Quick First Impressions Review: Northgard

Northgard

I’ve promised to write down my impressions of Northgard on Twitter. The game released tonight, exactly two hours ago and since it is an early access game, you will not get my usual first impressions review, but a very quick first impressions review. :p I will – depending on the outcome of this first glance – report about significant changes and added features and write a more in-depth first impressions piece later on!

Now, for the most important part: What exactly is Northgard? – To answer this, let me first ask you: Did you play Settlers? Did you play Cultures (shown below)? If you did play Cultures, come here, sit down, take a cookie, say hello and be my best friend! Cultures is the game that got me into gaming in the “modern age” (after my C64-days). Cultures was – is, rather – a game about Vikings. It has single player campaigns and multiplayer coop and PvP maps. I liked it a lot more than Settlers, because you could name every single of your Vikings and you assigned each of them their job and determined which one got married and so on.

My main problem is: There is Cultures and it got so many things right in my opinion. And here is Northgard. A new game just freshly released into Early Access. Several features like multiplayer are not yet implemented. But even when all features are in the game, I need to remind myself that this isn’t Cultures! Comparing it directly will only disappoint me. But enough about these games. I merely mentioned them, because when I saw Northgard, I immediately had to think about Cultures and after Valhalla Hills being rather disappointing, my hope was that Northgard would be a worthy successor. However, it is probably better to keep that nostalgic feeling at the back of my mind and look at Northgard with fresh eyes. Shiro Games are different developers and apparently they (or one of them, at least) did not even know the Cultures series existed. Shiro Games are the developers of Evoland and Evoland 2, by the way. I never played these games, but I know the name. Northgard still very much reminds me of Settlers and Cultures. It’s a real-time strategy/simulation game where you build and grow a village of Vikings. You need to gather resources and food and defend against various enemies as well as attack others to gain more regions for your tribe!

So, let’s look at Northgard: You start with a tiny little piece of land and a few villagers. There are only men around which I am not a fan of. Yes, I know there is always a huge debate whether there were women fighting for the Vikings, but that’s not what I mean! It’s a village. It should have men and women. In Cultures, women tended to the house, brought home food (= carriers ^^) in Cultures 2, they also took care of bringing home dishes and stuff and they gave birth to the Viking children. It just made it more believable!

The first thing you will probably build is a Scout camp. Scouts explore the surrounding areas. Your territory is very small and you are only allowed up to build 4 buildings in there. So you need to expand and claim more areas for yourself (and you can only build 4 buildings in each of them). Then you do what you usually do in this kind of game: You place a woodcutter lodge, a hunter’s lodge if your area has deer, maybe you can place a fishing hut if you have fish nearby. Of course, you also have things like a training camp for warriors or a defense tower. Houses will allow more villagers to come to your village. The user interface is pretty clean, intuitive and easy to navigate.

Something I did not understand at first: In order to survive winter, you should probably have a fishing hut. Where I got placed, there were no fish, though. I also had no fertile land despite claiming three areas out of which one was very green all over. The game did not tell me what counts as fertile land. I started a second game to see if I had more luck there (spoiler: I did! I found fish, but no fertile land).

Fighting is very straight-forward. Tell your warriors where to go, right-click the enemy. I had my two warriors die to wolves. After recruiting two new warriors, I was a bit surprised to see one of my warriors still alive. Maybe I’d just had tomatoes on my eyes? I told my two new warriors to join their buddy – by right-clicking on him. The next thing I knew was that a message informed me that the leader of the neighbouring clan was not happy about my hostile action. Now I know that a) the warriors aren’t too easy to distinguish (or I do indeed have tomatoes on my eyes – both equally possible and likely! ^^) and b) the other clans don’t immediately go to war just because you accidentally killed one of their warriors. Good neighbours, I would say. The kind of neighbours I like. Such a simple little unimportant mistake shouldn’t lead to resentful actions, right? But without fish or fertile land, I decided to start a new game and see where I would be placed here. Maybe I would be luckier…

The second game indeed went much better: I had fish! But I was at the maximum of 5 Vikings and I needed more to grow (and I had negative food production, that is, more food was consumed than produced). I wanted to hurry up with the wood production as I was lacking wood for another house and added my last free Viking to the woodcutter lodge. Then there was no Viking left to build that house. But no problem, I’ll just unassign… nope. It’s either not possible, not yet possible or I could not find the option*.

Thankfully, I had a warrior standing around that I decided to send into a kamikaze run to nearby enemies, so he’d die and I could have one more Viking which would come to my village with no assigned role! Other than assigning regular villagers to build buildings, they gather food in the area when they have nothing else to do. At least, when it’s not winter. I like this little touch of having the seasons affect the game!

There is also something like a tech tree in the game. I am gathering lore points a— HEY! While I was typing this, the game made a weird sound… it was the clear sound of an alarm! The minimap showed one of my areas flashing in bright red. Something attacked me! But no, not something. Somebody. The one clan I had found already which had been neutral to me. Apparently, as we are right next to each other, as it’s winter, and as I have fish, they thought they could just attack me! I had also just sacrificed my one warrior, so I was defenseless. I am happy to report, though, that you can assign every Viking to your training camp to convert them into a warrior. Two warriors later, my area was successfully defended but I am down to one warrior again. And only one woodcutter, but I had only wanted to have one in the first place. So no big deal. Except that I had no food anymore and still had a negative production, because there were no free villagers left to gather food. But one new villager arrived just in time! Phew. We’re safe!

Back to the lore tree: Once I am at the maximum amount shown (which is 100 lore in the beginning), I can unlock something. I decided my warriors should get fur coats, so their attack power isn’t reduced in foreign areas during winter. The next unlock costs 120 lore.

 

Just so we know that this is not everything to the game… look at that black cloud on the picture. It appeared together with a pop-up tooltip window informing me that portals opened and I would have to make sure my defenses are strong enough…

Northgard

And with this, I am going to end my very first impression piece.

What’s the verdict here? So far, the game runs smoothly on my PC. No technical issues, no bugs that I noticed – and just when I was wondering whether it could become a bit too boring, the neighbouring clan attacked me! So far, so good. Northgard is in Early Access, so the game is still being developed and more features will be added. I do not regret the purchase! Speaking of purchase: ‘What’s the price?’ you may ask. It’s currently on sale for $17.99€ on Steam Early Access until March 1, then the price will go up to $19.99€. Still a good price if this is the kind of game you enjoy playing!

However, as with every Early Access title: Choose wisely whether you want to invest now as the game does lack some features! Inform yourself first and make the judgment based on what is there now, not on what could maybe eventually end up in the game in the not-so-soon future. If you like what you see, then yes, go ahead and buy the game! It isn’t expensive, after all. If you’re uncertain, better wait and check YouTube or Twitch for Let’s Plays before making a decision.

*It’s the latter. I looked at the steam community hub for this game and found a thread about this where they mentioned how it works: You select the worker you want to convert back to villager and send him to the Town Hall (the main building you start with) or to one of the houses you’ve built and that puts them back to being a regular villager. It also helps spreading houses around the map as it means less travel time for this task.

Urban Empire: First Impression Review

I got the game, Urban Empire, as a Christmas present from bookahnerk. It released on January 20, so there was quite some aniticipation built up there. I had watched a few streams about the game and read a few articles from gaming websites (and a German gaming magazine), but I didn’t read too much about the game’s mechanics and how to actually play the game. I have played through the campaign once (with a time-victory, meaning I stayed mayor for all five time eras that the game has), so I figured it’s a good time to share my impressions with you now.

Urban Empire

First things first: The developers stress that it’s a city-ruler, not a city-building game. And that part is certainly true! You plan city districts and choose the percentage of residential buildings, businesses and industry in that district plus you can add a few things like water, electricity or special buildings like a park (which adds a bonus to health) or a clinic and so on (each with a monthly cost associated, of course). Once you are done with one district proposal, your city council gets to vote. If the majority of them votes “no”, the district will not be built – you can try again and alter some of the settings, though. Or you just pay for the district out of your own pockets. As mayor of the city, you do get money every month and can use it for things like this or spying on political parties that are part of your government.

Urban Empire

You can choose between four different families to rule as mayors throughout the five time eras that the campaign has. I chose the Kilgannons as my mayors. What I liked were some random events related to my chosen family that were happening in the first two eras. It was mostly about what my offspring did and I had to react or make a decision. E.g., I wanted to send my daughter to university but it was not possible yet in the fictional country of Swarelia, where my city is located, at the time. So I chose to send her abroad which made her upset. But these events made me bond with my mayor and his family. At some point, these events stopped and I was not given any more options or decisions on what to do with family members. I was not even told about any of my family members anymore. With every change of the era, a new offspring gets put into the mayor office. So with one era-change, there he was: some relative that I had never even heard of before but he was the new mayor now and I had no choice there. Maybe I am too used to roleplaying games where I can choose my character and customize them somewhat. Still, I would have really liked to hear about that person before and get to know at least a little bit about them before having to play as that character. Or better yet, with the change of the era, give me a decision which relative to choose as the next mayor!

Urban Empire

During the first two eras, the city council can’t do anything to get rid of you. That is, they can’t vote you out! But they still do vote on almost every decision you make! Going completely broke would probably let you lose the game either way… I did get into huge debts twice, but both times, I asked in Vienna where I asked for more money and got it, so I could continue. In other words, I have no idea what has to happen in order to lose the game in the first two eras.

Urban Empire

Other than placing districts, you also choose inventions. You do not research these inventions themselves, but merely research to have the inventions imported to your city (or so it said in the tutorial). Every research is tied to a certain era, although you can advance faster (or slower!) than the time eras (so you can research era 2 inventions even though you’re still in the first era time-wise). Researched inventions also unlock new issues/edicts and upgrades to your city. From time to time, political parties want you to start a vote on certain edicts and you can either agree or disagree with them. In either case, they do get voted on by the political parties afterwards. I would assume that my decision changes the “goodwill” of the political parties depending on whether they agree or disagree with the issue.

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The goodwill shows whether political parties will favour me or not… and I can “spend” goodwill to plead with, demand or threaten a political party to agree with me on an issue (or to vote for me in the upcoming elections). I do not know what happens if you’re at the maximum of -10 goodwill. I was at that point quite often with several political parties at which point I always chose “threaten” to make them vote for me, because eh, there was nothing to lose. However, despite being at -10, I do not know what negative implications this had. I didn’t feel or notice any, at least. You can plead with, demand or threaten a political party once a month, so that’s what I did before elections took place. It was a close call sometimes, but with one exception, I always won the election. One time I didn’t win the election and I could click on “overrule” to stay mayor. You pay such an overruling with prestige points and I had gotten so many of them without spending any that it was no big deal. The result was that all political parties lost respect for me which means that they had less goodwill towards me. Which brings me back to the point of not knowing or not having felt any negative consequences of being at -10 goodwill.

Placing the districts was a fun part. Yes, I admit, I’m a fan of city-building! Once all districts were placed, there was nothing to further expand the city. Well, other than increasing the density of my districts depending on demand (e.g., reducing the residential areas in a district but increasing industry because we had a need for much more industry but not for residents), at least. I had a spot left where I could have placed another district, but the game told me the area is too small for a district. So I had two options: Destroy at least one neighbouring district to rebuild it a bit smaller, so I could probably squeeze in another district – or just let it be as it didn’t matter anyway. I had a surplus of income, residents were reasonably happy, security, environment, health etc. were all acceptable. So why change anything? I had gotten to that point at the beginning of the 4th era which means that for the rest of the game (era 4 and 5), I let the city council come up with issues or sometimes initiated a vote on issues or edicts myself because they improved the city or gave me some more income (depending on what was needed to balance it out again) and waited for the end of era 5 to get that time victory.

Two more features got unlocked in the later eras: Twin Cities which lets you choose a city and get some bonus in return. I chose Sydney which gives me +2 fun but it costs 50k. And Business Delegation which lets me send a delegation to a city for several months and gives me bonuses to a certain industry I choose.

You actually do have a lot of stats to look at. For example, which districts have how many middle class or working class residents. But to be honest, I did not have a reason to look at these stats. And believe me, I love stats! I just want a reason to pay attention to them and make decisions based on them!

I liked the first two eras of the game, but after that, it became “click click click, wait for votes, click click click, then threaten and demand with the political parties who would not vote for me until they would…” and nothing really mattered. I had positive income with my city and even if I didn’t do anything and didn’t change anything, all went well. I’ve never felt this indifferent about “winning” the game (with a time victory), because it was just so boring getting there. I basically sat it out with one exception: I did go through all my districts and upgrade the road networks and I think I got more income afterwards as transportation volume increased. But other than that, districts didn’t complain if they didn’t have gas, water or electricity. Everything worked well anyway which let me stay inactive for most parts.

Urban Empire

My conclusion for now is that I cannot recommend the game for full price. For me, it doesn’t offer enough as it gets boring at some point. However, I still think it’s a great concept and the first two eras are fun and engaging! It’s a solid base and not a “lost cause” if you ask me, and maybe the developers will add features in the future that make the game more engaging and feel the effects of making – or not making – choices in the later eras.

TL;DR: Urban Empire is a city-ruler game with – in my opinion – great potential which is not (yet?) living up to it.

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Otherland MMO – First Impressions

otherland_fir_klBookahnerk had told me about Otherland long before the MMO was in the news as Otherland is one of his favourite books and Tad Williams is one of his favourite authors! This is the main reason this game even caught my attention. We had both watched the gamescom trailer and really liked what we saw there and we really thought it had immense potential.

At some point, I had gotten access to Otherland’s closed beta for a short bit. I was not impressed with the game at all – or else you would have probably seen me write about it here. Some background images were nice, but that’s it. The game had one week of open beta where I had given it a try again and launched on September 8. The business model was a different one at first – I think buy to play? I am actually not too sure about that since I did not follow the game anymore, but now it is free to play. After a rocky start on its first day where it was not available unless you paid, you can just download and play it for free on Steam.

The bad news first: In its current state, I do not recommend the game. I think they need more time to smooth out the game, get rid of bugs and all of that. I had wanted to wait with writing about my impressions until I had gotten out of the tutorial area and had had a better look at the game behind it, but so far, this has not been possible. Lambda Mall is apparently the main hub and the area you enter after exiting the tutorial. During the open beta I could not get there. Where there should have been a portal at the end of the tutorial, there was nothing. Well, the portal was actually there, but I could not click on it or interact with it in any way. According to forum posts, this apparently happened whenever the server that Lambda Mall is on was down, but I could not find any other information on it and I gave up after trying several times.

Today, the game first refused to launch with an error message saying my graphics card does not support something (I didn’t read what it was) even though I’d played successfully before. Right now, I’m in the “verifying” stage but nothing else happens. I first tried it this morning at around 8.30 am*. This means that for more than 8 hours now, I have not been able to access the game. There were a couple of other people in the Steam community hub (and in the official forums) reporting the same issue. I had a look at the official Twitter account and found that there was a tweet on September 1, then another on September 8 to announce the official launch of the game but no other recent tweets. This is not how you handle the launch of an MMORPG! Where is the advertisement, where is the support? The community manager’s last posting in the forum was on September 8, their launch day.

Yes, I get that there may be bugs. And that is okay. There is no MMO that doesn’t have bugs and I don’t remember any MMO’s launch that did not have issues. However, what I do remember is community managers, developers and whoever else was available handling the social media channels and the forums informing players of what was happening and posting ETA times and so on. Here, there is silence. It is also the first weekend after launch and there is nothing but crickets from the developers. As far as I know, the first weekend after an MMO launches is always a very busy one as people try out the game. I would assume the same could potentially happen here since the game is on Steam and that often attracts lots of potential players.

But enough about that for now. There actually is a game somewhere and I can share with you what I have seen and experienced, even though it was not much yet. The game’s character creation is rather fast as there aren’t a lot of things to do. You can choose gender, size (including body proportions – this is nice!), skin colour (e.g. orange), skin pattern and I think that’s it? Some options are locked. But there are no hair styles, no changing of facial features etc.

The game has four different classes. Two are melee/tank (warrior and assassin), two are ranged/heal (energizer and marksman). Nothing too spectacular or exciting if you ask me. You can equip three weapons and switch between these, though. I am not sure yet, but I assume different weapons have different stats and effects. For example, one weapon to tank and one to dish out damage. Other than that, I have not yet seen a way to customize your playstyle further. I also do not know yet how to get new skills as even though I levelled up, nothing happened apart from a message telling me I levelled up. What I did like was that before you lock in your class choice, the game lets you enter a mini tutorial with each class where you can try it with lots of skills unlocked and some easy mobs to hit. Since I am never certain about what class “clicks” for me, I really like this feature! During beta, I had one of the two ranged classes (I think it was the energizer), but did not like it at all. I just stood there, kept my mouse button pressed to shoot repeatedly and hit 1, 2 or 3 depending on cooldowns etc. Now for the game’s release, I chose the warrior which is a lot more fun to play. I got a giant polearm and can just slash everything in range. :p

So far, the story is okay. I have to say that I do not know much about the world of Otherland. You are in a virtual reality and there are a lot of different settings. The giant chess pieces seen in the trailer above are in the tutorial, for example, among a lot of other settings. It is a virtual reality world, after all, so all settings are possible!

I saw the eDNA mentioned in the gamescom trailer above. This feature is certainly in the game as I could extra eDNA from enemies I had killed, but other than an animation and a message that I did collect it, nothing happened. I looked at my inventory, but could not see any indication of this eDNA, so I don’t know where it is or what I can do with it. I guess this would be nice to be explained in the tutorial. Or maybe it gets explained after entering Lambda Mall. My warrior made it there (now in the launch version of the game), but I had to get to bed when I last played, so I could not continue with the story. Another feature I had seen in the trailer was housing. According to a post on Massively back in August 2015, this feature should be in!

Something to be very careful about is the character deletion process. Right next to “create”, there is the “delete” button. I had hit that one during beta but nothing had happened. I logged in with my character (as it hadn’t gotten deleted after all) and played. Then I logged off. When I next logged in again, the character was gone. When I tried to make another character with the same name, it said that the name was already taken. Yeah, thank you? So I made another character. This was during beta and support (via Twitter DM) offered to undelete my character or free up the name for me to use again, so I don’t know if they made any changes. But having the delete button right next to the create button with no further confirmation if you are sure about wanting to delete and then on top of that a delay of when the deletion happens? Not good!

If it hadn’t been for me wanting to write about my impressions, I don’t think I would have continued playing. The combat is rather boring, but I admit that this was mainly my impression when playing the ranged class and it may just not be the right class for me. The graphics are really neat, though! Especially the background images are amazing! What you cannot see in the pictures is that the NPCs are not moving. They are frozen or something. However, some of them aren’t. They stand still just as the others, but as soon as you get too close, they attack you. So, if I had to choose one thing that stood out for me – positively – it’s definitely the look of the world!

What the game did achieve, however, was that we ordered the first Otherland novel in English now. Bookahnerk has read all of them years ago, but only in German. Now it’s time to read the original. And since I’ve never read them at all, it’s a perfect time to start for me. :)

TL;DR: This game gets no recommendation from me at the moment! I don’t think the developers/publishers take the game seriously or else there wouldn’t be such a lack of communication, especially now that the game can’t be accessed by some or all players. However, I do want to find out more about it. And if the game turns out to be as bad as the Steam reviews make it seem to be, I now own the first novel of Otherland in its original English version and will happily just read this book instead. :p

*This was after I got woken up by a stray pigeon that had accessed our flat – but that’s a different and very short story as it flew back outside when I scared it… only that I had been too awake then and decided to get up and try to play Otherland so I could write about my impressions. :p

Atlas Reactor: First Impressions Review

Atlas Reactor is currently in alpha and they are currently holding their “alpha sneak peek” event until February 24. Since there is no NDA for this event, I can write about my impressions. Hurrah! Just in case you missed it, I will repeat myself here: This game is in alpha! A lot is subject to change still.

TL;DR: This is currently a true gem!

Atlas Reactor Match found screen

Now on to what Atlas Reactor actually is: It is a turn-based MOBA. Yes, turn-based! Like in XCOM. Or even Civilization, but here in Atlas Reactor all players take turns simultaneously. There are currently three game modes. “Solo”, “Cooperative” and “Versus”. In “Solo” mode, you play with bots on your team and against bots only. In “Cooperative”, you play with other players against bots. In both games modes, you can choose the difficulty of the bots (both your allies and your enemies) giving PvE players some nice options! In “Versus”, you and other players play against other players. While you get 60 seconds to decide your moves in “Solo” mode, you only get 20 seconds in “Versus” mode. I find it a bit stressful, especially since I am still learning the game. I misclicked once and did not have time to correct my mistake (you can undo your choices by hitting ESC). Oh the shame… I moved one whole field and did nothing else! I think in those few Versus games that I played, my most often exclaimed expression was “5 more seconds, pleeeeease!”.

A turn consists of two stages. One called “Decision Mode” is when you decide your next actions, the second is called “Resolution Mode”. In this stage, you see how your choices play out.

Combat itself consists of four phases (green abilities are played in “Preparation”, yellow abilities in “Dash”, red abilities in the “Blast” phase and then the “move” phase comes at the end of the Resolution Mode). In the first, the Preparation phase, you have some abilities like traps that activate when an enemy steps through or heals. In Dash, you often have movement-related abilities. The Blast phase is when you shoot and hit enemies. Then all players can move to a different field on the map. You can choose a couple of abilities, but you do not get to choose one ability per phase. That is, if you choose a Dash ability, you will not be able to also lock in a Blast ability. You can always choose where to move at the end of the turn, though. A short example: You choose to set a trap in front of yourself. An enemy decides to teleport towards you in the Dash phase. The Resolution Mode starts. All actions were locked in and cannot be changed anymore. The Preparation phase comes first. Your character sets a trap in front of himself. Then Dash phase starts and the other player teleports towards you, right into your trap.

Another example: You are all standing on the battlefield. You are low on health and there is an enemy right in front of you. You have several options. You could heal (in the Preparation phase which plays out first), but then you can’t hit that big guy in front of you in the Blast phase. And while you are considering your fate, the enemy player (who for the sake of this example, is at full health) will certainly not put a trap or anything else that may do damage later on. No, he will get out his weapon and smash you during Blast phase! So his choice will be one of the damage-dealing abilities and then probably a movement to another tile. Maybe that heal ability will save you, maybe it won’t. Your 20 seconds are ticking, but hey, you see that you actually have a nice “dash” ability (which plays out in the middle phase, the “Dash” phase). You hit it just in time and choose which tile to dash to and the combat stage starts. Preparation phase: Big guy does nothing. Dash phase: You dash to where you’d chosen just a few seconds ago. Blast phase: Big guy hits right in front of him, but you are not there anymore. Phew. You’re safe.

This is Atlas Reactor in a nutshell!

Atlas Reactor Rask Ability Augmented Regeneration

But there is more than just you and one other guy. The game is 4 versus 4 and the goal is to get 5 kills before the other side does or get the most kills within 20 rounds of gameplay. This is actually quite a fast game. I think each match takes about 15 to 20 minutes. And you do not all have the same abilities, of course. You choose a character – called “Freelancers” here, before the match starts. A freelancer belongs to one of three categories: Firepower, Frontline and Support. They all probably do exactly what you imagine right now. Not all characters have an ability for each of the phases. Rask, a frontline freelancer, has one ability for the Dash phase and four abilities for the Blast phase. Normally, you can only choose one ability per phase, but he has two abilities (Augmented Regeneration and Uncontrollable Fury) which can be used in addition to another ability. I am definitely not a Frontline player, by the way, as that’s where I die quickly without dealing much damage. In short: The exact opposite of what I should be doing.

On the other hand, watch the video below. This is me playing Aurora, one of the three supporter freelancers. I played her twice in a game against very easy bots. Then I took her to this match with and against other players. If you know anything about Atlas Reactor already, you may see how I make hasty silly choices. However, it was my first time playing her there. But really, I would love to get 5 more seconds to decide! Those would make such a big difference.

Each freelancer has 5 abilities. Your first four abilities give you energy. The fifth, your “ultimate” needs 100 energy to be activated. The abilities can be customized with mods. Aurora’s first ability, “Shock Therapy” deals 18 damage to enemies and restores 12 health to allies. The mod “Vain” adds 5 heal to Aurora when you use this ability. You can also unlock (via in-game currency) other mods. The mod “Group Therapy” would instead add 4 heal when adding allies. So, no more heal for Aurora, but 16 health instead of 12 for targeted allies. There are also Catalysts. Those are identical for all freelancers and you can choose one for each phase. Those can be used only once per match and give you the ability to heal yourself or teleport, reduce cooldowns and so on. Just some nice little helpers.

Atlas Reactor Freelancer Screen

On to the next point, the far less amusing one: The payment model. Atlas Reactor will be a “free to play” game which is in line with all other games by Trion. I can’t say much about the shop yet, as not much has been implemented yet. Freelancers can be unlocked either by spending currency you earn through gaming (called “ISO”) or by spending real money (you buy currency called “Credits” in Trion). This is on par with what we know from League of Legends and the likes. What I find odd is that there is a “patron” option (a monthly sub!) giving patrons some benefits – or one, currently, an extra contract per day (like a daily quest which gives you ISO as a reward). I find it odd, because I haven’t seen or heard from a MOBA with a monthly sub yet… although this could also be because I only checked out League of Legends way back when it first launched. So I could be wrong here and it is a common thing to have. I am a bit wary here since they recently removed features from Rift players unless they decide to pay a monthly fee and they also removed the option to buy classes in Trove without real money.

At the moment, what you can buy in Atlas Reactor is skins and faster progression (e.g. getting ISO faster to unlock additional mods). And, of course, you can buy freelancers much faster by just opening your wallet instead of playing for ISO to unlock them. On the other hand, none of this makes you stronger. It just gives you more options. And then there is skins: Make your freelancer stand out from the crowd!

For this alpha, we are getting free credits to unlock things, by the way. Nobody has to – or can, I think – any real money yet. Just in case you were wondering why I have credits. :p

What I really like about “visual customizations” so far is that while you do have to buy new skins, some colour options unlock with freelancer level as well as titles and your account’s banner. Nothing here makes you stronger. It’s all just cosmetic stuff and they seem to go for a mix of real money and playing the game here.

I did mention that the game is in alpha, right? It plays really great so far, though. In the beginning, Atlas Reactor crashed when I launched Fraps. But this hasn’t happened anymore recently, so maybe they fixed this bug already. Other than that, I personally did not encounter any bugs or other client crashes. I know of some bugs, I just did not experience them. But they are mostly related to not being able to load the client, I think.

In closing, I do hope they know what they’re doing here and are careful when it comes to the patron abilities and the shop, because I actually believe this game is a true gem and I am very much enjoying playing the game!

Sunken – First Impressions Review

Sunken Start ScreenIn general, I really despise permadeath in games and stay away from games where I am forced to play with this feature. With my playtime being limited due to my job and other stuff I also want to do in my free time, it just seems so frustrating having to start all over again because I made one single mistake. There is no way I would ever play a game with permadeath. And while I love action RPGs, I never even considered playing in “hardcore” mode which usually means permadeath for your character. Having to run all over the zones again? No way!

And yet here I am: in “Sunken“. Sunken is made by a very small developer team consisting of only two people. Now, to be honest, “permadeath” isn’t 100 % permanent here. Yes, your character dies and you have to start at the beginning again. Your levels, your items together with your inventory and your learned recipes are gone upon death. But when you die, you get to keep your unlocked abilities, so there is some sort of progression, after all.

This of course means that your character will be stronger than before. You get a wider choice of abilities or upgrades to your already known abilities. Since there is no character customization at all, you won’t really feel like you just lost your character. But you cannot customize the look of your character, so he (yes, you can only play with a male character) always looks exactly the same. So it actually feels a bit like “respawning”. But since you lost all your possessions, it comes with a hefty price! So it’s in between permadeath and death-then-respawn as you know from MMOs. Since there are no options to change the look of your character, this also means that I am not that attached to my character and don’t really care when he dies. On the other hand, from a storytelling aspect, this isn’t good either. I would like to feel more connected to my character. I would at least hope that there would be some sort of customization later on like choosing a hair style or hair colour (granted he ever does get hair).

In order to learn new abilities, you will have to unlock them first. It’s a multiple-steps process: You first need to drop the recipe book for an ability. You can learn that recipe by right-clicking the recipe book. Then you need to find a crafting station (an anvil). So far – and really, I didn’t get far when it comes to the maps – I found them right before the entrance to the next level. You need to get there first, obviously, then you can craft the recipe when you’ve also got the materials for it. The recipe then disappears from your list of known recipes. Use the item you crafted to unlock the ability permanently. Once unlocked, the next dropped recipe book for the same ability will give you the unlock for the higher tier of that ability. But if you die before you reach the end of the level, then that recipe book and all learned recipes are lost. Only the crafted and unlocked ability itself counts.

The game also has a story which unfolds not via quests but through books which you can find on the different floors of the maps. Those books aren’t drops. They are quite big books standing around. Yes, this means you have to read a lot… or wait for the voice-over to read it to you. I usually read much faster myself, though. There is also background music which has an eerie tone to it and fits quite nicely to the whole atmosphere and the graphics. But over time, I imagine the music could get a bit boring, unless it changes when you get to different maps in the game… did I already mention I didn’t get far yet? ;)

If you are like me and lack the skills needed to orientate yourself, then you will feel just as lost as I did. In the beginning there was a point where I did not even notice that I had run back towards the beginning of the level instead of progressing further to the next one. There are no maps or minimaps here, no compass for orientation either. When you die, you start at the very beginning of level 1 again, though. So sooner or later, you will most certainly recognize at least level 1. :p Also, when you log back into the game, you start at the beginning of a map with respawned mobs. Come to think of it, this is actually quite nice. For one, it lets you grind some more experience (although I am not certain whether mobs scale with your level) and maybe you even find a nice recipe book. And if you ever do get lost, that’s how you find the beginning again. :p Each level is identical, meaning that level 1 will always look the same. But the mobs you encounter will be random. Some structures can be destroyed, but so far, I did not find any use for it other than that it looks nice.

I am not sure yet whether all mobs drop aggro after a while and how that works. Some did not follow me all the way back to the entrance of the level while others did chase me until there. It may also be that “special” mobs (with names or elite mobs) chase you all the way down the hall while normal mobs won’t. Thankfully, my regeneration rate was high enough to survive the battle that followed. But yeah, here’s a warning: If you get low on health and don’t have health potions anymore, you may have to run and hope your health bar regenerates in the meantime.

Last but not least, at the end of a level, you will encounter a boss. This is on an extra map, so you can’t run away or hide. The first boss was no problem while the second one caused my first death in this game. I had run out of healing potions before I had learned the mechanics of the boss. To be honest, I am still not 100 % sure I understood them. But I’m willing to give it another try… once I actually get to the end of level 2, that is. Yes, you may laugh now. Loud and long. I am a n00b. :p

But as you may be able to infer here, I actually quite enjoy this game so far! The regular price is $9.99€ and it’s in Steam Early Access. The price was certainly cheap enough for me to risk getting another early access game and so far, I haven’t been disappointed. Sometimes, it feels a bit fiddly, though. I once accidentally dropped a stack of materials on the ground instead of putting them into the crafting window (it lands on the floor as a loot bag, so no harm done!). And I quite often misclick when trying to pick up loot bags. Other than that, it seemed to run smoothly.