First Impressions of… Last Epoch

Across the landscape of time we travel!

Last Epoch is a rather ambitious Early Access ARPG featuring a broad (and entirely customisable) skill system, five distinct character classes (which specialise into various Masteries), travelling across time through four (increasingly post-apocalyptic) eras, and a steady flow of developer updates to expand on existing content. They’re quite frequent updates at the moment (and I doubt they’ll maintain that frequency), but it is nice to see that the developers are addressing various issues and adding new features while Last Epoch is in its infancy. It shows their commitment to creating something truly special.

Which, to be fair, Last Epoch is on its way to being.

I’m quite fond of the time travel mechanics. Not just because I love time travel mechanics, but because you’re working towards reversing the events that eventually left the world a smouldering ruin and more or less preventing the apocalypse. It’s a rather unique main campaign story for an ARPG at the very least.

There are five character classes (with the fifth yet to be implemented) and each represents a concept. The Sentinel, for instance, is a tough close quarters fighter who (through the three different Masteries) can adapt to fighting with various weaponry. Each Mastery representing a more specialised variant of the base class. The Paladin, for instance, being focused on healing and recovery. While the Primalist is a hardy survivalist and can summon animal companions to his side. Or turn into a ferocious beast through the Druid Mastery. Likewise the Acolyte represents the more unsavoury magical pursuits, and is the opposite of the Mage who focuses on wholesome magical pursuits. Like being a Spellblade. In many ways, the character classes are the reason that Last Epoch is so enjoyable as they’re so flexible.

Bathed in the tainted void.

To add to that flexibility is the rather engaging skill system which allows you to specialise into a handful of skills. These skills have their own development trees allowing you to drastically alter their behaviour. Such as adapting Warpath to do more damage when you’re using a two-handed weapon, but then allowing you to eventually block while spinning. Making use of the plethora of block-related passives of the Sentinel’s various trees. As such, there is a great feeling of experimentation and developing classes to whatever you wish them to become. Even if those ideas seem completely outlandish.

Crafting is also quite intuitive but rather unique.

You collect various crafting tokens which are basically prefixes and suffixes that can be applied to different types of equipment. You can then combine those tokens with existing equipment and get the exact bonuses you want, which is more favourable than collecting raw materials only to create vendor trash items.

There are, however, a few issues which have yet to be resolved. The framerate staggers quite significantly at times, there’s an odd issue with the screen resolution when logging in, and sometimes the chat box refuses to go away. But these are minor issues and are expected of something that isn’t completely finished yet. That said, if you can look past those issues and are looking for an incredibly solid Early Access ARPG then I can highly recommend Last Epoch. It’s an absolutely enjoyable experience. It’s also a rare example of a modern ARPG that is looking to reinvent the wheel to some extent. Working with existing conventional mechanics but adding something all their own to them. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how it develops over the next year or so!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

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Infectious Outbreak

If it’s not contagious then you’re not trying hard enough.

Of all the Early Access titles I’d seen Chronicon was among the most promising. It’s been quite a while since I last wrote about it, but that’s only because to write a new post regarding every major update would be to flood the blog with nothing but Chronicon. It’s rather different nowadays to how it was back then, but each update has generally been an improvement and has introduced new mechanics or new content. The updates are quite regular, too. There was even an update recently to provide support to those playing at 3840 x 2160 resolution with correct UI scaling.

It was sort of tricky to make it function correctly before that.

Through the major updates there are now revised skill trees along with an entirely new approach to the Mastery system, you can now collect gems, you can transmute items following certain recipes, you can enchant equipment through the acquisition of essences, and you can push your build through the new Anomaly mechanics.

The character classes (and skill trees) were already quite impressive, but the new Mastery system develops them so much further with some rather unique bonuses only available through certain trees. Like the ability to not require keys when opening treasure chests. Or to never take damage from floor traps. Alongside rather attractive (and quite powerful) passive bonuses such as increased elemental resistances or damage. It’s a really engaging system that actually rewards you every time you level up, and offers you choices within certain trees as to which benefit you would prefer based on which best suits your build. I’ve kept up the same Warlock from the first post but I’m quite interested in seeing how other classes fare in this new Mastery tree. I’m also itching to see how the Templar or Berserker performs.

Melt their flesh and strip their bones with corrosive poison!

Mastery is also available from when you first start playing the character and access doesn’t require an arbitrary level requirement. I’m also quite fond of the new enchanting materials and gems, which, in their own ways, allow you to further customise your equipment and further empower your most precious loot. Most enjoyable of all is that these materials are stored in a separate crafting inventory which means they’re universally available to all of your characters. They also don’t require stash space. There are new transmutation mechanics, too. But I’m not really sure what they do quite yet.

I’m thinking that they allow you to add powerful bonuses to your equipment.

I have actually received a few mysterious items as a result of completing various Anomalies and should probably look into what they do. That said, as with many things, the acquisition of loot is randomised and so I’m not entirely sure if these are items that are remotely useful for Warlocks (or more specifically poison Warlocks).

I’ve been quite optimistic regarding the final release of Chronicon and I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed. There have been many fantastic major updates which have introduced new mechanics, new story content, and have generally solved various issues that existed with the title from the first release. I see no reason why the developer would stop now. That said, if I’m still playing the same character some two years later and they’re now Lvl 100 (Mastery Lvl 200) and I’m still enjoying it then they’re doing something right. It’s more than I can say for many of the modern ARPGs that I’ve played. Most of which are good for maybe one or two characters and then they become stale and repetitive. Yet there’s something about Chronicon that’s so easy to come back to and enjoy.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

An Unlikely Continuation

From the ashes of humanity. Or the franchise.

There are few series that I’ve enjoyed in recent years as much as the (once disappointingly short-lived) Darksiders series. Darksiders was an exceptionally enjoyable combination of great art direction, satisfying visceral combat, and everything I’d ever loved about the Legend of Zelda series. While Darksiders II featured some of the best art direction I’ve seen and some of the best music I’ve heard in a video game, not to mention a loot system and character development mechanics akin to an ARPG. Darksiders III is… somewhat disappointing by comparison.

It’s still an enjoyable experience but is marred by flaws.

Most puzzling of all is how it feels as though many mechanics were never finished. Such as the weapon Enhancements which insinuate that you need to actively use (or switch to) the weapon to get the effect, when every weapon is the whip, and so every effect is always active. Despite the feeling that maybe actual secondary weapons were meant to exist.

The mechanic which allows you to dodge an incoming attack and retaliate with massive damage is one of the few enjoyable elements of combat. Much of the rest of it is a painfully slow exercise in evaluating when best to land a hit with your whip, or the several other variants of your whip which you unlock as the story progresses. In many ways the secondary weapons could be interesting additions to your arsenal. Were it not for the fact that Fury is made out of tissue paper and can easily be killed when she is locked in an attack animation that can’t be cancelled. Not to mention the convoluted mechanics present with Nephilim’s Respite. A consumable which allows you to restore your health that replenishes when you defeat enemies (or purchase refills when visiting Vulgrim). There are ever-increasingly expensive health restoration items, too.

Pride can make people do terrible things.

The world design is also oddly inconsistent. There are some environmental hazards that will kill you despite being able to easily jump out of them. While some falls will return you to the place you were before you fell at the cost of a portion of your health (despite visible ground below you suggesting you can fall down). Further to this point, the Hollows, which Fury uses for puzzle solving purposes, often appear in number at any given puzzle. Even when it’s not possible to have one Hollow before another and so the inclusion of a second or third is moot.

It was certainly an ambitious project and I recognise that ambition.

But the execution of that ambition left a lot to be desired. Lest we forget that one boss fight at the beginning of the story which functioned more as a puzzle than a fight. I was hoping those boss fights would not make a return (and they didn’t), but it was still a weird uneven mess of trying to understand how controls work under threat of death.

I don’t like to be inherently negative when I write about things and so this post might seem a little out of place. However, it is, in my opinion, the only way to honestly talk about how I feel about Darksiders III as a continuation of the series. I still believe that it’s worth experiencing for yourself as everyone enjoyed something different about the Darksiders series. It’s also not entirely irredeemable as it has quite an engaging story. It could also be said that this is how Darksiders III is taking the series as a whole in a different direction, and that, while I liked Darksiders II, many people could have felt similarly to those changes. However, I still greatly enjoy the series and look forward to what they do next.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

First Impressions of… Book of Demons

To the depths of the cathedral we go!

Book of Demons is a rather charming ARPG (and lovingly crafted tribute to Diablo) which features an interesting combination of mechanics that work well together to create a unique experience. Items, equipment, talents, and spells are being represented as cards while character classes (and character development mechanics) are presented in a more conventional fashion. But the dungeons are composed of randomly generated exploration, events, and combat via the Flexiscope system. Which allows you to control how much progress you’ll make and how long the dungeon is.

It’s a great system if you’ve only got a certain amount of time.

Once enough progress has been made you’ll need to undertake a quest to defeat the final boss for that area. However, despite having only a few areas, and a few final bosses, the dungeons themselves are quite lengthy and don’t feel as repetitive as the random generation may suggest. In fact, due to the myriad events they’re incredibly fun to explore.

There are three character classes to choose from: the Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. The Warrior is the first available class and you’ll need to reach Lvl 5 before the other two will unlock. They rely on Artifact cards (which reserve a portion of your mana but provide different bonuses) and have few actual spells. The Rogue relies more on item cards as they have elemental arrows which can be applied to their bow, but they also utilise Artifact cards. Mages are (as expected) the most reliant on spells but do have some rather neat item cards. Each class can use the different kinds of cards, but they will have more or less of them depending on how they’re designed to explore dungeons. Warriors will usually have most of their mana reserved while Mages won’t.

I wasn’t sure about the Burning Axe at first, but now I love it.

Each card can be upgraded to a second and a third rank which usually increases the cost but also increases the effect of the card. Or adds new effects. There are magical variants of the cards, too. Which the Sage can identify at a cost but will provide randomised prefixes and suffixes for further customisation. I’m not sure if there are truly unlimited combinations of affixes and the possibility to collect hundreds of cards, but the affixes I’ve found have been useful. Each variant of the card is individual, though. So upgrading one doesn’t upgrade the others.

Item cards are also interesting as they need to be charged.

This process is usually done via the Fortune Teller and costs an amount of gold per charge. Upgrading item cards will usually increase the maximum number of charges and the effect of the card, but will also require more investment per charge. That said, item cards can also be recharged by randomised drops in the dungeons. So they’re quite flexible.

I’ve been anticipating the full release of Book of Demons for some time and it hasn’t disappointed. If anything I’m more surprised as to how many different mechanics are at work, and how they’re all working together to create something that brings a warm nostalgic joy to my heart. Even if it wasn’t a tribute to the original Diablo I’d still love it. It might have been inspired by the series (and wears that inspiration on its sleeve), but it also provides many of its own ideas that bring modern design concepts to classic design principles. If you’re a fan of ARPGs and you enjoy crawling through dungeons for sweet loot, gratuitous slaughter, and the echo of an infernal bleat in the distance then I can’t recommend Book of Demons highly enough. It’s an amazing experience.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

From the Ashes

Greenish tints are common in post-apocalyptic wastelands.

Devil’s Crossing has seen better days. Mostly the ones where they’re not under siege from a fallen city overflowing with horrific monstrosities. But, seeing as they are under siege, and their militia is more or less useless, you’re going to be busy for a few days. Or weeks. Assuming you aren’t immediately swallowed up by the void. Ashes of Malmouth is the utterly fantastic continuation of Grim Dawn, which features both new Masteries and new story content (alongside a heapin’ helpin’ of new items legendary and otherwise).

It’s a good ol’ fashioned expansion.

The two new Masteries alone are worth the price of admission, as they can either be used on their own or with any of the other Masteries which opens up myriad possibilities. I’ve been trying the Death Knight (Necromancer/Soldier) and the combination of summoning with close combat is pretty fantastic. Having a menagerie of unholy beasts and skeletons is pretty neat.

That said, the new story content is excellently introduced through a series of breadcrumb quests which take you back to Burrwitch and then to heart of the void. From there you journey to Malmouth and (quite literally) fight your way to the heart of the city. Gaining ground and losing it in equal measure as you push forwards. It’s a surprisingly extensive journey which will introduce you to new factions nestled deep in marshes and crumbling cities, and will require you to make choices, as your actions will dictate who will welcome you and who won’t, and those interactions will help you understand the true nature of these factions. As expected from Grim Dawn there is a wealth of choice and consequence that’ll keep you busy for hours to come.

Crown Hill definitely has an infestation problem.

I’ve had a few pangs of nostalgia while playing through this expansion, too. It gives me similar feelings to those I had when I first experienced Diablo II Lord of Destruction, wherein the snowy plains of Act V kept me company while I adjusted to the innumerable challenges that lay ahead. I’m also quite excited to see how the Death Knight develops. I’ve mostly experienced Ashes of Malmouth with my Warder (Shaman/Soldier), which, besides being my first character, doesn’t have a particularly strong or effective build.

It has great burst potential but terrible survivability.

However, despite the build drawbacks, I’ve greatly enjoyed all that I’ve experienced so far. I’ve still got to find those new dungeons, too. I would say that I’ve seen the majority of what this expansion has to offer, but I know that isn’t true as it is so incredibly content dense. I’ve definitely missed quests and NPCs along the way. Not to mention the results of different choices.

It’s an incredibly easy recommendation to make if you love ARPGs. Grim Dawn is an expertly crafted and beautifully complex yet intuitive and easy to learn ARPG, which only becomes better (in every way) with this expansion. That and you can raise skeletons. All the cool kids are doing that. I’m not really sure what the Inquisitor does- but I’m sure that’s neat as well. I’m quite excited to see what’s coming next for Grim Dawn, but, until then, I’ve got to roam the fields of Wightmire with my Death Knight. She’s due to loot something really cool any day now. Or maybe I’ll try to make sense of the Devotion screen and pick something out for her. I don’t really open that screen much. It’s big and confusing.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Purloiner of Cinders

That’s a fairly accurate description of what I do.

I’ve also been known to farm Silver Knights for their equipment, collect spells of many different varieties, collect armour sets that I’ll never use, and sometimes even fight bosses to progress the story. I became the Lord of Hollows, too. That was quite an interesting marriage ceremony. Dark Souls III is an adventure that I’ve been eager to begin, but one that I approached with a build that focused on two things I’ve scarcely used before- Strength weapons and Pyromancies. It’s an odd combination and it’s not the easiest build to make effective.

But I get to throw smouldering fireballs at people. Which explode into lava.

I’ve greatly enjoyed the build, but I will admit that I mostly fell back on using my weapon and shield instead of the varied Pyromancies. Which still feel like (mostly) PvP options to me. That said, I’m not too upset about that as I’ve been able to make use of a greatshield. Which is also a first for me. I’ve had varying success with bosses for obvious reasons, too.

As is becoming common practice for Dark Souls, Human Effigies (like Humanity before them) have been replaced by Embers which are much less required as they only really boost your maximum health until you die. It’s a nice boost- but it’s not as necessary as using a Human Effigy because you’re missing half of your health. Many of the mechanics you’ve become accustomed to have returned as well. Infusions allow you to enhance or completely change the damage type or scaling on your weapon, the reinforcement process remains unchanged, and the most major of differences is the introduction of Ashen Estus Flasks. Which are like regular Estus Flasks (and they share collective charges) but recover FP instead of HP.

Let’s take the scenic route.

FP is a rather important mechanic but only if you intend to cast spells or use weapon arts. It replaces the previous mechanic of attuning multiple copies of the same spell for extra uses and introduces a casting resource (FP), which is recovered with Ashen Estus Flasks, and so every spell has a cost, while spending points in Attunement will give you more FP and more slots. It’s probably the broadest change and it’s a little confusing at first, but very simple once you get the hang of it. I’m actually really supportive of the change. It feels balanced.

Likewise, weapon arts allow you to use special moves with certain weapons.

These special moves will also drain FP but they’re often worth the cost. While some of the more unique transposed weapons will have entirely different movesets to what you may expect, which makes those weapons interesting for reasons other than scaling and/or damage. It’s an enjoyable experience overall which still holds a lot of secrets (and optional bosses) for you to discover.

Likewise, the Dark Souls series as a whole is quite enjoyable. There are some less than enjoyable moments or bosses, but it’s mostly a very well made series, which has the ability to be experienced in different ways over different playthroughs, and will most certainly give you hours of entertainment. It also tends to teach you how creative you can be with profanity. I’ve got a few other builds I want to try with Dark Souls III as well. Mostly those that include Sorceries or something that suits my usual build. Even the dual wielding weapons look fun. I’ve also yet to make my way through the DLC, which I know are quite difficult and feature several multiple phase bosses. Those are my favourites- that’s when the despair really sets in!

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Shieldless in Drangleic

It’s a dangerous world out there.

Likely even more dangerous when you willingly opt out of using a shield entirely. That said, I’ve started to wonder if I rely too much on my shield. Especially when I don’t really build characters around heavier armour which are more likely to require a shield, or, at the very least, make good use of one. Dark Souls II is an experience I don’t really talk about all that much. That’s not to say that the experience itself is bad, just that I made a bad decision in thinking that Miracles would be a good secondary damage option. When they’re really not.

Well, no, they are- you just have to progress pretty far into the story to get those Miracles.

Which meant that I’d need to start over with a new build and I never really got around to doing that. Until recently. Which is when I decided I’d run a full Sorceries build with limited weapon options and no shield. I’ll admit- it sounds like a bad idea. Which it was with some bosses. But it was something different that helped me to understand when a shield is actually useful.

The majority of character progression and development mechanics remained the same as they were in Dark Souls. But the most significant difference would be the introduction of Human Effigies, which essentially act as Humanity but also restore the temporary maximum health loss that occurs when you die. They’re not particularly required, either. Especially if you have the ring that reduces the amount of maximum health you lose with each additional death. I do believe the Sorceries have remained mostly the same as well. That said, for me, the greatest challenge was defeating bosses like the Lost Sinner with no reflexive shield raising. I always do that panic button press hoping that it will absorb the damage when I’m about to get hit.

Shower him with Soul Arrows!

I’ve had a lot of fun with the build, though. It’s definitely different as I’m usually doing most damage with a weapon and then relying on Sorceries for some enemies. Whereas, with this build, I’m having to think a lot more about actually rolling effectively as I don’t have a panic button. If I roll badly I’m going to get hit. Which makes equipment weight more important, which in turn reduces the number of armour sets I could wear without investing heavily into its governing attribute. Casting time is also something I’m now much more aware of.

It wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting, either.

Which many would say is because of the inherent damage of Sorceries, but in many ways I felt almost underpowered in the earlier areas as I had limited Sorceries to attune and these were my main sources of damage. But that’s part of the challenge. When using a Strength/Dexterity weapon you have steadily increasing damage, whereas Sorceries are much more spiky.

It took a fairly long time to come back to Dark Souls II but I’m glad that I did. I didn’t own the Scholar of the First Sin version until recently, so these are all observations of a character in the original version but I do have the DLC for that version. So I’ll likely be exploring those at a later date. Until then, I’ll likely be moving on to the next in the series with which I will likely try another different build. But, again, as I said with the first Dark Souls, the character customisation and progression is what makes the series so enjoyable. It’s great to always be trying new weapons or building around different attributes. I can easily recommend Dark Souls II, though. It’s different- but it’s the enjoyable kind of different.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie