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‘Torment: Tides of Numenera’ Early-Access Preview

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Fans of old-school computer RPGs are becoming more and more spoiled for choices and it’s only going to get better in the coming months. First we had the likes of Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, and Wasteland 2, just to name a few. Now we have Divinity: Original Sin 2Tyranny, and from the guys behind Wasteland 2Torment: Tides of Numenera. After playing for a few hours, here’s some early thoughts on the still in-development game, and some thoughts on it’s future development.

First, some background. In 1999 Brian Fargo and Chris Avellone, the guys behind Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and basically any great old-school RPG, released Planescape: Torment, based on the obscure D&D game Planescape. Compared to their early works, Planescape: Torment was nothing short of a far cry, and to some it was a breath of fresh air in the RPG genre, embracing the weirdness of the fringe elements of the D&D universe. It was a game with a focus on talking and problem solving, rather than slicing your way through everything, and had a unique RPG system that allowed the player total freedom over their character, not only what skills to gain but also how to approach every situation. While it might not have sold as well as their traditional games, it became a cult hit and is still considered a high water-mark in the world of RPG writing, even to this day.

That large, red thing with tentacles is evil, in case you didn't get that. And it lives in your head.

That large, red thing with tentacles is evil, in case you didn’t get that. And it lives in your head.

So to say you’re doing a spiritual successor to one of the most critically acclaimed RPGs in PC gaming turns a lot of heads, especially when you announce that most of the team working on it also worked on Planescape, and it’s the team behind Wasteland 2. Turned heads turned into donations, and one very successful Kickstarter later ($4.18 million) we had Torment: Tides of Numenera. Once again we return to an obscure setting, this time Monte Cook’s Numenera, a far-flung distant world that’s lived through a series of apocalypses and makes its home amongst the rubble of the forgotten past. It’s a world rich with detail and begging to be explored, but how well does it translate into a video game?

The Early Access demo (currently available to anyone) gives you access to the first third or so of the game with the massive caveat that the game is unfinished. That’s something that needs to be understood, and understood well: this is a very VERY beta release of the game. In the few hours I’ve played it, the first combat scenario broke several times requiring me to restart the game, including making a new character at one point. Menus seem buggy and unnecessarily hard to navigate, made all the more difficult by the game’s outlandish weirdness to everything. Most damming of all was a quest I had to completely abandon because the item I needed to complete it was added as [ERROR]. Actually, that happened a few times, with dialogue encounters, map markers, and character names showing as [ERROR]. Most of it wasn’t bad, something easily fixed in a patch or two and the developers are active on the forums looking for bug reports. There’s even a massive FEEDBACK button stapled to the top right-hand corner to instantly send in reports of what needs to be looked at.

Although that will require you to sometimes separate the weird that’s supposed to be there from what’s not. Like it’s predecessor, Torment is a game that thrives on the strange, and it shows this trait regularly as you wander around the Sagus Cliffs and the surrounding areas in the first chapter. This is a world made from spare parts of an already weird world, a Frankenstein’s monster made from other Frankenstein’s monsters, and it bleeds details from every pore. Everything and anything has a background, some more obvious than others, and it’s easy to spend hours wandering around and clicking interactive points just to see what happens. Ancient robots, fountains made of living water, strange mechanical devices for unknown purposes, all lovingly presented in some of the best backgrounds the genre has seen in a long time.

If you play the Early Access demo, be prepared to deal with [ERROR]

If you play the Early Access demo, be prepared to deal with [ERROR]

Also like it’s predecessor Torment is a game far less about fighting and more about figuring things out. Players that found Pillars of Eternity far too combat-centric will find Torment a downright relief as they walk around learning everyone’s stories. And there are plenty of stories to learn, with seemingly every NPC completely realized down to their history and reason for being where they are when you meet them. Some are insane, but most are just a reflection of the weirdness around them, and these conversations are the highlight of the game.

Which is good, since combat isn’t. Fights, which the game refers to as Crises, are a combination of tactical movement, environmental interaction, as well as the expenditure of skill points to perform actions. Unfortunately it’s the most clunky and un-intuitive system for combat I’ve ever seen, where just moving around seems to be a chore and actually attacking a small miracle. That’s assuming the game doesn’t break and forget to allow you to attack, which happened several times. Again, this is probably just a symptom of being a beta, but as it stands you’re far better off avoiding combat, not just for the great writing, but because it’s the only decent way to experience the game.

There’s a lot of promise buried in Torment, even despite the bugs. For an Early Access demo it’s fairly meaty, and there are a lot of reasons to try out different paths again and again. Moving forward the game still needs a lot of polish, especially some more tool-tips to better explain some of the weirder aspects of the game. Still, as a spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, it’s certainly on the right path. Here’s hoping the full release, due out in 2017, is a torment worth suffering through.

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘The Walking Dead’

A look back at one of the most critically acclaimed narrative based point and click story games of the decade: Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

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The story-based video game has been around for a long time but there has been a spike in popularity in them in the last decade. One of the most influential and critically acclaimed narrative games is the 2012 game Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which initiated a tidal wave of choice-based games that still continues today.

Lee Everett, the protagonist of the first season of The Walking Dead Game.

Telltale Games was created in 2004 and had a significant library of games established — including games based on Back to the Future and Jurassic Park — before the release of The Walking Dead. It was the zombie point and click adventure that shot them to triple A game studio status though. The game took on similar mechanics to their other games but introduced a more cinematic style. Player choice is a key element in regard to dialogue choices and important decisions within the story. These shape the player character, Lee Everett, and change his personality to suit the play style. This was one of the most endearing features of the game, allowing players to experience scenarios slightly differently depending on your choice.

The Walking Dead

Lee and his ward Clementine had a strong connection that led to a lot of the emotional moments in the story.

The depth of the characters and dark nature of the narrative are the best aspects of the game. The player takes on the role of Lee as he is on his way to jail at the dawn of the zombie apocalypse. After a car accident leaves him stranded, he stumbles upon a little girl named Clementine. Lee becomes her protector as they and a group of survivors try to survive in the walker-infested world. This simple story of a man with a troubled past attempting to protect a little girl at the end of the world is incredibly engaging and it is difficult not to get emotionally attached to both Lee and Clementine. The system wherein certain characters will remember Lee’s words or actions is also a nice feature that can guilt trip you over your choices, particularly if you see the words “Clementine Will Remember That”. Lee is an interesting and complex character whose attitude and personality can change depending on player choice and Clementine is a loveable child who doesn’t fall into the “annoying kid” stereotype in most games. Both became beloved video game characters who set a precedent for likeable protagonists in gaming.

The Walking Dead

The cast of characters in The Walking Dead’s first season all had their complexities.

The legacy of Telltale Games and The Walking Dead still continues within the gaming community. Telltales unfortunate downfall in September 2018 was a great loss to story-based gaming but many have been influenced by Telltale’s work since. Dontnod adapted the episodic formula for their Life is Strange games, another fantastic narrative series. Others who had previously worked for Telltale helped bring other great story games to life. The co-writers of the first season of The Walking Dead game set up the company that created the 2016 game Firewatch, for example. More writers of the series launched Night School Studios, responsible for Oxenfree (2016) and Afterparty (2019). The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games to stardom, leading them to take on a slew of projects — possibly leading to their downfall. Despite this, the game has carved out a place for itself in history as one of the best point and click narrative adventure games that established a trend of games that encourage strong storytelling and complex characters.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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