Been away awhile. Working on other projects, and the budget constraints have prevented me from picking up the new releases I've wanted. But I still found time to at least poke around Steam for something interesting (and free) , and that's when I came across this delightful short little game, Emily is Away. Emily is Away is a quasi-Visual novel, its an interactive story that's free on Steam. It was released on November 20th last year, so we're getting close to it's 1st Birthday. We're a bit early but I figured we'd cover it now.
Emily is Away is short, and that's the first thing you should know. It's a short little game but there is a lot packed into it and it's a focused experience, you're lead down a specific road and it's meant to make you feel something. The creator, Kyle Seeley, obviously had a specific vision in mind for the game and he carried it out wonderfully.
It's rare that I find a game that completely stops me in my tracks, but if there was one I'd have to say that it was Emily is Away. The basic premise is that you have a friend, who is named Emily (absolutely connected to the title, by the way) and it involves your interactions over the course of five years. But instead of texting or emailing you've got some good old fashioned, classic instant messager. Technology that's a bit before my time but I can appreciate it the same as any other man I assure you.
Without giving too much of the story away you follow the lives of Emily and your character through college and the ups and downs generally associated with it. Do you know the feeling you have when you're chatting around with your friends online and suddenly something changes. You cant physically see the person and it's a bit harder to pick up on with such an impersonal means of communication but you just feel something is off? So you type out your inner thoughts, your concerns and feelings and right before you hit send, you just delete them. That is this game.
I wish there was more to say, but Emily is Away is a perfectly short little experience you can download quickly and finish in the early evening before moving into the hard liquor to help you sleep that night.
Released in early May of this year, Paradox Interactive had one objective for Stellaris, one that they quickly met and more. They wanted to Make Space Great Again. Famous for their wonderfully detailed series of Real Time Strategy games like Europa Universalis 4 and Crusader Kings 2, Stellaris represents their first break with the traditional alternative-history style gameplay and format. You take control of a custom-built species having just entered the space age, sending out colonization ships and explorers to chart the vast and wonderful unknown galaxy. Inevitably this leads to contact with species. Maybe they're friendly, but more often they're really not and then the tone of the game shifts considerably. How do you protect what you've built, and just as importantly, how do you go out and ruin that other guys day?
Leviathans was released October 20th of this year on Steam, but I was lucky enough to get some friends together for a session on the night of the 21st (Stellaris has a multiplayer option, and besides isn't everything more fun with friends?) right alongside a content update including a host of other upgrades to the game, absolutely free in true Paradox fashion.
Read the Rest at Keengamer.
I think of all the games that should have been backwards compatible for the Xbox One, Dragon Age Two should have been right out a long time ago. I can understand why Origins might not be on the roster because its a two disk game and they're having problems with that technology right now, but Dragon Age 2 is a single disk game, and they've already got Inquisition readily available. But I digress. So in perpetration for when it (inevitably) becomes available on the Xbox again, lets see if we cant jog some memories and collectively reflect on how good the game actually was.
Of all the Dragon Age games, Dragon Age 2 is probably the one I've heard the most about in terms of watercooler talk. Good things, bad things, people have a lot to say about Dragon Age 2 even after all these years, I have friends that say it was (quote) 'streamlined re-use of environments and lack of ability or companion depth was what killed it. You had Origins which went was polished to the extreme straight to 2 which had waves of enemies coming from nowhere and the fixed major events, you could change things but nothing really changed.' Now there's a lot there, and quite a lot of valid criticisms but I still rank Dragon Age 2 as one of my favorite games to play, and here's why I recommend it so highly.
While Dragon Age Origins was a beautifully done game with its own set of pros and cons one of the things that I didn't so much like about the plot was that it was your basic cut-and-paste end of the world event. There was a big bad evil and only you could save it with your eccentric cast of characters. That's well and fine but not particularly inspiring. Dragon Age 2 focused on one man/woman, one refugee actually who had nothing. No special talents or skills, no grand task to save the world from an ancient evil, just a regular-ish fellow who you got to watch grow and develop over the course of a decade.
The characters are vibrant and had serious potential, on the same level as their Origins and Inquisition counterparts. The oblivious Elvish blood mage, the captain without a ship, and of course Varric, who many consider to be one of the most memorable figures that Bioware has ever created. Now I'll admit, I'm no fan of the system around them. I think that Dragon Age 2 should have absolutely transferred over the Dragon Age Origins companion interactions system, of being able to stop in the middle of the street and just chat about their life and the unlimited gifts instead of the 1-2 per Arc, it was what frustrated me most about the game because you've got a good cast and good writing for them.
Gameplay was streamlined, whereas combat in Origins was slow and at times tedious the sequel doesn't suffer that problem at all with a vastly improved system. However, the fact that the enemies just kind of came at you from behind cliffs and from out of doors didn't exactly help but I attribute this to poor level planning more than anything else and this is where most of the complaints seem to be found. The lack of overall originality that two suffers from in the sense that you see the same environments over and over again and there's not much you can do to make your Hawke feel like yours. There's no origin story and no way to change your race. (I know that on the PC there's a mod that lets you play as an Elf but it only affects cosmetics as far as I'm aware.)
I do like how the setting was reigned in somewhat. As I said earlier, this isn't a grand campaign to stop an ancient evil, it's a story bunch of refugees and scoundrels in it for themselves or some distinctly normal and relatable goals that slowly get dragged into something bigger than any one of them. The decision to focus in on one city was a good one in because it provided an excellent chance to make the game much more personal than three loosely connected individual arcs like in Origins. Ultimately I think the problem that Dragon Age 2 has is that while it can hold up on its own, the game is going to always be compared back to Origins and it just cant beat Origins. Origins is the more polished experience of the two and people often underestimate the power of nostalgia gamers feel for their beloved titles.
Now, with all of this in mind remember, that because of the massive success of Origins the development team only had twelve full months to make the game. That's about one year for the story, the graphics, finding the voice actors, everything. That might be fine for a Call of Duty title, but if you're making a Role Playing Game you generally want more time to get your house in order before sending it out to the fans. Given the time and the resources that were at the teams disposal I think they did a pretty damn good job. To compare, Origins was in and out of development for eight years.
I know, its long overdue. I know I've already covered it in passing a few times already but I've never given it the proper attention it deserves. I've either been busy at work or at school, once again my personal life has gotten in the way of my professional one and I do apologize. But I feel like now is a good time for me to get out a lot of my thoughts and feelings about the game in a coherent argument.
Now it should go without saying that Paradox hasn't made a bad game yet, and Stellaris is no exception. They ran it on the slogan of Make Space Great Again and they did just that, there's not many games in the 4X space genre that can stand up to Stellaris or even meet it on the same level. Of course like all Paradox games in the very beginning it feels remarkably empty at times but this is slowly and steadily being worked on, both by the community of fans and the developers themselves.
Now examples of this emptiness include the fact that the preset starting systems are incredibly limited, dare I even say pitiful. There is mankind's own Solar System, the Deneb System, and Random. Two presets is what we are effectively dealing with here and the name list for the Plantoids, the first DLC (cosmetic, not content) isn't even fully fleshed out in terms of content. For the Pre-FTL Plantoid societies, the name list is remarkably unfinished, with the most memorable names being Moss'Expand and having strikingly human sounding names, you look at some of the Avian or Mammalian names and the creativity and attention to detail is heartwarming to see how much attention had gone into the main game.
But as I said, this is being worked on. The community of mods has been wonderful about it, a few choice mods downloaded and all of the emptiness in the main game goes away, there are some really wonderful ideas out there. Things like a wartime demand called 'Demilitarization' in addition to the standard 'cede planet' or 'make vassal' option, something that is perfect for that alien nation that's naval capacity is that much higher than yours. Sure, vanilla Stellaris does feel empty but the excellent community of modders that Paradox Interactive has cultivated makes sure that the game doesn't have to be empty, you have near unlimited choices on what you can do. In fact, here's an article I wrote awhile back about some of the best mods you can have (that were available at the date of publication) to lessen that feeling of emptiness.
The early game revolves more around exploration than expansion and this is one of the areas where the game shines. With your trusty science ships you go out into the uncharted galaxy, never knowing what you'll find in that system just over the horizon, the events that are given to you are very well written and do help to create a more fleshed out universe, almost like quests. One could lead you to investigate the ruins of a 60,000 year old alien civilization and what happened to them, another could wind up ending with armies of genetic monstrosities falling from the skies of your world after a terraforming incident gone wrong.
The game takes a unique approach to several key elements of its genre and this should not go without mention- the randomized tech tree (maybe tech rolodex is more appropriate) to ensure that players don't make a beeline for the good stuff but instead have to patiently wait, even, dare I say, adapt to their current surroundings. The multiple means of FTL travel present while most focus solely on one and the use of Pre-FTL species sprinkled across the galaxy to add an extra element? It's everything that I didn't know should be in a game of its kind until I actually got Stellaris.
But for me where the game excels is in its multiplayer. Sure vanilla is fun, sure I spend most of my time playing a single player campaign. But when you've got two or three of your friends playing with you and you're all struggling for survival in an empty corner of the galaxy while the AI slowly creeps in around you and threatens to overrun your defenses, the bickering and arguing as you are slowly boxed in. Helpless. Unable to do anything but slowly watch as the light dims and your planets fall one by one, some of your people enslaved. Some more purged, and everything you've worked to accomplish over the course of 10 agonizing hours wiped off the face of the galaxy. The act of coordinating with your friends, that same time next week? atmosphere that Stellaris gives off in its game, that all Paradox games give off. Those five extra minutes are never enough and that's the mark of a good game, its addicting. And for all of its early flaws, I highly recommend it.
Dungeon of The Endless is the brainchild of Amplitude Studios, responsible for two other games connected to Dungeon of The Endless lore-wise, funnily enough known as Endless Space and Endless Legend. The game was previously available on Steam for $11.99 that has been made available for tablet users at $1.99 on the app store. My condolences to all Xbox and PS players and anyone who does have a tablet but does not have an iPad 3 or newer because that’s what you’ll need to run it on an Apple device.
The game styles itself as a science fiction tower defense/dungeon crawler hybrid with just a hint of RPG sprinkled onto it. I wouldn’t call it Rougelike at all but maybe Rougish is a better word. The pixelated graphics do much more good than harm and act as a refreshing change of pace to the “we have to have it look as lifelike and realistic as possible” frenzy that most game developers seem to have embraced. Dungeon of The Endless is in fact my favorite kind of game, it’s a game with a decent enough story and replayability.
You take on the roll of a group of convicts on a spaceship that has crashed onto a planet and buried itself deep underground and it’s up to you to find your way out while reuniting with other survivors of the crash, building generators and keeping the scary monsters at bay. The game starts out with a number of characters already unlocked for you with the rest being locked until you hook up with your fellow convicts. You pick two of them to start the game off with and I suggest you pick them well. Balance, as with everything else Amplitude Studios has released, is key because once a character is gone it is gone. Neither swears or sciences will bring back the departed.
The environment is randomized for each new game you start, which combined with the permadeath is why I think people confuse it for a Rougelike game. In truth it has two of the qualifications but lacks the other two: Turn based strategy and a grid map. The map is just a series of randomized interconnected rooms, with most rooms having a generator at the center and this is where things get a little tricky for the player because you can't protect all of your generators from being attacked by your insectoid enemy (which look suspiciously like a playable race in their Endless Legend game) as you look for the elevator that will take you to the next floor, with your ultimate goal being to reach the surface with your all-important Dust generating crystal.
For those who have played anything else by Amplitude Studios you know that there are 4 resources: Industry, Science, Food and Dust. The first three are self explanatory. Food lets you recruit heroes, level them up, and heal them. Science lets you research new generators and Industry lets you build your generators but Dust is the most important of them all. Dust is what you use to power the rooms you unlock. Dust is everything, in any Amplitude Studio game you play, Dust is the key to victory. Remember that.
The soundtrack does a superb sound of setting the mood and even comes with creepy chitinous tapping sounds and the shifting groans of stressed metal mixed into the sounds. It does its job well and I wish I could say that for more games that I play.
Is this a game for everyone? No, but it does serve as the best possible entry point to anyone interested in Amplitude Studios or their “Endless Universe” setting as well as being a very strong game on its own two feet. But if you are interested and you have a tablet that can run it I’d suggest picking it up as it is cheaper than its computer counterpart and it’s portable fun. Did I mention that it was fun?