More RPGs? You betcha. A few more from scanning through release lists that are slated for 2019.
YIIK: A Postmodern RPG
Found this one on Steam’s release schedule and after some digging around, found and tried out Episode Prime which is a demo created specifically as a standalone episode. First impressions? It’s an intriguing mix of mechanics and stylistic choices covering a variety of 90s JRPGs (from which it takes inspiration from). The combat felt a bit like Shadow Hearts, the exploration and characters hearken back to Earthbound, and the menus and other bits and aesthetic bobs draw from a wide selection of talent such as voice work by the likes of Clifford Chapin (Attack on Titan) and music by contributors such as Toby Fox (Undertale).
The setting is, well, the 90s (YIIK = Y2K), complete with an in-game knockoff of Netscape, text browsing for conspiracies a la X-Files, and a mystery. In the game, woman named Sammy Pak has disappeared into the ether. Leaked video footage on a conspiracy website reveals that she may have been taken by “mysterious forces” that Lovecraft would have had nightmares about. And as Alex, you’re the only person that was there to witness it. It’s time to crack this case like Scooby Doo, only with friends and allies that might also be at home in a game like Anachronox…if Anachronox was crossed with Earthbound.
The game has had a long incubation period, and one that was not, unfortunately, without personal tragedy for its creators that eventually made them take another look at the game and rework pieces of it to “sand down some of the game’s more cynical edges” leading to a revised ending. Now, with the game only days away from release, they’ve managed to put all of the pieces of their passion project together thanks to the support of their fans and industry contacts excited by the title.
So if you’re looking for an unusual JRPG slice of the 90s, YIIK is coming.
Encased: a sci-fi post-apocalyptic RPG
Release: Early Access on Steam in Q1 2019
Developer: Dark Crystal Games
This one’s a Kickstarter success story having made its funding goal back in October and is slated for an Early Access release this year.
The setting is interesting — it takes place in an alternate history version of 1970 where a mysterious “Dome” has been discovered in a desert. It’s clearly made by intelligences far beyond ours and has been buried for countless years. No one knows how old it is, who its makers (the Forefathers) are, or why it’s starting to show “signs of consciousness” once explorers starting to take their first steps inside to discover its strange secrets. Heading up the expeditions is the CRONUS Foundation which was founded by the world’s governments to pry the Dome’s secrets free.
The problem is that once you get inside, you can never return. And the Dome holds its own dangers to contend with as well. But technology in the form of items and relics can be sent back — its the people that are stuck there — and the Dome is probably just the proverbial tip of the iceberg with an even bigger complex hinted at beneath it.
There’s also the “Maelstrom”, something of a weird psychic storm that was freed when you entered the Dome. As a result, it has a relationship with you can can sometimes offer choices that can be good or bad depending on what you want from it. And being trapped within the Dome has also created a number of factions formed from the explorers resigned to simply surviving for as long as they can there, creating their own system of justice, and their own alliances.
The idea of being trapped inside a post-apocalyptic landscape walled in by strange, unknown and indestructible technology enticing explorers to take a one-way trip is pretty neat. Instead of a wide-open waste, the Dome suggests a dense, concentrated open-world of forced conflict and survival set on top of a massive mystery.
Looking forward to seeing how this will turn out.
Release date: 2019
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBO
Developer: Eko Software
When Games Workshop shuttered Warhammer Fantasy’s long run and transitioned into the Age of Sigmar, quite a few fans weren’t happy that it went away. Warhammer’s fantasy setting is steeped in decades of material reaching as far back as 1983 when it first stepped onto hobby shelves everywhere. That’s a lot of investment for a lot of players to have it just “go away” seemingly overnight, but Age of Sigmar managed to stake out a foothold amongst the fanbase and had even released a revised second edition last year to further help flesh out its somewhat murky backdrop.
Before the apocalypse event that ended it, Warhammer Fantasy was a world steeped in a grimdark battle for survival between the forces of Chaos and…well…everyone else. Blood gods, demons, and the arrogance of mortals riddled a setting that borrowed trappings from across medieval Europe transformed it into a land split by factions, nations, and ambition.
Fast forward to today and it’s just weird that, despite the massive popularity of games like Diablo, SSI’s Gold Box entries such as Pool of Radiance, or its more sci-fi cousin, Warhammer 40k with its plethora of games, that Warhammer Fantasy never really received as much attention. That’s not to say that it never had any games of the video game sort — entries such as Dark Omen back in ’98 among others took stabs at the material. There’s also the Total War series that embraced its tactical roots and Vermintide 1 and 2 which took first-person co-op into the filthy underbelly of surviving Chaos’ minions. But there really hasn’t been an “Eye of the Beholder” or “Diablo” moment for a series as storied as Warhammer Fantasy.
Eko Software hopes to change that with Chaosbane, a game whose aesthetics immediately bring to mind Blizzard’s masterpiece series (along with a few others that are also great fun such as Grim Dawn and Titan Quest). In Eko’s telling of Warhammer, you’re taking up arms against the forces of Chaos to save the Empire of Man from utter destruction. Expect skill trees, classes, and lots of monsters to kill. There’s no firm release date other than “2019” so hopefully we’ll get to hear more about this in the coming months because my inventory is feeling a bit light and needs a bit of filler.
Release date: Early 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, XBO
Developer: Cradle Games
Having been successfully funded on Kickstarter in May, 2017, Hellpoint mixes together sci-fi action with dark secrets, strange monsters, and 3D printing. You play as a character “3D printed by the Authority” and must “finish what was undone” on the derelict station of Irid Novo orbiting a supermassive black hole that can influence the monsters and corridors around you.
The demo, weirdly enough, can’t be searched for on Steam but can still be found linked via their Kickstarter page. I gave it a spin and my first impression of it is that the third person action carries a lot of influences from games like From Software’s Souls series or Focus Home Interactive’s sci-fi ARPG, The Surge. It’s also useful to note that the demo is based on an old pre-alpha build so a lot could have also changed since then. Still, the demo features many of the core elements that the main game is being built on whether it’s the class system, attribute upgrades, and crafting.
Dying has its own twist, too. In a Souls game, you normally run back to where you died to retrieve the “souls” that you had been carrying until your timely demise. In Hellpoint, there’s a ‘copy’ of yourself running around where you died and it’s not going to give up the “axioms” you lost without a fight. Cheeky. But it’s also part of the fiction behind the game and the “quantum cataclysm” that drove everyone on Irid Novo mad and shattered the boundaries of reality.
Players will also be able to co-op their way through the game via split-screen if they want. It even boasts that every new game you start, some things will turn out differently as you’re shunted into the next universe on coming back from death. As their Kickstarter notes, “the more you die, the more the world changes around you.”
Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements
Himalaya Studios is a dev house made up of Sierra On-Line superfans responsible for enhancing AGDI’s work on Kings Quest I – III as well as creating their own Sierra-style adventure, Al Emmo and The Lost Dutchman’s Mine. So if anyone knows how to put together a worthy homage to Sierra’s Golden Age adventures, it’s probably this crew.
They took their latest project to Kickstarter were it was successfully funded way back in 2013 and is now seeing the light of day this month. Mage’s Initiation is a bold tribute to Sierra’s Quest for Glory series which combined the adventure formula they were good at with RPG elements that expanded it into new and exciting directions.
In the game, players take on the role of D’arc, a sixteen year old student of magic who has been practicing magic for the last ten years to finally become a full fledged mage within the cloistered halls of the Mage Masters of Iginor. The day finally comes and four Masters put three quests to him as he ventures out into the outside world to prove his worth and assume his place as a true mage.
Four classes are there to choose from with their own set of spells and puzzle solutions not to mention multiple story paths and the great artwork that makes up the world of Iginor. The game also features thousands of spoken lines of dialogue along with a full soundtrack by Brandon Blume (King’s Quest 3 Redux).
I enjoyed the demo quite a bit. It has a few neat puzzles seamlessly integrated into the small snippet of gameplay it shows off along with the stats page and what happens when you improve your skills. There’s also combat which was very forgiving — poor D’arc became a punching and arrow-catching pincushion for a few uncomfortable moments as I tried to figure out just how to fire off my spells and how to pick the ones I wanted. But once I got the hang of things, it was a nice diversion from the “adventure” side of things.
The spirit of Sierra lives on!
And that’s another batch of RPGs and adventure that I’m looking forward to learning more about this year. I won’t get to play all of them — wish I could — but it’s always great to see indie devs bring their dreams to fruition, inviting players like me to explore the strange, bizarre, and retro in the dungeons they dig out of the digital world.