Tag Archives: Tactical

The Banner Saga 3 review

The Banner Saga trilogy has introduced us to a Disney meets Don Bluth 2D world, steeped in European-esque medieval fantasy with tactically deep and satisfying combat. But, like all things, it must come to an end. This world where the sun has died and the Varl and Human races’ have suffered and fought to try to overcome the apocalypse, delivers it’s denouement here in The Banner Sage 3, and indeed it’s a strong end to a terrific series.

The march of the two caravans of warriors across the beautiful 2D layered panoramic perspective of the frozen land continues, with the pattern of narrative-driven dialogue and decisions punctuated by grid-based combat still being the order of the day. Decisions still have lasting effects on what’s left of your story, removing characters, sometimes temporarily and other times by permanently killing them off. Despite knowing the end of this tale is imminent, there’s still a terrific minefield of unknown consequences that can play out in completely different ways depending on your choices. This still also occurs with combat, where defeat isn’t necessarily game over, making the adventure feel somewhat more grounded in reality than in many other games, despite the Tolkien-esque fantasy setting.

The combat itself is largely unchanged from previous entries, with grid turn-based conflicts that centre around the three stats of strength, armour and willpower. Your strength doubles up as both your health and your attack power, introducing an interesting tactical challenge where the longer a battle continues the weaker you typically get. Armour, meanwhile, simply measures how much of an incoming attack can be deflected, whilst willpower offers the chance to increase your movement and attack strength from a finite pool that only replenishes outside of combat. It’s a fairly simple system that’s very easy to fathom. Characters and enemies receive a turn based on the order shown at the bottom of the screen, and a turn allows you to move and attack. Varls are larger than humans and take up four squares on the grid whilst humans take up one. The complexity comes with how you use this simple system to defeat your foes.

When you attack you can choose to target their strength/health or their armour. Reducing a foe’s armour means you can deal more damage in the future but means your foes will hit harder come their turn. Meanwhile, if a foe’s armour is higher than your strength, then your ability to inflict damage is reduced giving you a percentage chance to hit, therefore encouraging you to reduce their armour before targeting their strength/health. Additionally some characters have special abilities they can unleash, such as the ability to hit multiple opponents with one attack. When attacking and moving you can spend willpower to increase the amount of damage you inflict or grid squares you can move, adding a tactical consideration, but willpower is limited and won’t replenish automatically in combat, so you need to spend it wisely. It all comes together to offer a fun and easy to learn combat system that offers a nice range of tactical possibilities.

This time around you can often remain in combat taking on additional waves of enemies rather than leaving the battlefield, with more enemy reinforcement joining the battle depending on a turn counter. Defeating these waves provides rewards in the form of special items, providing a risk verses reward system that can benefit you with important supplies if you choose to prolong a fight and allow these waves to keep spawning. However, it doesn’t ever feel necessary to risk staying in combat for these rewards, making it an interesting addition to freshen the experience somewhat, but one that’s not as well integrated into the rest of the game as other systems.

With the experience shifting between combat and narrative heavy dialogue and decisions it’s still a shame that so little of it is voiced, but what is voiced is performed to a high standard, and the writing continues to impress. The tale in this third game has turned from dark to absolutely dire, and tone has shifted well to represent the desperation of the characters. It’s gripping stuff.

The soundtrack is once again fantastic, with powerful brass sections that really work to sell the honour and glory of battle against the darkness consuming this world. However, one issues from the previous titles still remains: the loading, which, whilst fairly short, is still relentless. It’s a problem that optimisation and even faster hardware, as in with the Xbox One X, still hasn’t solved. Practically every screen transition required a black loading screen, and sometimes multiple loading screens stacked on top of each other.

The Banner Saga as a whole has offered a brilliant branching story with intense and accessible turn-based combat that’s hard to put down. Death can take any number of characters you’ve come to love away and decisions can seriously affect how your tale unfolds, making it a wonderfully compelling personal experience within an intriguing fantasy world with good replayability. Meanwhile, this final chapter in the story does a tremendous job tying everything together and maintains the high quality of its predecessors. It’s been a delightful experience to play this trilogy.

Thanks to Xbox and Stoic for supporting TiX

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows review

Masquerada’s opening kept me playing, and it will help me return to the replay the chapters and acts of this criminally undercooked RPG.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is described as “…a tactical action RPG set in a lush 2.5D world…” – by Witching Hour Studios, developer, and Ysbryd Games, publisher. Before I jumped into Masquerada, I tussled with the thoughts of if I had enough time to sink into an RPG at the moment – yes, as a contributor to TiX, it is my duty, yet I know how hard I can fall for an RPG! – with my 20/20 hindsight, I should never have wrestled with such grand of a notion.

The gameplay of Masquerada is rather simple, maybe a little too simple for a PC and console release. I often felt that I would be more comfortable navigating the rather linear scenes of Witching Hour Studios’ RPG via the tap of a phone screen, or maybe the Nintendo Switch than I was with a dedicated controller and large display. Or better yet, having no control over the direction the characters took until combat started.

Speaking of combat; Masquerada’s combat feels as if it is on the edge of greatness. A simple action bar, that can be customised via the character panel, presents your characters abilities for combat – though I found that setting the AI ‘either/or’ settings to use area of effect abilities – which were absolutely stunning to behold; little embers dancing around my fire avatars, water droplets splashing around the combat field from my healing orbs – then selecting and sitting on my healer-type character and keeping RT pressed got me through most combat situations.

The character development of the game hinted at much more than I discovered. Sparse talent-lines with the occasional second prong option to select from, most being either: Generate addition threat, or gain an additional avatar/orb/other, or gain a free use of the ability within Y amount of seconds. With the ability to redistribute your points coming fairly early in the game, I never felt like I could go wrong. A certain character, say your healer, locked out of the party due to story reasons? Change your talents to be more defensive on other characters. Now, typing this out makes it feel like the game allows you to be very adaptive to your situation, yet honestly….it really isn’t.

There are some pretty cool systems that are introduced a little further into Masquerada, and both of these absolutely to be expanded upon in any future installments. One is the Ink and Rune system, where you mix them together and gain a passive stat and action buff, and the other is Masks!

Masks allow you to alter your limit break-esque ability, some of which I found to be more useful than others, such as providing shields to my whole team. As with the most of the art in Masquerada, these animations are vibrant and crisp. Mask abilities are charged by performing certain types of actions in combat. These are mostly passive with all characters apart from your main, who has three stances. Each stance alters how you perform combat and gain energy to use for your Mask attack. Masks can be acquired from a small amount exploration of the scenes. I say small because it is as simple as checking a corner that is just out of view – something that would feel so much grander on a different format, handheld for example, but not so much as is.

The artistic style of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is breathtaking in places, a lot of places. From the animations of the attacks during combat to the subtle flutter of the character frame during conversations. The conversations are fully voiced, these range from the silhouette journeys between home and each act, the little world building chatter from the denizens of the rich Citte and its locals to the emotionally driven performances during the twists and turns of Masquerada’s excellently paced narrative.

There are some heavyweight voice actors behind the vocal punches of the cast of characters that litter the landscape Masquerada. Matt Mercer, Catherine Taber and, oh yeah, Jennifer Hale are just three of the talented performers that lend their vocal variety to this Venetian-inspired epic. Woah, that was a lot of V!

V leads nicely onto the score of Masquerada. The music oft over empowers the scenes, but after reducing the volume in the options by 30% it settled down and I could enjoy it as part of the overall machine, instead of that one overbearing cog. So, the V? Violins are the V. Violins and plenty of other string instruments lead the score of Masquerada. V also stands for the majestic choir that sits just above the instruments, and at brief points hit the heights of the Marty O’Donnell’s work in Halo. Arm hair standing and the rest!

I labeled the gameplay as core-play, but the story would be better labeled as core-everything. Without the fantastic writing, expert delivery and absolutely insane Codex system – think Mass Effect + a number of layers in the Soulsborne series, and you’ll get an idea of the amount of written content in Masquerada. Everything from character motivations, Guild conflicts through to the different type of politics that flesh out the world at large are stuffed within the Codices. Most of these are automatically filled during natural gameplay, some require repeated conversation during different points in the game, and others are just off the edge of the display like those Masks.

From the prologue, which has to be replayed upon completion of the game, through to the stunning reveals, twists, and politicking that happens so subtly, the narration of Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is like that tattered book you pick up from the bargain bin; shouldn’t keep you up until the bats come out, but it does. You need to know the drive of the supporting characters just as much as the main characters, even if some are underutilised early on. And when the pieces do fall together, even more so via the Codices, you will forget about the undercooked gameplay, the talent lines that often have little meaning and the absolutely unfair treatment of the man in Blue!

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has the making of a something special, truly it does. The story and art are top-tier, with the gameplay feeling like it came out of a game-jam. As harsh as that reads, I feel no pang of doubt typing or saying it. Masquerada is saved by someone figuring out the water puzzle from Diehard 3, and I am thankful for that. I look forward to seeing what Witching Hour Studios produces next. More Masquerada, please?

Thanks to Xbox and Witching Hour for supporting TiX

Sniper Elite 4 Target: Führer DLC announced

Last week I posted that Rebellion had announced details for the up and coming Sniper Elite 4. Well as promised the next lot of DLC has been announced and it’s titled Target: Führer.

Target: Führer will be a pre-order bonus and will include the campaign mission and 7 rifle skins. The video shows a glimpse of a massive World War 2 U-Boat facility and the ultimate objective is to kill Hitler himself. The DLC will be for 1-2 players who have to act as a team and use their wit and creativity to take down the Nazi leader. Rebellion have said that the DLC offers great replayability and has it’s own dedicated achievement points.

Target: Führer is included FREE with ALL retail and digital pre-order editions of Sniper Elite 4 and will also be available to purchase when the game launches worldwide on February 14th, 2017 for Xbox One and PC.

Breach & Clear: Deadline review

Breach & Clear plays like a cross between XCOM and Commandos. As such it offers a tactically vast and interesting strategy experience that relies on your team using their expertise to survive against heavy odds. It’s a difficult challenge to begin with, but once you master the mechanics it becomes a highly satisfying experience.

You take control of a team of four elite soldiers, each with a specific role within the team, such as demolitions and heavy weapons. To match their specialty, each soldier has an ability to aid their team in combat. The demolitions expert can throw an explosive charge, the heavy weapons specialist can supress the enemy with a hail of bullets, the medic can stabilise fallen team mates, and the team leader can target enemies increasing the damage they take. Using your team’s abilities and taking advantage of the environment is the key to winning each battle, with cover and environmental hazards playing a big part in your success or failure.

Primarily you’ll be facing off against the undead. A mysterious infection has turned the majority of the local population into zombies and you and your team are stuck in the middle trying to survive and escape the area of operation. The zombie horde consists of your standard shambling flesh eaters and a selection of special infected with unique abilities, meanwhile, in line with zombie apocalypse tradition, there’s also human foes looking to loot and kill indiscriminately.

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Facing off against the undead is a test of endurance. Zombies come at your team in waves and mean to overwhelmed you. Human foes are less numerous but their ability to shoot back makes them a far deadlier foe. Shifting your tactics to best deal with each is a crucial skill, meanwhile, facing off against both at the same time provides opportunities to pit the two sides against in each other.

However, Breach & Clear: Deadline isn’t about just moving from mission to mission facing off against the horde and the looters, instead you’re free to roam around the areas with little restriction, completing side mission and the primary missions at your leisure. This gives it an RPG feel, further enhanced by upgrade trees and experience points for your individual soldiers and copious amounts of loot to equip your team with better armour and weapons, as well as scrap to turn into ammunition.

It’s a great setup that helps provide some variety to what is otherwise a fairly predictable and samey set of missions. Additionally, the ability to roam freely and switch between the tactical command mode allows you to approach combat in multiple different ways.

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Whilst roaming the dilapidated streets, woodland, coast, buildings, caves and sewers of the local area, Breach and Clear: Deadline plays like a twin-stick shooter. You can switch control to any of your team and move and shoot around your environment, with your team following and shooting at any nearby threat. The friendly AI does a fair job of path finding, although they occasionally get trapped in doorways or behind cover, but for the most part they shoot at threats swiftly and avoid becoming a hindrance. If you prefer a stealthier approach you can have your team stay in one place as you move alone.

When you come across a large group of foes or entrenched looters, the strategic command mode kicks in, pausing the action and allowing you to plan out your attack by stacking orders for your soldiers. Holding the right trigger starts the action, meanwhile, releasing it pauses it again, allowing you to make changes to your attack plans without the action overwhelming you. It’s a great system and one that can be activated and deactivated at will. Sometimes taking control of a soldier directly with the twin-stick mode is a better option than any tactic planned out in the strategic mode, so being able to switch between them at will is terrific.

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However, this is where the friendly AI shows its limitations. In strategic mode your soldiers become mindless. If you order one of them to stand in the middle of the battlefield, they’ll stand their getting shot or eaten until they fall. Occasionally they’ll show some freewill and fight back, but other times, especially if flanked or attacked from behind, they won’t react at all. It’s a trade-off that makes sense however. Having your soldiers follow your order so precisely means you have ultimate control in this mode, so your grand plans are never compromised, but it leads to failure more often than victory if you aren’t paying attention.

Unfortunately, we ran into a few bugs during our time with Breach & Clear: Deadline. Some side missions wouldn’t complete, and we were able to leave an area during a battle which then prevented us from being able to progress, requiring a restart. We also suffered a few hard crashes, forcing us back to the dashboard, as well as many achievements not popping despite being achieved. However, Mighty Rabbit Studios have told us that patches are on the way and many of these issues will hopefully be quelled soon enough.

Breach & Clear: Deadline does a great job of tactical variety thanks to the two engagement modes of twin-stick and strategic command, a wealth of items and abilities to unleash, new weapons and equipment you can find, the upgrade trees for each soldier, and the zombies, special infected and human foes. Furthermore, the procedurally generated dungeons of buildings, caves and sewers provides an enjoyable challenge for those brave enough to face it. However, the environments are limited and samey, and the story takes a back seat to the action, hurting the drive to see it through. Additionally, long load times moving between areas and after death is frustrating.

Thanks to Xbox and Mighty Rabbit Studio for supporting TiX