Solasta: Crown of the Magister (PC)

Time to relieve some of 2020’s backlog. This was one that I didn’t have rated as game of the year material so put it on the backburner whilst I played The Last of Us Part II. With resemblance of normality restored after the Christmas period it’s back to it and with it one that may have slipped under most people’s radars. The game comes to us from Tactical Adventures; an Indie Developer from France. After a successful Kickstarter campaign they bring to us Solasta: Crown of the Magister which is currently on Early Access on Steam.

Solasta is an table top adventure based in the mythical land of Solasta. You create a party of 4 adventures and send them out on various adventures encountering different creatures, beasts and monsters. The game has been licence to use the Dungeon & Dragons 5th Edition rule set which gives it an ere of familiarity to those who have played D&D before.

My experience of the game was very polar, there was lots I enjoyed about it but then a lot that I didn’t like too. Starting with the positive, the combat. The combat is tight and well constructed. It’s turn based in the style of XCOM but with Wizards and fireballs instead of aliens and grenades. It works very well and feels true to the rule-set. Another positive I took away from the game was how well presented the environments were, especially some of the lighting effects and rendering. The light being cast by campfires or torches especially in some of the darker environments feel very realistic. I was running the game on my slightly dated gaming PC (4th Gen i7, duel GTX1080) and it was looking brilliant.

Sadly though we come to the less brilliant parts. The character creation is very limited. I went into the game with a rough idea of the party I wanted. An Half-Orc Barbarian, A Half-Elf Warlock, A Halfling Bard & A Human Rogue. Although I managed to get the Rogue the game does not allow for the Barbarian, Warlock, Bard & Druid classes. The Sorcerer is not currently available but will be available as free DLC when the game is released. As far as races goes, only the common races and half-elves are available (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings), so no Half-Orcs, Teeflings or Dragonborns. Even the races that you can choose have limited choice. For example, there is only 2 choices for Dwarf beards. I’m going to put this down to the game still being on Early Access but I’m hoping for some more customisation options before it’s release.

Another thing I didn’t enjoy was the dialogue and animation. The dialogue felt cheesy and clich√©. With it being a French studio maybe the writers weren’t native English speakers but in any case it ruins the immersion, as does some of the animations. When a characters mouths are moving and they don’t match to what they’re saying you get a sense that things are off and stops you getting absorbed into the game. Again this could be a localisation issue.

Overall there are some nuggets of brilliance in the game but overall the game still lacks in a couple of areas, but given that it’s still in early access there is still time to fix these issues, so watch this space.

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XCOM: Chimera Squad (PC)

This was a game that I didn’t know even existed until A few months ago. If you’d like to cast your minds back to my XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review you’ll know that I found it to be an excellent play with a difficulty curve that resembles a brick wall if you don’t know what your doing. XCOM 2 I also enjoyed despite the fact that it was nearly a copy-paste of the original, warts and all. So lets see if lightning can strike not just twice but three times.

XCOM Chimera Squad takes place 5 years after the end of XCOM 2, where ADVENT (the alien-led government of Earth) has been overthrown and left earth. Taking place in the fictional city of City 31 (after writing that I asked myself if I could come up with a better city name, it took me 6 seconds to come up with the name “Cohort”) where humans, aliens and hybrids live together. You play as XCOM’s new Chimera Squad, a multi-species peace keeping special task force tasked with keeping the peace of City 31 and bringing down organised crime within the region.

I’ve heard it mentioned that the game feels like an XCOM Saturday morning children’s TV show and I have to say that it’s a very apt description, the game feels very safe like it’s trying too hard to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Instead of being able to recruit randomly generated recruits whenever you can afford them, the game has a handful of personalised characters air lifted from whatever B-list kids TV shows they could get their hands on. This means that there’s no permadeath, so if a squad member is downed in battle they get a attribute penalty until they spend a couple of days in training to put themselves to rights. The battle sequences too feel a lot like “Baby’s First XCOM”, they are split into several smaller battles with breach sequences between them, allowing you the opportunity to take out a few enemies before the battle begins in earnest. Both of these changes flatten the difficulty curb with a bulldozer. Although saying that, I had to change my normal XCOM approach in this game because the developers have done away with both the sniper and the demo classes. Given all the above I found myself getting quite bored, quite quickly.

It wouldn’t be much of an XCOM game without our base and in true XCOM style we have our base but in true Chimera Squad style that has also been simplified. All rooms are available from the word “GO”, all you have to do is assign people to rooms in order to utilise them. This was a problem at the start of the game, since I only had 1 team member spare I would have to halt my R&D when a squad member needed healing. Deployment is similar to the previous XCOMs but instead of countries you deploy in city districts, each district having it’s own unrest meter. If a district fills it’s unrest meter, the city anarchy meter will start filling, when that meter is full the game is lost.

Another thing that really annoyed me were the alien members of the team, they felt far too human, some of them felt more human than some of the human characters. There wasn’t any kind of a culture clash within the team. Again going back to the kids tv show analogy, they felt like the arbitrary alien sidekick who’s only reason for existing is because it scored well with the 7 to 11 year old demographic. The whole nicey-nicey feel good frictionless vibe within the squad feels artificial and staged which rubs me up the wrong way.

Overall the game feels like someone had the great idea of a SWAT-esque XCOM game (XCOPs if you will) but then marketing got their hands on it and thought it would sell better if they diluted the game to appeal to the 7-11 age range; However, In doing this they have removed the appeal of the core demographic of the series since there isn’t really any kids TV shows that appeal to adult gamers, with the exception of Ducktales.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

I find myself these days playing video games less and less, this is probably due to me not having a lot of money and being bored on what games I already have, hence why all my reviews are on games that have been around longer than the Crab Nebula… Anyway. This time around aliens have invaded Earth and it’s up to the nations of the world to camber together and create the XCOM initiative. Earth’s first and last line of defence.So here we go, XCOM Enemy Unknown.

I was originally going to play Metal Gear Rising because it was free to PSPlus users, and since I’m a PSPlus user it made sense to download it. The problem was it would take some time to download, therefore I decided to play something else in the mean time. This game was kicking around because again it was free to PSPlus users so I thought I’d give it a go. I remembered hearing it was quite good so decided at long last to give it a go, and you know what? I’m glad I did. I found myself staying up until the small hours of the evening engrossed in the workings of my squad and my base.

XCOM starts in the near future at the start of a global alien invasion, you are a nameless, faceless commander type in charge of XCOM, a massive international effort to protect the earth from alien threat. It’s up to you to not only manage the troops in battle, but also take charge of base management, research and development, engineering, finance, caring for the troops etc. It sounds like a lot but as long as you don’t do anything too stupid a lot of it manages itself. Just make sure not to spend your money and resources too frivolously and you’ll do fine.

Gameplay wise, it’s your standard turn based strategy game, you move your troops, the aliens move theirs until someone has no troops left. Each troop type has their own special abilities and traits, Snipers fire from long range, Assault troops get up close and personal, Support troops heal the wounded and Heavy troops blow shit up. As you play your troops grow and get stronger (if they survive that is) unlocking more perks. Meaning later on when the aliens show they really mean business and send their elite soldiers you can still have a fighting chance. It’s also up to you to keep the different international bodies happy by deploying satellites above them to detect enemy spaceships, or complete missions within their borders. If not they will pull their support from the XCOM initiative and you’ll lose their funding.

One point I do need to mention that both goes for and against XCOM is the randomness of the missions, especially that of the UFO missions, which is the main way to collect the alien alloy which is needed for a lot of the later armours and weapons. It can be in game weeks between aliens invade areas where you have satellite uplinks. Therefore if you blow all your alloy on developing your base, you’ll end up sitting around twiddling your thumbs for the next week waiting for a ship to turn up and knowing you it’ll land somewhere with a low threat level and force some country like France to leave the XCOM initiative, but I digress. In it’s favour though it does mean that each game is different in the fine detail. Sure the story never changes but how you get from the beginning to the end is sure to be different.

Another mild annoyance I have with the game is with the difficulty curve. Especially for first time players. The difficulty ramps up over time rather than how much effort the play puts into the war. At the beginning the game the aliens are pretty much sending out the kids on work experience and over time they send out more aliens each more powerful than the last. So if they start sending out their berserker and you haven’t researched laser weapons yet you are in for a world of hurt. Which is why I’d recommend getting laser weapons as soon as they become available. I’d also recommend levelling up many soldiers rather than take out the same 6 over and over. I say this because later in the game it is near impossible to train recruits due to the difficulty of the enemies. Equipping them with the best weapons and ammo may help but it does seam that the enemies know which of my squad and instantly seeks them out. Maybe they can sense inexperience, I don’t know. On a similar note I thank god for the ability to save at almost any time. The amount of times I made one false move and ended up losing my best men was beyond measure.

Now my final thought. I started writing this review months ago, but never got around to finishing it because I was too busy playing it. I enjoyed it from start to finish and all moments in between. I must get for anyone especially those with a PSPlus subscription because you’ll be getting a great game for a ridiculous price.

Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)

 

I was originally planning on reviewing Oblivion this week which would make sense with Skyrim coming out on Friday. Although with me starting work and university work piling up I’ve not really had much of a chance to give it a decent replay and take notes so instead I’m dragging out the first review I posted on Amazon and revamping it to version 2.0.
About a week ago on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. Charlie Higson was debating with Ekow Eshun (he’s the former director of the UK’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, just in case you didn’t know) whether or not video games could be classed as art or not? They concluded that computer games entertain therefore they are entertainment. I disagree, Video can be entertaining and be classed as art. Why can’t computer games. I’m hoping with this review I can spread my views on the debate. Although it’s probably going to have all the effectiveness of gobbing in a river I’m still going to make my point dam it. Anyway here’s Valkyria Chronicles.
First of all let me say that it is a very pretty game. With the water colour effect and the anime style graphics, you can’t help but be drawn into the beauty of the game. Also to back this up it has a beautiful score and soundtrack. So much so that I actually got a hold of a copy of the soundtrack. The song “A Love Passed on” (or “Succeeded Wish” in the Japanese version) when I first it I was breathless and almost paralysed by it’s emotional depth and melodies (I can speak Radio Four too).
That’s enough about the arty farty stuff, at the end of the day whether or not it is art it’s still a game so lets talk about that. The game-play itself is described as being a chapter based RPG although the combat is more of a mixture of real-time and turn-based strategy along with a small amount of 3rd person shooter, despite how complicated it sounds the game play does flow fairly smoothly at times. Like every game I’ve ever played it’s not without it’s flaws, when controlling a character enemies will shoot you and only you until you start pointing guns, at which point shit gets serious and enemies are too worried about finding new briefs to replace their now soiled ones to fire back. Although this concept doesn’t exactly sound realistic it still seems somewhat natural if a bit awkward to begin with. l applaud SEGA for it. It’s something different occupying a market current overloaded with so many 1st person shooters you’d think they were part of some sort of secret conspiracy to eradicate all the other game genres starting with point-and-click adventure games… but that’s just silly (yes… silly, ha ha ha). It’s a brightly coloured Poison Dart frog swimming in a bond of Bull Frogs. Sure touching it may cause death to you and others around you but at least it looks pretty (not a bad analogy that one).
The story is stereotypical of any war based anime, actually, forget the whole anime bit. Does anyone remember that slight disagreement back in Europe between 1939 and 1945 between the Allied Forces and the Nazi’s and Friends? The story is basically that but in water colour. Ok I give, it’s a bit more zoomed in than that to make it more personal and in-depth. This means you get a real understanding of all the characters, the ones that matter anyway. Their are alot of characters there that are really only there to make up the numbers but they can die at your leisure if you so wish. With a few of the main characters I developed somewhat of an fondness for which is why it feels extra bad when the plot delivers an emotional kick to the balls mid way through the game.
 
If you kind of person that find the Japanese offensive (and I don’t know why you should. They are delightful little fellows, although they are a bit weird. I mean they like dating sims) you’ll find the story offensively Japanese. In a nutshell the lead character is Welkin Gunther who’s late farther was a general in the first Europan War. When Welkin’s home gets invaded by the empire at the start of the second Europan war he enlists to the militia and captains Squad 7 in order to defend his home country because the head of the militia decides that leadership is one of the better qualities shared via genetics, or by virtue that he was the only member militia to bring his own tank.
 
One minor annoyance is having to sit through alot of cut scenes between each mission but you really don’t mind because it drives plot and skipping them would mean missing out on alot of the pwitty pictures. This minor annoyance is still dwarfed by it’s biggest problem. Hands up who likes Auto-Save? ok, I’ll assume everyone put their hands up. I do too, although apparently SEGA doesn’t. Many a time I fell victim to the onslaught of the Aryan Race only to find I last saved 3 battles ago and 60 billion cut scenes ago. I think I have the right to rage quit and give it a day or two until I start again. Despite my nit-pickings I think game deserved more attention than it got when it was released. For this I place the blame squarely on SEGA’s head for releasing it sandwiches between an array of big name games. It was released on the same say as Fallout 3 for Christ Sake. As unique as it was, it was never going to compete on the same level as that. There was also Fable 2, Modern Warfare 3, LittleBigPlanet, Saints Row 2 on the list for release within that period. Would like me to stop pointing out your monumental fuck-up SEGA? Well too bad because I still have more, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, Mirrors Edge. The only reason I had interest in the game before release was because on the off chance I found and downloaded a demo of the game. Back when the PSN wasn’t infested with sub menu after sub menu and diamonds in the rough such as Valkyria Chronicles were easy enough to find. I think I’ve made my point. Despite what I’ve just said those who have played the game seemed to enjoy it since it has a strong underground fan base, although I’m guessing it was mostly in Japan given that they commissioned and released both a manga and anime series about it as well as 2 sequels, but much to my distaste it was decided by the powers that be that the PSP was the best place for them. Who stills plays on a PSP in this day and age. I stopped playing mine a good 2 years before this was released let alone their sequels.

Now to the final point, If you are Japanese or love anything from Japan, get it because you’ll love every minute of it. Those who don’t might get a see it as being somewhere between alright and an offence to all 5 senses.
 
Oh shit I forgot I was supposed to be arguing my case for computer games being a form of art…
 
Did I mention it looks pretty?