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Hardland: Early Impressions

Hardland is a gorgeous looking ARPG in early access. The first thing that'll grab a lot of people's attention would probably be it's aesthetics. It's design being inspired by claymation the world and it's characters does have a pretty cartoony "doughiness" to it. At times the game feels almost like playing an interactive Pixar Movie.

Hardland as an ARPG is pretty simple overall. Go around a vast world, where the town areas are hand designed while the dungeons and wilderness are randomly generated. Kill some mobs, level up, find loot, explore, and maybe pick up a side quest or 2 along the way. There's no main quest that I've found so the game is very open to however the player decides to play it.

Hardland does a lot of stuff right. The graphics are impressive, it's well optimized and stable, it features an open sandbox for the player to explore with RNG elements keeping things fresh. These are all enjoyable factors of the game, but Hardland also does a lot of stuff wrong as well. With out a main quest and the side quest being mostly of the fetch variety, the game lacks a sense of direction. At first most players will be wandering around wondering what they're supposed to be doing before realizing, wandering around is what they're supposed to be doing. The game also lacks interest points. It's great that Hardland gives the player a vast and open world to explore, but I haven't found much interesting things to find. Sure there are some chests, and some side quest (again mostly fetch quests) laying around, but nothing that truly grabbed my attention. In such a vast and gorgeous looking world, it's a shame that I have to report on it's at times, empty feeling. The game also features fairly primitive mechanics. The leveling up system is basic, the equipment system is basic, even the combat feels basic. The game also suffers from a few quality of life issues. There is only 1 save slot, and all the items you collect are ordered by alphabetical. There is no equipment tab, food tab, or any sense of organization at all.

So I've mentioned a laundry list of things I took issues with, but I'm still feeling pretty positive about Hardland. I think the game has a ton of potential, and hope to see the game grow and add content as it continues forward. I think if the devs can overhaul the combat, and fill the world with more interesting discoveries, it's open world idea could very well be something special. It already has a gorgeous art design as a strong foundation, it just needs to be built upon at this point.

Overall Hardland is an ARPG that is bursting at the seams with potential. That potential just needs to be realized.

- Impressive visuals
- Vast and gorgeous world to explore
- Open world sandbox approach

- Lacks a sense of direction
- Lacks interest points
- Mechanics are very primitive

The Flock: Impressions

The Flock comes with an interesting hook in that it'll go offline and become unavailable for sale once the population counter ticks down to zero. The game itself is something similar to "juggernaut" game modes from other online games, but with an emphasis on stealth.

When you spawn into a match, each player tries to find and attain the light. Once attained that player will become the "Carrier" and every one else will remain as a "Flock". It features an asymmetrical cat and mouse style of gameplay where it's every one on the Carrier. You can gain points through killing flocks by shining the light on advancing Flocks, completing objective points, or simply through holding the light as long as possible. The Flock have a variety of ways to ambush the carrier. They can stand still which will put them into a "Petrified" mode giving full immunity to the light, they can also create decoys that they can teleport to at their will, and can give a howl that'll buff other Flocks around them. The core of this is pretty fun and interesting when you first jump into the game, though with this as the only game mode it can become repetitive after a while.

The Flock is also pretty easy on the senses. The environmental and character designs are suiting to the mood and atmosphere, with ancient looking dilapidated environments, and eerie music and sound effects. The Flock does a good job at communicating it's dark themes.

Though the hook of a permanent end to the game, and the core gameplay being initially enjoyable and interesting, the fun of "The Flock" doesn't last long. There are only 3 maps available and only 1 game mode. The game becomes very repetitive very quickly. There's also no incentive to continue playing with a huge disconnect from the mechanics and the perma-end concept. None of the mechanics would be affects if the perma-end system wasn't in place, and because of this, the immediacy that the game tried to force on the player falls flat. I feel like most players would be bored of the game before the countdown become relevant. You can experience every thing there is to experience in a matter of a couple of matches. Since that's the case, what's the incentive for players to protect the global population? Why should players care if it'll end permanently if the game can't hold their interest to see it to the end? There's not even a record system to track how much a player have contributed to the population countdown, making the game's premise feel pointless.

Besides the design flaws with it's perma-end system, and the lack of variety, the Flock also suffers from a myriad of technical issues. The game sometimes crash from alt-tabbing or when a match ends and sends the player back to the lobby. The graphics setting's effectiveness is questionable and while playing with those settings, my game refuses to go fullscreen, It's stuck on windowed mode. I've also experienced lobbies that refuse to start the game, and games where the goal (the light) refused to spawn in. To say the least, The Flock has a lot of problems.

Overall The Flock has an interesting foundation, but it's under developed, under conceptualized, and suffers from both technical and design flaws.

- Good looking and sounding
- The one game mode is fun for a little while

- Buggy
- No connection between the perma-end concept to it's mechanics
- repetitive
- Lacks content

20XX: Quick Look (Megaman Roguelike indie game, gameplay, and review)

20XX simply put, is Megaman X if it was a roguelike/lite. It plays and even looks like Megaman X, but in higher definition and add in a bunch of permadeath and random generation into the mix.

Once in the game you'll be platforming and shooting / slicing baddies until you reach the end where you'll fight a boss in an arena style setting, much like Megaman games. You can also collect various upgrades and weapons while traversing the RNG levels. These upgrades vary from passive effects, such as increase HP or attack power, to active effects such as a new primary weapon, or special ability. You'll also be able to dash, super jump, and you'll be utilizing the best of your platforming and side scrolling action skills.

The gameplay stay true to the Megaman formula but since it throws in a bunch of roguelike elements, such as RNG levels and enemy placement, it does suffer from level design when compared to the game's inspiration. Megaman games have always been known for challenging but memorable levels. With 20XX's dependence on randomly generated levels, it doesn't have the same impact in level design as original Megaman games. To contrast this critique, what the game gives up in hand designed levels, it makes up in replayablity, and variety. The game also offers 2 characters to play as. Nina, and Ace. I feel the game needs to take a look into the balance of the 2 characters, as Ace is by far much easier to use and often I do much better with him as a result.

The art and sound design are great. It emulates Megaman X games well, except brought into the modern age of 1080 and 60FPS. I don't have much complaints about it's presentation. Every thing about how the game look and sound does a great job of paying tribute to it's inspiration.

Overall 20XX is a very enjoyable roguelike/lite and the idea of mixing Megaman mechanics into the genre paid off. I feel the 2 genres are a great mix that seem so obvious once you play it!

- Excellent tribute to Megaman games
- Plays and feels great!
- Lots of replayablity and experimentation potential

- Reliance on RNG level design show some flaws
- Some minor imbalances between the 2 selectable characters

20XX hours played: 1.5

Completion Status on 20XX: N/A

This copy of 20XX was given by the developers for review

Caves of Qud: Early Impressions

Caves of Qud to break it down simply is a HD ASCII Roguelike. It's odd placing the acronyms "HD" and "ASCII" next to each other, but there really isn't a better way to describe the game. it keeps true to it's heritage of Dos based roguelikes, from it's HD ASCII visuals, to it's keyboard command scheme. Even the mechanics and visuals are redesigned versions of what you may find in games like Rogue or Dwarf Fortress.

If you've never played an ASCII Roguelike game before, getting into Caves of Qud, could prove challenging. It won't control like modern games, forgoing mouse and gamepad, and sticking strictly to keyboard commands. There is a help menu which I highly recommend any new player to check before proceeding. But once you get over the learning curve, you'll find an expansive randomly generated world to explore, with a ton of replay and experimentation potential. You'll be able to create your own class, and tackle the game's quest and world as you see fit. It's wide, expansive, and deep.

Visually it may look unimpressive at first glance, but when you compare it to it's original ASCII version you can clearly see where all the work went into. Instead of actual ASCIIs as representation of the characters and the world, the game uses low-fi sprites that carry a similar visual feel of ASCIIs. Even the font choice and spacing is carefully designed to remind us of older times, while keeping things modern and easily read. There is no sound to speak of, no music, no midis. The game is in early access so it could be something to be added later, however, I suspect the omission is done intentionally, as the original Caves of Qud featured no sounds as well.

The game is fantastic, even as a player who've never played a whole lot of ASCII games in the past, but with that said, it's not perfect. Though the lack of sound could of been done deliberately, I'd still prefer if it featured some midi sounds to go with it. Also the initial area is consistent and always the same, with areas outside of the starting point being RNG. This coupled with the high learning curve of Caves of Qud will make the initial few tries at the game feel more tedious than if it was also randomly generated as well.

Overall Caves of Qud is what I'd like to consider "The Pillars of Eternity of Roguelikes". Much like Pillars of Eternity, Caves of Qud keeps manage to update both the gameplay and visuals of it's inspired genre, with out sacrificing the original's spirit, all while being an immensely enjoyable experience.

- Great looking "HD" ASCII sprites and design
- Keeps true to it's heritage
- Deep and engrossing
- Endless experimentation and replayability

- Might not be for every one
- No sounds