Imaginary Aliens

None of these aliens are real.

Except the ones that are real which you think are hallucinations but aren’t. It’s all very confusing. But then nothing about recreating memories to invoke the ire of an alien voice isn’t confusing, especially when you try to explain how hallucinations inflicted horrific flesh wounds against living agents. That’s the last time we’re going to believe that someone injected mysterious gas into a hangar for science. Hangar 6 R & D is the post-release DLC for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, that serves as a prequel to the events of the main campaign and explains how the invasion began.

Ideally it should be experienced before the main campaign.

However, be forewarned that this approach can be slightly overwhelming, as the DLC expects you to know what you’re doing, and rapidly presents increasingly complex missions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Mutons and Elite Mutons in one pod before. Nor do I want to see that many again.

You won’t start the campaign with freshly recruited agents, though. So they’ll have a few abilities that’ll help in the first few missions. You also seem to rapidly acquire new technology by exploring the laboratory prior to each mission, and extensive caches of alien technology are awarded for completing later missions. It feels ridiculously accelerated much in the same way that the Tactical Legacy Pack from XCOM 2: War of the Chosen does. But it also feels incredibly satisfying and never particularly unfair. Rarely do encounters feel insurmountable but they remain challenging throughout. I just wish that I had some idea of the opposition for each mission, as that would influence my squad composition, as some agents perform better in certain encounters, but it’s a minor issue that doesn’t drastically affect the experience.

Somehow they’ve managed to make Sectopods even deadlier…

I had similar feelings about XCOM: Chimera Squad. Both opted for a handful of individually talented agents instead of dozens of trained soldiers, which works fine but I felt that it would’ve worked better if you had any indication of which talents you’d want per mission. But not knowing means that you’ll need to be prepared for anything. So you’ll need to adapt to situations as they develop, and assess threats as they present themselves. Making the real time combat of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified fast-paced, which requires quick thinking not usually present in turn-based combat.

You’ll be able to catch your breath when issuing orders, though.

Which allows you to recognise the threats you’re facing instead of wildly flailing as everything happens all at once. You’re also able to issue multiple orders to an agent at a time (that seem to activate in sequence), which makes the order of your actions as important as the actions themselves.

I’ve been greatly enjoying the intensity of combat so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how increasingly dangerous opposition affects the prioritisation of targets. When enemies are able to rapidly close the distance between you and them it certainly makes some a higher priority than others. Which is also true with turn-based combat, but they’re usually only able to move on their turn, so you might not consider them a threat because they’re so far away, but with real time combat you need to consider how (and where) they’ll move. It’s definitely an interesting approach to real time combat, and is (in my opinion) preferable to real time with pause combat. Which tends to make combat slow-paced and twitchy, whereas this proves to be fast-paced and fluid while presenting a consistent challenge.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

First Impressions of… Operencia: The Stolen Sun

An unending darkness veils the land.

Operencia: The Stolen Sun is an ambitious old-fashioned dungeon crawling experience with modern sensibilities. It features numerous innovative approaches to traditional mechanics, notably when brewing potions, as gathering raw materials won’t be necessary, but you will need to discover and decipher the recipe. Potions replenish each time you rest, too. So you won’t need to repeatedly brew potions as you use them. Resting is accomplished via camping and is limited by the amount of firewood that you have, which encourages planning ahead and utilisation of different resources.

Exploration is generally pleasant while the majority of puzzles are logical enough.

However, party management is crucial, and that’s where this experience feels most flawed. Companions can be incredibly helpful or remarkably mundane, with the only capable healer being the last companion to join your party. Building anything but a Mage also feels extraordinarily ineffective.

As there are few companions that can cast magic, and ironically the most capable is the aforementioned healer. But only with lightning damage. There’s an abundance of companions that deal physical damage, though. But there’s only one companion built for ranged weapons, and his skills are limited in effectiveness. Which was one of my only sources of elemental damage while exploring the first few areas, as I’d opted to build a Warrior. As I (obviously) would. That’s not to say that companions aren’t useful. They are, but they can be confusing as sometimes their attribute points reflect completely different proficiencies than their skills suggest. Jóska has ridiculously high Agility, but doesn’t really seem to benefit from it as he has few skills requiring the use of a bow. I’ve honestly found his Stealth tree to be the most useful.

We’ve not once questioned the legitimacy of their claims, and now we’re just going to open an ancient portal?!

I’ve got mixed feelings about Operencia: The Stolen Sun. It’s definitely an interesting and entertaining dungeon crawler when you’re exploring the world, discovering secrets, and revisiting areas. But combat feels so wildly unpredictable, and certain skills, like those that stun enemies or put them to sleep, seem pointless to even invest in as the majority of enemies are immune to them. Which is absurdly annoying when an enemy spawns other enemies, as you’re unable to interrupt that process. So you quickly become outnumbered as they spawn one new enemy with every turn that they take.

It certainly feels like something went awry at some point.

When customising the difficulty I did set the (strangely named) Betyár setting to hard, which affects combat difficulty, but I doubt that has fundamentally changed how combat feels, as the aggressiveness of enemies (and their damage) is not an issue. It’s how unbalanced most encounters seem to be.

I’ve no issue with criticising something that doesn’t seem to be working as intended, but I don’t like to be inherently negative about something. So I hope that this post doesn’t read that way. As I’ve been enjoying the majority of my time with Operencia: The Stolen Sun, and it has the potential to be something truly wonderful. But certain things significantly detract from the experience. Not that it seems that it was always this way, as earlier information suggested that combat was unpredictable but not to this extent. So this could be the result of balancing which could change again in the future. I can’t really fully recommend Operencia: The Stolen Sun, as while it is an engaging RPG experience, it is unfortunately marred with inconsistencies in combat, but I’m hopeful that the developers will address these issues in a future patch.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Heroes of City 31

The road to acceptance is long and paved with insurgents.

Chimera Squad may be formed of aliens and humans alike, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have the best interests of City 31 at heart. Even Torque. Under that scaly exterior is a heart of gold which desires nothing more than affirmation through unrelenting savagery. But, regardless of their reasons, these brave agents vowed to protect City 31 and they’ll do just that. XCOM: Chimera Squad is a wonderfully exciting departure from usual strategy mechanics, that foregoes dozens of highly trained soldiers for a handful of individually talented agents. Each brimming with a charming personality.

Each more capable than ten regular soldiers.

Through a time-based approach you’ll need to complete missions and situations alike to earn myriad rewards. Or visit the Scavenger Market when available to buy the rarest upgrades. Or assign agents to Spec Ops to influence how City 31 develops, and to quell the growing unrest in the city.

When not doing that you’ll also be training agents, researching new projects, and wishing you had more credits than you actually do. Besides the eight (mostly) randomly generated agents, you’ll also be able to purchase two androids. Each can replace an agent if they’re critically wounded in an encounter, however, unlike agents who recover at the end of a mission, androids are destroyed upon taking lethal damage. So be sure to look after them. The aforementioned will take place during the main campaign which spans three branching investigations, each affording new enemies and steadily increasing difficulty. Making the best use of each passing day is instrumental to your success but so incredibly difficult to do at times. When everything is a critical mission- which is the critical mission crucial to my success?

Rather than destroy it, we should modify it and ride it into battle. Just a thought.

My only (minor) criticism is that the main campaign progresses too quickly. I’m not sure if it was because ninety-three days had passed, but it rendered the rewards from the last investigation, those of The Progeny for me, completely useless as I couldn’t research the projects in the Assembly. I didn’t have enough days left. This could become annoying when you consider the overwhelming number of scars that my agents had received, but it didn’t adversely affect me. I just felt slightly rushed towards the end, and would’ve preferred having a few more days to finish things off.

Not that the time-based nature wasn’t explicitly stated from the beginning.

However, it is slightly disappointing having rewards that can’t be earned. But maybe there’s a limit to the overall campaign length. Maybe ninety-three days is that limit. Maybe that’s the long term trade off for delaying earlier campaign missions for greater rewards. I can’t really say for certain.

XCOM: Chimera Squad is still an incredibly engaging strategy experience, though. It just feels counter-intuitive to rush into things when you’re accustomed to taking your time. Breaching presented a unique approach to missions which allowed you to fire the first shots, and utilise unique equipment to gain an advantage. Most agents also had unique abilities available when breaching, such as Claymore, who could destroy a wall akin to a Breaching Charge, but would also surprise all enemies during that breach. Not that I’d feel any differently about that situation. Seeing a burly man with a shotgun blowing a hole in my wall would inspire many things in me, mostly confusion as to what was going on. That said, I can easily recommend XCOM: Chimera Squad to any who have enjoyed the modern instalments in the XCOM series.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Endlessly Spawning Reinforcements

The challenge we crave.

Just as we crave the delicious genetically modified sausage-y taste of NotDogs, which are fun for the whole Chimera Squad. I could see Cherub throwing a few sausages on the grill when this all over. While Verge telepathically tastes burgers, and Claymore brings a curry along for some reason. He’s my kind of guy. Promotional jingles aside, I’d been looking forward to experiencing XCOM: Chimera Squad and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a fresh approach to familiar mechanics. Exchanging unit classes (and generated soldiers) for specialised agents, and allowing aliens to join the fight.

Their individuality makes it difficult to decide who to take on a mission.

Claymore, Godmother, Terminal, and Torque is one of my preferred compositions. But Verge is an appealing substitute for Torque. They both occupy a similar role (for me) by controlling enemies. Verge is better at controlling multiple enemies at once, but is less defensive and much squishier.

Torque is able to dodge more effectively and can spit poison at groups of enemies, but can only control one enemy at a time. But she’s able to completely remove that enemy from the encounter. Whereas Verge can stun for multiple turns- and can stun multiple enemies- but isn’t as effective at removing enemies from encounters. Torque is definitely better suited to organic enemies, too. Given that poison doesn’t affect robotic enemies. Which could also be said for Verge as he can’t control robotic enemies, but he can affect enemies that Torque can’t. Claymore does have (explosive) crowd control, but I prefer unleashing a barrage of explosives instead. Especially once we acquired plasma grenades. Terminal likes to Safeguard. She’s neat. While Godmother usually subdues multiple enemies (with a shotgun) by utilising Scattershot.

I’m not sure how I’d feel if I looked outside my window and saw this…

Thankfully, you’re only able to allocate four agents (out of eight) to a mission. So you’ll always be plagued by indecision. Those who aren’t on a mission will remain at headquarters and attend to various duties, such as researching new technology or training to unlock their latent abilities. Everything is strictly time-based and you won’t be able to grind endless missions for constant rewards. You can stall for a few days but no longer than that. This reinforces the sense of urgency present throughout the main campaign, and encourages you to adapt to new situations as they arise.

As an agent will inevitably be unavailable when you need them.

Verge has spent an absurd amount of time being treated for various scars. Godmother, too. But Claymore, who has taken more damage than either of them, and who usually soaks up bullets like an insane meat sponge, has remained unscathed. Not that I want to lose Claymore for two days.

XCOM: Chimera Squad certainly introduces numerous new mechanics and is as self-contained as its nature would suggest. I doubt that we’ll see these mechanics as they are in a sequel to XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers incorporate something similar but better suited to a longer experience. Breaching works incredibly well when missions are segmented into multiple encounters. But it’s unlikely that it would work as well when missions are more complex and take longer to complete. Which is not to suggest that it couldn’t work, just that it needs to be implemented properly. I’d love to see unit classes with the individuality of these agents. Self-sufficient and capable of working alone, but equally as capable at working alongside others, allowing you to utilise truly diverse synergies.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Last of the Medjay

He who swore to protect all of Egypt.

Devastated by overwhelming grief and unrelenting in his vengeance, our remorseful protagonist, Bayek, tenaciously hunts those responsible for the death of his son. Once the proud Medjay of Siwa, now the unyielding protector of the oppressed throughout Egypt, he remains noble in his intentions despite bloodying the sands. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is an extraordinarily satisfying narrative-driven RPG, which is experienced through the breathtaking scenery of ancient Egypt in an ever-evolving open world. You’ll find outposts to infiltrate, caves to explore, tombs to raid, and dozens of snakes in jars.

Snakes in jars that wait endlessly with no nourishment.

Snakes in jars that require someone to actually smash the jar before they can be released. Yet, somehow, innocent bystanders manage to be bitten (and killed) by these snakes. There are many mysteries- the Papyrus Puzzles and Myths of the Pharaohs- but this is the greatest mystery of all.

Mysteries of the snakes aside, Assassin’s Creed: Origins has been a truly magnificent experience. I never grew of tired of exploring Egypt and I spent over a hundred hours doing so. Even when exploring the Sinai and Thebes during The Hidden Ones and The Curse of the Pharaohs, respectively. With the latter being a perfectly executed supernatural excursion, allowing you to venture into the afterlife and face the newly-risen Pharaohs. They were challenging boss encounters, too. I could have easily been defeated were I to make a mistake while fighting them, despite being Lvl 55 and having fully upgraded legendary equipment. That’s not something I’ve said about many RPGs. Especially when fully upgrading Bayek takes considerable effort, as Carbon Crystals and Shards of the Star are not exactly easy to acquire.

The Pharaohs have been roused from their eternal rest.

The Hidden Ones also reintroduces numerous characters from the main campaign which creates excellent continuity. Rather than being an entirely unrelated expedition, travelling to the Sinai builds on the character traits exhibited by Bayek prior to this point. Weaving more tales into his rich tapestry of human experiences. I had wondered if certain characters wouldn’t make an appearance if you hadn’t met them prior to starting to the DLC, but I doubt that they would (or could) as each character holds a certain significance in the story to follow. Which wouldn’t be as engrossing were they to be replaced.

Regardless, they’re both among the best DLC that I’ve ever played.

I’ve written before of the absurd attention to detail present in the world and the interactions with other characters are no exception. Seeing how certain characters develop throughout the story is as fascinating as exploring any tomb, and seeing how Bayek responds to that is just as fascinating.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Assassin’s Creed: Origins but I couldn’t have imagined that it would be as astounding as this. You could tell that the developers were passionate about their creation, and that they were intending to create a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Perhaps not just with Assassin’s Creed: Origins but with the entire Assassin’s Creed series. While I enjoyed much of the experience The Curse of the Pharaohs was definitely my favourite DLC, and it makes me more hopeful for the prominently featured mythological beasts of Assasin’s Creed: Odyssey. But I’m also excited to be exploring the colourful locales of ancient Greece. If you enjoy deeply engaging RPGs with meaningful character development then I can’t recommend Assassin’s Creed: Origins highly enough. It really is something special.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie