I’m back after a short hiatus.
We’ve got some interesting releases coming out lately, with games such as Evil Genius 2, the charming indie city-builder Dorfromantik (expect a spotlight on this soon!), as well as the long awaited Kingdom Hearts PC ports (alibet to the Epic Store with a questionable price tag) releasing just this past week. We also have the alpha launch of Elite Dangerous: Odyssey, an ambitious expansion designed to breathe some life into Elite’s beautiful but empty universe, and AAA shooter Outriders releasing on April Fool’s Day to some concerns over its performance.
There was also interesting news for Total War fans, when Creative Assembly surprise-dropped the announcement for Rome Total War Remastered, which will be released on 29th April this year.
Today, I’m bringing you some more indie games, short reviews where I share my insights. I’ve had some of the best gaming experiences in years with the independent scene, and hopefully this will convince you to give them a try.
Paper Beast: Folded Edition
This game proved to be an acid trip, but a geniunely pleasant surprise.
I had a lot of fun with this game in 2020, so much so it made an unofficial Top 10 list that year. I still have no idea what’s happening, how to approach the puzzles, and why I’m playing it, but it’s struck me like few other games have. It may be relatively short, but it’s unique. Right now, it’s only sitting on a handful of reviews on Steam, which is a shame. More people need to try this out, and I feel it deserves more attention. It originally released as a VR only game, before being given a Non-VR edition later.
The world explores animalistic behaviors with critters beautifully crafted in an origami style, and you partake on an adventure where you must solve puzzles using the rules of the world. You have a grabber kind of tool to interact with the terrain, generally the different animals who all have weird traits. Some are predators, some function like dung beetles, some shit out sand as they walk and follow shiny things (so you can manipulate their path as they walk. It’s pretty cool), herbivores that only eat certain plants, strange worms that suck up sand with one end and vomit it out of their asses on the other end. The puzzles are quite elaborate and extensive, and while the adventure mode is linear and relatively short, I found it solid for the price point. There are unlockables for the games sandbox mode, which gives you a god’s playground in order to experiment with the many tools or animals. I love stuff like this from my days playing Black and White, Spore and Fable, and this little world gives you room to have some fun.
The physics engine is the game’s strength. You start off with no fucking idea what’s happening, as you have to run from a sand storm and forced underground. From there, you have to work your way back to the surface, unblocking passages through difficult puzzles…really, I had no idea what was happening at the start. A few times I had to look up video walkthroughs, as some parts of the game are quirky.
Paper Beasts isn’t particularly long: you can go through the seven chapter, twenty-something long campaign in around 10 hours or so. However, it’s one of those journeys that sticks with you. The sandbox and god game elements are also fun to mess around with and add some pleasant replayability. It’s a game that deserves a first look.
Deck-building games have been growing in popularity since Slay the Spire, and Monster Train might just be the best one yet.
Monster Train’s systems are easy enough. You have to defend your train from a growing onslaught of enemies, and protect your heart (called the Pyre). If it gets destroyed, you lose. Simple, but makes for an addictive gameplay loop. 8 levels, with increasingly difficult enemies to fight.
There are five different decks in the base, with a major deck and a minor as backup. This makes for some interesting different strategies, and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed playing with. Each deck has a different core plan around it. For example, the Awoken are based around damaging your enemies through them hitting your monsters while using spells for damage, while the Morsels are eaten to buff your stronger monsters. Be careful, because different enemies have different plans of their own. For example, the Morsel deck is powered by sacrificing your army to strengthen your bigger guys. Be a shame if one level had monsters that gained strength for every death?
Just like your opponents, you get boss monsters of your own, and every few levels you’ll get to upgrade them. Transform your champion into something stronger, and you get the chance to strengthen your monsters as well, giving them more HP, more attack damage or give them more abilities. All you need to do is give up gold. There are special challenges too, where you can accept a difficulty modifier for a greater prize. Artifacts also add replayability, with boons that help you out along the way.
Because of this, there is a ton of strategy involved, and it’s really been addictive. I haven’t played 60 hours plus in this game for no reason. Monster Train was not long in Early Access last year, relying on a lightning fast development and launching in 1.0 in the autumn of 2020. That’s good, because even at launch, the game was in a beautiful state, with a ton of content and very few technical issues. This game is charming, polished, highly re-playable, and above all, extremely well made. Roguelikes need good gameplay, and Monster Train does so well in these regards.
There’s even mod support now. It’s a slow start, but I know there will be even more content from modders soon. Monster Train is brilliant, and has potential to overtake Slay the Spire as deckbuilder king.
Wasteland 3 had some interesting qualities to it. Not quite an indie studio, InXile has made a name for itself in recent years, and hit the ball running with their ambitious RPG in 2020.
Boy, did inXile Entertainment have high hopes for this. £55?!! That is a high price tag for a game like this, and it got a lot of criticism for it. Any studio, even AAA needs to justify having that price, and for a small studio like these guys, who have a lot to prove after a few struggling launches in Wasteland 2 and the really rough Bards Tale IV, £55 was a lot to ask for. There was a silver lining this time, with Wasteland 3 being part of Microsoft’s good-value Xbox Game Pass, so for a few quid you could pick it up and play easily. That’s what I did.
Fortunately, Wasteland 3 is by far the best game inXile have put out in a long time, and at its best can fight the top tier RPGs to a standstill. Boasting a vast Fallout-esque setting where you get the freedom to do anything you want, coupled with strong writing and really good voice acting, Wasteland 3 is quite the experience. It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a solid RPG, and Wasteland 3 ticks quite a few boxes. With your team of Rangers destroyed during an ambush by the psychotic Dorseys, you’re recruited by the Patriarch of Colarado, in which you need to try and bring his three children to heel. Set in a post apocalyptic Arizona, the game world is really quite impressive, and the game is not only chunky, but completely open. There’s a lot of side quests, but you don’t need to do them. If you want, you can complete the main game in around 25-30 hours, but it can easily stretch to 50+ if you wanted.
Combat is done in turn-based mode, and it’s quite meaty with a lot of customization and options for your squad, in which you get many ways to flesh out. The writing in the game is surprisingly good, with full voice acting to boot. The factions are quite wacky and there is some issues with ‘one dimension syndrome’, but they were memorable enough for me to enjoy.
While Wasteland 3 shines in many areas, it really struggled with one thing: the bugs. I’ve rarely played a buggier game, and this is coming from the guy who plays a ton of early access titles, Kingdom Come Deliverance at launch, Skyrim, Assassins Creed Unity and Cyberpunk 2077. Man…the bugs were rough to get through, and if you wanted to play co-op at launch? Good luck with the breaking quests and crashes.
There are other issues which come with this. The combat is quite slow, with some encounters taking nearly 30-40 mins. Imagine my anger at the end of these difficult segments when the game freezes…sigh. Patches have fixed a lot of the problems, but the trick here guys is to ensure you have a good launch, not a bad one. People get frustrated with all these games releasing in such a buggy state, having to wait a while for things to get fixed, and with a big RPG like this when such a broken quest can doom tens of hours of progress? It’s a real problem.
Things like that, as well as little stuff like subpar music, muddy visuals and a frustrating UI is what keeps Wasteland 3 from being truly fantastic, but it shines through in many areas. With some more TLC, it has what it takes to become an amazing RPG.
Not as large a spotlight as I usually do, but that’s more down to health. However, all three of these indie releases are great in their own way, and I can especially recommend Monster Train for a definitive deck builder experience.