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RPG Codex Top 74 PC RPGs of All Time: Boxed Edition

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 3 August 2015, 19:51:56


Surely, you all know esteemed community member mindx2. And not just as our intrepid PAX East reporter or a quality poster on our forums, but most importantly, as an RPG connoisseur who knows a good box when he sees it.

In light of that, it shouldn't come as a surprise that our definitive Top 72 PC RPG list from last year caught his attention and made him want to fill it with boxes. Here is the result.

Early last year, the esteemed Brazilian Codexer felipepepe took on the monumental task of compiling the RPG Codex’s Top 50 RPGs of all time. That in and of itself was quite the challenge, considering people were voting for games made over a thirty year long span. After the flamewars discussions finally died down, the result was a Top 72 RPGs Of All Time list. As I looked through this admittedly well rounded list, nostalgia began to take over.

[...] Since so many of these promises for a return to “old-school” boxes were turning out to be empty, I decided to return to the true old-school games of the past. As a collector of computer games, I already owned many of the Codex’s Top 72 RPGs, so I decided to track down the ones I was missing and create a photographic archive of each one's box. In the process, I realized that in this digital distribution age, we've lost a piece of what made PC gaming great. Those old boxes did a lot to enhance our enjoyment and dare I say “immersion” in those game worlds that we spent so many hours exploring.

I have tried to collect only IBM-PC versions released in the US, as well any Collector’s or Special Editions which were produced for each game when possible. For each game, I've photographed its box's front and back cover artwork and original contents, as well as any clue books/strategy guides, tie-in novels, pre-orders, etc, that were also an important part of the overall experience. I hope you enjoy this trip down nostalgia lane as much as I did while documenting it. In the process, maybe you’ll also see that we have lost a little something along the way.

Readers, I present to you a visual record of the RPG Codex’s Top 74 RPGs of all Time “Boxed Edition” (it’s 74 rather than 72 since I had to include Blade of Destiny and Chaos Strikes Back in honor of Crooked Bee!). I’ve included some general notes and observations about many of the games as well.​

Warning: This article is extremely image-heavy.

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AdventureDex Review: The Magic Circle, an RPG without the "RPG" - or, On Games and "Notgames"

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 27 July 2015, 14:47:14

Tags: Question Games; The Magic Circle

Looking Glass Studios was a unique game development wonder that went out too quickly. Instead of pursuing Doug Church's and Randy Smith's ambition of giving the player enough freedom and tools to "co-author" the game, the industry has taken a turn towards severely controlled (and controlling) AAA design, on one hand, and in an important sense no less restricted "notgames" or "walking simulators," on the other.

Made by a trio of ex-Ion Storm, Irrational Games and Arkane developers, The Magic Circle is a meta-game about the the past, present, and future of this thing called video games, which makes fun of those and other industry trends while digging deeply, but also humorously, into the tensions of the game development process and calling for a return to Looking Glass design principles.

That is what makes The Magic Circle's commentary on the industry so interesting, but also ultimately so old-fashioned and so, dare I say, aligned in an important way with RPG Codex's sensibilities. It is coming from a very specific design perspective, best encapsulated by terms like "player freedom" and "emergent" (or tool-based) gameplay. Putting you inside a Looking Glass Style-style first-person RPG with unfinished "RP" and "G" parts, The Magic Circle has you play the video game development equivalent of Wizardry IV's Werdna, half-forgotten, half-reviled, stripped of his powers, having his revenge on the "do-gooder" developers themselves and constructing his army of minions with in-game tools he discovers along the way.

I think the issues that The Magic Circle raises are generally important, and so this review, too, is "meta" in that it doubles as an essay on games and "notgames." I want to explain not only what The Magic Circle is like as a game, what it is trying to tell and do, and where it succeeds or fails, but also what "notgames" are and why, pretending to be a deconstruction of what makes a video game, they must be deconstructed themselves in order to go from notgames back (or rather, forward) to games -- a sensibility that, I believe, The Magic Circle exemplifies.

Have a snippet:

Notgames like Tale of Tales’ titles, Dear Esther, Journey, Kentucky Route Zero or Gone Home, also known derisively as “walking simulators,” attempt to subvert the expectations of what a video game is. To that end, they usually focus on the narrative, the atmosphere, and the player’s feelings in contrast to (the traditionally conceived notion of) player agency, exposing the latter’s limits as they have been internalized by the industry. Notgames are literally de-constructive, as they disassemble gameplay down to its basic components like walking around and triggering narrative or evocative events. For the most part, they present themselves as empathic experiences that purposefully avoid challenging the player, except emotionally. No matter how hard Adrian Chmielarz, the developer behind The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, criticizes Tale of Tales’ latest output, Sunset, his game is itself prefaced by “This is a narrative experience” – and indeed, has no gameplay “obstacles” to speak of. As such, it is perfectly in spirit of Michaël Samyn’s manifesto.

Now, deconstruction can be important to lay bare what makes a game. However – and here you can see that The Magic Circle has followed these developments closely – what if we start from that zero point and have the player re-construct gameplay instead? Given that notgames eschew challenge, this zero point can also incorporate the flip side of the same industry, AAA player convenience (quest markers, linearity, conveniently placed collectibles). In fact, I believe the term “notgame” can easily be extended to include the AAA side, too, as well as something like Telltale’s “experiences”. However, now that the industry has gone from games to notgames, what if we go in the opposite direction? After all, even if some or even most players are content with being stripped of their free will, what if there is one player who is not?

In asking these questions, and following them through in its gameplay, The Magic Circle breaks with the notgame design – and calls for a return to Looking Glass sensibilities. At first glance, the two have a common goal: doing away with things getting in the way of the player’s immersion. However, they approach it in conflicting ways. Gone Home’s developers may have been influenced by LGS, but The Magic Circle is at its polemical best in showing that notgames and Looking Glass-style games proceed in opposite directions. “Environmental storytelling” is by itself not enough. Notgames choose to outright ignore gameplay instead of reassessing the ways player freedom can be brought about or enabling interactive tool-focused design. By emphasizing obstacle-based exploration and emergent gameplay, The Magic Circle sides with games against notgames, even as it starts from the latter as its point of reference.

The Magic Circle is, in other words, a de-construction of a notgame and a re-construction of a game. At the same time, it is also aware of game development’s limits. A game with infinite player freedom may be impossible due to technical, financial, and time constraints, while a non-game stripped of the more complex forms of active agency is unsatisfactory – not to the developer maybe, but certainly to you, the odd player. Not coincidentally, it is precisely from a notgame that Old Pro sets you free – and it is another notgame that you disrupt under the guise of the E4 demo.​

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall (1996)

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 22 July 2015, 16:48:32

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall

After reviewing Arena, the Elder Scrolls game that started it all, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler now moves on to the 1996 The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall. Daggerfall is famous, or infamous, for both its scope and its sprawling randomized dungeons, which I dearly loved, but how does it fare today?

Deuce Traveler has all the answers.

Ah, Daggerfall. Both stunning in its depth and a hot mess when it comes to its glaring bugs. It's a game which doesn’t deserve the hype lavished on it by its nostalgic fans, despite being groundbreaking for its time. I spent months playing it, and my feelings continually wavered between frustration and amazement. I found Arena to be more fun, but Daggerfall to be better structured. I found Morrowind to be more immersive, but Daggerfall’s main plot to be more interesting. There is one thing that most of us can agree upon, though - it’s a better game than Oblivion.

[...] No review of Daggerfall is truly complete without mentioning the massive amount of pixelated boobs that this game provides. And no, I’m not talking about fools. I’m talking tits, jugs, gazongas, hooters, knockers, fun bags, bazoombas, cha-chas, num-nums, cantaloupes, flapdoodles, mounds, torpedoes, rack, neeners, soombas, mammaries and milk bombs. They are simply everywhere, although they do change from location to location. If you're a religious type, the finest examples can be found in temples dedicated to Kynareth, goddess of air, and Dibella, goddess of love (and there are also barechested men in Dibella’s temples for all the female gamers out there). The sophisticated aficionado can also find a varied assortment of bare sweater puppies in personal chambers inside castles, at some mage guilds, on monsters in dungeons and among the daedra princesses. Unfortunately, we would have to wait until The Witcher to get in-game collectible cards, but there’s always CTRL-F5 in DOSBox. I used to think that some of those Oblivion mods went a bit over the top, but after playing Daggerfall, it's tempting to view them as a return to form.

[...] I will admit that some of the side quests are complex in clever ways. One quest that stood out for me was a Knights of the Dragon quest where I was asked to help a witch hiding in the depths of a dungeon. Upon finding her, she tasked me with locating and delivering a young girl to her to so that she could become the witch's apprentice. I took up the quest, but when I approached the girl she screamed for help and I found myself in a running battle with the nearby guards who followed me all the way to the dungeon. After delivering the girl, I still had to fight my way out of the dungeon, I took a reputation hit with the local people, and the next time I talked to a random child I was told off by the little tyke. All this was quite clever, but also a bit messed up. The leadership of the Knights of the Dragon distrusts magic-users, so why this was one of their faction quests is still a mystery to me. Once I realized I was kidnapping the girl, I could have turned her over to the authorities and asked for forgiveness, but that would have resulted in a loss of reputation points with the knighthood for the failed quest, instead of being rewarded for making the more moral, citizen-friendly decision. Also, the witch was near an underwater cavern, so to get to her I had to swim through a crowd of soldiers who were standing in place waiting for me on the pool floor without drowning. Have I mentioned that the citizens of Daggerfall's cities can walk on water? In summary, the copy-and-paste nature of Daggerfall's side quests and dungeons leads to an endless stream of glitches and nonsensical moments that emphasizes the game's design flaws, harming immersion more than it helps it.​

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RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity, by PrimeJunta

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 15 July 2015, 01:10:56

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

Fourth time's the charm, right?

Unlike most games these days, difficulty levels up to Hard don’t change the rules or the enemy stats in any way. Instead, you get tougher variants of enemies in bigger groups — adra beetles in addition to stone and wood beetles, shadows upgraded to shades, shades to phantoms, guls to darguls, darguls to fampyrs, and so on. Only the hardest level, billed as a special challenge for the truly hardcore, adjusts the numbers.

That’s a shame, because on Path of the Damned Pillars plays a lot more like it ought to. Status effects start biting. Enemies have hard enough defences that attacking them with the right combinations is often a requirement. They hit hard enough that repeating good-enough tactics won’t always cut it. You start paying serious attention to consumables and crafting. And even so, some of the optional fights are truly punishing, at least if you go into them early.

Pillars suffers from the design decision to produce difficulty levels by changing the encounter composition rather than adjusting the numbers. Casual players who can’t be bothered to learn the mechanics at all will find Easy frustratingly hard, whereas more experienced players will soon snooze through Hard by mechanically applying a good-enough strategy they happened upon. There are more efficient and more fun ways to play, but the game leaves it up to you to discover them.

The game would likely have been received a good deal better among the hardcore crowd if Hard had been more or less like Path of the Damned with, perhaps, the mobs a little smaller, and another, even higher difficulty level above it, or a second difficulty slider tuning the numbers so it would have been possible to play against Hard enemies with Path of the Damned rules. As it is, Path of the Damned is the most enjoyable difficulty level in the game, but it doesn’t live up to its billing as a Heart of Fury spiritual successor.

[...] Baldur's Gate would likely have been forgotten had it not been for Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment. If Obsidian can build on Pillars' success, improve on the areas that need improvement while maintaining its strengths, Path of the Damned can point the way to Path of the Incline. Pillars is a first, somewhat faltering step to reviving a near-stagnant genre. A few years ago, the very idea of a Baldur’s Gate 2-scope, top-down, isometric, party-based cRPG from a major studio seemed like a pipe dream. Whether this new flowering can survive between the siren song of a mass market and the grumbling of the grognards — let alone come close to making both groups happy — hangs on the followup. For some of us, Pillars delivered. Others are still waiting. The space it and the other big-ticket Kickstarters has helped clear benefits us all.​

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RPG Codex Review: Legends of Eisenwald

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 8 July 2015, 15:39:49

Tags: Aterdux Entertainment; Legends of Eisenwald

Somewhere in Eastern Europe, there is a country called Belarus that is totally not a part of Russia. There, a studio called Aterdux Entertainment has been working on a medieval Strategy RPG Legends of Eisenwald, now out of Early Access and available on Steam. It took them more than three years to release the game after the Kickstarter they did in early 2012 (promising the late 2012 release date), so is it any good?

Esteemed community member sser is here to answer that question and generally tell you all you need to know about the game.

[​IMG]

The full review can be found here, but first, have a snippet:

Legends of Eisenwald is a solid game.​

There, now go ahead and read the full thing instead of just basing your judgment on a random snippet. In contrast to my ramblings here, it's really well-written, to the point, and deserves to be read in its entirety.

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RPG Codex Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Review - posted by Angthoron on Sat 27 June 2015, 00:14:24

Tags: CD Projekt; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Taking a break from the regular reviewing of niche RPG games and a certain game that shall not be mentioned, the Codex is finally subjected to a proper AAA experience - The Witcher 3. Have the Polish developers created a perfect ending to the Witcher series, or is this another victim of the modern open world RPG trends? The official RPG Codex review by Angthoron is finally out:

A lot can be said about The Witcher series - it manages to combine excellent ideas and their successful implementation with ideas that are nearly equally as poor. It is a series of games with a curious amount of trials and errors, and with an unexpected amount of ambition. A lot could be said about the series, but its introduction at this point is ridiculous - instead, let's see whether The Witcher ends on a triumphant note, or whether it's a sad and mangled mess that no-one has really asked for. However, if you do want to read up on some of the things already said about the series, head on to Witcher and Witcher 2 reviews and take a look. They're probably shorter than this one, too.

[...] What can be said about the writing of Witcher 3, then? Well - simply put, it is one of the best-written games to have come out in well over a decade. Perhaps even the best-written RPG since Torment, tackling serious topics and pulling no punches, placing the player in a position of one of the last sane men in an increasingly insane world and never shying away from showing what insanity actually is while avoiding the pitfalls of cheap shock value. The mundaneness of cruelty; the commonness of greed, treason, cowardice; the quiet acceptance of murder, rape, despair, racism and hate - Witcher 3 is all about that. Witcher 3 is about total war without its typical glamor.

[...] The atmosphere of Witcher 3 does its best to support the writing - and succeeds to do it almost perfectly. Visual and audio design serve to reinforce the writing and create a sense of place. The world hardly feels like a theme park - instead, it is a fairly logical, if occasionally repetitive.

[...] Many of the smaller stories, be they a monster hunt, a secondary quest, or a "chance" encounter are well-voiced, thought-out and placed into proper context. Some of the lengthier ones can actually be surprising - and many of these little stories actually offer you a choice. Will you let a lynch mob kill a Nilfgaardian deserter? Will you do what seems to be the right thing, and help him out, causing four times more deaths in the process? The choice is yours.

[...] at a glance, Witcher 3 provides a robust Sawyerian stat system of +5% stat increments that are apparently the pinnacle of RPG design at the moment, and you definitely can get through combat by left-clicking a lot, just like in Pillars of Eternity.

[...] The animations, too, are needlessly drawn-out and, once started, impossible to interrupt with anything short of rolling away, thus offering Geralt more chances to acquire extra scar tissue. This issue extends to just about any type of animation, from swinging a sword to quick-throwing a bomb and is a good source of rage.

[...] Witcher 3 is a bit of a mixed bag. Weak in its gameplay yet surprisingly strong as a story and a game world, console-centric but intelligent, it is likely to be a very divisive game for many, on the Codex in particular, and yet, when the dust will settle, it is likely to end up as a game to ride to a rather high position in the local pantheon of story-heavy games.​

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RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity - By Vault Dweller and the Spirit of Grunker

Review - posted by Zed on Sun 21 June 2015, 20:05:37

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Vault Dweller

We just cannot help ourselves from posting even more impressions and reviews of Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity. This one comes from Codex old-timer and Age of Decadence designer Vault Dweller (with a special ghostguest appearance by Grunker).

Vault Dweller has written some of the RPG Codex' most seminal reviews in the past, and perhaps this review will finally have you make up your mind about this much-discussed title. If not, we may have even more reviews coming your way.

Here's a bit about how RTwP is shit. Enjoy!

I’ve read many discussions where people argue to death over things like the engagement system or encounter design, forgetting the bigger picture: RTwP is flawed by default.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the pause is an honest admission that fast-paced, party vs party, real-time combat is too chaotic to be controlled on the fly and the AI is too retarded to be relied on, and thus you have to pause this interactive movie to issue some basic orders and show the AI how it's done.

Sequential combat is a lot more complex and a turn, yours or the enemy's, isn't a pause - it's a window to plan, respond to what the enemy's up to, execute strategies, and most importantly, ensure that your party members will survive the enemy's turn. In fact, planning for the enemy's turn is what makes TB so engaging. Any idiot can pick some targets to attack during his turn, but making sure that all your men survive the enemy's turn and the battle (like in XCOM, for example) is the real challenge.

To be honest, I think Obsidian did a fantastic job designing the combat mechanics and I couldn’t help but admire some of Sawyer’s design decisions. Had PoE been a challenging TB game, the system would have shone. Sadly, its potential and all the clever ideas are wasted on a game that often plays itself and goes extra mile to ensure that all your choices are totally awesome (because you’re awesome too!).

Still, neither Black Isle nor Obsidian games were known for great combat. In fact, they’ve mastered the art of making great RPGs with Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Combat: PST, KOTOR 2, MotB, New Vegas, so let’s leave the combat talk to people who have nothing better to do than compare one RTwP system to another and debate which one is worse all day.​

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RPG Codex Review: The Banner Saga

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 15 June 2015, 16:52:26

Tags: Stoic Studio; The Banner Saga

The northern wind is stiff, but I could never tell with this featureless terrain if not for the red banner flapping. The combat variety may not be great, but I press on. I feel the game's heart and hear it sing its Nordic blues. Most of my characters are dead, and I blame the fake C&C for lulling me into a false sense of security. I am playing Stoic Studio's 2014 tactical RPG The Banner Saga.

So would my review go. But thankfully I am not the reviewer. It is rather the esteemed community member Bubbles. So have a few snippets from his take on the game:

The past year has given us strong evidence to suggest that the RPG industry would be tremendously helped if our Canadian friends were to cease operations immediately and released all their herded up talent into the indie wilderness. Stoic, the studio behind The Banner Saga, follows in the tradition of other ex-BioWare developers who, upon leaving the company, suddenly began to exhibit a talent for making good role playing games (Daniel Fedor's NEO Scavenger being the most prominent other example). In fact, the crowdfunded Banner Saga is more successful at offering a “BioWare experience” than anything that company has put out since Dragon Age: Origins. This game features a compelling story, well-drawn characters operating under a constant threat of perma-death, choices with a wide variety of consequences, and a surprisingly complex and novel combat system that prevents the battles from feeling like repetitive trash combat. It is also very pretty.

[...] After close inspection, I can attest that Stoic's C&C system is quite cunningly implemented. Let us start with what would normally be the worst consequence of them all: you lose a battle against a horde of merciless enemies. Your heroes all fall unconscious on the battle field, and all hope is lost. What happens now? Reload to last save? That would be the bland, safe choice, allowing you to simply redo the battle until you get it right and can reap the rewards of victory. So, no, that is not what happens. Instead, a text window pops up and tells you how you got saved. Usually, some of your nameless supporting troops rushed to your aid and hurtled themselves onto the spears of your enemies, thus paying the ultimate price in the service of a smooth gameplay experience. Rarely, one of your less important companions made a heroic sacrifice, forever removing himself from your party roster in the process. Sometimes you wake up, battered and defeated, without really knowing what happened. Much e-blood has already been spilled over this mechanic; many of the game's harshest critics absolutely abhor the fact that it is (almost) impossible to get a game over screen from a party wipe. Other, more tolerant and progressive minds have come to appreciate the advantages of this implementation.

[...] The Banner Saga has a good battle system. Before the game's release, the system was tested in a multiplayer Free-to-Play game – The Banner Saga: Factions – which was released a full year before the single player game. Being able to study their players in a competitive environment provided Stoic with ample opportunities to discover the weaknesses of their systems design; the result has been a highly polished battle system that feels well thought out and fully coherent. That is not to say that this system is uncontroversial; in fact, it is probably the most hotly debated aspect of the game.

[...] The Banner Saga is an immensely unique, and, by no coincidence, immensely good game that combines great artistic design and robust C&C mechanics with a highly entertaining and deceptively complex battle system. The Banner Saga has only a few outright flaws; the shoddy dialogues and the constant need to click-click-click through them line by line are a blemish on an otherwise engaging narrative. Moreover, the startling lack of enemy variety and the relatively dumb AI keep the battle system from realizing its potential for true tactical greatness. The game's system of choices and consequences also has far less of an impact on the story than Stoic's PR department has been trying to claim; nonetheless, it still offers an engaging and immersive range of decisions that will directly influence your battle performance and can occasionally result in major character deaths.

I suspect that The Banner Saga will always be the subject of great controversy; it has a kind of self-assured swagger, flaunting all of its little weirdnesses and weaknesses without making much of an effort to look like a typical tactical cRPG or a typical casual story game. The game features heaps upon heaps of idiosyncratic gameplay systems, like the strange combination of a broad C&C system with a fully pre-determined linear story, the fact that you will rarely if ever be able to see a "game over" screen, the "sit back and immerse yourself" approach to map travel, and a whole slew of novel and deeply unrealistic combat mechanics. You may choose to accept or reject these mechanics according to your personal preferences; all I can tell you is that all of these elements stand in the service of a fully coherent and extremely tightly designed gameplay experience that I deeply enjoyed playing through.​

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RPG Codex Review: NEO Scavenger

Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 8 June 2015, 18:23:59

Tags: Blue Bottle Games; Felipe Pepe; NEO Scavenger

NEO Scavenger is a hardcore post-apocalyptic survival-focused roguelike, developed by Daniel Fedor of Blue Bottle Games. Released last December after spending over two years in paid beta/Early Access, the game got lots of love from the relatively few Codexers who bothered to play it. It was brave Gamasutra warrior Felipepepe who volunteered to review this worthy title, and many months it took him to uncover its secrets. Today, I am proud to (finally) present the official RPG Codex review of NEO Scavenger. Have a snippet:

Combat in NEO Scavenger is very special - so much that even the mainstream gaming media devoted an article to it.

It is presented in a simple interface, with your actions and current status on the left, the enemy's on the right, and the current terrain characteristics in the middle. Just like in other events, you select commands, such as “Shoot”, “Kick” or “Walk towards”, and the combat log will describe what happened. There's a wide variety of combat actions that can be performed, depending on the circumstances and on your position, traits, and equipment.

For example, if the enemy is unaware of your position, you can shout to reveal yourself and then try to strike up a friendly conversation (or trick him into believing you are friendly), or you can remain silent and try to sneak up on him. On the other hand, if you are the one being ambushed, then your options will be restricted to searching for the enemy, taking cover, fleeing or [Stoic] just waiting. If the enemy is far away, you can slowly walk towards him or make a quick charge – but that leaves you more vulnerable and increases your chance of tripping and falling over. If you do fall over, you can try to get up, roll in any direction or even attempt to grab the enemy's leg to pull him down too. A character with the "Tough" trait can headbutt enemies, a "Strong" one can create obstacles, a "Trapping" one can set traps, etc. Even your equipment plays a part here - a character wielding a powerful weapon or maybe even just wearing a creepy clown mask can be a lot more persuasive in getting enemies to surrender or flee.

Of course, there's not a single frame of animation in NEO Scavenger, and combat is no exception. The combat log is all the feedback you'll ever get, apart from the occasional nasty status alert popping up on your status screen or the enemy's. While this may seem crude, it allows for actions that even AAA developers would find a challenge to animate, such as headbutting, leg tripping or parrying - all while wielding a frying pan and pushing a shopping cart.​

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RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity, by Decado

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 2 June 2015, 17:20:20

Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

June 2, 2015: Bard's Tale IV Kickstarter launched, taking inspiration from Hearthstone. Larian's composer Kirill Pokrovsky dies at the age of 50. Fallout 4 is teased by Bethesda, with Chris Avellone siding with the latter against the Codex.

Last but not least: RPG Codex publishes a second, positive Pillars of Eternity review submitted by esteemed community member Decado. (Check out the negative review by Darth Roxor here.)

Have a snippet:

PoE is more than the mechanic it uses, and in this regard it exists as more than just a cheap appeal to nostalgia. A lot of people were worried about this project because of Obsidian's (unfairly bestowed, in my opinion) reputation for buggy game play. Apart from some ridiculously silly bugs in the first few days of the game’s rollout, the experience is mega solid and highly polished. I run a custom rig with a lot of silly nonsense running in the background and the worst bug I ever had was the loading problem at Raedric's Hold which was fixed within two days. I am not exaggerating when I say Fallout 3 and Skyrim were more buggy in their initial releases than this game. Solid work on that, Obsidian.

I also need to qualify this review slightly, which is something I almost never do. Playing through the game it seems like, for better or worse, it will appeal to the above-mentioned separate demographics in different ways. To the battle-hardened CRPG nerd there are parts of the game that will no doubt disappoint. And indeed, Darth Roxor's review pretty much covers those complaints in detail. I disagree with many of his points, and I disagree with his final conclusion that the game is a let-down, but some of his criticism are spot on.

[...] When I first started PoE I made some comments in the various threads about the game being at least as good as -- if not better than -- the original IE games. I still stand by that. This review is filled with nitpicking, with only very few heavy-duty complaints that make the gameplay suffer. And if I could summarize my demands into one coherent sentence it would be this: Give me more, and make the complexity count.

There is some brilliant stuff in this game. The setting is familiar enough to conjure memories of other games, but it is just weird enough to feel unique. Many of the characters are gems, with terrific writing and voice acting. Whatever my gripes with encounter designs and/or combat difficulty, most of the time I was having fun, which is really the best way to judge if the combat is any good. Rolling a Monk and changing the difficulty level have both contributed to creating a different experience this second time around, which tells me that the game has replay value (though how much, I am not sure. We'll see). The scripted interactions are a cool addition that could stand to see more implementations, and I think Obsidian needs to bite the bullet and be willing to start gating content ala Wasteland 2, so that player choices feel a bit more hefty. But again, these are minor nitpicks. Overall, I had a really good time.

It is a testament to what Obsidian has made that most of the time, I’m playing a game I really like, sometimes in spite of itself. I spent a good portion of this review complaining, but I still like the game, and am playing it again. Which, if you really think about it, mirrors the experience of playing IE games almost perfectly. All of the IE games had problems, some of them glaring: Torment had lousy combat; BGII had a goofy combination of DnD rules, was often too easy, and the rest mechanic allowed for unlimited cheese; IWD could be underwhelming or even boring at spots, etc. I said before that going nostalgic, as Obsidian has done here, often results in friendly fire, that whatever was good in the old games could be better, but whatever is bad could be worse. With that in mind, one thing you cannot say about PoE is that it fails to accurately mimic playing an IE game back in the late 1990s. If you think PoE isn't a real spiritual successor to the IE games, there is a good chance you are misremembering how the IE games actually played.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity, by Decado

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RPG Codex Review: Telepath Tactics

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 27 May 2015, 23:58:36

Tags: Sinister Design; Telepath Tactics

Telepath Tactics is that tactical RPG you kickstarted back in 2013... You know, the one inspired by Fire Emblem... Er, does Final Fantasy Tactics ring a bell?.. Um, well, Telepath Tactics is basically like Blackguards except not randomized and it's made by Craig Stern who posts here on the Codex occasionally... Good. Got your attention now? If not, then maybe esteemed community member Zetor can explain it better.

So have a snippet from his review:

Telepath Tactics is an SRPG/TRPG (RPG-wargame hybrid with a focus on turn-based tactical combat) in the spirit of the console Fire Emblem series, released this April after being successfully Kickstarted back in 2013. [...] Make no mistake, behind the cartoonish 1990-era console graphics lies a hard and unforgiving wargame-ish RPG with impressive combat and encounter design that sometimes rivals the best titles in the genre.

[...] In the end, overcoming challenges in a mission is done through a series of risk:reward decisions, and this game has them in spades. In fact, one of its greatest strengths is that there are so many ways to deal with those. You can play it safe or be super-aggressive; you can kill everything that moves or win a map without really fighting any enemies; you can even re-arrange the map to create your own strategy for winning the battle. Some examples that came up during my playthrough:
  • Do I move in tight formation to protect my squishies, even though this exposes me to AOE attacks and getting flanked by ranged enemies?
  • Do I split up my team to deal with enemies attacking from three directions, or do I keep everyone together and try to block off some approaches?
  • Do I send off my fastest units to open treasure chests behind enemy lines, thus possibly exposing them to danger while leaving me with less units to carry out the main objectives? Or do I leave treasure chests alone until I've dealt with the main threats, thus risking their contents getting stolen by an NPC thief?
  • Do I keep out of movement/attack range of potentially dangerous enemies while I get everyone in position (possibly allowing them to get reinforcements), or do I rush to the most important targets ASAP and try to protect my vanguard?
  • Do I move slowly and methodically through the map, destroying all enemy forces for extra gold / experience / item drops at the risk of taking more damage and losing resources, or do I send a flier to beeline for the main objective to avoid getting outmatched?
  • Before engaging the main enemy force, do I constantly reposition my casters in reaction to enemy movement to keep them as safe as possible, or do I try to get them into a moderately safe position in the first turn and then pass their turns to gain 5 energy instead of 1 per turn (and perhaps keeping another unit back to babysit them as needed)?
  • Do I save that suicidal NPC and expose my own units to danger, or do I let them die and possibly miss out on a new party member or even a side mission?
  • Do I burn consumables to burst down an enemy with a dangerous attack, or save them and prepare to take the attack?
  • Do I partially destroy a bridge to create a chokepoint and take the risk of the bridge getting completely destroyed by enemy Crossbowmen as a follow-up?
  • Do I attack from max range with my casters to avoid exposing them to danger, or walk to a 2-tile range from the target (or even melee range with Mind Blast and some point-blank AOE attacks spells) to get more damage out?
  • Do I kill this target by focusing attacks on them, or do I just push them into the water to make them waste their next turn swimming to shore?
  • After gaining the upper hand and having the option of finishing the battle at any time, do I let my lower-level characters pick off the last enemies to gain experience and possibly expose them to unneeded risk?
  • Do I switch to a weaker/cheap weapon to dispatch a near-death enemy, or do I keep using the good stuff in case the character gets attacked and needs to make the counterattack count?
Now keep in mind that some battles are long... and some are VERY long. They are also mentally exhausting -- once I was done with a 2-hour monster of a fight, I was typically not up for playing the next mission immediately. This is definitely a game that's best played in bursts with some time to recharge in between!

[...] There is basically no randomness involved in combat. I consider this to be -- arguably -- the best feature of Telepath Tactics. Consider that in a typical 'tactics' game, your plans may be thwarted by your sniper missing a 97% headshot (and this will happen every 30 shots), or the last remaining near-dead troll rolling a natural 20 and hitting your fighter for 30 HP, instantly killing him. In some cases this can increase tension and force the player to think of a backup plan... But let's be honest here, most of the time people will just reload a save, restart the fight, and possibly post an angry rant about the unfair random number generator (RNG) while conveniently ignoring the fact that the RNG can screw the AI over just as much. Not so here! If you miss with an attack, it's because you're deliberately using a risky low-hit move, trying to hit someone in defensive stance or attacking while blinded. Similarly, if an enemy one-shots any of your party members, it's your own damn fault for overextending or exposing them without controlling all potential threats first.​

But really, just read the full review because it's good and I couldn't really find the best snippet to quote from it: RPG Codex Review: Telepath Tactics

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RPG Codex Interview: Umbra

Codex Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 22 May 2015, 15:22:53

Tags: SolarFall Games; Umbra

Umbra is a hack-n-slash action RPG from the frenchies over at SolarFall Games. RPG Codex would normally not bother too much with a game of this sort, but Umbra is an unusually interesting game. At least to me, and that's all that matters (haah!). So I sent them some questions, and I received answers from their Game Director and Lead Programmer Daniel Dolui. I should probably mention that they're currently running a successful Kickstarter campaign for Umbra, and that it's a good place to read up more about the game.

Here are the first two questions and answers – mostly because it's the norm for us to post small interview snippets. You really should just read the interview in its entirety!

RPG CODEX: SolarFall Games is a new studio. You seem to have a lot of experience with visual technology and CryEngine. What else can you tell us about yourselves? And what led you to creating an action RPG as your first title?

DANIEL DOLUI, SOLARFALL GAMES: Well since we are on RPG Codex, it is important for us to let you guys know that we are also classic pen & paper RPG players. It has helped us a lot designing some of the cool feature of Umbra, like the Apocalyptic Form and the universe of the game. We are also huge video game players. Among our favourite games are Diablo, Morrowind and Dungeon Keeper.

Umbra’s development started as a modding project. At the time, Crysis modders were looking for a way to change the FPS into an RPG game, but didn’t have programming skills to do so. I decided to create an open-source “platform” for people to use and develop their own mod. The project evolved a lot, and quickly oriented to a Hack & Slash system. Then it soon became clear that Umbra should become a game it in its own rights.

We chose to develop an ARPG simply because it is the kind of game that we enjoy the most, and we had several cool ideas that have never implemented before. That’s how Umbra was born!​

Aside from the graphics – what sets Umbra apart from the legions of other action RPGs?

The Apocalyptic Form is the feature I am the most excited about. Apocalyptic Form is a customizable ultimate power every player will get. It allows you to turn into a personalized Avatar of Destruction for some time. It is built from up to three “Apocalyptic Upgrade” options, unlocked by your character according to your play style. Apocalyptic Upgrade can very different, for example, getting horns on your head to rush and knock down every enemies, or getting wings to make huge leap and access unreachable areas, having a third hand to equip with a new weapon and fight, or having an Aura of Death raising undead everywhere you walk. I can’t wait to see the combos that players will find and how they will manage to get the most out of it!

The freedom of development, allowing you to pick any skill from any specialization will also bring a lot of interest to me. I always wanted to be a barbarian with a huge mace walking in the middle of my zombie horde!

Our crafting module is also really cool, and quite a bit different from other games. We hope that people who don’t enjoy crafting will actually like ours, since it is a quite addictive and rewarding skill based mini-game.

Elemental Effect Interaction, managing the effects of Lightning / Fire / Water / Ice is also a very cool addition to the gameplay and will bring tons a great combos to the game.​​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Umbra

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994)

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 13 May 2015, 15:06:44

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Elder Scrolls: Arena

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away from Australia, there was a good company called Bethesda Softworks. During that fabled time, Bethesda used to release computer role-playing games, mostly open world (like their masterpieces Daggerfall and Morrowind) but also dungeon-crawling (like the underappreciated Battlespire). Unfortunately, the company went (creatively) bankrupt just after the release of the last Elder Scrolls game, Morrowind, in 2002, and all that remains of it now is the name.

It wasn't the 1996 Daggerfall that started the Elder Scrolls series' rise to fame, though. It was the simpler, half-forgotten The Elder Scrolls: Arena from 1994. In this look back at the often neglected title, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler tells you why Arena can, despite its shortcomings, be worth playing today - and how the experience of playing it differs from its less than stellar reputation. Have a snippet:

I had originally never intended to play The Elder Scrolls: Arena, as I'd heard enough about this imperfect creation from other RPG fans to keep me away from it. It was said that the game is unbalanced. That it feels incomplete. That its main quest and characters are shallow when compared with that of contemporary RPGs such as the Ultima games or Betrayal at Krondor. But in the end, I decided to give the game a go as part of a larger project I am working on, in order to ascertain these facts for myself. What I found was a game that is indeed quite unbalanced, with many gameplay elements that feel rushed and incomplete, and a main story arc filled with cliche fantasy tropes. And yet, the game was a total joy to play, like a B-movie that manages to be greater than the sum of its faults.

[...] Arena's main quest dungeons are surprisingly evocative. Certainly not the initial dungeon, which is a simple exercise in hacking and slashing, but the game's later dungeons are scattered with clues, which deliver deeper lore and all sorts of tales of tragedy. These tales speak of better times and ancient kingdoms felled long ago through wars and betrayals. For example, one memorable moment takes place upon entering an early dungeon, an abandoned keep where you find a sign forbidding violence and promoting peace within, followed by bloodstains and skeletal remains on the floor further down the hall. Deeper inside, you find messages suggesting that the last defenders of the keep were retreating further in hopes of finding safety. You find no further messages by them, a grim reminder that Tamriel is quite the dangerous world despite the power of the Imperial government.

The main quest dungeons are also fairly diverse in terms of aesthetic presentations. There's the initial dungeon which looks like a cross between a prison and a sewer, dungeons which take place in fallen and decrepit keeps, towers, outdoor gardens, and the game's final dungeon which starts in a palace. As the game progresses, your enemies change and become more difficult, though the last third becomes a bit repetitious through overuse of the same difficult monsters. Exploration is rewarded, with randomly generated treasure laying in hidden vaults off the direct paths. Sometimes keys have to be discovered before you can progress, and environmental hazards such as pits and lava are not uncommon. At times, you might even have to answer a riddle in order to proceed through a dungeon unmolested, encouraging even veteran players to fall towards the habit of saving the game constantly in case a mistaken reply has dire consequences. Often, failure to answer a riddle correctly will result in a tough combat encounter from which you can continue on if you survive, but there is at least one occasion where failure to answer correctly can break the quest line. In summary, dungeon explorations ranges between the interesting and the frustrating, but rarely is it boring.​

Read the full article (with pictures!): RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994)

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RPG Codex Re-Preview: Legends of Eisenwald

Preview - posted by Infinitron on Tue 28 April 2015, 19:03:56

Tags: Alexander Dergay; Aterdux Entertainment; Legends of Eisenwald

Aterdux Entertainment's medieval strategy RPG Legends of Eisenwald was one of the first generation of Kickstarter RPG projects. Successfully funded all the way back in May 2012, Eisenwald ended up having a long and somewhat torturous development cycle, and despite a positive Codex preview in December 2012 and a Steam Early Access release in October 2013, it seems to have gradually fallen off our radar, seemingly another relic of the more optimistic early days of crowdfunding. But in spite of our disregard, Eisenwald's development has quietly soldiered on towards completion, and Aterdux leader Alexander Dergay never lost faith in us either. With the game now due to be released very soon, Alex provided esteemed Codex contributor Deuce Traveler with an Early Access key. His mission: to give the game a second look, and report his findings. Here's a snippet from Deuce's impressions:

'Time is, time was, time is past'. Ok, I admit that I was just looking for an excuse to use that famous quote, but time is the most significant concern you will have in this game. You will need to muster as large a force as you can in order to take down your opponents, but mercenaries have both an initial cost and a daily upkeep which you must be able to meet. Acquiring territory will provide your character with additional daily revenue, but you will need to pay for better mercenaries as the game progresses to take on your increasingly challenging foes. No amount of daily revenue will truly be able to feed your army's increasing appetite. For example, at the beginning of the game, I was able to get by with a couple of pitchfork-wielding peasants and a monk as part of my front line. The monk was especially resilient and able to deal some righteous damage to my sinful enemies. However, just a few hours later, my peasants and monks were no longer adequate against the enemies I was facing, despite their having gone up a couple of levels during their tenure. I found myself considering whether to hire a single higher level noble swordsman to replace them, but his daily cost was close to the three peasants' combined, and I was worried that he would not be enough to hold my front line along with the pikeman I had been using.

Since the game's difficulty was constantly increasing, I was initially unsure whether the enemies were scaling to my character's level or whether they were truly becoming tougher over time. At one point, just when I felt ready to destroy the forces occupying my family's fortress, I suddenly found my men and resources decimated by a random encounter that came out from the west, making me wonder if all random encounters from that moment on were going to be that difficult. Once again, Alexander Dergay provided an excellent explanation: "We had first the idea of scaling the enemies to a player's strength but we decided against it. So, yes, we try to keep everyone interested with harder battles by design. I think you probably ran into one of the two raubritters in the Way Home chapter. So, the enemy forces are the same but since the world is alive and even enemies have their own tasks, they grow in experience, including their garrisons. I personally think scaling the enemies is almost cheating... when you run into a tougher opponent, maybe it's best to avoid him at the moment and take him later on. For us on our own it gets increasingly difficult to balance the game since knowing how it all works makes combat seem sometimes too easy for us. We rely these days on feedback of players and we added those harder encounters after quite a few players told us they needed more and stronger enemies. There is even an achievement for beating two of those raubritters." Props to Alex - I haven't gotten the opportunity to kill robber barons since Darklands. As you can see, though, time is your enemy in this game. You have to take on some of those side quests, but you can't ignore threats for too long while doing so, because your enemy is also on the move and getting stronger.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Re-Preview: Legends of Eisenwald

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RPG Codex Review: Darth Roxor on Disappointment, thy name is Pillars of Eternity

Review - posted by DarkUnderlord on Tue 21 April 2015, 07:39:47

Tags: Darth Roxor; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity

Darth Roxor has written a number of reviews for us at the Codex. He's covered a whole range of games both old and new such as Shadowrun Returns, NWN 2: Storms of Zehir and Darklands among others (which I'd have put here but the search function is still on my list of things to fix). So what was his take on Obsidian Entertainment's first KickStarter project: Pillars of Eternity?

Despite the "hive mind consensus" that's often claimed, the Codex has always been about diversity of opinions. One of our founding tenets is that you are free to love or hate anything you want as long as you can explain why and back your opinion with arguments.

And Darth's opinion is that PoE is not good, just not good at all. Here's a bite:

When Obsidian Entertainment started their Kickstarter campaign for Pillars of Eternity in 2012 (under a working title of Project Eternity), many saw it as the second coming of Christ for cRPGs. There it was: the veteran developers from everyone’s beloved Black Isle Studios, reinforced by Tim Cain himself, wanted to bring us a modern successor to the Infinity Engine games. In their pitch, Obsidian described Eternity as something that would marry the combat of Icewind Dale, the narrative of Planescape: Torment and the exploration of Baldur’s Gate. Considering that a few years earlier Obsidian had given us the two Neverwinter Nights 2 expansions, Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir, that also fit parts of the above bill, it looked like there was no other choice but to get hyped.
[...]
Now, what do we make of PoE’s character system? Judged by its own merits, if I had to draw a comparison, I would call it the communism of character systems. Certainly, you have the feeling that everything you pick is kind of, sort of, equally useful (with some exceptions). But the flipside to this is that everything is also equally bland.
[...]
Your only reliable experience gains come from doing quests. That is certainly a reasonable approach by itself. It is however much less reasonable when you consider the amount of fighting you do in this game – all the trashmobs you steamroll through give you nothing, yet you are nevertheless forced to genocide them – most of this game’s playtime is spent fighting!
[...]
The bad encounter design and general lack of difficulty have one more very unfortunate result - they make exploring and dungeon-delving insanely boring. But make no mistake, this is also due to the dungeon design being very lacklustre to begin with.
[...]
Long story short, the stronghold has no use whatsoever. You can spend lots of money to fill it up with underlings and buildings, but nothing ever happens there. The buildings sell garbage. Your underlings don’t really do anything. Your free rest hall is behind 4 loading screens. You can even hold prisoners in a prison, and it has no effect on the game whatsoever. To say that the stronghold has been tacked on is the understatement of the century. Which is why I won’t even bother wasting more time talking about it.
[...]
The way the setting at large is presented to the player leaves a lot to be desired. PoE suffers a lot from its writers being obviously very proud of what they’ve done, so they make sure to tell you how awesome their setting is at every step – when an NPC starts talking about a distant place or a past event, brace yourself for a gigantic encyclopaedic infodump filled with dozens of alien names, regardless of whether the NPC is a commoner or a historian. This kind of exposition should be in the ‘cyclopedia’ section of the game’s journal, not in every second friggin’ dialogue.
[...]
Which brings us to what possibly surprised and disappointed me the most in PoE – the general writing quality is simply underwhelming. It never reaches any heights, it’s at best average and at worst abysmal. Everything is overly descriptive, very often just redundant and not leaving much for the player’s imagination. The majority of texts could easily be trimmed to one-third of their original size, which only tells me that PoE has never seen any editorial work apart from fishing out typos. One of the best examples I can think of is when you first meet Guy McBaddie the main villain, and the game makes sure to tell you at least three times that he is a bearded dude in a ceremonial robe and a fancy hat, even though the description is accompanied by two different illustrations in quick succession.​

I'll let you read the rest and judge for yourself.

Thanks to Darth Roxor for taking his time to review PoE for us, and stay tuned as we'll have some further perspectives on PoE before all is said and done.

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Darth Roxor on Disappointment, thy name is Pillars of Eternity

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RPG Codex Review: Tales of Illyria: Fallen Knight, soon coming to PC

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 6 April 2015, 18:42:32

Tags: Little Killerz; Tales of Illyria: Fallen Knight

Ah, the wonderful world of mobile RPGs... Wait, mobile RPGs? Is there anything there that could legitimately be called one? Apparently Tales of Illyria: Fallen Knight can, and so esteemed community member MicoSelva has undertaken to review it for us. Thankfully, it's coming to PC in 2015, too, so we can all enjoy it soon enough. In the meantime, let's hear whether and why Tales of Illyria is worth waiting for.

Here are a few tidbits from the review to get you in the mood:

The RPG Codex first became aware of Little Killerz' Tales of Illyria back in August 2012, when its Kickstarter campaign was launched. The game's reception on the forum was somewhat lukewarm, due to issues such as its limited combat animations, the perceived dissonance between its promise of a pen & paper feel and its Final Fantasy-inspired mechanics, and Illyria being an actual place in the Balkans. The general reception was not much better, and with only $1765 raised from 97 backers out of a total $23000, the crowdfunding campaign was cancelled in September. However, the developers at Little Killerz continued to work on the game, and it was eventually released for Android on June 19th 2013, after spending some time as an Early Access release on the Google Play Store. The game's name was changed to Tales of Illyria: Fallen Knight, in order to differentiate it from its sequels, the first of which, Tales of Illyria: Beyond the Iron Wall, was released on March 24th 2014, with another one on the way.

Tales of Illyria was originally planned to be released on PC as well, and after multiple delays, the full trilogy is supposed to arrive on Steam in 2015, having already been Greenlit last year.

[...] The gameplay in Tales of Illyria: Fallen Knight is basically a mix of Oregon Trail-style travel sequences, a CYOA event-based narrative, and Final Fantasy-style combat. If that sounds like something unique to you then, well, it is. While none of the mechanics present here are new, they do combine into something I have not encountered before.

[...] The roads of Illyria are far from safe, and travellers can expect to encounter all sorts of events on their way to the next village/town/city/castle. These range from the very simple, such as getting attacked by a pack of wolves or finding a stranded horse, to more exotic events such as stumbling upon a cultist orgy or an entrance to a tomb, which you can then explore. Similarly, in settlements you might, for example, be vomited on by a drunkard or asked by the local guards to help with an investigation. The game is packed with these events (the developers claim there are over 700 unique sequences) and they are the definite highlight of the game in terms of writing and appeal. Although you will encounter some of the basic ones repeatedly (I must have slaughtered an identical party of slavers at least half a dozen times), many are truly unique, and sometimes they even form small sub-plots with the outcome of later encounters in the sub-plot being determined by your decisions in previous ones.

Usually events are resolved in a few minutes at most, but the largest ones, like dungeons or multi-stage combat quests can take much longer (I would estimate up to half an hour). Typically you cannot save during these events, which can be a pain in the ass, but they make for some of the most challenging content in the game and are rather satisfying to complete, even if they do not always grant the biggest rewards.

[...] Tales of Illyria: Fallen Knight is a very interesting title. I could call it 'the best mobile RPG I have ever played', but that would be both overly enthusiastic and overly narrow praise (I've only played a few others, and they were mostly crap). While it has its flaws - obfuscation of mechanics and the poor UI being the most obvious ones - it is a decent game with more mechanical depth than many modern PC/console RPGs, at least on the non-combat side of things. Illyria's standout features are its random events and CYOA gameplay, so a lot depends on whether that's your kind of thing. Some will embrace the variety this design offers, excited to see what the game will throw at them next. Others will hate its inherent passiveness and become bored of watching the travel animation and tapping herbs while waiting for the next event to occur. I belong to the former group, obviously. The world of Illyria never ceased to entertain me and I was always looking forward to whatever lay ahead. The game should probably be avoided by those who play RPGs mostly for combat. This aspect of the game is rather simple, and its mechanics are too obfuscated to appeal to min-maxers.​

Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Tales of Illyria: Fallen Knight

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RPG Codex Re-Preview: The Age of Decadence

Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 25 March 2015, 19:02:34

Tags: Age of Decadence; Iron Tower Studios

It's been a while since we last previewed Iron Tower Studios' turn-based, Rome-inspired postapocalyptic RPG The Age of Decadence. Now that the game has been in Steam Early Access for quite some time already, esteemed community member MasterSmithFandango has decided that the Codex needs to re-preview what has traditionally been the second most anticipated game around here. (The first being, of course, the legendary Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar). But whereas the golden baby is still caught up in the net of 19 micro-issues preventing it from taking wing, Thursday feels like it’s just around the corner (again) - so let's hear how The Age of Decadence is shaping up.

Before you read the article in full, here's something to get you started:

For the uninitiated, The Age of Decadence is an RPG developed by our very own Vault Dweller. Set in a low fantasy, post-apocalyptic Rome-inspired universe, the game is developed with a particular focus on choices and consequences, branching storylines, and multiple quest solutions. The intention is for there to be no “right way” to play, but rather to give the player enough flexibility to find his own path.

In an attempt to provide a Fair and Balanced™ preview, I want to look at each system individually then talk about how they mesh together. This preview will be spoiler-free and, other than generally, I won’t comment on the actual content. Right now there are two completed cities (essentially quest hubs), with a third currently being tested before being added to the regular EA release with a bit more to come after that.

[...] Ultimately, the character system as currently implemented (and this late in the game it’s probably close to set in stone) is effective, if not perfect. I do feel there are some things missing that could greatly improve the system. More synergies as mentioned above would add some depth, especially between the civic skills and the civic stats. Having a high charisma giving a slight bonus to persuasion, or having high intelligence give a bonus to lore just seems like another missed opportunity. This isn’t a system that I feel would be fun to spend hours just building characters on, but for the purposes of providing decent effects on the game world, it does the job.

[...] If you haven’t invested fairly heavily into combat skills, don’t bother. This game is very much one that punishes a jack-of-all-trades play style, and nowhere will that be more evident than in combat. Each point in dodge, block, or your weapon skills will have a big effect on your ability to survive. If you do invest heavily, combat can be challenging at times but generally isn’t too difficult, although some encounters you may lose just due to the numbers game.

That actually may be the problem – often when I lose a fight I feel that it’s not because I played the fight poorly, but rather that I got screwed by the random number generator. When I reload to do the fight again, I don’t really do anything differently to adapt to the battle – I just hope the RNG doesn’t screw me as badly. I have no problem with dice rolls, mind you, but I like feeling that when I lose I’ve learned something new that will allow me to be better at the game, and I just don’t get that here.

Combat is one area where I feel that there is so much promise, but in practice it lacks a certain satisfaction. On the surface it’s got all of the pieces a great combat system would require. You have a variety of attacks, each with their own pros and cons and utility, you have the ability to move around tactically and exercise your brain a bit, and the stats and skills translate in a clear way to your performance on the battlefield. Still, after a heavy dose I feel like I want something else. I would say this is an area where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Part of it is because when you engage an enemy you just stand in the square next to him, going back and forth until one of you doesn’t get up. Moving away from someone who's beside you in combat gives them an attack of opportunity, so your best bet is almost always to engage unless you need to retreat to your support to prevent being totally overrun.

[...] The writing is top notch. I found myself reading in great detail all of the stories from the storyteller, and all the related conversations. The descriptions of what was going on in the world were just fantastic, and the setting really feels fresh. There is an air of ambiguity to everything that is so refreshing in this age of “GATHER ARMY TO FIGHT DARK EVIL”-level of storytelling.

Additionally, the quests are designed to be radically different each time you play through them. You can choose to piss everyone off – and there are multiple ways to do that. Each character I play through feels like I’m just getting one piece of a larger story, and playing through the same area with a different character you can see different angles and how things can play out differently.

Vault Dweller has always been about choices and consequences, and this game tackles that in spades. It seems like every little thing you do will have some effect on the game world. Sometimes it’s small, sometimes it’s massive – it’s always interesting, though. The way you treat people you meet, the decisions you make when deciding who to side with in conflicts – they all have long-term effects. Forget seeing all the content in one playthrough. Shit, forget seeing half the content in one playthrough. This is a game that will cut off quests as you go. But where a door closes, another one opens.​

MSF's conclusion is ambiguous, but I'll leave you to read it yourself in the full review.

There are 173 comments on RPG Codex Re-Preview: The Age of Decadence

RPG Codex Interview: Dungeons of Aledorn

Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 20 March 2015, 18:41:18

Tags: Dungeons of Aledorn; Team 21

Admist the noise created by events such as PAX East, the imminent release of Pillars of Eternity, and (among CRPG enthusiasts) prominent Kickstarters such as Underworld Ascendent and Seven Dragon Saga, there is little chance for smaller actors in the CRPG space to get the attention they may (or may not) deserve.

Dungeons of Aledorn launched on Kickstarter earlier this month. In their pitch, developers Team 21 namedrop games like Betrayal at Krondor, Realms of Arkania: Shadows over Riva, Might & Magic, King's Bounty and Fallout. The game is described as a spiritual successor to the old-school and hardcore RPG/Dungeon Crawler masterpieces. It uses a first-person view for the exploration, and a tactical top-down view for the hexagon and turn-based combat. Just going by the name-dropping and features alone, Dungeons of Aledorn sounds like a game that should be on every RPG fan's radar, even if just discreetly blipping near the outer rim.

I sent a few questions to Team 21, and they gracefully answered them.

There seem to be environmental considerations to make in combat, such as lighting oil on fire. This was seen in Divinity: Original Sin. Are there other ways to manipulate the environment, and how prominent will this be in Aledorn?

It will be possible, for example, by using magical spells. We have spells that create solid walls, ice walls and thus are modifying the environment. Furthermore, it will also be possible to maneuver the various obstacles and props. Here, however, we go a little further in interacting with the battlefield than most games. While in most games it is necessary to destroy barriers, in our game you can jump or climb over them. While characters perform these maneuvers, the battle system will subtracts the appropriate number of action points. The system will roll the luck dice and compare it to your skill level and, if successful, the player will overcome the obstacle and land where they wanted to be. If they fail the roll, the character is probably going to fall on the ground instead, thus giving the enemy a considerable advantage.

By creating fire, you can also impact the AI. So, for example,if you have to fight a pack of wolves, you'll be able to cut them off with fire, as they would rather run away from the flames than going straight through them.

There will also be numerous items generated on the battlefield that can give advantages, and not only to the player, but the enemy too. So as you've pointed out, oil may be set on fire creating a barrier between you and the enemy. We have more to reveal on this, but can’t say too much without revealing some awesome tactics that we want the players to figure out for themselves.

You mention an emphasis on complex quests. Quests with choices and consequences, with impact on gameplay. Can you expand a little bit on this? Also, will choices throughout the game affect the possible ending outcomes? Fallout's “end slides” are very popular among Codexers – can we expect something like this?

Yes, some quests will have different endings, which then affect subsequent quests in the game. This mainly concerns the side quests. The basic main storyline is pretty much given as is, but with different ways to move to the next milestone. There are a few ways to do this, and it's the player's choice.

We're looking at karma and characters leaving a mark on the world, but they're currently only stretch goals, since such a complex feature requires a huge amount of additional work. However, we have the underlying mechanisms for this feature prepared already.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Dungeons of Aledorn – Kickstarter under way

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RPG Codex Report: PAX East 2015, or How Chris Avellone Called the Codex Unprofessional

Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 16 March 2015, 20:22:34

Tags: Aterdux Entertainment; Cat-Shaped Life; Chris Avellone; Craig Stern; J.E. Sawyer; Legends of Eisenwald; Obsidian Entertainment; OtherSide Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Quest for Infamy; Quest for Infamy: Roehm to Ruin; Steven Alexander; Telepath Tactics; Tim Cain; Underworld Ascendant; Will Teixeira

Nothing brings life to the soulless routine of a large gaming convention like an RPG Codex reporter in his search for truth (and something to report on). Known to previously bring the light of the incline to the darkest, most PR-filled of places like Gamescom, PAX East, and even the Tokyo Game Show, we couldn’t stay away from this year’s PAX East either. Luckily, we had just the right person for the job – namely, esteemed community member mindx2, who’d already covered 2014’s PAX East for us – as well as a number of appropriate appointments, of which the main one was meeting Obsidian Entertainment’s Chris Avellone, Josh Sawyer, Tim Cain, Brandon Adler and Adam Brennecke to discuss their upcoming real-time-with-balance RPG Pillars of Eternity. (Read the full interview.)

I could only imagine [Obsidian's] reaction to a request for an interview by someone from the RPG Codex, something between a polite “No thank you” to “You’ve got to be #@!*#$ kidding me!” And then we received their response via an email from David Martinez, Paradox Interactive's PR guy, which stated, “We can certainly get you set up! Seeing as the Codex has a special spot in the hearts of Obsidian.”

[...] mindx2: Alright, this next question is near and dear to the Codex’s heart…

Chris [Avellone]: The heart?

mindx2: Yes, we have heart.

Josh [Sawyer]: Ahhh, yeah…

mindx2: You wound me… What do you think with all these other Kickstarters going turn-based do you think Obsidian might be locked into the RTwP style game?

Josh: I hope not. I want to make a turn-based game. I really want to make a turn-based game. [...]

Tim: I love turn-based games. This actually goes back to something Chris was saying, when I worked on South Park… right when I arrived there it was a real-time game and one of the things I was asked was to make it turn-based. It’s easy to turn real-time systems into turn-based ones, so I’m just throwing that out there [as he looks towards the other team members].

[...] mindx2: Well then I have one more question for you then [to Josh], what do you think in Pillars of Eternity is the “funnest” part?

Josh: Um, I think it’s really trying to build… finding all the different ways to build your character and parties. That’s something that… well, that runs through a lot of stuff. To be honest a lot of what people say is this isn’t realistic or they don’t like some aspect of it like weapons for example. Like why do daggers do so much damage or a hatchet do so much damage or whatever. It’s done that way so that if you have an idea for a character that’s kind of an oddball or something that character might actually suck or be terrible in D&D but I think it’s important for it to be pretty good in our game. And if people want to make this really oddball collection of characters there’s going to be some things that are hard for them but I think it’s important for players to feel like they have that freedom to develop it. There are going to be trade-offs for it but as much as possible I want them…

mindx2: So that’s where the balance thing comes into play?

Josh: Yeah.​

[​IMG]
Balance!

Naturally, mindx2 also asked if people at Obsidian read the Codex:

Chris: You’re familiar with Anthony Davis, right?

mindx2: Oh yeah, Anthony is great!

Brandon [Adler]: Sometimes Anthony writes something and I’m like, “Oh Anthony why…?”

Josh: We get so many alerts about that… “Anthony just posted on the Codex!”​

Aside from bugging Obsidian about making a turn-based RPG, making PoE fun, and their stance on the Codex, mindx2 also met with Alex Dergay from Aterdux Entertainment (Legends of Eisenwald)...

Alex was very clear in stating that Early Access saved Eisenwald. Without it, he doesn’t think that the game would have survived. If he'd had a choice he would have delayed the Early Access release, because he didn’t want people to receive a negative view of the game based on its state at the time. He wishes there had been a little more of the main campaign available, as he wants people to see that the game has many RPG mechanics and that it’s not just a strategy game. Whatever the case, because of those Early Access dollars, the game's development is now in its final stages before release. Alex also credits Early Access for improving the game, due to all the feedback solicited from players. In the meantime, Aterdux have also found another investor to help them with marketing and PR, which is what led them to GDC and PAX this year. I mentioned that Eisenwald doesn’t seem to get as much negative press as other Kickstarter games that have experienced significant delays. Alex attributes that to his team's habit of being brutally honest and open about their stupid mistakes. They are now looking at a mid-May release date, as Alex says they are pretty much done. The release won't be postponed any further, even if one of the localizations misses the deadline. From what I’ve seen of the game (which is admittedly little as I don’t play Early Access games), and just from listening to Alex talk about it, Eisenwald has become one of the titles that I’m most looking forward to in the coming months.​

...Steve Alexander from Infamous Quests (Quest for Infamy):

Many so-called adventure games are nothing more than visual novels today. We both agreed that as far as gameplay is concerned, they often have very little to offer other than pressing X to get to the next animated scene. That was not the game he wanted to make. He wanted to make the kind of game that Sierra would have published back in the day. He’s very proud of his creation, and he can’t wait to get the physical boxed editions finished and printed. He's just as eager as I am to have it on a shelf so he can point it out to his relatives and say, “I made that!” He explained that the boxes should be finished in a few weeks, and that he'd made sure throughout the game's development that he had enough funds to produce everything he had promised. One thing he failed to take into account, and something he thinks far too many Kickstarters fail to take into account as well, is the cost of international shipping. The shipping costs are much higher than than the physical tier prices most Kickstarter projects are offering. Regardless, Steve said that he absolutely loves the interaction between developers and players. He sees this as one of the best things about crowdfunded game development. When I asked him about his future plans, he explained that his team is hard at work on the follow-up to QFI, Quest for Infamy: Roehm to Ruin. Its overall scope will be smaller than QFI's, but it will help flesh out the story of how Roehm found himself fleeing the Baron in the first game. They’re finalizing things now and are confident they can get it out this summer.​

...Will Teixeira from OtherSide Entertainment (Underworld Ascendant & Cat-Shaped Life):

One of those side projects Will wants to explore is his own Kickstarted game called Cat-Shaped Life (currently running here), that he and one other person are developing. It's a kind of CYOA RPG, where you control a cat that has stats for cat-like abilities such as agility. He compared it gameplay-wise to Long Live the Queen and Princess Maker. The premise is that you, the cat, are adopted by a family and have to last a month in their house without your new owners returning you to the pound. Various encounters you experience throughout the house and the surrounding area determine how your new owner views you. Apparently, you might even end up at another house entirely by month’s end. I asked if the cat can die in various unpleasant ways, and he said they haven’t thought about that yet. I joked that if he could come up with many different horrible fates for the feline, he could rake in millions on Kickstarter, like a certain card game. He laughed and replied that they’ll definitely have to put that game mechanic in. I thanked Will for stopping by, and explained that I needed to head over to the Obsidian presentation that would be starting soon. Before I left, I asked him to try to arrange another visit to OtherSide for me when they had something to show off, and to keep Paul as far away as possible from any more MMO-type advice.​

...as well as Craig Stern from Sinister Design (Telepath Tactics):

mindx2: Back when you Kickstarted the game there were no new JRPG or TRPG-style games on PC at all, but now there's a bunch of new ones. What makes your game different than all the others?

Craig: Mine is better! [laughing] That’s the short version. The long version is the design tack I take with TT is not seen anywhere else even among this new crop of strategy RPGs. My approach here, which as far as I know is unique amongst strategy RPGs, is to have a game with a deterministic core. There are a few things where die rolls come into play but for the most part it is deterministic. Unpredictability is achieved instead by having a difficult and challenging AI and a large possibility space. There are so many different mechanics in the game that intersect in sometimes unpredictable ways that you’re always having to stay on your toes just to be sure you’re not taken by surprise by what the AI might do. It’s not an easy game.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: PAX East 2015, or How Chris Avellone Called the Codex Unprofessional

There are 400 comments on RPG Codex Report: PAX East 2015, or How Chris Avellone Called the Codex Unprofessional

RPG Codex Review: Blackguards 2

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 6 March 2015, 19:54:42

Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment

As every German denizen of the Codex knows, deutsche Rollenspiele sind ausnahmslos ein Grund zur Freude. So it was in Blackguards' case, too, which made us genuinely happy. Can we say the same about Blackguards 2? Of course we can, especially when it is reviewed by esteemed community member Bubbles - an authentic German and a true patriot:

The German people take pride in excellence. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the quality of German RPGs: from the classic Realms of Arkania trilogy through the transgressive Albion and the ground breaking Ambermoon to the blockbuster Gothic and Risen franchises, the thread of German game design winds through the very DNA of role play gaming. Even the greatest American games draw upon German talent: who could imagine a Planescape: Torment without Guido Henkel, or a Pillars of Eternity without J.E. Sawyer? Germany's game developers have taken their work ethic from the manual labourers who built the Autobahn and dug the great coal pits of the Ruhrgebiet: they labour in the service of a greater good, striving tirelessly towards perfection.​

Read his review, replete with fitting captions and insightful commentary, and share in his pride and joy. See him cut to the chase:

Blackguards 2 is simpler, sleeker, slimmer than its predecessor; it is a mellow sort of game.​

Or analyze the strategic minutiae while never losing sight of the bigger picture:

In fact, Blackguards 2 nicely facilitates aggressive gameplay by removing all death penalties and auto-healing and resurrecting your group after every battle, even when they are isolated in the middle of a dungeon. In the first game, players were forced into a resource management metagame that required them to sacrifice resources (money, potions, or camping supplies) to regenerate missing hp and mana and cure the “wounds” debuff after battle. The problem with this system was obvious: if you spent all your money, drank all your potions, wasted your camping supplies by resting after every battle, and then had to sell your weapons to be able to afford healing, you might end up in a situation where it was absolutely impossible to progress in the game. As a hardened veteran of German RPGs I never encountered any problems with this system myself, but it is easy to imagine a less conscientious fan from the new world running into severe trouble with this kind of dead end mechanic.​

Not to mention taking the game's knee-jerk detractors to task:

The game's detractors have made great sport of the fact that the scope of the optional content in BG2 does not come close to the amount and variety of side quests in even just the third chapter of the original Blackguards. However, this decreased focus on optional content has given Daedalic more time to work on the most complex features of the core game; specifically, on the boss fights and the AI, as well as on the core cast of characters and the story itself.​

Only to deliver the pointed, well thought-out conclusion:

Playing Blackguards 2 after Blackguards 1 is remarkably similar to the experience of playing Dragon Age 2 after Dragon Age: Origins. Some players will prefer the first game for its sheer volume and “old school” flair, while others will be drawn to its sleeker, more assured successor. Some will appreciate BG2's greater focus on storytelling, its unique depiction of mental illness, the tightly progressing story suffused with a malodorous air of inevitability, the greater emphasis on companion interactions, the deft use of negative space in map design as well as in character development, and the tight focus on high-density, high-volume wave combat.​

Are you man enough to enjoy Blackguards 2? The full review - one of our best to date, if you ask me - has all the answers: RPG Codex Review: Blackguards 2

There are 70 comments on RPG Codex Review: Blackguards 2

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