Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms Early Access Preview

Heretic_Kingdoms_Shadows-LogoEarly Access Preview

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms

PC

Developer: Games Farm

 If you’re like me, you know about as much about Kult: Heretic Kingdoms (Shadows’ predecessor dating back some 9 years) as you do heavy crossbow ballistics. To be clear, I know absolutely zero about heavy crossbow ballistics. Having had a quick squizz at some info and screens for the 2005 game however, it looks like it’d be right up my street. I wonder how come I missed it? Ah, probably youthful exuberance and heavy drinking are to blame, as they were for so many poor choices back then.

Still, now relatively sober, I’m in a position to explore the richness of a new RPG world, and as such have dived in to Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms – a game which at the very least should win some awards in the category for Most-Generically-Named-RPG-Of-2014.

Falling somewhere between an action-RPG like Diablo and a slower paced, Neverwinter Nights-style role-player, S:HK is a game that spans two fantasy themed worlds at once. Once past the Tom Baker (yes, that one) voiced introduction, you arrive in the shadow realm where your demon main character – The Devourer – kicks off proceedings. In traditional ARPG style you wander around and smack the crap out of spooky ghosts and what-not, sucking up their precious souls and exploring dark recesses. Once you find your first vessel however, things start to get interesting.

screenshot03Shadows takes an interesting approach to traditional RPG party building, by making it somewhat similar to Trine, insofar as you hot-switch between characters, but only control one at a time. Your first choice comes in a Charnel House, where three recently deceased heroes are entombed; you must choose a body based either on whose story you find most engaging or -probably more likely – you work out which one is the ranged hero, which the tank and which the mage and choose on that basis.

You can only take one to start, so hoover-up your character archetype of choice and journey out into the world and re-unite the kingdoms, or smash it apart or kill the king or devour his children, or whatever the plot is supposed to be. If that sounds somewhat ‘handwave-y’ and non-specific, there are two reasons for this. Firstly, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is in Early Access and fleshing out and developing the way in which the story is delivered is still likely to be very much a part of that process. Secondly, the characters that you pick to become your avatar and the choices that you make with them allow – according to the developer – for a multiplicity of potential story paths and endings. At the very least, it’s nice that the game changes significantly based on your selections in ways outside of ‘how do I kill this kobold?’

screenshot02Back to the fighting and exploring mechanics, you explore a variety of locations causing mayhem and death. Enemies drop loot, although not at the levels you’d be looking for from an ARPG. Interestingly, healing items are pretty scarce, which causes the players to try and be more careful than might at first seem suited to the game style. There is a different mechanic used for healing and resurrection than you might expect, which draws upon the idea of the ‘two worlds’, since the Devourer can harvest souls in the dark world that can be used to heal heroes in the light side. Switching between the two worlds is as simple as tapping the W key, which changes your avatar to the Devourer. Heal up your characters and send them back into the fray, or switch out one avatar for another and let them take punishment for a while. The game is designed in such a way that the player must switch between the two worlds in order to solve puzzles and make progress, in a manner reminiscent of Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain. Also like that game, the transitions are appealing and add to the players’ immersion with the world.

Both worlds are crisp and cleanly designed – at times very visually appealing – however, like the title, it can tend to err towards the generic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, as there is nothing wrong with familiar and comfortable tropes if employed with style. The stylishness from S:HK comes from its branching storylines and its characters’ dialogue which is lively enough to keep  you clicking through the story.

Shadows_Heretic_Kingdoms_Screenshot_2Destroy enough monster scum and you can level up your characters at the same time as improving their gear through loot drops. The skill trees looked a little overwhelming at first, but are actually straightforward once you take the time to explore them and think about how you’d like to build your characters’ abilities. Of course, going forward you ideally want to create a party with a range of complimentary powers in order to tackle the range of scenarios the game is going to throw at you.

My only gripe with S:HK so far is that currently, I think the combat lacks surety and solidity. Like the dice-rolling Neverwinter type RPGS you can miss an enemy standing next to you with an axe-swing which is always frustrating. Likewise, there doesn’t always appear to be accurate feedback for the player both on hitting and being hit, which detracts from the enjoyment in this combat heavy title.

I’m looking forward to seeing the final version of Shadows: Heretic Kingdom and playing through it further with different characters and seeing how the story changes. There is already a solid RPG here for the price of the entry fee which will hopefully only get better as time goes on.

 

Karlos Morale

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is available for £22.99 on Steam

Assassin’s Creed: Unity Preview

ACU_Logo_Typo_Black_E3_140609_4pmPST_1402219073

“I was wrong”. The most elusive statement on the internet. A sentence so rarely seen online that many refuse to believe it exists. Many Youtube commentators have even removed the letter keys required for this phrase from their keyboard. To mark such an occasion, I’ll say it again: I. Was. Wrong.

A while back I wrote an opinion piece on Assassin’s Creed: Unity, criticising it’s choice of the French Revolution instead of an Far East Asian theme that had been rumoured for some time. I declared the setting of Paris to be boring, and that this game would lead to further stagnation of the yearly franchise.

Well, from what I’ve seen since then, I am gloriously incorrect. Since that E3 demo, Unity has been firmly on my radar, and is now edging into ‘day-one purchase’ status. Every single update is showing that their initial, seemingly impossible promises are being delivered.

ACU_screen_73_SP_District_IleDeLaCite_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889441It’s been a long time since graphics have truly stood out to me. We’re in an age where games all look incredible, and it’s often easy to overlook just how pretty even smaller budget games look. We’ve become spoilt brats, squabbling over 900p resolutions (It honestly doesn’t matter guys) and the difference 2 frames-per-second makes. Games have become so great-looking, and the improvements have become so gradual, that we don’t often notice graphics in a game.

Unity, for me, looks like it’s about to make a giant leap forward. Watching videos of the new Anvil engine in action, It’s hard to believe the level of detail and intricacy the buildings are now showing. Rusted pipes, fully textured brickwork, Incredible torn fabrics. Assassin’s Creed looks properly next-gen. Ryse took the initial steps towards this, but it did so by placing the player in a guided corridor. With this kind of sandbox game, to achieve the level of graphical polish that we are seeing, it’s looking a new benchmark in gaming graphics is about to be set.

ACU_screen_80_COOP_Heist_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889511The narrative trailer recently released also shows us the potential strength the game’s story has. Notorious for it’s complex and often drawn-out storytelling, in the past it felt as if Ubisoft perhaps weren’t ready for the runaway success of the franchise. Trying to tell the plot over so many games took it’s toll, and made a mess of a once interesting approach. After numerous mis-steps with the sub-plots between 2 and 3, I’m interested to see if Ubisoft will pull it back.

And they have the perfect place to start. The French Revolution seems almost made for this franchise. Riots and chaos in the streets making for a perfect distraction for you to create havoc, and the themes of uprising and power shift have been told countless times throughout the franchise already. If Ubisoft can deliver a game that tells it’s story clearly and concisely, the setting and powerful drama that actually unfolded for real will take care of the rest.

ACU_screen_84_SP_District_LesInvalides_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889558If I have any reservations, one would definitely be the extent of the series mini-games. When I played AC4, it felt a bit bloated with the level of side-quests and bits and pieces I had to mess around with. I’d be on a way to a mission, when all of a sudden there’d be an island to explore, or a fortress to conquer, or a shark to hunt, or a treasure to find. The list went on. This kind of gameplay can be done well (See the Fallout series), but Black Flag felt more of a chore. Like Grand Theft Auto 4, the side missions felt like work, dragging down the thrust and adventurous aspect of the game. If Ubisoft can concentrate more on the story and game itself, rather than making it a do-everything sim game, the series will get back to it’s glory days of Assassin’s Creed 2, undoubtedly the series’ finest hour.

We wait and see if Assassin’s Creed Unity can deliver the gameplay and action to match it’s undoubtedly incredible visuals, but I’m optimistic. And if this is the kind of game I get to look forward to and gawp at until that Ninja/Samurai instalment comes along, it’s looking like it’ll at least be an enjoyable wait.

Preview- The Destiny Beta

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The Moon dust has settled. The Sparrows have been switched off, and all Guardians have returned to The Tower. The Destiny Beta is now over, and with it the game now retreats into its final hibernation period, until its release on the 9th of September. And after the brief glimpse we saw over the past week, September cannot come soon enough.

I’m not going to go into details and boring lists of unlockables and classes, but Destiny does feel deep. The search for better gear and items is perfectly balanced between the achievable and desirable. I can confidently say that there are few developers currently working that could stand even the remotest chance of pulling this off. Bungie are one of them, and they are doing it extremely well. I coveted items from the Factions, whilst still enjoying the new weaponry I was getting at the time. I wanted to go further and the game nurtured this, teasing you of things to come, rather than hitting you with content gulfs between levels.

mars-02-destiny_1402057687One of the criticisms I did have was how similar the classes appeared. When my Hunter, a ‘lone-wolf who lives for the perfect shot’, was able to equip a rocket launcher from pretty much the start, I questioned how fair this was on the Heavy Titan class, and how in fact the only factors separating the 3 choices is the special abilities each class uses. Hopefully the class sub-divisions and later-game content will help in diverging players, that it’s more nuanced and subtle than we can currently observe.

On the surface, you could be forgiven dismissing Destiny as something already done. A Frankenstein’s Monster of other game parts, all cobbled together to reach multiple target audiences. But when you start going down this road of questioning, it’s then you realise the potential this game has.

Moon_-_Screenshot_3_1402057688The game is like Borderlands, yet it’s much bigger in scope and online functionality. The game is like World of Warcraft, yet it’s much more reaction-based and console-focused. The game is like Call of Duty, yet it’s more engaging and has more purpose to its multiplayer. Games have been borrowing and stealing aspects off those that came before them since time began, but here it’s different. It doesn’t feel like aspects of other games, rather the start of a whole new approach. Halo’s DNA lingers within it, but this is a different animal.

The real test will be in just how much content is going to be there for people to play, and how they can make it exciting for players. Russia was great to explore, and didn’t feel too repetitive. If they can provide enough content of that quality, and supplement it fiercely with DLC, this game has a real chance of laying down the 10-years-plus legacy it’s hoping for. Bring on September.

Written by Brapscallion.

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Some other Frugal Gamers wanted to add their thoughts, here what they had to say…….

PridedLlama

The hype for Destiny had completely passed me by, everything I had seen before the beta looked bland and rather uninteresting. Having gone hands on with the beta, my interest has been piqued but I’m still not quite 100% sold. It looks, plays, and sounds fantastic, but questions remain over the amount of content on offer in the full game. With just 4 locations confirmed to be included, I’m thinking this may get old fast but I truly hope I’m wrong. The story and the rather short length of the actual story missions also sent alarm bells ringing. I think narrative always struggles in MMO’s. It must be hard to create the same sort of emotional engagement that Bungie has done so well in previous single player games in such an open and shared world. That being said, the beta has taken me from no interest whatsoever to a planned digital purchase. I’m cautiously optimistic, but like a lot of new franchises of the last generation, I don’t expect it will hit its stride until the second instalment.

UglyGeezer

I was worried for Destiny, so this ‘Beta’ was a smart move from Activision/Bungie. They’re clearly confident in their product to be rolling it out so publically. There has been evidence in the past that these sorts of demo’s can hurt sales, I’ve seen nothing but the opposite in our own community.
On the back of this demo, I pre-ordered myself. It’s the closest thing I’ve played to Phantasy Star Online since the Dreamcast days, that makes me happy.

My hope? Content and variety, lots of modes, lots of variety.
My fears? That it was all a bit straight faced and serious and lacked the laughs.

FrugalDaz

I was impressed. The game play was solid, the games looked beautiful and captured my interest at least. I hate RPG’s and that silly area with the shops and all got on my tits. If I want a gun, give me a gun… Don’t make me run around an annoying RPG village looking for a shopkeeper to buy it.

The Forest – Early Access Preview

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We’re All Going On A Summer Holiday

Lost, Swiss Family Robinson, The Decent, Bear Grylls, Lord of the Flies and Wilson the Volleyball. If all of the things listed above draw a blank, then you have more important things you should be doing rather than reading this.  If however at least one of them sets some neurons firing, read on fellow adventurer, your journey is just beginning.

I like to kick back with a nice G&T when I fly, after the flight I found myself aboard in the opening scene of The Forest, I think I might need something a little bit stronger next time I travel.  Sitting and watching the in-flight entertainment with a young boy at my side, the shit, or probably a rather large avian hit the fan and my peaceful flight descended into chaos, quite literally.  I awoke to confusion and panic, the plane torn in half, the result of an awkward crash landing. Emergency exit signs flickered, sparks arced from broken cabin lights and a rather imposing, near naked native was towering over the unconscious boy.  As my vision faded and faculties began to fail, the child was spirited away, alone and afraid I passed out.

SequenceWip1748If You Go Down To The Woods Today

After stuffing my backpack with the remaining contents of the drinks trolley and grabbing a fire axe that was unceremoniously sticking out of the chest of a fellow passenger, I ventured forth into what only can be described as paradise.  My first crash found me near the shore of the strange land that would become both my home and battleground- and boy did that beach look good.  Seagulls gulled and giant Turtles flapped around.  The sun looked warm and the sea inviting.  The serene calm didn’t last long and like an approaching storm on the horizon, the locals soon made themselves known.

The first meeting with the locals was tense, both myself and the natives eye-balling each other at 50 yards, but neither daring to approach any closer. Their ranks swelled with new arrivals, the atmosphere was palpable and I felt that discretion was the better part of valour so I promptly ran away as fast as I could- screaming.  I ran and ran until my middle finger was sore.  Hoping I would be safe for a while, I munched on some energy bars I had picked up from the plane and spreading my belongings out upon the ground, I took stock and began to make plans.

TheForest_BodiesAltI’m A Lumberjack and I’m OK

Having been a fan of both Messrs Grylls and Mears, it was no surprise that I’d packed a survival guide in my hand luggage to help pass the time. I find nothing worse than waiting in a departure lounge without a good book, little was I to know at the time that the book would save my life.  Leafing through the pages I glanced upon several designs for shelters and decided upon a frugal hunting one to help protect me from the elements.

After marking out my design in the sand I headed off inland with a shopping list of logs, stones and sticks to build my new home.  Now I have from time to time indulged in a little bit of tree felling, but never did it feel as good or as satisfying as it did in The Forest.  My blows were strong and true and before long trees were toppling like dominoes as I left my permanent mark on this strange undiscovered land.  Several trips back and forth were required to collect all the materials required for my shelter, but boy was it worth it.  A thing of true beauty, built with my own hands.  I made a small fire and settled down for the night, with pride of my small accomplishments swelling in my chest, it wasn’t long before exhaustion overcame me and I drifted off to sleep.

SequenceWip1568And They Mostly Come At Night… Mostly.

Maybe it was the light from my campfire that attracted them, or maybe they had been waiting and watching in the trees all along, I’ll never know.  A strange noise awoke me and as I lay still whilst my senses were returning, I knew I was not alone.  In ones and twos they approached from the treeline.  Whooping and hollering in some harsh sounding foreign tongue, they came on like a pack of wild dogs.  Looking behind me escape was impossible, I was surrounded on all sides.  I drew my axe and stood my ground, my paradise it seemed, was lost.

As valiantly as I fought, their numbers proved too much, and with a blow to my head that felt like worlds colliding, I was sure it was the end.  I still don’t know to this day how long I was unconscious for, it could have been hours or days.  I awoke in darkness, my only companions- a splitting headache and the moaning and whistling of the icy wind.  Fumbling in my pockets I pulled out my lighter, and its spluttering light revealed a scene from a true nightmare.  Bodies everywhere, hanging from the ceiling and swaying in the breeze like a scene from some sick slaughterhouse B-Movie.  With every ounce of courage I could muster I moved through this macabre scene towards the source of the onrushing air.  A primitive butchers block, slick with blood glistened in the light.  What was left of some unfortunate soul still lying upon it, a huge axe still embedded deep in the flesh.  Grabbing the weapon and stealing my resolve I headed on wards in the dark, towards what ever fate had in store for me.

TennisTeamReality Is Merely An Illusion, Albeit A Very Persistent One

The Forest is a first person open world survival horror adventure game, and boy is it great.  Although it’s still in very Early Access with a few bugs here and there and just one major update under its belt, it’s shaping up to be an absolutely phenomenal game.  I remember seeing the first trailer some time ago and I was excited then and not only has it already lived up to that excitement, it’s not far away from surpassing it.

The horror elements are genuinely scary.  Local inhabitants can be downright terrifying, with some fantastic AI on show at times.  The building crafting and construction is some of the best implementation of ideas I’ve seen in a long time, other games thinking about construction ( yes I’m looking at you DayZ ) should take note.

The game world is a full and vibrant place, with animals and fauna everywhere.  Environments are great and getting better all the time. I can’t say enough good things about this game.  The developers are trawling through the forums asking for opinions and feedback which is always a good sign.  Apart from the fact that what’s already available is fantastic, the development team clearly have a well set out roadmap, the game itself features a countdown to the next update!

There are definitely still niggles here and there, it sometimes doesn’t run quite as smoothly as it should, birds might fly straight into your face, and a few textures need work.  But the developers are the first to hold their hands up to these and apart from the bigger content updates they have been regularly hot-fixing broken bits and bobs.

Sales have by all accounts started strong, and a community wiki has already sprung up with a guide to everything you’ll find on your adventures.  If any of this has tickled your fancy, I wholeheartedly recommend you check it out.  I cant wait to play more of The Forest and I cant wait for more content from Endnight Games.

Developer: Endnight Games

Publisher: Endnight Games

The Forest is available via Steam Early Access and can be found here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/242760/

 

 

Vertiginous Golf – An Early Access Preview

Vertiginous Golf Banner 1

I’ll dig right in. The game is in *very* early access – so expect features to be added and gameplay to blossom after this preview. Despite this – the game is very polished, very complete. I didn’t encounter a single crash or noticeable bug during my playtime, and no performance or gameplay issues.

Vertiginous Golf is something a little bit different – even among the swathes of quality Indie titles available on Steam. It’s an odd combination of physics-based mini golf and first person mechanical hummingbird exploration game, set in a gorgeous steampunk alterverse.

I first jumped into the game with no preconceptions – a curiosity spawned from a love of all things steampunk, but no idea what I was getting into…

V Golf Birdie

You start the game in first person. No menu, no splash screen. A dimly lit, drizzly Victorian-esque street – the soft light reflecting from raindrops and puddles, providing a warm glow in the cold darkness. you move across the street to a shop with ‘Vertiginous Golf’ displayed proudly in the windows and ‘Forsake the eternal rain‘ engraved on the wall, open the door and head in. It’s something like a Barber’s – a row of rich mahogany leather seats on either side. At the other end of the shop is a strange assortment of screens collected together. You move towards them and they flicker into life – greeting you with ‘Vertiginous Golf’.

At this point I was well beyond intrigued and would have been hooked almost regardless of what came next. It’s a good thing, really, that the rest of this quirky little game lives up to the style and precedent set in that introduction.

V Golf Tower

Dan! What, exactly, is it though?!

Well – if you’ve played a crazy/mini golf game before, you’ll be mostly at home here. You are given (at the time of writing) nine holes to navigate on airborne courses of grass, brass and carpet. These are interspersed with physics-based obstacles and traps, often giving you a large variety of ways to get to the hole. Unlike many other ‘similar’ (more on that in a minute) games – there is no *right* way to get the ball into the final hole. Part of Vertiginous Golf’s charm is the freedom of choice it provides. Navigate one of the paths provided to you, or hope that a lucky chip of a trick shot will get you there? That’s up to you!

That’s all well and good, but what REALLY makes it stand out?

For me, at least – that’s a few things. First of all is the styling. That gorgeous, authentic steampunk vibe instilled in you before you even get to the main menu is maintained throughout the game. Everything from the relatively simple but serviceable graphics to the mesmerising score seem aimed to maintain the game’s feel. It’s extremely successful in this, all brass gramophones and Victorian rugs. Even the Green becomes a Green Room – set out like a tea room of maddening puzzles and restricting you to just your putter whilst inside. Secondly comes your strange, mechanical assistants: Sat atop the ball is a little brass bug, able to influence the direction and speed of the ball after your initial stroke by using up your ‘Rewind’ meter – earned by shot distance and length. This can also be used, as you may expect, to rewind your shot if you make a total mess of it. To aid you in navigating the sometimes sprawling & maze-like courses, you also have a brass hummingbird following you – which you can take control of and explore the courses in first person with. This provides a whole separate layer to gameplay, allowing the player to meticulously plan their route ahead of time with the hummingbird, and use the bug to prevent deviation when something doesn’t quite go to plan. What started out looking like a simple little golf game has become something of a pre-meditated murder in physics – instantly distancing itself from those aforementioned ‘similar’ golf games. Thirdly are the ‘Free Shot’ holes scattered around the course which negate the stroke it took to get to them – giving more skilled (at least, more skilled than me…) players the opportunity to chain shots between them and essentially get to the hole on a stroke of zero.

G Golf Shop

Early Access, right?

Yes – most definitely. Currently the game is a little barebones – containing merely the first nine holes, with plans (and empty menu spots) for many more. However, due to the unique open nature of the courses, I’ve found myself re-playing each one a few times in an effort to improve my (atrocious) scores and try to find a more efficient means of getting to the hole. Despite it’s status, what content is there feels extremely polished, and I’m yet to encounter a single bug or random crash. Performance is great too, maintaining 100FPS+ on my system (4770k @ 4.2GHz, 780Ti @ 1300MHz) at 1440p with all the bells and whistles on.

All in all – it’s a pretty, engaging little game with lots of potential to grow as it’s development continues – and I’d not hesitate to recommend it to anybody who wants to play something enjoyable that makes you think a little, especially if you’re a fan of Steampunk.

Developer: Kinelco & Lone Elk Creative 

Publisher: Surprise Attack

Available on early Access via Steam for £11.99