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Indie Corner Episode 35: The Final Frontier
So… these AAA releases have been a disappointment so far this year, huh?
I’ve lost count of how many have launched in such a messy state. We’re at — what? Seven now in 2023 alone? It is so frustrating to see. I think my little ‘gaming laptop’ is secretly glad it cannot run these games. It’s only May. Just once, I want a AAA game that works. Jedi Survivor’s performance completely let it down, and the less said about Redfall, the better.
At least we have indies and AA to fall back on. In today’s episode, I cover two indie titles that deserve more attention. I’ve got a poll running on Twitter about my Indie Corner layout. Here’s the link to that down below:
The poll will be over by the time this article goes live, but I’ll be experimenting with different formats for my articles going forward — just a little heads up.
On another note, I’ve started a Twitter thread for recommending indie games in place of the broken AAA launches we’ve suffered.
Anyhow, enjoy today’s reviews.
A big thanks to the folks at PR Hounds for the review code! I didn’t get a chance to play it until launch day due to my day job, but I’ve been enjoying this game so far. Launching just a couple of weeks ago, Dungeon Drafters has met modest positive reception, although a few quality-of-life issues have reared their unfortunate heads.
Dungeon Drafters is a cute, pixel-art RPG that blends classic deck-building mechanics with the art of dungeon crawling. The result is a competent title with a few minor issues, but the amount of content and enjoyable combat should keep fans interested. Right now it’s sitting between ‘Mixed’ and ‘Mostly Positive’ reviews on Steam — a reasonable score given what I’ve experienced. Dungeon Drafters is available on Steam and GOG for £20.99/22EUR/25USD).
The game throws people into a series of tutorials. From there, players can play around with their character, explore the dungeon and get to grips with the combat. Cards make up the meat and potatoes, bringing a wide variety of abilities. I went with the sorcerer, wielding powerful abilities like firebolts, transforming objects into allied slimes, and area effects to maximize my character’s utility in battle. After getting through the tutorial — or dying as I did — you’re taken to the main player hub, a vibrant city with many characters to talk to and activities to try. From there, the gameplay loop opens up. Pick a dungeon, explore, bring back loot, open booster packs, and repeat. The pixel-art graphics are vibrant, with little animations that only add to the immersion. With all the cool effects, Dungeon Drafters pops from the screen. The music and sounds are a treat for the ears, as well.
Each unit — player or enemy — gets three action points per turn. Moving and attacking take up one, so players need to be cautious about how they plan their strategies. The dungeon maps are classic for roguelikes. Each room contains enemies or certain bonuses depending on the type of dungeon, and there’s a wide variety of enemies to contend with. One that annoyed me was the Ancient Shaman that summoned allies and teleported itself away. Very annoying! Fortunately, Dungeon Drafters allows players to speed up combat and animations, otherwise, I’d imagine players getting frustrated with the combat pacing.
I mentioned a few niggles regarding the quality of life, and two things bring Dungeon Drafters down a notch. The first thing is the bugs. While I’ve been lucky regarding glitches, a few players have experienced game-breaking bugs that impede progress. The second problem regards saving. While in a dungeon, players cannot currently save progress. Some of these dungeons are pretty big, and I would prefer the security of saving mid-dungeon when I need to take a break. This is a significant issue, and while the developers at Manalith Studios are improving these, a save feature during a dungeon run needs to be included. At the very least, allow me to save upon exit so I can pick up where I’ve left off!
Despite these issues, I’m reasonably enjoying Dungeon Drafters. The great visual design, variety of cards to unleash in battle, and a surprising amount of content will keep players engaged for a while. If you’re a fan of dungeon crawlers and deckbuilding games, Dungeon Drafters is a solid addition to the genre.
A rare dungeon crawler/deck-builder hybrid with plenty to offer
Lacks a save feature mid-dungeon
Great visual atheistic and soundtrack
Some unfortunate bugs and crashes
Wide variety of cards and abilities to unleash
The diverse pool of enemies
I’ve held back on covering Spacebourne 2 for too long. Every time I feel ready, the developer releases another massive update! However, I feel this is the correct time. A few months have passed since the Early Access launch, and the game has come a long way since. I’ve delayed my review too long, so here we go.
I’ll write a full review in a separate article this summer because it deserves my full attention, but the Star Wars celebration thing was last week, so I wanted to feature some kind of space game. Space games are a dime a dozen, but we’ve yet to see the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in space RPGs. Mount and Blade Warband is one of the most impressive sandbox games on the indie scene, and it would be amazing to have one set in space.
We’ve got many different space games out there. The brilliant Starsector matches the ‘space Warband RPG’, though it is in 2D. Everspace 2, Drox Operative 2, X4: Foundations, No Man’s Sky — and the notorious Star Citizen are all examples of space RPGs. There’s also Elite Dangerous, but that game has been in steady freefall since the horrific state of the Odyssey expansion. Starfield is due for a Q3-4 release date in 2023 — Bethesda’s next attempt at creating the equivalent of RPG crack. Despite justified concern for that game, I’m still excited about it. This is Bethesda’s first new IP in years, so I’m interested in how it will turn out. I don’t doomsay games before they launch, and while I doubt it will be the next coming of Christ, I expect what Fallout/Elder Scrolls games provide — a large sandbox open world with lots of things to do. And lots of bugs. I just hope it’s not yet another AAA disaster on PC.
So, onto Spacebourne 2, one of the most ambitious indie games I’ve ever seen. Initially launching to mixed reception for the janky state, I’m happy to see it gain traction over the past few months. The developer has been hard at work ever since, releasing major feature updates, adding new content, and tirelessly fixing bugs. Spacebourne 2 feels like one guy looking at No Man’s Sky and Star Citizen and thinking they can pull it off. And the crafty bastard has pulled it off.
And yes, many people are comparing this game to Star Citizen, the poster child of development hell. Yes, Star Citizen is something of an open sore for many. One of, if not the most heavily funded games in history, the amount of development crisis in SC has been legendary. I’ve played some Star Citizen in the recent patches. While I enjoy Star Citizen for what it offers, the feature creep will likely doom it someday. I’ll keep believing, though. Spacebourne 2 carries some of those visions Star Citizen wanted, yet delivers them in a neat package. There are also some elements from No Man’s Sky with the procedurally generated planets and star systems. There is plenty of hand-crafted content as well.
Spacebourne 2 in its current state is playable with plenty of content, but there are also plenty of unpolished parts. It is not as bad as one might expect for a solo project of this size and scope, but enough for note. Many items are placeholder textures, and many locations haven’t been developed. Voice acting is nearly entirely done through AI while the developer works on getting additional support. There are typos and spelling errors galore — the developer is a non-native English speaker, so this is understandable. While I’ve run into many glitches like terrain clipping, procedural mission objectives vanishing upon loading a save, and other bugs, I haven’t suffered a single crash in over twenty hours of gameplay.
Several parts of the gameplay are perfectly functional but will need work. Despite all of these, I cannot understate just how great this game feels to play at times. With mining, settlements to explore, space combat, third-person shooting, economy mechanics, and faction management, Spacebourne 2 offers a trove of content, even if it is like devouring a messy kebab. Sure, you might spend an uncomfortable evening squatting over the toilet, but you’ll enjoy yourself in the process.
The story is around 15-20 hours in its current state, but there are hundreds of little side missions, procedural contracts, and guilds to join. Players can enjoy an expansive if rough experience.
While Spacebourne 2 might make a difficult recommendation for those who want a complete experience, I can’t recommend it. This is a short impression and I want a full review later — but damn, I love games like this. This would be an impressive project for a AAA studio, let alone one guy. With its vast range of features and responsive feedback, the sky is the limit for Spacebourne 2. For twenty dollars, players can play an awesome, if janky, space RPG that goes beyond AAA rivals. Just keep expectations modest.
Unbelievably ambitious game for anyone, let alone a solo developer
Incomplete — several systems are a little obtuse, and planets lack substance currently
A wide range of activities to do
Lots of bugs and glitches, although few game-breaking issues in my experience
Great music and the space sounds are fantastic
Typos and broken dialogue — the developer is not a native speaker
Great communication by the developer, providing frequent updates and responsive to player feedback
Voice acting is rudimentary
Despite the jank, the gameplay loop is just damn enjoyable to experience
Many placeholder assets
Plays surprisingly well on even modest hardware
That is it for today’s episode. Still, plenty more to come, but I’m happy to be finally making headway through my review schedule.
Zelda’s launching very soon, and it’s likely to occupy a lot of my time… like every Switch fan, I imagine! In the meantime, stay safe and remember to hydrate.