Creative Assembly released a pair of new videos for its upcoming Total War spinoff, Thrones of Britannia, which focuses on the strategy game's Gaelic campaign. Take a look at a cinematic starring king of Mide, Flann Sinna, and then watch a lengthy look at gameplay.
In the Gaelic campaign, Sinna is fighting to become the high king of Ireland. That's easier said than done, since his kingdom is landlocked and surrounded by potential enemies. You can get a taste of the overall climate in the cinematic trailer below.
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The next clip is a deeper dive into the campaign. You'll see how players can recruit and mobilize their armies, and see why the Viking interlopers should have probably pointed their ships elsewhere.
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A Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is coming to PC on April 19.
Booting up Age of Empires: Definitive Edition for the first time is immediately surprising. The original game launched more than two decades ago, but it's been refined and revived for 2018, ready for modern audiences--or at least old players with new PCs and missing CD keys. It begins with pomp as a curt opening trailer plays, showing off the upgraded visuals and the new, orchestral score. As a returning player, that moment feels like coming home.
Starting with the launch of Age of Empires II: HD Edition, Microsoft Game Studios has been working to update the series, even adding plenty of new content. Now, the game that started it all has been remastered in 4K, with new narration and slight gameplay tweaks rounding out the list of improvements. Even with all that, though, the core play hasn't been meaningfully altered, leaving it to feel relatively quaint by modern standards: You simply command troops to gather resources, chop wood, build out a base, and conquer nearby enemy strongholds. That's great for some purists, but it does put Age of Empires: Definitive Edition in the awkward position of having to stand on some old and tired legs. Thankfully, the majority of the game makes the leap well enough.
Not keen on tackling the whole of human history in one game, as with Rise of Nations or Civilization, Age of Empires games focus on limited timelines--for instance, the Ancient and Classical ages at play here. You aren't some disembodied leader looking to lead your people to an overarching victory against all others--you're just trying to survive and not be wiped from the history books.
In the Egyptian campaign, your work revolves around supporting one of the first Pharaohs, Narmer, to help him marshal the political and material strength needed to unite the early Egyptian Empire, thousands of years before the rise of Rome. That gives you immediate, tangible goals to pursue, allowing you to feel effective and influential.
Where those sort of history lessons fade into the background, of course, is in the open-ended multiplayer. You'll see the Egyptians fielding Roman legionnaires, even though that doesn't make sense. Nor does the troop progression of Hoplite, to Phalanx, to Roman Centurion, which implicitly suggests a linear path through history that both didn't happen and doesn't add up. But, again, this game hails from 1997, a year before Starcraft, when the idea of having factions with unique traits in strategy games was only just being considered.
It's hard to say whether that's an issue that you will personally find bothersome, but it's a strong example of the game's old-school foundation. While not everything in the game has been refreshed, all the things that were, however, are stellar.
Visual upgrades aside, small tweaks to sound effects as well as myriad gameplay adjustments are the real stars of this remaster. The expanded multiplayer mode in particular get high marks. It's simple and quick, allowing you to jump into a match less than 30 seconds after opening the game. Boosted population limits (all the way up to 250) allow much larger and more chaotic battles than before.
The in-game scenario editor, too, offers up some powerful level-building and even campaign-creation tools. It's a bit complex, requiring you to have an external file organization system for your campaign maps and the like, but it's still quite robust for those who want it. Just about all the tools you need to design your own entire plots are there, too. You can, with some effort, create a historical campaign more-or-less akin to what you’d play in the main game. Or you can get silly with it and have a map made of forests where players will have to log their way to a foe, opening up some very unusual tactics and strategies.
Other changes might not get quite the same fanfare but are nonetheless vital to keeping Definitive Edition relevant. Improved pathfinding, tools for locating stray villagers and military, attack-move commands, and plenty more have all been folded into the remaster, making for an impressive bump to general feel and smoothness of the game.
Unfortunately, there's still a lot that just isn't quite there, by modern standards. The limited units--particularly the lack of unique ones for each faction--can make play feel homogenous very quickly. Structures aren't as developed either, meaning your ability to run more complex strategies is limited. You won't find extensive unit queuing, hotkeys, shift-commands, or any of the countless gameplay improvements RTS designers have come up with over the intervening decades.
If you're set on playing the original Age of Empires, this is far and away the best way to do so. That said, real-time strategy is a very feature-heavy genre. While this is the tightest the original AoE has ever been, it’s still sluggish and stripped-down compared to almost any modern offering.
No matter how much a textbook, TV show, or video game strives to depict the reality of what life was like in ages past, the end result is usually sanitized. The medieval era is a great case in point. Think of this long-ago time today and you imagine noble knights, maidens fair, and fat kings waving around legs of lamb. In truth, the period was more about robbers knifing you in the streets, wenches plying their trade, and lords working you to death on their manors.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is dirty. Filthy, in fact. This expansive RPG from indie developer Warhorse Studios ditches cliches for a brutal portrayal of the Middle Ages that wastes no time proving how difficult life was in the early 15th century. Every romanticized notion of the era is extinguished through storytelling and a setting that captures the unfairness of existing when life expectancy hovered around 30 years--if you were lucky. Aspects of the game can be a little too unforgiving even for this vicious era due to some overly exacting mechanics and a host of oversights that includes a torturous save system, but Kingdom Come: Deliverance is still a rewarding, one-of-a-kind game.
Granted, it delves into a part of history you probably know little if anything about. You play as Henry, the naive son of a blacksmith who has the misfortune of living in Skalitz, Bohemia in 1403, when the countryside erupted with violence due to the imprisonment of the rightful King Wenceslaus IV by his power-hungry brother Sigismund. After a pastoral medieval day of hitting on the local barmaid, playing pranks, and helping dad finish a sword for the local lord, your village is attacked by an army without warning. Faced with savage marauders, all Henry can do is watch in terror before fleeing for his life.
All of this adds up to a terrifying opening that serves as both a spectacular source of frustration (expect to die many times before successfully escaping Skalitz) and as a warning that Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not a typical fantasy RPG. There's no heroic swordplay here, no wizards casting fireballs, no clerics raising the dead, no orcs or dragons. This is the story of an actual civil war that raged across Bohemia in the first decade of the 15th century. Your part in it is that of a nobody struggling to survive in a land full of noblemen who couldn’t care less if you lived or died, and fellow peasants who would stab you in the back for a crust of bread.
Such a cruel atmosphere is actually what makes Kingdom Come: Deliverance so enthralling, supported by an incredible attention to detail. Built in CryEngine 3, the presentation brings the era to life, from the filth of muddy village streets to idyllic sylvan forests where you can hunt wild boar or relax while sunbeams and butterflies sparkle around you. Character faces are diverse, as are their costumes, which appear textbook-authentic whether you are looking at a nobleman in hose and puffy sleeves or a guardsman wearing a steel hat and a leather jerkin. The layering of armor results in some visual clipping and details being filled in abruptly as you approach NPCs, but these little blemishes are easily overlooked when you're immersed in the events occurring around you.
Voice acting and scripting is nicely evocative of the age, right down to the constant religious references that underline the importance of Christianity. There are some flaws here, most notably in the load times needed to start dialogue and the sometimes repetitive conversation options, but all of the important dialogue is presented brilliantly.
Looking after your clothing and taking semi-regular baths is also vital. Shown up at a lord’s manor house in rags stinking of the stable? Good luck if you have to ask a favor. Conversely, wandering around taverns wearing a shirt adorned with someone else’s blood can make you more fearsome. Almost every action here has a consequence.
Other dialogue idiosyncrasies include anachronistic modern swearing along with accents from seemingly every corner of the globe (many actors voicing the main characters hail from the U.K., but you encounter others with American and other inflections). Still, while this language creativity can be a little jarring, it mostly fits. Even the music contributes strongly to the mood, with such strong plucked strings and flutes that you almost expect Ian Anderson and the rest of Jethro Tull to prance out of the woods on occasion.
A codex actually tracks everything you discover during Henry’s adventures. These entries eventually turn into something of a medieval encyclopedia. Lengthy sections reveal extensive details about the struggle between Wenceslaus IV and Sigismund, the feudal system, hygiene, liturgy, prostitution, toilets, and much more. So if you want to find out more about the Western Schism in the Roman Catholic Church but don’t want to crack a textbook, this is your game.
Game systems further prop up the ambiance provided by the game's look, sound, and historical detail. Characters start work when the sun rises and head to bed when it sets. You must fit into this schedule, which also involves regular food and sleep to stay healthy and hearty. Time skips are possible, although even then you still have to wait a minute or two while the hours slowly tick by. Looking after your clothing and taking semi-regular baths is also vital. Shown up at a lord’s manor house in rags stinking of the stable? Good luck if you have to ask a favor. Conversely, wandering around taverns wearing a shirt adorned with someone else’s blood can make you more fearsome. Almost every action here has a consequence.
While an extensive statistic-and-skill system provides you with a tremendous number of ways to customize Henry as he explores 15th-century Bohemia, he's only as good as his collective experiences. So if you want to get better at firing a bow, you need to practice at the archery range or head into the forest and shoot wild game like rabbits. Want to buff your skills with a sword or mace? You need to head to the training yard or into the countryside to look for bandits and enemy soldiers.
With that said, you still level up, track four primary stats, and follow 17 skills that impact specific activities. Dozens of selectable perks attached to the individual skill categories afford even greater fine-tuning, in that you can pick all sorts of personality traits that govern everything from how much beer you can drink to how well you can stay on a horse, to improving charisma and speech through the power of literacy. There are no shortage of options when it comes to turning Henry into a wannabe noble and a scholar (or a thug and a thief).
Combat and movement controls also run true to the focus on realism. Instead of instantly turning into a warrior when you whip out a sword for the first time, Henry is a klutz at the start. You throw punches or swing a weapon with mouse or analog stick motions to dictate an attack trajectory. Ranged battles are similarly tough, due to a lack of a targeting reticle for your bow. Increasing stats and skills allow your combat abilities to gradually improve over time, but it doesn't seem that you can get anywhere close to the effortless abilities typically displayed in RPGs. Other actions such as riding a horse and picking locks can also be overly finickly. Yet as much as such activities can result in frustration (especially at the start of the game), the rigorous control scheme underlines the central theme that adventuring is not supposed to be easy for a village peasant with no experience of the wider world.
Progress is saved automatically after you sleep and at certain moments of play, but you can’t just sleep anywhere and saves aren’t made regularly enough during quests. And since you can get killed so easily here, you always feel at risk of losing time and momentum.
As a result, fighting has a steep learning curve. But it is one well worth scaling. Every battle in the game is nerve-wracking. The cold fact that you are not a majestic fantasy warrior means that you can be killed at any time. Taking on more than one opponent is incredibly risky, and engaging with three or more is simply futile. Armor adds a layer of tactical complexity, too. The game features a thorough suite of medieval armor and clothing options ranging from padded shirts to plate, but wearing it weighs you down and can block your vision (put on a full helmet and you see the world through a slit). Battling foes in armor also presents its own challenges. Take on a fully equipped enemy and you need to either target their openings with arrows, or switch to blunt weapons better at bashing metal-covered heads and shoulders than anything with an edge.
Despite these complexities, it's disappointing that combat lacks physicality. It’s clumsy enough that you never feel completely in control (although much of this is certainly intentional, to best depict Henry’s rookie status when it comes to waging war), and there are odd hesitations in the animation that remove you from the immediacy of battles. Melee scraps are rough-and-tumble brawls for the most part, where you try to beat the enemy down before you collapse of wounds or exhaustion. That said, you’re generally so grateful just to survive that you don’t care how good your victory looked.
Even though Kingdom Come: Deliverance is built similarly to a standard RPG like Skyrim, where you accept quests and follow map icons to their destinations, there are some key differences. The biggest is the way that adventures are built around the living world. So if you’re told to meet a nobleman at dawn, you better do it or he may well take off without you. This has some tremendous benefits. You really feel like you’re inhabiting a real world that continues on without you. Quests also nicely blend mundane medieval duties like hunting rabbits for food and taking on guard patrols with more involving jaunts like investigating a murder, partying with a priest, tripping with witches, and tracking down the bad guys to get some vengeance and earn respect from nobility.
Still, this approach makes for a lot of dicey moments. The game feels like a balancing act where everything could spin out of control at any moment if you miss a scheduled appointment to start a quest, or even worse, encounter a bug. Bugs sometimes prevent characters from appearing when they should, making you revisit locations to trigger quests, or revisiting old saves to get things back on track. Key characters and locations are also often not given precise locations. This adds to the sense of being a real person in a medieval landscape and not a gamer following an icon on a compass, but it also forces you to take on impromptu scavenger hunts and wander aimlessly through the extremely dangerous wilderness, where you can easily stumble into an enemy encampment or even an ambush staged by robbers.
Being able to save your location anywhere and at any time would have helped a lot of the above problems, but this isn't an option. Progress is saved automatically after you sleep and at certain moments of play, but you can’t just sleep anywhere and saves aren’t made regularly enough during quests. And since you can get killed so easily here, you always feel at risk of losing time and momentum. You can save manually with the use of “Saviour Schnapps,” but this concoction has to be purchased at a high cost (tough to manage early in the game) or brewed. Modders have already stepped in with a fix that adds the ability to save on demand on PC, although the developers need to officially add this feature (or at least a save-on-exit feature in case real life gets in the way and you need to stop playing the game quickly).Basically, the game needs a patch along with a fresh look at saving and a few other design elements to let its better qualities shine.
Even with these issues in mind, anyone who can appreciate the down-and-dirty nature of history should play Kingdom Come: Deliverance. It's an impressive and unflinching look at the medieval era that transports you inside the compelling story of a real person caught in the middle of a civil war. As such, this is one of those rare, memorable games that stays with you long after you stop playing. While quirks and bugs can certainly be frustrating, none of these issues interfere much with the unique and captivating nature of the overall experience.
The newest trailer for Onrush, an arcade racer from the experts at Coderush, shows off the variety of speedy tricks and tumbles in every scene.
You'll see the various vehicles of Onrush in the video, which you can find below, including cars, motorcycles, and off-road vehicles. The fast-paced editing matches the speed of the races, making the idea of jumping off a ridge back into the race a tantalizing proposition. The game is being made by Codemasters' newest studio, which is primarily made up of former Evolution Studios staff, creators of the Motorstorm series.
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Onrush is releasing on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in June.
A new trailer from THQ Nordic's Biomutant shows off its crazy and fascinating world in a new gameplay demo.
The gameplay scenes are edited together to show off all the different ways your Biomutant protagonist interact with the massive world. You run across water, fly up anchors, ride a giant mechanical hand, and more.
Check out the trailer below. Biomutant is scheduled for a 2018 release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Fable Fortune, a collectible-card game created by Flaming Fowl Studios and Mediatonic, is leaving early access behind and is set for a full release on February 22 for Xbox One and PC.
The beta launched back in July 2017 and has given the developers time to respond to community feedback and add some new features to the final version, including:
Heroic Tales, a single-player story mode allowing
players to experience the backstory for each of the six Heroes
New emote system that allows players to
communicate with their opponents — to congratulate, to mock, or just to fart in
their general direction
Deck Helper and Guildmaster-led tutorial to assist new players
Daily bounty system
Plenty of new cards to discover
Fable Fortune was originally funded via Kickstarter, but ended their campaign after securing an outside investment. The full version will be free-to-play, but there are Founder's Packs available for sale that include 20 decks and some rare cards. For more about Fable Fortune, check out our previous coverage.
In Fe, your most powerful tool is your voice. You, a small fox-like creature, can use your songlike call to befriend other animals, open up new pathways in the environment, and distract the game's mechanical enemies. But you also have to know when to stay quiet and silently read the signals of the other forest animals around you. Communication, and the connections between living things, are at the heart of Fe's gorgeous woodland world. That world is a delight to explore, and though the act of exploration never builds to something greater, it's a captivating and often melancholic look at our relationship with nature.
Fe drops you in the forest all alone, with no clear purpose or direction. You can communicate using a garbled, baby-talk sort of call, and you're given one small bit of instruction as you begin to wander the ethereal forest: "Sing gently with animals." The harder you press the trigger, the louder you'll "sing," and you have to strike the right note to communicate with the different species around you.
Each species' unique song has its own use; certain plants respond to birds' calls, while others only open for deer's voices. In addition to being absolutely adorable, a baby salamander's chirp will open up a pink flower you can bounce on to get to high-up areas. Animals you befriend will follow you around, and their songs will give you access to places you couldn't reach alone. You need to work with the other animals--and eventually learn their various "languages"--to traverse the forest.
Exploring in Fe is very much a give-and-take. Early on, you can't get anywhere without the help of another animal, but typically, those animals (or the plants they interact with) are leading you to others who need help. In one of the most memorable parts of the game, following a deer through the woods will lead you to a giant deer struggling against its chains. You have to sneak your way past machines patrolling the area, destroy the machines' webs to break the chains and release the deer, and carefully climb the deer to communicate with it. The climb itself is breathtaking, as you're jumping from tree to tree growing along the deer's sky-scraping body, but the stillness afterward, when the deer teaches you its call as thanks, is stunning in its own way.
Those moments of peace--by way of the harmonies you've made with other creatures--are shattered quickly and easily by Fe's inorganic enemies, whose harsh industrial lights and abrasive noises pierce the solemn orchestral music of the forest. If they spot you, you have to find somewhere to hide and fast, or you'll be caught in their webs. It's not hard to stay stealthy and save yourself, but you'll end up watching at least once as the friendly animals you had in tow get captured one by one--and it's heartbreaking.
Fe is hauntingly beautiful, and as a result, it often doesn't feel like the relatively simple platformer-adventure game it is. Like a lot of similar games, you collect items--in this case, pink crystals--around the world to unlock new abilities. But finding those crystals is more a consequence of following other animals and seeing where the flora and fauna take you, not a primary goal or even a strictly necessary one. Only two unlockable skills, climbing trees and gliding, are required to finish the game, and you'll find enough crystals to get them in the first hour or so as long as you follow the surprisingly linear routes in front of you.
The simplicity of Fe's mechanics becomes more apparent sometime after helping the giant deer. There's a distinct pattern: Save some animals, learn their call, and use that call to turn flowers into different kinds of platforms so you can move on to the next section. Very rarely does what you learned before come in handy again later in creative or surprising ways, even after you've learned every song. While this leaves room for you to think about the greater meaning behind what you're doing--rather than the discrete objectives in your path--it's disappointing that the skills you learn from each species never meaningfully combine, especially when the connections you make with each of the living things around you are so important at first blush.
But despite being one-note on a gameplay level, Fe's world, with its lush environments and wistful score, compels you to explore. Establishing fleeting connections with the creatures around you is both charming and a little sad, and learning the truth about the enemy machines is even more tragic. By the end, the most important thing you've learned is how to connect with nature, not just by singing with animals but by understanding the world around you.
Since we first saw it at Gamescom, the quirky action-RPG Biomutant has quickly become one of the most anticipated games of this year for us. Yesterday, PC Gamer talked with the developer Experiment 101 on a livestream that showcased the character creator in action.
You can watch the livestream segment below if you want to see it in action. The character creator lets you choose mutants for your rodent hero as well as their fur type and color. It's weirdly enthralling to watch the fur shift as the player scrolls through options:
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For more on Biomutant, check out our impressions from Gamescom.
It's hard not to have your interest piqued by Rust. Few other games strive to make you feel as helpless, vulnerable, and lost as its startling opening and outwardly confusing mechanics do. Rust wants you to think it's about survival, but it never uses the tools at its disposal to realize that. Instead it becomes a playground limited not by your understanding of its inner workings, but instead by how much time you want to spend slogging away at its tedium.
Starting stark naked on a beach with nothing more than a rock and torch on your person, Rust doesn't waste time letting you know that you're in danger. Health, hydration, and hunger bars make it immediately clear that your time on its massive island is borrowed. Without food and water (and later shelter, light, and warmth), you can slowly watch your life seep away with every passing minute. Rust attempts to guide new players with an often less-than-helpful tutorial to keep you alive longer than a handful of minutes, but it does nothing to prepare you for the real dangers its world holds.
Rust's facade is its survival mechanics, and its menagerie of crafting options and resources for you to gather up keep the illusion alive at first. You can use your otherwise useless rock to chop down trees or hammer away at different types of ore, and eventually you might gather enough to make a hatchet or pickaxe to increase your bountiful gains and speed up the process. This process quickly ramps up into more meaningful items, with the allure of modern weapons and robust armor only at the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
It's a nightmare of menus and item wheels that really slow things down to a halt. Rust might be out of Early Access, but it has so many elements that indicate otherwise. You can easily search for a building foundation in one menu, watch its building timer somewhere else on the screen, and then have it pop into your inventory, which is an entirely different menu at this point. Equip it and you have a relatively flat surface in front of you (Rust absolutely doesn't like any gradient variations and refuses to allow you to place items on them), and you're good to go. But what about moving it? You'll need an entirely separate tool for that, as well as another trip into a separate equipment wheel with options to rotate, move or otherwise dismantle one of your creations.
The cycle of gathering, crafting, and building up something to be proud of never feels rewarding. Rust doesn't have the tools you need to be creative, nor does it care about practicality when it comes to redesigning a small dwelling you might have crafted for that first chilly night out in the wilderness. Teases meant to entice you to brave Rust's other dangers fall flat fast, giving you few reasons to stick around for the tedious slog of dismantling greater weapons and gear to hopefully have the means to build them down the line.
You don't know these items exist because you see them on a list, but rather because they're probably what's being used to endlessly kill you. The island in Rust is inhabited by many other players, capping out at 250 per server. And despite only being alive for a few minutes and having nothing really of worth on your person, they will (often) waste no time in showing you how far down the food chain you really are.
In this way, Rust's true enemy shows its face: its other players. That's somewhat fascinating to ponder on for a moment. Rust has been the subject of many a think piece during its long time in Early Access, often centering around discussions of human nature and the tendencies towards violence when other options clearly present themselves. But while that makes for a neat article to read or interesting mechanic to discuss, it detracts from another vital part of the game: what it feels like to play.
Playing Rust is a frustrating experience even with a friend or two in tow and feels downright impossible to go at alone. Wandering players will attack you at a moment's notice, with their time spent in the server used to build up an arsenal that no amount of skilled play can overcome. Rust's ceiling has nothing to do with how well you understand its survival mechanics or get to grips with its clunky movement and cumbersome first-person action. It's a game that rewards those who put the most time into it first: giving them the boots to step on the ants that are any other players that might dare join after a server wipe.
Design is partly to blame for this, with Rust's server wipes a clear indicator of how little depth its survival elements hold. Some servers might routinely reset after a week of play, while all are forced to this measure within a month. The idea is to re-level the playing field--just a day or two into a fresh server is enough for towering fortresses and high-level weaponry to be crafted by those incredibly dedicated few--so that the process can start again. This wouldn't need to be a feature if Rust had any semblance of balance to it. But because time is the only commodity it rewards, it pushes itself into a corner where this is the only viable solution.
Without a skill ceiling of any kind, Rust demands that you dedicate every waking moment you have to it if you're planning to have any sort of fun. Logging off leaves you vulnerable to attack from other players, while your shelters slowly decay should you not top them up with the right resources. And a momentary slip up means certain doom. Death means your corpse and anything you've gathered to that point is ripe for pillaging, leaving you to respawn on that same beach with just a rock, a torch, and questions about what you've actually achieved.
Rust's community might sometimes offer glimmers of hope, but it's fleeting. Every so often you can witness players making amicable agreements to trade or stumble upon a shop that needs to be both stocked and protected by players. I once ran into another survivor that handed me a hatchet and bandages to make my early game easier; a simple, memorable moment to dull the pain of the frequent deaths in the hours preceding it. Rust's mixture of trigger-happy players and often toxic in-game chats make the entire experience profusely unwelcoming and unpleasant.
Technical issues only add to the unpleasantries. Rust routinely runs into periods of incredible slowdown, tearing the game from an unlocked framerate (its options menus riddled with spelling mistakes couldn't lead me to a lock of any sort) to single digits at the most inopportune times. Animations look stiff and unnatural. Character models look ugly and dull. And both stand in stark contrast to an often-gorgeous backdrop. Rust's island is serene and pleasant to look at, with its saturated blue skies and purple haze sunsets inviting you to take pause. There's beauty to mask the repetitive models used for resources and the inconsistent textures, but not enough to make them truly go unnoticed.
Rust is also disappointing because of just how long it took to realize its own inescapable faults. Its lack of survival depth and inclination to only reward time served instead of clever play saps whatever life it might have had to give. Its survival systems show their age, while its community does its best to chase off those who might dare try surviving a new night on the island. Rust might make for an interesting discussion on what it brings out of its players, but it's not one you need to experience firsthand.
The new Secret of Mana is billed as a remake, but "reconstruction" is probably more accurate. If not for the updated graphics, it could almost be considered a port of the SNES game. Combat, magic, and movement are much the same. The new mini-map—one of the scant few quality-of-life tweaks--is the original SNES bitmap of each stage. It also ports over every mechanical flaw and obtuse element from the 1993 original. It's a strange game to assess, then; it simultaneously shows how far ahead of the curve Secret of Mana was 25 years ago, while also making its problems all the more pronounced under a modern lens.
Secret of Mana tells the tale of a spiky-haired boy named Randi who frees a mystical sword stuck in a stone. Instead of his home village giving him the King Arthur treatment, Randi is admonished for accidentally undoing the balance of the magical forces in the world. Monsters, an evil empire, and a world-ending dragon threaten to ruin the world as they know it, unless Randi can find the mystical Mana seeds and use his sword to restore order.
It's a fairly rudimentary tale of swords and sorcery, but one that's easy to see through to the end thanks to the cast's charming personalities. Newly written dialogue for the remake smooths out the original translation's rough edges, and introduces a few completely new scenes, where Randi and his cohorts--Primm and Popoi--hang out and talk over dinner every time you book a night at an inn. The remake sees our characters learn to know and love each other in new ways, and it makes a big difference in the long run.
The biggest change, of course, is the complete graphical overhaul, putting it on par with I Am Setsuna and some of the better Final Fantasy mobile ports. It maintains the original game's striking color palette, bathing the world in vibrant greens, blues and pinks. Most environments look delightful, but particularly dazzling locales like the Sprite Forest and Ice Country are breathtaking. Character models are a step up from Square Enix's previous remakes as well, though the decision to introduce voice actors yet not let characters' lips move is a jarring one. The fact that the voice acting is played so campy and cheesy--in both English and Japanese--doesn't help.
The remixed score is the same two-steps-forward one-step-back situation. For the most part, the expanded instrumentation works well. Some areas, like Matango and its '70s prog-rock theme, introduce surprisingly catchy tunes. The score keeps the original freewheeling approach as the world design, with no limits on what a particular dungeon or area might be accompanied by. But this occasionally leads to one too many strange, dissonant moments, with many of the village themes defined by the heavy use of bagpipes and accordions.
Secret of Mana's "anything goes" approach extends to gameplay as well. You can swap control between the three characters at any time, and they are each capable of wielding any of the game's eight weapon types. Each strike during combat initiates a recharge time where the chances of actually landing your next attack or doing decent damage improve as your character regathers their energy. This system forces you to move around the playing field as much as possible to avoid getting hit by enemies while you wait. Magic attacks can hit from anywhere, as long as your enemy is in range, but magic points are limited, and items that refill the meter are expensive. There aren't many console RPGs from the early '90s that forced you to consider so many things at once, but in 2018, it actually feels right at home.
There are, however, quite a few aspects that are less welcome by modern standards, and despite a golden opportunity to do so, nothing has been done to address them. The Ring system--the game's quick menu--is serviceable, but the color-coding used to indicate whose options, weapons, and magic you're accessing is too subtle for its own good; it gets worse as your repertoire grows over the course of the game.
It's also still extremely easy for your crew to get surrounded by lesser enemies during combat, getting smacked around from all directions with nowhere to go. Yet if you walk into another room where huge, dangerous enemies are lurking, you can often stroll right past them without raising alarm. Sometimes, the NPC A.I. being oblivious is a good thing. When that same obliviousness applies to the CPU controlled characters in your crew during a major battle, and your offensive spell caster is stuck behind a doorway, it's an unforgivable annoyance.
The original game's Grid System, where you could adjust how aggressive/passive you wanted your A.I. characters to be, is gone. In its place is a much more simplified system of dictating basic behavior, but there's not an effective way to instruct your allies to favor self preservation. Granted, that's a problem easily solved with the game's local multiplayer, where two friends can jump in at any point and control the other two characters in your crew--another area where Secret of Mana was way ahead of its time--but it's still no excuse for the issues experienced while playing solo.
Altogether, the new Secret of Mana exists in a weird nexus of being a forward-thinking RPG that occasionally shows its age, or a very modern RPG with some baffling design decisions and sub-standard A.I..
Other problems the original game didn't have, however, stem from the lack of general information. The Super Nintendo release came with a full-fledged world map and a manual which explained what store items were meant to do, and where certain cities were located in reference to major landmarks. The latter is critical once Flammie, a friendly dragon, comes into play, allowing you to travel anywhere in the world at will. None of that is included here, which could very well create a problem for newcomers since there's no place in-game that explains what anything does. That disconnect extends to weapons and armor, where there's no way to know whether a piece of equipment is better or worse than what a character is already wearing aside from buying it anyway and praying.
Altogether, the new Secret of Mana exists in a weird nexus of being a forward-thinking RPG that occasionally shows its age, or a very modern RPG with some baffling design decisions and sub-standard A.I.. Its ambitions, coupled with the outright charm of the world, are certainly more than many RPGs offer, and very few as visually dazzling as this. Secret of Mana remains an adventure worth taking, as long as you're prepared for a bumpy ride.