Feeling jerked around by a quest chain? Sidestep the entire thing by stealing the quest item you need from the character who won’t hand it over. Not enjoying the combat anymore? Create a stealthy build and sneak your way through the entire story without fighting a single enemy. Want to destabilize a faction? Craft or buy explosives, activate the bomb timer, then use your pickpocketing skills to plant the explosives on their leader. That was one of my favorite things to do in Fallout, and it’s arguably even more fun to do here.
Hades is a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler roguelite with a simplistic gameplay loop, some complex perk combinations reminiscent of Transistor, and a reactive story that sees characters react to just about anything that you do. The problem is that all of the things that you can do are limited to picking perks and killing things in the same four floors of the same dungeon, and the story drags its heels in such an egregious way that you have to finish this same 20-40-minute dungeon something like 50 times to reach the actual ending.
There are glimmers of an interesting, entertaining game here; the comic stylings and panels are reminiscent of Comix Zone and Framed, and the characters and world are decently interesting. That’s a double-edged sword, however. When I spent another 4 hours replaying the game from the beginning to get the secret ending only for it to end up being a couple of lines that have little to do with anything, the only reaction I could muster was frustrated fury. In a way, though, this is representative of the way Foreclosed consistently refuses to offer commensurate payoff for your troubles.
The Ascent feels like two very different games. One of those games is an enjoyable aRPG in an over-the-top cyberpunk world where you find new equipment, upgrade your weapons and abilities, and take on odd jobs in an attempt to better your character’s situation. In many ways, this feels like a combination of the canceled Prey 2 and what a lot of people mistakenly expected Cyberpunk 2077 to be like, all filtered through a world that combines the alien-rich population of Mass Effect with Blade Runner‘s rainy dystopia. The other game is the one that undermines that first one.
I remembered developer Wooden Monkeys from Save Koch, their entertainingly ambitious (but confusingly unwieldy) previous game that similarly featured a character stuck in a room, and I was interested in seeing a more mature take on that concept. Song of Farca ends up being a massive improvement. By dropping Save Koch‘s randomly assigned villain and giving the player more agency, the story is able to zoom in on a small cast of interesting characters and develop in a surprisingly compelling way.
Cris Tales bills itself as an “indie love letter to classic jRPGs.” Instead, it so completely misunderstands what makes them great that it comes across like a creepy kidnapper letter composed out of letters cut from various magazines. This is a game that looks fantastic while doing everything at least a little wrong; entire mechanics are outright broken, bugs can strike and render certain battles unwinnable, and stats randomly see massive rises and drops that make it impossible to tell how powerful your characters actually are. Add in Cris Tales‘ slow movement speed and insistence on making you run around doing busy work and you have a recipe for a truly painful experience.
This is a game that gets a lot of things right—things that bigger teams often struggle with. At the same time, the game’s smaller scope results in a paucity of content/secrets and an overabundance of filler opponents who sabotage the pacing. I enjoyed my time with Guild of Darksteel, but it ultimately feels like a third of an incredible game let down by its limited scope.