The Urge to Climb

Ascending towards the surface and the sun.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares is an absolutely bizarre but enjoyable JRPG featuring satisfying dungeon crawling mechanics. It functions similarly to other dungeon crawlers and features a party of up to five characters, but allows you to develop those characters to conform to whichever party composition you have in mind. Presenting a typical JRPG party management system of being able to swap characters as and when you please. The development of the individual characters is tied to their classes, of which there are five unique classes and two characters embodying each class resulting in ten playable characters.

Of the ten one is a secret character unlocked near the end of the campaign.

Most character development is as expected with the acquisition of experience points leading to levelling up. However, there are the Blood Devolution mechanics (that allow you to reverse the levelling process) and the class change mechanics which both require increasing quantities of blood crystals. Blood crystals which are found at random in dungeons.

Changing classes requires a quantity of blood crystals and Job Rights, while Blood Devolution requires a (significantly greater) quantity of blood crystals and Devolution Rights. Every tenth character level you are awarded both a Job Right and Devolution Right. This is one of the earlier justifications for utilising the Blood Devolution mechanics, as you can easily devolve a low level character to acquire another Job Right with which you can unlock more classes. Unlocking a class makes every skill available to that class permanently available to the character even if they switch to something else. For instance, Alice will retain Cover or Intimidate (if invested in) even if she switches from Paladin to Destroyer. So unlocking each and every class is actually a viable strategy to maximise the number of skills you have available.

There are some unusual classes, too. The Item Meister is an exceptionally useful utility class that is second only to the Blood Hunter for making the most of each dungeon. Both classes increase the drop rate of items in combat while the Blood Hunter can also increase the amount of gold earned in combat, and utilising one of these classes will have you buried under mountains of loot. Loot, which, even if it isn’t immediately useful, can be sold. I had an Item Meister for the majority of the campaign and I reached the point where I had millions of gold that I couldn’t carry due to the gold cap being just shy of ten million.

The Paladin is quite a unique approach that really excels with higher level equipment, too.

My only minor criticism of the mechanics presented herein is that the acquisition of blood crystals can be quite unpredictable. Often only one or two creatures of a particular type (of a particular floor) will drop the crystals you need, but unless you’re planning to engage in Blood Devolution repeatedly you should have more than enough of even the rarer blood crystals to get by.

I bought Mary Skelter: Nightmares on a whim as it looked like a reasonably enjoyable JRPG dungeon crawler. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to experience something that’s genuinely enjoyable and engaging that doesn’t necessarily challenge you but remains fun to play throughout. The characters and their respective classes were quite interesting and varied, while the dungeons featured actual puzzles (albeit not complex ones) and particular mechanics that required you to use the unique abilities of each character. The main campaign was also quite a bit longer than expected. If you’re a fan of JRPGs or dungeon crawlers (or both) I highly recommend Mary Skelter: Nightmares!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

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Crawling Through Dungeons

Truly one of my favourite things to do.

My long history of playing through Diablo II can attest to that fact. Though, to be fair, Diablo had far more dungeon crawling than the sequel considering that you were descending beneath the cathedral. But there were numerous optional areas in Diablo II filled with loot, monsters, and unforgiving winding corridors. Curse those winding corridors! That said, it wasn’t until I first heard of Legend of Grimrock that I realised there is a whole genre built around the concept. Or, perhaps more accurately, that there was a whole genre built around the concept. It feels as though the genre has been forgotten by modern developers.

The concept of dungeon crawling is certainly prevalent in ARPGs.

There are also a few wonderfully enjoyable RPGs such as Darkest Dungeon that embrace the harsh, unflinching, puzzling nature of dungeons present in dungeon crawlers. However, in most modern RPGs there are few incentives to explore and fewer still to form a particular party to overcome various challenges. In fact, most of those mechanics are simply absent.

There are a few modern CRPGs such as Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity that embrace complex character generation, numerous dialogue options, and party-based adventuring. But it does seem that complexity is slowly but surely disappearing from RPGs in general. In fact, that was one of the reasons that Fallout 4 felt so stale compared to either Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. There wasn’t really any incentive to explore besides collecting more crafting materials. Most weapons could be completely rebuilt and few unique variants actually performed differently from their base weapon class. There was something ever so slightly addictive about the exploration in both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. That and your character could actually resolve problems in different ways due to their character builds.

I get the feeling that we’re being watched…

I’ll admit that this post might seem slightly random but I do have reasons for the things that I do. In this case, this post was conceived during the time I’ve spent with the bizarrely enjoyable JRPG dungeon crawler Mary Skelter: Nightmares. While it features much of the typical JRPG busywork it also executes the dungeon crawling concepts nicely. I wasn’t expecting to actually have to solve puzzles or utilise different character abilities to overcome the challenges presented therein. It’s certainly not as complex as Legend of Grimrock (in either the puzzle mechanics or dungeon design) but it’s really fun to play.

Even if it does feature endless winding corridors in some areas.

Hence the reason that I ended up spending several hours looking for other dungeon crawlers. Unearthing everything from the Eye of the Beholder series to The Bard’s Tale trilogy and many other classic dungeon crawling experiences. I’d even forgotten that I do own both The Elder Scrolls Arena and The Elder Scrolls II Daggerfall which fit into that genre.

While the search didn’t necessarily yield the results I was hoping for it did reignite my interest in the many video game adaptations of Dungeons & Dragons rules. Given that many of these earlier dungeon crawlers were either inspired by or developed with those rules. I’ve long been considering rekindling my nostalgic love for Neverwinter Nights, which was one of my first CRPG experiences over ten years ago. When arguing with video card drivers was the true final boss of any gaming experience. Not that I fully understood or appreciated the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rules, and so didn’t actually get too far into the campaign. But those experiences did encourage me to get into the Baldur’s Gate and the Icewind Dale series. So it’s not the worst mistake I’ve ever made.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

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

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

First Impressions of… Chronicon

Delve deep into the secrets of this world.

Chronicon is an ARPG which features four distinct character classes, more randomised loot than you’ll ever have space for, quests and side objectives of every flavour, randomised dungeons (in the style of Diablo II), and more monsters than any one person could conceivably slay. The only potential negative I can think of is that it’s in Early Access. That said, I don’t really consider that a negative as this title seems to have made great strides in recent months. In fact- it seems to always be improving something somewhere.

I think the most recent update added bags.

These bags seem to have an ever increasing number of slots, too. So you’ll be able to find new ones and increase your inventory size as you go along, which, alongside your character stash (which doesn’t upgrade) and your shared stash (which does upgrade), means you’ll never have to worry about loot again. Or you will but you’ll do so less frequently.

The four character classes each have their own talents, strengths, and weaknesses. Each is then further enhanced with four skill trees (which you can freely invest in) for active skills, passive skills, auras, buffs, default attack replacement skills, and more! There’s even class specific equipment which allows you to further develop the class. I’m not entirely sure if they have specific class skill bonuses on their equipment- but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve already seen incredibly powerful set items which boast abilities I’ve not encountered elsewhere. If you’re playing on Veteran or higher you’ll also have the chance to snag legendary items, which are rumoured to be so exceptionally awesome you’ll never want to leave home without one.

Speaking of difficulty levels, there are a range of them from the casual to the extreme with certain aspects only being available on the higher ones. Like legendary items. It functions similarly to how you could scale up the difficulty in Diablo II. The enemies are tougher but you get more crystals, experience, and you have a higher chance to find better equipment. So there’s definitely a reward for pushing further up the difficulty ladder. Those experienced with ARPGs could likely start on Veteran without too many issues.

Heroic would probably be a good entry point, too.

The current playable content features the first three Acts. Each has its own story, quests, and side objectives. It’s honestly surprisingly how polished and playable this is for a pre-release product. It’s already boasting a whole host of different features which are all fully functional and (in my experience) bug/glitch free, which only makes it more enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of ARPGs then I can wholeheartedly recommend Chronicon to you. There is an incredible foundation already present, which will no doubt be built upon to further improve all aspects of the experience in future updates. I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve played so far, too. It’s been great to explore the depths of these ancient halls and not even realise it’s 2am and I was going to bed two hours ago. Which is a pretty rare thing nowadays. It’s an absolute steal for the price as well. Being only £6.99 (at full price), in a sale this is probably one of the best deals you’re going to get if you’re in the mood for a little dungeon crawling. Or, rather, a lot of dungeon crawling. Check it out- you won’t be disappointed!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie