Indie Corner Episode 32: Hunting the Depths
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Indie Corner Episode 31: Ancient Depths
One of my favourite things about Easter is the discounted chocolate that goes on sale after Easter weekend.
Welcome back to a new episode of the Indie Corner, where I talk about my time with indie games. Episode 30 was another milestone, and I was happy to finally make progress on my reviews. Due to the new editing job, I only have a few hours a week to work on these reviews, compared to every day before finding employment. I expect my schedule to open up again in the summer, but until then, this will be my level!
I’ve got two games for you all today. One was a recent release, and a competitor to make my GOTY list in December. The latter recently left Early Access and I think I’ve stalled long enough. Time to kick back, grab some snacks, and enjoy this sweary British guy’s rambles!
This game has been in the development oven for a long time, and I’m happy to say it’s finally left Early Access!
Colony simulators are one of my many comfort foods. Sometimes I just want to sit in my chair after a long day at work, grab some snacks, and get to work on my little universe. Perhaps I just have a god complex, and after all the hours I’ve spent with Lionhead Studio’s Black and White series, Spore, and Rimworld, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that.
It’s an incredibly diverse category, and I had a great time in 2022 exploring all kinds of colony sims and city builders. With Farthest Frontier, the ever-evolving Rimworld, Urbek City Builder, The Wandering Village, and the experimental Sapiens, the amount of variety available is quite astonishing. Sapiens is the closest example I could find to this game.
Ancient Cities is one of those wackier city builders. Built by a small developer team over the last few years, it finally launched in March. A game with enormous scope, it has evolved from a stumbling alpha into something with more meat on the bones. Its had a rough process, as with many, deeply ambitious games that launch in Early Access. It has come a long way.
While the game has greatly improved since the alpha, there are several caveats I need to mention. This is a seriously complex game brimming with potential, with many mechanics that delve deeper than its competitors. Performance is still a weak point, and while the visuals are incredible, players will need a powerful system to run Ancient Cities well. Even on recent hardware, loading times are slow and there will be the occasional crash. As a result, many players might struggle to play Ancient Cities to the best of their ability. There’s some rudimentary mod support via Steam Workshop, and while there are only a few mods currently available, it’s nice to see that option is available.
What drew me to Ancient Cities was setting. Starting in the Mesolithic Era, players are tasked with guiding their people through generations of evolution. Survival is a constant, brutal struggle, and the gameplay replicates that. This isn’t an easy colony sim. This is as hardcore as it gets, and I lost count of how many settlements perished to starvation or winter. I might just be terrible at the game, but that’s alright. I don’t mind learning, and there are a few games like Ancient Cities.
Realism defines Ancient Cities, and the graphics are stunning if it comes at a heavy cost with performance. The attention to detail is incredible. Climate changes gradually, resources are accurately shown in the world, and village development, while slow, made me think I was really there, guiding my little tribe along the path to survival. There are rival tribes in the world now you can trade with later, and while this is a challenging game, the player isn’t tied to a single location. If things get too hard, pack up the people and move.
At its heart, Ancient Cities is one of the most ambitious survival sims in recent years. The road might have been rocky with the original lack of content, high price tag, and many bugs, but recent patches and the full release have proven to me that these guys have made great progress. It could use further optimization, and the price tag, while acceptable, might be a little high for some people. However, if you’re like me, and enjoy creative colony simulators in an underrepresented era, Ancient Cities might be the game for you. The developers still plan on supporting their games for a while yet.
Beautiful visuals, with a focus on realism rarely seen in the genre
Taxing on performance — I recommend a powerful gaming rig before attempting to play this game
Still some bugs and glitches now and then
Creative game mechanics
Steep learning curve: you will die
Future support coming
The price tag, while reasonable, is higher than its rivals
God damn, I love the indie scene. If you asked me three or four years ago if a game like Dredge would be something I’d play, let alone love, I would probably say no. I’ve grown into different types of games as I’ve aged. I sound like an old man now — don’t be surprised if I start yelling at clouds.
Big thanks to Black Salt Games for the review code via Pressengine, a great website for content creators. It is actually my very first review code through that platform, which is lovely! I wanted to cover Dredge ever since it was originally announced, although the release of the game took me completely off guard. When I received notification that my request got accepted, I clicked that button so fast, you would think I hadn’t drunk any coffee for a month.
Dredge is a beautiful, atmospheric, and downright disturbing fishing simulator. I have to admit, I’ve been dragged down into the murky depths of addiction with this one. I’ve enjoyed the fishing minigames from most titles that include them. Intergalactic Fishing was one major example — an open-ended, 2D fishing game that covers the entire universe. I picked that game up during the Christmas sales on Steam, and it’s one of the coolest hidden gems I have played in months.
Dredge introduces the player quickly to its mysterious world. A fisherman with a damaged ship, they are brought to Greater Marrow by the odd Mayor. After paying off debts for the repaired fishing trawler, the gameplay loop opens up smoothly from there. The graphics are gorgeous, and Black Salt Games have done a great job with optimization. I haven’t felt a hiccup playing it on my mid-range laptop, and it is verified on the Steam Deck as well with great performance. So far, I’ve experienced no bugs or crashes. It’s as stable a launch as it can get.
Dredge combines relaxing fishing mechanics, exploration, and crafting into a delicious cake with just the right layers to keep things interesting. Time passes only while moving, delving for odd trinkets, or fishing, and in the nighttime, this dark world twists into something out of Lovecraft. The world map, while small, is crammed with things of interest and places to visit, and the game comes with a mix of accessibility options. While the fishing mini-game isn’t challenging, it does require quick button presses. Well, there’s an option to remove that. It does mean that the fishing will take longer, but will always guarantee a catch.
The gameplay loop is great. Selling fish and other items allows the player to upgrade their ship, and there are always exciting quests to explore. Dredge introduces players to its grim world in a fascinating way. While completing fetch quests, I always get the sense that something is deeply wrong in the world, but the gameplay is relaxing by contrast. While the horror elements in Dredge are disturbing, everything else is so chill I can’t help but smile — even as diseased fish and awkward business dealings sneak past me. Nothing to see here, chaps. Ignore the strange thing wrapped in slimy paper. Just give me the money and move on, thanks.
I haven’t completed Dredge yet, but I know this is one of those rare times that I want to finish everything in it. I’m not much of a completionist gamer, but Dredge will break that rule. I can’t really think of anything negative to say about it, which is rare. It’s the ideal package. The graphics are lovely, the gameplay is meaty and relaxing, the world and atmosphere are a delight, and it is just the right length.
I adore this game, and I recommend giving it a try.
An unsettling but atmospheric world that’s greater than the sum of its parts
The fishing/Dredging minigames might turn a few people away, but there is an accessibility option to help with that
Addictive fishing and exploration mechanics
Just the right amount of content
Runs on a potato
That’s it for Episode 31! I’ve got plenty of reviews and interviews in the pipeline for the website, so there’s going to be no shortage of content. The coming months will be hectic, so while I can’t currently promise a steady schedule, my door is always open.