505 Games at E32018 Hands on with Indivisable, Underworld Ascendant, and Bloodstained Ritual of the night
Hopefully you have already read about the largest of 505 Games announcements from E3 this year, the amazing looking game from developers Remedy entertainment Control. But that was not all that our friends at 505 games brought out this year, indeed their booth was bursting with games, from awesome 2D RPG Indivisible with its asymmetric combat system to, to innovative RPG Underworld ascendant, which emphasizes non-traditional problem solving, to Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, the second installment of the excellent Blood Stained series. Needless to say, I had to play all of them.
I started off with Underworld Ascendant, a game which the developers curiously described to me as a rethinking of the classic Ultima Underworld series, in to an action RPG. They say there is an emphasis on the “narritive” and you will see elements from Greek and other classical mytology in this game, as you take your character, an Ascendant through the Stygian abyss. Paul Neurath and Warren Spector’s OtherSide Entertainment are bringing a major update to the Stygian Abyss thhis time around, and I got the chance to play it at E3 this year, and although its not my kind of game, I can say that fans of games like Styx, or other stealth action RPG’s are going to love this one.
My demo took place somewhere mid game, and I was granted a number of cool weapons and toys to play with. After a short intro and the trailer you see above the devs let me loose in the world. The first thing I noticed was that I had a big sword, and it turns out that was a mistake, because in Underworld, you don’t want to use your sword if you can avoid it. After my time was up the developer told me that their emphasis in game was on asymetrical combat, using a variety of items
I spent the first 10 minutes of my demo exploring, the game has a series of pretty colors, and hallways that I was able to see a lot of. These days most people want an open world for their RPG, one with bright open skys, and lots and lots of room to play in. Underworld is taking the opposite tact, and presenting that old school feeling of a series of connected rooms, with big open spaces in between. It reminds me of some of the old school 90s first person RPG dungeon crawlers where you moved one square a time, and had to do as much puzzle solving as actual combat and RPG bits.
I climbed some ropes, and moved some objects (this the developers tell me is only in game because I was playing the end of the tutorial, then came upon the first real encounter in my game. Which I failed epically. You see, almost a decade of playing RPG games with swords, and bows, has taught me that im some kind of invincible uber-man who can chop, slice, block, hack, and occasionally throw my way to victory. But, Underworld Ascendant’s combat is asymmetrical, meaning, you shouldn’t just charge in with a sword becuase you are going to die. Die, I did, twice before realizing I needed to use something in the environment to kill the first couple of enemies I encountered, then I could advance forward. You see when they say asymmetric combat, what they really mean is you not going to be able to go in to combat with a sword and not get rocked by even just one enemy.
What the developer wants you to do is instead take a good look at whats around, lay down traps, use the environment, use stealth, and lure the enemies off one by one. I had some tools to help with this, special arrows, some trip wire traps, and a magic wand for binding enemies in place. Using a combination of them I was finally able to advance, but it had taken me so long our demo time was up and I was unceremoniously kicked off the demo for the next journo waiting.
Indivisible is a curious game, first presented to me at Anime Expo last year, the game is made by the same company that does Skullgirls, Lab Zero Games. Its a curios game because it combines a never before seen combat and combo system with a 2D metroid-vania style map, and wraps it all up in a narrative about diversity that’s headed by a young brown protagonist who absorbs a series of people in to her consciousness, creating head mates who help her fight the games villains. Its a powerful statement in a time when gaming is increasingly polarized, and I can always appreciate a developer who takes a stand with people who don’t usually have a voice.
But on to gameplay! Indivisible starts out pretty normal, you play a protagonist Ajna a good natured tom boy, who is adventuring in the wilds, and ends up having to save the world from destruction. Don’t you hate it when that happens? And, now she has to fight her way through a series of enemies, overcome some serious challenges, and of course, learn a lot along her way. It’s a cool concept for a game, and the 2D cell shaded art style, melds well with the platforming and movement. Each of the games enviroments, from a rocky tunnel to an open field. Even though this solidly a 2D game, the hand drawn backgrounds give it a 3D feeling that I haven’t gotten since I played Jotun a million years ago.
Aside from the beautiful environments, and the diverse cast of characters this is just a solidly good game. Its an action platformer with solid jumping mechanics, and good combat. Combat is where this game really shines, because it has a combat system like no other RPG I have ever seen before. Combat starts outside on what I would call the overworld, where you can sneak in one attack against an enemey who you can see. Think like final fantasy where you see an enemy on the overworld map, and you can attack it for an early boost of damage, then enter the turn based combat portion of the game.
Combat takes place in turns, but not standard turns, more like real time turns, mixed in with some mild decision making. The system is actually fairly difficult to explain so I am going to explain it with a metaphor. Indivisable’s combat is a fighting game with only one button. Depending on how long you wait, you can press this button a different amount of times to attack more, and you can block using the directional pad. When you deal damage, a sort of super meter will charge up and you can use one of your characters super abilities. The super meter has three level’s and is always going up and down, so close monitoring and use of it is mandatory to survive. Each of the dozen characters that Ajna can absorb in to her head have different specials, there are healers, damage dealers, buffers, and some whose super attacks seem to do nothing at all. Careful management of your three companions and your own energy meter is the key to victory.
You wont be alone in combat, each of the characters that Ajna can absorb can also join you in combat, and of course each companion has a different attack. The more companions you have the more attacks you can do. Remember how I said each character has a single button press attack? Four characters means each can attack four times, and you can combo their attacks. Some attacks of course have synergy while others don’t really mesh well, so proper use of your characters is a major theme in the game. With three spots to fill, and over a dozen characters there will be characters for every play style. Each character levels individually, so its best to rotate when you can. During my demo, I only got defeated once, and that was by a major stage boss, so combat isint brutal, but I did enjoy it. Occasionally I felt challenged when I missed a couple of blocks in a row, or didnt time my attacks right, but in the end I would get through.
Overall I enjoyed my time with Indivisible. I only got to see a little bit of the exploration game play, and even less of the actual story of the game, but those things can come later. For now I can report that the game is beautiful, its combat is innovative, and its going to have a lot of other cool things in it. We have already been promised an extensive story, lots of movement abilities, and a hub and spoke style world, that will change as we go through it. That along with the innovative combat, and the general beauty of this game, should be more than enough for most people to pick up this indie gem. It will be out Q1 of 2019 (assuming it doesn’t get delayed again)
Bloodstained Ritual of the night –
The second game in the bloodstained series that was one of Kickstarters most successful games of 2015, Koji Igarashi brings his talents to this the second installment of the series Bloodstained. Fans of the first can rest assured that this game does nothing wrong and only builds on its formula. I got about 30 minutes of time with a playable demo build, and my impressions were overall positive.
I was allowed two separate scenarios, one where I Started with nothing, and one where I started with a well geared character to fight a boss. The first scenario started me at the beginning of the game, with nothing but a pair of boot to kick with, and my wits. Combat was identical to the last game, one attack, jump, and various magical abilities. Enemies were mostly of the one hit type, with a few that took more than one and had simple patterns mixed in. Ovbiously I did not get to see the extent of the games combat, but what I did see was pretty basic. I did at least find a variety of weapons in the game, including a ranged weapon, which had two types of ammo, indicating a depth to the games combat that I just did not see.
There are a number of fun touches in the game that made me smile, the environments are beautiful, full of touches that Castlevania fans will recognize and laugh about. For example attaining the games mana resources is most easily done by smashing the bevy of well placed lanterns, with your current weapon, in a classic call back to the original game. I am told there are a ton of other call backs as well, but I must have missed them.
Combat was very simple, one button for magic, one button for attack, one button for jump. Enemies that took more than one hit to kill had easy to meorize patterns, and yet, I still died on level 1. That’s not an endorsement of how hard the game is, merely that I am terrible at video games in general. After a few moments of reading up on the card they had given me I determined that I had health potions to assist, with my current troubles and moved on. One of the major combat mechanics that also incentives you to keep fighting rather than just run past enemies is how this game treats magic. Each enemy has a chance to drop a shard, and each shard has an associated power. Usually this power is what ever the dead enemy did, think like Kirby style. After absorbing those powers you can use them in combat, or to solve puzzles.
Puzzles wernt a huge part of the gameplay I got to see, but I did have to use magic in a couple of places in order to travese obstacles or open a door. For this purpose some spells (like the fire one) are aimed while others (like a Giant flail attack) just go in the direction you are facing. You can equip up to two magic spells, and its usefull to have one damage and one utility one as far as I can tell. There are also a ton of weapons, and of course armor in game. Loot lovers will probably feel right at home as they play through the game. There is also a system for upgrading both character, and weapons, so there will be plenty of cash sinks. The boss I fought was giant, and I enjoyed both times I got to kill him, I wont say anything about the story, but fans of the first game will enjoy it I am sure.
Overall this is looking like a solid game, with a lot fo fun action, that calls back to classic action platforming games, like Castlevania. Its 2D movement and classic feel will keep most people happy, while its RPG elements will satisfy people who are looking for a bit deeper of an experince.