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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

There are 14 comments on 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.

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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.​

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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

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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

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AdventureDex: Primordia vs Tormentum - Dark Sorrow: Which is Better and Why?

Review - posted by DarkUnderlord on Mon 2 March 2015, 00:44:27

Tags: OhNoo! Studio; Primordia; Tormentum - Dark Sorrow; Which is Better and Why?; Wormwood Studios

Would you like to go on an adventure? We decide to take a look at two adventure games: Primordia, the two year old creation from Wormwood Studios, and Tormentum - Dark Sorrow, the as yet unreleased adventure from OhNoo! Studios:

Primordia starts off with your character (a robot), and your robotic companion, being attacked by another rather seemingly simple-minded robot which takes your power core. It all snowballs from there. Part of Primordia's charm is that it doesn't give much away either in the way of its story up-front. In order to understand what's going on, you must explore and solve puzzles. With each puzzle revealing a small piece of the larger puzzle that drives you through-out the game: Who am I, and what am I doing here? And even, what happened in this place?

[...] Tormentum, sadly, just doesn't have the same drive. You start off captured in prison. You escape... and... keep escaping... or something... It "makes sense" in the end but while Primordia's world has you wanting to know what happened, Tormentum just never really bothers. There are no hints dropped or clues to be found. No signs you can look at and think "That's actually a number... not a name." or "I wonder what that means?". In fact, if anything, Tormentum down-right sins when it comes to Adventure gaming.

It gives the puzzle away.​

Read more!: AdventureDex: Primordia vs Tormentum - Dark Sorrow: Which is Better and Why?

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RPG Codex Report: A Codexian Visit to OtherSide Entertainment

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Wed 25 February 2015, 20:10:09

Tags: Chris Siegel; Jeff Kesselman; OtherSide Entertainment; Paul Neurath; Scott Kimball; Tim Stellmach; Underworld Ascendant; Will Teixeira

If you were a computer RPG fan of a certain type in the 1990s, your preferred brand of gaming came in two distinct flavors. There were the top-down/isometric RPGs, such as Origin's Ultima series in the early 90s, and the RPGs from Black Isle and BioWare later on. And then there were the first person games from Looking Glass Studios - Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief - which would form the foundation of the genre that Warren Spector would retroactively dub the "immersive sim". Despite the seemingly wide differences between these two genres, they would end up following strikingly parallel paths. Both would place an increasing emphasis on developing the concepts of player choice and reactivity, and both would suffer a precipitous decline in the early 2000s, due to destructive trends in the gaming industry which have been heavily discussed in our forums and elsewhere.

With the rise of big budget crowdfunded gaming in 2012, isometric RPGs made a huge comeback. But that other type of RPG, the Looking Glass-style first person immersive sim, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, people reasoned, this was due to the fact that producing a good-looking first person game requires more budget than even a successful Kickstarter can possibly provide. Or maybe it was because the veterans of Looking Glass and successor company Ion Storm Austin had scattered to the four winds - to Irrational Games, Arkane Studios, Valve, Bethesda and Zynga. It would seem that the implosion of the latter company due to the bursting of the social gaming bubble was what finally changed the situation for the better.

Back in July 2014, we first learned of the creation of OtherSide Entertainment by Paul Neurath, founder of Looking Glass Studios, after his departure from Zynga. Joining him was Tim Stellmach, lead designer of Ultima Underworld II and the Thief series. Their first project would be "Underworld Ascension", a successor to the Ultima Underworld series. After six months of quiet behind-the-scenes preparations, which would see the project renamed to Underworld Ascendant, the inevitable Kickstarter was finally announced in late January. It's now been three weeks since the Kickstarter's launch, and while it will clearly make its $600,000 goal, it's not the huge success some may have hoped for. I can think of any number of reasons for that, but that's outside the scope of this post. Suffice it to say, the same people who thought a first person Kickstarter game was a non-starter due to budgetary reasons are likely to be skeptical about the viability of this one.

Regardless of the Kickstarter's success or lack thereof, the prospect of a Looking Glass Studios revival is a matter of the utmost importance to a site like ours. For that reason, several weeks ago, we made arrangements for a personal visitation by stalwart Codexer mindx2 to the humble headquarters of OtherSide Entertainment in Boston, Massachusetts. That visit took place last Friday, and mindx2 would spend the entire subsequent weekend compiling his discussions with Paul Neurath and the rest of the OtherSiders into a lengthy interview/report. I don't know if this report will change anybody's mind about pledging to Underworld Ascendant, but you'll definitely view them more sympathetically after reading it. Without further ado...

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Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: A Codexer visits OtherSide Entertainment!

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2013: The Year in Review

Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sun 22 February 2015, 01:47:21

Tags: bitComposer; Chaos Chronicles; Divinity: Original Sin; Expeditions: Conquistador; Kickstarter; Paper Sorcerer; Shadowrun Returns; South Park: The Stick of Truth; The Year in Review; THQ; Wasteland 2

Do you enjoy reminiscing? Looking back on years past as if the years that followed them hadn't happened yet? Well, since everything in 2013 got postponed, we thought it gave us the perfect excuse to postpone the 2013 Year in Review.

Until now. We look back on the games that were released:

... and finally, not forgetting (even though I actually did and Infinitron had to remind me) Expeditions: Conquistador. In a sign of the year that 2013 was, it first got delayed until February 28, before being postponed, then publishers getting involved (note bitComposer, we have more on them later), drama with publisher being resolved before game being released and reviewed.​

... the games that weren't:

Moving on to other legal stoushes and stories of inanity from 2013, we have Chaos Chronicles. It was supposed to be a turn-based, old-school, classic... and other buzzwords we like to hear... RPG under development by CorePlay. It started the year by putting its official forums on the Codex.

And it was all downhill from there.​

... the publishers that died:

... and they died. THQ that is, not Trey Parker or Matt Stone. The remains of the company were acquired by UbiSoft which, after some concern about what kind of limbo the game would end up in, did confirm they would complete the game.​

... the delays:

If 2012 was the year that gave rise to the KickStarter, then 2013 was the year of delayed incline. For all those who thought release dates for KickStarter projects of just one year later were a tad optimistic, you were right, as several major projects got delayed.​

... the birth of Steam Early Access:

Long-time gamers would know that video games don't get finished, they just get released. Often in a horribly buggy and unfinished state that then requires multiple follow-up patches. In many cases, the game fails to sell enough copies, the patches never materialise (or some legal road block from the publisher gets in the way) and that's the end of that. You'll take your buggy unplayable piece of shit and you'll like it.

Not so anymore! 2013 finally saw the year when the standard industry model... actually became the standard industry model. And it pretty much happened that quickly.​

... and more!

It may give you a weird feeling reading it now since we talk about games "slated for a 2014 release" that have been out for months. But come with us now, on a journey through time and space, back to 2013.

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RPG Codex Review: ADOM

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 18 February 2015, 01:00:18

Tags: Ancient Domains of Mystery

Rare are the times that the Codex's front page braves the dark and fearsome world of roguelikes. Being predominantly a traditional CRPG, not roguelike-focused website, permadeath scares us - all of us except the courageous Deuce Traveler, who in this review ventures headlong into ADOM from the perspective not of a roguelike expert, but a fellow veteran CRPG player. One of us, then! Let's hear what he has to say.

So, would I recommend Ancient Domains of Mystery?

Well, I highly recommend that every Codexer play the game once, but I don't recommend that you attempt to actually beat it. I know that seems like a contradiction, but while ADOM is a treat for those who enjoy CRPG design, it loses its charm as a game and begins to feel like work after your 20th or so character death. I suggest playing the game for a few hours without backing up save states or looking at the ADOM wiki. Then, when you begin to feel frustrated with the experience, go ahead and look at the wiki for dungeon locations and to get a general idea of where you should explore next. If you still find yourself feeling frustrated after that, leave the game and go find something else to play that is more enjoyable. But if you feel driven to beat the game and are still enjoying yourself, then you'll be able to spend the next few months or even years defeating it. Good luck, and don't get eaten by a grue.​

For the details leading up to this conclusion, be sure to read the full review.

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RPG Codex Review: Dead State

Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 6 February 2015, 21:30:45

Tags: Dead State; DoubleBear Productions

Most of you should already be familiar with the story behind DoubleBear Productions' Dead State. Originally revealed all the way back in August 2009 and officially announced a year after that, the "zombie RPG" from Black Isle/Troika/Obsidian veteran Brian Mitsoda and his ex-Obsidianite wife Annie Mitsoda languished in vaporware status for years, until it was revived via Kickstarter in the heady days of 2012. Dead State was finally released in December 2014, now just one of many fish in the recovering oldschool RPG sea. Between that, its rather low fidelity 3D graphical presentation, some unfortunate Steam forum drama that led to a predictable backlash, and even some genuine post-release bugginess, Dead State seemed like it would quickly be left behind and forgotten.

But the Codex doesn't forget so easy. Two months ago, we hired Zombra, a rather mild and mellow fellow with a very appropriate name, to take Dead State for a spin and give it a fair appraisal. What he found out may surprise some of you. We proudly present...

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Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Dead State

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RPG Codex Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition

Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 31 January 2015, 23:57:37

Tags: BioWare; Dragon Age III: Inquisition

The years 2011-2012 weren't too hot for BioWare. The triple whammy of the rushed and poorly received Dragon Age II, The Old Republic MMO which predictably failed to "kill" World of Warcraft and quickly went free-to-play, and the Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco was a serious blow to the company's reputation. Realizing that the BioWare brand was on the verge of being tarnished beyond repair, the corporate overlords at Electronic Arts wisely decided to give the Edmonton studio extra time to finish their next game, the third installment in the Dragon Age franchise, which was formally announced in late 2012 as Dragon Age: Inquisition.

DA:I was released in November 2014 to unanimous acclaim from the mainstream gaming media. 8/10s, 9/10s and 10/10s were the rule of the day. And at the year's end, it won GOTY award after GOTY award. By all accounts, BioWare had finally achieved the holy grail of roleplaying game design, combining the open worlds of Bethesda and Ubisoft with the storytelling of BioWare to create the perfect RPG.

...well, almost all accounts. More than two months ago, we dispatched Delterius, a scarred veteran of many battles on BSN, to closely examine this new masterpiece for himself. With the help of kris and Vault Dweller, he composed a comprehensive report detailing his findings. Without further ado, it's time for...

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Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition

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RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Richard Seaborne on Escape from Hell, Myraglen, and Prophecy

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 26 January 2015, 19:40:04

Tags: Activision; Electronic Arts; Escape from Hell; Prophecy: The Fall of Trinadon; Retrospective Interview; Richard Seaborne; Tower of Myraglen

This month, January 2015, marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most unique titles in CRPG history, Electronic Arts' 1990 Escape from Hell, designed by Richard L. Seaborne. Imagine something like Wasteland -- a party-, skill-based top-down RPG -- that has you band together with famous historical and literary figures, from Genghis Khan to Hamlet, and explore, literally, the circles of Hell. Along the way, you fight the likes of Al Capone and Satan, learn new skills from Thucydides and Wyatt Earp, among many others, and solve your own and the denizens' problems, which Hell has in spades, with one overarching goal: escaping back to the real world.

As far as CRPG settings go, there has hardly been a more unorthodox one. And the character portraits were fantastic, too.

To celebrate the game's anniversary, we've interviewed Richard Seaborne, who currently works at Microsoft, about Escape from Hell along with two other RPGs he worked on, Tower of Myraglen (1987) for the Apple ][GS and Prophecy: The Fall of Trinadon (1989) for the PC. Here's an excerpt:

Prophecy’s spell system was especially interesting. You could memorize up to 10 spells, and also increase their effects, etc. (including making the area of effect larger), by adding the proper prefix to the spell name. What made you go for a system like that?

Prophecy’s spell system was fun to make. I think people really enjoy controlling things where their decisions and actions materially change things in the games they play. And they delight in seeing their creations come to life or even blow up in surprising failure. The magic is that their actions had consequence, and they can get better. I wanted the player to feel like an alchemist that could craft their own magic spells according to consistent rules for any situation, seeing magic as a science they could control once learned.

I imagined players would really like having the ability to “program” their own spells through a spell language that included a prefix power amplifier, effect inverter, and foundational spell function. Spells included implicit properties (fire, ice, poison, harm, heal, etc.) and targeting (individual, missile, area of effect/AOE, etc.). A heal spell could be reversed with an inverter to make the spell harm, and a harm spell could be reversed to heal. Spells had a sense of physics too, so if you cast an AOE spell in too small of a space the blast would ricochet off walls and keep expanding through corridors until its “volume” filled its effect area. Adding the most powerful modifiers to an AOE spell could fill most of the screen with a powerful blast, which might be bad for the player if they were in the path of destruction.

How did Electronic Arts end up publishing Escape from Hell? Were they involved in the process of development, and did they influence the final product in any way?

I had always admired Electronic Arts (EA) for their game quality and innovation, and so pitched the concept of Escape from Hell to them not long after Prophecy had shipped. I learned quite a bit about formal planning and ideation while working with EA. I spent nearly six months of the total 12-month development cycle in pre-production, developing engine technology and tools that would ultimately be the foundation of the game and refining the concept with some of EA’s leaders including Trip Hawkins, Bing Gordon, and Dave Albert. It was during this process that Escape changed from a serious traditional RPG to the contemporary grim comedy RPG.

Perhaps the biggest influence that EA had on Escape from Hell was the business pragmatism of Cost of Goods (COGs) and Return on Investment (ROI). They made the decision to reduce the number of discs the game shipped on in half because retailers demanded the game be available on both 5¼” and 3½” discs. It was an unfortunate time in the industry where many computers had just one disc drive size, and so EA had to ship on both disc sizes. To keep costs down, they required Escape to get a lot smaller so the same COGs would cover both disc types.

You can imagine how that went down in terms of the game’s vision and scope – a lot less character and monster art, 9 circles of Hell collapsed to 3 planes of Hell, time & dimensional shift opportunity reduction, and a lot of loose end tying up with these changes. EA offered a Technical Director to help with compression algorithms to fit as much as possible on the discs and a professional writer to brainstorm and help the narrative be as cohesive as possible within the revised scope.

Escape from Hell was released in January 1990, so that January 2015 marks its 25th anniversary. I'm very interested in the way you feel about the game now. Let me put it this way: what is your first thought whenever the game's name comes up? Retrospectively, are you fully satisfied with what kind of game Escape from Hell turned out to be?

Disappointed. Disheartened. Proud. It’s a bit mixed as you can tell.

Escape shipped and had its place in history. I firmly believe it would have been better if it hadn’t had its media budget cut in half, forcing it to miss out on all Nine Circles of Hell, signature art for key characters, more demons, monsters, & gear, and more map & script variances according to player actions, party members, and Trident time control. On the other hand, I am proud to have contributed to the early era of CRPG’s, influencing a lot of features, design tenants, and concepts in many games over these twenty-five years.​

Read the full interview for many more details about Richard's games, as well as things like team sizes, D&D modules, nudity warning labels, IBM PC vs Apple ][GS, and Trip Hawkins' and other senior EA people's involvement with Escape.

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Brent Knowles Interview: An Insider's Look at BioWare, 2000-2009

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 21 January 2015, 00:31:22

Tags: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn; BioWare; Brent Knowles; Dragon Age; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark; Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide

In the year 2000, BioWare released Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, one of the most acclaimed computer RPGs of all time. In 2009, they released Dragon Age: Origins, a game that was purportedly similar, but very much a product of its time. It was the product of a company which over the course of that decade, had gone from being a small developer of PC-exclusive D&D RPGs to a cinematic console RPG powerhouse, with titles such as Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Mass Effect. And between them was Neverwinter Nights, controversial and misunderstood black sheep of the family, along with its expansion packs, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark.

The truth is that you could probably write a book about what happened to BioWare during the first decade of the new millenium. Since DarkUnderlord doesn't pay us enough to write books, we'll have to make due with interviews, which can give us a glimpse at what was going at the company during that time. And what better individual to interview than Brent Knowles, the man whose career at BioWare spanned that exact duration? Starting off as a junior designer on Baldur's Gate 2 in late 1999, Brent eventually rose to become one of the lead designers on NWN, sole lead on its expansion packs, and most famously, lead designer on the Dragon Age franchise, until he was replaced by one Mike Laidlaw after leaving the company in 2009.

You might remember that Brent was briefly famous during the Dragon Age II brouhaha, when his personal blog posts describing the end of his tenure at BioWare, which confirmed fans' worst fears about the direction the franchise was heading, were brought to public knowledge. With the recent release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, we felt it was a particularly appropriate time to revisit Brent and ask him a few questions about his time at BioWare. To be honest, it was actually way more than "a few", but Brent graciously replied to them all anyway. Read on, then, for...

[​IMG]
An interview with Brent Knowles

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RPG Codex 2014 Role-Playing Game of the Year Awards

Community - posted by Zed on Tue 13 January 2015, 02:10:18

Tags: RPG Codex; RPG Codex Awards

This has been one of the first good years in computer role-playing games since the inception of RPG Codex. To celebrate, we figured it might be fun to have a proper Game of the Year awards ceremony. So here it is:

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RPG Codex Review: Valkyria Chronicles

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 6 January 2015, 19:04:32

Tags: Sega; Valkyria Chronicles

Aside from a good number of new RPGs, 2014 saw the release of a few notable PC ports of RPGs that had been formerly only available on consoles. Of these, one of the most surprising and welcome was SEGA's port of the 2008 Japanese Strategy RPG Valkyria Chronicles (available on Steam). In this review, RPG Codex staff member WhiskeyWolf dissects the game to see what it has to offer.

Here's a snippet:

Probably one of the main advantages of Valkyria Chronicles is its unique tactical turn-based system that, while not diverging from the standard formula for games of this type, still manages to alter the perspective of certain elements radically enough to gain a dynamic never before seen in any turn-based game. The difference is profound and, what is more important, it works. Most of the time.

The Battle of Live Tactical Zones (BLiTZ) divides the battle into two modes. The first one is the Command Mode where you are able to oversee the battlefield from above, as if you were looking on a map. All your units are marked on it, as well as the enemy units that are within the line of sight of your forces. Apart from giving you the general feel of the tactical situation, this mode also allows you to issue Orders and allocate Command Points. Command Points are – as the name would imply – points which are issued every turn to you and the enemy. Each point allows one of your units to take action (two points are required if said unit is a tank). Orders are mostly, but not only, stat related boosts, and require various amounts of points to issue. You only have a few at your disposal at the beginning, but you can acquire new ones as the game progresses.

So far, this is pretty much the standard TRPG formula. That is, until you issue a Command Point to one of your units. As soon as you do that, the view shifts to a third person perspective, and the gameplay becomes sort of pseudo-real time where you are able to directly control the chosen unit. This is the Action Mode. Please note that this does not make it a third person shooter, as movement and shooting are done separately. Once in direct control, your unit is entitled to a certain distance it can move and a single action it can perform (there are some environment related events that do not use up the action). All this depends on the class of the unit you are currently using. Suffice to say, most of the ‘actions’ that you will be performing are about making the other guy die for his country. [...]

Now, if you are familiar with some of the classic western TRPGs – like Jagged Alliance or X-COM – you will be familiar with the term ‘Overwatch’ or ‘Reaction Fire’. The developers of Valkyria Chronicles decided to use a similar mechanic… minus the action points. While in Action Mode, if you get too close to an enemy solider that is facing your way, he will fire upon you even though it is not his turn (this does not apply to Lancers and Snipers). And he will keep firing until you get out of range, your unit takes too much damage and gets downed, or you shift into the aiming stance. This reactive fire mechanic, which applies to both enemy and player units depending on whose turn it is, successfully adds some dynamism to the gameplay and makes positioning crucial.

[...] Let's be clear, Valkyria Chronicles is not a perfect game. Its gameplay is noticeably flawed, it has limited replayability and a story chockfull of idiotic clichés. Yet even all those drawbacks combined cannot overshadow what truly is a good game. When it was initially released on the PlayStation 3, everything about it was new: the quasi-European setting circa 1935, the CANVAS graphics engine that resembles a watercolor painting in motion, the fresh take on turn-based gameplay. Well, maybe except SEGA’s marketing – which could explain the poor sales – that still aspires to the golden standard of ‘fuck all, why bother’ even after these six years, if this latest release is anything to go by.

Thankfully, this time SEGA only had to release the game and watch the money roll in. An established loyal fanbase and years of positive word of mouth made sure that on the first day, Valkyria Chronicles topped Steam charts ahead of blockbuster hits like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Assassin's Creed Unity that were also launched back then. Furthermore, the port was way, way better quality-wise than anyone dared to expect at the time, particularly based on previous experience. Now if only SEGA continues this trend, there could be a pretty penny for them to earn, and it would make a lot of people happy, myself included.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Valkyria Chronicles

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