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It’s me again! So I’ve had a really good time with early access titles in the last few years, so I thought I would start a new segment where I take you guys through some of my faves. Early Access is a controversial topic in gaming, I know. Studios asking for money up front to alpha test their game? I can understand why that’s a big ask. There’s some real horror stories out there, but there have been some success stories too. This series will take you through more recent additions, and I’ll go through the 2020 hits for the opening few episodes.

Sands of Salzaar

Released early this year (I’m talking the crack of 2020, 3rd of January. It feels like years!), Sands of Salzaar looked interesting from the beginning, but it had one major flaw: no English localization. Fortunately, things improved in September when the devs made big improvements to the game, including complete English translation. With the main problem resolved, I picked it up and dove right in. Salzaar is a fascinating game, and 13 hours of playtime later, I feel there’s a lot to come in this little indie gem.

Great visual design and a strong emphasis on systems make for a great first impression.

The best way to describe Sands of Salzaar would be a twisted smoothie between Kenshi, Banner Saga and Battle Brothers. Set in a vast desert landscape, there’s some nice visual design. You travel on the large open world map and explore locations, recruit soldiers and upgrade them, carry out missions and side quests and eventually be able to control your own cities. There’s resources and food to collect to feed your growing army, and loads of different items to power up your character heroes. Unlike games like Kenshi, there are dedicated questlines in this game, and the writing is surprisingly good, even if the dialogue at times is a bit odd. That’s probably down to the sometimes wonky translations, so some stuff may be a little strange.

English translation still needs some work.

The soundtrack is beautiful, and it’s quite a delight to explore the overworld while listening to the music. Combat takes place in a different map where it’s real-time combat. You control your hero while your army battles alongside you, and you take on all manners of enemies. There are also siege scenarios where you have to take control of the buildings in mind. This could do with a lot more balance, and might be the weakest part of the game, but there are frequent patches and I’m sure it’ll improve in time. The combat, while clunky, is easy to get into and quite refreshing.

Sands of Salzaar is a true hidden gem. It’s not quite where it needs to be yet, but it’s a chunky game with a great open world, nice quests with good writing for a game of this genre, and plenty of replayability with its strong Legacy system. Expect me to talk about this game more in the future, because it’s an ambitious game oozing brilliance under the surface.

Gedonia

Simple title screen for a humble game.

I’ve been wanting to talk about this game for a while. Launching last summer, it’s still got a long way to go. However, I wouldn’t sleep on Gedonia. It’s a fascinating little project made by a single developer. You guys are really putting out the good work!

My first thoughts of Gedonia were: so it’s like Zelda mixed with Skyrim? Well, it’s more like the former than the latter. It’s very rough, with a lot of weird bugs with content that needs plenty of work, but there’s easily enough promise here to get stuck into, and I wanted to talk about it at some point. For a very reasonable price tag of 10$, you get to play around in a quirky open world RPG that has a lot of promise, and I’ve seen worse from bigger studios. The music is quite pretty and relaxing, and while there’s very little voice acting, the dialogue is cute and keeps me entertained.

Even though the game is more like an early alpha, Gedonia comes with quite a lot of content. There is a good number of quests, and the world map is starting to include world events like goblin attacks. The combat, while very clunky and slow, does show promise, with a ton of different ways to kit out your rather goofy character. The character models need work, I approve of the art design. You need sufficient stamina to carry out attacks, so I found I had to run about and dodge attacks while my stamina bar recovered sufficiently to keep combat going. It’s a little iffy, but it’s not quite as bad as ELEX, so it’s something I can tolerate. It is in alpha, after all. As long as it improves, I have no problems tolerating some jank.

Cute art style!

Gedonia shows promise. If you have 10$ and want to support a solo indie developer, and would like to try out an interesting game, I can recommend Gedonia. I’m keeping a close eye on the game. It might be a bit soon if you want a true, complete and polished experience, but there’s enough to keep your intrigue if you, like me, enjoy trying out games in active development.

The Waylanders

Moving from Gedonia to another game in similar state of development. However, things about the Waylander’s launch state irked me. It’s oozing with potential, but the jury is still out on whether this game has what it takes to push through the development cycle. I hope it does for reasons I’ll give, but I was disappointed with its 2020 performance. Let’s hope 2021 is better for it!

Despite nice visuals, rough performance and a lack of content hold this game back.

I’ll start by saying I think it has a bright future. Waylanders is an Early Access title that’s a spiritual successor to the popular Dragon Age franchise, even developed by a bunch of talent’s who worked on Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Pillars of Eternity. Launching in mid-June 2020, it presented an important dilemma in game development: when is it too soon to launch a title?

Because Waylanders was not a game at launch. Pre-alpha is calling it generous. It was a few hours long tech demo if that, buggy and broken at times, built on the back of something that promised far more. This is not how a game should be launched. Despite it’s poor state, I saw promise. There’s the makings of an excellent title in here. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is well written and there’s the embryo of a really good story inside.

There’s some impressive character design.

The problem is you barely get any chance to see it. There’s missing content and cutscenes everywhere in the beginning of the game, and when you’re trying to see if it’s worth continuing, it makes for an awful first impression. I streamed my first thoughts live on Twitch, and I was laughing throughout at the experience, but it made for an uncomfortable opening – not the kind of game that made you want to keep trying. There’s also all the bugs and glitches, but this I’m more forgiving of. The game is pre-alpha and they were very open in discussing that. I knew what I was getting into. For the Kickstarters, it must have been frustrating to see it launch it the state it was.

Moving onto price tag, they are asking for £29.99 for this. Now, I’m of the belief that if you’re selling an alpha state, your price point should reflect that and launch at least a bit cheaper. There’s been several big early access releases that launched too expensive for me, like Waylanders, Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord and Baldurs Gate III (the latter is a special case, but it suffers from the same issues, if not more so for its AAA price tag).

Right now, Waylanders is not worth its current price point, not even close. And it makes me sad to say that, because I there’s some great worldbuilding in here with mythology rarely seen in games, and the characters were pretty good.

The world is extremely barren at times.

It’s seen significant patches and a lot more content in the final months of 2020, so it’s in a better state than it was. I’d just wished it was like this at launch. The jury is still out on this game, and I sincerely hope it makes up for its lukewarm launch with some chunky updates. I may do an update to this game in six months to see how it goes.

That is all for now, but join me next time for another Early Access episode!

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TheThousandScar

Author/Blogger/Cartographer/Streamer/Narrative Game Writer/I play far too many games. twitch.tv/diabound111 | thousandscarsblog.wordpress.com

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