First Impressions of… Ember

Awaken once more to a world in peril.

Ember is an impressive fantasy RPG in which, you, the last of the Lightbringers, must unite the three races and reawaken your dormant abilities. You were a great hero who was killed in a war many years ago, but have since been resurrected by a secretive order who believe you are the last hope for the world of Domus. You’ll need to learn much of the world, of who you were, and of the Embers. You won’t be alone, though. There are three others who will offer their services on the journey ahead. Each with their own area of expertise.

Character creation is incredibly fluid in Ember. The Lightbringer begins with balanced attributes and no particular specialisation, with each level offering the opportunity to spend two points in any of the four attributes you feel are most appropriate. Party members have their own classes which loosely define their roles, and their attribute points can be automatically invested.

Or you can decide how best to develop each character.

Active and passive abilities are all tied to the equipment the characters are wearing. There are three possible active abilities and two possible passive abilities per character, with each piece of equipment providing something from a different pool of abilities. For instance, ranged weapons will always sample from a pool of abilities exclusive to that item class. You won’t find the same abilities on armour. In this way, you can create diverse character builds. I built my Lightbringer around heavy two-handed weapon damage with healing, while Coren, the Warrior, held the line with high health and several crowd control abilities. Later in the story you’ll even be able to buy these abilities via Runes which can be freely attached to your equipment.

There be bears in this here forest.

Ember also features myriad of crafting systems. Crafted equipment is generally superior to everything else (of an equivalent level) available anywhere else, while brewed potions are also surprisingly useful. Cooked food is often completely superior to potions in the earlier areas, too. It’s a really satisfying crafting system. It’s quite simple, it’s easy to manage, and the only drawback is that it’s quite confusing figuring out how you craft items until you reach the Farmlands. As that is the first place (that I’m aware of) that sells patterns and molds.

There are a range of quests to undertake, too. Everything from exploring dusty caves, to visiting cities, to hunting down villainous curs. Exploration is encouraged as there are many side quests, random events, and hidden treasures to discover. I was impressed by how freely I could explore the world around me from the moment I left the starting area.

I was equally as impressed by the number of things that could kill me.

It’s refreshing to be allowed to explore without restriction in the earlier areas. I was expecting to be linearly pushed through a series of quests towards a particular location, then allowed to explore the rest of the areas I’ve passed through at a later date. Instead I’ve been lost in a forest for two hours collecting equipment, fighting enemies, and exploring various locations. Most appealing of all is that I can actually be killed. What makes this even better is that even at full price it’s only £6.99 on Steam. That’s an absolutely insane price for something that seems to be making good on its promise of a lengthy campaign, a gorgeous world to explore, and unrestricted adventure abound for newly resurrected Lightbringers.

Have a nice weekend, all!



First Impressions of… Portal Knights

Every adventure starts with a single portal.

Portal Knights is an enjoyable sandbox building title with RPG elements. On your quest to uncover new portals to unlock (and new worlds to travel to) you’ll be slaying monsters, collecting loot, exploring the world, building new locations, and defeating mysterious bosses. Currently in Early Access and available via Steam this is a title that has continued to surprise me. Many of the features of the title are already available, including, but not limited to: character classes, character talent trees, equipment crafting, an enjoyable and varied building experience, multiple worlds to explore, mini dungeons, and multiple varieties of enemies to encounter.

The RPG elements feel a little light at the moment with many of the talents shared between the three classes of Warrior, Ranger, and Mage. That said, there are sets of equipment designed for each class and many of the traditional elements of each class are interchangeable. For instance, anyone can craft magical spells using the Altar and anyone can wield a bow if they want to.

Which is something I’d recommend you do as a Warrior if you choose to play one.

Warriors have a particular weakness to things that fly without some form of projectile weapon. Combat is still quite an enjoyable experience, however. When attacking an enemy you’ll soft lock onto them (with the ability to cycle targets), meaning all your attacks will focus on them while you dodge roll in appropriate directions away from them. When facing multiple opponents it can be a little disorientating dodging, engaging, and observing each. Overall, while it could do with a little improvement, it works and is satisfying enough.

That's one big worm.

That’s one big worm.

The various worlds you’ll uncover and explore are each satisfying in their own way. Initially they’ll be fairly small but will open up to be broader, feature more enemy variety, and have more mini dungeons. Finding the portals can be quite the task as they can be hidden anywhere. With most of the initial worlds featuring a rather linear structure, while later worlds have multiple exit portals. Different resources can be found in different worlds and you’ll need to visit multiple to use some of the Crafting Stations to their fullest. Boss worlds are simple (with no additional resources) and the bosses themselves involve identifying a weakness, hitting said boss, and then repeating the phase(s) until the boss is defeated.

In the ten-twelve worlds I have uncovered so far I’ve seen everything from jungles, to forests, to snowy plains, to swamps, to tropical beaches, to something that resembles a forest in Autumn. It’s not hurting for variety in the world design at all. The art direction is incredibly solid, too. Featuring a unique and consistent style/theme throughout.

It’s going to be interesting to see how they develop the title further in the coming months.

One minor criticism I have (from the ten hours I’ve played) is how the resource costs quickly scale up. For instance, Copper Bars require only four Copper Ore while Iron Bars (the next tier) require ten Iron Ore. This feels a little disproportionate to the effort you’d previously have put in to upgrade (or to build) new equipment or Crafting Stations. Especially when you require forty Iron Ore to upgrade the Anvil, a further forty to upgrade the Workbench, and then a further amount to build new equipment.

However, this is definitely a very strong entry into Early Access. If you’re a fan of either sandbox building or RPGs you’ll likely be able to put 15+ hours into this one in its current state.

Have a nice weekend, all!


First Impressions of… Hearthlands

I’m pretty sure that mine near the southern river is haunted.

Hearthlands is a rather quirky city builder with elements of empire management. You start with a rather unassuming plot of land and you’re tasked with creating a sustainable flow of resources, housing your settlers, developing infrastructure, developing an army, and expanding outwards in a world filled with as many as twelve rivals. The creation options are pretty flexible, though. You can toggle various difficulty modifiers on and off to the lengths of creating a low risk sandbox mode.

Most of the difficulty modifiers relate to natural resources, enemy encounters, natural disasters (such as plague outbreaks), and whether special locations are added to the map.

You can also decide how many rivals you want to play with, and, if you do have rivals, you can make them friendly so they won’t ever engage in war with you. Also, quite oddly, though I could just be inexperienced with these types of games, you are given an amount of starting gold. The default amount seems to be 40,000 but can be adjusted to whatever you wish (higher or lower).

While the above sounds somewhat complicated Hearthlands presents most of these concepts in a rather easy to digest format. I’m not entirely sure if many of the features will remain the same as this is Early Access, but, there are few options for each of the settlers you can play as, which allows you to focus on the meat of the game rather than trying to remember everything they’re good at. You can play as Northerners, Southerners, Easterners, or Westerners and they all have different benefits/requirements. Again, at the moment, these are the only options available when playing as one of the settlers. The only exception to this is warfare where all of the units are available to develop.

Not very viable but helps to understand the way(s) to build a settlement.

Not very viable but helps to understand the way(s) to build a settlement.

To be more concise with the above, let’s say one of the settlers can only breed chickens and roosters- these will be the only farming options available when playing as them. However, if they prefer axemen as military units- the other units will still be available to develop if you wish. Likely because some enemies will be less or more effective against certain unit types.

While building your settlement and making it sustainable is the key focus there are other things you’ll be involved with. There are various enemy settlements added to the map(s) by default which will provide a range of encounters. From the simple theft of items from storerooms to engaging you in combat and/or attacking your fortifications. There are also locations you can visit (like mines or graveyards) where enemies will nest and encounters will occur. It doesn’t really look this complicated at first glance but it does have several layers of complexity.

As an Early Access title there’s a lot of content already in the game as well as regular updates coming through.

The later updates (from November 2015 onwards) seem to be focusing on fleshing out the magic system. So I’d expect there to be more options for units and perhaps even units that don’t necessarily favour any of the settlers. As anyone could build the structures with enough time, resources, and money.

I’m having a lot of fun with it at the moment despite spending most of my time in building phases (see the above screenshot). While not an actual feature of the game I like to generate maps and build settlements to see how I can most effectively access resources, generate appeal, and retain the settlers that come to my city. Hopefully this will help when I actually start a game with the intention of playing and winning (if that’s possible).

Have a nice week, all!


First Impressions of… Heroes of the Storm

You know those days where you sign up for a Beta and then forget you did it? You do? Me too!

Though, that’s not entirely true- I do remember signing up for this Beta as I know a few people who play it and love it. So, naturally, as I never get the Betas I want, I decided to sign up as what were the chances? Hilariously I once got into the World of Warcraft Cataclysm Beta and I’d only just returned to the game with Moggie at Lvl 40-45 or something.

So, what is Heroes of the Storm? Well as best I can tell it’s kind of in the MOBA genre. Which, for someone like me, who has played no MOBAs ever, is pretty unnerving from the first click into the game as I don’t really know what you do. I mean, I get the PvP elements- but I don’t know what a Support is or a Warrior or an Assassin. While these titles mean things to me in other games it’s something I’m not quite sure of here. Is the Support a healer? Are they someone with a great amount of utility? Do they literally support and buff other characters? Is there a holy trinity where a number of Warriors, Supports, and Assassins are required? What’s a Specialist? Can they sell me insurance? Why does Tyrael ride a horse when he has wings?

The good and the bad news is that it seems to be that you don’t necessarily start with any Heroes whatsoever. So, when you first load the game, which I’m assuming holds true for release, you start with a blank slate. However, I do believe the free Hero rotation will also hold true for release. Which is a weekly selection of four-six Heroes (depending on your level) that you can play for free.

Additional Heroes can either be bought with real money or with gold. Gold is accrued fairly consistently as you finish matches, level your profile up, level your Heroes up, do daily quests, and generally as you play the game in any shape or form. I don’t know if it is entirely possible to get every hero with gold and no real money purchases but I would assume with enough time and effort it would be.

Speaking of game modes you have quite a few. Practice (where you can play and level Heroes to test them out), Quick Match (where you play against other players with other players), Cooperative (where you play with others against AI opponents), Hero League (where you do solo or group play for a rank), Team League, and Quick Match.

Not entirely sure what Team League does yet. In Quick Match it seems you just match up against differing levels of AI ruthlessness but it doesn’t seem to contribute gold, experience, or just about anything else. So, yeah, lots to do and you don’t necessarily have to play with others straight away. You can get used to the different roles, maps, Heroes, and so on at your own pace. It does seem to have quite a lot of charm, too. Not sure if it’s something I would continue playing well into release as I’m not the greatest PvP fan. But, for now, it offers a great little distraction and quite varied gameplay despite the broad umbrella of Warrior, Assassin, Specialist, and Support.

I’m certainly having a lot of fun playing it on and off and it does get a lot more interesting as you build your Hero roster into something stronger, more varied, and ultimately more fun.

Have a nice weekend, all!


First Impressions of… Darkest Dungeon

Do you like the idea of losing one or several of your heroes to the encroaching darkness?

Or would you prefer having a character suffer the stresses of the abyssal horrors beneath the manor only to eventually succumb to them and go completely mad? In either case, you’ll find what you want in the myriad of ancient halls and winding pathways of Darkest Dungeon. Not the actual Darkest Dungeon, though. That has yet to be implemented. But there are plenty of other places you can visit, explore, or maybe even cleanse while trying to redeem your family name.

Or while making ridiculous amounts of money.

Unlike other RPGs, Darkest Dungeon will tax brave adventurers with an overflowing amount of stress for facing the abominations which call your estate their home. Too much of it will lead to a character making a resolve check, which can be either positive or negative, and can severely impact how they perform in the rest of the dungeon. In one circumstance my Crusader refused to fight at all for several turns. Which, given we were one person down, and close to losing another to madness, wasn’t great. Should they take too much damage, they’ll fall to Death’s Door, where each subsequent amount of damage received may permanently kill them. You’ll lose all of their equipment if they die, too. Unless you can finish the fight and recover their trinkets.

Death has a number of other consequences (besides the obvious) as well. Remaining party members will incur a stress penalty, the party will likely be unable to finish the dungeon with reduced numbers, and (if you’re lucky enough to recover the trinkets) you may need to leave loot behind. It’s not something to be taken lightly.

Bleeding from your face is no longer optional.

Bleeding from your face is no longer optional.

Darkest Dungeon is shaping up to be an Early Access title which (despite already being quite promising) is going to get even more interesting in the coming months. Beside the number of already implemented, fully functional, and fully upgradable character classes they’re looking to add a few extras. There’s also a fourth area which will be implemented later in the development process. There will likely be other changes, too. As the developers are quite keen to respond to how the community is faring with their hellish adventure.

That and there’s the actual Darkest Dungeon to see. One day.

Besides delving in dungeons you’ll also be expected to upgrade your estate, your character roster, your facilities, and even the equipment for all of your heroes. You can also let any of your inactive heroes recover stress or remove negative quirks. Quirks, which, while they seem fairly scarce to begin with, will pile on quite quickly. These will also affect how your heroes respond to the interactions in dungeons, how much damage they take, how much stress they accrue, and more. So they’re not something you can afford to let run rampant. If you get everything perfectly balanced (with a few good runs under your belt) you might even get to retire one of your favourite heroes.

It’s not likely, though. Darkest Dungeon is inherently a punishing title that expects you to lose characters, progress, and even trinkets. It’s designed to push you to the limit and (at the moment) there is no easier difficulty level to choose. That said, if punishing difficulty sounds like your idea of a good time then this title is well worth the price of admission.

Have a nice weekend, all!


First Impressions of… Grim Dawn

I don’t always spend money on Early Access titles- but when I do they’re RPGs.

So, recently I was on the Humble Store looking at all the deals which were available this week and one title caught my eye- Grim Dawn. I’ve unofficially followed it for quite some time as it promises gritty, challenging, diverse ARPG action using a modified (and updated) version of the Titan Quest engine. While Titan Quest doesn’t hold as much importance in my ARPG history as Diablo II- it’s still an amazing game. One that I must finish at some point, too!

You get fire, you get fire, you get fire- everyone gets fire!

You get fire, you get fire, you get fire- everyone gets fire!

Grim Dawn has some really tasty skills and passives which give you an edge in melee not unlike the one you would get while playing ranged or magical classes. In short, in most ARPGs, playing a melee class is usually incredibly good early on as your gear gives you quite a bit more damage and your higher than average health pool gives you good survivability. However, as you progress, usually about a third through the main story, you drop off dramatically in terms of survivability compared to your ranged counterparts. Mostly as your health doesn’t scale well enough to compensate heavier damage and your ranged counterparts need not worry about that, as, well, they don’t get hit.

The combat features a range of enemies which are high priority. From stepping out of the gate the first time I began to identify enemies that hurled painfully damaging attacks, vomited acid (or bile), and some that froze you solid. It’s insanely fun as you’re always thinking on your feet. Yet, the enemies do have patterns, they do have general clusters of abilities, so not everything is new- just new enough for you to feel each encounter is unique. Also that each encounter is challenging, fun, and possibly going to show you something you haven’t seen yet.

To be honest, if I didn’t know this was an Early Access title, I would swear it was a fully completed game. The environments, character animations, character models, graphics, GUI, and just about everything else feels really polished. It’s obvious that a lot of love, care, and attention went into creating something that feels good to play and more than likely fun to design and test.

Not to draw too many comparisons as these two titles take different design directions. But the Diablo III Open Beta was perhaps the worst beta I’ve ever been a part of. The servers constantly crashed, the locations were limited, the quests were few, the actual range of content was quite small, the characters didn’t feel particularly good to play nor did they have many of their unique skills (or any way to access them) yet, and so on. To the point that I felt that the game needed a lot more polish. One month before release and I wanted to cancel my pre-order (and I wish I did).

Grim Dawn, I think, is set to release at the end of 2015, but that could change. Yet at this moment in time it already feels complete. It plays beautifully. It’s, well, there are no words. It’s amazing.

While I most likely won’t exhaust the content that is available to play, I will be trying different classes, and different builds, as this looks like it’s going to have an awful lot. In short, if you have a passion for ARPGs and enjoy the days of Diablo II or Titan Quest- invest in the Early Access. You won’t regret it.

Have a nice weekend, all!


First Impressions of… Path of Exile

People say it’s the Diablo killer but I’ve yet to see him spawn anywhere. Maybe he’s an easter egg?

Path of Exile is firmly grounded in old style mechanics and offers a refreshing yet complex take on the ARPG formula of kill, loot, kill some more, loot some more, and return to town to sell your excess loot. From the moment you wake up on the beach you’re going to have a lot of choice which is a great experience (for me at least) but it can be a little overwhelming at first.

Choice of armour and weapons is extensive and slightly complicated if you’re not sure what you want to do just yet. There are six different types of armour that enhance various defensive capabilities and give you a different edge which are sort of softly tied to each class in the passive skill system. That is to say it gives you a small indication that maybe armour and energy shield is a good combination for the Templar but it doesn’t stop you from rolling a full armour build. Or even a full energy shield build. It’s just up to you to make that decision and swim across the trees to whatever your chosen build is. Personally, I find the energy shield a very interesting mechanic as it’s kind of like free health.

Energy shield is a buffer that absorbs damage before your health. If it regenerates fast enough, is high enough, or simply isn’t damaged enough, then you won’t actually lose any of your health from most attacks. However, it would seem that poison completely negates the shield and goes straight for your health pool. Chaos damage seems to do something similar. But for the average enemy that does physical or elemental damage it provides a nice bonus that regenerates naturally.

"Just popped up to say hello!"

“Just popped up to say hello!”

Weapons are countless in number and have a range of requirements, weapon speeds, damage types, socket types, general uses, and can be a very important part of your build as a whole. Skill gems (covered below) have certain requirements before they can be used and most of the physical attack types need a specific weapon type to be used. Some will work with an axe or sword. Some work with all melee weapons. Some are exclusive to two-handed weapons. Some are specifically tied to fast weapons with Dexterity requirements. Therefore, the choice of weapon should balance the offensive statistics and your choice of gems to make something that works to preferred killing speed.

You really will notice and feel the difference between a fast and slow weapon- especially if you’re accustomed to one and switch to the other.

While the first thing you do in the game is choose a class there isn’t much information given on which does what and how they actually work. It would seem that you start in a different place on the passive skill tree (or maybe each class has a unique one?), that your starting statistics are different, and that you look different. But there doesn’t seem to be any class specific skills. Skills instead come from Skill Gems which are fancy items that go in sockets to give you access to a range of talents. Some are simple melee attacks, others are devastating combos, some are spells, and others are sustained buffs. There’s a lot to choose from and you’re going to have fun picking your favourites.

Admittedly this creates a rather unique bundle of classes but it also means that you could have every class that uses a sword using Cleave. Or every class that uses two-handed weapons using Sweep. Which then reduces how unique and different the classes actually are. However, I see it a bit like how Dark Souls approaches classes- they’re not really unique but starting points to create your own unique classes.

That's... a lot of mouse clicks.

That’s… a lot of mouse clicks.

The way to create that unique combination of magic and melee? An absolutely massive passive skill tree that covers numerous talents for every kind of weapon, attack type, spell type, character type, armour, choice of beard length, and much more. This thing is huge. I don’t even know how much of it you can realistically fill out even at the level cap with extra points from quests and the like. But it does give you the chance to create just about anything with just about any choice of equipment. Of course, you are always going to fare better if you focus and fill rather than spread your points out into everything you can.

Overall, though I am only about half way through Act II, I’m enjoying the myriad of systems and equipment types. I’m interested in seeing how things change in Cruel difficulty and how they change again in Merciless difficulty. If it’s anything like the progression in Diablo II you’re going to lose resistances, lose experience on death, die a lot more, heal a lot worse, and generally spend a lot more time running back every few yards not to get swamped and killed by damage that wouldn’t have mattered in earlier difficulties. Given that the game is free to play if you’re a fan of ARPGs then this is one you should consider trying. It’s probably the closest you’re going to get to a modern Diablo II experience.

Have a great week, all!