Authors in Isolation: Michael Arnold
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In terms of indie gaming, the opening couple of months feels as strong as it was back in 2021. In January and February last year, we saw some fantastic games hit Early Access.
Some of these were Everspace 2: a high-quality launch with a lot going for it, as well as the fantastic survival sim Valheim which took the gaming world by storm. Youthcat Studios also released their bizarre yet addictive title Dyson Sphere Program, an oddball child of Astroneer, Satisfactory and Kerbal Space Program.
Welcome to another episode of Indie Corner, where I get the chance to regale you guys with my excited babble of indie games. I’ll admit that two of today’s offerings come from last winter, though I only got the chance to try them out this February. However, there are several very strong indie releases in the opening of 2022 I want to cover eventually. Strange Horticulture, Super Dungeon Maker, and Blood West are just a few examples, and I will cover them in future episodes once I’ve had time to play them properly.
Ready or Not
This game has quite the history! It’s been in development since 2016, with an alpha build available to supporter backers in 2019. Developed by VOID Interactive, it was certainly one of those games which had a lot of concerns over it ever getting to a commercial release at all. The last big indie game which gave me those concerns was Kenshi, which was in long and slow development for years before building confidence and eventually becoming a highly successful release.
Ready or not, the game officially launched on Steam Early Access in December 2021. And that’s also officially the last joke I ever make on this site. That was terrible, Michael. Shame. It was also released with an eye-raising price that could be regarded as steep: £31/35EUR/40USD to be precise. I don’t think it’s that high, especially for a title with as much potential as this game, but I understand people for being concerned. Early Access, after all, is asking for people to play and test a game that’s not ready yet. I’d rather see a bigger discount, but I understand the reasoning for it. The Supporter Edition is considerably more with some minor cosmetic additions, as well as alpha access to updates. This raised more eyebrows if I’m honest, but as long as it’s not tying features behind a paywall, it doesn’t bother me much.
All that done, what do I think of it? It’s pretty good. So good that it’d probably take a slot in my ‘Best of Early Access’ list in my GOTY awards had it released sooner. However, December is the cutoff so who knows, maybe it’ll go onto my list this year? It’s an impressive tactical sim in the model of the old SWAT series, with intense firefights on sprawling maps and plenty of customization. While co-op is available, it’s possible to play Solo with AI allies, which I’ve been doing ever since I started.
Content-wise, there’s a lot of stuff that needs polish. Several maps are playable but unfurnished, with lots of placeholder assets and many maps only have a couple of missions, but I can’t say it’s light on content either. The home base gives an interactive tutorial to practice weapons and change gear, and there’s plenty to get stuck into. Even with the rough edges, I dig the game’s audio design, and I feel like a SWAT officer getting into these difficult situations. The game is hard, and I’ll admit I suck playing. I’ve only completed a couple of missions so far. I’m happy to keep trying, and the gameplay is addictive enough to make me want to do it.
The high price point might put some people off, and I’d suggest to those on the fence to wait for more robust content. However, for the tactical shooter genre, Ready or Not is an impressive beginning with tons of potential. Keep an eye out for this title in the coming months.
Shadows of Forbidden Gods
This is the second title this week that was released last year in Early Access, and I wish I had the chance to play it sooner because it’s cool. I got Forbidden Gods as a birthday present a few weeks ago and I’ve been slowly getting addicted to its evil, Lovecraftian depths. It has its niggles and scabs, but there’s an incredible strategy game in the works here, and I’m surprised it has so little coverage.
Your goal is to cast Shadow and death over the world, calling the dark god back from its slumber. Simple enough goals, but there are a lot of complex mechanics under the grisly surface and interface. I’ll admit that the game’s interface could be better; it’s an ugly mix of menus and information which is confusing to get around. The game gives a solid tutorial to teach the basics, then allows the player to play God and experiment. I like these tutorials; they provide a helping hand but keep a lot of the game’s deeper workings to explore.
Even the best interface however will make it hard, because there’s a lot to do. Functioning as a giant, horror-filled sandbox, the number of angles of approach is quite overwhelming. Starting with one faction, you get the ability to recruit several different agents each with their unique abilities, with a large, open-ended map to explore and spread God’s dark will.
Forbidden Gods places a lot of focus on economic and information warfare, something which many strategy games skimp on. While there is turn-based combat and the ability to raise some armies, that’s not the point of the game. I like this. More games need to do this, and so far, Forbidden Gods excel. There are many different locations and things to do in each place, such as explore ruins for resources, harness the power of magical sites, infiltrate villages and towns to exploit them, spread plagues, raze villages, and attack rulers inside. The game has several mechanics such as unrest and prosperity. Devastating regions decreases prosperity and raises unrest, which makes for potential rebellions and civil wars. I’m just listing off the base things to do because there’s so much to do that it’d take a while listing them all, and I want any potential readers to be enticed into picking the game up.
The agents are diverse and varied in their abilities, with a good mix between combat-oriented and political. What I love is that each agent can do similar things, but have different powers to expand their function. For example, the Trickster is a mastermind of stealing and espionage, who can steal items from enemy heroes, poison items to hinder them, and put blame on these tricks on others. The Courtier focuses on manipulating people, turning factions against each other, and preventing them from working together. There are agents such as the Cursed and the Baroness who are more combat-oriented, though the Cursed works best as a hit and run attacker to disable and weaken enemies, while the Baroness is more effective in direct combat. One cool thing to do is to rally the orc tribes against the heroes, then recruit a Warlord to raise orcs to the dark side to raze. Each agent or person in the world has a profile and menace modifier; the bigger their accomplishments, the bigger their threat level, and it’s possible to blame good people for all your evil deeds. It’s delicious getting cruel things blamed on the very person you’re trying to destroy.
There’s an amazing game in here. While it’s in Early Access there’s a complete experience already, with several different gods and agents and an open-ended way to win. There’s even base modding support for more content, as well as an upcoming patch to add magic to the game. There’s a lot of game for its tender price tag of £15.49/17EUR/20USD, and I highly recommend it to all fans of the strategy genre. It takes time to dig into, but it’s not as confusing as some strategy games. Looking at you, Hearts of Iron IV.
Nebulous: Fleet Command
Oh boy, February has given us an Early Access treat in the form of this one! This won’t be a long segment because I only just started playing it, but this could be the ‘Valheim’ of Early Access in 2022.
The Expanse is a critically acclaimed book and TV series that places a lot of focus on ‘realistic’ science fiction and space travel, particularly in how space combat could look in the future. I bring this up because Nebulous focuses primarily on space combat. There’s no 4X strategy here, no empires to oversee, just pure, beautiful real-time strategy. It was released on the 11th of February and seems to be gaining quite a lot of traction.
Included in this launch is a skirmish mode with both single and multiplayer options on several maps as well as a ship editor. It doesn’t sound like much content, but there’s plenty for the player to get their teeth into. Future content includes a potential campaign, expanded skirmish modes, and full mod support, although players can still download ships and upload them on Steam Workshop. There’s a solid foundation here, and there’s a ton of depth to combat as well as shipbuilding. The amount of options and customization in the ship design is staggering. You can control nearly everything. I’ve been bogged down in learning, and I’m loving it. It’s like class, except instead of dull lessons on maths, I’m learning how to build the ultimate space fleet.
When I reviewed Highfleet last summer, I applauded it for its heavy focus on information and electronic warfare. I love deep, tactical strategy games that provide options beyond just smacking the shit out of enemies. What wore me out was its lack of basic quality of life features and deeply punishing gameplay to the point of it just not being enjoyable for me. Nebulous so far has given me none of those issues. The tutorial provided is fully voice acted, well constructed, and covers everything from basic movement to weapons systems and more advanced combat. It’s really impressive how it teaches the player, and while there’s a lot to learn quickly, I never felt confused when playing the tutorial, though I wish into more detail how to build the ships. In that regard, the player is left to their own devices, but hopefully, this improves.
In the few short weeks since release, the developer has been hard at work providing several QOL updates, improving key bindings, improving the camera, and more. Great communication between the developer and community is vital to any game but more vital in an Early Access title like this one. It’s early days, but this has the potential to be one of the best strategy titles on the market. Real-time, realistic combat on a 360-degree camera is hard to do well, but Nebulous might just excel. Keep a close eye on this one.
That was longer than I expected! A bit more rambly than the ones I’m used to writing, especially for Forbidden Gods and Nebulous. I need to play both games more to give a proper review, which is why I call these Impressions. What’s next?
Incoming is my update on Cyberpunk 2077 and the 1.5 patches, where I’ll cover what’s changed in the game. I’m quite looking forward to returning to that one. Stay tuned, for I’ll be back soon!