Have you ever sat back and wondered ‘Why don’t we see many low budget RPG’s?’. No nor have I really. But that’s because I know the answer… it doesn’t normally work. If I pick up a RPG title I am expecting to get anywhere from 25-200 hours’ worth of gameplay. I’ve gone over the 200 hr. mark now in Skyrim and in Kingdoms of Amalur I’m fast approaching 100 hours. Indie RPG games are fun, but normally lack the budgets to reach the expectations we have. When Mars War Logs was announced I was intrigued and immediately started talking to the publisher and developer. I was genuinely quite excited about what I saw. A little later on PC players got the chance to get hands on and reviews were good… much better than anyone expected. Finally, we have our Xbox 360 release and you know what, the game got a lot of things right. At times it even does them better than the AAA titles.
Developed by Spider Studios for Xbox LIVE (and other platforms), Mars War Logs is a science-fiction cyberpunk RPG that claims to offer a dynamic quest line, tactical combat in real time, high level character specialization, skill trees and a crafting system built in. Based on Mars (I know, bet you didn’t see that coming!), the story is based 100 years after a large scale catastrophe that see’s the planets inhabitants and colonies thrown into chaos whilst they fight each other and large scale corporations over the control of the planet’s most precious resource, water.
At the start are we introduced to Innocence, a young man who was forced into fighting a war he had no real understanding of. Sounds familiar, right? It’s pretty much the story for all those young men and women who over the years have also lost their lives in various World Wars and conflicts. Something this game does very well at the beginning is show just how ‘dirty’ war can be. There is none of the glorification and hero status you get with Call of Duty and Modern Warfare games. Innocence is on his way to a POW (Prisoner of War) camp after being captured by the enemy. Upon arriving it isn’t long before one of the other prisoners, a bigger bulkier character, wants to show Innocence who is in charge… and also take Innocence’s innocence. Welcome to the stage Roy, the games central character and protagonist. Roy defends Innocence and his innocence whilst beating off the other man. In return Roy needs Innocence to help with a daring escape… and so begins our story.
Very quickly, if not immediately, you will spot that the relationship between Roy and Innocence resembles that of father and son. Innocence is constantly looking for and seeking the approval of Roy whilst Roy is in turn constantly defending Innocence and guiding him in the way of the world. Other than this, these 2 characters do feel a little flat, but nothing that is game breaking. Infact you can easily look past this and enjoy the rest of the game for what it is.
Mars War Logs is a typical RPG in the fact that you will spend time completing numerous quests, progress through the levels and develop your character and combat style selecting your specializations from the various skills, powers and talents available. As is standard with an RPG, experience is gained through completing said quests and of course from combat. You get to develop your character levelling him up the way you want to play choosing talents from 3 different talent trees; Combatant, Technomant and Renegade. The Combatant tree is all about combat and being the fastest, strongest and most resilient man on the field of battle. The Technomant tree allows you to learn the skills of Technomancers; the Guardians of the Knowledge. Think a Mage mixed with more weird and wonderful supernatural skills, this is a Technomancer. And finally there is the Renegade tree where skills are more based around guerrilla warfare. You’ll develop stealth abilities, add multipliers to surprise attacks and gain the ability to use stronger stimulants. The fights can be tough and there is a clear difficulty difference between Easy, Medium and Hard. Even on Medium, be prepared to save and load quite a few times whilst you refine the right approach.
There are numerous side-quests assigned to you by the various NPCs you meet around Mars and these provide additional opportunities to discover more about the game’s history and, in particular, not only will you earn extra experience points enabling your character to develop further, but you can also receive a range of items, weapons and armour as rewards. Pretty standard RPG stuff I know, but the depth of these quests and the history is quite remarkable for a budget title. Another RPG standard element is of course companions and buddies. In Mars War Logs various characters will join you and help both during and away from combat. These friendships can be developed, each having their own personal principles. Do things that please them and expect to be rewarded appropriately. Talking of which, there is supposed to be a romance story line later in the game –I have yet to get that far but this also seems to have become RPG standard.
Looking at the crafting system, you can use this to create, modify and further specialize your equipment. It’s been 100 years since the catastrophe and the inhabitants of Mars seem to place a higher value on things like leather, metal scraps and other rare materials then they do on currency. When you are exploring, keep an eye out for rubble piles ready to rummage through. Armour can be upgraded, ammunition created and weapons improved all through the crafting system. There are also special perks available as you progress through the game to unlock higher value and more prized equipment. Give Spider Studios credit here, they have created a simple yet elegant system for upgrading your equipment and one that definitely rivals, in terms of said simplicity and ease of use, those larger AAA RPG titles.
So what is bad about the game? Firstly the companion AI really sucks at times. On more than one occasion I found myself fighting a group of enemies single handed whilst my buddy was off pulling threatening faces and waving his sword at a nearby rock. If there were no rocks in the area they might instead decide to stand idly by watching a fight instead of getting involved. Over all the graphics aren’t (as expected) anything to write home about. The NPC’s tend to look the same and the structures and backgrounds pop in and out at random times (although no where nearly as much as fellow indie made State of Decay!). You can overlook the graphical mishaps and weakly scripted AI when you look at the depth of the story and the effort put into the other areas of the game. Given a slightly larger budget, these problems would likely vanish very quickly.
Mars War Logs is a low budget title made for Xbox Live Arcade & Steam etc. But what a title it is. With 3 very distinctly different areas of the game, Guilds, a slick and easy to use crafting system, moral and conversation choices, side quests and a rich in game history Spider Studios have excelled themselves. Expect to put in around 15 -25 hours which for 1,200 MS Points is a complete bargain. I’ve paid more money for worse in the past and likely will again, unfortunately. One of the best surprises of 2013 is Mars War Logs and I can’t congratulate Spider Studios & Focus Home Interactive enough.