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

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

Having Too Much To Do

It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Artificially extending the existing content of video games to lengthen the overall experience is nothing new, and seems to be increasingly prevalent in some modern releases. But it doesn’t really add anything to the player experience. It’s not satisfying having to sit through repeated content over and over again, nor does it feel particularly engaging to continually grind to no discernible end. Having numerous mechanics to understand can be enjoyable, though. It just depends on how these are presented to players, and how natural it feels to interact with them on a regular basis.

It should never feel particularly forced.

Which it usually does. Whether it’s a tedious repeatable (or daily) quest that offers a paltry reward, or a dungeon that presents no inherent challenge but is integral to your eventual success. There are so many awful ways to do it. But there are some video games that have done it really well.

I’ve recently been playing Assassin’s Creed Origins and I’ve been continually surprised by how wonderful the overall experience is. Hundreds of question marks litter the world map signifying new cities to discover, tombs to explore, war elephants to challenge, and much more. You could also partake in gladiatorial combat in two different arenas, or race for glory in the Hippodrome. Not to mention there’s a compelling main campaign to follow. Something I need to remind myself of when I’m working through the absurd amount of content that there is. Yet I’ve not once abandoned an optional objective because I’ve grown tired of it. It’s slightly ludicrous how enthralling I find exploring the vast sands of Egypt to be. I also can’t wait to sail to Thebes and experience the majesty of the otherworldly The Curse of the Pharaohs DLC.

Found a bowling alley. Never leaving.

Yakuza 0 is another outstanding example of this. There were so many things you could do as either protagonist besides the two substantial minor campaigns, all of which would contribute in some meaningful way to their character development. There were also far too many mini-games to learn. I didn’t even attempt the majority of the optional challenges, as I likely would’ve spent hundreds of hours doing so. I know that I spent far longer in the bowling alleys than I should have done. I even acquired a chicken that helped me conquer the Kamurocho Real Estate Royale.

They certainly didn’t cluck up their job.

There are many other excellent examples of this. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Disco Elysium, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to name but a few. It’s so refreshing to have single player experiences which aren’t mindlessly lacklustre, featuring compelling main campaigns and optional objectives.

Most of the aforementioned video games have interesting and ever-expanding open worlds to explore, too. Which seems to be something that I’m drawn to nowadays. I’m not sure if that’s a conscious decision as I’ve had many good experiences with them recently, or whether it’s a mere coincidence and doesn’t influence me in any way before purchase. But whichever it is I don’t mind. I’m just glad that single player experiences haven’t entirely disappeared in modern releases. Not that I’m entirely opposed to co-operative experiences, as I’ve got quite a history with MMORPGs which are inherently co-operative. But single player experiences shouldn’t need to suffer (or disappear) because of those. Both can exist independently of one and other, and each provides their own benefits and drawbacks to their respective genres.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Roof Less Travelled

Egyptian shingles were certainly built to last.

Either that or someone is being paid to follow Bayek around and repair every shingle left devastated in his relentless pursuit of justice. Not that I’d be surprised if someone was following him around, but I doubt it’s for a reason as innocent as shingle repair. They probably want to murder him. Most people do. For some unexplained reason that surely has nothing to do with all of the people he’s killed, the treasures he’s looted, or the local wildlife he’s hunted. Not that I really concern myself with their murderous intent. There’s a reason that I’ve invested so heavily in the Warrior tree.

Mostly because I’m not very good at sneaking around.

I’m not even sure why I instinctively retreat to the roof when cornered. I’m not particularly proficient at (nor have I specialised in) using a bow, and I have no techniques with them. I just seem to fare better from the safety of the roof when they’ve called for reinforcements and I’m surrounded.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the first of the Assassin’s Creed series that I’ve played. It took months of deliberation before I decided to purchase it, but I’m glad that I did. I now fully understand why this series is regarded so highly. If this is a notable departure from the mechanics usually present in the series, then that which came before it must have been truly special. There’s a certain attention to detail present throughout the entire experience. You’re met with an ever-expanding, vibrant, colourful world which is populated with meaningful NPCs. NPCs that don’t mysteriously disappear when their quest has been completed. Exploration is as fluid and as unrestrained as you would expect (and want) it to be. Combat is surprisingly exhilarating and ridiculously satisfying. Even hunting wildlife is strangely appealing.

I’d rather be on a roof than dealing with this.

The character development mechanics are also wonderfully extensive. Skill points can be invested in three distinct skill trees, each allowing you to specialise in certain weapons or techniques. Each weapon class has its own fighting style and performs differently in combat. Armour can be upgraded to increase your health, increase damage dealt, or increase the number of arrows (and tools) that you can carry. Tools can be unlocked via the Seer tree, and these can alter how you approach situations. You’ve really got unprecedented freedom to complete objectives as you see fit.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve opted for close quarters combat.

It’s certainly useful when infiltrating enemy strongholds and when fighting most enemies, but crocodiles enjoy slapping me. So whenever I’m hunting wildlife I’ll use my bow even if I don’t need to. As some animals can only be hunted with a bow, because they’ll run away if they happen to see you.

I’m surprised at how enthralling I find Assassin’s Creed: Origins to be. Not that I expected any less of it, but vast open worlds often feel lacklustre as there’s so much to see but so little to do. The regions in Assassin’s Creed: Origins are the opposite. They’re not ridiculously huge but there are so many locations to visit, puzzles to solve, treasures to acquire, and secrets to uncover. It’s slightly ridiculous how enjoyable the exploration is. I doubt I’ll be playing through the entire Assassin’s Creed series, but I’ll definitely be playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as that looks absolutely breathtaking. Visually and mechanically. I’m just wondering whether I’d have been more receptive to the first entries in the series were I more interested in stealth, and whether I’ve been missing out on really amazing experiences because of it.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Rebuilding the Jedi Order

Haunted by the past, hopeful for the future.

While being hunted by the ruthless and unwavering Galactic Empire, our diffident protagonist, Cal Kestis, attempts to retrace the journey of a Jedi Master and seeks to uncover the secrets of the Zeffo. An ancient civilization that had an unprecedented understanding of the mysteries of the Force. Who were also fascinated by rolling giant balls around, and who would bestow their knowledge unto those capable of doing so. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is an extraordinarily engaging narrative-driven RPG in which you endeavour to rebuild the Jedi Order while collecting many stylish ponchos.

You’ll also be collecting various seeds for the Mantis’ terrarium.

Those, much like the ponchos, are of the utmost importance and contribute greatly to your success, should you ever wish to befriend Greez. Which has its benefits. He does become slightly less crotchety with every seed recovered, despite being incredibly vocal about his hatred of nature.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order also features vast landscapes to explore and it’s ridiculously fun to do so. While many of the rewards are cosmetic, secrets, such as Stim Canisters, are incredibly valuable and are always worth pursuing. Even if you’re being relentlessly pursued by the sadistic Second Sister. She can wait until you’ve discovered every chest, secret, and upgrade for BD-1 on every planet. It’s not like you’re the last hope for hundreds of Force-sensitive children. Which is not to suggest that exploration is always frivolous, as exploring each of the ancient tombs often results in Cal strengthening his connection to the Force and learning a new Force ability. Of which there are only a few but they are incredibly useful. Not that I’d necessarily agree that being able to jump twice requires a deeper connection to the Force, but I digress.

Surprisingly agile. Unsurprisingly bloodthirsty.

Character development is tied to Force abilities, as each one further expands the skill tree allowing for greater proficiency in combat and heightened character statistics. There aren’t too many ways to develop Cal besides that. You can fully customise the appearance of his lightsaber, and unlock new lightsaber styles throughout the main campaign. Each offering its own unique fighting style with its own advantages and disadvantages. Which is perfectly suited to the exhilarating lightsaber duels with the Sith, but doesn’t significantly alter the offensive (or defensive) capabilities of his lightsaber.

That’s reserved for the Lightsaber Mastery skill.

You can find equipment that allows you to explore previously inaccessible areas, but it doesn’t aid you in combat nor does it change Cal’s base statistics considerably. However, while limited, character development is meaningful, as each investment into the skill tree yields decent rewards.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Whether it would be a complex RPG experience akin to Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, or whether it would favour an action-orientated approach emphasising storytelling. In retrospect I’d say it was mostly the latter. But that’s not to say that there aren’t RPG mechanics, and utilising them will only further the techniques and abilities available to you in combat. Or while exploring planets. Exploration certainly makes up the bulk of the experience but that’s not a bad thing. Not when the exploration is as enjoyable as it was, and when you’re actually excited about returning to Bogano for the fifth time. I’d highly recommend it to those who enjoy Star Wars (in any shape or form) or those looking for an in-depth single player RPG experience.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie