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The PC Store Wars – What Next?

The PC Store Wars – What Next?

Earlier this week, I took at look at the current state of play with regards to The PC Store Wars. We’ve gone from a situation where, despite repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot, Valve have had little, to no, real competition in the online PC store space. Then, all of a sudden, Epic turned up with their own store. What happens now?

The Fortnite Effect

Epic made no bones about it when they launched their new store front. Their ability to launch it with such a developer friendly revenue split was thanks to the runaway success of Fortnite: Battle Royale. In 2018, the free-to-play title that was spun away from the premium (for now) Save the World variant, made upwards of $2.4 billion for Epic.

That’s right, analysts have calculated that one simple free-to-play game has made Epic more in one year than the GDP of several countries. Fortnite has had a drastic effect on the landscape of popular culture, let alone the game industry. It has been so successful, that Epic don’t even advertise it on their store. They just know people will have it, if they want it.

The phenomenal success means that Epic have a war chest, which means they can readily afford to take a hit on their revenue splits compared to the industry standard, thus enabling them to score exclusives like The Division 2 and Metro: Exodus.

What if the bubble pops? 

While the success of Fortnite so far can’t be denied, it isn’t the only free-to-play game making mega-bucks, let alone the only battle-royale title that is pulling in the money. DOTA2 is Valve’s own baby, while PUBG might be considered a has-been compared to Epic’s hit, but still pulls in over 800,000 users on an average weekday.

Looking at the Steam stats, there is one venerable oldie still standing tall. That, of course, is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Still going strong, this won’t trouble Fortnite in the revenue stakes, but shows that there is a healthy appetite among gamers for non-Fortnite games.

But might the bubble pop? EA and Respawn only released Apex Legends back on the 5th February, but has already knocked up over 25 million users. How many will stick around for the long haul, and turn into money makers for EA, we can only wait and see.

Those players though must be coming from somewhere. Yes, Fortnite has gang-buster player numbers, but something like Apex Legends would fit right in the wheelhouse of some of those users. It might not be a mass exodus, but if the Fortnite userbase crashes, or more importantly, those who are spending money on the game move on to something else, where will that leave Epic?

If there is a drastic drop in revenue from Fortnite, it won’t happen overnight. I fully expect Epic to have contingency plans already in hand, and will be playing the long-game, knowing they can build a loyal audience on their store moving forward.

Valve’s Resilience

 Valve might have made some self-inflicted wounds when it comes to Steam, but they’ve been at this game for a long time. They survived EA departing their store, and have stood firm in the face of Fortnite. Epic launching their own store is unlikely to scare Valve too much, indeed, it might force them to sit up and pay attention to events taking place beyond the end of their nose.

They will likely make more blunders, but with a strong user base (just look at the numbers playing DOTA2, CS:GO and PUBG), why should anyone expect a rival store to suddenly destroy the rolling monster.

Indie game developers might be unhappy with their revenue splits, but are they more likely to make strong sales figures on a platform not solely dominated by one hit? On a platform where they won’t run the potential risks of seeing their game given away, with an unknown reward at the end?

I can see Valve improving their revenue splits, and Ts and Cs for those selling on the platform, but I don’t envisage an immediate emptying of the store from regular big hitters like Sports Interactive, SCS Software or Paradox Interactive.

Indeed, Valve haven’t even turned their back on game development like many people cry out. No, we are unlikely to ever see Half-Life rise from the grave, but DOTA2 and CS:GO are still very much supported, while something like Artefact is sure to undergo changes to push it to rival the Hearthstone’s of the world. That isn’t to forget In the Valley of the Gods.

Closing Thoughts

Competition is ultimately good for business, and good for consumers. Maybe not in every instance, as the splits between Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney’s upcoming venture are sure to show. But rival stores like Steam, Epic, Origin and Uplay should only drive companies to offer better user experiences, with better deals for the developers who sell through them.

Steam won’t be going anywhere soon, and Epic have the might of Fortnite to keep them going. The nature of some games becoming exclusives to Epic is frustrating for some, but what harm is there in buying Metro from another store (or even somewhere like Game or Amazon), while The Division will route its online component through Uplay.

People aren’t losing out at the moment with this shakeup to the PC landscape, and I think in the long-run, we will see benefits to these changes.

The PC Store Wars – The Story so Far

The PC Store Wars – The Story so Far

The PC Store Wars have been in a Cold War, pretty much ever since Valve launched Half-Life 2 with the requirement that users ran it through Steam. The Humble Bundle, GoG and more recently, Discord offer their own alternatives with distinct twists. Meanwhile EA, Ubisoft and Blizzard have stores primarily to promote their first party games.

They have all been efforts to break the monopoly of Steam, though without any obvious impact on Valve’s money-making machine. Most of Valve’s problems around their storefront have been self-inflicted PR gaffes.

The present…

I talked about their regular problems around Steam back in June, though my prophecy for what the future would hold was, with the benefit of hindsight, not quite how things have played out:

I don’t know what the best way forward is for Valve, but I feel that the European Commission investigation will go a long way to determining how they manage Steam in Europe in the future. 

I also pondered about whether Valve would be wise to consider splitting the storefront away from their product development business. While this hasn’t happened yet, in December they made some changes to how they split revenues with developers selling on their platform.

Rather than making an across the board change to their splits, they introduced a tiered system. While allowing developers with over $10million of revenue on the platform the opportunity moving forward to retain a greater share of their sales, is undeniably good for the big boys, it left indie developers less than enthused.

It was another example of Valve shooting themselves in the foot. Their efforts to try and ensure large developers, especially a company like Ubisoft who already have their own store, selling through Steam were perhaps a bit desperate. But to not offer indies the same benefits was yet another of those PR blunders.

…the future?

What happened just a few days after Valve made their announcement shows it in a darker light. Epic, you know, those guys behind that little Fortnite game, came along and announced their own store, taking aim square at Valve.

A flat, across the board revenue split of 88/12 shows how meagre Valve’s offerings are. The make no bones that the great financial success of Fortnite has allowed them to be so bold with their decision. It’s already one that is having far reaching implications with Ubisoft planning to release The Division 2 on Uplay and the new Epic store, while Metro Exodus will be available exclusively from Epic.

What had been a cold war that was starting to slowly warm up has suddenly exploded into life. What comes next? We’ll take a look soon.

Call of Cthulhu – The Verdict

Call of Cthulhu – The Verdict

It’s 1924 and alcoholic ex-serviceman turned private investigator Edward Pierce is sitting in his quiet office, drink in hand, wondering where the next job is going to come from. All of a sudden there’s a knock at the door and before he knows it, he finds himself whisked off to a remote island to investigate the death of the Hawkins family in a fire that consumed their home.

The intro to Call of Cthulhu may seem a little cliche but that’s probably because because it’s the beginnings of a tale of Lovecraftian horror, a genre of horror that until now I thought I had no experience with. Truth be told H.P. Lovecraft has huge prestige in the genre and whether you directly choose to read one of his books or not, the chances are that if you enjoy horror in any of it’s mediums you will most likely have come across his influence. It’s at this point that I feel Cyanide Studio have set themselves a hard task, to convey their twist on a story told many times before while making it fresh and interesting.

The first couple of chapters of Call of Cthulhu feel a little on the slow side to me. Characters are introduced, you go to a couple of new areas but nothing much actually happens. Thankfully at chapter three things start to pick up and I begin to sense there is something not quite right with the island I have found myself on. While investigating various points around the island I get the same feeling as when I watched The Wicker Man, that everyone knows something that I don’t and that something is not good.

As this is my first real experience with a pure Lovecraftian story I find that the mystery behind the island and the deaths of the Hawkins family are one of the strongest points in Call of Cthulhu and they really carry the game forward. The developers have really nailed the setting, game design and atmosphere on the head and this creates a really spooky (but enjoyable) environment in which to explore and find out information from the other islanders.

Another strong point in the game is the stealth. Call of Cthulhu doesn’t afford you many weapons and being able to take out others by yourself is very rare. Instead you slip about the levels causing distractions that let you into areas you otherwise couldn’t reach. While some people may see this as a cheap way of making the game harder, in my eyes it increases the intensity and feeling of unease when trying to reach your goal. You feel a little helpless and less likely to just run about destroying everything and for a horror genre game I’d say that’s no bad thing.

On the whole the voice acting and writing is good although there were some irregularities with the volume of the voice acting from the main player character. Sometimes his voice would be really quiet compared to everything else. However I’m going to put this down to me playing an early release of the game as there really were no other problems with the game or settings what so ever. It ran really smooth and I was able to play through on the highest settings without any problems at all which is impressive considering how old my PC is.

There are slight RPG elements to the game also. You have the classic conversation options but in most cases you need to exhaust all options in order to advance anyway, so there’s not a whole lot of choice aside from a few occasions. The other element is the skill tree, which works much like Focus Home Interactive’s other game The Council in that it allows you to grow your character in the way that you see fit. You can put your skill points into things like being able to better spot clues or being more able to influence people when speaking.

Unlike in The Council I didn’t notice much of a difference when levelling up the skill tree and almost feel like they would have been better not even including skills in a game with only 10-15 hours game time. It almost seemed like an illusion of choice because if you explored each area thoroughly enough and spoke to each person for long enough you generally discovered everything you needed to advance anyway. This leads me to my biggest bug bear with the game that it seems to be very on rails. Yes you can explore areas, yes you can choose conversation topics but for the large part the game seems to pull you to the same point regardless of what you do.

The last few chapters of the game also feel a little disappointing in that they seem far more rushed than anything else. I get that towards the end you want to ramp up the intensity and finish on a bang but there were moments when I wasn’t quite sure what was going on in terms of the Lovecraftian lore and the game didn’t explain well enough for a newcomer like myself. Was it possible that the game was rushed to release or did they perhaps overlook the fact that a complete Lovecraft beginner wouldn’t be able to fully understand every aspect with ease?

On a whole I enjoyed the game but would have loved to have seen it fleshed out a little more to include more explanation of the lore and more scary areas to investigate. It would have been great to be able to better understand why I got the ending that I did as I know there was multiples ways for the game to end and again wasn’t entirely sure what I had done to reach the one I did. The gameplay was enjoyable, especially when investigating new areas and reconstructing crimes much in the same way you would in a Batman game and when dealing with the games ‘bosses’. Production was lacking in a few areas but like I said this could be down to having access to the early release version of the game.

The Verdict – On Target

Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch
Platform Reviewed – PC

Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.

The Colonists – Alpha, First Impressions

The Colonists – Alpha, First Impressions

Codebyfire the developers behind Settlers inspired game The Colonists had been quiet for quite some time. Then out of nowhere came a trailer, a ray of hope for those who had been keeping tabs on the game since it was first announced over a year ago. It seemed that somewhere deep inside the matrix of game development, cogs were beginning to turn and foundations were being laid. I had to find out more about this mysterious game.

With The Colonists being in it’s alpha stage of development there are currently only pre-set scenarios for me to try out. As it turns out these are a good way to get to grips with the game and what it has to offer. The first couple of scenarios have me exploring the basics of building my town, advancing technologies and managing resources. Scenarios three and four teach me about building boats to explore the seas and combat with other colonies. And each of the scenarios after that include most of the same but at an advanced level.

Resource management is a big thing in this game and keeping tabs on how your resources are used will help you advance much quicker. Thankfully there is a ‘supply and demand’ menu for each resource which shows if you are falling behind or overproducing. In my eyes this is something that a lot of management games could do with having. It helps you make much more informed decisions when choosing what to build next and can explain why overall production rate of your city has stalled.

Overall the gameplay in The Colonists is pleasant and enjoyable. The game goes at a nice pace (you can make time move as you want) the graphics are cute and its quite a relaxing game to play for the most part. Some of the building material needs seem a little anti-progression however. For example; you run out of stone and need to expand your territory to find more deposits. To do this you build a watchtower so you can see further, but building a watchtower requires stone… see where I’m going with this. Thankfully it is slowly auto-generated but without proper management of resources, this can be a very slow process.

If there’s one thing that I would point out at this stage it’s that overall game progress is easily halted by bad resource management. This may be entirely my fault in that my style of gameplay doesn’t suit The Colonists but as a fairly experience management gamer I feel some more balancing needs to be done on the requirement of resources. The game may seem to be cute and relaxing but it’s certainly not casual in this aspect and your game can easily be brought to a slow pace if you’re not careful.

As this is only Alpha there are some bugs to be found, it’s inevitable at this stage of development. On The Colonists Discord channel, people have been busy reporting any problems they find and developers have been working hard to fix them and update the game on a regular basis. I expect many changes and balances to come before the game releases and can’t see anything to worry about at this stage.

In face for a game in Alpha there is a surprising amount of things to do and the game is in a very playable state. Aside from gathering resources and expanding your city, there is also exploration, combat, technology trees and everything is well explained and easy to get the hang of. If city building and management games are your thing, then keep your eyes on The Colonists because it’s looking like a promising little game so far.

Valve’s Steam Troubles – Years in the Making

Valve’s Steam Troubles – Years in the Making

Steam, it’s not the be-all and end-all of the PC gaming market. It might have over 125 million users, with 16 million active right now, but other storefronts are out there. There is Uplay and Origin from the AAA publishers, with and Humble Bundle targeting the indie markets. Users have lots of choice now for where they buy their games, but we can’t deny Steam stands at the top of the pile. Despite its numerical supremacy, Valve’s little baby isn’t having things so easy anymore, with numerous crises arising over the last 18 months.

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Dead Cells Full Release Due August 2018

Dead Cells Full Release Due August 2018

Dead Cells has been in Early Access since May 2017 and developers Motion Twin have just released update seven, otherwise known as the Baguette update (no seriously) which brought about some mechanics reworkings, feature and UI updates and some cool fan/concept art. One unexpected piece of news from the update was the announcement of the full release date of Dead Cells in August of this year.

An excerpt from the update reads:

Motion Twin is thrilled to announce that Dead Cells will be leaving Steam Early Access in August of 2018. Today’s update brings us one step closer to leaving beta and bringing the complete, polished Dead Cells experience to PC and Console.

With the seventh update rolling out on Early Access, Dead Cells is very close to being content complete, the lore being the last piece of the puzzle we’re working on for launch day. Although version 1.0 definitely won’t be the end, as we’ve already promised one major free DLC to the community that made all of this possible.

In case you’ve missed out thus far Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, action, platformer which the developers have self-labelled in the “Roguevania” genre. Taking after games such as Rogue Legacy and Metroid, Dead Cells aims to teach you about the game through trial and error. Death is a expected part a game with no checkpoints and the only way to advance is through learning about your surroundings and enemies and try, try, try again.

Dead Cells is currently available in Early Access on Steam for £16.99 or regional equivalent and has received rather solid reviews at this stage in its development.

They Are Billions – Early Access First Impressions

They Are Billions – Early Access First Impressions

Early Access arrival They Are Billions Steam page describes the game with tags like ‘survival’, ‘strategy’ and ‘base building’ and while these are certainly aspects of the gameplay my first impressions of it remind me more of a mix between RTS (real time strategy) and tower defence. As a long time RTS fan the initial moments feel very familiar. Locating resources, creating basic buildings, managing population and setting up basic defences. By mid game you are certainly base building with solid walls, advanced defences and armies but the lead up to that is more a hodgepodge of trying to become efficient and defending the small hordes that attack you, often with many automated towers.

In fact there’s a lot of automation going on and it seems to me developers Numatian Games are trying to focus the player more on the combat and less on the minor details of being the best possible base you can. For example, when a you place a building it is auto-built (as long as you have available population) and if placed next to a resource that resource is auto-collected. Some resources are collected over time and some are auto-generated as soon as you place a specific building. Towers also auto-attack enemies within their available range. This isn’t a bad thing though as on higher difficulties things can become quite hectic and this allows you to focus on enemy encounters and how best to tighten up your defences before the next wave hits.

There’s no tutorial in They Are Billions as of yet so I found enjoyment in my initial game discovering how everything worked and pieced together with each other. During my second playthrough I was disappointed to notice that I had completely explored the depth of the games base building and unit creation the first time around. It seems that at this stage of Early Access there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the game, but maybe that’s just my mind subconsciously comparing to other RTS games as the gameplay feels quite similar at times. There are no multiple development trees, no factions with alternate technology and no unique units. Everything felt the same from one game to the next apart from the difficulty which I increased after my first game. Explore the map, collect resources, expand, defend, attack, repeat. I think They Are Billions would really benefit from a bit of tactical depth, but who knows what is to be added in the future of this games Early Access phase.

I feel like I’m being unfairly critical as They Are Billions is a good game at heart. If you are used to the RTS genre then getting into this game will be fairly straightforward. You start with a fairly small area of available land on which to build, but can expand this area over time. Expanding too far to fast can leave you open to attack, but not expanding quick enough can leave you lacking on resources and stunt your recovery in between defending waves of zombie hordes. Building placement is key to success mostly because there is not a lot of time to recover on the hardest difficulties and having to rebuild and use resources which should be spend on units will most likely mean you get overwhelmed the next time around. This can be somewhat averted by using some smart tactics like funnelling the undead waves down a walled off corridor lined with turrets.

As this is essentially a game about managing units and resources it seems to be missing key management fine tuning like selecting idol units or keyboard shortcuts to make things easier. Of course you can pause the game to sort these things out too. Units also get stuck on each other quite easily which is frustrating at times. I get an overall good feeling about They Are Billions and enjoyed my time with the game but as this is early in EA there is still much that can be improved upon at least in my mind.

The Council Episode One: The Mad Ones – The Verdict

The Council Episode One: The Mad Ones – The Verdict

The Council is an adventure game set in 1793. Playing as Louis De Richet the first episode titled The Mad Ones begins with an invitation to a mysterious island by the secretive Lord Mortimer. Unsure of the reason for your presence on the island or that of the other bold characters, many questions are raised in your mind. Having recently been informed about the disappearance of your mother you have reason to believe that she may be on the island but know little more than that. It is your intention to discover the motives behind your mothers disappearance and piece together the goals of the other guests who all seem to have their own strange stories.

Character development is a key part of The Council‘s unique approach to the adventure genre. Adding RPG elements to a point and click game is certainly a new direction and one that feels like it’s been implemented well for the most part. The first thing to notice is that you have to choose one of the three skill trees; Diplomat, Occultist or Detective and then further advance this tree with specific talents. I chose the Detective tree as this is a mystery game after all and I wanted to feel adept at spotting the smallest of clues. From this tree I can choose to further advance my Questioning, Psychology, Vigilance, Logic and Agility skills with each point added meaning using these skills during main gameplay costs less ‘effort’.

Effort is a points based resource that can gathered and used during main gameplay. You start with six points of effort and utilising skills from your chosen tree uses a couple of these points or less depending on your skill advancements. The good thing is that just because you chose a certain tree doesn’t mean you will always be locked out of skills from other trees, it just means they will cost a lot more effort. Running out of effort is not something you will want to do as it usually means things will not go your way. People will see through your motives, you will miss hidden clues and some conversation topics will be closed off to you.

In past adventure games when making key decisions you are sometimes tricked into feeling as if you have majorly affected a plot, dialogue or outcome in some way but with The Council this – at least initially – doesn’t seem to be the case. Depending on how you developed your character you are literally locked out of some options as your talents have not been improved. This might sound a bit unusual but it fits well and the RPG element helps you role play the story and become more involved in it.

During conversations you can use items to help sway the outcome in your favour, unfortunately the inventory and item usage is not the most intuitive. There are four items that help you with things like gaining effort points and discovering character weaknesses but learning what these do and which symbol corresponds to which during the heat of a conversation took me a while to get used to.

Occasionally during conversations you will have a confrontation with another character. During the confrontation the opposing character is basically sussing out your integrity and your aims. This is an interesting part of the game that unfortunately seems too rushed to enjoy properly. Between the amount of text on screen, the timed dialogue answering and balancing the use of items I find it hard to focus properly during these moments, meaning I occasionally miss out on lines of dialogue or text. As enjoyable as these sections are I feel they should be a lot more manageable and streamlined.

Voice acting in The Council can be a bit hit and miss. During the thick of things It’s often quite good, but there are the odd moments where things sound awkward or unusual especially with the protagonist and this can be off-putting. Unfortunately the exact same goes for the script writing. During most conversations and narration the script is good, but again there is always the odd line that stands out as slightly strange. The developers Big Bad Wolf hail from France and I wonder if somewhere along the line the translation has not been handled in the best way. It’s only minor however and for some people this might not even be an issue at all.

One area the developers have really nailed is the design of the game and the character design especially is great. Each character has a strong and memorable image that makes them stand out as individuals and is among the best design I have seen in recent games. The level design is also top notch. Never did I feel like anything was out of place or that repeated textures and items had been used in a way that seemed lazy. Every room and building had bold and unique design.

After this introductory first episode I’ve been left with an overall good impression of The Council. I’m very interested to see where it goes with the rest of the episodes, how the characters and story develop and how the choices you make in the game really affect it.

The Verdict – Headshot

Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One, PS4
Platform Reviewed – PC

Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.

Tyranny – The Verdict

Tyranny – The Verdict

So here’s a question for people who like that kind of thing. What exactly is an evil man? Surely good and evil are simply decided by which side of an army or faction you are born into? Maybe it depends on which views you are brought up with or what you come to believe to be true on your own terms. Or is evil a more personal thing, something that is defined by your actions no matter where you come from or what your background is? Paradox Interactive’s new RPG Tyranny really poses this question to you from the get-go by allowing you to choose your backstory in the lead up to actually taking control of your character. The army of Kyros under which your loyalties lie, have taken over most of the known world aside from one small peninsula in the south. As one of Kyros’ leaders in the eventual occupation of these lands, you begin the game by deciding exactly how your armies go about capturing the district. I won’t spoil any of the important choices for you, as this intro literally shapes the game you play and choosing the level to which your evil or mercy extends is half the fun of the early game.

What I will say is that as with other Paradox games the writing and character development in Tyranny is of a very high standard. Rarely does it feel like you’re reading a piece of filler text but instead insightful and interesting dialogue and backstory, and taking part in decisions that literally shape the game and characters you are playing in and talking to. Just be prepared to do a LOT of reading. If reading is really not your thing, then I would seriously consider your attitude towards this game as skipping text would, in my opinion ruin the enjoyment of the overall game.

In a majority of games in this genre party interaction is something that I often find tedious and an endeavor that has no meaningful outcome. Party conversations in Tyranny however hold weight as each character that you talk to will react differently to you depending on your choices in game and the ways in which you interact with them on an individual level. You can gain fear or loyalty from them, making their own actions change according to yours. This is the same for larger factions and NPC’s in the game, who you can also gain and lose reputation with depending on your actions. This certainly makes conversation choices a lot more meaningful for me and means if you want to role play the evil guy you better be prepared to deal with the consequences. The only disappointment from the party members is that there is not a whole lot of depth to them after conversation. You may visit an area in the game that they have a connection with and they will hardly even talk. There’s also not much in the way of ‘loyalty quests’ or anything to connect them personally to these places and I feel like they lack a bit of depth in that department, which is a shame. A personal quest or two that included each of the characters you can add to your party would go a long way to solving this problem.

The voice acting is also of a high standard when it shows, but not all interactions are voiced. I’m not sure if this was due to me playing the early review release of the game which im told would be missing the odd bit here and there or if they decided that it just wouldn’t be practical to have every section of the game voice acted. Certainly the main story line arc was mostly voice acted and if I think about it long enough that’s probably enough for me.

The writers don't shy away from being in your face about their characters feelings.
The writers don’t shy away from being in your face about their characters feelings.

There’s a lot to take in to account when getting into your first few proper combat situations in Tyranny, although if you have played Paradox’s other game Pillars of Eternity, you will feel semi-familiar here. Once you build up a party and level them to suit your play style things get a little easier, but initially I found it a touch hard to manage the ability overload you are faced with. There is the option to let AI manage your party members but this is best turned off if you’re thinking about tackling one of the harder difficulty levels as sometimes they can be infuriatingly slow to react, especially when switching between targets that are further apart from each other. Thankfully you can pause combat and manage each characters abilities and if things are moving to fast for you in real-time, there’s an option to toggle slow combat speeds.

Once you get into the thick of the stats, abilities and equipment management, it’s actually quite enjoyable if you like that kind of thing. The spell system allows you to essentially create your own spells and assign them to any character, with higher cost spells being restricted to characters with high lore values which are normally casters anyway. Spells are created with a ‘Core Sigil’ deciding what element or type of spell it will be, an ‘Expresion Sigil’ deciding how the spell will effect the target and an ‘accent’ which modifies anything from casting range to the strength of the spell or how long the effect of the spell will take place for. Each sigil has a lore value and this is what restricts you from just giving the strongest spells to every character. For your mage assuming you have one in your party, spell creation is something of a strong point in the game, allowing you to entirely shape the type of combat style you want later into the game once you’ve collected a lot of sigils.

On top of the spell system each character has their own skill tree with multiple options from which they can learn new abilities or improve combat traits like armour penetration or health. Certain pieces of equipment can also provide abilities but are mostly for stat improvement and aesthetic value. Overall the combat and ability system is fairly in depth and as a person who enjoys tweaking optimal stats and abilities I enjoyed the system that Obsidian have put in place here, certainly when compared to other games of the same genre which almost seem to shy away from making these things in any way complicated for whatever reason. In a game that isn’t entirely about combat it makes sense not to completely overload the player with combat based decisions and I feel this medium depth level worked well at not spoiling my enjoyment of everything else that Tyranny has to offer.

I really enjoyed the medium level depth of the combat, skill and ability system in Tyranny.
I really enjoyed the medium level depth of the combat, skill and ability system in Tyranny.

Graphically and in terms of level deign Tyranny is a really good looking game much on the same terms as Pillars of Eternity, which makes sense when you take into account that the same team developed it and it’s made with the same engine. The levels are really well designed both visually and the way in which they can be transversed and interacted with. It’s almost as if concept art has been improved upon by artists and designers leading to some stunning scenes and intelligent design. Throughout the whole game I don’t think there was a single area of the game where I thought the designers had slipped in quality.

Ultimately Tyranny is a game about making decisions and unlike some games who promise a lot it really makes these choices count. During my play I compared my choices and outcomes to that of a friend and I’m happy to say that there was no illusion of choice, your actions really do change things like the people you meet, the areas you visit and smaller sub areas that you may or may not have access to, how people react to you, what people call you, items you find in the game and probably much more than that.

To sum things up Tyranny is a well designed and enjoyable RPG that makes decisions count, has enjoyable combat, interesting characters and well written dialogue. It places itself in a fairly unique setting and certainly makes being evil a lot of fun. Above all of that I think the thing I like most about Tyranny is that it’s not very often in a game that I get to actually make the decision I want. In most other games I may be provided with options but certain game world rules mean that none of them suit exactly what I want to do in that situation. In Tyranny however I can happily kill off an NPC, slap someone in the face, throw them off a building, show mercy, save their life, take a bribe, or basically anything I want if I deem it necessary as I am literally the law bringer and in the end this is what makes it most enjoyable for me.

The Verdict – Red Mist

Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC

Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.

Torment: Tides of Numenera – Early Access Report

Torment: Tides of Numenera – Early Access Report

Torment: Tides of Numenera is an upcoming CRPG developed by inXile Entertainment and is currently in Early Access on Steam. It’s the spiritual successor of Planescape: Torment, the cult hit from 1999, but unlike it’s predecessor will also release on consoles rather than just PC. In this article I aim to go over some of the major points of the early game and the stage at which the game is at in the development process.

First of all I should address the fact that Planescape: Torment was known for it’s well written dialogue and I’m happy to say that the writing in Tides of Numenera is excellent for the most part. Even the non-conversation, narrator style parts of the writing shine and quite often they feel like reading a sci-fi/fantasy book. The characters seem well developed even in this early stage. In my time with the game there were a few party members who jumped in and out during different quests and they all had unique personalities that fitted in well with the overall story arc. The city area I visited was well populated and each character seemed to have their own piece of unique written speech and a few side-quests here and there. There is the odd section where speech options or characters words were missing but this could be to protect the main story line or anything the developers don’t want to get out just yet and nothing that I would consider to be out of the ordinary.

The character creation event at the start of the game is a welcome break from the standard “choose your hero and modify every aspect of it” that is usually presented in an RPG like this. Instead you make your way through a scripted event which has choices at certain points. These choices decide where the stat points go into your character and so define your class, be that spell caster, melee or a mixture. As welcome as this change is it could do with being a little more in depth in its explanation. This will of course be your character for presumably tens, possibly even hundreds of hours worth of gameplay so you want to make sure that stats, abilities, classes, choices are explained in full detail. As far as I could tell there was no visual customization options at all and instead you can only choose male or female. After the scripted event you can adjust your character some more to suit your play style.

During my time with Tides of Numenera progression through areas seemed slow at first but I am the kind of person that likes to take a new map area and dissect it, talking to as many people as possible, exploring every area of the map and finding as many quests and secrets as possible. While progress for me continued to be slow when I encountered a new area, this proved to be more a credit to how well the developers have done at populating the maps with interesting people, engaging stories, quests and secrets rather than anything else.


So you’ve heard a lot of the good, now for some of the not so good. There were some bugs were present for me early on. One occasion of a game freeze before combat, not being able to read tooltips, missing text, pretty much what is to be expected for the early stages of an early access game. None of these aside from the game freeze actually disrupted my gameplay much and even that was fixed with a simple reload of a previous autosave.

Tides of Numenera seems nice graphically although not stunning considering it’s been built on the same engine as Pillars of Eternity which i feel looked a nit nicer. The game still looks good though and the levels are well designed but the UI and menus seem a bit clunky and are not great to look at. They’re probably going to need some work before the final release as in my opinion that could be something that really pulls a game like this down. Inventory management, map and quest checking and general menu navigation are main parts of the game and having an inadequate or ugly UI can sometimes put me off spending more hours with a game.

Combat is a very early stage as so doesn’t feel great yet. I have only come across once instance of combat and replayed it a few times just so I could see all the different options available to me. InXile have made it clear they are at an early stage of balancing the combat and that is clear to me. Skills are not explained well enough yet and some stats/spells have no tooltips or not enough info to explain how they affect a target or yourself.

Only odd snippets of voice acting have been added already and so there’s not much to be said about that just yet.

To summarize, Torment: Tides of Numenera certainly looks to be a very interesting game that is hopefully going to continue the incredible revival of CRPG’s in the past few years. The developers are doing a good job with the writing, characters and level design so far but still have a lot of work to do. While taking all that into account if you’re looking for a finished game to sink you’re teeth into, you’ll want to wait for the final release. There are still a lot of changes going on behind the scenes and the final game is probably still a good while off yet. On the other hand if you’re interested in the game and want to poke about to see what the developers have been doing so far, there is plenty of stuff to keep you satisfied, just be prepared for a few bugs, unfinished dialogue and the odd crash.