Necronator: Dead Wrong (Early Access Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

For all that I am not the biggest fan of tower defense games, I do respect a game that respects my time. And Necronator, being a tower defense roguelike, is a game that respects my time. And has a sense of humour. And, so far, only a few flaws.

Ah, the fresh… The freshly exhumed face of a new Overlord in training!

If you’ve never played one of these, the deal in this one is relatively simple. You summon enemies from your own “tower” (a crystal sphere, in this case), they go toward the enemy settlements or along the path you choose for them (by flipping signs), and the enemy does the same from their castle. Why a crystal ball and a castle?

Well, because you’re an evil overlord. Well, an evil overlord in training. And each time you defeat a settlement, be it an actual battle, a shop, an event, or a rest point, you move onto the next, down a branching map until… The boss. Gaining more servants along the way, that you cast.

Muahahahahaa…

There’s more to it than that, of course, mana, how getting minor settlements from the enemy speeds up your mana production, and makes defending a lane a little easier, how if you’re not quick enough to ruin an opponent, they reinforce, and the fight gets harder the longer it drags on… It’s a deckbuilder too.

Anyway, yes, battles are, overall, short. They get longer, as the sectors drag on, but for the first hour or so of play, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that lasts longer than five minutes. And I respect that. It’s pretty frantic, it looks pretty nice, and a rotatable view means that things can obscure the path you’re looking at, but it’s never more than a keyboard press away, and dragging units onto the field can be done anywhere, so this is a pretty good deal.

Pffft. Giving this guy the cold shoulder. Repeatedly.

Actually, wait. Giving him a cold shoulder’s actually a good thing, for an undead. It’s not like you have a warm shoulder!

Helps that it aesthetically looks pretty good, with some nice music, a good pixelly feel mixing well with cel-shaded art… My main criticism, aesthetically, is that some things don’t seem to get sound cues, so you have to trust, for example, that enrages are proccing, and that the status symbols over a unit are small unless you zoom in… Which you don’t, generally speaking, want to do.

Overall, though, it feels frantic and challenging without actually being twitchy, it’s got an interesting deck mix, a good aesthetic, it respects your time… It’s a promising start for Necronator, and I look forward to seeing where it’s going.

The Mad Welshman salutes his fellow Overlords. Soon, brethren, soon, we shall face… The Finals!

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Dungeon Origins (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

I admit it: Normally, I am not a fan of Tower Defence. It’s just a personal preference, and I’ve only enjoyed a few games in the genre. So for me to say Dungeon Origins is okay? It might be more than that for you. Who knows. Let’s get into it.

See this? This is a very bad idea. This is your actual bad management skills at work here.

The story idea is actually a pretty fun one: A hero has cleansed the land of the great evils, and the kingdom is at peace. Well, right up until the moment where the King makes the extremely unwise decision of trying to kill said hero, who has defeated great evils, because he’s too dangerous to let live.

Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as said hero then resolves to create a great and evil dungeon, with which to punish the kingdom. And what results can basically be summed up as “Dungeon management tower defense.” With a tutorial that… Isn’t great. Basically, plonk down paths, making sure you have a nice twisty path with the space available to you (because, at the beginning, it ain’t much), traps, monsters (mostly monsters, as traps are less reliable), and, when you’re ready, go for the next wave! Every 10 or so waves, a boss spawns… And, of course, the more waves you get through, the tougher the obstacles on the way.

Whoops, I am dead, and so are all my minions. Gee willickers, I wish I could have been able to buy some corridors to distract them!

And here is where it’s alright instead of good. See, while it has some cool ideas, its implementation, even as a score attack type deal where you see how many days you last is… Not great. Monsters, for the most part, are fine. Learning how to mix monsters, like a tough melee type in front of weaker, ranged monsters, is a must, and, if worst comes to worst, the dungeon core itself can attack intruders who’ve reached it, with monsters respawning after each wave… That’s fine. But paths and tile placement is… Awkward. Mainly because you are encouraged to get certain dungeon features, which, in addition to costing… A lot, will also cost a tile worth of gold, an increasing cost, and those features will completely block that tile. Traps not being able to be placed with monsters? That’s more reasonable. But special rooms take up more of the economy than they claim to, and what they claim to is an arm and a leg for wherever they’re recommended.

There’s also a skill tree, which, again, is fine… But traps deserve another mention, because the earliest trap (indeed, the only trap I was able to unlock on the first run) has… a 10% chance of going off. Which, not going to lie, feels a little ridiculous. The idea is that, if it goes off, it does a significant chunk of damage… But it also does sod all to thieves, who will steal the hardest resource to get in the game: Gold.

Ah, raiding. The dungeon keeper’s equivalent of taking the kids to the park.

Mana gems are, it’s true, the rarest, but regular raids will provide you with a pretty consistent supply, whereas gold… Gold drops in relatively piddling amounts unless you’re going big with the raids (potentially disastrous, because raids cost your most common… And most used resource, Souls.) Spells… Exist, but have long cooldowns for what is, at first, not a great effect. Perhaps a scaling cooldown might have worked better there, but a single use, and then a several day cooldown is not great. (Hero assaults occur once a turn, which is a day, and raids for magic gems and gold take several days, a minimum of 2.)

Aesthetically, it’s alright. Lo-fi pixelwork, some chunky sounds, a relatively clear UX… But I found myself hemming and hawwing over this one, because while it was entertaining and a little interesting at first, the power creep of the heroes compared to the growth of me and my dungeon felt uncomfortable. So… If you want a Tower Defence game with RPG elements, then… Maybe?

The Mad Welshman has a dungeon. It’s where he reviews from. Quite nice, considering…

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Conglomerate 451 (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £16.99
Where To Get It: Steam
Previous Reviews: Early Access

It is the far future. And you’ve got a job ahead of you, commander. Because you’re the head of a private agency (not a corporation, honestly, really!) who has been tasked with dealing with the criminal influence of four cacklingly evil corporations, on behalf of the government. In sector 451 of the city of Conglomerate, and yes, they did call it that. So… It’s cyber, but not punk. Still.

Two “Good Boys” (Spoiler: Not Good Boys At All) and a very angry man kitted out like a personal tank. Oh, and a bomb.

So yes, this is one of those step based RPGs (first person, move a tile at a time, moving costs time but turning or looking around doesn’t, effectively turn based), with random loot, random enemy placement, a pool of maps, a research tree… It seems like a lot, but what it boils down to is: You do missions, which are usually kill a thing, kill lots of things, or find a thing. And doing these things breaks the influence of one of the four corporations who are openly criminal in the sense of drug dealing, slavery, and the like. Them’s your basics.

So… Last time I reviewed this, I said it was mostly solid, pretty promising, with a few things that needed work. That opinion has, apart from the whole “It’s released” thing, not really changed all that much. Because it still has issues. It’s just that they’re now mostly in terms of writing and accessiblity, rather than one of the two minigames being tedious as hell (the hacking has changed to be something a little more quickfire than “Click on some text when you see it”), and the money part of the game’s economy not being great (unlocking the in-mission benefits like “Can always ambush enemies if they don’t see you” costs money now. Which I’m fine with.) Not changed, however, is the fact that the bigass gun which looks like it can chew a room to shreds has a range of… 9 meters.

Yup. This thing still only has a range of 9m, single shot. Who the heck knows why…

Now… Even if you have white writing, folks, it’s going to be nigh illegible with a moving background, or something of even roughly the same value. That’s an accessibility issue, for which there is no option to fix. Dark red health on a dark brown background? That’s hard to read, so… Colourblindness issue, no option to fix. These are both two examples of how the game could work on its accessibility (a third being UX/Text scaling.) And then… The writing/barks. I’m not expecting Great American Novel, folks. What I do expect, however, is not to be very tired of the AI’s yakking two minutes into a mission. Yes, I get she was built by bad people to help you do bad things to bad people. I got that in the first two voicelines about how gleeful she gets about murder.

What I’m less fond of is references, without a hint of self awareness. Ah yes, my training mission was a “Kobayashi Maru” type. Mmmhm. Why yes, AI, we did come, we did see, we did kick its ass… But both of these references are almost as old as I am. And no, there is no option to turn off these barks, which… Sorry, developers, they’re not well written, and in one case (SPU chips, which add a little to stats), it doesn’t even make sense. Copper and some wires, but maybe it will be useful? I… AI? Have you been trained? At all?

Okay, okay, lemme try one. “You fell for one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia’, but only slightly less well known is this: Never make an 80s reference when a critic plays the game! Aha, ahahaha [dies]”

So, in terms of aesthetics, it’s alright. There’s some good enemy designs, the world maps are interesting and aptly get the feel across, the sound isn’t bad, and the visuals for attacks are kinda cool in places. In terms of gameplay, it’s a little grindy, but otherwise, I’m actually down for a limited set of map layouts, partly because you know vaguely what to expect. Improvements have been made in some areas… It’s still got jank, but… I’d still recommend it somewhat for fans of step-based RPGs, because it ain’t bad.

But it could definitely work on its accessibility.

The Mad Welshman would offer their services as a dystopia writing consultant, but… Well, not much point.

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SD Gundam G Generation Cross Rays (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £39.99 (£54.98 for Deluxe Edition, Season Pass £19.99, Extra Dispatch Missions 1 £4.99)
Where To Get It: Steam

No, that isn’t a word salad up there in the title. Or, rather, it is, but it’s a meaningful one. It is, indeed, Super Deformed (Bobblehead Gundams fighting, basically), It is part of the G Generation series (The first to hit the PC, in fact), and you do, indeed, Cross both Rays (in the beam weapon sense) and, occasionally, Rays (In the “That’s their first name sense.”) Simple, no?

Damn bloody right I’ve got a Hyakuri on my Sortie team!

Well, that still doesn’t really tell us anything, and it only tells fans of Super Robot Wars something when I say it’s like that, so… It’s a turn based strategy game, with some customisation, lots of units, 13 campaigns covering the Wing, Seed, 00, and Iron Blood Orphans series and some of their spinoffs, like Seed Astray, lots of characters… And a system that encourages a certain style of play… Namely, that if you weaken multiple enemies, a single Gundam could kill up to three of them at once. Oh, and you can also link your Gundams of the same team in a single, devastating multi-target attack.

Or you can fluff a 78% chance, and swear at the wasted energy, the resource that only really renews without docking back at base for Warships and Story Gundams, maybe taking a hit yourself into the bargain. UWAAAAAAGH! –Splode.

This is 5 of them. And only a few of them are short.

And I definitely don’t feel guilty for this taking a not insignificant portion of my review budget, because, as mentioned… 13… Goddamn… Campaigns. At this very moment in time, 13 hours in, I’ve gotten 29% of the things to get (Which… Isn’t actually as far along as I’d like. Especially since I haven’t yet got my two favourites available in this game, the Gusion and the Hyakuri), and have finished most of… The first missions.

Yeah, be prepared for each of even the first missions to take… A while. And doing well, getting those sweet, sweet extra missions? Unlocks… A harder part to the mission, which will test your endurance and tactical skill. You get some neat unlocks though, whether through that, developing higher levelled mechs into different mechs, combining designs, adding abilities to your characters… More of which you can unlock… There’s a lot to it.

Although sometimes, what results from developing mechs can be a distinct downgrade. Gundam. Zaku. Gundam. Zaku… GUNDAM.

Aesthetically, well… Gundam has always been known for some good tunes, and some high drama in its voicework, and this game is no exception. A dramatic sting happens with every phase change (from you, to enemies, to different groups of enemies if there’s more than one…) There are theme tunes, attract movies, the top down forced perspective stuff is mostly clear and alright, the battle animations are great. You can skip them once you’ve seen them, to save time, but… Don’t skip animations just by weapon, as different units use those weapons in different ways. One Gundam will have a proper Beam Rifle, one will use two Beam Pistols, and, in a particularly silly animation, one will slap two Beam Pistols together to make a bigger Beam Pistol that they fire. It’s very pretty.

Now, not all is roses. The UI text can get pretty damn small sometimes, which isn’t great accessibility wise, there’s some “Your mileage may vary” in the fact that the game is using moments from the series completely, so there’s a lot of dialogue and narration between missions (You can skip this, but for those who don’t like to, be warned, it goes on a while a lot of the time), and in some series, you’re going to get severely hamstrung if your Sortie mechs are, for example, all using Beam weapons in IBO, where nearly everything resists Beam Weaponry.

I LOVE CANNONS!!!

Say goodbye to that 4K damage, friendo, you’re only doing 1.5K tops against a Graze. And you will feel shame at not being able to damage what’s effectively a mook with ease. On the other hand, IBO units do pretty well in Beam heavy series. Muahahaha. Finally, yes, there is grind. Some units can only be gained by either maxing out meters, or developing them from other mechs, which requires levelling them up. Thankfully, this grind can be lessened by doing “Dispatch” missions, which take your group out of play for a certain time (From 2 and a half to 12 hours), but… You don’t actually have to be playing the game to run that timer down. Actually a pretty reasonable way of handling it!

But, here’s the thing: Overall? Hot damn is this value for money, with some moderately alright tutorialisation, to the point where you’ll very quickly get some tricks to shoot down units by the score, even Warships, and look cool doing it. For Gundam fans, well, hey, you’ve got a Gundam SD game you can play on PC (Super Robot Wars when, Bamco?), and for turn based tactical strategy games, you’ve got something you can sink your teeth into. Definite recommend here!

The Mad Welshman notes with some amusement that his sortie team is now several levels higher than… Well, anything except major story Gundams now.

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Sigma Theory (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£22.68 game+soundtrack, £7.19 soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

International espionage is, at the best of times, a tough job. It involves not only observation, but paperwork, diplomacy, bribery, compromising assets… It’s a multifaceted operation. And lots of things can get in your way, from local law enforcement, to other agents, encryptions… Even just plain bad luck.

Or being a berk, as I describe later in the review…

And, in Sigma Theory, you’re doing this in service to perhaps the last big arms race of all… The race to a Paradigm Shift, where new technologies change the very nature of the world, people, cultures, infrastructure… Even hearts, minds, and bodies. It’s an arms race which could very well result in the world melting down, culturally for sure, possible literally. No pressure, though.

The general idea is, in its basics, very simple: Keep relatively good relations with your own country and others… While researching technologies, and stealing the scientists of others to help achieve your own goals. Turn based, you have a lot of time to think about your moves… But something will throw a wrench in your plans, because every technology gained changes the game somewhat. One will make the agents of a country incorruptible. Another makes the scientists of other countries more corruptible. One slows research of every other country. One allows two of your agents to get an upgrade in their intelligence. And there is no way in hell you’re going to get that. So, that’s the main idea… Send your agents to other countries, find scientists, compromise them, steal them, research technologies, and try not to let the same happen to you.

A bad day just got a hell of a lot worse…

Of course… Like I said, things get complicated, because there are private groups who want to fuck things up too, and, while your goals may well align with theirs (Taking down capitalism? Sign me the fuck up!), they will scew you over if you don’t. And exfiltrating scientists and other figures is its own, turn based fun time, set in a city route spattered liberally with cops and events that may raise the alertness level, lower it, slow you down, speed you up… Screw it up, and you not only lose the agent, you lose reputation with both their country and yours… And you need that high rep with yours to keep your surveillance and combat drones to help you, and get new benefits, like being able to replace the agents you lost. You’ll also lose rep if you go loud, but sometimes you need to go loud.

And agents… Agents have preferences. In the most recent game, Russia was already well on its way to dominance, and America was falling behind. But I forgot that Mystery, the hacker I’d recruited, and who was exfiltrating a scientist, was a pacifist. With fleeing or stunning highly dangerous options, I ordered her to open fire… And she surrendered, immediately. Well, damn. Read your dossiers, Jamie, read your dossiers! (Especially since recruiting agents you haven’t recruited before requires it, to recruit them in the first place.)

Thinks about resisting a terrible joke… Nahhh… There is no ethical marriage under Capitalism!

Aesthetically, the whole is very pleasing. A simple, clear, but fitting UI, music that adds to that tense feeling that pervades the game’s mechanics, good character portraits, and the cityscape is also pretty clear. With a surveillance drone, you know how hard it’s going to be to get out, but without, the route is clear… But cops fade into view.

The game is very difficult, and, at times, distinctly unfair… But I still enjoyed myself, and continue to do so, because thematically? It works. It’s a dangerous situation in which one misstep can cascade into the Doomsday Clock running down, or the world dominance (quite literally) of another global power, or a private corporation. So if the fact that it’s difficult doesn’t turn you off, I would definitely recommend it for what it is… An engaging turn based game, set in perhaps the biggest cold war I’ve seen in a setting. A cold war for how humanity itself is directed.

Being a spy agency is hard. I wonder how super agents would do with Disciples 1?

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