Review — Faster Than Light

Alright. I’m reviewing this game because, while it’s been some time since I’ve played it extensively, it deserves my articulated thoughts. In fact, I actually thought I had reviewed it. Dungeon of the Endless reminded me of the game in terms of music, and I brought it up in my review of that game. I intended to put a link to my FTL review on that post, only to find that I had no FTL review to link. So here it is. Plus, now’s a good time, because their newest game, Into the Breach just came out, and buying it gives you a free copy of this game, too.

What is Faster Than Light? Simply put, it’s a rogue-like strategy game where you’re piloting a spaceship escaping from the evil Rebel fleet. There are two core aspects to the game: Game dialogue and combat. Game dialogue consists of what is probably a majority of the game. You jump to a star, and a text box opens up telling you what’s going on at this star. It’ll say something like “A pirate ship is attacking a civilian cargo ship! What do you do?” (paraphrasing here), and you can choose to attack the pirates or ignore it. (There might also be a third option to attack the civilians, too, it’s hard to remember the specifics of each event.) If you choose to attack the ship, a combat will happen. They might surrender and give you items, and you can accept or refuse it. If you kill them, the civilians will thank you, and you can still choose to steal from them. Basically, this game is largely dictated by choice.

Not everything happens the same way every time. Choices you make can help or hinder you pretty much regardless, because the repercussions of them are also randomly generated. (It’s worth noting that it’s not all random. Playing over and over again will give you knowledge of what can happen and how likely events are to be good or bad). This basically allows the game to be infinitely replayable, because if each choice always yielded the same result, you could just look it up on a wiki and win every time (as long as you weren’t bad at combat). As a side note, the combat is the only thing in the game that is real-time, but you can pause as often as you like while issuing commands to your units and guns, so if you’re bad at doing things quick, don’t worry about it.

Is the game good? Well, let me start by saying it’s hard. I’m pretty sure I’ve only beaten the final boss once. I’m not positive because my computer blue-screened while I was playing it today and deleted all my stats. (My unlocked ships are still fine, strangely enough). But it also has three difficulties, and of the dozens of playthroughs I’ve tried, I’ve beaten it once. On easy. Maybe I’m just really bad, but it is certainly not a walk in the park.

I love rogue-like games, and the single most important thing about it is replayability. FTL has a bunch of different ways to play, because there are lots of different kinds of weapons, races, ships, etc. The idea is once you beat the game with one method, you should try a different method. I’ve found that the Halberd Beam is just easy-mode. 3 Damage per room it and you can hit five or six rooms per shot? That’s insane!

Another thing this game does right is the music. Not only does it have a different soundtrack for each alien-controlled sector you’re flying in, but it also has a combat layer that seamlessly adds onto the music currently playing once you enter a combat (usually this means drums or other more percussive tools). It’s beautifully done.

So, this game does require reading. Not a lot, but you can’t just make choices willy-nilly until you start seeing the same events repeat themselves, and even then going too fast can mess you up big time. Overall, anyone who likes small, casual strategy-related games will love Faster Than Light. And though I haven’t played it yet, you’ll probably also like their new game, Into the Breach, as well.

Review — Dungeon of the Endless

Dungeon of the Endless is weird. I played it for the first time yesterday (well, two days ago as of this publishing), and the only reason I did play it was because a friend bought it for me and wanted to play it with me. I actually had zero interest in it. We booted up the game, it’s pretty small, and then while I was looking at stuff he just started talking/explaining.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t really listening. I was in a weird mood where I was sort of tired so the enjoyment I was getting was pretty much solely just spending time with a friend (and brother). The game isn’t really fast paced, so it worked. I could just follow orders as he told me to walk in that room, put on this item, etc. Somewhat through osmosis I slowly started picking up the controls and the objective, and I have to say…

This game is amazing. It just does so much right for an indie game. Let me explain how it works. Imagine you’re in a giant tower infested with monsters that want to murder you. The only way to get up is to power the elevator, but the elevator is in a different part of the building on every single floor, so you have to carry the power source to it on every single floor. Problem is, there’s monsters everywhere. Trying to kill you, naturally. So you have to build defenses and power generators while you explore the floor, looking for the next elevator and (hopefully) not running into too many monsters.

Sound boring? Well, obviously it’s a bit more complicated than that. Each room you enter is randomly generated. It could have food you need. It could have an adventurer you can recruit (randomly finding them is the only way to unlock them). It could maybe be encapsulated by a toxic cloud. The fun never stops! You could have an amazing layout on one floor, have it be a cake walk and saunter into the next floor, only to find that you have no way of powering any of the rooms and there’s just too many monsters. The power of random.

It’s just a blast for a variety of reasons. It’s multiplayer friendly (up to 4 player), and is pretty much the same experience regardless of how many people play. If you’re playing single player you control four guys, and if you have three friends playing with you each of you control one guy. The game isn’t fast paced, there’s a lot of strategy involved, so if one of you wants to take a bathroom break or needs to go do something real quick, they can give control of their hero to somebody else and the others can keep playing. (Also, it’s soundtrack is great. The whole aesthetic of the game, especially the music, reminds me of Faster Than Light. Which, I’m just now realizing, I never reviewed! Next week.)

Is it without faults? Of course not. It’s biggest drawback is that in order to win a playthrough, you have to dedicate anywhere from 4-6 hours, because each of the 12 floors can take upwards of half an hour, assuming you don’t die. You can save it and play later, but you’ll probably forget what modules you’ve researched and what your characters were good at. Also, the interface isn’t the best. If you’re in a room with a dozen monsters and two friends, it can be really hard to tell how much health each of your characters have. And switching between characters you control can sometimes be a pain, too. The wording of items is suboptimal, too. You can see an item in a shop that says “Gives ‘Pack of Dogs’ Skill”, but without knowing off the top of your head what that skill does, the only way to find out is to buy it (or use the internet).

I’ve had the game for two days (one and a half, really), and I’ve already put 16 hours into it. It’s just a fantastic game, and if you have the time, it can be both mentally challenging and physically relaxing.

Parting warning. The game has two difficulties: “easy”, and “too easy”. I’ve never won on easy.

Review — Stories: The Path of Destinies (350)

Stories: The Path of Destinies is a choose your own adventure, rogue-like rpg game where Reynardo, a rebel fox, tries to defeat the evil emperor. Now, I’ve seen pretty mixed reviews about this game, and it certainly does have very clear flaws, but I had a lot of fun with it, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who likes rogue-like adventure games, especially if they have a free evening and don’t know how to spend it.

I’m going to go off track a little here and talk about it’s flaws first. None of them are big, but they do add up and leave a bad taste. The first is the name of this game. Indie games thrive on being memorable, and this is the least noticeable name in the universe. It’s like they got the three most used names in the entire gaming community and found a way to use all three in the title. Now, obviously I’m exaggerating here, and the name does suit the game once you understand what’s going on, but this game would be much more prevalent if it’s name was noticeable.

Second, while the combat is one of my favorite things about this game: it’s hard. Specifically, there is no ‘invincibility’ timer that makes you immune for a second after you get hit. This means that if multiple enemies attack you at once and you don’t dodge the attacks, you can instantly die even if you have full health. Also, since this game has very specific camera angles, there will be instances where you literally cannot see some enemies, and thus can’t know when to time a counterattack if they strike.

Lastly, this game is a bit glitchy and doesn’t have the amount of polish I’d like. There are instances where I got my character stuck and had to start the mission over again, or found a way to walk off the map. The narrator in the story can also be redundant, repeating something he just said in the previous sentence. This doesn’t happen a whole lot, though. And that’s it. That’s everything bad about this game.

Everything else is awesome. You choose your own adventure, selecting different objectives to pursue and, as the story progresses, trying to piece together a way to win. Once you play for about an hour and complete an ‘ending’, which will be bad, you start over. The narrator gives you the same choices, but the voice acting changes because now you know how one side of the story ends. You can choose to go down that same path and make it end differently, or you can take an entirely different approach.

Going back to the beginning of the game never feels like starting over. You keep all your weapons, power ups, and levels, and because the narration changes depending on what your character knows, the story is always different, even if you do the same thing twice. You can make new swords, and this gives you access to different areas of the map. This game is so dynamic that even if you make the same exact actions over and over again, you can always experience new things.

The combat is simple, and one of the most controversial things about the game. I personally loved it. It runs the same way as Batman, Assassin’s Creed, or Shadow of Mordor, where you have a circle of people that you have to counter while attacking. In this game, though, you can grab people and throw them off ledges or into other enemies, stunning both. You can pull people towards you with a hook, and dash to get away or get up close. It isn’t easy. I like to consider myself good at this sort of thing, and I died a lot. Luckily, you can spend points in the skill tree to compensate for what you’re bad at (making your attacks do more damage, giving yourself more time to react, or giving your character more health to name a few).

I will give a minor spoiler here, but I feel like everybody should know this going into the game: The true, correct ending to this game is unattainable at first. There are twenty five different endings, and while twenty-four are bad, you need to ‘beat the game’ four times and unlock four truths before the ‘true ending’ is revealed. It’s a good ending, and it makes use of all the previous times you played it, so I wasn’t disappointed. This game has a ton of replay-ability, and even though I’ve unlocked everything and found the ‘true ending’, I wouldn’t mind jumping back in and playing through some paths I haven’t tried, which is most of them. If this game sounds interesting at all, I recommend you check it out. Maybe watch some gameplay of it on YouTube.

 

Review — Sunless Sea

Have you ever played a game where the story was hinted at but never the focus of the game? In many single-player games, like Bioshock, or TransistorPortal, etc., you could get through the entire game without paying any attention at all to the story, regardless of how in-depth or thought provoking it may be. I tend to enjoy those games for the gameplay first, and then appreciate the story later. I’ve never been a huge fan of games that require you to know what’s going on, like Myst, because the story-driven games never seem to have interesting stories to compel me to continue.

Sunless Sea is a different story. It combines a lot of elements I love in games: slow progression and upgrades, a rogue-like “start-over with a push forward” theme, and a merciless drive to bring the player onto its knees through harsh and unforgiving rules. But when I bring up this game to other people, I set all of these aside, because in the end its not what this game is about. Sunless Sea is a story-driven, “choose your own adventure” game in a Lovecraftian setting.

In this game, you can choose the way you want to play. You can be a seafaring pirate that attacks anyone on sight, a wealthy merchant ferrying goods (often illegal and unsavory) across the seas to dangerous lands, or a scholar, trying to discover everything about this strange and vast world.

Very few games have made me feel a sense of adventure: like I’m exploring distant and strange lands, in the same way Sunless Sea does. I can find myself on distant shores and stumble upon vast treasures, only to realize I’ll have to spend most of it if I want to ensure a safe journey home.

This game is all about risk and reward. It forces you to take risks without telling you what’s at stake or even what the consequences will be. In a way this can be a little frustrating, but it adds to the feeling that this place is a real world, and in this place is real and it emulates how we often make judgments and important decisions based on the limited information and resources we have available.

I do have two major gripes with this game. The first is that there is a lot going on. The screen has a lot of information that takes time to study in order to understand what you’re looking at, and the interface is never as streamline as I would like it to be. You do learn what’s going on eventually, but the game doesn’t do a great job at telling you on its own.

But my biggest qualm with this game is that after thirty hours of playtime, I still don’t feel like I’ve made it very far. I’ve explored all these vast and interesting places, but I don’t feel as though I’ve made an impact on the world, and I don’t feel like the time I’ve spent has amounted to anything. For example, the boat I currently have is the third largest one available to buy, and the other two might as well not exist for how expensive they are and how savvy I am with trading and the economy.

I’d imagine there’s something about the game that I have simply yet to learn, but the world feels pretty much as mysterious and unknowable as it did when I first discovered all these islands, locales, and ports. In a way, that’s a good thing. It definitely makes me want to keep playing. The game is beautifully crafted, and there’s so much going on that I don’t feel as though I’ve even scratched the surface of how deep this world is. Depth like that is good, but too much makes it daunting.