Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Unepic

An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness

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: Francisco Téllez de Meneses

Publisher: Ninagamers Corp.

Release Date: October 2, 2011

rogues adventures final thoughts

Unepic has the unique quality of reminding me of a game I’ve never played. It feels like it utilizes a classic gameplay formula of meshing together elements of Metroid and Diablo in a 2D dungeon crawl, but I’d honestly never played a game quite like it. So while I lack any nostalgia for the gameplay, I found it inventive and interesting, despite some annoying difficulty spikes, immature, reference-filled writing, and a boring art style.

As you can quickly surmise from the banner image, our snarky hero is a modern day 20-something transported into a fantasy dungeon. He spends the entire first half of the game convinced that he’s taken some hallucinogenic drugs, and constantly spouts not-so-clever nerd-culture references at every opportunity. It grows tiresome a few hours in, and this is a 20 hour game.

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The one saving grace with the trite story (besides the surprisingly great finale and ending) is the shadowy creature that possesses the hero early on. Dubbed Zera, the shadow fails to possess our hero (who probably has a name but I don’t remember it at all) and winds up trapped within his body, becoming an unwilling companion to our adventures in the castle.

Zera provides a nice foil for our hero to play off of, as he’s constantly trying to get the hero killed so he’ll be freed. In one of the better nerd-references, their relationship is compared to X-Men‘s Xavier and Magento. Their respect for each other gradually builds over the course of the adventure, and by the end I grew to love Zera – murderous tendencies and all.

While the story isn’t exactly as captivating as even the relatively simplistic tales in Castlevania or Metroid (or even Diablo), the gameplay makes up for it. The dungeon is made up of individual rooms that take up a full screen. Each room is darkened and made up of multiple levels filled with ladders, platformes, and enemies. Lighting the torches along your way becomes critical, and a neat way to gauge your progress through each zone.

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The castle is divided up into over half a dozen areas, each with around a dozen screens, creating an impressively large dungeon. I actually found it just a bit too long as the overall gameplay and tactics grew repetitive toward the end – not to mention some rough patches where enemies grew wildly in strength and numbers. Damn the skeleton-filled catacombs!

Unepic leans heavily on the RPG aspects of the genre. Leveling up awards 5 skill points that can be pumped into various weapon and magic skills. The system isn’t very user-friendly, and it’s designed for those that want to min/max their characters by dumping everything into only a few skills to get the best abilities and wield the strongest weapons. Of course you won’t know which skills and weapons you’ll want, so it’s a stressful bit of planning ahead in the early levels. There is a side quest about halfway through that allows you to reset your points – a very helpful feature.

Each area has its own major quest that results in learning a new piece of magic. While some of the quests are fun and take you to different areas of the castle, it also leads to lots of backtracking. It also downplays the latter magic skills (Alteration, Protection) as presumably you’ve already put points into the early ones like Fire or Frost.

By the way, I went with a rogue/ranger type build, focusing on daggers, bows, and axes. A unique dagger I earned from a side quest carried me far, but eventually dropped them to focus on bows and axes. I found a late-game unique bow that absolutely decimated everything, and became my weapon of choice, along with some support from Fire and Healing spells.

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Backtracking is alleviated with an admittedly great fast travel system. Especially coming from Ori and the Blind Forest, which didn’t have one at all. Gates are scattered around the castle, usually 2 per zone, and teleport you to a central room filled with other gates.

In addition you can buy scrolls and spells that instantly take you to the merchants in each area. Quickly moving around the relatively large dungeon wasn’t an issue at all, though trying to remember which merchants sold what ability tomes was a bit annoying.

Limited animations and pixelated graphics are more than fine for a one-person indie project, but I was disappointed at the very limited palette selection throughout most of the castle. The individual room designs are nice, but so much of the castle is brown and gray that it grows repetitive after a dozen hours. Enemy types are also repeated to a high degree, with skeletons, snakes, and goblins making up a bulk of the foes I killed.

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Bosses fare a little better, taking a cue from the large, area-defining bosses of other metroidvanias. Oddly enough despite my haphazard skill management and character planning, I found most of the bosses quite easy. Zera helpfully warned me about each one, and most were slow with easily dodged attacks.

With better writing and a tighter, more varied focus Unepic could’ve been something really special. It’s still an impressive collection of genre parts all working together to produce a fun experience. By the final few areas I was definitely ready for it to be over, though I did very much enjoy the twist ending and interesting gameplay mode they introduce for the final battle. An interesting indie RPG experience that rewards persistence, exploration, and careful character planning.

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Pros

  • Solid 2D action-platformer gameplay with lots of loot and side quests
  • Rooms are well-designed and fun to explore and lighting mechanic works well
  • Fast travel system works incredibly well, minimizing backtracking woes and death penalties
  • Neat twist ending that introduces a last minute gameplay switch

 

Cons

  • Immature writing filled with references that are more miss than hit
  • Each area has the same basic structure, which quickly grows repetitive
  • Not enough enemy or art variety for the 20 hour length
  • Bosses are mostly slow and easy, while certain areas are annoyingly difficult

 

Final Say: An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness.

Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Epilogue & Recap

I recap our third Shadowrun adventure, “The Bodyguards,” from rock concert chaos to stealth infiltration at a mansion.

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Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 2 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 3 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 4 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 5 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 6 Report

When my friends and I first became interested in rekindling our online role-playing sessions from last year, I immediately suggested Shadowrun. The decidedly 80stastic cyberpunk-meets-fantasy world is just incredibly cool, and I was really digging the tactical RPGs being released from Harebrained Schemes.

Instead of diving into some pre-generated adventures to help us get started and familiarized with the world, I opted to jump write in with writing our own missions. My initial idea was the players working security at a magical rock concert, and having to prevent a chaotic kidnapping. I thought it might’ve been a bit too much to pull of originally, so I shelved it until our third mission.

“The Bodyguards” ended up lasting us six total sessions, with two shorter 1 hr weeks and one final, very lengthy 3.5 hour session. It consisted of four tactical maps in Roll20, three of which were quite large. I was incredibly excited to grow this adventure seed into a full-blown mission, though it ultimately ended up with mixed results.

BentonI encourage my players to create at least a bare-bones backstory for their characters, and I enjoy incorporating elements from their past into current adventures. In our previous mission, for example, Mauta nearly ran in to an old co-worker and boss she worked for at Ares before she went off the grid, which could’ve led to some interesting role-playing opportunities or combat (Mauta decided to avoid him entirely).

This time around I used an estranged brother of Ursev, our benevolent troll shaman as the quest-giver. This gave some personal motivation for one of our players and opened up some more meaningful dialogue.

The brother, Benton, offered the players the job as temp security guards for a One Night Only show for indie rock singer Lana Grace. He needed to double security, but wouldn’t divulge why. The players accepted the legitimate job and were given a chance to buy supplies as well as scout the gigantic converted warehouse location I’d built in Roll20 [Session 1 Report].

The night of the concert proved to be one of the single most enjoyable sessions I’ve had doing these online role-playing sessions. I had the major event planned with a strike team of kidnappers attacking and trying to abduct the singer. But first I wanted to explore the random events and situations that can crop up at a concert that the players would have to deal with.

There was very little actual combat, other than a surprise vampire that had a backstage pass. Players had to screen the backstage passers, confront a ticket scalper, deal with a drug dealer, help an unconscious fan and deal with the inevitable streaker on stage. It was a ton of fun, from Ursev crushing both tickets and drugs in his hands and scaring people off to Mauta spotting all the trouble from up in the catwalks. It still came down to me doing things and players reacting to them, but everyone enjoyed the structure and format [Session 2 Report].

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Finally Lana Grace took the stage, and I played my hand. The singer had some magical talents which helped distract everyone. Further complications arose when one of the magically-gifted attackers cast an illusion, causing a dragon to appear on stage and attack everyone. My players annoyingly resisted most of the illusions, and were able to handily defeat the kidnappers [Session 3 Report].

Shadowrun doesn’t operate with traditional levels, so when crafting my own adventures from scratch I find it difficult to balance encounters. I’d rather err on the side of easy to make things go faster and make the players feel more heroic, but by now my players have pretty much cleaved through everything I’ve thrown at them. During our epilogue session, I revealed that the story could’ve branched depending on if Lana had been captured or not, and the players admitted that losing that fight and having to rescue Lana would’ve been the far more compelling outcome.

This was not the end of the adventure – I had a whole follow-up planned. The kidnappers were sent by Lana Grace’s parents, who were involved with the Yakuza and wanted her returned. She just wanted to be free of them, and hired the runners to infiltrate their mansion and steal some blackmail-able evidence. This was our first real chance for a big stealth mission, and I was inspired by games like Deus Ex and Dishonored in creating a giant area filled with guards and opportunities. Unfortunately it kinda fell apart at the end.

First my players had to get inside, and I was quite impressed with their plan to mind control (a way too easy and borderline broken spell) one of the more agreeable kidnappers, using him to set up a return trip to the mansion. Falkirk dressed up as one of the strike team assassins while Mauta pretended to be the captured and unconscious Lana. This lead to an interesting splitting up of the party when they got through the gates. Saren stayed in the guardhouse downloading the floor plans, Mauta was taken to an upstairs bedroom, while the rest were able to just drive into the garage – after a little nudging from myself.

I also used this opportunity to introduce a new player – a law enforcement officer that was staked outside the villa. Referring to herself as Ms. Johnson, she offered to pay the runners if they brought the evidence to her – giving my players a dilemma they would face later on [Session 4 Report].

Inside the split-party situation proved tense and fun at first as everyone scrambled to poke around. Unfortunately they didn’t really have a game plan, nor even really worked together other than stumbling around the house spotting guards [Session 5 Report].

We discussed the issues at length during this Epilogue & Recap episode. A major problem is our reliance on Roll20 – I build everything on the tactical grid, so my players naturally just respond to whatever they see. Instead of asking me more questions or trying to think outside the box, for example, they see the main set of stairs and focus on that. After becoming frustrated with their options, they decided to sneak attack the guard in the foyer. It did not go well, and we rolled for initiative.

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I honestly wasn’t sure my players would be able to survive a full-on assault, and that’s quickly what this turned into as more guards responded to the alarm. The guards were quite strong for random minion NPCs, rolling 10 dice on their assault rifles and 8 for defense. I also had a souped-up augmented boss that leapt down from the 2nd story and nearly killed Ursev with two blows. Two edge points later and my boss lie dead instead – another Shadowrun system that feels super cheap to me.

At least this time the players wouldn’t get through unscathed. Both Mauta and Falkirk took heavy amounts of damage, and Ursev definitely would’ve died had he not used an Edge point. Saren did have a funny and tense moment as she was outside the mansion by a car, only to be attacked by a patrolling guard dog. She tried to hack the car but the powerful, custom-engineered dog broke through the windows, and she had her hands full.

After a very long but tense combat sequence the players turned the foyer of the mansion into a bloodbath. They went upstairs and confronted the parents, and their exhaustion and bloodied appearance led them to get exactly what they came for. They decided to blow of Ms. Johnson and head straight for Lana – but not before some delicious deliberating that I enjoyed hearing. These actions could definitely have consequences for them in the next adventure [Session 6 Report].

We definitely learned that the team prefers shock and awe tactics to stealth, though they also enjoyed the larger focus on fun role-playing moments versus heavy combat. In fact the whole mission was extremely light on combat having only two real encounters, though the last one was a doozy.

I thought “The Bodyguards” went pretty well but I also hit peak reliance on Roll20’s visual aides by using these giant custom-built maps. Ultimately I think it was detrimental as we relied on them far too much. Basically I’ve turned tabletop role-playing into a tactical wargame, and that’s not at all what I was going for. Future maps will be used sparingly. I’m also going to be using a pre-generated mission for our next adventure, “Splintered State.” That will be our final Shadowrun mission for the time being, as we plan on trying out a new RPG system in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition – Coming Soon!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Session 4 Report

The runners concoct an elaborate plan to infiltrate the mansion of some Yakuza leaders.

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Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 2 Report
Read “The Bodyguards” Session 3 Report

Due to an annoying bout of illness we had to have a shorter session than usual. Tabletop role-playing can be a lot of fun but can also be quite time-consuming. When we originally started with Pathfinder we had lengthy four hour sessions every week that went late into the night. Since I took over as GM with Shadowrun, we do 2-3 hour sessions, and while we still get a lot done, combat can slow things down considerably. As can only going for an hour because I was running a fever.

Of course the advantage for having a shorter session is it allows me more prep time. This adventure particularly requires three very large, carefully sculpted scenes in Roll20. Unlike the previous mission where I shepherded the players along a series of small scenes, I’ve given them much more freedom on how to approach these areas.

In last night’s session it was fun for me to mostly sit back and watch my players formulate the best plan for infiltrating a mansion. They’d received a new mission after preventing singer Lana Grace’s capture at the concert performance – a snatch and grab of blackmail-able evidence from her parents’ villa. My players had discussed things a bit toward the end of last week’s session, so I knew they wanted to try and use their newly captured foes to their advantage. I thought of just straight up denying them that path with a myriad of ways, but wanted to see where it would lead.

As one player pointed out, it did unfortunately lead me to do some of the work for them. After their troll shaman cast Control Thoughts on the one captive that was willing to work for them, I set up the plan going forward. I did get some instruction from the players on how to handle things, so it ended up being a fun bit of collaboration.

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The plan was to have their team’s face dress up in the full body uniform of the would-be kidnappers, while another teammate pretended to be the unconscious Lana Grace. The others would hide in the back of the van. I was impressed with the plan so I generally let it go without a hitch.

Well there was one little hitch. I introduced a third party that also wanted their hands on some hard evidence of the Yamotos’ Yakuza involvement. The players readily accepted the aid of a “Ms. Johnson” and agreed to help bring her back the information she needed. It’ll be interesting to see whom the players ultimately end up helping, as well as how they handle a stealthy infiltration.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Centra

Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Session 2 Report

Everything that can go wrong will go wrong when our shadowrunners work security at a rock concert in our funniest session yet.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report

For our third Shadowrun adventure I really wanted to try something different. Our previous mission was very combat heavy as I shuffled my runners from scene to scene as they made their journey to downtown Seattle. This time I created a single, gigantic scene in Roll20 where multiple events transpire – and only a few involve actual combat.

In our previous session the runners had purchased eqiupment and scoped out the location of the warehouse-turned-concert hall The Dragon’s Maw. They’d been hired as temporary security guards to beef up the staff for an indie rock label and their star performing artist – Lana Grace. One night only, and anything can happen.

As a GM I like to overplan as much I can so I’m at least somewhat prepared for any unexpected things my players do. I also shepherd them somewhat, and even within a single scene I had events happening all around them to replicate the feel of being part of a security team. Since the players all split up to handle different tasks and areas, I also switched around to make sure I didn’t focus on any one player or situation for too long, and made sure everyone got to do something.

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Before the opening band even took the stage I had a salvo of events lined up to take place. Most of them were just little side story kernels with a few notes. I was stepping a bit out of my comfort zone by having to ad-lib much of the specific dialogue and events, but it ended up being a hell of a lot of fun – I don’t think we’ve laughed so much and so hard in an adventure yet, and I was complimented on my voice acting (having a young child you read to every day helps immensely with this).

The folks backstage had to screen backstage passers to get into see Lana, a fun an direct way to screen people and use skills like Perception to find weapons and Judge Intentions to see how they were acting. I planted some questionable folks, some earnest ones, and even a creepy vampire – whom was totally allowed inside and subsequently had to be fought and put down! The dance floor area involved people trying to sneak backstage (which lead to a funny confrontation between the unstable decker of the group), and a drug peddler that was high on his own supply. The players guarding the entrance had to deal with a ticket scalper.

Most of these events were heavy on the role-playing and light on skill checks, and only the vampire ended up having any actual combat. It was a fun chance to let loose with some play acting and everyone ended up having a really fun time with it. Once the warm-up band took the stage I had a few more events transpire – like a streaker trying to run onto the stage.

All these mini-events ended up taking up all our time for the session, and we ended before our star actually hit the stage. I was nervous going into this session how well this system of seemingly random events would pan out, and if I ‘d be able to handle multiple things happening at once with the party split up. It ended up working out really well, and I’m pleased to see everyone having fun on a much more role-playing heavy session. Tune in next time to see if any more shenanigans arise when the star takes the stage!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Shadowrun 5E “Road Rage” Session 5 Report

The runners finally make it to the exchange at the docks where they contend with a magical onslaught of thunderstorms and mind control that threatens to tear it all down.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “Road Rage” Session 1 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 2 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 3 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 4 Report

I was super excited going into our fifth and final session of this adventure. The last twenty or so minutes from last week’s session gave us a lot of delicious inter-team drama and deliberation – the kind I can’t plan or produce but can only hope evolves naturally (and enjoyably) during the adventure.

Last night’s session picked up just as a tense plan was coming together. Our runners needed to get inside the docks to complete their exchange of the goods they’d worked so hard to escort and protect. I was expecting some fun social tests to crop up; instead Ursev the troll shaman cast his ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ Control Thoughts spell (a malicious but effective form of temporary mind control) and basically forced the guard to wave them through.

Most of them clamored into the truck but Saran the decker and Mauta the weapons specialist both opted to leap across the chain link fence and sneak around the shipping containers. Mauta stuck to the high ground while Saran sneaked around the side. This was our first real use of a giant map and set piece in Roll20, and I was pleased that my players were impressed, and somewhat apprehensive with it. There was a funny bit where Saran wasn’t sure how to sneak around a simple dock worker taking a cigarette break. He was seriously thinking of killing the poor guy just because he was in his way, which the other players immediately balked at.

Things seemed to go pretty smoothly at the actual exchange. Mauta and Saran took up defensive overwatch positions while Falkirk, Ursev, and their NPC buddies Lapis and Crank showed up with the truck and the goods.

I made the buyer, Ares mid-level manager Ricardo Martin, an affable and outgoing guy. Falkirk made the surprisingly but brilliant call to use Edge on the Negotiation roll to try and squeeze more money out of the deal, pushing his total hits to 6 (and net hits over Ricardo’s roll to 3). From my notes that equaled another $6,000 nuyen in reward money per player, on top of the original $2,000 they were getting. Working for mega crops does have its advantages!

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Of course I wasn’t about to let things go down that easy. I unleashed my secret weapon – a two-step mage attack from an unseen enemy. The skies darkened and a massive rainstorm erupted on the shipyards. At the same time a large group of people where suddenly mind controlled, and told to ‘Kill The Others.’ Ricardo and his Knight Errant guards pulled weapons and began engaging the runners. Falkirk was the only player in the area that was also mind controlled, and he was forced to attack (though I let the player decide whom he would attack and with what weapon).

Finally I added a Water Spirit into the mix as the storm-summoning culprit. This was an interesting combat scenario as our players didn’t want to actually kill their opponents, but instead attempt to subdue them, knock them unconscious, or disrupt or dispel the spell. Poor Falkirk didn’t have enough Logic and Willpower to be able to resist the spell on his own, but Ursev used all of his turns and Edge points to dispel the enchantment on his friend.

Speaking of natural spell resistance, that’s definitely the one bit of book keeping I totally dropped the ball on. I remembered it for Lapis and Crank but almost not at all for the Ares people until right at the end. Granted they only had 2 dice to roll and needed 4 hits (taking a minimum 2 turns if they rolled fantastically) but still, oops! As a GM there’s often a lot going on, especially in combat, so it’s very helpful when players and/or twitch chat can point out the things I forget.

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There were two major ways the players could get themselves out of this situation without having to murder or knock out their opponents: block the Line of Sight to the harbor (either physically blocking it or moving the affected people out of the way) or attacking the source of the magical attacks. Mauta had the best vision and position, and a Perception test revealed one of the boats in the harbor and a figure with a magical aura around them, transfixed on the docks using mounted telescope-type device.

Mauta’s first turn was to unsuccessfully shoot at the water spirit. For her second she fired at the boat. In this case I wasn’t even interested in normal attack/defense tests as the boat was protected by a mana barrier. The impact on the barrier was enough to disrupt the spellcaster, and the Mob Mind spell was shattered. I’d originally planned on having the water spirit fight to the death but the mood of the players was of relief and ready for the epilogue at this point (we were also right up against our usual stopping time) so instead I had the creature slink back into the water. The storm subsided, Ricardo was greatful no one was killed (save a single dock worker but pffttt) and everyone went their separate ways. Mission completed!

For their troubles (and their great Negotiation rolls) the players received a total of $10,000 nueyn for the mission, as well as 10 Karma points. They also got Ricardo and Lapis as Contacts they can call upon. Campaign-wise the plot certainly thickened with the attack during the finale with this obviously powerful and magically-gifted assailant. My goal with the overall campaign is to loosely stitch together a bunch of missions with an overarching villain and frequent appearances by familiar NPCs, both good and bad. Basically creating my own comic book style story arc.

I was satisfied with the end result, though hopefully it didn’t feel too rushed or anti-climatic. I was definitely hoping we’d finish the adventure this week and be able to do the full recap and epilogue episode next week, and frankly the adventure was already very combat-heavy without having me draw out this final battle. Look for that recap and feedback session next week as we cap off this second adventure of our Shadowrun campaign!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – South Park: The Stick of Truth

A perfect combination of the show’s aesthetics and humor with a fun RPG system makes South Park: The Stick of Truth one of the best licensed games ever made.

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: Obsidian Entertainment (with South Park Digital Studios)

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: March 4, 2014

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I was slightly late to my South Park fandom. The first season aired back in the ancient era of 1997, and I’d written it off as a silly Beavis and Butthead style adult cartoon. While it was quite silly and full of shock value, I didn’t begin seeing its incredibly clever social commentary and political skewering until several years later. Around the time South Park was in its fifth or sixth season I caught up on all the episodes, and I’ve been a diehard fan ever since.

To say I was looking forward to South Park: The Stick of Truth is a big understatement. Developed by beloved RPG developer Obsidian, they were tasked with directly collaborating with Matt Stone and Trey Parker in creating an epic RPG with the look and feel of the show. Licensed games usually fare poorly in their translation to gaming, but all the previews looked fantastic, and The Stick of Truth made it onto my Most Anticipated Games lists….for 2012, 2013, and 2014!

The game had been stuck in development hell for years after its proud announcement, partly due to the dissolution of then-publisher THQ and its acquisition by Ubisoft. Heavily licensed game plus long, tumultuous development typically results in disaster. I’m pleased to say that not only does South Park: The Stick of Truth defy expectations, but it’s easily one of the best licensed video games ever made.

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From the moment you jump into the character creator the art style and animations completely absorb you into the world of South Park. The show’s unique 2D cutout animation is in full glorious display, and for the first time you can actually walk around and explore the modest open world of the town. Exploring the town of South Park brought me endless joy (and made me pine for a Simpsons-Springfield equivalent game). Everything is right where you think it is, from the South Park Mall to each boys’ cookie-cutter houses in a row.

The initial hook of the story is related to Season 17’s “Black Friday” trilogy, which ended with direct teases to The Stick of Truth. Though South Park goes in some very funny and dark places with its social commentary and pop culture references, my personal favorite episodes are when the kids are play-acting extravagant events and adventures. They juxtapose their incredibly imaginative and increasingly creative adventures with the equally mundane and crazy backdrop of their lives and town.

The Stick of Truth runs with this theme perfectly as most of the kids in town are playing a Dungeons & Dragons style real-world fantasy game using costumes and household objects as weapons. Entire factions are drawn up, war parties are formed, and you as the new kid in town are thrown into the middle of it. In fact, much of the main story missions are heavily inspired from BioWare’s RPGs as you gather allies from other factions such as the goth kids, the kindergartners, and even the girls. Eventually you’re forced to choose a side between Cartman’s humans and Kyle’s elves, though an even darker event causes the boys to join forces in the end.

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Meanwhile you’re free to explore the entire town at you leisure, with only a few locations blocked off Metroidvania-style until you acquire new abilities. The town is a treasure-trove of recognizable locations and hidden goodies, with just the right amount of side quests to add some additional adventuring without overwhelming you with superfluous tasks. I did enjoy collecting friends on Facebook; not only is it fun to find and talk to people but acquiring friends unlocks passive perks.

Loot is everywhere. By halfway through the game I was equipping new weapons and armor sets just about every 15 or 20 minutes, and each one has slots for equipping patches and “strap-ons” to modify them further to suit your needs. It’s an embarrassment of riches and partly lead to the overpowered feeling I quickly gained for most combat encounters.

Combat is designed similarly to Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario games. When you run into an enemy, be they ginger kids, hobos, mongorians, or nazi zombies, the game shifts to a turn-based JRPG-style battlefield where you take turns using melee, ranged, magic and special abilities. Your magical abilities, of course, are powerful fart attacks that you acquire throughout the game, and are also used to access new areas in the world.

Combat is supported by active button-prompts, letting you dodge attacks and do more damage with the right timing. Abilities utilize active button prompts in various ways, like spinning the joystick to wind up Butters’ hammer throw, or mashing all the buttons to get Cartman to scream various obscenities when he unleashes his electrical V-Chip powers a la South Park: The Movie.

The emphasis on speed and efficiency over tactical depth matches well with the overall gameplay. That’s not to say there weren’t some deep systems involved. Multiple debuffs and status effects were very important in affecting opponents, such as Grossed Out and Pissed Off, and elemental damage could be added to weapons to further take advantage of a foe’s weakness. Armor and shields also played into the combat; often I had to adjust my strategies and weapon mods depending on the area and enemies I was facing.

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Once I learned the various combat systems I breezed through most encounters without much trouble. At the end of combat both health and power points are fully restored, allowing you to unleash your powers as much as you see fit. Consumables are also incredibly prolific, and since using one doesn’t take up your turn you can quickly pop a health or buffing potion and still attack.

You’re allowed one supportive party member from a familiar roster of the main cast to join you, and not only can you switch them out on the fly, you can switch them out right in the middle of combat. While you can’t change out their equipment, each hero comes with their own abilities, and I found them all to be fairly useful in different situations. Battles go quickly but the animations are so much fun, and the enemy variety decent enough that they remained enjoyable throughout my 15 hour adventure.

The main story takes place over three days, with each day ending in a large event resembling a dungeon crawl. The first day ends with the classic South Park aliens abducting you, complete with lots of anal probing – resulting in a new anal probe satellite dish to teleport to new places. The story goes in all kinds of really fun, really messed up places – very much appropriate to the series. From infiltrating an abortion clinic and fending off an outbreak of nazi zombie fetuses, to fighting underpants gnomes right under your very noisy, very graphic sex-having parents, the game never shies away from the hilarious shock value that the show is infamous for.

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In addition to the many, many references around every corner, dialogue session, and cutscenes the game even adds its own funny jokes, like an incredibly funny on-going gag about Taco Bell as the cover-up to the UFO crash and presenting Canada as a hilariously pixelated 8-bit overworld style map.

It all ends in a fantastic final assault on Clyde’s fortress of doom (a giant tower in his backyard). Throughout several big story missions in the game you’re pitted within the backdrop of an ongoing battle, and I loved how various environmental traps and abilities could be used to affect foes before ever engaging them in combat, sometimes taking whole groups out completely. Seeing the the various kids so passionately involved in their role-playing is pure fun, and the absurdity and seriousness of it all is a fantastic combination that is quintessential South Park. Fans of the show and RPGs rejoice, for we have been blessed with an amazing adaptation.

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Pros

  • Art Style and animations are perfect recreations of the South Park style
  • Just as shocking and hilarious as the TV show
  • Surprisingly deep combat system that never wears out its welcome
  • Tons of loot and customization options
  • Exploring the town is sheer joy for fans
  • Perfectly paced, with just the right combination of linear story missions and open world exploration and side quests

Cons

  • Other than a few boss battles, combat is pretty easy
  • Summons and Fart Magic are almost entirely unnecessary
  • At 15hrs it’s a bit short for a standard RPG, and a few plot threads or events feel a bit rushed or edited (only one crab person in the whole game)

Final Say: A perfect combination of the show’s aesthetics and humor with a fun RPG system makes South Park: The Stick of Truth one of the best licensed games ever made.

Shadowrun 5E “Road Rage” Session 2 Report

Our second session of “Road Rage” concludes the initial hostage encounter from last week and moves onto the highway as our players defend their cargo from a troll biker gang.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Read “Road Rage” Session 1 Report

We picked up right at the conclusion of our very long first session last week as the encounter with the gang at Jay-T’s had just ended. Two of them lay dead (well one was technically stabilized), with the third surrendering, and the fourth still handcuffed to the truck outside. My players were curious as to why this gang was here, what they were doing, and who they were working for. Unfortunately for them the two people most willing to talk to them lay dead or unconscious, so even with successful social tests they weren’t given much information.

My players spent quite a bit of time talking with their captives (and new NPC allies), asking questions, and deciding what to do with them. This whole first scene ended up lasting much longer than I anticipated but provided a lot of neat opportunities for combat, planning, and social skills. They asked one of their NPC allies what they should do next, and through her I suggested they call their Fixer and give him an update on the situation. They agreed to Jeremiah Redd’s suggestion to leave them tied up to be picked up later and get on with the mission.

Sadly right when we were about to go live with this week’s session, our decker player got called in to help deliver a baby. The curse of being a doctor! For the first time we had to roll with an MIA player. We had his character get a sudden call and have to leave, and I’ll leave it up to him on what that situation was. We’ll also need to write him into the next session, which could prove interesting considering the team ran into a biker gang during their highway escort mission!

i-5 route mapI left it entirely up to the players in how they wanted to situate themselves for the road trip. They had to travel North on I-5 for a little over 10 miles to downtown Seattle – yay for Google Maps! The armored truck would be driven by NPC Crank, whom they had just saved in the hostage situation and was a returning NPC from the first adventure that they had essentially captured and turned over to Redd. Crank had joined up with the Redd Scars and it was a fun opportunity to reward the players for their mercy and leniency by having him join them here – and in fact is probably a big reason that the players actively tried to recruit their new captured foes into Redd’s gang as well!

The armored truck could technically fit all of them, but they decided to utilize the modified pick-up truck they’d taken from the end of the last adventure as a secondary vehicle to help defend the truck should the need arise. Mauta the ex-special forces street samurai offered to drive while Falkirk the elf adept/Face rode with her. Our troll shaman opted to hide in the back of the armored truck amongst the crates, thinking he needed to avoid the port authority guards, while using clairvoyance on top of the truck to keep an eye out.

I gave the players a couple minutes to simply socialize with each other and offer a bit of downtime for the first leg of the journey. It ended up as a chance for Mauta to reveal that she had some connection to the buyer, though she remained mysterious and wouldn’t go into specific details. I definitely like the idea of incorporating my players’ backstories and pre-established contacts into the adventure whenever I can. It was a fun chance for role-playing and I try to give my players moments of levity in between the craziness.

Craziness, of course, will happen. This ain’t no peaceful cyberpunk world. A few minutes into the journey a half dozen members of the troll biker gang The Spikes roared up onto the on-ramp in an attempt to hi-jack the truck. I may have been a bit overeager to jump into a chase combat scenario on only our second ever Shadowrun adventure. As it is I do what I usually do and simplified much of the rules to suit our needs and keep everything fun and flowing.

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Drivers had to perform a driving test during their first initial pass (or autopilot takes over) but could use that test to perform a chase action such as ramming or cutting-off. The biker gang closed in on the vehicles and the players definitely felt their deckers’ absence, both another available gun and someone that could potentially stop a vehicle electronically.

Falkirk was able to take the closest biker down after two shots with his taser. He was getting crazy high, 5 hit rolls all night! Ironically filling up the stun monitor track via a taser will still probably lead to an opponent’s death when they’re rocketing down a highway on a motorcycle! Mauta and Crank both drove the vehicles and attempted to cut-off nearby bikers. Mauta came close, causing an opponent to swerve and get out of the way but he was able to avoid a crash. Ursev spent a dramatic, John Woo-type moment throwing open the doors of the truck and blasting a ball lightning at two bikers…for all of 2 hits, which both of them were able to dodge. Hey at least it “looked” cool!

We had to call it a night after the first combat turn was up. Combat in any RPG lasts awhile as you keep track of lots of things going on, but I’m glad we at least made it to the end of the turn so we can start with fresh new Initiative rolls for next week. We’re definitely going a lot slower in this adventure than I expected, even with the extra long session we did last week. Most likely Saran the decker will come roaring up at the beginning of this next round, and well see just where this encounter takes our heroes.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.