Archive for 2011

Anomaly: Final Thoughts

I said before that I wasn’t sure whether it’s better to say that the player character in Anomaly: Warzone Earth protects the convoy or vice versa. Well, now that I’ve been knocked around a bit more, I can say that it’s definitely the former. The PC doesn’t really need protection; he’s literally tougher than a tank. Most of the enemy turret types can’t even really hurt him by themselves, because he heals so fast. Even when multiple ones acting in concert do manage to knock him down to zero, it only lasts a few seconds. It’s all due to his “battle suit”, apparently, which effectively makes him a superhero.

Still, you need to stick with your convoy most of the time for their sake when you send them into the thick of things. Even tanks protected by force field generators need protection that only a battle-suited superhero can provide. And so the designers quite sensibly come up with ways to force you away from them.

There’s a type of tower that fires missiles that, on hitting their target, create a sort of jamming signal that makes you look like an enemy to your own troops unless you stay outside its range. This is a problem not for the danger it poses you, but because it makes your guys aim at the wrong thing. A tower of this sort can prevent you from lending crucial aid in a pitched battle. I’ve found that the best way to deal with this is by calling in an air strike on the tower before it’s an issue, but it took me a while to realize that this was an option, because getting close enough to the thing to do so usually requires dashing through enemy defenses alone.

Later, there’s another tower type that can’t be approached this way: if you get near it, and within a line of sight, it fires a continuous beam that absorbs energy from your battle suit. It then uses this energy to heal itself and to power up its special ability to re-create towers you’ve destroyed. Letting it use that spell even once can mean defeat, so you don’t want to get near it. The curious thing about both of these area-denial towers is that they’re not capable of damaging your convoy by themselves. They’re purely support units, and they provide support of sorts that I don’t recall seeing used in normal tower defense games — mainly because they both involve warding off a player character.

At the end of each level, the game evaluates the player’s performance on three axes: directness, ruthlessness, and efficiency. Directness has to do with how fast a route you took, ruthlessness is based on how much stuff you killed, and efficiency seems to be all about how many smokescreens and air strikes and so forth you have left at the end. Directness and ruthlessness are almost opposites: if you’re destroying everything on the map, you’re necessarily doubling back on your path a lot. At the game’s beginning, when I was just learning the mechanics and didn’t have force fields yet, I got high directness bonuses, but by the end, I was flat-out ruthless. That’s because ruthlessness is the cautious approach. Caution means minimizing the number of towers you engage at a time, and that means looping around the more sparsely-defended blocks until you can advance to the next block without being hit from behind.

In fact, by the end, my tactics were pretty procedural and by-the-numbers, upset only slightly by an end boss capable of respawning nearby towers endlessly. This is the sort of thing that leaves me wondering if the game has exhausted the potential of its mechanics, if it leaves no room for expansion or imitation. But then, those two special towers I described aren’t exactly elementary types that anyone making a similar game would invent, and that hints at more elaborate possibilities.

Anomaly: International Politics

The whole premise of Anomaly: Warzone Earth is that a couple of alien spaceships, or possibly one spaceship broken into two pieces, have crash-landed in the middle of two major cities. The aliens you fight don’t seem to be the ones that were in charge of those ships, though. They’re attacking the ships, apparently scavenging some kind of energy. I suppose it’s entirely possible that if we just left them alone they’d eventually get what they came for and go away, but the fact that they’re doing it in the middle of populated urban centers kind of makes that not an option.

But we don’t really learn a lot about the aliens. The ones we fight are described as “invaders”, even though, from a more immediate standpoint, the player is the invader, pushing into alien-claimed territory. Well, the whole idea of invasion carries negative connotations, so a game whose very mechanics require the player to be an aggressor against a passive force requires a little narrative trickery, unless the designer is willing to explicitly cast the player as a bad guy. But things get weirder when you consider the two cities that they chose for the crash sites: Baghdad and Tokyo.

Baghdad is the site of the first six levels. I’m guessing it was chosen mainly because it’s our touchstone these days for images of troops advancing through city streets, but it also probably helps with the aggression factor, since so many people are emotionally invested in seeing a similar operation in Baghdad as justified. I remember an online argument back in 2003 in which a supporter of the war in Iraq strongly objected to the use of the word “invasion” by its opponents, until it was pointed out that no one has a problem with “the invasion of Normandy”. Have connotations changed that much since WWII? Perhaps. The sci-fi movies of the 1950s taught a generation that the word “invasion” is usually preceded by “alien”.

Which brings us to Tokyo, whose use here is influenced less by the news and more by anime. “Tokyo is destroyed and rebuilt with monotonous regularity“, declares the tvtropes page on the phenomenon of the “The Tokyo Fireball”. The destruction in this game is slower than a Tokyo fireball, but the Anomaly of the title does share some of its characteristics as mysterious spherical dome of energy. Although you’re supposed to be controlling the same company of soldiers in this section as in the previous one, brought in for your hastily-learned expertise in alien-fighting, the Japanese military lends material assistance. A Japanese general joins the cast of characters who communicate plot and mission details via radio over the course of the missions (both before and during), and this addition suddenly makes it conspicuous how absent the government and military of Iraq was from the previous chapter.

And what of the soldiers braving the Anomaly to fight the alien menace? Somewhat surprisingly, they’re British. And not just a little British; they’re not soldiers who just happen to have a nationality which just happens to be British. They’re gratuitously British. Their dialogue is peppered with blatant mentions of things like the Prime Minister and Big Ben just to keep reminding us of it, kind of like how Shylock in A Merchant of Venice keeps on bringing up Old Testament prophets apropos of nothing. The game’s developers are Polish; perhaps British soldiers seem exotic enough to them to warrant such treatment? They’re a little exotic even to me, giving it a vibe somewhere between a WWII movie and U.N.I.T. from Doctor Who. The more typical American soldiers (or, more extremely, marines) certainly wouldn’t have the same kind of mystique; being the forces of a superpower, they’d make it into more of a dominance struggle between tough guys than the asymmetric scrappy-underdogs-overcoming-incredible-odds story we’ve got.

But also, there is of course Baghdad again. Even though the UK devoted troops to the Gulf War alongside the US, it’s still thought of primarily as America’s war. So keeping the whole thing from being too on-the-nose might require repeated reassurances that the soldiers fighting the alien menace are not in fact American.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth

Yeah, Steam is having another one of its scavenger-hunt-like achievement-based promotions, and, as usual, it’s making me want to play the games that they tell me to play. Not enough to make me buy any new games, of course, but one of the achievements is in Anomaly, a game I already own but haven’t played yet. So I might as well accept the cue to give it a try.

Anomaly managed to creep onto the Stack as part of a bundle earlier this year, despite my not knowing anything about it. Despite? No, because! The unknown stuff is half the point of bundles. I probably wouldn’t have bought it by itself, because the title doesn’t exactly stand out, but I’m already glad I did, because it turns out to be a fairly interesting work, gameplay-wise.

It’s not quite in any familiar genre, being, in a sense, composed entirely of escort missions. The whole idea is that you’re shepherding a sort of convoy through hostile alien-infested territory. Or perhaps the convoy is shepherding you: your vehicles are all weapon systems, capable of exploding enemy gun turrets and other defenses that would simply kill you if you tried to hoof it alone. But the vehicles defending you can only do so if you, in turn, defend them. So you keep them in good repair, and erect smokescreens and decoys and the like to help preserve them from harm.

The entire thing is presented from a top-down view. You control your avatar’s movement by clicking on where you want to go. The convoy, you don’t control directly. Instead, you set up a route through a network of streets, telling it which turnings to make. You can alter this route at will, responding to changes in the road ahead. Generally speaking, you want to follow the convoy, but it’s sometimes useful to dash away briefly to collect air-dropped supplies.

So, we have slow progress of attackers along an assigned route, opposed by stationary gun emplacements. This makes it feel a lot like a tower defense game, but one played from the opposite side. But in other ways, it feels a bit like League of Legends — and presumably other DOTA-like or “MOBA” games as well; I’ve only recently started to sample that genre, and LoL is the only one I’ve become familiar with. The point of similarity here is that you have one character you control amidst a bunch of minions that choose how and what to attack autonomously, and you have to support them while they support you. It’s like someone decided to combine features of these two genres. Interestingly, tower defense and MOBA are both genres that originated as RTS mods, so there’s a sort of diamond-shaped inheritance hierarchy going on here. Which isn’t unusual in games — every RPG/strategy hybrid does essentially the same thing, the root in that case being miniatures wargames.

Capsized: Deus

It wasn’t much longer after my last post that I finally finished the final level of Capsized, titled “Deus”. It’s a triple boss fight against big aliens, and it’s a learning experience. I mentioned in the last post how the final few levels make you learn to use the tractor beam (or magnetic grapple or whatever it’s actually called) for navigation. Deus makes you forget about that. It’s fought entirely in zero gravity, so you can float about endlessly and not have to worry about running out of jetpack fuel. And it’s something of a dirty trick, because in order to actually beat it, you have to use the tractor beam in other ways, which you have to figure out. For example, the first stage of the boss has an attack that consists of creating a sort of gravity well that pulls you in and hurts you. The only effective way to resist its pull is to quickly tether yourself to something stationary. The third stage creates and throws big spiky exploding things at you that home in on you and inevitably hurt you a lot unless you quickly grapple them and throw them away — preferably back at the boss, because that seems to be the only way to take down his shield. I don’t think I ever found any use peculiar to the second stage, though. It makes me wonder if there was some trick I missed.

After you kill each boss, you get a respite in which you can stop and pick up any ammo or health lying around, including stuff dropped by creatures that the boss summoned. You signal your readiness for the next stage by grappling a crystal dropped by the boss when it died and throwing it into what looks like a small volcano. (Small for a volcano, that is. It’s larger than the screen.) This, too, took me a good long while to figure out the first time. I hadn’t even noticed the crystal when it appeared, because I had been pretty much constantly running away from the boss when it was alive and didn’t stop immediately when it went into its death throes. The weird thing about this is that the game gives you pretty explicit instructions at each step of what to do. Throughout the game, there’s an onscreen compass pointing in the direction of your current objective (or the closest current objective, if there are multiple concurrent things), together with a single verb, like “collect” or “destroy”. But I had got into the habit of ignoring this. In most levels, what you actually want to do is explore. The compass isn’t always useful, because it always points straight at your objective, even if the direct way is blocked. But you can always find your goals by exploring thoroughly, and you’ll probably wind up finding some extra ammo caches on the way. So I had pretty much forgotten about the compass, even though it was right in front of my nose the whole time. Even once I had remembered it once, I kept forgetting to look at it when I wanted to know where the boss was lurking.

Capsized: The later levels

Capsized has twelve levels. I was actually confused about this for a while. One of the few ways the game reports your proportional progress is via secrets: it keeps a running tally of how many you’ve found out of the number available, and also tells you how many are available on each level you’ve unlocked. So I knew that level 11 contained the last of the secrets, but that seemed like a strange number of levels for a game. Well, it turns out that the final level contains no secrets, being essentially just a boss fight. I’ll go into that in more detail once I’ve actually beat the thing; what I really want to talk about is the last few levels before it.

The levels increase in length and difficulty as the game progresses, the former being basically a function of the latter: masses of tough monsters take longer to kill, and increase the odds that you’ll run out of lives and have to start the level over from the beginning. (Remember, your life count does not persist from level to level in this game.) None of this is unusual, but it seems to me that there’s something of a spike here: around level 9, all of the sudden I was taking multiple sessions to complete a level, rather than completing multiple levels in a session.

The game as a whole has a pleasing variety of level goals. To list a few in order of increasing complexity, your goal can be to reach a destination, defeat a specific monster, destroy scattered structures (jamming devices that are preventing the rescue ships from finding you), or locate specific objects and bring them back to your starting point with your tractor beam. Only in the last few levels does it feel like it’s starting to repeat itself. I don’t know whether to call it “running out of ideas” or “recapping what you’ve learned”.

But the chief thing that distinguishes the final levels is the degree to which that tractor beam comes to the fore as the main way you interact with the game. Or perhaps this isn’t a function of the levels so much as of my own increasing familiarity with the thing: earlier on, I’d frequently forget I had it, or that it could be used as an aid to movement, and be stymied by a platform too far up to jump to. It’s easy to forget about when you’re spending a significant portion of your time on each level with a recharging jetpack, which is an easier approach for such things. But I think there’s something to be said for the idea that the later levels encourage its use more: they have significantly large open-sky areas, punctuated at random with floating platforms, globby clusters that resemble fatty tissue and which I think we’re supposed to take as the nests or hives of the yellow airsquid that also start appearing in force at that time and in those areas. And once you’re routinely slinging yourself around Tarzan-style from these things, it’s easy to discover other uses for that mode of movement. Like, the beam is springily elastic, and it’s easy to make yourself go rapidly snapping around on it like it’s a rubber band, which is an excellent defense against enemies that have to aim at you to hurt you. I’ve fought entire battles in this mode.

Capsized

I'm the guy on the left.Capsized marks a milestone for my hardware’s continuing slide into obsolescence. The monitor I typically game on these days is a projector — a cheap “business” projector with a native resolution of 1024×768. This is more than enough for most of the games I play, but it’s getting to be a stretch for some of the newer ones, which are designed with a higher resolution in mind. (Dungeons of Dredmor, for example, seems to have a fixed pixel size for its various pop-ups, and at 1024×768, they take up more of the screen than they really should. It’s playable, but I wind up opening and closing my inventory a lot, where other players probably just leave it open all the time.) Well, Capsized is the first game I’ve played that doesn’t even support 1024×768. The smallest it’s willing to deal with is 1280×1024. Fortunately, my projector is willing to fake this, with results that look okay from my customary viewing distance.

So, what is it doing with all those pixels? Throwing in lots of scribbly detail, mainly. This game has ludicrously over-detailed hand-drawn art. Even the rock walls aren’t simply displayed as solid rock, but as masses of tiny individual rocks without any obvious tiling pattern. It’s a style that I associate with things doodled in notebooks over the course of very long meetings, although of course here it’s animated. And I don’t just mean the foreground: vines sway in the breeze, alien bird-analogues drift about in the distance.

Alien, yes, for this is a game about beleaguered astronauts with worried expressions, crash-landed on a jungle world. So no, there isn’t really any capsizing involved. The title was presumably chosen as a synonym for “shipwrecked”, even though it specifically means “tipped over”, which isn’t really applicable to a spaceship. But I suppose the nautical term helps to establish the metaphor of sailors stranded on a remote island, facing unfamiliar tropical wildlife and hostile natives. And yeah, the inhabitants of this planet are plainly modeled on notions of the primitive savage, with their large masks and blowguns — although, for all that, they’re powerful enough to pose a threat to humans with spacefaring technology and blasters. (Not enough of a threat to actually stop you, of course.)

Now, about those blasters. This is one of those platformers where you move with the keyboard and aim with the mouse, a combination that seems to have become ubiquitous in platformers these days. You have a FPS-like assortment of different weapons, such as a machine gun that fires rapidly but inaccurately, a slow but powerful laser, homing missiles, and so forth. Your basic blaster can be fired infinitely, but the ammo for your other weapons is limited, and can be found scattered through the levels, usually in hard-to-reach places. What’s unusual about this is that you start over with just your basic blaster at the start of each level. So, there’s the hoarding problem solved: every level is completely self-contained. Lives are also reset with each level, as is the status of your jetpack fuel.

The whole business with the Jetpack fuel is interesting. Being able to fly tends to ruin the platforming, so jetpack fuel is found in quantities designed to run out. But what if you use up all the fuel on the level and thereby render bits inaccessible? The game solves this with recharging jetpack fuel, which you can find towards the end of the level. This places the same limit on how far you can fly at a stretch, but regenerates when you’re standing on the ground. This is invaluable for hunting for the level’s last few secrets, because they tend to involve hidden tunnels in those overdetailed rock walls, and the entrance hole can be anywhere, at any elevation.

The thing is, that’s almost all you need the jetpack for. Your astronaut can jump pretty high, and climb vertical surfaces, and comes equipped with a tractor beam. This last is like a combination of Half-Life‘s gravity gun and a grappling hook. That is, you can latch it onto objects to lift, pull, or hurl them, but you can also latch it onto the ceiling above you and swing from the glowing force beam thus created. To the extent that this game contains puzzles, they involve the tractor beam: tricky climbing, rearranging obstacles, transporting boulders to where you need them as weights or stepping-stones. This is also the main way that the game shows off its physics engine.

Dungeons of Dredmor: Jokeyness

I haven’t even mentioned the jokey aspects of Dredmor yet, which is a substantial oversight on my part. Usually I’d excuse this by saying that the jokes are superficial, and don’t intrude into the realm of gameplay, where the player’s attention is. But that’s just not true here. The jokes are pervasive at every level, and impossible to ignore. Take damage types: in addition to traditional things like fire damage and electrical damage (which tend to have higher-faluting names within the game, such as “conflagatory” and “voltaic”), there’s existential damage. Crafting skills let you make weapons and armor not just from bronze and steel, but from aluminum and plastic, both of which come in ingots. Randomized magic items have names pieced together out of random words, with madlibs-like results. There’s a magic item that can turn any object into lutefisk, which is more useful than it sounds, because of the various altars to the Lutefisk God scattered around waiting for suitable offerings. There’s one other deity represented in shrines throughout the dungeon: Inconsequentia, goddess of side-quests. who can send you to take on special monster teams with more jovially-randomized names.

In short, it’s a lot like Kingdom of Loathing, but more offhand about it. Which should increase the humor value. The thing is, I’m not really finding the game funny. The death message, “Congratulations! You have died”, always provokes a chuckle, which takes a bit of the sting off the death, but other than that, I don’t think I’ve laughed once while playing this game. The humor more works to set a tone, to establish a particular kind of rapport with the player. It’s not funny, it’s jokey.

And really, this is something that’s traditional in CRPGs. Nethack is quite jokey, providing cream pies as missile weapons and suchlike. The original Wizardry had a jokey heart. Dredmor is unusually dense with jokeyness, but it’s just a difference of degree. Perhaps there’s something about the mechanics of an RPG that invites such an attitude, an absurdity to the whole business of gaining levels that makes the author want to reassure the players that they shouldn’t be taking it too seriously, that it should be treated as something more like a tall tale than a believable simulation of a world.

Dungeons of Dredmor: Patch and Crafting

Right after my last post, Dungeons of Dredmorgot a pretty major patch, which Steam downloaded for me automatically. It always feels a little strange when a game spontaneously changes in significant ways just a few days after I start playing it, particularly an offline, single-player game. And it is a pretty major update: there are three entirely new equipment slots (for gloves, belt, and trousers), an entire skill specialization has been removed and its component skills shuffled into other specializations (apparently rendering one of the Steam achievements unachievable), new varieties of trap and vending machine have sprouted. Before the patch, wands used a strange and experimental system of “entropy” and “burn rate” to determine at random when they would become useless; after, they use a more conventional system of charges, which is a little disappointing to me, as I was looking forward to mastering the less-familiar system.

The single most intrusive change is the new crafting interface: the changelog states “we stole the old one from Minecraft, we stole the new one from Terraria”. What this means is that instead of putting items into slots in a special interface and hitting a button to put a combined item in another slot, with an optional recipe list to expedite the process, the recipe list is now all there is. You scroll this list until the recipe is under an unmoving pointer, then hit a button to execute it, using items from your inventory. This means it’s no longer possible to abuse the crafting interface to extend your carrying capacity, which is probably a good thing all told.

I find the new system unsatisfactory in a number of ways, however. The icons representing the recipe targets no longer have tooltips, leaving me guessing a little about what I’m creating. The scrolling list, unlike other scrolling lists in the game, doesn’t recognize the mouse scrollwheel, and the interface itself, unlike all other pop-up interfaces in the game, can’t be closed by pressing ESC. These are obviously bugs, though, and will probably be addressed in further revisions — indeed, I notice that Steam has downloaded another patch as I write this, so they may even be addressed already. But the interface is by its nature less convenient for certain things, like making ingots out of ore. Ingots are the basic ingredients for most smithing recipes, and ore is the basic ingredient for ingots. It doesn’t have a lot of other uses, so in most cases, you want to smelt your ore the moment you find it. In the old interface, you’d do this by picking up the ore off the ground and throwing it into your portable ingot-making tool, then hitting the “smelt” button. In the new interface, you have to find the appropriate recipe in the scrolling list, which slows the process down considerably. To make matters worse, you can’t just click on the recipe when it comes into view. You have to scroll it to the center, the spot pointed to by that pointer.

But again, maybe they’ve improved this already. And if they haven’t, they probably will. It may feel a little strange to play a game that’s being frequently patched, but it has advantages.

Dungeons of Dredmor: First Death

Actually what I’m reporting is my second death. My first game was over quickly enough that I don’t think it counts. My second lasted long enough for me to explore the first six floors of the dungeon quite thoroughly, and start on the seventh. A modicum of care and caution is all it takes to keep a game going for hours, it turns out, because there’s no hunger factor or anything forcing you to keep moving downward faster than you’d like. (Food exists, but is pretty much optional. It just gives you a buff that temporarily increases your healing rate to one hit point per turn.) And that care really should have carried me longer than it did. My death, as is traditional in roguelikes, was a stupid one.

It started with a treasure zoo. This is a blatant nethackism: on most levels (possibly all; I didn’t really keep track), there is a room completely full of monsters, which typically come flooding out the moment you open the door, accompanied by frantic zoo music. I pretty much knew how to handle zoos by this point, of course. I was playing a melee specialist, having chosen this for its simplicity so I could get used to the basics of the game, so I didn’t have a lot of power to kill multiple monsters at once. Taking on a zoo meant fighting more monsters than I could comfortably handle, and periodically falling back to heal and recover. In extreme cases, it meant retreating all the way to the stairs to the previous level.

The problem here was that the zoo was extremely close to those stairs. I managed to retreat to it once, but the monsters mobbed around me so close that I was completely surrounded when I came back down. And that created a problem I wasn’t anticipating when I went back down. The way you go up a staircase in this game is by moving onto it. Thus, in order to go back up a staircase you just came down, you have to move off it and back on again. But if you can’t move due to all the monsters crowded around you, you can’t do that.

Now, if all that had happened was that I got surrounded and killed because stairs don’t work right, I would call it a cheap shot. But I managed to make a pretty good go of it. The monsters whittled me down to near death, but I had some emergency supplies that helped me to survive: buff potions, healing supplies, food. The food effect may not sound like much, but I’m finding that, for a heavily-armored melee fighter, this is a game of margins. Most monsters’ attacks weren’t doing me a lot of damage; I just had to make sure that I was regaining health at an overall faster rate than I was losing it. Elemental resistance also seems to be a big part of this. On most of the dungeon floors that I’ve seen, there’s a dominant elemental damage type, and donning an item that grants even one point of resistance to that type can be a big win.

Also, at one point during this fight, I gained an experience level, which heals you instantly to your new maximum health. But I couldn’t count on that happening again, and I was running out of useful potions, so I looked for other options. My best bet seemed to be that Knightly Leap skill that I mentioned in my last post. There was one spot that it looked like I could jump to, just past the mob, and from there I could possibly make a break for a side chamber that was a little farther away from the zoo, possibly far enough away that I’d stop attracting fresh monsters to replace every kill. Alternately, perhaps I could wait for the cooldown on the Leap to expire and leap back to the stairs, hopefully triggering them.

Neither of those things happened. The spot I was aiming for was not in fact one I could leap to — I think a corner of irregularly-shaped wall was keeping it out of direct line-of-sight. Discovering this on selecting the Leap action, I, like a fool, just poked around with it until I found a spot I could leap to, heedless of whether it was a spot that exposed me to more monster attacks. And that was that. I had put up a valiant fight that lasted a lot longer than I was expecting, and it’s conceivable that I could have pulled through if I hadn’t made that mistake. But that’s far from certain.

The thing is, I’m not even all that disappointed in my stupid death. You have to take this sort of thing in stride if you play roguelikes. And besides, it gives me an opportunity to try out a new character, with a different set of skills. I was thinking at first that once this game was over, one way or another, I’d take a break and play a different game for a while. But I’m honestly impatient to try out more of Dredmor possibilities.

Dungeons of Dredmor

Now, here’s a game I’ve been hearing good things about lately. Dungeons of Dredmor is a roguelike. I’ve commented before about the looseness with which this term is bandied about lately, but Dredmor really means it. We’re talking not just random maps and permadeath here. Dredmor fits the classical roguelike descriptor in every way except two, those being the shuffling of item effects from game to game and the graphics made of text characters. I could imagine a character-graphics version of the game. It would wind up losing much of the UI slickness, like the tooltips, but it wouldn’t play fundamentally differently.

Other than that, it’s so roguelike that it can steal some of Nethack‘s gameplay gags. For example, there’s the Knightly Leap skill, learnable by characters who specialize in dodging. At first I couldn’t figure out how to make this work, but then I realized that it’s just like the Knight class’s #jump command in Nethack — which is to say, it only lets you jump like a knight in chess. The game doesn’t explain this, which effectively makes it into a puzzle, albeit one that’s easier for people who have played other roguelikes. And that seems to be a major factor in the game as a whole. At least at the early stages, it’s not so much about fighting monsters as exploring your options and figuring out what’s possible.

The thing is, after investing a few hours into a game, I’ve become reluctant to try things that might be unsafe. I should note that the permadeath is optional: when you start a game, you get a menu of difficulty settings and other options, prominently including a big checkbox for permadeath. But it’s checked by default, and besides, as an experienced player of roguelikes, it just seems proper to me. But I’m not even talking just about death. This is a game with a major crafting element, with recipes for potions and armor and whatnot learnable from bookshelves you find in the dungeon. I’ve started finding equipment recipes that require items I’ve previously found and wasted, either by consuming them to find out what they do (some of the more exotic magic items take potions as ingredients), or by selling them to shops. So now I’m reluctant to throw anything out in case I find a use for it later. But your inventory is painfully limited — the block of slots looks nicely large when you first see it, but you can easily fill up entire rows just with different kinds of cheese. (And yes, cheese can be a crafting ingredient.) Crafting tools can extend your carrying capacity a little by holding items in their ingredient slots, but this is awkward when you actually want to craft something. So I’ve been spending a great deal of time just managing objects. There’s a large room on one level that I’ve made into my dump and warehouse, with items sorted by type, and I go back there whenever my inventory is full or I need to spend some time healing. If I die now, it’ll seem like wasted effort.

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