enfrdeitptrues

Turn Based Strategy

  • Alder’s Blood (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Alder’s Blood
    Developed By: Shockwork Games
    Published By: No Gravity Games
    Released: Q1 2020
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Stealth, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: N/A

    Thank you No Gravity Games for sending us a review code!

    God is dead, and someone or something killed Him. That’s one way to start a narrative. Alder’s Blood immediately separates itself from other games with a daring premise. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting but instead of the current state of the world being caused by nuclear warfare or invasion, it is by a “plague” of sorts caused by God’s death. Dark beasts of all manners lurk throughout the wasteland and humanity is barely clinging onto survival. The only thing stopping The Darkness from taking over everything are “hunters”; beings that are not fully human and skip between the edges of both light and darkness.

    Alder’s Blood is a turn-based strategy game with stealth elements and mechanics. Unlike many strategy games where you control a group of powerhouses slaying armies with little effort, you’re both outmanned and outmatched from the beginning. The creatures of The Darkness are plentiful and can overpower you very easily. As to them, humans and hunters alike are mere prey to the beasts and are forced to use their wits and a stealthy approach to either eliminate the beasts, sneak past them, or bring them to a knocked down and vulnerable state. Enemies can be instantly killed in this state as the character under your control is enveloped in a shadowy figure and can perform an execution, but using said feature also brings the individual closer to madness.

    Battles take place on a grid, all controlled via mouse. Much of the playing field is covered in darkness so one is unable to see any enemies beyond plain sight. Fortunately, there are many hiding spots littered across the field, such as tall grass, to help keep out of sight. Utilizing the tall grass and obstructions to deliver fatal blows is key to victory. For those familiar with the strategy genre, you may notice that a good amount of quality-of-life features as missing, such as an undo button to revert any decisions made. This may have been a purposeful design choice due to the stealth mechanics, but as misclicks can and will happen, a large mistake can mean a mission restart. It is completely fair that being spotted or uncovering more of the map should be a permanent choice but there are other moments where nothing of note happens in the decision and you are still otherwise punished for it as it cannot be reverse.

    Alder’s Blood
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adding stealth mechanics is a nice change of pace from the standard strategy game
    Weak Points: Missing quality of life features that other games in the genre have, such as an undo feature
    Moral Warnings: Violence and blood aplenty; supernatural creatures of all kinds such as werewolves, ghouls, and vampires; language uttered from “d*mn” to “bulls**t”; some instances of blasphemy

    A stamina bar is one of the main features of Alder’s Blood as every action is determined by it. Every character has a set number of spaces they can move but can expend their stamina to move even further. Stamina is also used to attack, with stamina being replenished after your next turn. Poor usage of stamina can leave the characters in an exhausted state, which makes them unable to take any further action until the following turn. Exhausting your stamina isn’t always a bad thing as it can get you out of range of dangerous foes or be used to kill a threatening enemy, just make sure that you are in a safe spot before doing so.

    Outside of battles is where resource management takes place. Your group can set up camp to replenish supplies, heal up after battle, craft new weapons, take on missions, and travel to other areas. This is where you can also conduct a ritual sacrifice to those who fully succumb to the madness. The character is killed off while passing down their knowledge (experience) to the recipient. The resource management isn’t the most in-depth but is just a form of micromanaging to keep in mind, almost giving it an “Oregon Trail” feeling, except much more grim.

    The world of Alder’s Blood is a very dreary and dull setting—and rightfully so. The graphics are similar to games such as “Darkest Dungeon” (a 2D roguelike RPG with gritty hand-drawn 2D graphics and gothic aesthetics) and the design of the characters and world are a mixture of dark Victorian and the American frontier. The sky is bathed in a permanent red and the overall world is dry. The music accompanies the setting with sounds that are taken directly from a horror film. The unsettling instrumentals make the hopeless setting feel even more hopeless. On the contrary, the sound effects from the creatures themselves could use some work. The werewolves, in particular, are pretty laughable and can take you out of the feeling of dread as quickly as the atmosphere puts you in.

    Alder’s Blood
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4.5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

    Morality Score - 44%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Blasphemy in Alder’s Blood is done differently than from other games (at least from what I’ve witnessed). Many would take the easy way and simply use God’s name in vain. Alder’s Blood approaches it differently. As stated in the beginning, God is dead, not “a” god, “the” God and the world is left in a very unfortunate state. With Him no longer around to protect and guide humanity, people’s worst fears have become a reality. With people barely clinging on to life while being mercilessly hunted down and slaughtered, this has caused a lot of individuals to lose their faith in God, with many believing that this whole situation is Him punishing humanity, while others simply gave up on Him ever coming back. Not every character is like this as there are a few characters that still hold on to their faith.

    Other things to look out for are language, ranging from mild swears like “d*mn” to stronger swears like “bulls**t.” As expected, blood and gore are shown with some animations and stills being rather graphic in nature. One graphic illustration depicts a person's skin melting off of their body and it is as grisly as it sounds. There are also a lot of supernatural creatures ranging from vampires and werewolves to ghouls and other sorts of monsters and beasts. One creature, in particular, resembles a human-shaped female. Although nothing graphic is shown, the creature is depicted as topless.

    The mixture of both stealth and turn-based tactics manages to work out well for itself as it presents a unique experience. There are some minor glitches here and there (none of them are game-breaking and are very easily fixed by simply saving and reloading the file) and controls can be a bit finicky in some places. Camera control is a bit too precise as it requires the mouse to be right at the edge of the screen, making it so that not playing in fullscreen is more trouble than it’s worth. As of its current state, Alder’s Blood shows off a lot of promise to the hardcore lovers of these particular genres and even has an “Ironman” mode for those who want it even harder—making it so that every decision is permanent. The nature of Alder’s Blood will probably turn away this general reading audience, but if you’re able to move past it and are a fan of strategy or stealth games, you’ll want to keep an eye out for this one.

  • Ambition of the Slimes (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Developed By: Altairworks, Flyhigh Works
    Published By: Circle Entertainment
    Released: August 11, 2016 (3DS)
    Available On: 3DS, Android, iOS, Vita
    Genre: Strategy RPG
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up (Fantasy Violence and Suggestive Themes)
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $5.00

    Thank you Circle for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    In most RPGs there are creatures known as slimes. These enemies normally pose little, to no threat, and are only considered good for grinding levels early on. Ambition of the Slimes aims to change all that by putting the player in control of an army of slimes.

    At the start of the game there is a nice and simple  tutorial that teaches some of the basics to this strategy RPG. First off, battles take place on grid-based battlefields. Enemies and slimes can move a certain distance before performing an action, like attacking, or waiting and ending their turn. Secondly, slimes are very weak in battle, and though they can fight back they all have the unique ability to "claim" a human target. This happens when a slime comes into contact with said target. Selecting claim from the battle menu plays out a disturbing cutscene in which the enemy's head tilts back, and the slime attempts to slide down their throat. This is pretty terrifying the first few times it happens, but you'll quickly wish you could just skip it. Slimes may also have other abilities like warping anywhere on the map, while some may have higher success rates of claiming. Battles are won when either no humans remain, or only possessed humans and slimes are on the battlefield. 

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Surprisingly challenging; Cutesy graphics and well implemented 3D; Great twist on the SRPG genre.
    Weak Points: Frustratingly difficult at times; Enemies crowd each other; Grammatical errors.
    Moral Warnings: As with any RPG, there's a moderate level of fantasy violence; Slimes possess humans in a disturbing fashion; Some overly sexualized enemy sprites.

    Before each stage is played you can choose which slimes to bring into battle. Each enemy and slime has an elemental affinity being water, fire, and earth. Water is strong against fire, but weak against earth, much like rock-paper-scissors. If your slime has the same element as a human you want to claim, and the claim is successful, that human will have increased attributes which is imperative to complete most stages. Most humans will have a 100% claim rate, but most maps will have at least one enemy with an incredibly low claim rate. When successfully claimed, these humans can completely turn a battle around for the slimes. 

    The biggest issue with claiming a human is that they are usually surrounded by other humans, and cannot move after being claimed. This results in that human being attacked upwards of four times, should they survive that long. The height of the battlefield will also come into play when maneuvering your characters. Should your character be on higher ground than its target while attacking, more damage will be inflicted to them and you take less damage. Unlike in other SRPGs, attacking an enemy with its back to you won't result in bonus damage.

    Ambition of the Slimes
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The retro graphics are very reminiscent of other games localized by Flyhigh Works, such as Witch & Hero and its sequel. They are very cute and the spritework for enemies and the slimes are detailed nicely. The battlefield itself can be rotated during battles and the 3D has been implemented very well. The music is nothing spectacular, and for the most part sounds like it's from Witch & Hero. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it instilled a sense of nostalgia in me hearing these simple chiptunes again. 

    As for moral warnings, it would be expected that there is a moderate amount of fantasy violence. That's not really the case for Ambition of the Slimes though, as battles are merely a static screen with sprites crashing into each other. I'm sure most players will be more terrified by the way the slimes possess their targets rather than the way battles unfold. Even after seeing the claiming process for 15 hours it's still disturbing to see them slide down enemy throats. Also worth mentioning are the rather sexually designed females enemies. Some are posed rather peculiarly, while others are more "top-heavy."

    This is an excellent game for fans of the SRPG genre, though one shouldn't expect an exact ripoff of Final Fantasy Tactics. Aside from some grammatical inconsistencies and the high difficulty, there is a deep strategy game here. With patience and endurance, this title is sure to satisfy those that are seeking a challenge from their video games.

    -Kyuremu

     

  • Atlas Reactor (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Atlas Reactor
    Developed By: Trion Worlds
    Released: October 4, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Strategy
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Violence
    Number of Players: 8 online 
    Price: Free-to-play but $29.99 for full unlock

    Have you ever wanted to play a MOBA but you don’t have quick enough reflexes? This is your game. Atlas Reactor  is a game where you pick a character, team up with three other people, and then fight a four-person team in turn-based combat. The game advertises itself as a MOBA that does not require quick reflexes and it delivers on that.

    In Atlas Reactor you fight matches using freelancers. Each freelancer has its own set of stats and abilities. There are different freelancers designed to fit different roles such as a tank, support, fighter, and assassin. Once you have chosen your freelancer you can look for a match. You can play against bots with an AI team or other players, compete against other players, or play ranked. Once you start a match you will have 20 seconds to plan your turn. After that 20 seconds, all actions will be carried out simultaneously and then the next round will start. The first team to reach five kills in twenty turns will win the match. That’s the core of the game.

    Currently the freelancers are very diverse. There are supposed to be three different categories, (firepower, frontliner, and support) but freelancers can vary wildly within categories. For instance, in just the firepower category there is an artillery unit that leaves mines where it shoots; a long-range, sneaky sniper; a guy that can bounce his shots off walls; and a girl with a crossbow that can order a drone around the battlefield to scout out and shoot enemies. Each character has their own set of unique abilities they can use. There are four types of abilities in this game and each one happens at a different time during each turn. First you have the prep abilities. These happen first and consist of healing, buffs, debuffs, and the placement of traps. Next you have dash abilities. These allow a player to quickly move in order to avoid damage or to gain some extra mobility. Some dashes cause damage while other simply move you. All dashes happen at the same time so if somebody is dashing to you and you dash away you’ll receive no damage. Next is your blast abilities. These are your attacks which come last and happen before your character gets to make a basic move. Different attacks do different things and have their own quirks as to how they are used or aimed. Blast abilities all happen at once, but they get shown to the player one at a time. In addition, each character has a special ultimate that they can use after they gain enough energy by using their other abilities. 

    After you play with a freelancer for a while you’ll be able to unlock mods. Mods allow you to augment your abilities in order to better suit your playstyle. One thing that is interesting about mods is they are balanced. Each player can only equip up to ten points of mods and more powerful mods cost more to equip. It’s an interesting situation having to make an ability weaker to strengthen another ability but it allows the creation of a unique freelancer. This helps to make the same freelancer feel different each time you fight one since you never know just what kind of mods they have equipped.

    Atlas Reactor
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique gameplay; Varied freelancers; The ability to mod freelancers in order to suit different playstyles; Allows the player to still be able to play competently without having quick reflexes.
    Weak Points: No offline singleplayer; It can require a decent amount of grinding to do stuff; Game currently only has one game mode; Global chat can be a cesspool.
    Moral Warnings: Some language; Some sexual content; Some cartoonish violence.

    The different freelancers are fun to use but there are a limited number of ways to use them. Currently, there are only four maps that you can play on. Also, there is only one game mode currently available. There was another game mode in the game at one point, but it was been removed, although it seems to come back for a little while every now and then. Playing deathmatch over and over again can get a little stale in my opinion. Thankfully, the game rewards your play by giving you a loot matrix every time you level up your season level. A loot matrix can be opened for random pieces of loot that are available at the time. These items are things such as skins, boosts, iso (an in-game loot), taunts, and pieces for your banner. If you get a duplicate you get iso which can be used to buy any piece you want so long as you have enough iso. Completing matches in order to keep unlocking loot matrices is one of the thing that keeps me playing. It’s really fun opening up a loot matrix to see what’s inside.

    This game does have a story but it is not very obvious. This game has things called seasons which are a collection of chapters that are only available to do for a limited time. Each chapter contains objectives to complete. When you complete all the objectives you unlock a new chapter. Some objectives can be easy such as playing ten matches or gaining ten season levels but some can be tedious and time consuming such as using twenty taunts in games you win, play fifteen matches as an Omni freelancer, or complete five daily quests. Completing chapters earn you rewards and can unlock more story. Each chapter contains a decent length story that a player can read. Each piece of story is supposed to relate back to the quests the player is doing in that chapter. Overall, what little I’ve read of the story seems okay, but I have not read all of it since it takes a considerable amount of time to sit there and read it all when one could be playing the game and unlocking more items.

    The game has surprisingly good graphics. More turn-based games don’t seem to have really nice graphics, but that’s because the player is normally zoomed out so that they can see the battlefield. This game lets you zoom in all the way. Also, I mean that literally. For some reason, you can zoom in so far that you can look at a freelancers waist. Now, I have no idea why one would really want to zoom in that far since it makes the game impossible to play but the graphics do look good zoomed in all the way. My only real complaint about the graphics is that you can’t zoom out that far (I’d really appreciate a top-down angle) and that sometimes the character models clip but this seems to mainly happens when playing a taunt (a special animation) with a special skin equipped. The audio is also pretty good. Characters all have nice, distinct voices and they say things rather frequently during battle. In addition, the different abilities all sound rather well. The only downside is the music is not that impressive. The main menu theme is nice but while playing a match the music is mostly background noise and ambient sounds. 

    The game does have a very interesting control scheme. For the most part, everything can be done with the mouse and most things seem to try and be done in the fewest clicks possible. That can be good since you are on a timer but some things can be just downright frustrating. For instance, one character can throw two little grappling claws at her enemies. She can throw them both at one enemy, throw them at different enemies, or throw one at a power-up to pick it up. In order to throw both at one enemy you have to aim the mouse away from the player in the direction you want to throw. If you want to target two locations you have to move the mouse closer to the player until they split. Once they split, you keep moving the mouse closer to the player to split them further apart. If you need to change the direction you are throwing them in you have to keep the mouse that distance from your character and rotate the mouse around. It can be pretty tedious to aim that ability just right. Also, that’s just one of the abilities that behaves like that. 

    Atlas Reactor
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 4/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Some freelancers have different firing modes that change depending how far the mouse is from the player. Other than that most of the controls seem pretty good. My only other real complaint is that since this is an online multiplayer game, you can be affected by lag. That can make the game slow to respond to your input. Normally this is not that bad but it can really mess you up every now and then. Another weird thing about the abilities is how aiming works. Some abilities are single-target, others are multi-target, and some attacks can switch between the two. Sometimes, if you can’t hit a target with a single-target shot you can change to a multi-target mode and be able to hit them. This can lead to some weird attacks and can lead to you dying when you thought you were safe.

    During the course of writing this review the game went free-to-play. This has changed the game somewhat. It used to be you had to pay $29.99 to play the game with full access to everything. Now, you can play the game for free to earn a special currency that can be used to unlock freelancers. This is good for them but the problem is people that have bought the game have a bunch of that currency they are also gaining that is mostly useless to a paying player. Also, even though the game is now free-to-play they still offer the $29.99 package that I had gotten and they do seem to encourage you still to buy that since it seems like unlocking stuff as a free player takes a while.

    Overall, this game’s biggest moral problem is its language. There’s not much offensive language that is said in this game besides using the Lord’s name in vain, but there is language that appears in the story. There is also the inclusion of a global chat and some things posted in it are very bad. There is a language filter to bleep out the curse words but there is a lot that is not filtered. There is some violence in the game, but is mostly cartoonish violence. Now, there are some more sexualized outfits for some characters but most of those are optional outfits you can unlock and are not the default outfits.

    If you want a fun and fast-paced (for a turn-based strategy) game with the ability to battle your friends I’d recommend playing Atlas Reactor. If you like the idea of this type of game I’d really recommend checking out the free-to-play option to test it out for yourself. The free option doesn’t seem to be too limiting and the price you pay to fully unlock everything is not that bad. The only downside is it only has one game mode, but the game is also pretty generous with giving you loot matrices to unlock so you always have something to play for. Overall, it is a pretty fun game to jump into for a little while and play a couple of matches.

    -Paul Barnard (Betuor)

     

  • B*stard Bonds (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bastard Bonds
    Developed By: BigFingers
    Published By: BigFingers
    Released: April 29, 2016
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Tactical RPG
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single player
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you BigFingers for sending a copy of this game to review!

    B*stard Bonds is a tactical RPG with turn based combat. You start the game by creating a character that is being sentenced for a crime they may or may not have committed. Regardless, the punishment handed out is exile to a prisoner island. Once on the island a fellow prisoner springs you from your cell and the two of you escape to the countryside.  You move from location to location on the vast map fighting monsters, gaining allies and uncovering the mysteries of the island. Once you've gained enough allies you can create a Stronghold to further advance your party and equip them to explore the entire map. 

    The first word B*stard Bonds uses to describe itself on its Steam store page is "mature." The game certainly earns a Mature rating but I found a lot of its content to be rather immature. A perfect example of this is the title screen. It's a picture of a smirking judge looking down on a man and a woman with chains around their necks. I thought the image was fitting for the premise of the game. Then in the Options menu is a setting that removes everyone's clothes on the title screen. It has no effect on the rest of the game, it's just there to show some skin. It's an option that reeks of immaturity and unfortunately there are similar examples in the actual game. 

    I have to compliment the pixel artist on this game. A lot of indie games that try for this pixelated art style have lazy and blocky graphics, but this game has great looking art. I'm especially impressed by the amount of detail put into the character sprites. The character creator has a good amount of body types for both humans and orcs. There's also a massive amount of clothing options to mix and match for your sprite. The enemies also come in every shape and size; from small rodents to massive demons, all with great detail put into their appearance. The game is skimpy on the animations though, limiting each sprite to a handful of idle animations. All attacks are done with spell effects and characters seemingly hop between tiles on the map; they won't even turn to face enemies while attacking. Despite the plethora of options available in the game many of the NPCs are very hulking and very naked individuals. It get's old by the fifth or sixth time you find a big, bulky guy alone in a cabin in his loin cloth. You could argue this is due to many of the citizens on the island being prisoners but there are many example of NPCs who did manage to find clothes. 

    Bastard Bonds
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Huge cast of characters, deep customization, expansive map full of unique locations, non-linear progression, very little hand holding
    Weak Points: Unintuitive user interface, gameplay can get repetitive, very little handholding
    Moral Warnings: Gratuitous nudity, sexual scenes, homosexuality, occult magic, satanic images, demons and undead

    The art for the world is equally impressive, although the sheer size of the map causes there to be a lot of repeat use of assets. The world map is dotted with over a hundred hand-crafted locations such as castles, temples, forests, caves, towns, swamps and more. Each location not only looks good but is well designed from a tactical point of view. There are corners and choke points flawless integrated into the maps, such that you never really know where monsters could appear. There are numerous books to be read and people to talk to in order to learn about the island. The story of the island is told in a very hands off way that I really enjoyed. The stories of the various allies you meet, on the other hand, are less well done. Nearly everyone you recruit will talk you in your Stronghold, and as you adventure with them, they will gain your trust and eventually you will get a special scene where they share their backstory. There's no way to know how close you are to attaining these scenes, and you have to constantly go back to your Stronghold and check their chat options. The game certainly doesn't hold your hand; there is no correct path to progress through the map. Some locations require you to level up or visit other areas first but that's rare. 

    The combat in B*stard Bonds is standard turn based tactical combat with a bit of a twist. Each action (moving or attacking) can be made as a "risky" action. Risky actions contribute to that character's risk meter. The higher the risk meter, the higher the chance for a risky action to fail, which skips the character's turn and leaves them vulnerable. The reward for a successful risky action is that the character gets an additional action at the end of the current turn. You can keep performing risky actions until either you fill up your risk meter or you fail.  Both player characters and enemies can perform risky actions. This is a really nice system that both speeds up combat and adds more depth. You can chain attacks together with the possibility of failing and leaving yourself open for enemies to chain attacks. I really enjoyed the combat and the overall challenge of the encounters. I enjoyed having to find the right band of four characters in order to defeat certain enemies. Due to the sheer size of the map, I felt like there were a lot of mundane combat encounters that started to feel repetitive as time went on. 

    One of my main complaints is the behavior of your party while exploring a location. You control one character at a time and can move them a certain number of tiles in any direction based on speed. The other three characters follow behind. The AI for the following characters is downright bad. I cannot count the number of times I'd stumble into a group of enemies, only to discover one of my party members is six rooms back because he got stuck. As much as I love the design of so many of the locations, the ones that twist and turn can be a nightmare. Also, you need your entire party together to exit an area, so I've had three characters standing at an exit, and then I'll have to take control of the missing one to find where he went; then the other three start moving back again and get stuck. It can be a mess. 

    Bastard Bonds
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 21%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 1.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3.5/10

    There are a lot of RPG elements in B*stard Bonds. Each character has nine stats they can put points into upon leveling up. The three main stats Force, Guile, and Magic (Strength, Dexterity, and Intellect) each has an offense, defense and utility component. No character is locked into any one role, and you can advance your characters any way you want to. In addition to managing each of the characters you recruit along the way you have to manage your Stronghold. The game tells you next-to-nothing about what a Stronghold is, how important it is, and how to manage it. There's just an ever present red text on the top of world map that says, "Your Band has no Stronghold!" Eventually I figured out that there's a system by where you gain manpower from yourself and your allies based on their stats and alignment. Once you have enough manpower you can claim a completed area as a Stronghold. There is only a barebones help screen to guide you in building up your Stronghold. Really the entire user interface of this game leaves much to be desired, but the Stronghold UI is especially bad. Which is unfortunate because Strongholds are where you store items, craft items, buy items, sell items, converse with your party and much more. There is essentially a city-building game inside this tactical RPG. As much I appreciate the overall hands-off approach to progressing through the game, I really wish there was something to ease the player into Strongholds. 

    As I mentioned earlier there is a huge variety in enemies, and many of these are large, barely clothed demons of both sexes. There are all manor of devils and undead enemies as well. The occult and magic are prevalent throughout the entire game; there are pentagrams and ritual sacrifice. There are a lot of overt religious references, there is some satanic imagery and there are good and bad religious characters. As for language it really runs the gambit; there's profanity, crude jokes, and sexual dialogue. Some of the conversations are interesting discussions centered around the brutal reality of the world the island the characters find themselves on. Other conversations consist mostly of boorish humor and feels included in an attempt to make the game more "mature." There are some actual sex scenes however you don't see anything, it just fades to black. Homosexual relationships are possible as well. The game is very violent in nature but due to the lack of animations it doesn't appear as violent as it actually is. 

    Hiding under B*stard Bonds dark and vulgar physique is a very well made tactical RPG. I loved all the effort put into the graphics and into designing the the locations. I loved how the combat worked; it was familiar but also mixed things up just enough. I didn't love the controls and AI though. I loved all the RPG elements, even if they were frustrating to figure out. I loved exploring the island and figuring out it's secrets. I could have done without trying to get to know the characters better, and truthfully I stopped trying after a while. This game has a ton of content; you could easily spend over 100 hours on this game. With all that said I find this game impossible to recommend to another believer based on the "mature" elements found in the game. 

     

  • Battleship (Xbox One)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Battleship
    Developed by: Frima Studios
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: August 2, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Board game
    Number of Players: Up to two
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence and mild language
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    Battleship is a classic board game that I have not played in ages.  I’ve been wanting to show it to my kids, but the electronic one that I had growing up is listed for $80 on Amazon.  The newer versions of Battleship aren’t as sturdy and like all physical board games, you can lose the pieces.  This version of Battleship is only available in digital format and provides thirty story missions and endless local and online matches.  If you’re looking to play against anyone online, you had better look elsewhere since I was not able to find anyone to play against.

    Thankfully you can still play against the computer or a friend.  Playing against your friend requires the honor system as the game asks the opposing player to look away while the ships are being deployed.  Each player needs their own Xbox account or a guest account logged in to join a game.

    The classic game rules can be used where only one shot per turn is allowed or you can play the much faster Clash at Sea mode.  With the new rules each player earns three white and red pegs per turn.  Spending them during the ninety-second turn is optional as more powerful attacks require more pegs.

    Battleship
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A classic board game re-created with classic and enhanced play modes
    Weak Points: Nobody online to play against; local multiplayer asks players to look away from the screen; dumb AI
    Moral Warnings: Naval warfare; minor language (d*mmit)

    The advanced attack modes require active ships so as your fleet gets depleted, so do your options.  Some of the enhanced attacks let you place five white pegs at the cost of four.  Another new move lets you deploy a mine that will attack anything in its radius when hit with a missile.  If you want to canvas a rectangle shape or an entire row (throughout a couple of turns), it's possible with the new rule set.  With the added arsenal of moves available, more strategy is added along with faster gameplay.

    Five tutorials are available to teach you the basic and advanced battle techniques.  The story campaign is decent though the enemy AI seems rather dumb at times when it chooses not to sink ships right away after it detects them.  The missions vary and some of them put you at a disadvantage by starting you off with less ships than your opponent or by requiring you to sink their fleet in a limited number of turns.  

    The enemies range from pirates to orcs and you can unlock and customize different fleets with Uplay points earned in-game at the Uplay store. The different fleets have variations of the same attacks at their disposal.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Visually this game won’t disappoint.  The 3D graphics look good and you can rotate your grid to see your ship’s placement by pressing the right bumper button on the controller.  When a ship is hit the controller will vibrate and you’ll see the cracks on the head-up display (hud) screen.  When a ship capsizes it will appear on the grid and will be grayed out on your hud. 

    The sound effects are good, especially when a ship is hit.  Each attack has its own sound effects too.  The battle themed background sets the mood accordingly.   Though there is dialog in the campaign, none of it is voice acted.

    As fun as this game is there are a few things holding it back from a solid recommendation.  The first is the fact that nobody is playing it online.  Playing against humans is always more fun than dumb AI.  Hopefully you can trust that your opponent will not be looking at the screen while you’re setting up your ships.  My last complaint is the language.  While it’s not severe, I still don’t think it’s necessary to include the word d*mmit in a family friendly title.  This is not a word I would like my children to be saying when they get frustrated.  Because of these issues I recommend passing on this title and sticking with a previous release or the physical version.

     

  • BATTLETECH (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    BATTLETECH
    Developed By: Harebrained Schemes
    Published By: Paradox Interactive
    Release Date: April 24, 2018
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux coming soon
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Turn-based Strategy
    Mode: Primarily singleplayer, with a multiplayer mode also
    MSRP: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Paradox Interactive for sending us this game to review!

    In high school, I had a very good friend and his older brother who introduced me to the board game BattleTech. I clearly remember the hexagonal map laid out on the table with trees, lakes, buildings and other environmental obstacles, as well as the intricately painted robotic giants. I also remember creating mechs with various loadouts including ER PPCs, Large Lasers, and other powerful weaponry as I rolled the dice to calculate hit locations and damage totals. It was a lot of fun back then and I haven’t had a chance to do anything like it since, until now.

    Much of the BattleTech lore books are written from 3050 and onwards, while this game takes place in and around 3025. You and your mercenary Lance are quickly pulled into a conflict of factions where you choose to help a friend and fellow student of your mentor, who is the rightful heir to the throne. When her father dies, her uncle quickly steps in, seizes power, and attempts to take the princess’s life. With your help, she barely escapes. When the time is right, she starts a war to regain her kingdom and you and your Lance become her ace in the hole.

    In BATTLETECH, there is a ship mode in which you prepare for your missions and a battlefield mode where combat takes place. You get to manage many aspects of your mercenary Lance including which pilots to hire, how to fit and arm them, and prepare your MechWarriors (pilots), as well as various ship upgrades. You can also take your ship to many different star systems where you can look for new contracts to work as a mercenary-for-hire. The jobs themselves vary from helping out a local government to assisting pirates in their dirty work. As you gain victory in combat you will often recover salvage which can lead to gaining bigger and better mechs.

    BATTLETECH
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent representation of the classic BattleTech board game; very nice graphics and sound; very engaging ‘one more turn’ gameplay
    Weak Points: Can be too slow-paced for some; performance could be better; I ran into a game-crashing bug until I determined that G-Sync for windowed-mode applications was the cause
    Moral Warnings: ‘They’ offered as a gender identity; most common curse words used, including ‘*ss’, ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, and ‘hell’; references to ‘gods’ and skinny dipping

    On the battlefield, rather than a direct hex-grid conversion of the tabletop game, this does much better - you directly move to various points on the map and fight other enemy units on the field in a turn-based fashion. When you create your character, you give them a background which has a small impact on the story. You create them as a ‘he’, a ‘she’, or a non-conforming ‘they’. Your Lance has up to four members, while your enemy can sometimes vastly outnumber you. It takes careful environmental, weapons, ammunition, and heat management in order to be successful.

    BattleMechs typically range in weight from 20-100 tons. The armor, firepower, and movement range of each mech type can vary drastically. While there is conceivably a place on the battlefield for light mechs in the 20-40 ton range, in reality once you get heavy mechs, you don’t go back. Each weapon, from Long-Range Missiles (LRMs) to Auto-Cannons (ACs) to Lasers all require precious tons to equip on your mech. And let’s face it: firepower is king. And assault mechs in the 80-100 ton range carry lots and lots of guns.

    Combat itself is typically broken up into two phases per turn. The first is the movement phase, during which you can move, sprint, or use your jump jets. Not every mech has jump jets, especially since they cost precious tons and generate heat. But they can be quite handy, as you can go up or down steep inclines or jump over obstacles for a potentially massive tactical advantage. When you sprint, you can go nearly twice as far, but doing so takes up the second combat phase, which is the action phase.

    During the action phase the most common one is most certainly attack. But it’s not alone. You can do a melee attack, brace for impact, or do a precision shot. Brace for impact is handy because it lowers received damage by half from the front and sides. The precision shot costs morale, which is something you earn by defeating enemies. But the benefit of this is that you can target any part of the enemy unit in which the strikes will hit. Destroying an enemy mech is accomplished in one of three ways: killing the pilot, destroying the center torso, or immobilizing it. Getting a powerful enough shot to the head is extremely fatal - but is also extremely unlikely. Knocking out both legs can often work quite well and has the added bonus of usually offering extra salvage. I find precision shots to the center torso as the most effective way of shutting down an enemy BattleMech as quickly as possible.

    BATTLETECH
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    On the ship, you can allocate experience points to skills for each of your MechWarriors. As they level up skills, you can choose to specialize them in various areas. These areas are Gunnery, Piloting, Guts, and Tactics. Most of the combat bonuses are passive, but notable active skills are multi-target and sensor lock. Multi-target allows you to hit up to three enemies at once, while sensor lock grants your teammates the ability to attack far away targets, as well as makes them easier to hit. It’s not uncommon for a faster mech to act as a scout with sensor lock while the rest of the Lance pelts them with LRMs.

    Visually, BATTLETECH is a fun game to watch. It looks nice with good details, and the sound effects when things explode are also well done. The voice acting is rare, but all that is there sounds great. It does look much better on high settings, but it scales down to work fairly well, even on lower-end hardware. I played BATTLETECH perfectly well on both my high-end gaming systems maxed out, and on my GPD Win 2 with all settings on low. The cutscenes are drawn rather than rendered and look fantastic.

    BATTLETECH takes place in a universe full of violence, death, and betrayal. Blood is shown in some cutscenes, but most of the game lacks any. When fighting other MechWarriors, it is a fight to the death. Your pilots can and will die, and managing their health is an important part of the game. Curse words like ‘*ss’, ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, and ‘hell’ are present in the game, as well as ‘gods’. Most of the violence is in the form of robotic limbs being destroyed or falling off. Death of enemy MechWarriors is common and a fact of life. There is also a reference to crew members skinny dipping in the pool.

    As soon as I found out that the BattleTech board game was getting a proper PC adaptation, I leapt at the chance to review it, and I’m glad I did. While a bit slow paced at times, BATTLETECH is a blast to play and most definitely worth your time. Multiplayer is still active also, which is great to see. I wouldn’t give it to children because of the language, but I can heartily recommend it to others.

  • BATTLETECH Flashpoint (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    BATTLETECH Flashpoint
    Developed By: Harebrained Schemes
    Published By: Paradox Interactive
    Release Date: Nov 27, 2018
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Turn-based Strategy
    Mode: Primarily singleplayer, with a multiplayer mode also
    MSRP: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Paradox Interactive for sending us this game to review!

    I reviewed BATTLETECH back in May, which you can find here. Flashpoint is the first expansion pack/DLC for BATTLETECH, so if you are not familiar with BATTLETECH, please read that review before moving on. This review assumes you are familiar with the base game that this expansion pack is for.

    BATTLETECH Flashpoint is the first of three announced expansion packs for the hit turn-based strategy game BATTLETECH. As a longtime BATTLETECH fan, and the one who reviewed the base game, I really looked forward to an excuse to get back into this game, and thankfully, Flashpoint does a great job doing exactly that – giving fans of BATTLETECH another reason to come back.

    The Flashpoint expansion centers around a few main additions to the base game. The main one by far, and the biggest draw, are the new Flashpoint missions. These missions are multi-part contracts that not only pay well, but involve both characters that build out the lore of the universe of BATTLETECH, as well as choices that affect how the missions turn out. Each mission is handcrafted, and carefully created to stay true to BATTLETECH canon, which is a nice touch, and great for fans of this series’ lore.

    Each of these missions is intended to be like a mini-campaign. They typically start with a request from a rich benefactor, like a noble from a ruling house in one of the many factions. They show up on your star map as an unmissable flashing icon, and there are typically only a small number of them available at any time. If you have not completed the campaign yet, they don’t show up at all.

    BATTLETECH Flashpoint
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: More of an already good thing (more BATTLETECH is great!)
    Weak Points: A little pricey for what you get; the content doesn’t make much (if any) impact early in the game
    Moral Warnings: Everything that applies to BATTLETECH applies here, so that includes curse words, violence, etc.

    Your conversations with the benefactor (or various other characters relevant to the mission) are shown on your hologram viewer (I forget what it’s called in game) and you directly talk with them. Nothing is voice acted, sadly, but the missions are reasonably well written. Each Flashpoint can be anything from a small two mission aside to a fairly involved 4+ mission campaign. I have seen some missions to have several opportunities for choices that affect the outcome.

    One of the more memorable Flashpoints for me was when you were tasked with eliminating a leader of a powerful lance that had been involved with the murder of tens of thousands of innocent people in the Draconis Combine. This guy turned out to be a real piece of work, and had threatened your entire crew with certain death if you attempted to flee or change the deal once you had figured out where he was. You had the choice to bomb the sensor array and get out of there, or take him head on and capture or kill him.

    In another mission, you were given the opportunity to rescue civilians who would have been otherwise killed or lost their homes while you were performing your next mission. It was neat to actually have the rare chance to do the right thing – money or not. While not every mission is as memorable as those were, there are still plenty of interesting stories that not only give you an excuse to keep sending your giant robots to keep blowing up other giant robots, but help you meet the people behind the faceless factions, and you get to learn more and more about the universe of BATTLETECH.

    While the Flashpoints are by far the biggest additions, there are also three new mechs, a new environment, and some other, smaller additions. It’s possible for missions to have a weight limit now, which is interesting. Considering that my mech bay has almost all 75 ton and up mechs hanging out in there, these missions are a great way to make players change that up. Lighter mech warfare can look quite different than the ‘blow things up with huge explosions ASAP’ that tends to rule with lances of assault mechs.

    BATTLETECH Flashpoint
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The new mechs are the Hatchetman, which is a medium mech with the melee damage of an assault mech. It’s pretty interesting, and can be very potent, but you still have to be careful – its armor is very much in medium mech territory. There is a new assault mech called the Cyclops, and another medium mech called the Crab. The Crab looks neat, but I haven’t found one in my game yet. The Cyclops has two variants: one that is a missile boat, with tons of missile hardpoints, and the other is a bit low on attack strength, but has a powerful battle computer. This computer gives your entire lance +1 initiative, so they can usually attack first. This is very, very powerful.

    Released along with Flashpoint is the free for all owners 1.3 update, which, along with previous patches that I haven’t covered, really improve the gameplay experience quite a bit since I reviewed BATTLETECH from back in the 1.0 days. Animations are much faster, loading times are very quick now, and most of my complaints are addressed. They also added a new Career mode, which is pretty much like playing the campaign without any story priority missions to get in the way. It’s the quickest way to get to the Flashpoint content if you are starting from scratch, as they don’t show up in the campaign until after you complete the main story.

    When it comes to the graphics, sound, and moral concerns, these are exactly the same as the base game. Please refer to the BATTLETECH review for more information.

    BATTLETECH Flashpoint is a solid expansion pack for any and every fan of the base game. If you want more to do, more to collect, and more opportunities to grab some LosTech, this is your best bet. However, if you are not sure if this game is your thing, or if you are just a casual mech pilot, this expansion is kind of pricey for what you are likely to gain from it. You may see little to no changes in campaign mode until the postgame, and if you aren’t likely to put more time into this after seeing the credits, then this is not for you. But if you have already beaten the campaign and are itching for more, BATTLETECH Flashpoint is an excellent addition for any aspiring mech commander, especially if you desire to fill in the blanks on all those other factions you take those high-paying jobs from.

  • BATTLETECH Heavy Metal (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    BATTLETECH Heavy Metal
    Developed By: Harebrained Schemes
    Published By: Paradox Interactive
    Release Date: November 21, 2019
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Turn-based Strategy
    Mode: Primarily single player, with a multiplayer mode also
    Requires BATTLETECH in order to be usable (MSRP: $39.99)
    MSRP: $19.99 ($39.99 Season Pass which includes all 3 expansion packs including this one)
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Paradox Interactive for sending us this game and expansion to review!

    Every time I return to BATTLETECH, I end up playing it more than I intended to. It's a great game, and it's been very engaging. I've got over 130 hours into it now, and honestly I would like to play it some more! I've even played multiplayer with friends, and I know that one of my brothers is the guy to beat. He's tough!

    As a result, I'm always happy to get another excuse to get back into this game. I'm almost sad that this is the last announced expansion pack, because I don't know when I'll be able to get back into playing this game again! (Writing reviews allows me to play games I otherwise wouldn't, but it also means I rarely get time to play games again that I want to.)

    Like my last BATTLETECH expansion pack review, Urban Warfare, I am going to assume from here on out that you played the game, or read my other reviews: Battletech, Flashpoint, and Urban Warfare. While I won't go out of my way to spoil anything, I can't help but talk about some of the changes.

    Rather than focus on the new story elements with Flashpoint, or adding a new biome like Urban Warfare did, this expansion pack focuses on a major expansion to the mech roster, and the economy. There are eight new mechs, as well as some more substantial additions in the form of new weapons. Once I started testing them, I was surprised how much of an addition these would make; the new weapons are quite nice and fill significant holes in the existing weapon types. There is also a new Flashpoint mini-campaign that is not to be missed.

    BATTLETECH Heavy Metal
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: More of an already good thing (more BATTLETECH is great!); a very interesting new Flashpoint that tells an interesting story and expands the lore; extensive new equipment (and mechs) that really shakes up the economy
    Weak Points: A little pricey
    Moral Warnings: Everything that applies to BATTLETECH applies here, so that includes curse words, violence, etc.

    The new mechs vary in size from 20 tons all the way up to 100. The new Flea is a tiny 20T mech that can move very quickly, to the amazing Annihilator, that is simply an autocannon fortress. While it has far less armor than its 100T buddies the Atlas and King Crab, man does it carry a lot of auto cannons! I love mine, as it can one-shot tons of smaller mechs very easily. Each of them has at least one piece of unique equipment that makes them especially powerful in their own way. I really love how the Annihilator gets the BSC (Ballistic Siege Compensators) system, which grants it 20% more damage with ballistic weapons. Man does that add up!

    There are not only eight new mechs, but also eight new weapons. Each is unique and fun - I burnt through nearly eighteen million credits trying to buy them all to check them out! The first and most unique is the COIL system, which increases damage and heat generation based on how far and fast you move. The practical effect of this is that those tiny, 20-30 ton mechs now have a purpose in life! If you are able to move at full throttle, a single shot can do well over one hundred points of damage - enough to blow off limbs or even destroy many mechs outright. But in order to do this, you need to plan strategically enough, and take advantage of the terrain to make this work. Not to mention, you are piloting a tiny mech with next to no armor!

    Other new weapons include the shotgun-style ones. We have the LB-X autocannons, which are quite powerful autocannons that shoot in a close, shotgun-like spread. What this means is that when it hits, it does more aggregate damage than a normal autocannon, but it hits more regions, so while it may not hit critical systems as hard, it instead peels off armor quite quickly. The same can be said about the extremely neat looking SNUB PPC - this is more or less an energy weapon equivalent of the LB-X cannon. It also does just a bit more damage than a PPC (Particle Projector Cannon), but it also hits multiple regions on the target. It looks extremely cool, which helps.

    Other notable new weapons are the UAC (Ultra Auto Cannons), the TAG and NARC beacon, as well as the Infernos and last but not least, the Mortar. UACs are literally two autocannons in one - it uses two ammo per shot, and the second shot is often less accurate because of recoil. But with a skilled enough pilot, they are quite deadly. They also weigh just a single ton more. I imagine many builds replacing most if not all ACs with these!

    BATTLETECH Heavy Metal
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The TAG and NARC Beacon are two sides of the same coin. They both increase damage if they first tag the target. The TAG increases damage of energy and ballistic weapons (aka autocannons), while the NARC increases damage of missile weapons. Both can be quite handy, if you are willing to spend the hardpoint on it.

    Infernos are heat-generating missiles. Not unlike a flamer, they hit the enemy and increase their heat. The range is much better than a flamer, and they increase heat twice - once on impact, and again after their turn. Very handy. Mortars are single-use, area of effect missiles. While they can be only used once, they can really turn the tide of battle. They do cost quite a few tons and hardpoint space, so it costs a lot, and mechs can only have one - but things go boom as every region of every mech, friend or foe, takes damage within the hit radius. Well, except for the head, as that would kill pretty much everyone, and no one wants that.

    Each of the expansions have added new Flashpoints, starting with the first expansion pack. This one is no exception. Rather including a bunch of smaller ones, this pack includes several, long, interconnected Flashpoints. This ends up becoming a type of mini-campaign, as each Flashpoint follows the previous one. It's a neat campaign from what I have seen of it so far that fills in both the past and future in the lore. I like what I have seen quite a bit.

    When it comes to the graphics, sound, and moral concerns, these are exactly the same as the base game. Please refer to the BATTLETECH review for more information. The only thing I would note is that the game has been patched a whole bunch of times, so things generally run better than before, though level loading still takes far too long even on a 12-core CPU with NVMe storage.

    BATTLETECH Heavy Metal surprised me with how much I liked it. All of the expansions have added something useful, but this one might be at least tied for first place (with Flashpoint) or perhaps even beat it in my mind. The massively increased mech count, and especially the weapon and technology count, has had a really large impact on the game's economy and variety of play styles. If you are already a fan of BATTLETECH, this is an excellent expansion pack, and a great reason to dive back into your favorite hulking metal machines.

  • BATTLETECH Urban Warfare (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    BATTLETECH Urban Warfare
    Developed By: Harebrained Schemes
    Published By: Paradox Interactive
    Release Date: June 4, 2019
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Turn-based Strategy
    Mode: Primarily single player, with a multiplayer mode also
    Requires BATTLETECH in order to be usable (MSRP: $39.99)
    MSRP: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Paradox Interactive for sending us this game and expansion to review!

    BATTLETECH is one of the highlights for me for recent turn-based strategy PC games. I really enjoyed it a lot, and I'm always happy to have a reason to go play it again. I would highly recommend reading our review of the game, and also of the expansion pack Flashpoint. The rest of the review assumes you are familiar with the content of the base game and Flashpoint.

    Urban Warfare is another expansion pack, similar to Flashpoint. While Flashpoint focused on the newly available Flashpoints, or multi-mission mini story sequences, Urban Warfare focuses on just what it sounds like - fighting in the big city. Most fighting in BATTLETECH deals with areas away from people - while there are occasional maps with buildings, as well as base protection/destruction missions, Urban Warfare's new maps/biomes are much, much busier than ever before. So busy, in fact, that even my NVIDIA RTX 2080Ti would occasionally drop frames during combat (with a 4k@60Hz display).

    Rather than the more typical hillside or mountainous regions, where trees are about as busy as things get, in a city, you have buildings everywhere. You can use them for cover, jump onto them via jump jets for better visibility, or even destroy them if they get in your way. If someone is on one, you can destroy the building for some nice collateral damage. You might also take some down on accident, via stray shots. (Stray shots and collateral damage were added with the free patch that released alongside the expansion pack.)

    BATTLETECH Urban Warfare
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: More of an already good thing (more BATTLETECH is great!); arguably the best biome yet; nice new equipment
    Weak Points: A little pricey for what you get
    Moral Warnings: Everything that applies to BATTLETECH applies here, so that includes curse words, violence, etc.

    Honestly, outside of the poor performance, I love the new Urban Warfare setting. Missions are more interesting there, as there are so many tactical options. I find battle there quite captivating. Additional tech and mechs were added also, with the most game-changing addition being the Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) components. I ended up slapping my X-1 ECM Equipment on my Atlas II, and went to town. Now, most of my team can't be targeted by LRMs (Long-Range Missiles), unless they decloak through combat, get spotted via a sensor lock, or the enemy is close enough where it doesn't matter.

    The other new component, the Active Probe, is much more interesting in theory than in practice. What it allows is for you to place the probe on a unit, and once activated, it performs what is equivalent to a Sensor Lock on every unit within a 250 meter radius. That sounds great, until you realize that mechs have a 300 meter visual range, and that even well-known short-ranged weapons, like SRMs (Short-Range Missiles) can be used within that range. So, this technology, which costs 50 heat to use, lasts for only one round, has a four-turn cooldown, takes up quite a few tons, is extremely expensive, and prevents the mech using it from attacking that turn, is supposed to be worth all that just to increase the chance to hit for your other team members? No, in practical terms, it's arguably more of a hindrance than a help at all. You could have upgraded tons of other components in that same space. Even adding a few more heatsinks is a massively better use of tonnage than this failed attempt. Hopefully, they massively increase the range or increase effectiveness in other ways to make the Active Probe worthwhile in the future.

    BATTLETECH Urban Warfare
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    There are two new mechs, but sadly, when I found some salvage for a Javelin, I didn't realize it was new - I run a full fleet of Assault mechs, and figured it was just another piddly light mech. The new Raven I also haven't seen yet; it's unique in that it has both the ECM and AP (Active Probe) components combined into the same mech. Neat, but again, I haven't ran into one. Thankfully, I was able (by pure chance!) to find a planet that was selling both the X-1 ECM unit and the Active Probe unit, for a reasonable price, so I was able to try out the new tech. (Since my save is post campaign, I have plenty of money to spare.) There are also new Flashpoints to enjoy.

    When it comes to the graphics, sound, and moral concerns, these are exactly the same as the base game. Please refer to the BATTLETECH review for more information. The only addition I would make is that the level of detail shown on Urban maps is much higher than other ones - and the system requirements are higher, also.

    BATTLETECH Urban Warfare is a good expansion pack for any and every fan of the base game who wants to add more variety. I feel like Flashpoint added more to the game, and I would recommend people to pick that one up first, but the new tech and mission areas are well done and welcome. If you want more to do, and more places to do it, this is a fine expansion. However, if you are not sure if this game is your thing, or if you are just a casual mech pilot, this expansion is kind of pricey for what you are likely to gain from it. If you have already love BATTLETECH and are itching for more, BATTLETECH Urban Warfare is an excellent addition. I would recommend picking it up on a sale, or just getting the Season Pass, which includes this and Flashpoint.

  • Disgaea (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Disgaea PC
    Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
    Published by: NIS America
    Release Date: February 24, 2016
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Turn-based Strategy
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, language, suggestive themes
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Charity Link)

     

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    Disgaea PC is an updated version of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness which was originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2003.  Five years after that, it came out on the Nintendo DS.  While the story and multiple endings are the same, the textures have been updated and Steam features like achievements, trading cards, and cloud saves have been added.  If you’re new to the series, there’s plenty of gameplay packed into this $20 title.  

    The Overlord of the Netherworld, King Krichevskoy, has died and the demons are fighting amongst themselves for the prized title.  Two years into the chaos, Krichevskoy’s son, Laharl wakes up to find his castle in disarray and his vassal, Etna, by his side plotting to kill him.  Etna decides to join Laharl’s side to help him reclaim the throne or seize an opportunity to off him if he lets his guard down.  Demons, after all, are selfish and shouldn’t be trusted.  

    At least that’s the assumption of the angels living in Celestia.  Later in the game, Flonne, and angel trainee is sent to the Netherworld and meets Laharl and his party.  She is intrigued by his demeanor and apparent lack of kindness and vows to determine once and for all if demons can express love.  Once defeated, several other bosses agree to join Laharl’s party.

    Like many 3D turn-based strategy games you can deploy a limited number of party members (maximum of ten) and can move and perform an action during each turn.  The number of movement spaces is dependent on the character’s stats and the actions can be consuming an item, fighting, or using a special skill like magic.  After all of the party members have used up their actions, you can end your turn and watch the enemies retaliate.   

    Disgaea PC
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny characters; fighting abilities and dialogue; challenging battles
    Weak Points: Lots of grinding is required to survive enemy attacks; no way to skip attack animations
    Moral Warnings: A few angels are shown as bad while some demons are good; swearing and blaspheming; sexualized outfits; gross humor

    Many games have used the ability to counter an attack, but this is the first title I have seen with a counter-counter ability that can counter up to four times back and forth!  In fact, many of the special attacks are silly and often drawn out in the cut scenes.  I wish there was an option to skip the fighting cut-scenes because they are tediously long.  As abilities are used more they level up and as the characters gain levels, more special abilities become available to them.

    Another new feature to this series are the Geo Panels which apply various attributes to similarly colored squares they are residing on.  Sometimes the panels are helpful to either the allies or enemies by giving them a damage or defense boost.  Other times the panels can be very restrictive by blocking players from crossing them or by granting units invincibility.  Geo Panels can either be attacked (as long as they’re not invincible) or picked up and thrown to another colored square.  

    The story mode battles ramp up in difficulty relatively quickly and much grinding is required to be strong enough to advance the storyline.  To level up you can replay previously completed story missions or play in an item world several levels deep to fight numerous enemies and a final boss before returning to your castle.  Successfully completing item levels will increase and strengthen the item’s level.   It should go without saying that the more valuable an item, the tougher the enemies within will be.  It’s nice to have an exit item on hand because there is no telling how many levels deep an item world is and leaving is not possible without an exit item or without clearing the last boss.  If you plan on adventuring in the item world, make sure you’ve set aside about an hour of time to do so.

    Last but not least, there’s an Etna mode which can be unlocked by finding and reading her secret diary diligently in each of the fourteen episodes.  In Etna mode, the main character is Etna instead of Laharl.  There are Steam achievements available for completing episodes in her mode.  

    Disgaea PC
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 51%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6.5/10

    No matter what mode you’re playing you’ll want to have the best weapons and armor possible.  The more you shop at the weapon and accessories stores, the higher your customer ranking will be.  As your rank increases you can talk to the senators and ask their permission to get more expensive (or cheaper) equipment.  If you have enough favor with them, they’ll grant your request.  However, if they reject your request, you can battle the senators that voted against you to reverse their vote.  Senator approval is also required when creating decent characters, but if you have some good for nothing characters, you can re-spec them for a fee.

    The character conversations can be lively at times and the humor in this game is pretty good.  Sadly, it’s often laced with profanity (d*mmit, b*stard) and blaspheming.  Despite there being angels and demons there isn’t much mention of God until Laharl calls out to Him wondering if He’s even there.  The Prinnys in this game are souls bound in servitude to repent of their sins in hopes of being reincarnated.  Other issues worth mentioning is a skimpy bikini like outfit worn by a female party member.  Last but not least there is some gross humor including piecing together the ultimate zombie and attaching a horse wiener on it.     

    Visually Disgaea shows its age and some of the textures are best suited for small screens instead of my 27” monitor.  The facial expressions of the characters in the dialogue screens are nice looking though.    

    The background music has a lot of variety and you can purchase tracks with in-game money to play instead of the default music.  The voice acting is well done and most of the game is voice acted, but not all of it.

    I’ve heard a lot about the Disgaea series and I’m glad I’ve finally gotten a chance to check it out.  I look forward to playing more of the series someday.  If you don’t mind the language, gross humor, and religious references, there’s a lot of fun and obligatory grinding to be had here.

     

  • Disgaea 2 PC

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Disgaea 2 PC
    Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: January 30, 2017
    Available on: PS2, Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Turn based strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Mild Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    Disgaea 2 was originally released for the PS2 in 2006 and was released for the PSP in 2009.  All of the content in those games along with enhanced visuals plus keyboard and mouse support is now available in the 2017 PC version.  Since characters from the first Disgaea make an appearance in this title, I highly recommend playing the original game before picking this one up.     

    The main character in this title is Adell, the only human living in the netherworld which has been cursed fifteen years ago by the powerful Overlord Zenon.  The curse Zenon placed on the inhabitants caused the humans to lose their memories, conscience, and slowly turn into demons.  Adell doesn’t know what became of his human parents, but he loves his adopted demon family who fully support his quest of defeating Zenon to avenge those impacted by Zenon’s curse.  Luckily, Adell seems to be immune to it.

    The story begins with Adell’s adoptive mother trying to summon Zenon (using her children as part of the ritual) and getting his only daughter instead.  Princess Rozalin is very stereotypical with her pampered ways and high demands.  The clash in personalities provides much humor and silly dialogue which is voice acted in cut-scenes.  

    Since the princess lived in a secluded mansion, she hasn’t done much fighting and is unfamiliar with the world of Veldine.  Adell is relying on her to bring him to her father who he wants to defeat.  She hopes that he’ll succumb to one of the increasingly stronger demons along the way.  

    Disgaea 2 PC
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny characters, fighting abilities and dialogue; challenging battles
    Weak Points: Lots of grinding is required to survive enemy attacks; no way to skip attack animations
    Moral Warnings: Sacrifices are made to summon demons; language (b*tch, b*stard, d*mn, hell); sexualized outfits; gross humor

    Adell and Rozalin won’t have to fight them alone though.  Along the way they’ll meet some people with interesting backstories who are willing to join their cause.  Several party members are available through the bundled in add-on content called “Summoning Experiments.”     

    Like many 3D turn-based strategy games you can deploy a limited number of party members (maximum of ten) and can move and perform an action during each turn.  The number of movement spaces is dependent on the character’s stats and the actions can be consuming an item, fighting, or using a special skill like magic.  After all of the party members have used up their actions, you can end your turn and watch the enemies retaliate. 

    Many games have used the ability to counter an attack, but this series has a counter-counter ability that can counter up to four times back and forth!  In fact, many of the special attacks are silly and often drawn out in the cut scenes.  I wish there was an option to skip the fighting cut-scenes because they are tediously long.  As abilities are used more they level up and as the characters gain levels, more special abilities become available to them.

    Another returning feature is the Geo Panels which apply various attributes to similarly colored squares they are residing on.  Sometimes the Panels are helpful to either the allies or enemies by giving them a damage or defense boost.  Other times the Panels can be very restrictive by blocking players from crossing them or by granting units invincibility.  Geo Panels can either be attacked (as long as they’re not invincible) or picked up and thrown to another colored square.  

    The story mode battles ramp up in difficulty relatively quickly and much grinding is required to be strong enough to advance the storyline.  To level up you can replay previously completed story missions or play in an item world several levels deep to fight numerous enemies and a final boss before returning to your castle.  Successfully completing item levels will increase and strengthen the item’s level.   It should go without saying that the more valuable an item, the tougher the enemies within will be.  It’s nice to have an exit item on hand because there is no telling how many levels deep an item world is and leaving is not possible without an exit item or without clearing the last boss.  If you plan on adventuring in the item world, make sure you’ve set aside about an hour of time to do so.

    Disgaea 2 PC
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 71%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    After completing Adell’s story, Axel’s story becomes unlocked and there’s even more enemies and silliness there.  Axel’s starting level is 100 and party members from Adell’s adventure are at his disposal.  I like how Etna from the first Disgaea game is available as a party member later on.  Be warned that there are some battles that are meant to be lost to progress the story.  If you find that the boss has several thousand more defense and hit points than your characters, they’re probably not meant to be defeated.  If you’re struggling to defeat enemies and bosses perhaps it’s time to upgrade your equipment and power level to give your party a fighting chance.

    The more you shop at the weapon and accessories stores, the higher your customer ranking will be.  As your rank increases, you can talk to the senators and ask their permission to get more expensive (or cheaper) equipment.  If you have enough favor with them, they’ll grant your request.  If their vote is leaning against you, they can usually be bribed with items from your inventory.  However, if they reject your request, you can battle the senators that voted against you to reverse their vote.  Senator approval is also required when creating decent characters, but if you have some good for nothing characters, you can re-spec them for a fee.

    Some of the female characters wear bikini like outfits and flaunt their cleavage and back sides.  Some of the humor takes a sexual tone with several breast (and lack thereof) jokes.  Language is scattered throughout the game, but doesn’t use the F bomb.  Other words like hell, d*mn, b*tch, and b*stard are said though.  Since there are lots of battles, violence is a given but there’s isn’t much blood seen if any.  Magic use is unavoidable since some of the enemies are practically immune to physical attacks and the long range spells are extremely helpful.

    If you don’t mind magic use, sexual humor, and language, Disgaea 2 is a fun turn based strategy game that’s bound to entertain you for several hours.  The asking price is a reasonable $19.99 and there have been bundle sales that included both games at a discount.  I look forward to playing more of the series on PC and other console platforms.

     

  • Disgaea 4 Complete+ (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Disgaea 4 Complete+
    Developed By: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
    Published By: NIS America, Inc.
    Released: September 10, 2020
    Available On: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4
    Genre: Strategy RPG
    ESRB Rating: Teen (Animated Blood, Drug References, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, In-game purchases)
    Number of Players: Singleplayer, optional Multiplayer interactivity
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    I'd like to thank NIS America for the review key to this game.

    Conventional turn-based strategy RPGs follow some pretty rigid game mechanics most of the time. They usually have set levels for certain enemies, set equipment and upgrades available at certain points, and typically have to be played linearly. While Disgaea 4 Complete isn't much different on the last one for its story mode, it still dares to go against the grain to provide some fun, generally successfully.

    Disgaea 4 Complete+ is an updated re-release of the original Disgaea 4, with new content and some enhancements for contemporary systems compared to the time of its original release. It features HD sprites for its isometric 3D gameplay on grid-based maps and comes bundled with the DLC from all prior versions of Disgaea 4. There are also some microtransactions included, but these are strictly optional and need never be used if the player doesn't intend to use them.

    Like all Disgaea games, it's set in the Netherworld, which is something of a Hell/Purgatory mashup viewed through a highly satirical and cartoony lens. The story centers around Valvatorez, a former Tyrant (or Demon King), now working as a humble instructor for Prinnies, the souls of those who need to atone for their sins via hard labor. When his ability to do this is threatened, he sets out to discover why. The story then snowballs into a conflict that threatens to destroy the Netherworld, Earth, and even it's counterpart Celestia (roughly equivalent to Heaven).

    Like all Disgaea games, while it's got the typical raise an army and train them via gaining levels and learning skills to beat the main story, it also features a few new mechanics. On top of the standard "Dark Assembly/Senate where you can get new game features like recruiting new characters or unlocking secrets done, there is a "Cam-paign" system. This plays out like a loose parody of politics in which you assign various people to certain "political positions" for in-game bonuses. You can also place certain facilities in your "capital" to provide more in-game services via this new game mode.

    Graphically, this game looks great, with an isometric 3D look with HD 2D sprites, and so long as you can meet the requirements for playing the game, both look great. There are some options to speed up animations in case you'd like to make things less tedious that work well, and the speed can be adjusted for player comfort.

    Disgaea 4 Complete+
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of things to do; very funny; well optimized
    Weak Points: Some levels have some tedious design
    Moral Warnings: RPG style violence; some crude jokes of implied homosexuality and some revealing looking outfits; some PG-13 level profanity (like b****d and b***h); omnipresent story elements revolving around demons, the undead, and the supernatural (all of the above playable in some form, most of them among the main cast); possibility of fighting beings claiming to be avatars of God's Will in certain endings, though how truthfully they actually are is ambigious/dubious

    The music whipsaws between dramatic orchestral pieces, stirring vocals, comedic soundtracks, and everything else in between quite often, and like the other Disgaea games, it all sounds great, and I especially recommend good headphones or speakers to get the full experience. Sound effects are also decent at worst and they all fit the music like a glove. The voice-overs are excellent, and I especially liked the English dub, I found it incredibly good at being both funny and serious when the game required it.

    Controls can be either keyboard/mouse or by some sort of gamepad. I definitely recommend the latter option, it feels more natural and the game UI tends to assume you'll be using one by default. The game includes several tutorials to help you learn the basics and there is a built-in reminder for the game mechanics in the hep menu, so I have no complaints as to the controls.

    Stability is wonderful. So long as your computer can achieve its rather modest requirements, it will run smooth as butter. Disgaea games are pretty easy to get running even on somewhat older computers and given I managed to get other Disgaea games to run on some rather aged laptops, this game is well optimized for the low-end gamer. The internet-based features are functional, insofar as the ones included at launch like the microtransaction shop and map editor are concerned, and I had no problems with connections, though there wasn't much to enjoy at launch since it was new with the map editor.

    Morally, we've got some definite issues, some I'm going to have cover in somewhat exhaustive detail.

    Violence is like any other RPG, where you give orders and watch it happen. There is no blood and gore depicted from this, and enemies disappear after death. Language remains firmly in the upper PG-13 realm at worst, with one character in particular who likes to use the word b***h to refer to women, though given they are a wolf-like humanoid, this does reference a legitimate term for a female dog, though his usage tends to be in the form of an insult. One attack does have a very comical looking nosebleed effect, but this is depicted in a very cartoony fashion and is quite brief.

    There are some rather racy outfits though not much worse than anything you could see in a daytime movie most of the time, and there are a fair amount of jokes about one of the male characters being gay for another. While it's left ambiguous if they really are, this is frequently a source of humor. There is a pseudo-marriage feature where you can assign party members on a "family tree" for bonuses, one of the spots is named "lover", and given you get a scene where they and the party leader appear in a cut-in image with a lot of hearts in the background, the implication is obvious. Since you can pair up ANYONE (even if they are genderless or not even human) and it's not worse than this, it's ultimately cosmetic and comedic outside of some mild combat bonuses for the most part. It does have an effect on obtaining certain endings, but the only canon option of any importance is between the male protagonist and one of the female party members.

    Given most of the main characters are demons and the supernatural is a massive cornerstone of the Disgaea universe, this game has lots of demons, angels, and everything else in the fantasy and religious toolbox displayed. The main character is a vampire, but despite being modeled on the Western concept, is considered a demon, not undead, though zombies/necromancers can be allies and enemies. Regardless, the supernatural and undead are omnipresent elements, even if in Disgaea fashion these are presented in a rather tongue in cheek manner.

    The in-game theological system is divided between Celestia (aka Heaven, with God and the angels), Earth (humanity's realm), and the Netherworld (a Hell and Purgatory mashup roughly modeled on the Catholic concept to some extent). Demons are typically evil (or rather, it is expected of them to be this), though some can act fairly noble by certain standards, such as the main character Valvatorez being a stickler for honoring any promise he makes. Angels are generally portrayed as winged humanoids who serve God as is a Christian tradition, though some can display some morally grey behaviors at times, though this is generally the exception as opposed to the rule. Humans who are good wind up in Celestia, while the evil goes to the Netherworld and can eventually redeem themselves, but only after working off their sins as penguin-like beings called Prinnies as atonement.

    God does make an appearance in some form in this game, generally in a positive way, as Earth is threatened for destruction and everyone, even the demons, need to pay Him reverence at one point to save the Earth, and prayers of faith are established as a positive. Fear of demons and evil, in general, is seen as a negative, but a necessary one that has humans seeking faith in God for deliverance, and it's this state of affairs going out of whack that sets up a large portion of the plot.

    Disgaea 4 Complete+
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 44%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10 (+9 for emphasizing the importance of faith and redemption, a positive portrayal of a healthy love of family members, and showing the moral consequences of trifling with God)

    There is a regular ending in which a being of judgment that threatens Earth on God's orders must be fought, and an alternate ending in which avatars of God Himself are apparently fought after the regular end game boss if certain conditions are met, but see the below spoiler for some plot-relevant context for more details on what this entails.


    Over the course of the game, humanity has fallen into indolence and avarice,. The malice born of this moral apathy and indifference triggers a system set up to punish humanity if God deems them to have reached Sodom and Gomorrah levels of irredeemability. The manner this takes place is similar to this verse from the Bible:


    For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, says to me, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it. They will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.” Then I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it. - Jeremiah 25:15-17

    In the regular ending, it seizes on the hatred and evil of the main villain and uses them as a vessel to exact that punishment. Once defeated, the main villain they did this to realizes his ways and agrees to repent of his crimes, and the matter ends there. Humanity is given another chance to redeem themselves before it becomes too late in this ending. In the alternative ending, avatars of God attack the protagonists after the regular end boss is beaten, deeming them to be a threat. It's heavily indicated they are not representatives of the actual God, and may very well have set off the system the actual God set up to punish humanity without the actual God's permission. God in all prior appearances is very close to the actual one in being willing to redeem and forgive, even extending that mercy once to a demon that agreed to accept punishment for their sins in order to atone. By contrast, whoever is serving as an avatar(s) of God that you have to fight is nigh certainly not the real deal, especially as earlier in the main story it was God's mercy to humanity that saved Earth from destruction and He would not follow that up with trying to destroy humanity anyway. Further, they take the form of demons, which God would never do either in canon or in the Bible. Even in the regular ending, your main protagonist gets to meet the being claiming to be "God" who fights you in the extended ending, who sounds female and your main protagonist even outright realizes they certainly can't be the real one (God is male like IRL in all other canonical Disgaea references), and that makes their connection to the real God extremely unlikely.

    This all said, while the game tends to be very comical and satirical, as is Disgaea tradition, there are several good moral and ethical takeaways.

    First is the importance of family. At least half your party consists of people with strained relations with their family, and in these cases, while the parents are well-meaning, their poor ability to communicate this leads to conflict with their children. They also emphasize that even if someone isn't related by blood, they can still be your family, and loving them as if they were blood-related is no less important for both sides.

    Another good takeaway is that the whole plot was set in motion by humanity becoming morally apathetic to their need to be wary of evil while becoming just as morally apathetic to their need to seek redemption for the evils within themselves. This also ties into a similar moral about the folly of trying to play God, as humanity arrogantly attempts to supplant and surpass the supernatural by toying around with magic and demons and trying to tame those forces for their own use, which prompts what nearly becomes their destruction as a consequence of that hubris. Both that moral to understand the need to spurn evil while seeking what is righteousness while avoiding trifling with God's own realm go hand in hand, and Christians would be well served to keep both in mind.

    Finally, this game is big on the concept of repentance. As the main protagonist puts it at one point: "All sin is repayable."

    Basically, no matter what crimes you have committed and what sins weigh on your heart, so long as you seek to pay penance for them, you can be redeemed. The way the game shows how that works isn't exactly how it works for Christians, but the moral is still a worthy one, as it's just as true in real life.

    As a game, it's certainly worth its price tag if you are a Disgaea fan or you adore turn-based strategy RPGs in general. Morally, it has some good lessons on the importance of moral redemption, the love of family, and why the realm of the supernatural is not a toy. At the same time, it's got some violence, sexual humor, crude language, and lots of focus on demons and other beings of that nature. If you can handle those themes, this title is perfectly suitable for any older teen or older and will provide a lot of replay value.

  • Disgaea 5 Complete (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Disgaea 5 Complete
    Developed by: Nippon Icchi Software
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: May 23, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch
    Genre: Turn-based strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for fantasy violence, language, and suggestive themes
    Price: $58.00
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    Disgaea 5 was originally released on the PS4 in 2015. The Switch version does not add any new content, but it does bundle in all of the available DLC. At the netherworld base you can talk to the Special Content NPC and receive powerful characters, extra episodes/levels, better starting weapons, and even one million HL (hell) currency. The optional character, Nisa, is powerful and says funny things like “To protect game industry!” during her attacks. Another free character is a witch named Metallia who often says “sh*t!” during her attacks.

    Between the cartoon violence, cussing, and sexual references, Disgaea 5 does earn its Teen rating from the ESRB. The main overlord you’ll be playing as is the temptress Seraphina who often charms her male targets in order to have them do her bidding. She definitely dresses the part as a temptress and many of the male characters are showing off their muscular chests as well. A powerful wanderer named Killia is immune to her charm spell yet still agrees to fight alongside of her army since they have a common enemy, Void Dark. One third of all of the netherworlds are under Void Dark’s control and in order to take him down, the rest of the netherworlds need to band together and form a rebel army.

    In the beginning you don’t know too much about Killia’s past or the source of his tremendous powers, though you do see him regaining energy by constantly eating whenever and wherever including on the battlefield. You’ll get to see some of Killia’s hazy memories and quickly learn that his main driving force is revenge.

    Disgaea 5 Complete
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Looks and runs great on the Switch; funny dialogue and characters; lots of bundled in extra content
    Weak Points: Lots of grinding required to complete the game
    Moral Warnings: Foul language (hell, d*mn, sh*t, b*tch, b*stard), lots of skin shown by male and female characters; crude and sexual  dialogue; references to homosexuality; cartoon violence; magic use; some characters are revenge driven

    Gamers who are familiar with the previous Disgaea games will feel at home in this entry. The turn-based battles are the same and all of the silly moves like the ability to counter-counter-counter attack are still there. Geo effects play a big part in many of the levels which can either boost the enemies or players significantly. Some Geo Panels will damage, buff, or level up players who are on squares of matching colors.
    One newer feature for me is the character’s “Evility” which are unique character specific bonuses. For example, some enemy characters will have increased attack power if they surround an ally. Besides abilities, characters also have weapon preferences so be sure to equip them accordingly.

    Each level has a player limit of how many party members can be deployed in battle. You’ll want to keep a wide variety of classes in your squad. Along with your strong brutes, you’ll also want a mage and a healer nearby. Some areas have environmental hazards that can be worked to your advantage if you use them on your foes. For example, if you throw a mushroom at an enemy it can harm. There's a whole netherworld filled with poison which can harm a party member left standing in it at the end of your turn.

    The main story is broken down into sixteen chapters with five maps in each one. Besides the story missions you can visit item worlds to power-up your favorite weapons and armor. The item worlds are a great place to grind and level up which is required to complete the game. If you don’t like grinding, then the Disgaea series is not for you.

    Disgaea 5 Complete
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 63%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 2.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    While you can get lots of great loot in battle, chances are that you’ll be buying a lot of your equipment and items at the shops in the netherworld. In order to have the shops carry better items you’ll need to win over the council members at the strategy assembly. If the vote does not go in your favor, you can attempt to have them re-consider by beating them into submission. Besides loot, you may also bring back prisoners from battle. After successfully interrogating them you can convince them to join your cause or extract a useful item out of them. If you don’t want to interrogate them you can simply make them citizens of your netherworld to increase its population.

    As solid as the battles are, the characters and dialogue are what make these games great. The characters are likable and funny. There is much banter about Seraphina and Killia’s relationship. She denies being in love with him despite her referring to him as her husband at times. There is also some speculation about why Killia is immune to her charm and his sexual orientation is called into question.

    Most of the lines are voice acted and sound great. The background music is excellent as well. Since my previous Disgaea experience is limited to the first two games, it’s safe to say that this is the best looking entry I have played yet. I’m happy to report that it ran flawlessly on the Switch as well.

    The $60 asking price is a bit steep, but this game will entertain you for a long time as long as you’re okay with grinding. Like other Disgaea games, there are some moral issues to consider before purchasing. If you’re fan of the previous games, then Disgaea 5 Complete is a worthy addition to your Switch library.

  • Fate of the Dragon (Preview)


    This is a fun strategy game. You must pick a Chinese dynasty and unite the other two. You have to build up your kingdom collecting resources such as gold, food, wine, wood and men. Then you must train them and learn about new technologies so you can conquer and unite China once again. From a Christian perspective you must understand there is a different culture involved in this game. In the game you must restore Buddha sculptures and build temples. Also, this a war strategy game so there is violence but I have seen much worse. The game is easy to play, it has a good interface. Graphics are nice, a little slow loading the map sometimes. 3D acceleration is not used. Good sound effects. This demo does not have multiplayer yet but a newer demo will have that feature. It\'s a pretty fun game.

    Final Ratings

    Appropriate: 3.5/5 Interface: 4/5 Game Play: 5/5 Music/Sound: 3/5 Graphics: 3/5 Stability: 5/5

    Overall: 78%

  • Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Developed By: 6 Eyes Studio
    Published By: 1C Company
    Release Date: 2019 (August 16, 2018 for Early Access)
    Available On: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Turn-Based Tactical RPG
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you 1C Company for giving us a preview code!

    Usually, we don’t have much time to do previews or first impressions, since we are blessed with so many games to review. Even still, if something looks truly remarkable, sometimes we might just take the time out to give it a whirl - like we have done here for Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark. Here is a game that takes tons of inspiration from a game I absolutely loved, Final Fantasy Tactics. And I have to say – a little spoiler here – if first impressions are anything to go by, I have a strong feeling they delivered.

    Fell Seal takes place in a kingdom where Immortals rule and Arbiters act as the police force who try to keep the peace. Corruption is rampant, but Kyrie is one of the few that are not. She and her protege, Anadine, witness a murder by a snobby aristocrat. They proceed to arrest him, and take him to a far-off jail to avoid payoffs by the local prison guards.

    When they arrive, one of the Immortals announces that they are retiring, and that several Marks may show up on citizens who will soon be partaking in trials to determine if they are worthy to be the next Immortal. Of course, as luck would have it, our not-so-friendly aristocrat happens to be one of them. This sets up the power struggle that drives the story in Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark.

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting art style that grows on you; engaging story; excellent music; if you like Final Fantasy Tactics, you will love this game, as it has a similar turn-based tactics game system with awesome classes
    Weak Points: Graphics don’t currently scale well to resolutions other than 1080p
    Moral Warnings: Too early to tell, but there is blood, magic, and fantasy violence

    I have to say, I am very pleased with how the story is told. Everything is done in engine, and there are scenes in between or during battles, as well as bits of interesting dialogue as you enter a town or other new areas. And thankfully, the character customization, battles, and so forth are also really well done.

    The Final Fantasy Tactics inspiration is clear and obvious, though the art style is different enough to make it its own thing. That’s not really a problem – I love that game so very much; it’s one of the top five SquareSoft/Square Enix products ever, in my opinion.

    The battle view is a three-quarters top-down view, with a square grid system for each battle map. Characters move in a turn-based fashion, with the turn order listed out at the top of the screen. When it is a character’s turn, they can move up to the number of spaces of their move stat, and can attack or use any skill in a class that they have unlocked so far and assigned to their skill slots. This can make for some incredibly varied and powerful characters.

    Each battle, party members earn both character experience, and class AP. Each character level, you increase hit points, magic points, and various other stats based on what character class you are at the time of gaining the level. This gives you plenty of options when it comes to min/maxing a character – if someone was a magic user for 99 levels, they won’t make a very good warrior, but their spells will be something to be feared.

    Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Each class has ten skills, one of which you get for free by unlocking the class. As you spend AP on the skill tree, you unlock more and more powerful skills that you can take with you to other classes. As you gain class levels, you can also unlock other classes. As you switch classes and unlock more skills, you can then unlock new classes, and so forth. This process grants you tons of skill customization options for both active and passive skills, allowing you to really make each character both powerful and unique in their skill sets. From what I saw, this looks great and I really look forward to trying more and more powerful classes out for size.

    From what I saw, when it comes to appropriateness issues, there is animated violence and magic use. One cut scene had someone bleed on the ground when they were killed, but most of the game, the enemies simply fade out. I have not noticed any curse words during my play time so far.

    Graphically, the game is all hand-drawn art, or pixel art. The combination is quite stunning, though the pixel art is not quite up to the level of quality the hand-drawn art is at. Nevertheless, it still looks very nice for what it is. The only problem I saw is that the game doesn’t really scale properly at higher or lower resolutions. At higher than 1080p, the characters have an odd pixel filter that simply looks bad. I had no trouble with my 720p GPD Win 2, but another user reported problems at 1366x768. Either way, I spoke with the developer, and they are looking into the resolution issues.

    I have only played a couple of hours of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark so far, but what I have played I really liked. The art is great, the music is simply fantastic, and I really enjoyed the turn-based tactical gameplay a whole lot. It seems like a proper spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics that may actually live up to that high bar. I’m really excited about this game, despite having only played it for a few hours so far. I can’t wait for the final release in 2019, so I can give it a proper review!

    NOTE: Preliminary preview scores – subject to change!

  • Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
    Developed by: Intelligent Systems
    Published by: Nintendo
    Release Date: February 16, 2009
    Available on: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Famicom
    Number of Players: 1-player local, 2-player Wireless/Online
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for ages 10 and older: Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    MSRP: $29.99

    In 1990, Intelligent Systems released Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Ken for the Japanese Famicom system. The tale of Prince Marth and his quest to rid his homeland of a horrid dragon quickly inspired a cult following and a sequel in Japan, but never expanded overseas. The third Fire Emblem game eventually found its way to rest of the world, but it seemed like the original would never reach foreign shores.

    Nineteen years later, the classic came back to life as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. By keeping most of the old traits of the original, updating the graphics, and spicing up the gameplay, Intelligent Systems attempted to give everyone the chance to relive its first crowning achievement. Did they succeed?

    For the most part, yes. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is an incredibly good game. It follows the standard turn-based strategy formula: you control a small army of soldiers, move each one once per turn across a top-down map, attack, and allow your opponent to do the same. When you attack, the game switches to a side-view for the turn-based battle animations. The Fire Emblem series adds a separate twist to it, however: each character has its own personality, its own abilities, its own back story, and its own life. Meaning when a character dies, that character is gone forever: you lose one, and that character, along with any side story or extra characters that could be unlocked with it, disappear. This adds an emotional tie to the characters, and gives you the extra incentive to keep everyone alive. 

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid strategy, excellent character design
    Weak Points: Slow pacing, dated story
    Moral Warnings: Minor Occult references, fantasy violence

    Generally speaking, the game plays well. The button-based controls work well, though the stylus-driven controls can be cumbersome. Battles are fun, if you can get past the somewhat slow pacing that naturally comes with the genre. Success relies on using your units together: sending one unit off alone, no matter how strong, will find it promptly surrounded and slaughtered. Those that can utilize teamwork reap the rewards: a fitting message found throughout the series, and is, for the most part, a good mechanic to build a game on. It is frustrating, however, when you lose a unit, because if you want it back, you have to restart the entire level. And when an hour has already been invested in the fight, the game can become down-right unbearable; I often had to put the game down and walk away for a day after losing some climactic battles.

    Fire Emblem spins a stereotypical tale: Marth, prince of Altea, has his home invaded by the armies of a resurrecting dragon, who kills his father and kidnaps his sister. Fleeing from his homeland when it needs him most, Marth is filled with regret and the desire for revenge. Flashing forward a few years, Marth builds a small army and sets out to rid the continent of the dragon. Over time, he grows from a youth bent on revenge to an adult fighting for the good of the poor and defenseless. The story is one place in the game where it shows its age: it's basic, it's predictable, and it's quite forgettable.

    While the original game's graphics were acceptable for its time, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon takes advantage of the Nintendo DS's drastically improved hardware to produce excellent images. The maps are spectacularly detailed and varied, and while the characters' movement animations are nothing to brag about, the battle animations are gorgeous. The anime art-style works well with the game's overall Japanese feel. I was personally disappointed with the lack of cut-scenes and videos, as the last two console-based games included stunning ones.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As far as sound goes, the game does a decent job: its melodies are pleasant, but not memorable. The background music fits the battles and scenes, though I doubt you will find yourself humming the tunes when you put the game down. The sound effects fit well, and while they never get annoying, they are not memorable, either.

    Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon also includes a multiplayer option, which allows you to pit your best troops against another army via local connection or online. This is Intelligent System's first crack at online functionality with the Fire Emblem series, and it works fairly well. It suffers from its own mechanics, however, as it takes a well-groomed and carefully trained team with the highest stats possible to even hope to do well at it. Still, it is a fun distraction for those with the time and willpower.

    Nintendo is known for creating morally-acceptable games, and this one is no exception. There is no profanity that I could find, although the boss characters are highly insulting. There is fantasy violence, but no blood, and bodies simply fade away after death. Minor occult references are made throughout the game, but always on the villain's side, and at no point in time must the player take part in them. There are no sexual references, and characters' clothing properly covers themselves.

    Overall, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a great game for anyone with patience. I can not stress how much patience is needed to progress through the game, especially for completionists who try to finish with all of the characters. Beyond that, it is fun, moral, and satisfying in its presentation.

  • Fort Triumph (Preview) (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Fort Triumph
    Game Title: Fort Triumph
    Developed By: CookieByte Entertainment
    Published By: CookieByte Entertainment
    Released: April 26, 2018
    Available On: Linux, MacOS, Windows
    Genre: RPG, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not yet rated.
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $19.99 

    Since writing this preview, a new update for this game has came out adding in new features.

    Have you ever been playing a turn-based strategy (TBS) game and just really wanted to Spartan kick an enemy into a pit? Have you just wanted to be able to kick a spider all across the map? Well Fort Triumph has the sweet foot action you are looking fun. Fort Triumph is an early access TBS game with a physics system that allows you to move everything with the kick of a foot. Seriously, you’ll be kicking a lot.

    Fort Triumph is set in a fantasy world where you have magic just seeping up out of the ground. The game also does not take itself seriously at all. For instance, the skeletons have a business like structure with monthly goals and different positions and identify as unloving instead of undead. The spiders, which can talk to you, have a money jar for whenever they make spider puns and have a weekly, democratic election to decide who will lead them each week. Within the world, you take the role as a band of budget heroes.

    This game presents the story in chapters. Each chapter consists of a world map and a couple of different main, story quests. Currently, there is only the prologue, which is basically a tutorial that has three missions and no world map, and the first chapter which is currently not fully complete and is lacking the last few story missions. Overall, I really like the content presented so far. The main story bits are a little sparse, but the world map allows for you to make some of your own little stories. One thing I really like about the world map is you actually have all of the different factions on there and you are able to gain favor with them. Also, when I say it has all the factions, it has all the factions. The skeletons are even on there so you can befriend them. Now, this befriending and gaining favor could still use some more work, but it looks like a fun way to make each run different. If you are not hostile to a faction, you can recruit some units from them and the better your relation is with them, they will offer you some better units.

    Fort Triumph
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  Solid and simple combat; funny story; a worldmap that allows for play between battles; interesting integration of physics.
    Weak Points: Humor is subjective and the humor has more jokes aimed at adult audiences; the bigger story missions are limited; content is limited so the game can’t really increase in difficulty; maps are repeated pretty frequently.
    Moral Warnings: There is a lot of killing in this game including civilians being executed; magic and the undead.

    While the world map is fun to travel around, the main part of this game is the TBS combat. This game operates on a two action system which allows you to do two actions per turn per unit. This is a lot more simplified than some traditional TBS games, but it really fits with the setting and your group of characters. Currently, your group consists of four units, one each from the four different classes. The devs have said that in the future, they’d like to allow for you to do more to set up your squad so you can mix and match classes, but currently you are locked to one of each plus one bonus slot for the faction unit I mentioned earlier. Currently, your squad consists of two ranged units, the ranger and the mage, and two melee units, the paladin and the warrior. While the melee units are pretty good, I think it really helps to have the two action system with how much of your team is melee focused.

    Each of your units is pretty good, but I do think that, as of right now, the warrior and mage are the best while the paladin is a bit lacking. This could be due to the skill system. In this game, when a unit levels, they will be allowed to choose between two abilities to learn. These abilities are chosen randomly from all of the abilities that the unit can learn. While this is nice, it can lead to you not learning the abilities you really like until much later which can make the unit a little lacking early on. Currently, I’d say the best abilities are ones that are physics based. Anything that can move objects are really important. If you can knock a unit into something, it will be damaged and stunned which will make it not be able to attack on its next turn. Also, if you can knock something into a pit or water, it will instantly die. It is all of this which makes kick, in my opinion, the best ability in the game since it is a starting ability and is very versatile. That, and it is super fun and satisfying to kick a tree on top of an enemy.

    As mentioned previously, the story is not very serious and is pretty comical. I was fairly surprised at how much I laughed at the story. I’m also glad that it only had a few pop culture references since a decent bit of those types of jokes from other things tend to not be as funny years later, although I do feel like the few ones this game did make will probably last. Also, even though I did find the story very funny and engaging, I get humor is very subjective so it might not be for everybody.

    Fort Triumph
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - -86%
    Violence - --/10
    Language - --/10
    Sexual Content - --/10
    Occult/Supernatural - --/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - --/10

    The controls for this game are pretty good. It can sometimes be a little tricky to aim at certain things, but you can always rotate the camera to be able to better target what you want. It was really nice that they included a slider to change how fast enemies and player units act. Some people might want the turns to go super quick and can follow all the stuff that happens while people like myself need it a tad bit slowed down so I can keep track of who everybody is and what they are doing. I have not had many issues with the game while playing it. I think it only crashed once, although there was a time where I somehow had a file deleted and the game went into dev mode. Luckily, the devs are quite active on the Steam forums and they helped me fix my issue real quick.

    The art is a little cartoony and pretty colorful. It to all look good except for on the snowy maps it was a bit hard to see the outlines for the movement ranges. The animations are sometimes goofy, but I believe this is supposed to be that way due to the amount of humor. This is also effected by what you have your combat speed set on so if you do have problems, you can change it. One nice touch when it came to the animation is that when a character goes to fire from around a corner, they actually properly step out of it to shot. If there is a block next to them, they will actually climb up onto it before firing. This isn’t much, but it is not a feature I’ve seen too much in other TBS games.

    The maps were also nice, but they did repeat quite often. For instance, each settlement you attack has the same map. The main missions do have a randomized map, but some of the layouts can be more difficult than others. I do hope to see more get added in the future. I also found the audio to be quite nice. The music to be fairly lighthearted and I never got tired of listening to it. Sounds are a bit comical, but as above I chalk this up to direction they are going with the humorous nature of the game. I do hope they add in more as production continues.

    Fort Triumph
    Combat in this game is very cartoony in nature, but it does have a lot of killing. Not only are you killing goblins, skeletons, and spiders, you can also attack other human settlements where you will fight some of the same units you have in your party. There is a point in the prologue where the enemy executes some civilians held hostage and certain maps will have some random dead civilians on it. Enemy corpses also seem to persist and not go away. The game also has some different corpses depending on what you killed it with. For instance, there is a burned variant, but it isn’t really graphic and it's only a charred decal over the regular dead body. I will say that when I was playing it, it didn’t feel too violent for younger players, but I’ll leave that up for the purchaser to decide. Luckily, there is a free demo of the game which allows you to play the prologue so you can decide for yourself.

    I didn’t find much vulgarity in the writing. I don’t remember any curse words nor do I remember any gross out jokes, but they could just be slipping my mind. I’ll also admit that I haven’t yet played all of the story missions, but I believe I read the campaign stops after you do so, so instead I decided to keep messing about and doing random battles. I will say though, and this is not for the morality of the game, that some of the jokes might not be for kids. They might not find it funny that the skeletons talk office politics or that the mage is trying to do enough stuff to get her tenure at a wizarding school. That might be funnier for the adults. So far, the magic seems to be very standard fantasy stuff, but there was some people being killed and revived as skeletons. The savage does also dress in a manner similar to the women in the Flintstones so it is a tad bit revealing.

    Fort Triumph is a game I happened to find by chance a while ago and I am really happy that I did so. I have enjoyed my time with the game. I was also highly impressed with the amount of content it had with its first public release. Granted, it still needs some more work and some added content, but I was not displeased with my purchase of it. The game can be a bit violent, but it doesn’t do it in a particularly graphic way which might make it more suitable for kids depending on the buyer. The game is also simple enough that a kid will probably have more fun from it than they might would some of the other more complicated TBS games out on the market, but with the direction of the writing I believe an older person will find more enjoyment of it. I also have to say that I like how active the devs are with the community and how much they accept feedback. I truly think they’ll be able to finish fleshing this out to be a really good game in the end.

    - Paul Barnard (Betuor)

  • Gordian Quest (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Gordian Quest
    Developed By: Mixed Realms Pte Ltd, Swag Soft Holdings Pte Ltd
    Published By: Mixed Realms Pte Ltd, Coconut Island Games
    Released: March 27, 2020
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: RPG, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Note: This review covers the stable and bleeding-edge builds as of the time of publication of this review, with anything specific to each noted as appropriate.

    I'd like to thank Mixed Realms Pte Ltd, Coconut Island Games for the preview key for this title.

    Tabletop gamers and tactical card gamers have a lot in common. Both play role-playing games where numbers are important to juggle for victory, both have the long-term game experience to consider as well as the short term, and both have "random chance" as their worst enemy/greatest ally to contend with. Gordian Quest is a PC fusion of the two genres that generally succeeds in recreating this gameplay in a digital format.

    The story is set in a fantasy world where two groups, regular humans and Vanai, existed together, and the Vanai (with some degree of human apathy and collusion) decided to meddle in the realm of the supernatural (necromancy especially), which angered the gods. The land was splintered into sections, each cursed with the fallout of the stupidity of the divine meddling. While the gods are happy to see humanity clean up the mess, they otherwise have left the task of wiping out all the abominations the Vanai created to us.

    This premise sets the stage for a game split into several acts, where you and a bunch of questing heroes set out to destroy all the mortal and supernatural threats plaguing each realm until the monsters unleashed in the backstory are gone for good. Each act is self-contained, only certain bonuses are retained between them, so each act is both an independent adventure and connected to the larger whole.

    Combat is a mix of turn-based tactical card combat and some meta-gaming, in which enemies and allies have separate battle grids they must use to launch attacks from onto the foes on the opposing side until victory is achieved. These grids can be afflicted by terrain penalties, offering tactical advantages and disadvantages to both sides. The meta-gaming aspect is that the card decks that make up the character's actions can be customized over time, and long-term planning how you want your character's actions to be oriented will determine how well they adapt to different foes and combat situations.

    Gordian Quest
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Deep and involved strategy gaming; good music
    Weak Points: Some unfinished and half-baked game mechanics; some game balance issues
    Moral Warnings: Mild language used on occasion (d*mn generally, mostly in a religious sense); Some blood and mild gore in combat, though the remains disappear after death; a few mildly exposing outfits; frequent displays of the undead, necromancy, and occult symbols like pentagrams (though they are portrayed in a consistently negative light); optional unethical decisions are available (though they always have negative consequences)

    Outside of combat, the player moves around the node-based overworld and dungeon maps, which trigger combat encounters and other events with positive and negative consequences. A dice-based random chance element is a feature of many of these events, though as the player succeeds at some of them, they can build up "Fate" points that can be used to do over bad dice rolls for future events, and these points can be periodically attained as a further safety net of sorts.

    The remaining parts of the game revolve around "hub towns" in each part where the player can purchase supplies and upgrade equipment. Quest rewards are also redeemable at these hub towns, and they also serve to help unlock waypoints for quicker travel across the map. Given traveling outside the walls of these towns costs supplies you have to periodically replenish, unlocking waypoints is critical. Dungeon maps are exempt from using supplies but can be dangerous due to having lots of enemy encounters and their dice rolled events of both positive and negative consequences.

    Graphically, the game uses a hand-drawn, 2D approach. While many battle figures have some degree of animation (notably Live2D style in appearance), the rest is fairly static on the world map and visual novel style conversation screens. The styling is a mix of high fantasy and low fantasy, with the models of most things reflecting the high fantasy aesthetic while having the muted colors of the low fantasy genre. Given the backdrop of the game, this works rather nicely for setting the mood.

    Controls are done primarily using the mouse. Whether moving node to node on maps (both world map and in battles), or changing equipment or picking battle cards in combat, everything is done by a mouse click. The interface is quite responsive in general to this input, though it can be TOO fast if you click too fast in combat and end a turn before a character has picked any actions. Otherwise, there are no complaints here.

    The music is a heavy mix of ambient and orchestral fantasy styled soundtracks and sounds quite good, especially if you have excellent speakers or headphones. The sound effects, by contrast, are adequate for the game, but nothing spectacular. They also sound pleasant on the ear.

    Stability is a two-tiered question (this is in early access after all), given there are stable and bleeding edge builds of the game. Both are very stable in a technical sense, they are well optimized on the Unity Engine, and there were no crashes, hanging, or turning my computer into a fireball were ever noticed. Both builds do have some unpolished and unfinished game mechanics, as the enchanting service for improving equipment felt unintuitive and half-baked. The bleeding edge builds do have some game balance issues, but given they are bleeding-edge builds, this is to be expected. Overall, both stable and bleeding-edge builds are quite solid in terms of general performance.

    Gordian Quest
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 62%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10 (+6 for condemnation of necromancy and emphasizing respect of divine authority in regards to not trifling with the supernatural)

    Morally, this game has several areas of concern.

    Violence is going to be pretty gross. Since this game heavily revolves around RPG style combat against undead horrors and mortals doing evil things, there is a fair amount of blood and some mild gore when they die. It's isn't super detailed levels of violence, the art style does not lend itself to this, but it's gruesome enough you can tell whatever died met their end messily, even though the remains disappear soon after they perish.

    Language is surprisingly mild. There are a few instances of "d**n" and a fair amount of those are in a religious context, given the slaying undead horrors theme, but it's enough to be noteworthy. Sexual content is also rather restrained, with most outfits being very sensible, a cleavage-baring breastplate here and midriff bared there, but sexuality is generally not a large focus of this title.

    The occult and supernatural play a MAJOR role in the story, generally in the negative sense. Defiling the dead and tampering with the supernatural realm in utter defiance of the in-game religion (which is generically polytheist but has practices and morals equivalent to most standard depictions of Christianity) is the impetus of the plot, and your heroes will fight the undead and necromancers along with various other otherworldly beings born as a result of breaking these aforementioned taboos. Your heroes are firmly on the side of not being allowed to use dark powers, only using generic holy themed powers and at best being able to summon fairy tale type "spirit animal" guardians, within the boundaries of the in-game religion (that are allowed based on the faith of the party fighting against evil).

    That said, a lot of the trappings of the occult are present, including pentagrams and descriptions of occultist practices. Again, this is presented in a negative light, but it's still quite frequent in appearance. On the positive side, the game is insistent necromancy and tampering with powers beyond human comprehension in defiance of the divine admonition not to is abhorrent and evil. Morally, it also shows how such things lead others to evil, spread chaos and misery, and how anyone who becomes a devotee of such depraved acts deserves absolute condemnation.

    On the ethical front, you do have the choice to do unethical deeds, but these options are always of no benefit and quite often penalize the player, and the game story and gameplay encourage the player to take moral risks, like saving innocent people from monster attacks while refraining from tampering with spiritual shrines and artifacts. There are some very clear exceptions with equally strict rules, again generally in a similar manner as the Bible described such things in the Books of the Law. Specifically, those who have supernatural power are obligated to use it wisely and for the spread of peace and justice, else they receive divine condemnation as a wicked one meant to be stopped.

    Overall, despite some game balance issues (which the developers are willing to address) and some game mechanics that are unpolished at present, I had a lot of fun with this game and it's well worth the purchase. Morally, while it goes out of its way to spread a good message about the evils of tampering with the supernatural and how one is obligated to use supernatural power only by divine decree (as God does in the Christian Bible), there is still a lot of occult-like supernatural things on display. While not presented positively, this and the frequent bloody violence are certainly not suitable for children. If you are mature enough to handle these themes, I recommend this game for a good strategy RPG experience.

  • Grand Kingdom (Vita)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Grand Kingdom
    Developed by: Monochrome Corporation
    Published by: NIS America
    Release date: June 21, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Genre: Tactical RPG
    Number of players: Single-player with multiplayer battles
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy violence, Mild blood, Suggestive themes, Use of alcohol
    Price: $34.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us a review code for this game!

    A group of fighters were doing well in battle and bested some mercenary soldiers.  Before they could deliver the final blow, their army had surrendered and the battle was over.  Discouraged that they would not get paid for their valiant effort, the mercenaries they spared suggested they join their guild. 

    Before being admitted to the guild, this group of fighters must prove their worth and impress the guild leader.  It is during this scenario that the player becomes familiar with the basics of fighting in this turn-based tactical RPG.  There are seventeen unit types and you can fully customize their appearance and voices.  You can command up to six troops and it’s beneficial to have a combination of melee and long range fighters in each group.  Each troop can have four soldiers in it and mounted units take up two slots. 

    When hiring mercenaries you have to take into consideration their stats.  They are assigned letter grades for their constitution, strength, agility, magic, spirit, technique, stamina, and vitality.  Don’t be too discouraged with the low letter grades as they typically come with bonus points to tweak them a bit further.  

    Once your first troop is formed, it’s a good idea to head to the shop to equip them with better weapons, armor, and accessories.  Throughout your adventure you come across various enchanted gems that you can insert into your weapons and accessories to grant you special powers and abilities.  Some of the enhancements can be stats related or as simple as increased physical or magical abilities.   

    Grand Kingdom
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great turn-based combat and lots of variety and options in units available; humorous dialogue
    Weak Points: Overworld controls are a bit confusing; online connectivity required to send out and retrieve units dispatched to fight in the war
    Moral Warnings: Combat violence; language; alcohol and drunkenness; accentuating clothing for female characters; magic use

    After your party is assembled and equipped, it’s time to venture out and rack up some experience and prestige.  There are various quests to take part in; the exploration ones are great for beginners, since there are no turn limits to worry about and there are plenty of treasure chests to unlock and resources to gather.  Resources can be used for upgrading and creating new weapons at the blacksmith.

    The offline campaign quests tell the story of how your troop rises up the ranks within the guild.  The remainder of the quests require an internet connection to partake in.  The versus quests have you compete with other online players to achieve the same objective.  The single quests require you to have an active contact with one of the four nations before you’re able to partake in them.  Before embarking on a quest make sure you read the objectives and have your squad at the recommended level.  

    By signing a contract with a nation, you are welcome to visit their capital and purchase from their vendors.  You can also cast your vote on war strategies and listen to the local gossip.  If you do well in battle, you’ll be granted an audience with the ruler and rewarded handsomely.  The local bards may sing songs in your honor as well.  One of the more well to do troops has a naughty name that warranted being starred out.  Despite the language filtering there is still some cussing in this game (b*stards, *ss, d*mn).

    Other moral issues to note include battlefield violence which looks pretty painful as units are tossed about like rag dolls, but no blood is shown.  Magic is used as there are various magical units like shamans and sorcerers.  Some of the female characters are not nearly as covered and well armored as their male counterparts.  Last but not least is the drinking which improves the troops' morale on and off the battlefield.

    Grand Kingdom
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6.5/10

    The 2D graphics are well detailed, especially in the towns during battle.  The overworld is a bit more complex with the various armies running around the game pieces and various obstacles and weather conditions to avoid.  Maneuvering around the battlefield takes some getting used to in regards to the controls and a wrong turn/move costs you precious turn points which are needed to complete the objective in time. 

    The voice acting is well done and the dialogue is rather humorous at times.  Because of the language and alcohol references, I do agree with the ESRB’s Teen rating for this title.

    To best enjoy Grand Kingdom you’ll need to have reliable internet access to partake in the real time online wars.  I like how you can send your troops out and let the AI control them for you in your absence.  When they arrive you’ll be able to watch their battles or just a get a quick summary of their win/loss ratio and a reward.  I learned the hard way to remember to recall my troop before I leave my house if I want to play this game on the go.  If you call them back without internet connectivity, you’ll lose out on any experience and rewards they have earned.

    If you like turn-based tactical RPGs then I highly recommend looking into Grand Kingdom.  I love the real time and offline battles and it’s fun creating and experimenting with various troop combinations.  There’s plenty to do offline, but the meat of this game requires an internet connection to enjoy it.  If you don’t mind the fantasy violence, magic, and language this is a fun title to add to your Vita/PS4 library.

  • HyperRogue (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    HyperRogue
    Developed By: Zeno Rogue
    Published By: Zeno Rogue
    Released: January 16, 2015
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
    Genre: Rogue-Like, Turn-Based
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Singleplayer, Up to 2 local
    Price: $4.99

    I am going to preface this review with a definition for non-Euclidean geometry. HyperRogue uses this system and it is an important part of the game; it can be hard to understand what's happening without knowing exactly what this type of geometry is. The definition I will give was provided to me by a friend that has done extensive research on it.

    "One defining property is that there are no parallel lines. In Euclidean geometry, lines that pass through different points and don't intersect are parallel. In hyperbolic geometry, such lines are called ultraparallel, and diverge from each other.
    Another property of hyperbolic geometry is that the circumference of a circle grows exponentially with its radius (i.e. very quickly), while in Euclidean geometry, it only grows linearly with its radius
    Hyperbolic geometry also has more types of curves with constant curvature: In Euclidean geometry, a curve with constant curvature is a circle. In hyperbolic geometry, you can have circles, horocycles or hypercycles (= equidistant curves)
    A horocycle can be seen as a circle with infinite radius. In Euclidean geometry, that would be a line, but in hyperbolic geometry, it is still a curve"
    - Tricosahedron

    HyperRogue is a roguelike turn-based game set in a vast non-Euclidean world. The game world bends around you and challenges what you thought was “up” or “down". There are several ways to “win” a run of HyperRogue, but all of them are optional, and none of them end the game. There are over 50 different lands you can travel through, each with their own unique look and playstyle. One land has gravity, one has wind, and another has enemies that only chase you if you stay near them for 3 turns. The bulk of the game is running around collecting treasure in each of these lands. The game somehow manages to be very complex but also be compacted into a chess-like system that’s easy to understand.

    Hyperrogue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Incredibly unique; Tons of content; Accessible
    Weak Points: Trippy; can cause headache. UI is ugly
    Moral Warnings: Occult enemies; Magic use; areas called “Hell” and “Graveyard”

    Every run starts you in an ice world. You wander around it, collecting these star-shaped things for points. Every player will notice right away that this game is not normal. Things that were next to you are now in front of you, vice versa and etcetera. The geometry of the game is too complex to predict or understand. At the same time, it can be used to your advantage. In some cases, it is entirely possible to outrun an enemy, despite both moving 1 turn at a time. You can run forward and never see the same things twice.

    The whole game has a very open world feel to it. You never feel like you’re in a “level," and it never ends. You go into new areas simply by walking into their borders, and you can leave the same way. It manages to do this and be randomly generated. No run will ever have the same layout, which you probably wouldn’t notice due to the nature of the game anyway.

    There are a variety of powerups you can use during a run. All of them are temporary, but provide important benefits, such as breaking down walls that you couldn’t otherwise, or teleporting out of a bad situation. They are essential to survival and provide an interesting layer of strategy.

    The complexity comes from the number of different places to visit, and what comes with them. You have to approach every area a little bit differently. There is a place called “Land of Eternal Motion” where every tile you step on disappears, so instead of trying to fight off the enemies, you have to outrun them or even outsmart them. There is a land inspired by M.C. Escher’s “Reptiles” where you have to create new tiles by bumping lizard enemies into a pit. A place called "Bull Rush" requires you to lead bulls into butterflies. Every land is unique. To make sure the player always understands what they’re doing, you can right click any tile or enemy, and it gives you a paragraph long description.

    There are a lot of different game modes to play if you wish, but most are irrelevant. You can play it as a real-time game, moving with WASD or arrow keys. You can play on local co-op with a friend, but I haven’t really understood how to get it to work. You can mess with the geometry of the game itself as well.

    Hyperrogue
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Since HyperRogue is a turn-based game, your character moves one turn at a time, as does everything else (aside from specific enemies, or a power-up that lets you move twice as fast). To move around you can use arrow keys, WASD, left-click, or even scroll wheel. You won’t be needing any other buttons, even attacking an enemy is simply left clicking on them. It makes the whole game feel very accessible.

    The music is fantastic. Every area has one of about five different tracks. If you’ve left a land and went back in, the music will resume from where it ended off. It feels seamless. The sound effects are mediocre. Everything makes a crunch sound when killed. Treasures all make a different sound, but not anything of note. There isn’t a story, which with this game could be considered a good thing. You’d get lost trying to follow a story anyways.

    My biggest issue with the game still ends up being minor. The menus are ugly and poorly done. They are just a giant wall of text that you can click on. I’ve encountered weird bugs with it such as being forced into real time mode, or not being able to use my mouse to move the character. Once I’m in a run, everything is perfectly fine. The game has never crashed on me, and nothing ever misbehaved.

    There are a few things worth noting about the morality of HyperRogue. There is a necromancer enemy and several others that use some form of magic. There is an area called "Hell", and a "Graveyard" with ghosts. Otherwise, the game isn’t violent. There isn’t even an attack animation. The enemies are fantasy creatures for the most part.

    Overall, HyperRogue is fantastic and unique. There isn’t anything like it on the market. It’s easy to pick up and play for 10 minutes with no annoyances and not too much to be worried about as a Christian. I wouldn’t call this a must-have but for five dollars, it is one of the best in the genre.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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