Monthly Archives: July 2016

Deepworld [Beta]

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Deepworld [Beta] on Steam

MSRP: Free to play with in-game purchases

Platforms: Win, Mac, iOS

Release: 4/22/15


Deepworld describes itself as a “massively-multiplayer 2D crafting adventure game”.  Since it’s a free to play title, and in beta for over a year at this point, my expectations weren’t high, but I tend to enjoy digging, exploring, and resource collection even when there’s nearly nothing compelling about the game play.  However, after spending about half an hour with Deepworld, I can’t even tell you if I like it, never mind if it’s actually good.

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I like the steampunk aesthetic, I like the signs that guide you carefully through most of the tutorial. The control scheme took a little getting used to – you don’t jump so much as use your jetpack to fly – but it was logical. The biggest problem I had was that, even in the tutorial, with things constantly being explained, I just didn’t get it.

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I think, for fans of dig-games, it’s worth exploring. The majority of the negative reviews center around the fact that, if you want a private world to explore and build on, you need to purchase one with money.  I feel like they’re ignoring the fact that the base game is free, which means that having to spend something to fully enjoy the game is perfectly reasonable.

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The premium upgrade is a measly $3. It doesn’t unlock everything ever, of course, but it makes it easier to earn premium currency in game. As with most free-to-play titles, you can treat it like a time suck, and grind your way to things you want, or treat it like a money-suck. I think having to pay for a private world makes sesne, and for the folks who just like to explore things and collect resources, the option to do that without ever paying a penny is there.

Victor Vran

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Victor Vran on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 7/24/15


I can’t be the only one who pretty much expects all ARPGs to be reskins of the same basic game:  click, loot, potion, repeat. Sure, each takes a little different tack with skill trees and combination classes, but as long as all systems are functional, they all offer a pretty similar experience.

Victor Vran is pretty different from most other ARPGs I’ve played.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I’m an authority by any means.  I’ve spent quite a few hours in Diablo 3, played Torchlight and its sequel, and bumbled around a bit in Din’s CurseTitan Quest Gold, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. They’re all pretty solid games, provided you like the ARPG formula.  But almost from the beginning, this feels very very different.

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There are no classes in Victor Vran, and there are no skill trees.  You only have a few active abilities at any given time, and those abilities are determined by the weapon you have equipped.  An early level-up reward is a second weapon slot, allowing you to quickly switch between two equipped weapons in battle.  Finally, not only can you jump and dodge, but you better learn how to do both pretty early on, or you’re not going to make it through the game.

I am hesitant to call this the Dark Souls of APRGs, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons.  The skill in Victor Vran is not only limited to creating a strong build, and equipping the appropriate loot. You have to be able to move yourself out of crap and avoid projectiles while still wailing on hordes of monsters with a cool down based ability system, and there are times that’s just as confusing as it sounds.  As a concession to a more complex play style, you can choose your movement scheme at the start of the game (both click to move and WASD are on offer).

 

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There are three difficulty modes, and the two lower ones, casual and normal, can be switched between in an active game.  However, if you choose heroic, you’re stuck with it.  You also have to choose your outfit, which is the only real character customization you get.  At the beginning, there are three options that all give a slight edge to a certain style of play, with other outfits that can either be looted or unlocked through play. Finally, you have to choose between a normal and perma-death / hardcore run.

The narration is wonderful, and I don’t miss the war cries that usually accompany a game of this type.  If you’re arachnid-phobic, you should probably give this one a pass. There are many spiders. Many many spiders. Early on, you’ll probably be changing out weapons and destiny cards pretty often to figure out what works best for you. There a crafting component as well, but 90 minutes in, I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.  Finally, this is a fantastic game for those who want to quest, explore, treasure hunt, take on challenges and chase achievements in between all the not-so-mindless slaughter. I’m not sure how deep it is yet, but it sure is broad.

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Victor Vran supports co-op play, and offers a free DLC for experienced players that give random daily challenges, y’know, in case you didn’t have enough to do.  A twenty dollar asking price is in line with how much content you can reasonably expect (and if you’re a completionist, it’s a bargain).  However, for the next couple of days, it’s on sale for only $5.99 on GoG.com, which will get you the same free DLC you get on Steam plus some in-game items that appear to be unique to this DRM free version.

The only things that keep me from making an unequivocal recommendation of Victor Vran is that I’m not sure if pure caster builds can actually work (which are a big draw for a subset of ARPG players), and so far, I don’t feel like the story is anything more than a serviceable framework.  For me, both of these are non-issues, but are worth noting because for some, they may just be deal-breakers.

The Elder Scrolls: Legends [Beta]

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The Elder Scrolls: Legends

MSRP: Free to play with in-game purchasing.

Platforms: Win, iOS (iPad)

Release: TBD


The NDA has lifted! I’ve been an Elder Scrolls fan-girl since I first played Daggerfall way back in 1996, when it was totally cutting edge and mind-blowingly good.  Since then, I’ve bought every major installment on release, gotten every bit of DLC available and all the strategy guides, and even played both Redguard and Battlespire (neither of which were particularly good games).  Despite not having the time to really dedicate to a second MMO, I pre-ordered the physical Imperial Edition of The Elder Scrolls Online and Molag Bal is still chilling on my bookshelf.

To say I’m excited about another game in The Elder Scrolls universe might be a bit of an understatement, even if that game is a collectible card game rather than the open world RPGs that make up the bulk of the series.

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Instead of Magic: The Gathering’s color system, or Hearthstone’s class system, in The Elder Scrolls: Legends you choose your race. In each race’s text, you’ll see a description of cards that are weighted slightly higher due to your race choice.  After completing the 8 mission tutorial, you’ll gain access to your profile, where you can change your race and avatar at will, but any cards already unlocked will stay in your library.  Cards also have attributes that are linked to classes, offering a wide variety of deck building options as you proceed through the game.

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Completing Act 1 also opens up two new play modes – Practice and Versus Battle, with Solo Arena and Versus Arena (which are pay-to-play draft modes which offer the potential for exceptional rewards) opening up later on.  In game currency and card packs can be earned through play, or purchased in the in-game store.  So far, I’ve spent all my time in story mode, and let me tell you, it’s freaking fantastic.

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The artwork, the voice acting and other sound, it’s all so beautiful and all so very very Elder Scrolls. Assuming nothing changes in the pricing structure between now and release, this is going to be a game worth downloading even if you never play anything but the story. I’m guessing Bethesda knew what a draw story mode would be – they actually allow you to complete quests in story mode. In fact, the only mode that seems to not be eligible for daily quest completion is Practice.

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Really, I just want to spam screenshots here for a second.

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There’s a few twists that, although they may not be 100% unique to The Elder Scrolls: Legends, that give an interesting flavor.  First are card upgrades – if you get a card with a small green arrow in the corner, it’s likely you’ll be given an opportunity to upgrade that card.  When you get a card upgrade, you’re given a choice of additional stats or effects so that you can best use it to compliment your style of play, or fill deficits in your library.  The downside of this is that sometimes, cards won’t look particularly cost-balanced when you receive them; every card I’ve upgraded has kept the same casting cost, but seems to have been balanced for the card’s evolutions.

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There are points during the story mode where you’re given an opportunity to make a decision, and in doing so, unlock a card.  Personally, I would enjoy this mechanic more if you didn’t see the choices before making your decision – I feel like that would entice you to make your decision on its own merits, rather than deciding based on which card you think is better.

Lastly is the lane-based system. Most battles will give you the option of playing a card in one of two lanes, and cards can only attack cards that share their lane.  Both lanes are able to attack the enemy hero (provided there are no cards with Guard that need to be dispatched first), and non-attack mechanics seem to all work across lane lines. However, the lane system definitely adds another layer of strategy requiring you to place your cards wisely.

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There’s a lot to learn here, although it won’t feel too overwhelming if you’re already familiar with collectible card game mechanics.  There is an in-game glossary which gives pretty clear explanations of all facets of the game, but the things you need to know while in game will pop up if you hover over a card or game element you’re unsure of.

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There’s no question that I’m more than a little biased here, but this feels like a really strong entry into a game genre that’s fast becoming overdone.  Not having played any versus matches, I don’t know how card rarity is going to effect the chances of a free-to-play player to succeed, or if purchasing card packs is going to feel mandatory to stay competitive. I hope that they can find the balance, so that making in-game purchases is appealing, without requiring everyone who is attracted to multiplayer feel like they must spend hundreds of dollars to keep up.

If you’re interested in signing up for The Elder Scrolls: Legends closed beta, you can do so here.  You’ll have to create an account if you don’t have one already, and you will need to use the Bethesda launcher to play.

Plush

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Plush on Steam

MSRP: $3.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 2/13/15


After goofing around in Plush, my first instinct was to call it yet another great concept with not quite successful execution, but I quickly realized that the execution is less of an issue than my expectation.  See, I was expecting a puzzle game where items just kind of settle into place in an orderly fashion; after all, what’s a better illustration of happiness than tidiness? At least, that’s what we’re supposed to believe.

Instead, Plush is more of a physics puzzler, where you need to drag the stuffed animals around the bed, limbs flopping about, and maybe the only way to make them happy is to drop them on their cute little faces and then carelessly toss another toy into their happiness radiance.  Yes, clearly the chaos bugs me just a little bit. I’m working through it.

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There are three difficulty levels, and in all but the easiest, a stuffed animal hitting the floor (like that bear over by the nightstand on the right) forces a level restart. There’s a reason that carpet is red – the floor is lava. Just don’t drop anything, ok? Each different type of stuffed animal has different needs – bears want to cuddle, while unicorns want to be left alone (unless there are ponies. Unicorns love ponies). To complete a level, all you have to do is make sure every stuffed animal has a green circle around it.  The pillows are stationary and unpassable; you will need to maneuver around them.

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The real charm of the game comes in the soothing voice of the narrator, who only sounds like he’s judging you a little bit when you close the level description before he’s done reading. Then there are the child’s voice, talking to her stuffed toys. It’s just syrupy kinds of cute, and it works.

Considering three difficulty options and 40 levels, it’s not a bad value, even before you consider the free play mode, where you can just toss stuffed animals around willy nilly as much as your computer can take.  My biggest critique is that this feels like a game that should be ported to mobile, because I think moving the animals could be immensely satisfying with a touch screen.

Flesh Eaters

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Flesh Eaters on Steam

MSRP: $1.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 5/3/16


Games like Flesh Eaters are why I try to base almost none of my gaming purchases on the description put out by the developer.  A top-down, retro-style zombie RTS with RPG elements and crafting? It’s a great idea. I wasn’t expecting much for a $2 price tag – but I had to know if it even kind of worked.

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That was in the tutorial, people. Truthfully, the tutorial itself is pretty awful. If a game is going to have a tutorial, then teach me everything I need to know to get through it. I’m not clear on whether my issues were due to a less than stellar translation, or if you just don’t get enough information, but playing on the easiest difficulty in the tutorial shouldn’t feel that hard.

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Which is too bad, because the idea has a lot of potential. You’re given a party of survivors, each with a class-based skill set, and you have to not only survive against hordes of zombies, but you have to figure out a way to escape the city before it’s bombed off the face of the earth in an attempt to control the infestation. The concept is almost enough to make me want to power through the odd control scheme and the wonky AI to see if it gets better.

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On my second attempt, I managed to get out of the tutorial with two of my three original squad members.  I lost my soldier when, instead of planting his feet and shooting at the zombies from a distance, he moseyed right into the middle of four, and got his parts eaten off.  I nearly got him out, but my medic was too occupied with looting parts from an ambulance to actually move where I told him to and patch the poor guy up.  Unlike in my first attempt, where I just didn’t get it, this time, it felt like it just didn’t work right. When commands don’t do what they’re supposed to do, that’s not a feature.

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Personally, I don’t feel too ripped off – I picked up Flesh Eaters in a bundle with two other games for $0.24 in the 2016 Summer Sale.  I’ve made that back in trading cards, and I can’t even say that I definitely won’t go back and try it again.  This is definitely one of those times I wish that a more experienced developer would come along, see the potential, and develop a game around it that actually works.

Lovely Planet

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Lovely Planet on Steam

MSRP: $5.99 (Steam) / $9.99 (XBox One Store)

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, XBox One

Release: 7/31/14


When something seems as outside of the box as Lovely Planet seems, I’m often compelled to try it out, even if it’s also outside my normal wheelhouse.  It’s probably the most cheery, colorful first person shooter out there. It describes itself as a Gun Ballet. I dabble in first person shooters from time to time, but I usually avoid the ones that look like they’re also arcade-like or platform-y, and Lovely Planet is both.

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You get pretty much nothing in the way of instruction or tutorial. Occasionally, you see a sign that says something to the effect of “Kill All Baddies” or “Run Into Pillar”. That’s the instructions you’re getting, and you best appreciate them.  Despite the million hearts lying all over the ground, don’t think you’re going to be able to take a projectile or survive a fall – one mistake, and you’re back at the beginning of the level, all fresh and new. In fact, there doesn’t even appear to be a life mechanic at all – you just keep failing and Lovely Planet will tell you that it’s okay and give you another chance.

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That red square with eyes? It’s about to start spitting purple cubes at me, and if I don’t dodge them while trying to shoot it, it’s time to start over. I’ve been killed a couple of times by red squares I didn’t see, but mostly, I die to failing to jump correctly. I don’t think it’s a control issue – I’m fairly certain it’s just a me issue, so if you have any platforming skill whatsoever, don’t let that statement dissuade you.

However, I will admit to being tremendously annoyed when, upon failing a level more times than I’m going to admit to, the game started giggling at me when it sent me back to the beginning.  Cheerful or mocking – you decide.

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There’s no story, and the game play isn’t deep or even strategic really.  There is colorful scenery, and music that’s easy on the ears, and the ability to keep replaying levels in order to improve your time. Though the levels (at least the early levels) are short, there’s no shortage of them, so the six dollar asking price is completely worth it.  However, it’s also a game that’s frequently bundled and discounted, so if you can pick it up for a dollar or two, and you’re interested in checking out the happiest FPS around, you’ll probably really feel like you got a bargain.

Alice’s Patchwork

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Alice’s Patchwork on Steam

MSRP: $4.99

Platforms: Windows, iOS, Android

Release: 3/3/16


It looks cute, doesn’t it? Like a super-casual, child-appropriate game. Well, let me tell you, this game is no joke.  Sure, it has the mobile feel about it even on PC (with unnecessary coin mechanics to encourage in-app purchases), but I cannot even imagine trying to put these puzzles together without the precision offered by a mouse.

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All of the puzzles are of the stained glass variety rather than traditional jigsaw, and the tutorial will lull you into a false sense of security, as you only have a handful of pieces to place, and it’s pretty obvious where they go. Once you get a few puzzles in, however, you’d have to work very very quickly – as well as accurately – in order to manage to get all three keys per level. My mind is not that fast, but I had noticed a “relaxed mode” option, so I decided to try it out.

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Relaxed mode lifts the time restriction for puzzles (meaning you automatically get two of the three keys just for completion), but not the “no mistakes” restriction. However, with the ability to work at my own pace, I found that goal a lot simpler to meet. I’m perfectly okay with the idea of using the hint button on occasion, especially since the game only shows you five pieces at a time.

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Each section of 20 puzzles after the first must be unlocked with keys or coins.  On PC, there doesn’t seem to be any way to purchase coins for money in game, so it’s highly likely you’ll be replaying levels for keys or coins, especially if you’re playing timed. Alice’s Patchwork has 120 puzzles in total, which seems like quite a few for the low asking price. However, there are in-game purchases on mobile platforms, so even though there’s less initial investment, the game may end up costing a whole lot more if you decide to play it on a phone or tablet.

I’m actually surprisingly impressed with Alice’s Patchwork, at least after playing in relaxed mode. If I had to play with the timer, I probably would have bounced off the game before I finished the fourth puzzle. Without it, though, it’s a great little visual brain teaser, a must buy if you can find it at least half off, and worth $5 if you enjoy puzzles.

 

Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart

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Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart on Steam

MSRP: $9.99 (Steam) / $4.99 (mobile)

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Blackberry, WinPhone

Release: 4/19/12


Something to get out of the way – I think the prices of hidden object games for computers are usually insanely disproportionate to the amount of play they provide. The only saving grace is how often they get deep discounts or put into bundles – I currently have probably 35 hidden object games I haven’t played, and I got almost all of them bundled because I just can’t pay $10 for a game that takes less than 4 hours to play to completion.

Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart tries to artificially increase replay value by adding achievements that require at least a second play through – even if you start on expert mode, you’ll need to play at least twice to get the hidden object achievements as well as the alternate mini-game mah johng solitaire achievements.

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As far as the game itself, it’s pretty decent provided you can disregard the cut-scenes looking like they were designed for 600X800 resolution – I’ve played games that came out in the nineties that look better than the cut scenes here.  There’s a short tutorial, which isn’t overly intrusive, but can be skipped by anyone familiar with the play of hidden object games.  All of the puzzles I encountered in the early game were logical, bordering on too easy.

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Thankfully, the hidden object scenes don’t suffer from the clarity issues the cut scenes seem to have.  They’re fair without being overly easy, and the items in yellow text require you to manipulate something else in order to discover them. However, instead of just needing to click blindly, the cursor changes to indicate there is something you can interact with. So far, I’ve seen a few variations, including parts puzzles and flashlight in a dark room. Pretty standard fare.

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There’s a journal to keep track of your progress & objectives, as well as a map that will enable you to see where there are things that you can do, but it does not allow you to fast travel. Story is nothing unusual – a simple, slightly spooky tale, but as someone who is drawn to all things pirate, I’m actually finding it pretty enjoyable.

If you like hidden object games, and you can pick it up cheap or in a bundle (preferably with other Artifex Mundi games as they tend to be of higher quality than a lot of other hidden object games), Nightmare of the Deep: Cursed Heart is worth a play through – maybe even two if you want to get all the achievements.

 

Redemption: Eternal Quest

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Redemption: Eternal Quest on Steam

MSRP: $3.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 8/28/15


Redemption: Eternal Quest is almost a really enjoyable game.  Even putting aside for a moment that not every scenario is ideal for putting into a simulation game, I feel like making what amounts to Quest Giver Simulator is already an odd choice.  But SimProse come close to making it work; but end up throwing a big old monkey wrench in the works when they added in a collectible card component.

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The idea behind recruiting adventurers to send on quests, and then investing the profits from those quests into improving your adventurers is a solid enough concept. Sure, it’s not as action packed as your average dungeon-crawler, but there’s a satisfaction to be gained here.  However, instead of focusing solely on making the game the best sim it could be, they made the decision to add minion cards that could be used to fight random battles that – in all honesty – add nothing to the game.

Those resources would have been better spent on putting some polish on the characters of the adventurers, giving them a variety of quirks related to backstory, rather than just an unintuitive stat sheet. Fleshing out the loot mechanics would also have helped immensely, or alternately paring them down to bare bones – in the game’s current incarnation, loot only ever equals gold, no matter what the loot items might be called. If you only want money, make it so only money is earned.

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Redemption: Eternal Quest is only a little challenging to get into, but it’s ridiculously challenging to stay with.  It requires too much interactivity to be a good background game, but there’s not enough to hold interest through a prolonged gaming session. It might have found more success as a mobile app than a PC game.  As is, the game is having a bit of identity crisis.

Upon describing it to a friend of mine, she commented that it sounded an awful lot like World of Warcraft Garrison Simulator, and she wasn’t entirely wrong. But garrison missions worked in WoW because they gave tangible rewards that supported the main game play, and they only required your full attention for a few minutes a day.  I’d like to see someone else take on the concept. Even for $3, I can’t recommend Redemption: Eternal Quest since it gets so much more wrong than it gets right.

Fight the Dragon

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Fight the Dragon on Steam

MSRP: $14.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 12/4/14


I seem to have a knack for finding games that have really interesting concepts that don’t quite work for me.  Fight the Dragon is an cutesy ARPG with a twist – almost all of the content is made by other players using the built in Adventure Creation Kit. If you’re the type that’s more interested in creating content than playing it, I imagine that Fight the Dragon would be a fantastic value, but for those of us who just want to beat things up and pick up some loot, the game feels like it’s missing something.

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There are four classes that you can choose from, but when you first start out, they don’t play all that different.  It was really hard to get enthused by my ice mage when I was spending most of my time sticking the bad guys with the pointy end of my sword.  Of course, there is a level up mechanic, which allows you to customize your character a little at a time, but the game couldn’t hold my attention for me to really see that come to fruition.

The controls are awkward, loot is unimpressive and not as frequent as one comes to expect from an ARPG, and I felt as if I was spending more time trying to work out puzzles than actually slaying monsters.  If I’d gone in expecting a puzzle game, I may have felt differently about that, but the fiddly-ness of some of the positioning when combined with controls that didn’t feels smooth using either the mouse and keyboard or a controller didn’t inspire me to persevere.  More than once, I managed to waste a life falling off the edge of the world. There’s none of the mindlessness of play that tends to characterize ARPGs here.

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There were a few mechanics I really loved – the checkpoints being the primary example. Standing on a checkpoint will let you restore health, but only up to a set amount – once you’ve used it up, it’s gone. I thought the mechanics of dealing with unwanted loot were interesting, even if slightly counter-intuitive. Fight the Dragon isn’t a game that I hated – it just didn’t meet my expectations.

Although it’s probably a lot of fun for dungeon builders, and enjoyable for co-op players, for me, there’s not enough I liked to make it worth powering through the frustrations. I’m glad to have supported an excellent concept, even if in a small way, but it’s not a game I am likely to return to, nor is it one I would easily recommend to fans of ARPGs.