Back in the heyday of Kickstarter game releases I backed many a title, often without much consideration to what I was actually backing. The resulting games, as you’d expect, have been a mixed affair with all of them coming in a year or two behind their optimistic schedules. Thinking back now I’m not sure what drew me to backing Torment: Tides of Numenera as I never got into Planescape Torment or Baldur’s Gate games, favouring instead RPGs that tended towards more action than anything else. Still after seeing it wasn’t some 40+ hour epic I finally decided to give Tides of Numenera a go, figuring it’d be a nice change from the massive, open world RPGs I’d been playing of late.
Set in the distant future Tides of Numenera puts you in control of the Last Castoff, a vessel of an ancient man who has the ability to migrate his consciousness between bodies. Your journey starts as you plummet towards earth in a ball of fire, burning a path across the sky. Instead of meeting your doom at the short stop at the end you’re instead transported into a strange world, one which is filled with memories that are yours but don’t belong to you. It is then that you’re confronted with an unspeakable evil, The Sorrow, which follows you everywhere you travel. What’s clear to you however is this: you have the power to shape the world and the events that take place in it, even those that have already happened.
Tides of Numenera’s styling is a throwback to simpler times, making use of pre-rendered backgrounds, an isometric viewport and simplistic graphics. The Unity engine is more than up to the task of this and I wouldn’t be surprised to see future versions of it running on iOS or Android. It’s probably a generation behind in terms of visuals when compared to similar titles although I believe that’s deliberate as the game most certainly had its focus elsewhere. All that being said there are some cool visual concepts in there, like the first memory room where you make choices about what kind of character you want to play. Overall I’d rate the visuals as competent but nothing to write home about.
When nearly any game incorporates some RPG element the definition of what constitutes a game in this genre can be a little hard to pin down. Tides of Numenera is a RPG in the truest sense of the word, setting up vast and complex systems that you can use to craft the game’s experience to your every whim. There’s a deep character, skill and talent system which has a myriad of choices that will drastically change how you interact with the world. Nearly all of the NPCs have massive sets of dialogue attached to them, some of it quest related but a lot of it dedicated to fleshing out the greater world. The encounter system blends together elements of turn-based combat and puzzle solving which, if played right, can ensure you never have to land a blow on anyone if you don’t want or need to. Couple this with a bunch of ancillary systems, all of which are done in aid of giving you choice in how the story unfolds, and you have a game that stays very true to the roots of its genre.
The encounter system is an interesting break from the now traditional RPG combat systems. Whenever you enter a “crisis” you’re presented with a bunch of options which you can either take heed of or completely ignore and lay waste to anyone or thing that stands in your way. The way other options are integrated is very interesting, like being able to talk to enemies and use a skill check to say, demoralise them thereby reducing their effectiveness in combat. In actual combat mechanic terms I’m somewhat less impressed as I’ve never really been a fan of turn-based systems. That being said, if you’d prefer to blow everything up there’s certainly more than enough choices available to you.
Progression comes to you steadily as you complete quests, defeat enemies, interact with NPCs or simply explore the world around you. If I’m honest the number of options available to you is quite overwhelming as you can never be quite sure what you might need to complete your objective. This is by design, of course, and those who’ve spent many more hours in true RPGs will likely have a better judge of what’s required than I did. Indeed as I pushed further into the game it became apparent that there was never any real hard blocks to progression, even if my preferred option was unavailable to me. If you were so inclined there was always ways to get what you wanted, it may just mean a lot more exploring and interaction than simply clicking through the right dialogue options. Some of the progression systems, like the loot, seemed almost completely unnecessary however given how much power was lent to the other systems in the game. Overall I never felt like I was struggling to progress my character further but I did find a lack of drive to go to the next objective.
Coming into this game several friends warned me that the beginning of the game was heavily loaded with world building, all care of globs of text. They were not wrong either and the vast majority of the early game is spent reading through dialogue, making choices and generally just getting to know the world and the players around you. Whilst I’m not against this per-se, indeed I’ve chided other games for neglecting world-building before, it does start to wear on you. After playing for about 4 hours I still felt like I was at the very start of the story with progress in the main campaign mission coming slowly and fitfully. By comparison the self contained side quests which much better overall but weren’t enough to draw me in.
So whilst I can appreciate the effort put into ensuring that the world you play in is a vast and deep one I felt that wasn’t tempered with enough progression early on to keep my interest beyond 4 hours. To be sure a lot of things happened in that time and I could start to see the tendrils of the story beginning to unfold. But there just wasn’t enough to make me want to keep going. That, coupled with the other middling progression systems, had me feeling more frustrated than anything else. I could have soldiered on but I felt I’d be doing the game a grave disservice as I’d simply stopped enjoying myself at that point. I can still see the value in it however and I’m sure for the true RPG fans out there this is one of the better experiences that have come our way recently.
It just failed to capture me, that’s all.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a return to the beginnings of the RPG genre, one that focused on the world and the place you have it rather than points in a talent tree. It’s visuals are basic and competent, seeking to evoke the same feelings that it’s spiritual predecessors would have all those years ago. The various game mechanics are deep and complex, giving you all the options you could want to craft a character and story to your exacting specifications. The story however, due mostly to its construction within the game, failed to grab this writer, spending too much time on building the world rather than pushing forward the narrative I was a part of. That being said whilst I may have realised that Tides of Numenera isn’t so much for me that doesn’t mean it’s not for you, dear reader.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $44.99. Game was played on the PC with 4 hours of total play time and 10% of the achievements unlocked.
SuperGiant games made a name for itself with its debut title Bastion, a breakout success that few companies are able to achieve with their first title. Indeed if you look deeper into the development team the success seems even more incredible considering that the team’s experience doesn’t have much of a pedigree in this genre. Still they’ve managed to win many fans, including myself, and when I first heard of Transistor last year I was already sold as it seemed like they took the core of Bastion and revamped it with an entirely new IP. The question on my mind was whether or not they could live up to the high standard that they set with Bastion as whilst I did my best to avoid the hype my expectations were already high for their next title. I’m glad to say that Transistor stands by itself as a great game with the ideas in Bastion taken as inspiration, not gospel.
Ah Cloudbank, the place where everyone has a voice. The city is shaped and sculpted by the will of the people, the seasons changing on the whim of popular opinion and the sunset painted a brilliant hue by visionary artists. Yes, for nearly everyone, this place is paradise where one person can truly make a difference and no one goes unheard. Something’s amiss though, people are starting to go missing, their voices seemingly snuffed out never to be heard from again. Even Cloudbanks most prolific and inspirational performer, Red, has gone silent leaving many to wonder what is going on. Little do they know that Red’s voice was stolen and her crusade to take it back will determine Cloudbank’s fate.
Supergiant’s trademark art style is back in Transistor, although this time it’s been reworked into a slick sci-fi theme. Transistor has a wonderful array of colour palettes, visual effects and scenery that makes it a visually exciting experience that’s dripping with detail. Despite the wildly different theme to Bastion it still has the same feel, employing the same isometric view with heavily stylized 3D elements that blend seamlessly with the non-3D backgrounds. This does mean that sometimes the visual experience gets a little overwhelming which is thankfully balanced off by the barren visuals of the Turn() mechanics, ensuring that the visuals don’t affect the core gameplay negatively.
Transistor takes nearly all of the core ideas of Bastion and reworks them all, leaving behind some of the more frustrating aspects and generally improving on them. You’ll still engage in the same style of brawler combat, with dozens of enemies throwing themselves at you, but it’s augmented by the Turn() mechanic that allows you to plan out your moves. You can also play the game completely in real time if you wish, something which can be advantageous depending on the encounter you find yourself in. The levelling and upgrade systems are quite intricate, allowing you to augment skills with other skills which can produce some truly outrageous combos. There’s also the famed “limiter” system which allows you to ratchet up the difficulty in exchange for more experience, giving power players the challenge they’ve been long desiring.
The combat system feels well thought out as nearly every combo I tried felt viable with the exception of some boss battles which ruled out certain strategies completely. Transistor encourages you to experiment with different build by making respecing free (you just need to find an access point) and giving you optional challenges with defined skillsets so you don’t have to figure everything out in the field. There are, of course, combinations that are far more powerful than others (like Breach + Get + Cull) and depending on what your play style is you’ll likely tend towards particular skills. I started off favouring controlling builds that gave me a lot of safety but after a while I switched up to a mega damage combo that could one shot nearly any enemy I came across. Funnily enough some of the limiters you can use can actually make some builds more viable (like having an army of bad cells), something which I thought was a rather cute idea, if intentional.
The biggest differentiator though is the inclusion of the Turn() mechanic which allows you to plan out a set of moves without the enemy being able to interrupt you. Essentially you can pause the game, plan out a series of moves up to a point and then execute them all in one go. Afterwards though you’ll have to wait for the ability to cool down again before you can use it and, unless you’ve skilled for it, all your regular abilities will be unavailable. It adds a deep level of strategy to the otherwise mindless brawling that you’ll constantly be engaged in, something that you have to respect lest you want to feel like you’re repeating the same content endlessly. One caveat about it though is that you’d better be clear on what each of your functions do as whilst Turn() might tell you that enemy will be dead you might end up doing something that puts them out of reach of your abilities. This is especially true with Cull() as enemies are effectively invulnerable after the first hit.
The levelling system maintains a good pace throughout the game, meaning that should you really want to level up (for whatever reason) you can likely do so by spending some time in the various tests in the back door area (similar to the challenges in Bastion). Whilst you won’t be penalized for choosing one upgrade path over the other, they will all be made available to you eventually, the choice is most certainly meaningful. Sometimes it can feel like you’re getting yourself into a chicken and egg scenario however the game appears to adjust itself to your current level and skillset. Early on this seems to be a bit hit and miss, as some of my more broken builds can attest to, but after that the pacing is quite smooth with the difficulty ramping up nicely.
However where Transistor really shines through is in the deep narrative and character development which stands out as one of the better titles of this year so far. Transistor, like its predecessor, starts out a little confusing due to the lack of information given but it does a good job of filling in the games, keeping the player informed and fleshing out all the ancillary character’s backstory. The return of Logan Cunningham as The Transistor for the running narration in the background is also very welcome and Supergiant did a great job of incorporating him into the game whilst also not relying on him to carry the game through as the other voice actors are just as exceptional.
What I liked most about Transistor’s story was the organic way in which story background elements were revealed to you. Whilst the bulk of it is delivered by the rather unimaginative walls of text buried in the levelling system it’s at least consistent and bite sized, meaning that you’ll never feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading Transistor wants you to do. The way in which Red’s relationship with the mysterious man develops is by far one of the better aspects of the story. The ending left me with some mixed feelings as it really is quite bittersweet but that does mean it’s by far one of the more memorable endings of recent times.
Transistor is another exceptional title from Supergiant games, taking all the elements that made Bastion successful and molding them into another game that stands on its own. The combat is engaging, deep and fluid, encouraging the player to experiment with all sorts of wild combinations that only get more complex as the game progresses. Level progression is smooth, providing a challenge at all stages of the game, even when you think you’ve unlocked the broken combo. Transistor’s story, along with it’s brilliant voice acting and gorgeous presentation, Truly Supergiant games are going from strength to strength with their releases and I simply can not wait to see what they produce next.
Transistor is available on PC and PlayStation4 right now for $19.95 and $19.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 6 hours of total play time and 36% of the achievements unlocked.
Sometimes the things that happen after a review is penned are far more important than those that came before it. Diablo 3 is a prime example of this as whilst my initial impressions of the game were nothing short of amazement the tale of my experience after that is much more mixed. The challenge progression felt great, for a while, but once I hit Inferno the game shifted from being a conquerable challenge to an exercise in frustration. The auction house, initially a great source to give your character a quick boost, soon became the bane of my existance with all the items I needed far beyond my reach and the amount of griding required to get them far too high. It wasn’t long before I lost interest, alongside many of my long time Diablo fan friends. Blizzard was keenly aware of this however and the release of Diablo 3’s first expansion pack, Reaper of Souls, sets out to correct many of the missteps of its predecessor.
With the defeat of Diablo at the top of the crystal arch humanity was once again safe from his terror. However his essence was still captured in the black soulstone, unable to be destroyed even by the angels of heaven. Tyrael, now the mortal Aspect of Wisdom, has once again sought out the Horadrim to secret away the soulstone so that none may attempt to use it for their own purposes. However Malthael, the Archangel of Wisdom who had been lost ever since the destruction of the World Stone, had tracked the soulstone’s location. Whatever his plans are for it are not known but one thing is for sure, you, the Nephalem, are the only one who can stop him.
As you’d expect from an expansion pack Reaper of Souls adds a little more graphical flair to Blizzards’ flagship dungeon crawler although it’s nothing major like an overhaul of the graphics engine. The environments do feel like they have a lot more detail in them and the use of lighting and environmental effects is a lot more liberal, especially in the new areas. Still Diablo 3 is a game that’s meant to be fast paced so much of it is designed to run well without stutters or slow downs and with Blizzard’s reputation of being the low poly kings this ensures that the visuals are still on par with other current generation titles.
There have been some major changes to the core game play of Diablo 3 in Reaper of Souls, the vast majority of which have been aimed directly at addressing concerns that the community raised. The auction house is gone (both of it’s incarnations), the loot system revamped in a massive update called Loot 2.0 and the end game changed significantly adding in a new mode to replace the previous boss run meta that was the norm since Diablo 2. Additionally all the classes have had significant work done on their skills in order to make more of them viable for both end game loot farming as well as during your initial levelling experience. Suffice to say that whilst Reaper of Souls might only bring an additional act’s worth of content it adds an incredible amount of replayability, enough so that this feels like the game Blizzard should have released 2 years ago.
I actually jumped back onto Diablo 3 prior to the release of Reaper of Souls in order to try out the new Loot 2.0 system. Suffice to say I was very impressed as it only took me a couple hours to move from my less-than-stellar auction house purchased Inferno gear to a new set that was much more suited to my playstyle. It also didn’t take long for me to pick up a couple legendaries that completely changed the way my character was built, tempting me to try out builds that would have otherwise been completely unviable. Indeed even without those pieces of gear the various builds I experimented with all felt viable, a highly refreshing change to what I had to do previously.
Levels came thick and fast with my monk being able to reach 70 after a few nights worth of play. Indeed the levelling was so fast that I had pretty much reached level 70 before facing Malthael, only requiring a slight detour for the last push. The same can be said for Paragon levels that you’ll continue to amass after you reach max level, especially if you’re doing bounties or rifts often. The extra levels don’t add too much to the classes although the addition of another passive skill slot at max level does open up a lot of opportunities for builds that might not have been viable previously. The new monk skill, epiphany, is quite interesting although my current gear selection isn’t as effective with it as other builds. Whilst this might be disappointing to some (typically the new skills added in tend to be overpowered) I feel it’s a show of good design as the new skill adds variation whilst not being so powerful that its use is required.
The new way of running end game content is an obvious attempt to shift the current meta of boss runs for items to a more varied approach, incorporating a number of different types of runs that will result in a certain number of legendaries per hour. The first one is called Adventure Mode and is unlocked after completing the campaign through once. In this mode you’re given a series of bounties, usually things like “Clear out all enemies in the Den of Evil” or “Kill this act boss”, and for each of the ones you complete you’ll receive some XP and gold. Complete all of them within one act and you’ll receive a cache from Tyrael that contains a number of items, gems and health pots. This is in addition to any items that might drop along the way which will usually fill your inventory once for every 2 bounties completed. There’s also Nephalem Rifts which are randomly generated dungeons that require you kill a number of enemies before a boss will spawn and the Infernal Machines which pit you against super versions of act minibosses with a chance to drop legendary crafting materials.
The addition of the mystic, along with the minor tweaks to the crafting system, are welcome changes. The mystic allows you to reroll one stat on a piece of gear to another stat, making more pieces of gear viable. The costs of doing so are a little on the extreme side, especially for legendaries which all require a disenchanted legendary, but it can be worth it when you’re trying to min/max your way to victory. The limitation of only rerolling one stat is a little frustrating sometimes as you’ll often come across gear that’s got 2 junk stats on it but is otherwise fine but I can understand why this limitation is put in place. I’d probably complain less if crafting was actually worthwhile as currently the costs seem to heavily outweigh the chances of creating something that you’d use.
For the most part all of this adds up to a very enjoyable experience however I’d be lying if I said it didn’t start to feel a little grindy after a certain point. Sure my character is decked out in about half legendaries, some of them quite amazing, but the quest for items that improve my character has become somewhat arduous. I see as many legendaries drop as the next guy but even with my small collection I already have duplicates (quite irritating when you consider you can’t equip 2 of the same legendary weapon) and I’ve yet to see a solid upgrade in the last few days of play. It’s hard to fault Reaper of Souls specifically for this, it’s just the uncaring wrath of the random number generator, but grinding without the guaranteed reward of an upgrade at the end of it does sap a lot of the fun out of the experience. Now that I’ve said that I’ll probably do one run and get 3 upgrades in a row and all will be right in the world.
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls is the game Blizzard should have released 2 years ago as it has managed to capture the enduring attention of so many of my Diablo fan friends where the original failed to do so. The revamps to the talent system, loot and addition of the mystic all add up to make the experience far more enjoyable and rewarding, removing some of the reliance on good rolls to give you the stats you require. Adventure mode is the end game that many were seeking originally, something that provides a bit more flavour to the traditional boss runs of yore. Of course this doesn’t absolve you from the grind completely and, if I’m honest, this will likely be the thing that drives me away from playing Reaper of Souls. Still it’s enough that I feel that Diablo 3 will resurface as one of the LAN games of choice as it’s a lot of fun to blast through a couple bounties or rifts with a close bunch of friends.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is available on PC right now for $49.95. Total play time was approximately 15 hours reaching Paragon level 56.
The number of quality, well polished games that independent developers have been releasing recently has been great for the games market. Gone are the days where the idea of making a game was constrained only to the big developer houses or specific platforms and today we have a thriving independent ecosystem to support these talented developers. One such game to come out of the indie scene is Bastion a game that’s received much praise and developed something of a cult following. I’m not sure why I avoided it at the time but after getting frustrated with the end-game situation in Star Wars: The Old Republic and on the recommendation from friends I gave Bastion the once over.
Bastion puts you in control of a character known solely as The Kid. You awaken in your bed to find the whole world around you has fallen to pieces and every move you make is narrated by a gravely, disembodied voice. You then make your way to the Bastion, a safe place that everyone in Caelondia (The Kid’s home ) agreed to head in times of danger. There he meets a stranger, later revealed to be named Rucks, who’s voice is the one that narrates your every move. Ruk then informs you of the terrible event that occured, The Calamity, and how they need to go about restoring the Bastion after it was damaged during the event. So begins your long journey as you seek out the items required to restore the Bastion and uncover the truth about the Calamity.
Visually Bastion is quite pleasing on the eyes with its heavily stylization, bright colour palette and cel shaded 3D models that blend seamlessly. This style is reminiscent of other isometric RPGs like Diablo which use visuals like this in order to make sure you don’t get bored. This works quite well as whilst I was initially frustrated with Bastion (more on that later) my second session saw me play it all the way to the end and not once did I feel that the environments I was playing through were repetitive. It just drives home the idea that cutting edge graphics aren’t a requirement for good story telling, especially if you do them right like Bastion has done.
Bastion incorporates many aspects of traditional RPGs whilst doing away with others in order to simplify the gaming experience. There are levels for your character, which you gain in the traditional way of killing enemies and allow to add additional buffs to your character, but there’s really no loot system to speak of. Instead you have an arsenal of melee weapons, ranged weapons and special abilities that are all interchangeable. The weapons are also upgradeable allowing you to make them far more powerful than they originally are. This means that it’s likely that no 2 play throughs will be the same and lends a decent amount of replayability past the initial encounter.
I believe this simplified system is what lead me to get frustrated with Bastion in the early stages of the game. Initially you’re limited to a rather small arsenal, only a few weapons for each slot. You do pick one up every second level or so but progression at the start feels a little slow as most of the weapons and upgrades don’t feel like they’re making any difference. Later on, when your choices are much greater, that initial feeling starts to slip away in favour of you becoming somewhat unstoppable, at least my character did. I didn’t make it anywhere near max level (I think I got to level 6) but my combination (all fully upgraded) of Cael Hammer, Scrap Musket and Hand Grenade meant I could dispatch waves of enemies with little trouble.
It becomes apparent very early on in the game that whilst the Calamity might have destroyed much of the world there are still some people left alive. After you find them they’ll join you in the bastion and they’ll give you some insight into the various mementos that you find scattered throughout the world. They also bring with them challenges that you can complete for extra experience and cash to spend on upgrades whilst fleshing out the background story of one of the characters. The challenges are gauntlet style affairs and are a nice aside from the dungeon crawling that makes up the majority of Bastion.
One of Bastion’s most notable features though is the near constant narration. It serves two purposes, the first being to give a running commentary what’s currently going on. This gives you a great sense of the character’s motivations, feelings and gives the story solid direction in what would otherwise be a rather dull dungeon crawler. Secondly having a constant voice over allows Bastion to develop an extremely rich lore without having to result to giant walls of text that are common in RPGs. Whilst I can understand the reason why this is rare (voice acting is a time consuming and costly activity) Bastion’s use of it is quite unique. Plus Logan Cunningham’s dulcet tones aren’t hard on the ears either.
Where Bastion does fall down however is in the final throws of the story. Right up until the last 30 mins of the game your entire experience has been completely guided, your decisions ultimately made for you with a little freedom in what order things are built or upgraded. This is a fine way to tell a story, in fact this is how the vast majority of games play out. However right at the end you’re presented with two very distinct options to choose from on two different occasions. For a game that’s been choice agnostic up until this point adding in a choice at this part seems to only be for the sake of adding in some replayability. As a mechanic, I find that particularly cheap.
Warning, spoilers below:
Worse the first of the choices, whether or not to save Zulf, doesn’t seem to have any meaningful impact on the rest of the game. Granted the choice comes so late in the game that there’s not much it could really affect but that just makes its inclusion even worse. I’ll admit that the scene itself felt quite powerful, the notion of a selfless hero willing to put aside all the hurt someone has caused in order to save them, but the fact that your decision only mattered for then and there makes the choice arbitrary. The same goes for the ending as it basically boils down to the same problem that Deus Ex: Human Revolution suffered from. Instead of choices you make doing the game leading to an ultimate conclusion, you’re instead presented with a blunt “Hey choose your own ending!” screen. Though unlike Deus Ex you can’t just reload and see the other ending, meaning the intent of that mechanic is simply to encourage a second play through. Whilst it didn’t ruin Bastion for me it did sour the idea of going for a second playthrough as there doesn’t really seem to be a point to it.
Bastion is yet another shining example of games being used as a great story telling medium. The characters are well developed, the story thoroughly engrossing and the game play is rock solid, carrying all these elements along beautifully. Whilst I might disagree with some of the arbitrary moments that the game presents you with that doesn’t discount the rest of the game. Bastion then represents another magnificent independent release that shows just how far indepedent games developers have come, and how far they’ll be able to go.
Bastion is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $14.99 and 1200 Microsoft Points respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the regular difficulty with around 6 hours played time and 29% of the achievements unlocked.