How Can I Make This Better?

Schedule slip sucks. But while I keep working on my latest pieces, I’ve got a question for anyone that follows this blog- Any suggestions for sprucing up the page? I’ll admit it, I’m bad at making things aesthetically pleasing. I’ll be experimenting with some of the default layouts, but that only goes so far, so any feedback would be seriously welcome.

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Mordheim: City of the Damned

Welcome back everyone! Time flies. And today we’re covering Mordheim: City of the Damned, a video game recreation of Warhammer Fantasy’s neat little urban combat sim. It’s the story of a city struck by a comet, and the dozens of odd warbands looting the remains. It was released November 15th, 2015. It took me… several tries to get into, as the difficulty curve is high and there’s a number of little tricks the game never explains. That said, I’ve learned to love it.

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It’s not a fun place.

At it’s core, it’s very similar to X-COM: a turn-based strategy game where you slowly build up a force of elite units to take on challenging missions, where you seek to defeat the enemy force through superior positioning and other tactics. Movement and Attacks are granted by Strategy and Offense Points, which your units slowly gain as they rise in level. That said, there’s much more room for customization (at least compared to the first Fireaxis X-COM remake, I’ve admittedly not played the others yet). For example, you can arm your basic henchmen with dual maces that will supplement their damage and hit rate… at the expense of needing more Offense points to attack. Or you could arm them with a dagger that will counteract the enemy’s ability to dodge or block, then give them a shield to better block or leave their hand free to better dodge. Ultimately your henchmen are just support for your Heroes, Leaders, and Impressive units, which get more Offense and Strategy points while also having much better stats.

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The devs beautifully captured this horrific fallen city. There’s plenty to exploit in the environment, and traps that you will step in at the worst possible time.

Your units can learn new abilities and spells, but they’re not cheap and the stat requirements are fairly high. Additionally, whenever they’re downed in battle, they run the risk of developing a permanent injury that reduces their abilities or just dying outright. Nothing stings quite like losing one of your favorite warriors to a wound that completely gimps their build. There’s 4 factions available at start, covering the basic strategy staples like “slow moving but powerful” and “weak but fast”, as well as a couple DLC options that offer more nuanced variations. I particularly like the Cult of the Possessed, whose random mutations and ridiculous capacity for damage make them a blast to play with.

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Everything is decided by dice rolls. Sometimes the dice hate you.

To get money in any meaningful quantity, you have to bring in Wyrdstone, the precious resource the comet brought to the city of Mordheim. It exists in every battleground, and grabbing it where you can makes the difference between not being able to pay your warriors, and affording the skill trainings and items that let your warband excel. On top of that, your benefactor will insist on regular shipments to keep them appeased, and you don’t want to keep them waiting. As a bonus, you will get small perks such as being able to hire units from other factions, as you send the secondary groups more Wyrdstone.

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The Sisters of Sigmar generally don’t do ranged attacks, so keep those archers handy.

The good news is, once you’ve built up a properly good squad through the randomly generated skirmishes, you get to play, in my opinion, the best part of the game: The story missions. Unlike the skirmishes, the enemy’s stats and such are fixed, so you won’t have a force that is always right on par with yours, and the enemy is instead a threat through their steady trickle of reinforcements. As such, you feel like a total badass, your warriors dropping enemies by the dozen as they clamber across massive battlegrounds, completing objectives while your “Dramatis Personae,” a supercharged Leader Unit, shows you what you’re building towards.

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Wyrdstone makes the wyrd go round… No I will not apologize.

While I understand brutal difficulty, and the attrition that comes with it is very much a part of the Mordheim experience (in a way that makes it a sort of spiritual parent to Darkest Dungeon), I feel like the devs went just a little too far. The enemy will chase down wounded targets that present no threat, loot your downed warriors even if it means they’ll die the next turn, and otherwise focus on hurting you rather than enriching themselves. Which, they can get away with since their warbands don’t have the same permanence yours do. Between this, and the AI always roughly matching your strength in skirmishes, you -will- fight dirty and you -will- exploit any holes you find in the AI as ruthlessly as possible. I suppose that befits the setting, but it feels needlessly artificial.

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Stuns drain enemies of their Offense and Strategy points while leaving them open for yet more punishment. Just pray it doesn’t happen to you.

And while you’re encouraged to treat your warriors as disposable, as only the warband as a whole ultimately matters… I just can’t do it. I get attached to my troops, even the henchmen that I should have let go the second they were injured. The game doesn’t help by letting you customize their appearance and giving them a “Bio” tab for you to fill out if you need it. No joke, I outright cheered when one of my newbies survived a match against level 5 enemies, while managing to land his own kill. So… yeah, if you’re like me, that aspect of the game may be hard to swallow.

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Story missions have fun surprises like gates controlled via levers and- OH HAI BLOODLETTER!

Ultimately, it’s a fun game with a impressive array of ways to develop your army and make it feel like yours. If you enjoy Turn-based strategy, or Warhammer Fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy it. The game runs for $40 on Steam, though DLC pushes it closer to $70.

 

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Where have I been?

Oof, what year is it?! Kidding, kidding! I’ve actually been super busy with work, but at the same time I’ve managed to play… several different games. So I’m going to try something new here. Rather than give each a full review, I’m going to give a quick info dump regarding each title. Let’s go!

 

1- The Surge- SciFi themed Soulsborne game
Dev/Publisher: Deck13/Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: May 15th, 2017
Price: $40

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My craft is death!

Pros:
– Visceral combat and finisher system, on par with Space Marine
– Get new weapons and armor by ripping them off enemies
– Lots of unlockable shortcuts to keep ventures into new territory manageable
– Scrap dropped increases as you get more finishers and hold onto more scrap without banking it
– Character stats like Strength/Dex replaced with core implants and weapon affinity, making it easier to change your approach if you’re having trouble

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As per usual, bosses and challenging, but satisfying when they eventually go down

Neutral:
– Main character is fixed in appearance and motivations, removing some of the customization fans of the genre may be accustomed to
– Dropped scrap persists for a set amount of time after death (thankfully paused when in safe zones), but grants health regeneration when nearby

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We have conventional healing, healing over time, healing on finisher… we’ve got options

Cons:
– Lack of built-in hint system/community cooperation seen in similar titles
– Hardcore kills on bosses and other permanently miss-able content are thus hidden fairly well without a guide
– No practical ranged builds available

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Don’t lose your head!

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2- Dawn of War: Soulstorm- Warhammer 40k RTS
Dev/Publisher: Relic Entertaintment/SEGA
Release Date: March 5th, 2008
Price: $13 typically, currently $3.24

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I bet you can’t guess which faction is my favorite

Pros:
– Campaign setting 9 different factions in conflict across 4 planets, with Stronghold Missions that serve as ‘Boss Fights’ for a given faction
– Commander wargear, elite units, and passive bonuses give a sense of progression to said Campaign

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Neutral:
– Fair number of player mods available, such as Apocalypse
– Focuses on the macrogame (resource management, tech tree advancement) over the more tactical approach seen in Dawn of War 2 (positioning units in cover, setting up overlapping fire-zones)
– Can reinforce squads in the field, which is more convenient until you’re fighting an enemy squad that just keeps getting more guys
– Memetic Legend Space Marine Commander Boreale, deployer of Devastating Defensive Deep Strikes, in addition to other hammy voice acting

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Cons:
– Isn’t really balanced for air units
– Graphics are dated
– AI can be a little… deficient outside of Stronghold Missions
– Campaign tends to drag on near the very endphase
– No retreat mechanic to salvage broken squads

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3- Warhammer: Vermintide 2- First-person Horde Battler
Dev/Publisher: Fatshark
Release Date: March 8th, 2018
Price: $30 typically, currently $22.50

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Pros:
– Some of the best melee combat I’ve ever played, in terms of impact, gore, and excitement
– Five characters with three Career paths each, combined with the weapons and trinkets from the original game for impressive customization
– Awards three items for a successful run instead of one, making it much faster to get new equipment

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Neutral:
– Lootboxes that are entirely in-game earned, awarded only for gameplay… but they’re still ruddy lootboxes and I’m personally getting a little sick of them
– The randomization of new items/rerolling of old ones can make it difficult to find the stat combinations you want in quantities that are acceptable (Thankfully most stats have a set lower bound so you can’t get something trifling like +1% move speed)
– End of mission scoreboards provide useful information, but certain players tend to get tunnel vision trying to top the charts

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Cons:
– Removed the ability to search for another game if matchmaking takes you to a lobby where your chosen character is already taken
– Bugs. So many bugs. Several dozen fixed thus far but more tend to come up with each update.

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Satellite Reign

Welcome back, everyone. Today we’re covering a cyberpunk-themed strategy game where we’re granted control of a squad of elite agents sent to disrupt an all-powerful corporation. No, not Shadowrun. Good guess though.

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Satellite Reign was released in 2015, brought to us by Five Lives Studios. It’s a Real Time Strategy game with an emphasis on cover mechanics and RPG elements. The gameplay has been called a sort of spiritual successor to the 1993 game Syndicate, and for good reason. The majority of the gameplay consists of ordering the squad of cybernetics operatives through a number of installations for supplies and cash to be used for the ultimate goal: Breaking Dracotech’s control by hijacking the satellite network used for their Res-tech program. Maybe I’m an idealistic sap, but the thought of overthrowing a soulless corporation is a welcoming premise after playing all these other dark, gritty, dystopian future sort of titles. There’s more to the story in the obligatory hidden log files, but the base premise is enough to go on if you’d rather skip that stuff.

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Civilians walking where they aren’t supposed to be make for fine distractions. The guards generally won’t shoot on sight unless you’re resisting arrest or actively fighting, but you may get a kick in the backside for your efforts.

Obviously, the team can’t just kick the front door in from the word go. At the start of the game, they can’t even enter the same district as the Dracotech HQ, being confined to Downtown where only the forlorn and those that rule over them remain. This is a game about building the team up: their weapons, their augmentations, even their stats, via a prototype of the Res-tech system. This means not only can the squad be revived in the event of death, but players can search for civilians and enemies in the environment that have a better genetic template, granting bonuses to health, accuracy, and other combat stats.

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Hacked enemies can be turned in to use their genetic template for bonuses… or you can keep them around for some extra firepower.

Each district has a number of facilities to raid, offering different prizes and bonuses to help your team advance. For example, raiding an armory may turn up a prototype plasma weapon to help the squad better respond to armored threats. Upon retrieving it, the player has the option of equipping it immediately, or reverse-engineering it for their own production lines. This is a good example of the amount of choice granted to the players of this game. Stealth is an option, with an operative specifically meant for quiet infiltration and escape, but isn’t mandatory. As long as guards are eliminated before they can call for reinforcements, fighting your way into a base and back out is entirely possible. Whatever method the player wishes to use will work, as long as they take some time to prepare for it. As one might expect, the augmentations and skill points also provide new options for the team, culminating in an elite squad of the player’s own design.

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One can pay the locals for a pass to the next district, do them some favors to lower the price… or get creative and fight their way through the checkpoint.

The different districts are set up such that every installation has some sort of weakness to exploit, the major ones having several potential approaches depending on what the squad is packing. The Industrial District for instance, has several poisonous gas vents that can be opened or closed off to open up new routes. The districts all have their own flavor as well, and also serve as difficulty levels of a sort, with each new one bringing new threats, less obvious approaches, and more layers of redundant security. It’s not the best looking cyberpunk city I’ve ever seen, but from a gameplay standpoint, I can’t fault the design.

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Side objectives will make the main missions go a little more smoothly by opening up alternate entrances, unlocking extra loot in the main facilities, or just telling you what supplies are hidden where to better plan your raids.

All that said, the difficulty is less of a curve and more of a sine wave. In the earlier missions in Downtown, your squad is barely more competent than a handful of civilians, making direct confrontation very dicey if you can’t quickly clear enemy squads before the alert goes out. This gives way once some upgrades have been acquired, only to snap back to the status quo as the enemies get stronger weapons and soldier variants in response, until the squad is strong enough to overcome them again. I suppose this is to prevent the squad becoming so strong they can steamroll every facility through sheer force, but I personally found it frustrating. Also there was the occasional bug, such a squad member getting stuck in a wall. While this happened maybe twice in the entire time I played, one can’t save when agents are still standing in enemy territory, so the risk of a major operation being ruined does temper my enthusiasm somewhat.

That’s Satellite Reign. It’s $30 on Steam. I think the price is a little high, especially considering Shadowrun Returns is half that, but I had a fun time playing it and customizing my team. If you enjoy that sort of thing, check it out.

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Heat Signature

Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering Heat Signature, a game about breaking into spaceships and launching people out of them. It’s brought to us by Suspicious Developments, creator of Gunpoint, released in September of 2017. It plays like a puzzle game with some roguelike elements.

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You play as a number of Contractors working with retired spy Sader Fiasco, who is trying to liberate the citizens of the Drift. Directly engaging the four factions controlling the place is impossible thanks to their heavily armed space stations, so you run missions in hope of encouraging rebellions from within said stations, adding them to your list of allies and granting new equipment to use. Your contractors have their own agendas in the form of a personal mission, which players are encouraged to work up to as a sort of culmination of their prowess before letting them peacefully retire to let someone else have a go. This is encouraged both through allowing Contractors that completed their personal mission to pass on a single item to be found by later Contractors (which can be found even in the games of your steam friends, should they wish it), and eventually reducing the amount of inspiration granted by a Contractor’s successful missions, as stories of their victories become so commonplace as to be unremarkable.

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You get to name the items you pass on. This is oddly satisfying.

The same oddly effective mix of silly and serious that Gunpoint employed so deftly is here too. Discussions on the ethics of accidentally duplicating someone in a teleporter mishap sit side by side with the downright hilarious soundclip of someone being bonked with a wrench or the inventive solutions you’ll create in the course of clearing the game (my personal favorite: launching an armored soldier through a window with a gravity hammer) . And I must say, in spite of the game’s primary interest in relaying tactical information through its environments, there’s a number of nice details and good use of color to keep the ships and stations from looking drab. There’s not much to the music that I recall, but it’s more for setting the mood, and that’s just fine.

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Some ships, such as this, look downright arcane in their design. More conventional designs can make some tasks, like destroying engines, much easier, while complicating others.

The top-down view is great for planning your attacks, and the ability to pause the game at any time, especially after just alerting 3 people with shotguns, gives the feeling that any screw-ups are yours and yours alone. It’s like a distant brother to Hotline Miami in that fashion, where instead of the rapid fight-die-try again gameplay, you’ve got the ability to think your decisions through a little more thoroughly. On top of that, there’s generally no penalty for boarding a ship, seeing the layout, and deciding “I can’t pull this off,” or even getting halfway through, realizing you’re hosed, and launching yourself into space for your shuttle to pick up. As long as your character isn’t on board when the ship reaches an enemy station, or repeatedly shot/stabbed/etc until they completely lose their bleedout timer, your Contractor can make plenty of mistakes and still come back for more.

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Sometimes you complete your mission without firing a shot. Sometimes things get messy and you end up causing more damage to the ship than the rival factions.

The reduced reliance on twitch reflexes and more forgiving punishments combine with the massive number of items available to encourage experimentation and risky ploys rather than bashing everyone upside the head with a wrench. This is especially once missions with special modifiers including ‘kill no one’, ‘go undetected’ or ‘no witnesses’ come into play. Some of my most memorable runs were instead going for that one in a million shot at clearing a mission way beyond my contractor’s level of equipment. And, hey, if you get captured, one of your next contractors might get a mission to rescue them!

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I’ll take Option 3, TYVM.

In terms of complaints… there’s not much there on this round. Capturing ships outside of specific contracts asking you to is pointless unless you intend to immediately use that ship in pursuit of your assigned task, as somehow running off with a massive vessel brings in neither money nor rebellion progress. Sometimes you get a ship that is just unpleasantly difficult, but you rarely need to complete those missions to actually clear the game itself.

Anyway, that’s Heat Signature. If you enjoyed Gunpoint, definitely play it. If you enjoy heist style games, definitely play it. If you like silly hi-jinx caused poor decision-making, and the panicked attempts at recovery that follow, go out and buy it now if at all possible. It’s $15 on Steam.

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Doki Doki Literature Club

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That warning is there for a reason.

Welcome back everyone… why are you looking at me like that? Okay, okay, this isn’t my standard fare, I’ll admit, but anyone who’s played it already will know why this is here. Doki Doki Literature Club is a visual novel brought to us by Team Salvato just this September. It follows a player named character who is forcibly dragged into joining the school literature club by his friend Sayori, where he meets 3 other girls, deciding to stay in hopes of becoming friends and maybe something more. You get to know the girls better and get their attention and later affection by choosing words they like when writing the poems to be read at the next meeting. The girls all fit the typical archetypes to a T, yet I still found them endearing… and this is where it gets tricky to talk about.

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This is, much like Eversion and Fisher-Diver, one of those titles best experienced with as little advance knowledge as possible. The least spoilery way I’ve heard it described is that it toys with the conventions found in your typical dating sim. Now, the game has a warning label on the store page, and one on boot-up which I’ve included at the top.

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Let me be clear, that’s not because I think my readers are fragile or easily offended or whatever you wish to call it. It’s because the game dives into some seriously dark subjects. It completely caught me off guard and hit me hard, harder than any other title I’ve played. I don’t want anyone to play this game not knowing that’s coming.

It’s free on Steam and on their website, so all the more reason to check it out if you haven’t yet. Just… make sure you’ve got something to look forward to once you’re done. Hug your loved ones, look at pictures of kittens, something.

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The Desolate Room

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Welcome back everyone. Today we’re covering an oldie, The Desolate Room, brought to us by Scott Cawthon (who you may recognize as the maker of the Five Nights at Freddy’s games) in 2007. It’s a turn-based RPG about a set of robots. You play primarily as Coffee, a walking coffee maker with an odd fixation on eggs. Coffee takes the memory chips from its fallen friends, trying to cleanse them of the virus currently inhabiting them. This takes the form of navigating a crude dungeon with old-school graphics, shooting down some enemies while being dragged into battle with others. These sections are where the RPG elements come into play: Each of the 4 memory chips shows up in the battle as a virtual representation of the robot it came from, forming the party members of your team, their skills being available attacks.

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You can collect energy and speed buffs for the next battle, represented by the green and yellow bars.

The progression system is fairly novel. Instead of unlocking new attacks as your characters level up, they have every possible attack option right out of the gate, and you are instead granted the ability to upgrade the attacks themselves, with the robots getting small boosts to their maximum health with every upgrade. Additionally, every robot has a surprising variety of attacks, buffs, and debuffs, giving a number of options for winning battles. However, your robots can only use these attacks if they have enough energy, which can take a good 2-3 turns of charging up if you’re aiming for their strongest moves. While you’re doing this, the enemies are also trying to build their charge meter to unleash their own special attacks, which become increasingly difficult to withstand as you proceed through the game.

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As you defeat bosses and proceed further into the maze, you unlock memory fragments of the doomed ‘bots, revealing their story and struggles. While there’s limited dialogue, the glances into their lives gave me just enough to get attached and have someone to root for, though the latter bosses required enough grinding and beating my head against a wall to dampen the sense of camaraderie a tad. This game is hard, I knew that going in. That said, bosses getting several turns for every one of yours and getting ultimate attacks up to and including “HP to 1 for your entire team” went a little too far. At that point it just turns into a contest of who has the cheesiest strategy, as I found myself breaking out a combo that prevents basic enemies from even getting a turn out of self defense.

Anyway, that’s The Desolate Room. You can find it on Game Jolt for free, and there’s also a free successor on Steam known as The Desolate Hope that’s reportedly much better, but I haven’t played it yet so I’ll cover that one when I get there. If you like RPG’s, it’s worth a look.

 

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Executive Assault

Welcome back, everyone! I told you I’d be covering this, didn’t I? Executive Assault is an Action-RTS game brought to us by Hesketh Studios in July of 2015. The story is a simple affair of two or more CEO’s and their Megacorps battling for the fate of a planet. There’s no campaign though, which is good in the sense that a more in-depth story is not needed, but having Skirmish as the only gameplay mode makes this title feel a little sparse. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Urban Assault, I’m going to stick to constructive criticism because it’s still a solid game considering the dev team is all of 1 person.

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Kudos for adding that personal touch

As before, the player can assume direct control of any unit on the field, and should as a skilled player can do much more damage than an AI controlling the same unit. Each CEO builds outward from their tower, constructing facilities for gathering resources, generating power, and building units to engage the other companies. The prevailing side will ultimately fight their way through the CEO’s complex before riding the elevator to their tower and retiring them via laser cannon to the face.

There’s a fair amount of fine control players are granted over their own base. The tech tree is more wide than deep, and power can be reallocated to suit the situation at hand, such as putting everything towards Iron Extractors to keep the pressure on with a steady supply of reinforcements, or into the perimeter defenses to keep the enemy out.

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Presentation is usually an area where I’m easy to please, so I was a little unhappy that certain attributes in this category started to grate on me. The battlegrounds are all a little too big and a little too sterile, making it a chore to cross the gaps between bases with anything but aircraft, which already have a huge edge in being able to avoid at least some incoming fire. If the maps had been a little smaller but had more unique features, such as better chokepoints, accessible high ground, maybe some hazards, it would have added more tactical options. Lighting could use some adjustment too, with things like explosions and other effects being needlessly bright and flashy to the point of being unpleasant. In spite of the overly enthusiastic special effects, the weapons feel anemic, with little beyond hitmarkers and reading out the target’s current HP to indicate damage is being dealt. Camera jitter or outright knocking the units about might be a bit much, but at least then my minigun would feel like a minigun rather than a basic machine gun with a different model.

The sound balancing is also lacking, with a building being constructed a football field away, a bullet ricocheting off a security door, and the “toggle sprint” sfx all drowning out other noise. Occasionally, the sound cuts out altogether, and while the music is suitably climactic when it comes up, the game has insufficient ambient noise to cover for the lack of it, again contributing to the sterile feeling one gets traversing the plains that look good for a top-down view but seem needlessly drawn out and barren as a foot soldier.

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Trion weapons are hard to ignore, between their brilliant white lights and tendency to punch through units like they’re paper.

While there’s a number of vehicles and defenses and other odds and ends, the fact that there’s only 1 set available to all teams contributes to a lack of style that runs through the rest of the game. Take Urban Assault, the game I’m most directly comparing this to: The Resistance is the obvious ‘jack of all trades’ with many varied units but few that are the best in their chosen field, while the Taerkasts have ridiculous amounts of armor and damage at the expense of speed and handling, and so on. The AI never uses anything but laser and Trion weapons so everything from tanks to gunships just fire pew pew beams. Not that I blame them, energy weapons are the definite winner in terms of armament, to the point where one could ignore the entire ballistic weapons section and lose nothing of import. I think more variety would help here. Ballistic weapons are ultimately outclassed, but at least one can see the argument for using, say, the cluster rockets over the standard ones depending on the scenario. Energy weapons are just “beam”, “pulse”, “beam++”, “pulse++” and so on, so unless you’re hurting for resources the choice is obvious.

I also think the “can only build in this square” restriction shouldn’t apply to defenses, as structures including the walls and gates would make much more sense to deploy in the maps natural chokepoints, making them more useful against vehicles while at the same time keeping aircraft useful for flanking and exploiting holes in the defense lines. While I love the concept of ending a match by personally taking out the enemy CEO, combat inside the buildings is cramped and messy, coming down to building as many killbots as possible and powering through the security doors and sentry turrets through sheer force while the defender has little choice but to put up as many barriers as possible while cranking out killbots of their own. More options for defending, such as traps, and more options for attacking such as disabling or bypassing said defenses would make it much more tense. Also, maybe remove the glitch that lets troop transports land in facilities and drop their troops directly inside the base, eh?

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Riding the elevator to assassinate the enemy CEO is satisfying, generic elevator music aside.

The developer is currently working on a sequel, so I doubt my suggestions will be seen in this title, but I can say I still enjoyed my time with it, even with all the rough edges I got caught on. Executive Assault is $13 on Steam. It’s an inexpensive game and a passable Action-RTS. Personally, I’m more looking forward to the sequel the developer is currently working on, which will be a battle between space stations instead.

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