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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Deck of Ashes (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (£5.19 each for OST and Print-Ready Posters, £7.19 each for expanded art book and unique character skins)
Where To Get It: Steam

Other Reviews: Early Access

Deck of Ashes is, to me, an odd one. It’s not often we deal with Grimdark (where the darkness almost seems so dark as to be comical, except… When it’s not.) A world where Death’s Curse has been unleashed by 3 fools and an evil jester who misled them. And now… A mysterious man leads all four back, to meet their fates.

Except it’s never that easy, is it?

Bah, you shall have the food in your mouth turn to ash, asshole.

Deck of Ashes is one of those card combat, turn based roguelike dealios, in which our four protagonists, each with their own unique gimmick, fight their way to Lady Death, unlocking cards for their deck along the way, along with useful items.

The deck part is important, because your deck… Has a direct effect on your health. No, no free reshuffles for you, boyo, every time you run out of cards, you have to spend 10 health points, to get 5 random cards back in. You can upgrade this to either 8 random cards or five selected cards, but the cost remains pretty much the same: Health, for cards back.

Buck’s friend Charon, when unable to lend their strength to Buck, gets mean.

And this, funnily enough, is both a help and a hindrance to all characters. Lucia’s fire magic, for example, is damaging to herself, so ending fights quickly is a must. Buck doesn’t want some of his cards back, because while they’re in the Ash deck, as the discard pile is known, some of them give him special abilities. So if one or more goes out… Whoops, there they go, and you only get one chance of putting all ash cards… In your hand… Back into the Ash pile to do their thing.

Similarly, everyone has a story, and the grimdark is strong with this one, as every single one of the characters has some kind of dark past, although the most relatable is Buck, who is highly empathetic, and wants to save his friend. Least relatable is Magnus the Jester, who is a manipulative, hateful asshole through and through, using his powers of manipulation not to solve his problem (people dismiss him and despise him for his deformity), but to ruin things, and even at the time we join him, after he unleashed the Ash Curse, nope, he wants to become a new god. Asshole. Suffice to say, nobody’s end seems happy, because grimdark.

That’s right. Go back to the hateful, small little fool you are, Magnus.

Despite the whole “Your mileage may vary on grimdark” thing, aesthetically, it’s pretty pleasing overall. Good art style (even if the loading screens are in a different style, they still show the characters well), solid music, with threatening bass lines and violins quavering at the violence (not actually, but this is the mood they were going for), and… Ah, yeah, we do have one problem: Although most of the tooltips, menus, etcetera are clear and readable, there is one very odd exception: The resource trade menu… Which is tiny. Not only is it hard to read, it’s hard to select, and I don’t know why this is.

Still, overall, there’s some interesting tactics here, an interesting take on the roguelike card battling type genre, and even though I’m not particularly a fan of grimdark, I do appreciate that the story is pretty well presented for what it is. So, overall, a recommendation.

Er, fix the menu though, folks, eh?

The Mad Welshman appreciates a good experiment. He’s less fond of all the screaming and gore during one, though…

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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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Last Regiment (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

“Are you sure you want to leave this awesome game?” Well… Yes, because I have reviews to write, food to cook, life to live, etcetera, and… You’re sounding a little confident there, game!

Satyrs, goblins, yeti… Probably elves too… (there are elves)

Nonetheless, although The Last Regiment is in Early Access, although there are things I dislike about it, it definitely shows promise. Some stuff, however, it needs to work on, before I could give something approaching a thumbs up. So let’s summarise what it is, and get the stuff it needs to work on out the way fast.

So, The Last Regiment is a fantasy turn based strategy game, in which… Ehehe, the units are represented by cards you draw from a deck, with the addition of some building only cards you can draw from occupied buildings, but it’s… Only sort of a deckbuilder. More accurately, the cards, be they units or abilities you get in a campaign mission are pretty set, but in Skirmish and Multiplayer modes, you can pick and choose to make a deck consisting of twelve types of cards, 1 set rare (1 each in the deck), 1 set uncommon (2 of each in the deck), and 1 set common (3 of each), limited still by the faction you pick. It’s not a bad idea, honestly, and it seems to work just fine.

An example of a prebuilt faction character for skirmish mode.

However, that UX is definitely something that needs fixing. The menus are fine. But when you get into battle, and you can juuuust about see those tiny action buttons in the bottom left corner, that’s… No, that needs fixing, or at least be scalable for people who aren’t perfectly comfortable with the concept of eyestrain. Otherwise on the accessibility front, colours seem okay, elements, apart from the size relatively clear, tooltips are alright, and it starts with subtitles on, which should be a god-damn standard.

Play wise, well… The idea that cards are randomly drawn, on top of the usual resource management inherent to a turn based strategy game like this, isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think, because there are things that make units last longer, even if they’re still limited in what they can do. They can assault, rather than just attack, minimising damage (but not stopping, say, other attackers from engaging in a normal battle with the unit), fortify, buff, upgrade no matter where they are… It’s a game where I can see myself exploring it and not feeling cheated by worse than average odds, because I can even them out some, buy more time to build up defenses, or sneak around to capture things.

Tiny buttons, aka “A sin against god and man.”

I’m less fond of the campaign being fully linear, however. There’s multiple factions, and while I appreciate that the story’s meant to be shifting from one to the other as things go forward, it just feels needlessly limiting, and I have to go to skirmish mode to explore a faction before I play their campaign, and experience their story. This is, however, a personal taste thing, as is finding some of the Live2D animations a little off.

Overall, though? This shows promise as a strategy game, and worth a poke.

Props on having goblins be the first faction, though. Goblins need more love.

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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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