Pathfinder: Kingmaker: In many ways Pathfinder: Kingmaker is like an ultimate successor to Baldur’s Gate – it adapts a well-known, popular tabletop system, has a wide-ranging campaign, lots of side areas to explore, companions to recruit, and the now-typical CRPG base building is present (thematically a main focus, in this game, although your interactions with your kingdom may feel pretty stilted).
At release it was notoriously buggy. When I played a few months ago, it still ran slow, but I encountered only a few crashes. I like Pathfinder: Kingmaker a lot, but the vast variety of classes, feats and spells available, to say nothing of all the magical artifacts, is positively intimidating. And that’s as someone who ran through this module in an actual tabletop setting, so I already knew the mechanics and part of the plot.
When I play CRPGs, I usually end up recreating my character after the first couple of hours. With Kingmaker, I went through at least three revisions on my main character (thankfully, the respec feature they added between the 2nd and 3rd made it less painful). If you’re prone to that feeling that your character isn’t exactly what you want, or FOMO because you just got an incredible magic weapon that you should’ve spent that last feat for bonus crit range on… this might be the wrong game for you. You might spend more time on wikis or forums looking for the perfect blend of builds than you do actually playing the game. If you can let go a little bit, and enjoy the crunchiness of the Pathfinder system without letting it overwhelm you, you’ll probably appreciate the vast array of sidequests, craftspeople, kingdom-level decisions, and more that await you in the Stolen Lands.
If you choose to play Kingmaker, I do advise at least starting at a lower difficulty level for Kingdom Management, and saving frequently (especially before doing any kingdom management). The game does a poor job of warning you of specific deadlines, and it’s easy to start a poorly timed 2-week kingdom action that cascades into a kingdom collapse. You’re likely to know it’s happening if you stumble into it, though.
Cosmic Star Heroine: The pitch for this game was a kind of Chrono Trigger meets Phantasy Star – detailed 16-bit art, fast pacing, adult characters, sci-fi setting with multiple planets. It largely succeeded at these goals, and I only have a few complaints.
Cosmic Star Heroine certainly is fast-paced – I finished it in less than 10 hours, completing nearly every side quest I could find.
Although on paper Cosmic Star Heroine did almost everything right, it does feel somehow rote or standard. The art is great and the music is too, but pacing is a little weird here and there. Although the characters are mostly fun and colorful, there’s not much in the way of development. Encounters feel a little too samey and after the first few hours were pretty boring. Ability management gets really confusing to deal with towards the end. Plot twists throughout mostly feel obvious. It’s worth a play, and it stands out among indie RPGs – in fact it’s better than most retro-styled, commercial release RPGs that I’ve found (like Black Sigil and Sands of Destruction) – but it’s not “drop everything and play it now” amazing.
Actraiser Renaissance: The original Actraiser is a weird game. As a sim, it’s actually kind of boring. As an action game, it’s punishingly difficult and not particularly interesting. Somehow the combination of the two makes for a fun game, with the action punctuating the simulation. You’re never doing too much of one or the other, and by the time you’re pulled into the other mode you’re tired of the first.
When they announced a remake, I was a little apprehensive at some of the changes introduced. At release there were some complaints that it was simplified to run on mobile platforms. I feel like the graphics are good enough, and the remade music is nice – the option for the original soundtrack was a nice touch, too. There’s enough new that a veteran of the original will find new things to enjoy, but enough preserved that it will still trigger some nostalgia.
The main new features include much wordier dialogue (the angel, in particular, talks a lot but is actually pretty fun most of the time), a new “hero” character per zone with their own story, and “tower defense” segments (usually two or three per zone) added to simulation mode. Although all of these are good, they do slow down what was originally a pretty snappy game. Personally, I only finished three zones and started the fourth before deciding I was ready to be done (I think there were another two remaining).
I enjoyed what I played, but the tower defense segments in particular didn’t mesh well with how hands-off the town development is. For example, frequently tower defense segments include a defeat when all farms or workshops are destroyed, but you have no control where they are built (or how many you have) – if you have only one in a bad place, you have to rain down thunderbolts on your loyal followers elsewhere until they replace the remains of their burnt houses with a workshop. Otherwise the segments are mostly fine – like the simulation and action pieces, it’s a somewhat serviceable mode, but would be a disappointing game on its own.
No Man’s Sky: Without a doubt the biggest disappointment during this time for me was No Man’s Sky, but not for the reasons you’d assume. I was never concerned with the lack of features that were seemingly promised at the game’s release; my primary concern was with an incredibly simple aspect to the game that inversely meant a lot to me, to the point that it was the main reason I bought the game in the first place: the experience of blasting off into space. You’d think hurtling through a planet’s upper atmosphere and into the great beyond would come with some fanfare.
Maybe some melody to signify how amazing it was to break through the bonds of a planet’s gravity and onto the start of a new adventure. I mean, it’s one of the main reasons why I get so much enjoyment out of Star Wars, to see the Millennium Falcon lift off, speed through the blue (or whatever color) sky and out into the universe as part of a grand, space-operatic adventure. But in No Man’s Sky, your ship creaks and moans from turbulence. That’s it. No music, no fanfare, and sadly, no fun. After that, I couldn’t care about the lack of multiplayer or other systems that were promised and not delivered. The core of the game’s premise of exploring an open-world universe just felt boring.