Interview with Ashes of Creation’s Steven Sharif [ZAM]

Read the full article on ZAM

Since the halcyon days of Double Fine Adventure just a few years ago, Kickstarter has faded as a legitimate source of revenue for video game companies. While some veteran developers and spiritual sequels can still find success on Kickstarter, it’s the last place one would expect to find a multi-million dollar MMORPG by a brand new studio.

Intrepid Studios has discovered an audience who is hungry for their upcoming title Ashes of Creation, an ambitious MMORPG that promises an impressive degree of player involvement within the politics, economy, and history of the world. The Kickstarter campaign surged to over $1 million after 36 hours. The campaign wrapped up last week with nearly 20,000 backers pledging over $3.2 million.

Read the full article on ZAM

Cosmic Star Heroine Review [Pixelkin]

Read the full review at Pixelkin

We’re supposed to “reach for the moon” in our goals. That way if we fall short we’ll still land among the stars. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that the nearest star is several light-years farther away than our moon. But the point is sound.

Zeboyd Games’ moon is represented by classic, beloved 90s Japanese RPGs such as Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, and Phantasy Star. It’s a big reason I backed the game on Kickstarter several years ago. To take on some of the best RPGs in gaming with an indie budget and two-person development team is a daunting challenge. While Cosmic Star Heroine falls short in some ways, it still lands among the stars as one of the best games I’ve played this year.

READ THE FULL REVIEW AT PIXELKIN

Thimbleweed Park Review [Pixelkin]

Read the full review on Pixelkin

Nearly every hugely successful Kickstarter game plays on the nostalgia of gaming yesteryear. Pillars of Eternity and Baldur’s Gate. Torment: Tides of Numenera and Planescape: Torment. Yooka-Laylee and Banjo-Kazooie.

Thimbleweed Park’s campaign aimed its sights at a very distinct game style: classic LucasArts Adventures. The finished product not only succeeds at capturing the humor, gameplay, and essence from the era of Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, but also stands tall with adventure gaming classics as a great game in its own right.

READ THE FULL REVIEW ON PIXELKIN

We Happy Few Early Access Preview [Pixelkin]

Survival-crafting games are a dime a dozen, but We Happy Few’s real joy is its immersive world and how it plays with conformity and hallucinatory drugs.

Read the full preview at Pixelkin

What if you had to survive in a BioShock-esque world without all those fancy plasmids and guns? Instead you’re armed with rotten food, pointy sticks, and one very special drug.

We Happy Few began life with a successful Kickstarter campaign before hitting Steam Early Access this Summer. The game combines survival-crafting into a unique setting rarely explored in gaming – the drug-fueled, post-war 1960s. This initial Early Access version features most of the gameplay sans story, and with only the one playable protagonist.

In this world’s alternate history, World War 2 went very, very badly for England. The Nazis successfully invaded and destroyed much of the country, leaving its population frightened and destitute. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying life right?

One little happy pill called Joy, and all your real world problems simply melt away. The people in the island city of Wellington Wells may harbor some deep secrets, but most of its drug-addled citizens don’t seem to care. Except for you.

READ THE FULL PREVIEW AT PIXELKIN

New Video – Pillars of Eternity Dragon Fight – Cail The Silent

My 2nd attempt at battling Cail The Silent, my first major dragon fight in Pillars of Eternity.

I don’t get the chance to really live stream or record very many gameplay videos or Let’s Plays these days. I did manage to sneak in a quick little video showing off my first major dragon fight in Pillars Of Eternity, a massive, old-school tactical RPG Kickstarted by Obsidian Entertainment in 2012 and released in March.

I’m really loving the hell out of Pillars of Eternity. For fans of the Golden Age of tactical computer role-playing games (late 90s, early 00s) and games like Baldur’s Gate, it’s absolutely a dream come true. Divinity: Original Sin, another phenomenal tactical RPG (and also crowdfunded) was my Game of the Year last year, and Pillars of Eternity is a strong contender for this year.

In this video I battle the fire dragon Cail The Silent. This is actually my second attempt at battling the beast, the first time I came extremely close but ultimately lost. My team consisted of my PC (melee chanter), Edér, Pallegina, Durance, Aloth, and Sagani, all level 8.

 

 

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut

Shadowrun Dragonfall is the definitive Shadowrun cRPG experience with a meaty campaign and lots of crucial improvements.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Harebrained Schemes

Publisher: Harebrained Holdings

Release Date: September 18, 2014 (Director’s Cut), February 27, 2014 (Original Expansion)

My first real brush with the Shadowrun universe occurred with 2013’s crowdfunded release of Shadowrun: Returns. I was mostly unfamiliar with the 80s cyberpunk-meets-urban-fantasy world having only briefly tried out either the old SNES or Genesis games. I grew increasingly interested in that world and gameplay during its Kickstarter campaign (which I didn’t back at the time) and ended up purchasing and playing Shadowrun Returns right when it released in the Summer of 2013. I also cheated a bit and added it onto my then-schedule of backlogged games for Rogue’s Adventures (you can read my Final Thoughts on the game here).

Unfortunately I only had time to play the main campaign. Even at release they were new user-made adventures and runs being developed but I’ve yet to dive into any of them. Harebrained Schemes released an official expansion, Dragonfall in early 2014 that fixed a lot of Returns’ issues and added an all new, lengthier, and more satisfying campaign. It was free to those that already owned Shadowrun Returns (being part of their Kickstarter fulfillment). Later that year they released the Director’s Cut version as a stand-alone game that further added new content as well as iterating on the interface and other improvements.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut is the definitive Shadowrun experience. Aside from the actual tabletop role-playing version, Dragonfall presents the best form of playing through the wonderfully diverse and exciting world of Shadowrun.

Dragonfall utilizes the same Unity isometric engine found in many of the most popular modern cRPGs, including Wasteland 2 and the recently released Pillars of Eternity, but it’s also the most limiting and weakest implementation of those games. While a slight step up from Returns, Dragonfall continues to present mostly static maps (everyone stands around waiting for you to talk to them) and only a very specific amount of scripted objects that can be interacted with. Most of the puzzles are limited to finding passwords for a computer, with nearly every scenario and situation involving heavy amounts of combat.

Thankfully the combat is where Shadowrun Dragonfall really shines. Like its predecessor it operates on a turn-based action point system, though its scope is also limited compared to its contemporaries (Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin). With 2-3 points per character the action is more akin to XCOM where you can choose to move, take cover and fire off your weapon. Since it’s Shadowrun you get a ton of fun stuff to do, like flinging spells (both offensive and supportive), activating cybergear buffs and abilities, channeling Adept powers, summoning spirits, controlling drones, and hacking into the matrix. With a ton of varied abilities and an impressively clever AI that takes cover, moves to flank your team, and fires grenades when you bunch up, the combat remained fresh and fun throughout the lengthy 35hr+ campaign.

The single biggest improvement Dragonfall made was in your team structure and dynamic. Shadowrun Returns mostly told a personal story about your customized runner. A few story-based NPCs would occasionally join you, but mostly you hired from a pool of pre-generated runners for a fee. While it was fun to try out different combinations and set-ups, it never really felt like a team.

Dragonfall fixes all that and brings back the concept of an actual shadowrun team from the tabletop game. They’re featured heavily in the promotional artwork, consisting of Eiger the troll ex-military, no nonsense weapons specialist, Dietrich the ex-punk rocker tatooed shaman, Glory the heavily cyber-modified medic with a mysterious and dark past, and later Blitz the hot shot decker/rigger.

After the exciting opening mission, which begins with the classic run gone wrong, you’re given the leadership position of this ragtag crew that I quickly grew to love. Harebrained definitely takes a page out of other great RPG writers Bioware and Obsidian. Your crew has their own little base of operations and you’re free to walk around and talk to them learning more about their backgrounds and their hopes and fears a la every modern Bioware title.

You’re still free to hire additional runners to change the make-up of your team, but your own crew is free to take with you and they’re nicely balanced that I almost never felt the need to hire other random crew members. They also have their own skill trees where you can choose to improve from two different paths after every major mission, giving you further control and lending even more satisfying familiarity with your team.

Harebrained really does an amazing job with your team, and eventually they open up some interesting side missions that just involve them and your character. Blitz needs to score a big hit to pay off a big debt while Glory dives headfirst into her hellishly abusive past to hunt down the cult that twisted her. These character missions are some of the best in the game, focusing on particularly amazing story-telling and sequences.

Dragonfall commits the Baldur’s Gate II feaux pas of throwing up a large speed bump right when the main story is getting interesting. At an early avenue you’re forced to make money in order to continue on with the main story of a possibly resurrecting dragon. This middle section of going on missions to make money takes up the majority of game time, and while fun and very Shadowrun-appropriate, I still felt a major disconnect with the main story for much of the game.

Most runs have fun elements and quirks that make them memorable, from a powerful cyber-zombie that temporarily joins your team to investigating an abandoned research facility. Towards the end I was definitely antsy to get on with the main story, which teased the return of Firewing, a great dragon that was shot down years ago but who’s clues were mysteriously leading to her return.

The climactic final mission was all kinds of amazing, consisting of several huge areas, new tilesets and enemies and one of my favorite parts of any RPG – the chance to talk down the main villain using an extended dialogue session. It was incredibly satisfying and fun, and is much better integrated than Shadowrun Returns’ off the rails bug spirit finale.

Dragonfall doesn’t fix all of the underlying limitations that were present in Returns. It’s still incredibly annoying that you can’t manage your allies’ inventory (picking up items either goes to your inventory or your stash) and I mentioned before about the almost complete lack of puzzles and interactive objects (especially compared to the likes of other cRPGs). Dragonfall does make improvements where it can – now there are options to use your decker or your muscle in situations where your character lacks the needed skill but you brought someone that covers it. The interface is much improved and lets you see both your currently equipped weapons and your spells, items, cybergear etc with lots of nice keyboard shortcuts. Oh and you can also save anywhere now – a huge problem with the original game.

If you’re only going to play one Shadowrun turn-based RPG, definitely play the Director’s Cut of Shadowrun: Dragonfall. The meaty campaign is wonderful and the varied runs and core party members create a satisfying experience that echoes the tabletop adventure. The Shadowrun games are the perfect example of great indie games that I wish could be given more funding and time to create a truly stellar experience.

Based on my time with Dragonfall I quickly backed Harebrained Schemes’ second Kickstarter, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, which just wrapped up a few weeks ago. I’m thrilled that we keep getting these amazing little tactical RPGs, and the Shadowrun universe has become one of my absolute favorites in fiction.

 

Pros

  • Excellent and well balanced turn-based tactical combat
  • New core party members are a vast improvement over randomly hired runners
  • Fun and varied missions
  • Exciting and satisfying beginning and ending
  • Wonderfully thematic music and art style – Shadowrun world is fantastic
  • Top notch evocative writing, both dialogue and descriptive

 

Cons

  • Main Quest takes a backseat through the entire middle half of the game
  • Non-combat mechanics are still very limited
  • Still can’t adjust your party’s inventory mid-mission

 

Final Say: Shadowrun Dragonfall is the definitive Shadowrun cRPG experience with a meaty campaign and lots of crucial improvements.

Making Characters in Pillars of Eternity

Steam says I’ve already logged about three hours in the game, and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve barely made it out of the character creator.

Pillars of Eternity released yesterday after two and a half years of development. I was a Kickstarter backer from back in 2012 and have very much been looking forward to this spiritual successor to the wonderful isometric ‘Infinity Engine’ games of the late 90s and early 2000s (Read my Final Thoughts on Baldur’s Gate II).

Steam says I’ve already logged about three hours in the game, and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve barely made it out of the character creator. It’s so much fun making characters! Six races with 2-4 subraces each, 11 classes, half a dozen cultural backgrounds and dozens of portraits. I fell into the trap of finding an excellent file containing more excellent fantasy portraits, so now my options number in the hundreds!

I’ve purposefully kept myself mostly in the dark about the game, so I’ve also been looking up some basic information about class structure. I’m familiar with standard Dungeons and Dragons classes and archetypes, but Pillars of Eternity offers some new twists and concepts. Chanters are like song-twisting bards from Everquest (my favorite bard implementation ever), Ciphers manipulate souls in an intriguing psychic warrior way and Druids can shapeshift into monstrous were-beasts and still cast spells.

I still haven’t narrowed down whom I’ll be playing first, but thankfully Obsidian included the ability to hire your own party members (in addition to the story-based companions) so more than likely I’ll see them all at some point in a single playthrough.

Here’s Isabella, a Savannah Human Rogue hailing from the Deadfire Archipelago. She’s a sassy, hedonistic pirate and obviously based on the character from Dragon Age II. I’ve heard there’s no rogue companion in Pillars of Eternity so I could definitely see myself hiring her if I don’t pick her.

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Aumaua are the large, orc/viking/nordic folk that are all about the sea. They look kinda like the Na’vi from Avatar, and I love the exotic combination of blue skin and dreadlocks. I couldn’t find a decent male picture but the standard female Aumauan portrait is fantastic. Nuala is proud and serious, but in combat she becomes enters a terrifying rage-filled frenzy.

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The godlike race are like the aasamir and tieflings from D&D, only these are more tied to elementals instead of good/evil (like the gensai from later editions). They are a mixed bag in the character creator – the actual figure looks amazing with super unique head ornamentations, but the character portraits are horribly sparse. You can fudge a little bit and use a human portrait for an elf, but you really can’t replicate the crazy glowing blue hair and horns of the moon-gods or the insanely creepy eyeless masks of the death-gods.

Anyway, this female nature-godlike’s portrait is easily the best, and it fits a druid perfectly. Godlikes can actually be any race so I went with Orlan for a short and spunky look. She’s a nature-loving hippie that occasionally morphs into a giant were-stag for some hands-on action.

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In general the female portraits look much better than the males. Maybe it’s just because most of the men look like boring old fighters. I did find one fun concept – a pale elf chanter from the frozen ‘White that Wends.’ Definitely going with a death/undead theme as many of the cool chanter songs involve summoning skeletons and exploding corpses. Maybe he’s into death metal?

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As you can tell I’m more interested in character concepts and ideas rather than specifically min/maxing my stats. I plan on playing on Normal which should give me some breathing room in that regard, letting me play the character/race combo I want to rather than the one I need to. What kind of character will you play?