogue Lords looks to be the type of experience those who liked Darkest Dungeon or similar experiences will want to check out. The featured characters from classic horror make it a unique one, and the additional Devil mechanics totally change up the strategy on offer. 

Rogue Lords will release later this year with all of its horror trope goodness with releases on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. 

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Returnal 1.4.0 Update Patch Eases Difficulty, Fixes Trophies https://www.gameskinny.com/5o5ir/returnal-140-update-patch-eases-difficulty-fixes-trophies https://www.gameskinny.com/5o5ir/returnal-140-update-patch-eases-difficulty-fixes-trophies Mon, 14 Jun 2021 15:39:51 -0400 Jonathan Moore

The latest Returnal patch is live now, and it makes the roguelike shooter just a bit easier while fixing some of the issues players have had with the game's trophies. On top of these fixes, Housemarque has also added additional locations for certain scout logs, tweaked some of the DualSense haptics, and provided performance enhancements. 

Notoriously, certain scout logs needed for the Returnal platinum had been previously hard to come by. The game's RNG elements mean that certain logs (and Xenoglyph ciphers, as well) don't appear in every run. However, some players, including myself, were forced to grind for hours to find them. According to Housemarque, that grind will now be a little less intensive with patch 1.4.0. 

Changes to how trophies are counted have also been implemented, allowing for some trophies to retroactively pop for certain areas and activities that "cannot be replayed." There's also now support for replaying certain sections of Act 1 and Act 2 to acquire trophies that were previously locked after completing specific sections. 

Additionally, one of the biggest criticisms about Returnal (aside from its ungracious save system) is its difficulty. Returnal is an unforgiving game; both its boss fights and the enemies haunting its biomes up to those boss fights can be maddeningly tough. Housemarque said that it has made "difficulty adjustments in all biomes for a more balanced gameplay experience." 

The full Returnal 1.4.0 patch notes can be seen below, courtesy of Housemarque

  • Platinum: Added support for replaying certain Act 1 & Act 2 Trophies

  • Platinum: Added support to retroactively award Trophies which cannot be replayed

  • Platinum: Added additional locations for Scout Logs 9, 34, 35 & 46 to appear more often

  • Platinum: Fixed an issue where 1 Cipher was sometimes unobtainable for Biome Survey Trophies

  • Platinum: Fixed an issue where some Activity Cards displayed an incorrect count

  • UI: HUD labels for items are now hidden when Selene is firing a weapon

  • UI: Fixed an issue where 2 actions could be mapped to a single button after switching controller presets

  • Cinematics: Fixed a rare audio sync issue in the secret ending

  • Audio: General mix improvements across the experience

  • Audio: Improved surround sound setup support across the experience

  • Audio: Added more DualSense haptics across cinematic moments for deeper immersion

  • Audio: Added DualSense haptics when using the Icarian Grapnel

  • Audio: Improved the dynamic range recommendations system

  • Audio: Allow users to override the dynamic range recommendations

  • Audio: Allow users to change audio output from the game menu

  • Balance: Various bug fixes to certain artifacts, parasites, consumables, and when certain malfunctions can occur in the early parts of the game

  • Balance: Players no longer receive parasites as rewards when players avenge their corpses

  • Balance: Enemies, Weapons, and Bosses - difficulty adjustments in all Biomes for a more balanced gameplay experience

  • Fixed an issue where Hyperion may drop the Key out of reach

  • Fixed an issue where Ophion may become invisible if the player uses a Reconstructor during the fight 

  • Fixed weapons not being found in Biomes after scanning but not collecting them

  • Fixed an issue where Selene could jump impossibly long distances 

  • Fixed multiple issues where Selene may become trapped in a room

  • Fixed a rare freezing issue when teleporting in Crimson Wastes

  • Fixed occasional frame rate drops when using the Electropylon Driver

  • Performance improvements, crash fixes, and multiple minor bug fixes

If you've yet to pick up Returnal and are wondering what it's all about, consider checking out our review, where we called Housemarque's roguelike shooter a tightly designed roguelike with some of the best gameplay the genre can provide, and it's the first game since Demon's Souls to provide a reason to own a PS5." If you're playing Returnal and looking for a little help, consider heading over to our Returnal guides hub

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Wizard With A Gun Asks What Would Happen If You Gave a Wizard a Gun https://www.gameskinny.com/3bi07/wizard-with-a-gun-asks-what-would-happen-if-you-gave-a-wizard-a-gun https://www.gameskinny.com/3bi07/wizard-with-a-gun-asks-what-would-happen-if-you-gave-a-wizard-a-gun Sat, 12 Jun 2021 19:18:32 -0400 David Carcasole

Wizard With A Gun is a brand new multiplayer sandbox survival game from developer Galvanic Games just shown off during Devolver Digital's E3 2021 showcase. The trailer reveals the bright and intricately detailed visual design of what looks to be an interesting isometric world, full of gun-toting wizards. 

The game is currently set to launch sometime in 2022 and will be coming to PC and Nintendo Switch. You'll set off on your journey solo or with friends in online co op, collecting resources along the way and fighting for your lives against the magical dangers around you.

Wizard With A Gun is a roguelike adventure that will feature randomly generated biomes, a breadth of loadout customization options, and what the developers call deep crafting mechanics.

Outside of that, we don't really know much else about Wizard With A Gun. The gameplay part of the 1:54 trailer shows off a good bit of combat, some resource gathering, and some of the game's crafting elements, including those for your gear and base structures.

Wizard With a Gun is currently available to wishlist on Steam. Galvanic Games has previously developed Gurgamoth, Rapture Rejects, and Some Distant Memory.

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Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground Review — A Challenging Romp Through the Mortal Realms https://www.gameskinny.com/7dfa5/warhammer-age-of-sigmar-storm-ground-review-a-challenging-romp-through-the-mortal-realms https://www.gameskinny.com/7dfa5/warhammer-age-of-sigmar-storm-ground-review-a-challenging-romp-through-the-mortal-realms Wed, 26 May 2021 18:25:31 -0400 Luke Shaw

Rejoice, fans of tiny tabletop warriors. Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is one of the first full-fat Age of Sigmar video games adaptations and… it's pretty good?

Ok, it isn't without its rough edges, but as a fan of Age of Sigmar, I am glad that Games Workshop's prog-metal-album-cover fantasy game finally gets an outing on consoles and PC.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground Review — A Challenging Romp through the Mortal Realms

Storm Ground is a turn-based strategy game that plays out on a series of hex-grid arenas in the Mortal Realms, Age of Sigmar's planes of magic style setting. Each campaign involves you taking control of one of three factions on offer, and tackling a series of increasingly difficult challenges.

The three forces are Sigmar's resplendent Stormcast Eternals, lightning forged warriors from the realm of Azyr; the cruel, spectral Nighthaunt from the realm of Shyish; and the corpulent, corrupted Maggotkin, worshipers of the plague god Nurgle.

Each of these factions is led by a unique hero, and has three campaigns set across the realms. The actual structure of the game is fairly interesting, so let's break it down.

The first campaign, and the most straightforward, and your first few missions are tutorials. This introduces the game's hex-based combat and the two basic units of the Stormcast Eternals: stalwart tank units called Retributors and ranged artillery units called Castigators.

Combat is high-risk, high-reward. Most units have a basic attack and an ability or two (with heroes often having two or three), as well as passive abilities that proc in certain circumstances. As an example, Retributors will buff the defense of adjacent units. Every unit also has the expected attack, health, defense, and move characteristics. 

Storm Ground does a mostly good job of conveying information before you commit to an action: move into range, and the UI will show you that enemies can target you. Hover over an enemy to attack them, and it will show you how much damage they will take — and how much you'll take in return.

It's helpful because combat is particularly lethal. Armor will mitigate some damage, with a percentage chance to entirely deflect damage, and it's sorely needed. Attacks can easily melt your units, and you're frequently outnumbered and outgunned. If one of your units dies in combat, they are dead for good. Lose your hero, and the campaign is over.

Except, of course, this is a rogue-like of sorts. Every time you die, you get back up and try again.

You're able to keep three of your units (represented as cards through the in-between mission loadout screens) and any wargear equipped to them. It's an interesting wrinkle and reflects both the lore of Age of Sigmar and the way you'll take your favorite units off the table in one game and put them back on for another round.

Once you've completed the initial mission, you are free to pick between two missions, each with different rewards, such as new unit cards or wargear and equippable skills. Chests hiding in out-of-the-way places in each mission can be picked up for extra awards, and equipping skills that synergize with your heroes and units, such as extra damage when a unit kills another unit, let you diversify your Warband.

These upgrades come with a price, though, and as you stack equipment on units, their summoning cost increases, another wrinkle in Storm Ground's design. While your opponents will appear in waves, you will only start with your hero, limited to spawning on set hexes.

You start with three aether, your summoning currency, and each turn you get one more, allowing you to summon units. Stormcast summon adjacent to their hero, making strong defensive castles, while Nighthaunt and Maggotkin must generate spirit wisps and corruption hexes to summon from, allowing for tactical play.

Adding perhaps one layer too many to the game, abilities cost energy and have a cooldown. Energy is generated from your third or fourth turn, again increasing per turn, but this structure locks powerful abilities behind them.

It goes without saying that combat in Storm Ground requires careful planning. Lining up swift killing blows, trading units only when you absolutely have to, and using area of effect attacks alongside abilities to manipulate movement, gain high ground, and block terrain to funnel enemies into chokepoints is all part of every fight.

Nighthaunt and Maggotkin have it tougher than the heroic Stormcast, too, as they rely on debuffs and map control to gain an advantage over their foes.

It can be pretty overwhelming at times, and there are a handful of missions — especially the final mission in each campaign — that can feel insurmountable until you've worked out a playstyle and strategy. I was hammering my head against the end of the Nighthaunt campaign for a while, as some high-level enemies are incredibly tanky and hit hard, but the game gave me a few solutions to work with.

Ultimately, I ended up having a particular combo that made one unit of ranged Chainghasts grow exponentially stronger each time it killed an enemy, and I spent the battle chipping away at small units until they could take huge chunks off of the boss. It was satisfying to put in practice, but having to start from scratch over and over was often demoralizing.

On the opposite end, early battles can be quite basic. Having to wait on placing units and putting your strategies into play as you pick missions and hope you get the right unit as a reward can be a bit fatiguing.

It's also worth noting that the UI itself can also be a bit cluttered, with basic icons and information hidden away in unit descriptions. This wouldn't be a huge issue, but actually getting around the UI is sluggish and frustrating. It's the biggest negative for the game, with no quality of life options for speeding up moves. Animations are canned and often awkward, but the inability to skip them, especially on reruns of early missions can be frustrating.

Visually the game is every inch an Age of Sigmar game, with each arena a little microcosm of Warhammer excess, nestling in greater dioramas that really get across how grand and bizarre the realms are. Though the mechanics here are the meat of the offering, the set dressing is certainly great.

Storm Ground isn't the most visually well-polished you'll play, but skulking around the branches of a colossal tree in Ghyran or reclaiming a Nurgle in Chamon, the realm of metal, really reinforce that wild fantasy vibe that Age of Sigmar has.

The voice acting also matches the setting. The phlegm-filled utterances of the Maggotkin as they denounce the "golden fools" of the Stormcast, who bellow back in zealous proclamations of faith, aren't high theatre, but they're 100% scenery-chewing Age of Sigmar. They had me chuckling along.

In short, it's a world of immortal heroes and villains, so it's fitting that it plays out with that very particular sense of Warhammer humor and pathos.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground — The Bottom Line

Pros
  • Bold visuals
  • Over the top dialogue 
  • Punishing but satisfying turn-based combat
  • A wide range of units, equipment, and skills make for diverse strategies
  • A lot of content on offer, with nine campaigns at launch
Cons
  • Lacking some visual polish
  • Very clunky UI
  • Difficulty can often feel stacked against you
  • Roguelike nature can make progression a slog
  • A number of crashes and technical issues with the UI, as well as units and AI bugging out

After clearing each of the three basic campaigns, there is the option to explore longer, more varied campaigns that require you to conquer two realms, offering you a chance to play with new heroes. There's a lot on offer here, but I'll admit its roguelike structure feels daunting and even outright tiring given how brutal and punitive the game can be at times. 

Storm Ground has some rough edges: janky animations, a handful of crashes, and a brutal difficulty curve. There are some quality of life issues as well. Hunting out powerful units, wargear, and skill combinations is compelling, but it is unfortunately too random because of the loot card nature of rewards. And the way you need to discard all but two of your favorite units when you fail a campaign can sting.

But I keep coming back to a simple fact: it's an Age of Sigmar game. It's not perfect, but it conveys the attitude and atmosphere of the setting. The factions convey their unique mechanics well, and that's a big plus in a Warhammer game. It's a promising first step into the Mortal Realms, but not one I'd recommend to anyone but the most diehard fans of Age of Sigmar without a wealth of caveats.

[Note: Games Workshop provided the copy of Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground used for this review.]

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Returnal Update 1.3.7 Patch Notes Detail Latest Fixes https://www.gameskinny.com/m6skc/returnal-update-137-patch-notes-detail-latest-fixes https://www.gameskinny.com/m6skc/returnal-update-137-patch-notes-detail-latest-fixes Wed, 19 May 2021 16:40:57 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Housemarque's roguelike bullet-hell shooter Returnal released on PlayStation 5 on April 30, and the developer has been hard at work issuing updates and patches for various fixes since. Update 1.3.7 is poised to push Returnal into a new cycle on May 20 with a few small tweaks. 

The Returnal 1.3.7 update will be an automatic one that goes live at 10 a.m. EST. Be sure to finish up any runs before that time, as Returnal will close to download and install the update. Because of Returnal's save system, that means most progress on current runs will be lost. 

So what does the Returnal 1.3.7 update fix? Here are the patch notes per Housemarque: 

• Fixed an issue with Deceased Scouts not appearing as often as intended.

• After having one of their Deceased Scout corpses scavenged, players will no longer receive a negative-effect parasite on startup.

• Fixed an issue where the Ophion boss might disappear after a player uses the Reconstructor during the fight.

• Fixed a rare audio bug causing loud noises during combat.

• Fixed a small number of issues where players might become stuck in various rooms.

• Fixed several issues where the player might encounter a black screen during the credits or whilst playing.

• Multiple fixes for rare crashes during gameplay.

Update 1.3.6 released back on May 8 and fixed pre order suits from locking players out of certain areas, as well as a few stability issues and healing problems. 

This latest patch likely isn't the last one for Returnal; that's just the nature of development. Returnal is, for the most part, a very stable game. Will future updates add a more forgiving save system or nerf those damnable drones in the Derelict Citadel? Only time will tell. Stay tuned. 

[Source: Housemarque]

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Returnal Review: Discover What Lies in the Deepest Reaches https://www.gameskinny.com/gwha1/returnal-review-discover-what-lies-in-the-deepest-reaches https://www.gameskinny.com/gwha1/returnal-review-discover-what-lies-in-the-deepest-reaches Fri, 07 May 2021 10:58:03 -0400 John Schutt

Returnal, like any good roguelike, pits you against seemingly insurmountable odds. Then, atop a mountain of your own corpses, you’ll triumph, only to be faced with more and more trying challenges as the game goes on. Add in a Lovecraft-inspired aesthetic, tightly designed roguelike mechanics, satisfying combat, and a mostly gripping narrative, and Returnal is a game worth your time.

Returnal is also the first game in all of the PlayStation 5’s software library, outside of, say, Astro's Playroom, to make real use of a lot the system has to offer. You’ll experience consistent haptic feedback and have different firing modes depending on how far you depress a trigger. The 3D audio is beautifully paired with top-notch sound design. Load times are the shortest they’ve ever been, and the game generates its random environments without a single hitch.

There are a few foibles here and there, from the occasional bit of over-written exposition or frame stutters during long play sessions. The lack of a save and quit function is unforgivable when Demon’s Souls solved the mid-game save problem in 2009. There’s also the occasional pacing issue and mechanical disconnect between going through levels and fighting bosses.

Don’t be dissuaded, though. If you’re a fan of the roguelike genre, or even just weird, cosmic horror science fiction, Returnal provides in spades.

Returnal Review: Discover What Lies in the Deepest Reaches

Returnal takes place on the alien planet of Atropos, where Selene, a scout of aeronautics company ASTRA, seeks out a mysterious White Shadow transmission. It soon becomes clear there is more going on here than just a signal transition, however, as Selene soon finds herself trapped by the planet, unable to stay dead when killed.

The reason for these roguelike elements is either cryptic or left intentionally vague. What you do know is the levels shift each time you begin a new run, called a “cycle” here. The randomization is more akin to something like Bloodborne’s chalice dungeons than the more granular procedural generation in a game like Dead Cells.

Rooms pull from a table of prefabricated pieces, with some more bespoke spaces for scripted encounters or loot and other upgrades. You’ll grow familiar with the basic layout of the rooms as you play, with your biggest guessing game being how they’re arranged, not what’s in them. Even then, you can make good educated guesses about where the merchant room (called a fabricator) will be or where you’ll probably find the boss, the latter of which are denoted by red doors on the map.

Never Defenseless

You’ll start every cycle with a simple sidearm. It’s useful but unremarkable. As you move through each biome, loot chests and boss-type enemies drop upgraded weapons. Each weapon you come across has a Proficiency level that determines its effectiveness the more you use it.

Higher Proficiency weapons can also have additional upgrades. You’ll reach Proficiency 25 or so by the end of the game, with up to four upgrade abilities modifying how the weapon functions. You’ll unlock new upgrades from new weapons you find during a cycle by killing enemies and filling the upgrade bar.

You’ll also improve your character by using Artifacts — per run items that grant a powerful bonus under specific circumstances — and Parasites, which confer both a random benefit and detriment. Lastly, you’ll have a growing selection of consumables and the ability to upgrade your health by picking up healing items scattered about levels.

The gameplay loop of finding new weapons, unlocking additional Artifacts, and improving and altering that cycle’s character is surprisingly satisfying. The system lacks the sheer depth you’ll find in Hades or Dead Cells, but it is quite a bit more detailed than a purer roguelike experience. There are very few permanent unlocks between cycles, making every resource precious.

The unlocks you do find take two forms. The first is Ether, a consumable currency for purifying Malignant items and containers, as well as powering Reconstructors. There are also various types of Xeno-Technology that open up new areas of the map either to additional materials or previously walled-off levels.

You’ll find a flow as the game progresses, collecting weapons, upgrades, and Obolites, the standard currency dropped by enemies and scattered about the maps. Then, once you’ve cleared a level once, you’ll have access to the next level without needing to fight the current level’s boss again.

Take Your Fight to the Cycle

It doesn’t take long to find a good rhythm in Returnal. Fighting your way through the first levels, making it to the boss, failing a few times, then overcoming them, only to start the whole process again in the next biome, the next cycle.

Each cycle also reveals more of Returnal’s story through visitations from the past and various Xenoglyph writings. The narrative is purposefully opaque, leaving much to the imagination for most of the game’s runtime. Even at the end, answers can be hard to come by, though there are some things the game makes fairly clear I won’t go into here.

Thankfully, every cycle is unique enough, and the moment-to-moment gameplay enjoyable enough, that you won’t mind the occasional disruption for story.

The tale itself takes on some heavy stuff, and it does so with care and a lot of attention given to the weight of the decisions that lead each character to this point in their lives. It’s not perfectly told, as the writers can sometimes be a little too proud of themselves, making the writing feel overwrought and needlessly grandiose.

While the exposition can get in its own way, the worldbuilding does not. Everything is on point: from the way the levels are built to the alien environments of Atropos to the godlike beasts that lurk in the shadows. Throughout the story, events only grow stranger as reality seems to bend further and further toward a breaking point.

Don’t Fear the Cycle

Returnal will test your sanity as much as it does Selene’s thanks to a high level of difficulty that only ramps up deeper into the game. Each new biome introduces enemy types with new attacks, new patterns, and new effects. The amount of visual effects on screen, most of which can kill you, also increases exponentially as you play.

It’s a testament to the PS5 that the game doesn’t chug or hitch during these intense moments, as even some PCs would have trouble pulling off so many particle effects at once without stutter or frame drops.

However, some of the arenas you fight in don’t always feel appropriate for either the enemies you fight or the density of the enemies inside. When you run across the rocket launching drones in groups of 10 or more, in a space too small to accommodate all those missiles, you’ll know what I mean.

Your deaths are usually your fault despite the level of randomization. Returnal has a fair few tutorials, but these mostly involve mechanics your character does, not that the world does. You’re as liable to die because of a pit or enemy attack you’ve never seen before as a miss-timed dodge or because you messed up this mechanic or that one.

It can be frustrating too to find yourself at the mercy of an offscreen enemy or needing just one more second to kill the trash mob throwing missiles at you. It’s rarely a lack of preparation that will get you killed because once you know what a fight will take or how to handle a certain kind of enemy, they aren’t themselves the threat. It’s the possibility of being overwhelmed that’s the real problem.

Big Boy Fights

Boss fights are in a tough position in Returnal because they have to be both unique one-on-one encounters and also provide that threat of being swarmed. Boss attacks, therefore, take up a metric ton of screen space. The visual noise in the fights can be terrible, and you’ll spend half your time trying to make out what’s going on as you will damaging the boss.

Bosses are also comparatively easier than going through levels, as after a few fights, you know what each attack pattern is and how to deal with it. This is true of other roguelikes, of course, but because of the lack of build variety in Returnal, you end up going through the motions more often than you do experimenting with new ways of dealing with the boss.

Each fight is, like the worlds they capstone, unique and asks something new of you, usually building on the mechanics you’ve learned to that point. The fights all have three phases, and this tends to alter the fight in some way, either through new attacks or mechanical changes. It would have been nice if some of the bosses turned gameplay on its head rather than simply increasing the challenge a bit.

A Human Touch to an Alien World

Despite the bosses falling somewhat short in the gameplay department and the story feeling precious from time to time, Returnal’s core conceit is remarkably human for the world where it takes place. This fact is both its greatest triumph and largest problem.

The game has to toe the line between alien, Lovecraft-inspired action roguelike, and subdued, darkly emotional narrative adventure. The pacing is all over the place as a result. One moment you’ll be adrenaline-fueled. The next, you’re taking part in a slow-paced walking section with weird narrative devices.

Returnal all but requires this shift of the player, too, if they want to understand fully what’s going on and why. Then, even if you do everything the game asks of you, some answers simply don’t exist. That’s all well and good for a game paying homage to Lovecraft’s mythos, but there are actually too many answers to questions here.

While there is plenty of room for interpretation, because the game’s story is ultimately one about Selene and not the strange world she’s been dropped into, Returnal loses some of the mystery as it chases the familiar.

Returnal Review — The Bottom Line

 

Pros
  • Amazing roguelike gameplay with a satisfying loop
  • Great world-building in a Lovecraft-inspired narrative
  • The first full PS5 game to truly put the system through its paces
Cons
  • Pacing issues of both the gameplay and story variety
  • Occasional frame hitching and a lack of expected gameplay features like saves
  • Lots of visual noise and randomization sometimes breaks the balance

Returnal offers a tightly designed roguelike with responsive controls, a well-realized world, and a solid roguelike gameplay loop with minimal but significant upgrade paths and plenty of challenge. It also makes generous use of the PS5 hardware, perhaps the first full game on the console to do so (Astro's Playroom somewhat counts, but it's also more a large tech demo).

The gunplay is also exquisite, even for someone more used to shooting on a mouse and keyboard than a pair of control sticks. There is a fair bit of visual noise, and some of the random arenas aren’t ideal for the more annoying enemy types or enemy density.

While compelling at times, the story suffers from pacing and clarity issues and doesn’t know exactly which side of the cosmic horror fence to land on. The focus is clearly on the roguelike elements and excellent moment-to-moment gameplay, with good reason, as these are the game's strongest suits. The sound design is also top-notch, and the music is appropriate if not memorable.

If you’re looking for an experience that really takes advantage of the latest console hardware, Returnal offers it and a lot more. Does it justify its $70 price tag or the purchase of a PS5? That’s debatable, as I don’t consider Returnal a killer app the same way I would a Bloodborne or a Breath of the Wild. That doesn’t take away from the sheer quality on display here and the fact this is a game made with the future in mind, in-game or in the real world. Whatever that is.

[Note: The writer purchased the copy of Returnal used for this review and was reimbursed for their purchase.]

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