Library of Ruina (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £19.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Okay, let’s get an important warning out the way right now: Library of Ruina somewhat spoils the ending of Project Moon’s previous game I’ve reviewed, Lobotomy Corporation. It is, after all, a direct sequel.

And damn, does it have a great intro. The game, also, is solid, if a little grindy at times, and annoying at others. But we’ll be getting into that.

Instant bonus points for the use of my favourite word, Angela. And Project Moon.

So, our protagonist (?) is a Fixer, essentially, a high-grade mercenary in a city where urban legends are both real and deadly, and, having been seemingly killed, he is resurrected, and given a very special job: To kill others in increasing power, who are invited to the library, to create pages from their souls… To hopefully create… The Perfect Book.

And how do you do that? Essentially, by deckbuilding, and using those cards (balancing powerful attacks with lower cost cards) in turn-based battles. Using the powers of the pages to increase your own, as “burned” books create pages, which your increasing cast of Librarians and Assistants can equip to take on their likeness (to an extent) and abilities… And the pages, when burned, can Realise other pages (level them up), and give you cards from said page’s deck, to use in your own combat decks. You don’t need to engage with that last part for the early game at least, but it’s highly recommended to take a look, and see where a Page’s base deck can be improved or changed to fill a good role.

Yes, the ones who came before you have all died here. Repeatedly. I’ve been… Grinding them… Ohohoho…

Earlier fights can be replayed for their pages, which is useful if you want to get said pages to their level cap (although fights also give XP to that page), but generally, you engage in an upward journey, eerily similar to the Sephirah of the previous game (and, indeed, said Sephirah are represented by familiar characters from Lobotomy Corporation, still under the control of Angela from the previous game), occasionally fighting equally familiar Anomalies from the previous game, such as the Forsaken Murderer to progress.

Each Anomaly is, essentially, a sort of puzzle boss, with some pretty specific strategies, although the Anomalies give hints sometimes, and you learn their patterns. Dying doesn’t do anything bad, at least as far as I know, so you’re welcome to try, try again. And, funnily enough, it’s the anomalies where I find the most grind and irritation. Forsaken Murderer, in particular, was, as the technical term goes, “A right bastard”, and it, along with some later fights in the current content, required some good strategy and a fair amount of grind to get things to the level I wanted.

This one, thankfully, wasn’t too bad. Later ones will not be as forgiving.

Aesthetically, the game is split between a well painted manga style, and a more stylised chibi set for the turn based fights themselves, with a sort of Art-Deco look to some elements, contrasting with the blood-red lettering of some elements, the scratchy backgrounds of character thoughts at the bottom, but every element that needs to be clear is clear, from health, to the emotion system, and the UX. Yes, there are lots of fonts, but each has its purpose. The sound, similarly is good, and the music solid.

Basically, if you want to see where Lobotomy Corporation’s world went after the first game, or if you like deckbuilding turn based combat with RPG elements, Library of Ruina is a solid pick, and its eerie world, with some light elements, but mostly surreal and a little dark, appeals.

The Mad Welshman loves libraries. He also loves tastefully done flesh-walls. Perhaps there’s some way to mix the two?

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Fareo: Shadowlands (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Rifts in time and space. They let you do lots of fun things! Well, until they inevitably go wrong, and heroes from across time and space have to stop whatever’s behind all of it, or shut down the machine, or whatever.

And so it is with Fareo: Shadowlands, a combination of roguelite and strategy RPG that does a fair amount different to my usual experiences. And I appreciate that.

This guy is an asshole. I mean, he’s meant to be, but… Asshole.

Even if I most definitely don’t appreciate Yan, the final boss. So let’s get him out of the way first. Like any boss, he has pieces which are associated with some of his attacks, and he has several of them. Like any boss, he can attack all around him, some of his attacks at range (so nowhere’s really safe), and he can do three a turn… Most of which are area attacks. And any two of them in combination destroys one of my heroes.

I don’t like Yan, final boss of the dungeon or no.

Otherwise, however, I’m quite enjoying Fareo: Shadowlands, partly because it’s aesthetically solid. I wouldn’t really use superlatives, or go “gosh!”, but it’s solid stuff, a consistent aesthetic, and, apart from parts being a little hard to hover over or parse (tooltips and icons in battle, mainly), it’s okay in terms of accessibility.

Friends would skewer me if I didn’t mention Fadrake. Which is good, because I actually want to mention that oh hey, there’s a beefy shark with an anchor called Fadrake, and he kicks ass…

But mostly because of its interesting systems. The basic idea is that you take one of three paths offered to you, which can be a number of things. For example, Rifts are a normal fight, Huge Rifts are a more difficult fight, Priest can (for a price in one of the currencies of the game, the coins) resurrect dead party members, so on. But some of these are necessary for levelling up heroes you find, items you find, enchanting items you find… And there are good reasons for doing so.

Before Level 5 (the maximum, which all four of your base party members start with), you only have one special ability. Levels 1 to 4 are for rune slots, modifiers you can make to your hero, costing 1, 1, 3, and 5 runes out of the 10 allotted to you in the prep phase for a fight. For example, Fandrake, a beefy shark boy with a massive boomeranchor, can, with 5 runes, make the party immune to damage reflection. But with his first two rune slots, he can make half his damage be unblockable Chaos type (rather than wearing away the enemy’s armour), and every time he kills someone with his special Sweep ability, all the party gets their potion effect.

The other important thing is the card/movement system. Each turn, you’re dealt a number of cards (2 x the number of currently alive heroes, an important fact to remember for later) in one of four types: Attack, Defence, Mana, and Potion. They serve a quadruple purpose: They’re spent on movement, 1 a tile. They buff the hero (In the case of Attack and Defense, better attack and a shield respectively. The last two give mana or use your equipped potion.) They trigger special abilities when used in the correct order (like Sword and Shield for Hasaki, which unleashes a devastating attack.)

Awww crap, it’s a robot… That looks a bit like a buff cat! I don’t know whether to fight or scratch it behind the ears, HELP!

The thing is, you have to use the cards while moving to get their effect. Just standing still does nothing. So it emphasises mobility and synergy for the best effect. But not moving, not spending those cards, unleashes the other, fourth use: Using the terrain. Sometimes this is necessary, to move a map obstacle out of the way. But each single tile terrain item has an effect, and putting it on top of someone, for good or ill, does things. Rocks stun. Snowy trees freeze. Scrolls power up. That sort of thing.

It still heavily incentivises moving around, which is a shift in thinking that’s important to playing, but it’s an interesting one. Flaws wise, well, apart from the bosses being fucking hard, and the aforementioned tiny icons, there’s some tiny amount of untranslated text, or poorly translated text, but that last one’s a minor niggle, and overall?

Overall, this is an interesting game, trying something different, and it seems to be working. I look forward to seeing what happens next with it, and recommend taking a look.

I feel like rifts between time and space throwing disparate groups together to clash in a fun way isn’t done enough. Just throwing that out there…

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Spellsword Cards: Dungeontop (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access 1 Early Access 2

I’ve spoken a few times before about how enjoyable I find the many tactics you can find in the simple decks of Dungeontop, the aesthetic, the battles.

You’re a big feller, ain’tcha?

And now, I’m faced with a door. A door to the final level. Between me and the final level is… A lock. And, not having encountered a key anywhere else but the first level, I think to myself.

Ah. So I have to survive four bosses without a heal after each one, to get to this, the final level. Sod.

So, yes, Dungeontop now has a challenge mode level. And it both amuses and frustrates, tipping toward the former. After all, you can exit the dungeon, earning your due gold for a run, at this point. Still… Mean.

A recap for folks, then. Spellsword Cards: Dungeontop is a strategy deckbuilding roguelike, which is to say, you start with a deck taken from your class (Warrior, Mage, Rogue) and your allegiance (Hand of Karim, Guardians of Helm, Tribes of the North.) From there, you go through a dungeon, moving from fight to fight, and the fights…

Looks grim, doesn’t it? But no. The asshole next to me is the boss.

The fights are a grid, on which you play units, and have a hero. You have 3 mana, cards cost between 1 and 3 mana, can only be placed adjacent to each other (or your hero), and they get to move, attack, or both (Some folks have abilities like multistrike or leap, which changes this.) Kill the enemy hero, you win the fight. Your hero dies, you lose. Them’s the basics.

Now, we’ve talked about the various decks in previous reviews, but what we haven’t covered is the final faction, the Tribes of the North. They’re a pretty interesting one, because many of their units rely… On fungus spores. It makes them grow in power, so setting up a good spore economy means your units have the potential to be absolute shitkickers… Provided they live long enough, because many of them are individually weak. Also in the deck are Evolve cards. These ones are also interesting, because every time they kill a minion, everything with evolve gets an ability. Where Helm relies on bruisers, and Karim relies on sacrificing your own, the Tribes of the North rely on teamwork and growth. So… I’m liking the cut of their jib!

Alas, in some situations, even teamwork can’t stop things from getting hairy.

Nonetheless, as mentioned earlier, the aesthetics are good, with some solid card art, some good atmosphere in the music, and sounds that do the job. The menu is still, somehow, a little small, not unreadably so, but… There’s a lot of screen real estate they aren’t using, and it somewhat annoys me.

Beyond this, though, Spellsword Cards: Dungeontop is a strong roguelike of its ilk, and comes recommended. It’s got a lot to play with, a lot to unlock, and the tactical end of things, even by the time you become familiar with the enemies you come across, is interesting. Worth a try!

Teamwork shall destroy our enemies far better than throwing others to the wolves.

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Wintermoor Tactics Club (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£6.39 OST)
Where To Get It: Steam

Our hobbies don’t define us… But they sure as hell can bring us together, and tell others things about ourselves. I love art, and roleplaying, and generally, creative stuff. I love writing these reviews, and being critical and informative as best I can. And clubs… That’s where many people had their formative experiences, for good or for ill. Finding belonging, or exclusion, finding friends, ideas… Sharing.

Yes, the clubs are cartoonishly represented. But each one deeply connects with their hobby. And each other.

But what if, for some completely arbitrary reason, that club was shut down? How would that make you feel? Even if there was a reason, even if you didn’t lose the friends you made from those clubs, you would have less of a chance, less time to share that love of your hobby with your friends. And all because of something arbitrary.

And this, in a sense, is the core conflict of the Wintermoor Tactics Club, where the principal, for some unknown reason, begins holding a snowball contest between all the clubs of the school. The stakes? The club that loses each battle gets shut down. For good. All to find… The Ultimate Club. The Club of Clubs.

Look, I wanted to add this one in instead of a second tactics picture because it’s a Devo reference.

There is a reason for it, but, for the majority of the game, it’s going to feel arbitrary as hell, and corny when you do get there. Well played corny, with good writing… But even as a tabletop player who’s played some corny scenarios… Corny.

Anyways, yes, power of friendship, power of shared interests, a theme of tabletop tactics, because our protagonists are the members of the Wintermoor Tactics Club (plus folks who join the club after defeats, for various reasons), and the game is a cool hybrid of point and click adventure, visual novel, and turn based strategy. When you’re outside of battles, you do quests, talk to people, look at items for often humorous dialogue (love the library!), and progress the story in some fashion or another. And then… The battles. They’re all turn based and tactical, usually with three or four characters (sometimes more or less), but sometimes, they’re snowball fights, sometimes, they’re adventures to help the characters think, or to bring someone new to the group, sometimes, they’re progressing a character’s adventure to give them swanky new abilities. It’s solid stuff!

This is the kind of player character naming I can get behind…

Some of them are challenge maps with fixed stuff, which I know is a turn off for some folks, but, overall, it’s got give in how you play and which characters you use.

Aesthetically, I love it. Solid, cartoonish and expressive artwork, fitting and, in places, quite stirring music, a good, clear UX with solid text sizes and easy tooltips… And, as mentioned, some pretty solid writing, with very little tonal whiplash. When things get heavy, they get heavy. When things are meant to be light… You get the picture.

This is a solid game. It’s not a hugely long game, but it doesn’t need to be. I’d rather have something like this, tight, well written, and with elegance, over some bloated, over or underdesigned monstrosity. Turn based strategy newbies may well have a good time with this one, as it’s a nice, gentle introduction to the genre, with a good difficulty curve, and giving you useful information, such as who is going to attack who and why. Which is something you can exploit.

The Mad Welshman does 2 Psychic Damage for a nerdy tabletop reference. It may inflict confusion, or do extra damage if you are weak to Nerd.

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Iratus: Lord of the Dead (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £18.99 (£26.58 for Supporter Edition, £7.59 for upgrade to Supporter Edition)
Where to Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access Review

And so, the Dark Lord is finally out of the dungeon. Well, metaphorically. For the goal remains, in Iratus, to get your necromantic Dark Lord… Out of the dungeon. Which he had been trapped in, until some foolish adventurers opened his crypt and gave him some starting materials…

Screeeeaaaam.

Speaking of materials, goodness me, there’ve been some changes since last I played, and they do make the experience more challenging!

In any case, this is a turn based strategy game in which you, a very sarcastic Dark Lord (the best kind), have found yourself awakened once again, and you have to beat or frighten your way back up through the depths, to claim your right to conquer once more. Encounter by encounter, battle by battle, you earn resources to build up your army of the dead, maybe unlock more types, and balance for the encounters you see coming.

Now that is a welcome change. Because while frightening enemies to death (as opposed to shooting, stabbing, magicking, and bludgeoning them to death) is the path to the best rewards, risky as it is, there are some enemies, most notably the golems early on, who are not only immune to Stress damage, but can also redirect the stress damage they can’t take from others… Onto themselves. You really want a high damage build for these bastards, as they have a lot of armour too.

Obligatory “Big Rock Guy is a scary bastard” picture.

But there are other changes too, that make things more challenging. To pick one example, a common means of buffing your troops was to turn crap materials into less-crap materials. A strategy that is less do-able now, because the chances of better items coming out is minimal without some talent upgrades, but this is counterbalanced by the fact that new parts for your undead don’t buff specific stats… But give you more stat points to do with as you please.

I said before that the game is pretty clear, aesthetically speaking, and this is mostly true, but what I failed to mention last time is that, alas, there is no text scaling option. Beyond this, however, you know what’s what, the tooltips are fine, and the visuals, music, and voicework are all high quality. It really gets across this atmosphere of a dark world, a world which… Honestly, the villain could probably conquer in other ways, considering how there are slavers, beserkers, mad mages, dwarves gone bad… Well, Iratus does Iratus, I guess!

Although, y’know, a guy who poses like this? Prooobably a bit narcissistic. Either that, or taking a rocking selfie…

And what Iratus does, it does well: A turn based strategy game with a fair amount of depth, a good amount of polish, a protagonist with a bleak sense of humour, and some tense, challenging gameplay. Your minions are not that replaceable. Try not to get them killed a second time, eh?

The Mad Welshman likes to see a fellow villain go up in the world. Well, unless they’re encroaching on his areas, in which case, he likes to see them go down.

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