Monday, 21 October 2013

A Game I Like - Aarklash: Legacy

Recently I've been playing plenty of games for their graphics and sound.  I think that's a little hard for me to admit.  Shortly after FFX came out I remember commenting that I would play it just as much if graphics were as simple as the mini-map in the corner that represented you as a triangle.  I used to care very little for graphics and sound and much more about gameplay.

It isn't so much that I've changed as that games have changed.  The kind of gameplay that I loved has mostly just gone away.  I never played XCOM but Ziggyny's recent post about it, and about it's recent re-imagining, reveals a great deal about what has happened to games.  The depth of system mastery available with two actions a turn is so much less than with action points.  The amount of customization is equipment sets is less.  The number of characters on the field is smaller.  So without being terribly engaged in any game, the one with the better graphics simply seems more enjoyable.

It took me very little time playing the Aarklash: Legacy demo before I realized it was the kind of game I like.  This is a game that I would enjoy if it was stick figures or blue dots instead of pretty 3D people.  At the same time, this is a game that actually merits the use of those little 3D people because where they are in their little 3D world matters.

In Aarklash you are mercenaries for some banker guild sent to retrieve some forfeited collateral when the king decides that the bankers are no longer desirable and declares them outlaws.  You don't know this so you are surprised when you are attacked by knights.  Of course you are super-awesome so you smash all the "bad guys", take their stuff, and start to make your way to a guild hold.  I'm sure there is something mysterious going on behind the scenes and you'll save the world or whatnot.

But forget all that, this game has a real-time combat system that I - as a turned-based junkie - was surprised to really like.  Essentially they hybridized real-time and turn-based by simply giving you a pause button that you can press whenever you want.  You can stop at any time to think about the situation and enter commands, including sequences of commands.  As I implied above, where your units are on the battlefield matters, so you actually spend some time moving them around.  There are eight different characters - I've only found six so far - with different sets of abilities.  Each has a skill tree of sorts where you can make a pair of branching choices for each skill.  You can re-form your party and re-choose your skills any time you want, so you can customize the people and skills you have for each fight.

And I actually expect to be doing that.  I was given a choice of four difficulty settings - easy, medium, hard and something above hard - and chose medium to see what the game was like.  I've died several times now, and I can easily imagine how choosing the right people for the fight could matter in the future.  I've even died against trash pulls, not just bosses.

I like that the second setting from the bottom is hard enough that I'm not just breezing through the game, smashing everything.  It's not really too hard, and I haven't had to try a fight more than twice, but it's a nice contrast from something like Dungeon Siege 3 where if I didn't have it set to the hardest difficulty the game was a joke.  The second time I played through the opening sequence I smashed fights that seemed a little tricky the first time, so there is definitely space for me to get better and try to play the harder settings later.  For now I'm quite content to be a little stronger than my opponents and to get by on decent tactics rather than having to be perfect.

This game definitely isn't for everyone.  Even on the easy setting a tactical novice could easily get shut down by the first boss and be unable to progress.  I mean, I tried it and it wasn't hard at all, but judging by the "What happens if I just let my guys auto-attack" test, I think a five-year-old would lose hard.

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