The Retro Ark Episode 1: Impossible Creatures
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Indie Corner Episode 29: We Have Lift Off!
We’re approaching the middle of March, and the Steam Spring Sale should be live by the time this article is published. That’s going to be great for my bank account!
I hope everyone is keeping well. We’ve had a strange cold snap here in the UK lately. We even had snow, which was interesting. I’m slowly making my way through my review list — while I’m making progress, the new editing job has to take priority, so there will be delays while I work through them.
I have reviews for Ancient Cities, Scarlet Hollow, SubROV, The RPG Engine, and Zombie Cure Lab, but I have two reviews today that I’ve been excited to reveal. One of these games is excellent, while the other… well. Let’s just say I’ve had a few issues, but they should still be an exciting read.
Kerbal Space Program 2
So… things haven’t turned out the way I wanted with this game. First off, I’d like to thank Private Division for providing the review code for this impressions review.
For those in the dark, Kerbal Space Program 2 is the long-awaited sequel to Kerbal Space Program, one of the Early Access success stories of the 2010s. Unfortunately, several delays in development, production issues behind the scenes, and a rocky launch have made for a brutal introduction to this sequel. I do enjoy KSP2. The fundamentals are there, and there are several improvements over the original. However, given the major performance issues and the high expectations, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with this one. Still, game development is not a sprint, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this sequel improves.
Kerbal Space Program evolved from a stumbling, buggy alpha in 2013 to a massive and successful full release in 2017. Originally released as an alpha in 2011, it was one of the first games on Steam’s Early Access program. It is just one of the many arguments in favor of the program’s existence, alongside other fantastic games such as Rimworld, Kenshi, Factorio, Satisfactory, Deep Rock Galactic and so many more. I’m starting work on a series that delves into the Early Access program further, but that’s for another time.
The hype for this sequel has been pretty high for a while now. Despite several stumbling blocks, KSP2 launched in Early Access on Steam and Epic Store in late February, for a price of £44.99/45EUR/50 USD. I grabbed their description from the store page for the initial content down below.
The initial release of Early Access will include:
• Remodeled and visually updated Kerbolar system with celestial secrets to uncover
• Hundreds of new and improved parts including engines, procedural wings, and more
• Customize your vehicles with creative paint jobs
• Improved experience for new and returning players:
o Animated Tutorials
o Improved User Interface
o Upgraded Map View
• Fully revamped assembly & flight interfaces
• More for players to discover (we don’t want to spoil everything)”
KSP2’s early content for new players might feel substantial, but returning players have met this release with disappointment and frustration. After five years of development and a near AAA price tag, many people feel that the pre-alpha state is not worth the price point. This is just part of the early access controversy overall, where paying for a sub-optimal and unfinished product feels like a slap in the face for customers.
There’s no way to sugar-coat this. Early Access pricing has long been a controversial topic, and I would think a slightly lower price for customers willing to pay for alpha would have helped matters.
This is one of the major problems surrounding the game right now. I’ll say upfront, I do not have a great system for this — the recommended requirements are far above what I possess, so I went into this expecting issues.
Loading times on SSD are lightning-fast, which is an improvement
Frequent stutters and frame drops when launching a rocket
I did not run into any crashes, but my framerate in-game launches often dropped to the low teens. With my relatively outdated GPU, this was something I expected, but the performance is still disappointing.
Optimization patches are in the works — the developers are aware of the launch problems and hope to alleviate people’s concerns.
I’m torn about this game. I want to be positive, but there is a lot of grime covering this penny. I know many people have criticized the launch content, which is something I understand. The mod support is currently lacking (but given the major performance issues, it’s probably better the technical problems get fixed before we branch onto mod support), and there’s a solid argument behind leaving this behind. True, Kerbal 2 has launched with the full Mu solar system, improved UI, and some excellent tutorials. If we remember, the original Kerbal Space Program launched in a hot mess as well, and it turned out great.
This is 2023, however. Asking a AAA price tag for an unfinished game with this many problems at launch? Even as a primary defender of the Early Access program, I find that a bitter pill to swallow, and I don’t blame anyone at all for sticking with the original game.
With all the problems facing this sequel’s development, the game was likely pushed forward in this state to have a fighting chance of completion. In this scenario, there are no winners — not the developers, and certainly not the consumers.
Despite everything, I have enjoyed my time with it so far. If you’re new to these complex, space program simulators, have a powerful system, and are willing to overlook early development problems, you may get something positive out of this game. I’m all for giving games a chance. It’s Early Access and they are upfront about that. True, it is not at the point where I can recommend it to everyone — that high price tag for a buggy, unoptimized experience isn’t something I can support. The developers have been posting frequent devlogs about future updates, and the first major update should be live by the time of this review.
Even the worst releases can transform into something great with enough time. While I’m disappointed, I’m content to wait and see how things develop. I hope they can pull Kerbal Space Program 2 out of the quagmire. If they can, there’s a skeleton of an incredible sequel buried under the mud. They need to do it soon, though.
JRPGs have made a comeback over the last couple of years, and while it is not my favorite RPG genre, games like Persona 5: Royal, Symphony of War, Harvestella, and Octopath Traveller 2 have won my respect. While this following review is just an impression, it’s an incredibly positive one.
Chained Echoes is a solo developer’s passion project, and it shows in every orifice. Releasing last December, this is one game I wished I got to play sooner because, after ten hours of playtime, this makes one hell of an impression. Developed by Matthias Linda, Chained Echoes combines the nostalgic feelings of the past with modern systems, tweaking everything to make sure players are as comfortable as possible. This includes features like auto-healing a party after every battle, no random encounters, and the ability to flee from most battles without consequence. What frustrates me about JRPGs is usually the lack of modern features, and Matthias has found a great balance.
The world in Chained Echoes is beautifully realized, with rich biomes full of places to explore. There is a strange mix of fantasy and sci-fi technology. Dragons, airships, and robotic death suits? Where do I sign? The world and story are solid, especially for this genre. One issue I’ve had in JRPGs is that the writing is usually lackluster in them. As much as I love Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga, the cliche writing got to me over time. The switch from the heavy politics to the Chosen One vs Big Bad was a mistake in my eyes, although the fantastic gameplay more than makes up for it. Chained Echoes bucks the general JRPG trend of poor writing with a solid story, and characters I care about.
Character abilities also transfer to the campaign map, with plenty of hidden areas to find. It rewards player engagement, and with the lack of random characters, I never found myself bored with exploration. Sometimes in RPGs, I get frustrated when exploring a map. We’ve all been there. I’m just happily delving through a cave when all of a sudden I get beset by awkward battles. They take up unnecessary time, and they break up my momentum. Chained Echoes’ fast-paced combat system eased those concerns, allowing me to explore at my own pace.
The overdrive mechanic is a new twist, and it let me make choices on how to proceed. While in the green, characters hit harder and take less damage. Constantly attacking can push this Overdrive system into overheating, which makes you take more damage and inflict less. You can also put characters in pairs, and swapping them out for free helps keep the overdrive bar healthy. Every character has a special attack as well.
Sure, Chained Echoes isn’t perfect. What game isn’t? While it packs a ton of different systems, some of these could be better refined. I’m still struggling to understand the gem upgrade system, and while there are plenty of accessibility options to tailor preferences in-game, I found some of the difficulty spikes punishing, even on kinder difficulties.
These are early impressions (which doesn’t sound like it given I’m over 10 hours in so far!) Overall, however, these are only minor quips, and Chained Echoes is a great addition to the JRPG genre. For any RPG fans, this is a must-try.
An ambitious, refined JRPG that blends the best parts of retro and modern times
Some difficulty spikes can throw players off
A solid cast with a decent story to go along with it
Some of the systems feel a little unpolished
Great optional content
Beautiful graphics and world design
Plenty of customization
That’s it for today’s episode! Episode 30 is the next milestone, and it’s a big one. I started this series properly in 2021, and two years later, it is still going strong.
In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the amazing things that are video games. I shall return soon.