Battlefleet Gothic: Armada Review

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In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a real-time strategy game based on the classic tabletop game from Games Workshop, no not the 40k one with the tanks, troops and multiple video game adaptions (Dawn of War, Dawn of War 2, and the bazillion expansion packs… ok maybe not that many but you get the idea).

No Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is based on the tabletop game in which space battles raged out across kitchen tables across the land until its discontinuation in 2013. Set around the Gothic sector of the Warhammer 40k universe which saw the Chaos Warmaster, Abaddon the Despoiler, invade the sector and unleash merry hell, and the Imperium’s attempt to restore order.

The big difference between this and the other strategy games based in the 40k universe is that instead of focusing on the Space Marine chapters (The Ultramarine’s, Blood Angels, Dark Angels etc.) the main focus of the single player campaign is on the Imperial Navy, the tech support/back up for the Space Marines (it’s been roughly 15 years since I last played 40k so things may have changed in the meantime, but this is how I viewed them back then).

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The single player campaign focuses on Captain Spire, who in the beginning is ordered to check out why an orbital array (a fancy name for a space station) has suddenly gone quiet, upon arrival he discovers that the traitorous forces of Chaos have taken control, and have turned the stations defense platform on them shortly before a rather imposing chaos fleet is seen arriving. Left with no other option but to flee and report his findings to fleet command. Of course being the Warhammer 40k universe there is a suspicion that Captain Spire just turned tail and ran at the first sign of trouble… Fleet command are not ones for simply believing anything reported to them and consequently have Captain Spire put on trial with an Inquisitor.. A process that looks uncomfortably painful. After the story has been verified under intense pain and torture.. Quite why they couldn’t just look at the security footage and go “oh yes… Chaos” is beyond me, as surely in the 41st millennium, there must be at least one video camera installed on a ship.

Promoted to Admiral and given the task of protecting Imperial worlds from rebellion, and both alien and Chaos invasions, this is where you take over properly.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a real-time strategy game, developed by Tindalos Interactive and published by Focus Home Interactive.
After you have played through the initial tutorial mission and informed Fleet Command about the incoming invasion,you are presented with the map screen. From here you can select the next mission or visit Port Maw Station.

At Port Maw, you can view the ships available to take into your next mission, and use the Renown you have amassed during your accomplished missions so far, to purchase new ships, new slots and pay for upgrades to your existing fleet.

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Renown is gathered by successfully completing mission objectives, you will also gain a small amount of Renown if you fail a mission, though obviously accomplishing the missions gets you much, much more than failing.

As long as you have the Renown you can customise your ships as you see fit, Upgrade your Engines for more speed and manoeuvrability, your Generators for improved shields, the Deck for sensors and special abilities, The Hull for increased armour and defense turrets and of course Weaponry for increased range and damage.

As well as ship upgrades there are special skills to buy and crew upgrades to choose.

The Commissar attempts to keep insubordination under control, as occasionally if your ship crews decide they have had enough they will try and warp the ship out of the mission.

On the Gothic sector map, you can see the available missions, the threat level of the sector, the turn number, and how many world properties are still available. For each world property still owned you will gain bonuses, some will earn you discount with the various Crew leaders whilst upgrading, some will earn more experience for your captains after missions, and some affect repair costs in between missions.

Selecting the next mission available gives you a brief overview of the mission ahead before taking you to the fleet selection screen, from here you can see the amount of ships available, and the fleet point value assigned to each one. Each mission will have its own Fleet point total and like the tabletop game you are limited to that point total when selecting your forces. Your forces range from the small quick Escort ships, all the way up to the hulking great Battleships.. essentially giant floating monasteries of death…
After you have worked out which ships you are taking in, hit the ready button and watch a small cut-scene of your fleet slowly approaching the battlefield.

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Being a space real-time strategy game you may expect that your ships will be ducking and weaving around asteroids and under minefields… this is not the case, despite being set in space, famous for being… well ‘spacey’ – for all intents and purpose that sprawling mass of stars and planets you see all around you may as well be solid earth. Think along the lines of the older Command & Conquer games and you get the idea, click where you want your ships to move to and watch as they approach in a straight line.

Placed around the maps are various hazards that you will need to avoid, or use for a strategic advantage, minefields will tear your ships to shreds in seconds, and asteroid belts will slowly sap your armour as you make your way through them. You do have the ability to make quick turns by ordering the engines to perform high energy turns, the giant starship equivalent to handbrake turns which when performed right look breathtaking… of course if your me and manage to essentially handbrake turn INTO the minefield you can watch in awe as your freshly bought cruiser disintegrates faster than wet toilet tissue…

Battlefleet’s combat boils down to who can keep the most guns firing the longest, certain weapons can only be fired from the sides of the ships, and torpedoes can only be launched from the front, so you are left with the options of trying to chase the enemy from behind or attempt to stay alongside them and hope your shields and armour outlast theirs. And while the ships armed with torpedoes have the opportunity to inflict heavy, heavy damage, the torpedo’s themselves have no guidance system so you will have to try and line up the shots yourself, this is made a little bit easier with the Tactical Cogitator system, hitting space bar will greatly slow down time to give you a few extra seconds to plan/wild guess where the enemy will be when you think the torpedoes will hit.

If you fail a mission, it is not an instant game over, nor a “replay mission” situation, the game carries on and your loss affects the moral of the sector, whereas if you succeed in a mission you can normally carry on to the next story based mission with no interference… but if you fail the chances of pirate attacks or chaos incursions increase slightly. Any ships lost in combat or the void are unavailable for a few turns until they are repaired, rearmed and re-crewed.

Your main enemy in the game are the forces of Chaos, but they are not the only force you will have to contend with in defending the Imperium, Ork pirate raiding parties, and Eldar Corsairs turn up to cause you trouble at various points.

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When you have had your fill of the single player campaign, you can set up some skirmish games against the AI or jump into multiplayer.

The multiplayer is a fun experience, instead of just the Imperial Navy you can choose from the four armies featured in the game each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Imperial Navy, Whose fleet feature’s heavy forward armor, powerful weaponry and the most choice of ships armed with torpedoes, but are also slowest and are bad at long range combat.

Chaos Fleet, While the Chaos forces suffer from low damage, a lack of torpedo’s and hardly any heavy armor, they are the best at long range combat, have many launch bays for attack squadrons and bombers, and have high top speeds.

Orks, the football hooligans of space bring in some of the most resilient ships ever created, forever up for a fight they also have the strongest assault skills, and have the bonus of being the most customisable ships in the game.. on the downside they are the most disobedient, the least manoeuvrable and have the worst accuracy and range…

Eldar Corsairs, they have the fastest and most manoeuvrable ships, the best fighters and bombers and the most obedient captains.. But before you start thinking that these are the greatest fleet in the game, be warned that they are very vulnerable to boarding actions, the majority of the weapons are on the front of their ships and they have the weakest armour.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is a great game, and the difficulty should prove challenging to even the most hardcore strategy gamer. There are only a few bits that could do with improvement, it would be nice if the camera pulled back a little bit more to give a better view of the battles, and more notification when your special skills were available to use, or if the ability to actually make groups worked (no matter how hard I tried.. ctrl +1-0 has not worked for me). But these are minor complaints.

Pros:

Looks beautiful
A solid strategy game
Decent story

Con’s

Some may find it difficult
Could have done with more races

Score: 8 out of 10

Warhammer 40,000: Deathwatch – Tyranid Invasion

A_Team Review

It’s a pretty good time to be a gamer and Games Workshop fan. There’s a slew of games that have been announced or are in development covering the breadth of Games Workshop universes. And while the ten-sided dice and miniature painting may not appeal to everyone, I’ve heard space marines make for pretty good video game fodder these days.

Rodeo games have gratifyingly focused on a little-known corner of the Warhammer 40k universe with their latest game Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion. The Deathwatch are a special chapter of elite space marines handpicked from their respective legions and tasked with eliminating the zeno threat across the galaxy. In 40k, Space Marines are genetically modified post-human super soldiers, that have back up hearts and lungs that can breathe poisonous atmospheres, they are essentially immortal as long as their heads don’t get chewed off and in Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion they face their arch nemesis and perhaps the most alien of the 40k races, the Tyranids. With a name like that the Tyranids are (obviously), an extragalactic race hell bent on consuming all biological life in order to multiply.

Deathwatch started off as a mobile game before it was enhanced with updated graphics for this PC release. The mobile DNA of the original game comes across quite clearly in this enhanced version. Somewhere during the port process Rodeo Games must have offended the Machine Spirit. This version of the game still carries over some of the mobile versions quirks; some instructions still ask you to tap the screen and although the micro transactions have been removed, you are awarded space bucks at the end of each mission with which you can buy packs of cards that will randomly award you new space marines and war gear.

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The gameplay is turn based so it is slow and methodical, the space marines don’t have a great deal of movement range, so you will end up moving incrementally towards the objective while reserving action points to leave your marines on overwatch for the enemy turn. The action takes places across grid-based maps (or boards if you will) which occasionally causes problems with movement and positioning. Marines and enemies take up one square, meaning if they are standing in a doorway, your other marines cannot see, move or shoot past them. The line of sight mechanics also prevents your squad from seeing what lurks behind visible enemies until they’re reduced to chunks of meat.

Mission variety is limited, with most objectives providing a mix of running down the turn counter, or moving the squad from one position on the map to another. You will frequently find yourself creating overwatch traps and waiting for the bugs to come to you.

There are camera controls, allowing you to compose cool scenes and zoom into the action, however, moving the camera anywhere other than its default birds-eye-view obscures the markers around the base of each character that display remaining action points. Irksomely, during enemy turns the camera pans to active enemies to display their move, while in principle this makes sense, it often doesn’t show which of your units is being targeted so you have to wait for the camera to pan back to your squad before you see which marine as being targeted.

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Deathwatch does get the look of the 40k universe right. The use of Unreal Engine 4 (which seems to be the current go-to game engine for 40k games) is used to great effect. The marines look every bit as menacing as they should and the environments are particularly faithful to Imperial architecture and 40k scenery. Additionally the weapons are spot on; bolters are lethal and accurate while the heavy bolters lugged around by devastator marines have the satisfying percussive boom of a gleefully over-sized gun.

 

In many ways Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion feels like you’re playing the tabletop game with the miniatures and there is something rather nice about that, there’s no two player mode in this game, but I suspect it’s top of the wishlist for a sequel.  I also spent a lot of time while playing this thinking it would make a great mobile game, and for that reason I can’t recommend it highly enough. But if you’re looking for a deep tactical turn-based Space Marine shooter for your PC, you might be disappointed and at £20 you’d have to be an Imperial acolyte to succumb, especially when the mobile version can be had for peanuts. There is a good game here and I have no doubt a few DLC packs or even a sequel aimed more at the PC crowd could win over the non-compliant. Despite its issues I genuinely hope this isn’t the last outing for the Deathwatch.

 

Score: 7/10

Pros:

-Focusses on a less well-known part of 40k universe

-Environments and characters look great

-Would make a great mobile game

Cons:

-Lacks tactical depth

-Some balance issues

-Awkward camera controls

Warhammer – End Times: Vermintide Review

 

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So now this I’ve spent a bit of time with the official release of the game, I can happily say that Vermintide is still great. The full release has ironed out the majority of the bugs from the beta and what remains is a very entertaining game.

The combat is visceral and intense, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enemy swarms of rat-folk but if you luck out and get some helpful teammates you’ll be hacking your way through hordes of snaggle-toothed vermin in no time at all. Each of the five hero classes come equipped with different weapons and abilities, and learning the nuances (yes, you read that right) of each is vital to the team’s success. The Empire soldier is powerful and versatile, whereas the Witchhunter whips around lunging his rapiers and dual wielded flintlock pistols. As the elfin Waywatcher, you’ll want to keep a distance, sniping from afar, while the Dwarf ranger likes to get his hands dirty, swinging his axe into crowds. The Bright Wizard is the most surprising, she can tank more damage that you’d expect of a wizard and in the right hands she can be devastating; her charged fireball spell is capable of taking out huge crowds with a long cooldown being the drawback of such a huge blast.

 

Regardless of the situation it’s always worth exercising caution before ploughing into the fray, and it’s best to stick with your team rather than go off wandering: if you get caught by a gang flea-ridden rodents on your own, you’re pretty much done for. Blocking with the melee weapon soon becomes a vital tactic and while blocking you can also shove enemies who get within reach causing them to falter long enough to line them up perfectly for a beheading.

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As with Left 4 Dead, the overriding pleasure of this game is the necessity for cooperation among your fellow pest controllers. Lose all your health and only your teammates can revive you and if you bleed out completely then you’ll be whisked away and imprisoned until your team rescue you. Effective teamwork is essential to turn the vermintide; gunner rats will lock onto you and unless the rest of the team kill him sharpish, you’re Swiss cheese. The Rat Ogre, a ‘juicer rat’ with proper roid-rage, will need everyone hacking and shooting to bring it down.

Most of the stages culminate in a final set piece where, inevitably, the team is swarmed with hordes of Skaven. These points are understandably challenging but even on the normal difficulty setting you will frequently see the defeat screen. This is probably the biggest criticism I can level at the game – the balance between being challenged and being wiped out is skewed somewhat in the rats’ favour and can sometimes feel a bit unfair. This may be addressed in the future but it’s by no means a deal-breaker. It’s a testament to Vermintide’s quality that it keeps you coming back for more – just to see if you can get through the next level or pull off a great save.

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At one point, all but one of our team were downed, surrounded by Skaven picking away at our reserves of health, only for the plucky Dwarf to come barrelling through the crowd like a hairy cannonball to fight off our attackers and revive us. It was a truly heroic moment that lasted a split second before unrelenting hordes of Skaven overwhelmed our already depleted team mere yards away from the end goal.

Fatshark should be also commended for the efforts they’ve gone to adhere to Games Workshop canon, although the story is minimal, the heroes’ personalities and relationships with each other are revealed through their in-game banter. Pull off a couple of decent kills as the Dwarf and the Elf might, grudgingly, congratulate you.

The levelling system also sets Vermintide apart from its forebears, experience is gained and weapons are awarded at the end of each level. Weapons can be upgraded back at the tavern via a basic crafting system, but this gives Vermintide a measure of longevity and variety that keeps the experience fresh.

As mentioned in the preview, the Warhammer setting shouldn’t put you off, Vermintide is a blast whether you are a fan or not. Before I got Vermintide to review I joked that being a Warhammer game it would likely lack depth. I couldn’t have been more wrong: co-operation is essential but balance issues aside there is room for individual heroics while managing health resources and backing up your allies creates a tension that’s altogether thrilling, desperate and above all fun.

 

SCORE: 8/10

Pros:

-Great combat

-Good banter

-Fun to play

Cons:

-Balance issues

-The odd glitch

Vermintide Beta Preview

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Vermintide is the co-op Left 4 Dead-alike from Fatshark studios, and us frugaleers were lucky enough to get a couple of codes for the recent beta. Straight off the bat it’s worth mentioning that we encountered some bugs. Obviously this isn’t the finished article but I’ve played dozens of betas this close to release that was much more representative of the final product. I encountered a few crashes at the end of rounds preventing me from collecting XP and levelling up – in fact I didn’t even realise there was a levelling system until the game finally stabilised. I also encountered a few lag spikes and a couple of clipping and ragdoll glitches.

Despite the expected beta hiccups, when Vermintide works it’s great fun. Gameplay is near identical to Left 4 Dead so if you’re a fan of those games you’re in good hands. At times, Vermintide is in danger of borrowing too much from the L4D template: ambushes are random, save for the odd scripted set piece. There are even equivalent enemy types: the Packmaster grabs players and drags them away, the Poison Wind Globadier flings gas bombs and explodes when killed, and then there’s the Rat Ogre, a huge hulking monster that takes all four players to bring down. There are a few differences, however Vermintide gives you a choice of five heroes to exact pest control throughout Übersreik, each has a melee and ranged attack, with class specific weapons that are unlocked as you progress through the levelling system. This being a beta, there wasn’t much time to unlock weapons, or experiment with the crafting system, but it’s clear that the developers are attempting to remain faithful to the source material by offering a handful traditional RPG mechanics.

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With that in mind it’s rather disappointing that this isn’t a traditional RPG; the environments that you hack your way through are rather gorgeous, Fatshark have clearly gone to a lot of effort to bring the Warhammer world to life and it’s a small shame that the frantic nature of the gameplay means you don’t have much time to soak in the atmosphere before another relentless wave of axe-wielding subterranean rat-people emerge from the sewers. The heroes all look great and I would happily play through an entire single player campaign as a dwarf ranger with a Yorkshire accent and a bad attitude. The dialogue throughout the game hints at entertaining personalities and on the odd occasion, the banter between the heroes is perfectly pitched for this kind of fiction. Even the in-game lobby, a dingy inn in Übersreik is an environment that would look great filled with NPCs.

I enjoyed my time with Vermintide, as a game specifically designed to be infinitely replayable it certainly won me over with repeat plays and if you get a good crew together cooperative play can be very rewarding. The environments, characters and voice acting are all superb, but Vermintide’s similarity to gameplay established by Left 4 Dead and the Warhammer setting shouldn’t put people off, Vermintide stands on its own as a great cooperative hack and slasher.

Available Via Steam 23rd October. Full review to follow on release.

Chainsaw Warrior: Lords of the Night Review

cw2_promotional_large_portrait reviewI saw this as being attached to the Games Workshop licence,  and on a whim asked to review it, partially to disprove a few naysayers about GW and their IP (intellectual property ) and them “putting it about a bit” by throwing licence permissions at any old studio. Mostly because I thought this game looked a lot of bonkers fun to play, and it reminded me a little of an old collectible card game I played in my youth.

The premise is joyfully unencumbered of complications – get the chainsaw wielding hard-man to the end of the game whilst keeping him alive through hordes of zombie monsters; collecting weapons, equipment and spells called blessings to aid your overly manly quest. The main character appears to be an amalgamation of all the late 80’s and early 90’s action heroes, and is equally as one dimensional. Chainsaw in hand he spouts cheesy one liners guaranteed to warm the cockles of any connoisseur of that genre, eliciting an eye roll or wry grin from the author.

CW2LOTN_-_005That established, this is where things get a little bonkers. The game itself is timed, you have an hour to get Chainsaw Warrior to the end through various encounters, these are determined by a shuffled deck of cards, defeat one deck, and there are four more to contend with, each deck representing a different locale.  Defeating the encounters is determined by a dice roll, quite often against the randomly generated stats your character is given at the start of the game itself. It’s almost as if the designers took an RPG, added in the standard loot hunt/equipment requirements,  threw it at a text adventure, then drizzled a card game such as Magic or Hearthstone over the top. The most compelling bit of this meandering prose is that somehow this mincemeat custard trifle works, when it really shouldn’t.

Enemies make up the vast majority of the encounters, and the Hero must make a choice on how to engage the baddies based on current ammo count, how close the enemy is and if there are any special rules on the enemy card itself. Dice rolls against the stats on the cards (and against your own character’s) decide if the zombie/soldier/mutant crocodile take a chainsaw to the tits, or if they take a bite out of your pools of wounds.

Destroying your way through an army of zombies allows you to move to the next card, which may be more zombies, an ammo drop, a boss enemy or even nothing at all, all the while running down the timer, and the deck card count. Running out of wounds and you’ll die, running out of cards in a deck moves you to a whole new level of pain, the decks above the first containing more additional rules, more cards and a whole bunch of new meat to chop into chunks.

CW2LOTN_-_001I must admit, I was a little wigged out at first, but the more I allowed the game to develop,  I could see just how the ruthless the studio were with the challenge implicit with the RNG elements. The seemingly crushing dice rolls and never quite knowing if your ammo was ever going to be replenished. This game WILL frustrate you, but when the dice gods favour your rolls, you will become desperate to reach the conclusion of the deck and start the challenge anew.

Downsides to this game? There are only so many zombie deaths that will give you satisfaction before you want to choke yourself with a rubber sextoy as the chainsaw noise grates on the ear after just a few kills. Anyone unused to random luck games will hate that there is no guaranteed win. The graphics would be undemanding of a Casio wristwatch and dialogue makes the monotone translation of Bulgarian photocopying manual into English seem fun. The upsides however are the mash up of genres, the challenge of the unknown and re playability that roguelike addicts will adore.

Score: 7.5 out of 10.

Warhammer Quest – Review

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I make no apology, I am a full on raging geek. I play Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and I collect Warhammer models. Happily we now live in times where the geek have inherited the Earth. There are board gaming clubs and shops dedicated to all things nerd, operating in the open instead of in a loft, or the classic basement dungeons and dragons scenario. It is with this joy of being a geek that I get to review Warhammer Quest. I recall playing it with friends (Andy and Neil if you read this, I know you love a sweaty berserker), on a winter’s eve sat on the living room floor.

Screenshot_5The premise of the game is to guide your intrepid gang of pre-built characters through a dungeon that evolves as you play. What I mean by this is due to the tiled nature of the game, every room and encounter is subject to a dice roll. This meaning all sorts of shenanigans can ensue, ambush attacks, traps, treasure etc. The game is quite possibly the most faithful recreation of a board game since Monopoly went digital. Everything works exactly as if there were a dungeon master, laying each tile out themselves. The camera angles are from a top-down perspective, and can seem restrictive until your party start exploring. The game starts in the Warhammer Fantasy Universe, where a lot of character names and place names seem familiar and yet different. The setting feels like a cross-over of Van Helsing and Terry Pratchett’s interpretation of Germany in the Discworld novels. You select your party and are given the choice of uncovering a large map by looting dungeons, or attempting harder missions for shady types, and greater reward, but within the same region. This allows you the opportunity to gear up your party and get used to the mechanisms of the game itself.

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In line with the board game it plays as turn based using movement, then an action, followed by an attack, with spells and ranged attacks as additional actions. Once you are in attack, you cannot move again meaning, you need to plan out your attacks and movement accordingly. The AI will target your softer characters if they are closer, so they need holding and coddling like an overly powerful Furby.
The meat of the game is what you would expect from a iOS port – Dungeons, levelling up and collecting rare loot. The game feels as if it was designed to be dipped in and out of – and the graphics look similar, until you mess with the options. There are a few things that kind of niggle when playing. Your wizards don’t get very much experience when accompanying the party unless they actually smash face… which is great except, they are like Jack Wilshere’s ankles – made of Weetabix. Also due to the fact that it is faithful to the original, the Winds of Magic that power your spells are also randomised – meaning that potentially your magic users can be utterly useless all the way through the dungeon. In addition to this, the camera resets itself when it is the enemies’ turn. Meaning you have to wait until they finish to see the whole board clearly, limiting you tactically. You can speed up the enemies turn as well as they seem to want to examine every tactical possibility, slowing the game down significantly. The other major bugbear is progression, the limit for a character is 7 by normal means. There have been several mixed opinions regarding the scarcity of loot that can be traded for gold, which you need to progress to the next level, in exponential amounts. The levels extend further than 7, but the amount of gold required becomes close to Destiny levels of grinding required – The devs decided that to prevent that they would allow real money transactions for gold. For me this is a bit of a turn off, as the gold is available to buy immediately – and with a random loot table for the towns shops, this can lead to a potentially easy ride through the game. It feels like a bit of the mobile game was leftover when they ported it, and for a lot of gamers this will leave a sour taste in the mouth.

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Overall I was impressed by the game, for those seeking the ultimate challenge, setting the game to hard and enabling perma-death for your party, meaning your team can and will dwindle if you don’t pay attention. Certainly if you don’t have the ultimate edition of the game, you will be missing some of the cooler characters – Witch Hunter baby – making progression impossible.
I will be giving this game a 6.5 out of ten, with the chance to jump to a 7 if the annoying bits are changed or removed. This is simply because this game was not made to keep you glued to the keyboard, the graphics are great, but the annoyances are enough to detract from the overall product.

Score:6.5 out of 10