Category Archives: Impressions

First Impressions: FF7R

Oh, man. OH. MAN.

I know the game is a remake and the devs have had decades of modern game design experience to leverage… but, guys. I’m home. I haven’t been this giddy and excited since… I don’t even remember. Every single part of game so far is like finally finding someone who shares the same passion as you and catching up for hours. Walking around Sector 7 Slums and looking up (looking up!) just pulls the FF7 memories of my high school imagination straight out of my head and serves them right back in high definition.

And it really reinforces, to me, how groundbreaking FF7 originally was. For you see, FF7 was not my first Final Fantasy game – that was actually FF6. So this is not a “always remember your first love” situation. This instead is a recognition of how novel the pseudo-sci-fi setting was, the mind-blowing scale of Midgar, and that first time you leave the city and see it as just another town on the world map. Blew my fucking mind. That experience is right up there with first leaving the Vault in Fallout 3.

There are some other things I like. An extremely flirty Jessie. The random NPCs commenting on Cloud. The aftereffects of the reactor explosion. The extra cutscene on what really caused the reactor explosion. The well-stitched narrative in which I felt it difficult to stop playing. Not that I was going to stop playing until I reached Tifa for the first time. Tifa.

Welcome home.

The one negative so far, and it’s kind of important: the combat system.

Basically I’m not quite sure what’s going on yet. Like obviously I’m reading the tutorial prompts and successfully navigating the fights. But it seems like I’m taking a lot of damage and I don’t know if that is expected, or if I’m supposed to not, or what. It’s “action gamey” but not in the same way as, say, Nier Automata. Controlling Barret feels even worse as none of his attacks feel particularly satisfying. Hold X to rapid-fire for some amount of time, or press Y to… speed up the charging of a special attack. But that attack can be stopped by random terrain if you aren’t careful.

Anyway, not going to let a little thing like a combat system interrupt my JRPG nostalgerbation. I am going to assume it gets better, or that I can change things around enough to make it so, or that it will not diminish the rest of the experience. Which would be quite the feat considering how much I am enjoying myself already just walking around.

Impressions: Banners of Ruin

Banners of Ruin is an incredibly slick deckbuilding roguelike that has consumed my life for the past week. While it shares some conventions with other games in the genre, it has a fairly unique mix of them that result in a number surprising interactions. Also, everyone is an anthropomorphized animal.

Before moving on though, let me say this: the visuals and especially the music are phenomenal. The combination sucks you right into the setting, and I found myself humming along with the battle music pretty much the entire time it’s playing. Just like with Tainted Grail before it, I will be tracking down this soundtrack, if it exists.

Just look at how evocative that Pierce card is.

The central premise of the game is that you are a member of a suddenly-deposed House, and you are trying to escape the city with your life. As you navigate the city, you must choose from one of three “path” cards which can lead to combat, shops, or events. These choices are mutually exclusive, and you don’t have a particular notion of what offerings you will get next time. After a specific number of choices, you will encounter the boss fight of the area and then move on, if successful.

Combat is highly tactical. You start with two characters that can be arranged however you like (ahead of time) on a 2×3 grid; enemies are will be placed in their own 2×3 formation facing opposite. While you are free to play cards every turn, your foes will only act one rank at a time, e.g. the front three positions on Turn 1, then the back three positions on Turn 2, etc, unless there are no enemies in a specific rank.

Easy choice.

Positioning matters. Enemies will typically attack a specific horizontal lane. Place one character in front of another, and that front character is likely to eat all of the incoming attacks. However, if three enemies are targeting a character with nobody behind them and then that character moves to a different spot, all three attacks will be negated. And remember when I said that enemies take turns attacking based on which rank they’re in? If they are set to attack you this turn from the front rank and you move them (via a card like Kick) to the back rank… then they don’t attack that turn. Next turn, if you then draw into cards that can move them back to the front, you can skip their turn again.

The tactical nature of the game extends out into deckbuilding and character progression too. Each character has two weapons slots and an armor slot. Equipping a bow will add a Bow card into your deck; equipping two daggers adds two dagger cards instead; a shield will add a shield card, and so on. Armor is more passive insofar as it affects your starting armor only, although there are special armors that have more interesting effects. As characters level up, they can unlock a choice of three Talent cards which are then added to the deck, but only that character can play the card. Same with the weapon cards, actually. Level ups also unlock a choice of passive abilities. Oh, and each race has a racial ability that can be activated any time, as long as you have a secondary resource (Will) available.

I somehow won this early, accidental Elite battle. I mean, I’m amazing, of course.

What all this combines into is an interesting gumbo of choices, tactics, and deckbuilding strategy.

…until you get to the endgame.

There is a final Final Boss that become accessible after performing a series of steps along the campaign. However, the fight itself is so oppressive and ridiculous that it leads to really just a single strategy to overcome it. Once I understood this, and realized the same strategy works for the rest of the game too, every subsequent run started to feel the same. It doesn’t help that while there is a great variety in character races and Talent cards and passives, the number of defined weapons/armors and enemies in general is much more limited. Indeed, I think all of the bosses are the same each time too.

The potentially good news is that the game appears to still be in active development – there was a major release in November 2021, which added new “hallway” scenarios, some optional difficulty modifiers (aka Ascension ranks), mini-bosses and so on. That is not enough to elevate the endgame to a Slay the Spire level, IMO, but A) not everything needs infinite replay value, and B) maybe a future patch or DLC will spice things up.

Overall, I am very satisfied with my (discounted) purchase of Banners of Ruin. As someone who plays a lot of games in this genre, I definitely appreciated the slick presentation and the novel mix of elements. The sort of defined challenges I complained about earlier might be more of a positive to others who dislike a lot of randomness. Or maybe we can just be happy playing a game for ~30 hours and be done.

Impression: Roguebook

Out of all of the deck-building games I have played, Roguebook is the one that has come closest to scratching the Slay the Spire itch. And yet it is also different enough that it’s possible that someone who didn’t like Slay the Spire might enjoy Roguebook.

There are a lot of interesting design decisions going on in Roguebook. The basic premise is that you have been sucked into (presumably) the titular book, and you must battle your way past many foes and bosses on your way out. However the aesthetic is one of “blank pages,” where you use bottles of ink and paintbrushes to uncover blank tiles in order to explore and otherwise navigate towards the exit. By default, there is a very straight path to each level’s boss, but you are unlikely to survive without exploring more of the board and getting stronger. Regular fights give ink bottles to uncover straight-line paths, and elite battles give AoE paintbrushes. Gold can be found on the map, and there are a number of other structures that allow you to purchase new cards, get additional treasures, and there’s always a shop available to do likewise.

Make no mistake: exploration is extremely RNG-driven. While there are sometimes pre-revealed tiles you can head towards, the difference between uncovering an empty tile and one that lets you transform a basic card into a rare one with gems attached can be massive. You do eventually start earning progression currency that will allow you to improve future runs – thereby making exploration and combat easier overall – but things can be swingy in the beginning.

Speaking of gems, cards have gem slots ala Monster Train. Some gems are standard sort of “+3 damage” options, but some of the rarer varieties can do goofy things like giving you a free copy of the card, shuffling it back on top of your library, and similar. Artifacts can also be earned/purchased, which give passive (and sometimes active!) abilities.

Combat is fairly standard Slay the Spire with cards costing resources to play, drawing new cards each turn, etc… except there are two heroes. Playing a Defend card (or a few others) will cause that hero to go to the front, with any incoming damage hitting just that person. Losing one hero is not Game Over – you can recover by casting 5 special cards, but you get saddled with two spoiler cards in your deck until that level’s boss is defeated. Each hero has their own exclusive card pools and there are four heroes total, and you can choose the pair at the beginning of each run.

One twist I appreciated was the introductions of talents based on deck size. Basically every X number of cards you add to your deck, unlocks a randomized selection of three talents based on the heroes you’re running. All too often in this genre, the optimal strategy is to keep your deck size as small as possible, so it was fun to see the designers address it with talents. While some of them can be misses, a few can radically alter your entire gameplan.

For example, one character might get “Gain 1 Power each time a card is Dissolved,” which by itself is whatever. But if you paired that character with another that is frequently offered cards that generate 0-cost Throwing Daggers that, you guessed it, dissolve when played, and then combine that with an attack the original character has that deals 1×8 damage… yeah. Does that get your juices flowing?

Overall, Roguebook is a fun game that nevertheless feels a tad easier than Slay the Spire. I have played over 40 hours thus far, unlocking almost all of the Ascension-esque effects. I would say that about 80% of that time has been with the same pair of characters chasing the same strong synergies each game, only deviating if my luck was terrible. In other words, I don’t feel it has the same depth has Slay the Spire, but none of that matters much if you aren’t looking for something to entertain you for 200+ hours. Roguebook is entertaining enough and possibly more approachable at that.

Impressions: Chimeraland

After reading a half-dozen posts over at Inventory Full, I decided to see what the hell Chimeraland was all about.

Ah, the elusive Horsedeer, in its natural habitat.

After a few hours of playing… yeah, maybe I’m missing something, but this feels like some poor mobile port Asian jank.

The character creation process is pretty outrageous, if you’re into that. I think someone mentioned that there are 18 different species you can choose from, but on top of that you can use the age slider to play as literal children. Not just human children, but cow and sheep children. And that’s just the start! There are ridiculous sliders that let you change your ears and cheekbones into non-Euclidean shapes. Some serious Mario 64 title screen vibes.

All you need to know about the PC version of this game is that Full Screen is not yet implemented. I was today years old when I found out that “Full Screen” was a game setting that had to be built and not, you know, something that is a default state of being. The game is filled to the brim with UX jank like this. For example, not having any apparent way to increase turning speed. Or having the camera default to action-cam style, but having dozens of buttons that need clicked with the mouse. Finally realized that you need to press the [`] button to get a mouse cursor active, which is fine, but any attempt to unselect something puts you right back into action-cam mode.

The translation runs the gamut from poor to nonexistent. Hard to fault them on this front, considering that there are zero US/EU servers – the game prominently displays “SEA” on the launcher.

In principle, Chimeraland is doing some interesting things in the MMO space. The ability to build a house anywhere you please. Being able to capture and either ride or bring into battle any creature in the game world. Light survival elements. Seeing all your weapons on your back at once is cool.

Chimeraland is also objectively worse than any game that already does any one of these things. Hell, the whole time I was playing I kept asking myself why I wasn’t just playing ARK. Or Fallout 76. Or Guild Wars 2. While I was pondering, some players decided to fight a “grand” enemy outside my house. I joined in a bit, then kept eating ranged AoEs because the dash-move wouldn’t activate, and finally died. I respawned and got back in the mix, then the creature died, and… nothing. No idea whether I gained XP for that, or should have had a chance at loot, or whether my dying removed that chance. Felt like a big waste of time.

Which, incidentally, describes the rest of my game experience with Chimeraland.

Impressions: Tainted Grail: Conquest

I have been looking for the next Slay the Spire fix for going on a year now. Played closed to a dozen different deck-building games in that time. After spending about 20 hours with Tainted Grail: Conquest (TGC), I am prepared to mark the journey as complete.

Tainted Grail: Conquest is a deck-building rogue-lite game based on a Lovecraftian take on the King Arthur mythos. You have been thrown into the Wyrdness of Avalon, surrounded by a corrupting mist and body-horror creatures of nightmare, whom you need to defeat to escape. Defeating a Guardian (boss) will allow you to return the ruins of a village you are helping build up to house the lost souls you save along the way. Defeat all the Guardians and you will face the a final challenge… and get looped back to repeat it all at a slightly higher difficulty.

Deck-building rogue-lite game, remember?

What I really enjoyed about the game is the variety of classes. There are nine in total, with groups of three under a common faction. This means they largely share the same base cards, but their mechanics often make them entirely different. For example, there are three summoner-style classes. The classic Summoner conjures minions and can boost their levels endlessly, but will take a corresponding amount of damage when they are attacked. The Blood Mage conjures minions by sacrificing HP right away, and focuses on boosting their minions’ self-destructive nature to defeat foes. Finally, the Necromancer, you guessed it, summons minions… but also generates spectral versions of said minions after they die, all while boosting themselves into a powerful Lich form to deal massive damage.

Instead of strict floors and encounters like in Slay the Spire, TGC has you wandering around in the fog towards discrete encounter areas on the map. Each step you take decreases the Wyrdcandle you use to push back the corrupting mist, so there is some constraint on how many encounters and in what order you wish to pursue them. The Wyrdcandle itself is a mechanic wherein a temporary card is periodically added to your hand that does something if you cast it, and does another thing if you don’t. If your Wyrdcandle is fresh and bright, the card is cheap and very useful. If your Wyrdcandle is sputtering or gone altogether, the card is expensive and punishing if you don’t play it.

After encounters, you gain XP and can level up. Each level allows you to choose 1 of 3 cards to add to your deck, and every 2 levels you can add 1 of 3 passive abilities to your character. You can also get one-use items from encounters, along with Runestones. These Runestones are basically swappable passive abilities that have two different functions depending on whether they are put in your weapon or armor slot. An example would be the Gar Runestone, which either increases your damage by 2 (weapon slot), or deals 5 damage at the end of turn to all enemies (armor slot). Getting three of the same Runestone allows you to combine them into a slightly stronger version.

None of the details really matters though, right? Is the game fun? Yes. For the most part.

I already mentioned it, but I really enjoy how different each of the classes feels. The Summoner/Blood Mage/Necromancer line seems like they would play similarly, but they really do not. Well… kinda. All three rely on a Golem minion to absorb damage so you can buff/summon other things without being ran over. But the Summoner has no nature healing abilities, so you are laser-focused on giving yourself Barrier (a type of shield). Meanwhile, as a Blood Mage you use your HP as a resource like any other, especially because you can get a huge burst of self-healing if you play your cards right. Meanwhile, the Necromancer has minions like the others, but the bulk of your damage comes from Lich-form and sacrificing minions to fuel it.

There can be some encounters that are especially punishing to some types of classes though. The default class is a glass cannon that relies on Block (negates 1 attack) to save themselves. Block is decidedly less useful when one of the enemies does some weak, 1×3 attack right before the boss’s 70-damage swing. But that also encourages one to blow up those smaller enemies first, I suppose.

[Fake Edit] I wrote the bulk of this Impression riding off the high of the Summoner/Blood Mage/Necromancer sequence. I have since gone back an played every other class, and… they are weak-sauce. Or the Summoner branch is overpowered, which is entirely possible. The “gotcha!” encounters that give Summoners issues are easily negated, but the other class families can be blown up entirely. I didn’t play them long enough to see if some Passive ability makes up for things, but some of them just aren’t as fun. At least two of the classes, for example, basically rely on doing nothing on their turns but turtle up and buff themselves for an explosive future turn. Which is fine in theory, but they also have no self-healing like the Summoners, so each fight ends up being a Pyrrhic Victory at best, and your last one when you face foes that need to be killed immediately.

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention one area that absolutely, as the kids say, slaps: the music. As it turns out, the devs licensed music from a band named Danheim who focuses on Viking/Norse-esque songs. I enjoyed myself listening to the boss fights so much that I ended up acquiring the Danheim discography. If I was still hosting D&D sessions, I would absolutely be incorporating these songs into the battle music rotation.

Is Tainted Grail: Conquest the kind of game I will play for 300+ hours like Slay the Spire? Ultimately… probably not. For one thing, I can’t play TGC on my phone, where I play Slay the Spire now. But of all the deck-building roguelikes I have plowed through, this game is the closest one I have found. And if you have Game Pass, you can try it out for free and see yourself.

Checkpoint: Subnautica: Below Zero

I’ve been playing some games. Let’s talk about it.

Subnautica: Below Zero

My experiences thus far can be summed up by this meme:

There is an interesting philosophical debate as to whether Below Zero is a DLC or a sequel, but I think the truth is that it’s neither: it’s a map pack. Almost everything is literally the same: same drop pod, same resources, same recipes, same fish, same upgrades, same base building components, same progression. The moment I stepped out of the drop pod (it is a short walk from opening scene), I said “OK, time to make a scanner and build a Sea Glide.” I didn’t know there was a Sea Glide in this game, but I knew. The last time I touched the original game was 2018, by the way.

The bigger marine fauna is different… sorta. You won’t see any Sand Sharks or Stalkers or Bonesharks. Instead, you have the Brute Shark and Cryptosuchus and another bitey creature you swim away from, because who cares? They all make the same scary-at-first roaring noises as they try to take an easily-ignored percentage of your HP bite. Things are so bad in this department that I didn’t even realize I had encountered the Reaper of Below Zero – named Chelicerate, which totally rolls off the tongue – until I got into a special “totally being eaten whole right now” sequence. Then I said “huh, okay” and swam away because nothing one-shots you from full HP.

So what I’m saying is that the novelty is 100% gone for me. There’s a new story and perhaps some additional lore and new set pieces and such. But what I am finding is that it’s not good enough to justify the short-comings inherent to the Subnautica formula.

For example, new items are unlocked via scanning (3) pieces on the ocean floor. Ostensibly, this is to encourage and reward exploration. The problem is that navigating a 3D underwater environment in 30-40 second increments with hostile creatures and no map is difficult. More difficult still is knowing something is there in the first place. You might be in an area with pieces of an item you already unlocked, and not realize there was a second disassembled item available. Or maybe you found 1 of 3 pieces and now for the life of you can’t remember the area where you found that. And maybe that one piece was part of the Ultra-High Capacity Oxygen Tank, which would double the amount of time you can further explore. And so every minute you play the game not having found the remaining pieces you remember how much more restricted you are exploring anything else for not having it.

“Look it up, then.” I did. Then I saw the rest of the game automatically play out in my mind.

I may ultimately go back and finish Below Zero, but it will be with the reluctance one has in going through the motions of inevitable victory in a Civilization game. In my search for the other Oxygen Tank pieces, I ended up landing on basically every other major location/story node and seeing 80% of what they offered. Part of the whole appeal of discovery is doing whatever you want, but what I want is to not drive around the map in a slow-ass Sea Truck back to the same areas I was blocked from accessing the rest of, due to some item I hadn’t scanned yet.

Which included the Habitat Builder, by the way. You know, the thing that allows you to build a base and utilize 90% of the tech you scan? It was apparently sitting right on a box next to everything else I scanned, but I missed it somehow and had to look that shit up too. I understand that there are a lot of people who don’t like hand-holding or arrows over objectives, but the Habitat Builder is a huge chunk of the appeal of the game. I don’t think anything is improved by allowing that to be missed.

And that kinda sums it up: Below Zero improves nothing on the original.

Impressions: Medieval Dynasty

Stardew Valley meets Crusader Kings.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit early for that. I’ve only played for about two hours, and have no particular idea what’s really going on yet. But there are a few notes I wanted to jot down.

First, I really like the premise, from a mechanical point of view. You are a orphaned peasant told to just grab some empty land and build whatever. The twist here though is that each season is only three game-days long. This acceleration is possible because, you know, dynasty, e.g. you are intended to produce an heir that’s carries on the family business of village-building.

This is both unique in the farming/crafting genre and also helps handwave some of the more traditional gamey bits. Like how one dude can chop down a dozen trees and build a house in an afternoon. I mean, it’s still handwavey due to how hunger/thirst works, but I still appreciated the thought.

Also, you can change the 3-day season to be longer if you want via settings. The devs “strongly suggest” leaving it at 3, and I can see their point even from the start: without the dynasty bit, it’s just a worse Stardew Valley.

Having said that… well… the 3-day season makes all the NPC and questing bits exceedingly silly. One of the starting quests is to find out why a rye shipment hasn’t arrived. To complete this quest, you have to walk 1200m or so to the next town, then halfway back, then back, then return all the way. It took 1.5 in-game days to complete. So, basically my entire Spring. The reward was 300g, for which I have no context whether it’s worth the time I lost. Some of the meals from vendors cost 270g for some porridge, so I’m guessing No.

It was nice to see that the quest had an 18-year time limit though. Especially since one part was locating the courier who was bleeding to death near a river. Would he have just been bones if I waited 5 “years?” I’m guessing No again.

Anyway, there’s that.

OK one more thing: I find it intimidating in these games when they say “build wherever.” I recognize the terror of analysis paralysis, so I end up creating a base camp within earshot of the beginning area. Somewhere along the way though, the base camp hits a tipping point where it would be too onerous to move everything somewhere else, so I keep it in a lame area and just deal with the dissonance.

In this game though? Shit is extra scary. I’m going to have to create and reload several Saves given how it might take in-game years to find a spot where I’m happy settling. Meanwhile, I don’t know which resources are more difficult to find/gather or any sort of late-game concerns.

Which is of course the smartest thing to worry about after playing something for 2 hours.

Fighting the Game Mechanics

I just completed Orwell, a sort of Papers, Please-style game that demonstrates the dangers of mass surveillance. As an Investigator, your job is to comb through a few suspects’ Facebook pages, text threads, and anything else you can get your hands on (including medical records) to glean info and connect dots to stop further terrorist attacks.

The game is actually pretty slick in an AR sense, and reminded me of that one old (2012 is old, right?) Youtube video, Welcome to Life. There is no fourth wall – you the player agree to terms and conditions and your participation as an outside observer is intended.

Overall, the game was decent entertainment across the six hours I spent playing. The frustrating part though was how often I ended up having to fight against the game mechanics.

One of the central conceits of the game is that you have to upload information to the Orwell system as “Datachunks.” Sometimes this is straight-forward factual information, like phone numbers or email addresses. Other times you have to exercise judgment and restraint based on context. If someone says they live in “Wonderland, on the other side of the rainbow” or whatever, uploading that will actually make that their address in the system. That example is benign, but as this is a game with multiple endings, you can actually screw things up depending on what you submit and what you don’t.

Yeah, maybe don’t imply that they engage in torture.

The problem I faced rather early on though is that Orwell is a videogame. And as a videogame, progression is based on “flags” which must be tripped before you can continue. There were at least four instances in which I could not progress until I uploaded a specific Datachunk that was not otherwise immediately obvious as being necessary. Once I did so, there would be a totally unrelated phone call or whatever I could listen in on to get more information and continue onwards. But as I mentioned, the game makes it clear that you shouldn’t just upload ALL of the Datachunks lest you pollute the profiles and/or possibly implicate an innocent person.

There is no option to just end the day, or move forward with the information you already have. I suppose it would be more frustrating to basically soft-lock you out of finishing the game at all if you end up missing a crucial bit of information. Nevertheless, Orwell felt like it existed between a visual novel and a Hidden Object game, the latter being a hypothetical one in which you could “lose” by clicking on the wrong thing.

I don’t have a solution to this problem; the Orwell devs don’t either. It’s a shame that an otherwise delightful experience could encounter so much friction in execution based on game mechanics.

Non-Service Games

aka regular-ass games.

It is interesting how my perception of games has shifted in the many years we have been living under a “Games as Service” model. Cosmetics, DLC, loot boxes, and all the other myriad monetization strategies nefariously cooked up by black hat economists are just the way things are now. The one little light left in Pandora’s box is that of updates. The suits want to keep engagement high to keep the cash spigot on, so they task the devs with fiddling with all the knobs. Sometimes that ends up making things worse, sometimes maliciously so (e.g. adding time-sinks). But sometimes it works out, and on the player side, hey, at least it seems like someone cares about what’s happening.

Cue my surprise and disappointment and surprise at my disappointment at learning a recent game purchase is… done. Finished. Complete.

Fate Hunters is neat little deckbuilding roguelike I bought for $3.74. The visuals are like Darkest Dungeon, the gameplay is kinda like Slay the Spire, but honestly it plays more like Dominion. There is zero plot, and you only accumulate gold to purchase permanent unlocks if you make it past a boss and retire your deck. Oh, and gold is represented by Treasure cards in your deck, so the more you hoard, the more you dilute your deck. There is no energy, so you basically get to play as many cards as you can (Treasure cards notwithstanding). It is the most arcade-like roguelike I have ever played, but it’s engaging just the same.

It is also “abandoned.”

We finished the game and did almost everything we planned. But there will be no new patches and sequels.

(source)

“The devs are done with the game? Can they even do that?!” Fate Hunters actually plays pretty well – I did not encounter anything remotely close to a significant bug. There are some eyebrow-raising balance issues and some card tweaks that would make everything smoother IMO. The thought that nothing will happen with the game anymore though? It feels like I was duped. As though any game I purchase must have full dev support for at least the length of time I play it, lest it be abandonware. If you aren’t Terraria or No Man’s Sky, who even are you?

Well, you’re a regular-ass game from any time 20+ years ago.

[Fake Edit:] I was digging around and found out that the devs are making a new game that looks exactly the same gameplay-wise… but worse, graphically. It’s in Early Access and is called Dreamgate. On their FAQ thread, they mention:

Do you have experience in developing and releasing a game in Steam?

Our team has been developing games for over 7 years and our last game was Fate Hunter. But unfortunately, we could not continue to develop this game, because the rights to it did not belong to our team.

Based on our past experience, we decided to release our own game, the rights to which belong to us fully and which we could develop as we see fit.

So, there it is. Of course, they also mentioned in another post that they are a 2-man team and “this is not our main project” so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Caveat emptor and all that.

[Real Edit:] WTF. How many done games am I going to be buying?! Just found out about Griftlands:

At this time we don’t have any plans for more Griftlands content or DLC. That being said, who knows? I don’t like to ever say we absolutely won’t do more for a game because that often turns out to be not totally true, but at least for now we don’t have any plans.

(source)

Maybe devs don’t actually like deckbuilding games? Don’t Starve and Oxygen Not Included are both Klei games that have/are getting paid DLC and ongoing support and tweaks. Scandalous!

Impression: Griftlands

Griftlands is Klei’s entry into the roguelike deckbuilder genre. And in typical Klei fashion, it overcomplicates everything.

Dialog is actually pretty good across the board.

In some circumstances, overcomplication can be good news. It represents depth and complex systems and a high skill ceiling. Oxygen Not Included is a gem of a colony sim, and Don’t Starve is one of those genre classics that seems simple at first, but quickly demonstrates how deep the rabbit hole goes.

So what’s the issue with Griftlands? The complication is just time-consuming.

One of the central hooks is that Griftlands is a roguelike deckbuilding RPG. The three characters you can pick from each have an elaborate backstory and encounter numerous choices throughout the game. And speaking of backstory, the game’s lore is extremely elaborate and interesting. It takes place on a remote, swamp-like planet populated by the descendants of a spacefaring civilization that… stopped sparefaring. Most of the citizens worship Hesh, an inscrutable Cthulhu-esque monster in the deep ocean. So you have mechs, bioweapons, ancient tech, and post-apoc Thunderdome elements in this gumbo soup of a setting. It’s pretty cool.

Less cool is how all these RPG/Visual Novel elements interact with, you know, a roguelike deckbuilder. Like how my first playthrough with the first character ended when I died to the final boss after 7 hours, 15 minutes. While you can make different choices the next time around, in reality they are more of an A/B route sort of thing. Do you side with the authorities or the rebels? Do you double-cross the one dude or not? The final boss is always the final boss. My second playthrough was a success after five hours. And that was with me skipping some of the dialog I had already heard before.

Just a breezy 5 hour, 20 minute playthrough.

Even ignoring the story aspects, the deckbuilding side itself is complicated.

You start off with two decks, completely independent of one another: Battle and Negotiation. Whenever you come across an encounter, you often have the choice of determining whether to use one or the other. Generally speaking, Negotiation avoids “battle” encounters entirely, but sometimes they are used to weaken a particularly stubborn foe before fisticuffs. Negotiation is an entirely different battle system with different mechanics and even different “HP”. Additionally, you can “lose” in a Negotiation without losing the game, although that typically results in you no longer being able to do any more Negotiations for the rest of the in-game day.

On top of this, all cards have XP meters that increase as you play them. Once filled, the card gets one of two upgrades to choose from. The generic cards have a dozen or so potential options, but the main ones you get from shops or win from battle will just have the two options. This XP element will typically encourage you to stall battles out so you can level-up your cards, but this can only be done for X number of rounds before your character becomes exhausted. Nevertheless, the XP mechanic complicates things quite a bit considering the final encounter for each character is always a Battle, so choosing Negotiate all the time will lead to inevitable failure.

Turns out this combo is pretty strong.

On the Battle side of things, everything is more straight-forward. Ish. You face off versus one or more enemies like in Slay the Spire. You might get some help though in the form of a pet, hired goons, NPC helpers, or NPCs summoned from cards in your deck. Each of the three main characters have their own special mechanics. For example, one gets Charges that can be expended to boost cards, another takes self-damage that turns into end-of-turn self-healing, and so on. You can add cards to your deck after successful encounters or buy them from shops. Grafts are permanent items you, well, graft into your skull that act as passive abilities. And so on and so forth.

Oh, I forgot to mention about relationships. During Battles, enemy character have X amount of HP, and then a slightly higher threshold for Panic. For example, someone may have 80 HP but Panic once they get to 20 HP. Cause all the enemies to Panic and the encounter ends with you having the choice as accept their surrender or execute them. Executing characters grants you a special card, but will also likely cause one of their friends to hate you. This hate manifests as a Social Bane, which is just a persistent debuff that exists as long as they hate you. Some are whatever, but others increase the costs of all vendors, or cause you to lose money every time you sleep, and other nastiness. You can try and kill the person who hates you to erase the Social Bane, but unless you properly provoke them into a duel, you just continue the cycle of hatred.

On the flip side, Social Boons also exist. Most of the time they come from doing quests for people, but sometimes you can just straight-up throw enough money at someone to get them to like you. Just like in real life!

Are you feeling the overcomplicated-ness of this game yet?

Overall the game is fun, but honestly it is in spite of all of these systems. A particularly long Slay the Spire run takes me maybe 2-3 hours max. Doubling that for Griftlands does not double my fun. Indeed, the longer things go on, the more disappointed I become if I don’t succeed. The saving grace of most roguelikes is winning or losing quick enough that you can jump back on the horse without questioning your life choices. With Griftlands, you have plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

As a final note, there is a Brawl mode which eliminates all the plot and just lets you play battles in sequence. I just completed my first one before writing this… after 3 hours and 20 minutes. That is one long-ass roguelike experience.