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Giving a Tinker's

  • nhubi
  • 05/12/2015 04:15 AM
  • 988 views
It's been a while since I've sat down and played a long game, and by that I mean anything that goes above 6 or 7 hours, for some reason lately I've either been drawn to or simply chosen much shorter forays into the worlds envisioned by others. Perhaps it was because I was concurrently working my way through a series of 40 books set in the same universe and therefore my desire for a long and ongoing tale was already being met. Irrespective of the reason Game Master breaks that run for me, it averages around 12 hours, and my last save was at 14, but then I'm a completionist. Give me a game with achievements or collections and I'll throw untold hours at it until I get them all, or at least I'll try, as this game is still not actually complete that was a bit of a fool's errand. Consequentially that means I get really annoyed when a game makes me choose which of two possible quests I can fulfil in order to get those awards, unless I get the option to go back later and earn them. Luckily that is not the case in this game and the awards aren't codified, just the knowledge that you found all the hidden items and secret rooms. This is a game for banging into walls and smashing open pots and barrels.


Counting Scarecrow is counting.

Though in regard to the time taken to play this game there is one small gripe, everything is slow, and no I don't mean the walking speed, that's the standard with shift to speed you up, I mean the intervals between events happening. At the beginning of the game it takes 20 seconds to show a static chapter screen and then go into the game, and you can't fast forward. Every scripted interaction seems to have a few seconds delay which doesn't seem like much but it really begins to become noticeable the more it happens.

The game does however start with a fundamental choice, will you play as warrior or tinker. Now warrior is a pretty standard class choice, but tinker? You can play as a wandering tinsmith, really? Well no, in this game the Tinker is more what you would call an engineer. Someone who can apply technical expertise to improve and adapt available technology and items, what it isn't is a mage, in fact the warrior is the one who gets access to personal skills, but the Tinker can upgrade and improve the three robot companions that eventually join you on the journey. Yep Robots, seriously. There is a slight steampunk feel to this game, a feeling of a world on the edge preparing for a leap forward. So you make your choice, will you lead from the front sword in hand or will you be more tactical and use your expertise to improve your troops?

For the purposes of this review I'm playing as the Tinker because I've never done that before.

Irrespective of your class you play as the same character, Elsa, a young woman living in the village of, well it doesn't have a name; I imagine Elsa just calls it home. You soon learn that Elsa has a remarkable ability shared by no-one else, but more importantly you learn that you save your game in the toilet. Honestly Freud would have a field day with that. I'm not kidding the save mechanism is by way of a portaloo. That means I'm not going to be saving my game for a long time, because no-one with any sense of smell or grasp of hygiene goes into one of those things. Luckily later in the game the save mechanism changes so I don't have to figuratively hold my nose.


No, just no. Also that's not a portaloo, that's a privy.

But the other important thing is Elsa's ability to enter the game board, a place which appears to be in some form of pocket dimension and where games of combat play out. The existence of the game boards are well known to the inhabitants of this world, but for reasons that are only slowly revealed they have been sealed, preventing access to all of the residents. All except Elsa that is. The game is peppered with adventuring types who are trying to force their way into the game board for the fabulous riches and objects of desire that are said to be contained within, not to mention the ultimate prize of a granted wish from the Great and Powerful Oz Wizard, the creator of the boards. They employ everything from brute force attacks to subtle and delicate weavings of magic, all to no avail. Older residents make mention of a time when the boards were available to any who wished to enter them, a nostalgic golden age, lost many centuries earlier. You get the first clue as to how that event played out in Elsa's own room, but the final piece doesn't fall into place until the very end of the game, it's a well constructed and paced mystery arc.

One aspect that isn't well constructed is the fourth wall breaking sign placement. One or two reminding people about game controls is acceptable, as long as they are one time only events but almost every sign in the game doesn't indicate the name of the town or in game references as you would expect but is constantly speaking directly to the player rather than the character, it's seriously immersion breaking, especially when it's notices like a request for any bug reports to be sent to a certain email address. That's for the game page, not the game. One particular dreadful one is this;


You know a Quest Journal would make this much more comprehensible, right?

Seriously? I don't have a quest at this point, let alone being already up to point 4. I'm wandering around checking out my environment and getting help from the villagers in the form of information and training opportunities, as well as experiencing a bit of lore. What I'm not is doing is gearing up for a quest. I don't even know there is one. At this point in the game I don't even know I can access the game boards. The developer knows what this means, but I'm the player and I don't, and I really shouldn't have to try and decipher it. This interface could be a perfect way of imparting information to the player about the next step they need to make in their journey, since other than interacting with the same people multiple times there really is little actual direction at a number of points throughout the game. In fact the person I needed to speak to in order to move on to Main Quest #5 and beyond was the one that seemed the least likely given this class choice I had made in this run through, a mechanism that unfortunately repeats itself sporadically throughout the game.

Still once you have advanced you run across your first contact with the game-board, the mystical and for everyone else inaccessible, pocket dimension where both horrors and treasures lie. It's not the only place where you run into combat of course, the world still has some monsters to menace the party but they are few and far between Almost all enemy encounters are via the game board, it makes you wonder just how it is that those adventuring types actually earned their stripes. Still the encounters on the game board are of a particular kind, with a certain advantage.


Well that would have been good to know earlier.

Combat is the classic turn based style that you would expect on both the game board and regular world combats and the use of Thalzon's distinctive battlers is as always lovely to see, though actual battlebacks rather than the default swirl would have been more appropriate. The combat does include an interesting addition, every so often you'll run into an 'elite' monster indicated by a golden star status icon, killing this monster somehow transfers that elite status to you, and it adds some nifty bonuses whilst it lasts. The most helpful being the reduction of all spells to 0 MP, you can cast with gay abandon. It makes the remaining fights you have almost a cakewalk. It is also the only time that if you've chosen to play as a tinker, you can use the skills you have picked up on your robot companions, because whilst they all only cost a single MP to cast, the tinker character has no MP to start with and never gains any during the course of levelling up. So it's only when they cost nothing that you can use them. Until the Tinker gets a weapon, which doesn't happen until much later in the game she is almost completely useless, and only actually has value by being something for the enemies to hit whilst your robot companion dispatches them. Whilst the class does add novelty value the lack of useful skills is frustrating, just because you can think doesn't mean you can't also fight.

The game board looks like it sounds, each of the steps you can take lands you on a coloured tile, red is combat, green is a quiz and blue is an MP healing point (once again, useless for the Tinker). The red combat tile stay active every time you step on them, the green quiz tiles are one shots only and deactivate once you've answered the quiz and the blue likewise deactivates once it's given you your boost. The quizzes are obscure, and require you to have paid attention to EVERYTHING. For example some of the questions are about how many blue flowers grow in Elsa's home village which is something Elsa as a character might know, but also how many letter spaces you have when naming one of your robot companions which is purely directed at the player. It's another example of fourth wall breaking and it really detracts from any sense of immersion. Given some of the quiz questions you can be asked all those signs with obscure information about buff and attack variables begin to make sense, though how the dev could expect any player to remember all that without writing it down is beyond me. Not to mention you need to be prescient for some of the answers since you are asked about events and people you haven't met yet. Once you manage to make it to the end of the board, which can be achieved via a couple of different paths you then face the boss of the board and hold on for dear life hoping your robot can stay alive long enough to kill it. If it does you get this weird grammatically incorrect exposition dump.


Chosenness?

You get one of these at the end of each board and they are a little too much tell not show, but since Elsa is an almost silent protagonist throughout the rest of the game it does give some insight into her reasoning for the journey she is on.

After that you are returned to the slumberwoods where you found this first gateway but that is now oddly populated not just by giant spiders but also by wandering townsfolk, or actually a misogynist woodcutter who finds the idea of a girl helping out to be funny because after all you wouldn't want to grow any ugly muscles and chopping wood is hard and manly work. That's a direct quote. Then he turns his back on you and I felt like menacingly whispering in his ear, that's right, just turn your back so my robot companion can give you a quick dual nephrectomy, you jerk. Trust me the response you get when playing as the warrior isn't much better. This non-PC response would be perfectly acceptable and even somewhat expected in a generic RPG fantasy world setting except for the fact that the main legendary hero of this world has already been established as a woman, and a warrior woman at that.

His narrow-mindedness does have an upside as he hands you a little magical bell which can transform the end of game board rewards into something you can use, since the rewards are obviously designed for you to be playing as a warrior. In fact I'm not sure why the class choice was even offered since the in-game interactions seem to be slanted heavily towards progression through might rather than mind. So after we leave Mr Stuck in the 50's to his dead-end job woodcutting we go back to the village and some more hints as to the nature of the mystery of the boards. Actually first we wander around the slumberwoods listening to some catching tunes whilst running into trees and checking every oddly shaped mushroom and barrel for some of that sweet secret stash.

We wouldn't want to disappoint Mr Counting Scarecrow after all; or one of his many cousins, that is.

The transformative bell creates different levels of a magical element called tears; however the allocation of those tears appears to be random, which is problematic. Through chance I discovered that the robot engineer can forge me a weapon for my tinker if I have four dim tears to give him. In that talking to him during the course of the game brings up a message box saying x/4 dim tears, which led me to believe I needed four of them, rather than have a character actually tell me. The problem being the prizes I've won for defeating each of the end of board bosses can transform into at least 2 different tear types and I can't trade in the higher tear reward for a higher tier weapon until I've got the base weapon. Given that you get 1 item for defeating the boss and an occasional drop from some other monster on the boards that means you have to clear at least three or probably four boards before you can earn enough tears to get a weapon, and that is only if you are lucky enough to have the bell transform those items into the lowest of the tear designations, dim, rather than the higher one coruscate (though the game calls them Coruscant, which last I checked was the home-world of the Republic). To say this mechanism for improvement is frustrating would be an understatement.

The rest of the game follows in a similar vein, access a new area, find a game board and defeat its boss which locks the game board behind you whilst simultaneously leading to progression which opens a new area and a new game board, rinse and repeat. Between game boards three and four you have the chance to add to your party with a new robot companion and after game board five (or Main Quest #28 if you are using the prophetic piano stool™ in your room) I finally got lucky with my tear allocation and earned enough to get a weapon and suddenly become something less than a burden in battle. Not just because now you can hit things and do more than a point of damage, but for reasons that really aren't clear holding a weapon in your hand somehow grants you access to mana. Yeah, I don't get it either but since I can now actually do something to buff my robots I'm just going to shake my head and keep going.

About halfway through the game the story creates a way to access the game boards for a second time so whilst there are only 6 game boards in the world, you can play 12. Actually once this mechanism comes into play you can access them multiple times if grinding is your preferred method of combat or you can make use of a pay to win character and buy yourself additional levels. Neither is actually required since by the time you've gone through the game boards twice as well as taking on a couple of additional challenges, one of which is essential to getting your final robot companion, you hit the level cap well before you find yourself going up against the final boss. I must admit I always find that a little disappointing as you want that sense of achievement at the end of the final battle and being, by simple dint of actually playing the game content, at the end point of character progression feels a little underwhelming. Though the ability to replay the boards did clue me in on something, the method by which the tears are transformed is not in fact random, but the most efficient way of gaining the items you need to create your first weapon is completely counter-intuitive and I would have missed it utterly if I hadn't just saved before a use of the transformation bell which netted me a dim tear and I decided to go back to the earlier save and experiment. Luckily that is an easy fix, a simple statement from the merchant or a comment when the bell is first used will clue the player.


Time to get back to the Main Quest.

So you fight your way through the game boards twice which isn't really that much of a trial, for all that the monsters in it are slightly augmented they were never a challenge the second time around. You visit hidden realms of elves and dragons and ancient heroines, battle a megalomaniacal priest and find a lost cat and eventually discover just why the boards were sealed and the truth behind the legends you grew up with. All in all the story is fairly well thought out, it's execution is a little lacking but it was engaging enough to keep me playing past the point that my frustration would normally have led me to quit.

I have no problem recommending this game to anyone who wants a long haul, who is happy to spend 12+ hours in a game and doesn't find repetition to be too onerous, and having a completionist mindset would be an advantage but I will say until the game maker actually fleshes out the tinker class and clarifies the tear collection I would strongly suggest playing this game as the warrior, it will cut down on your frustration levels significantly.

Posts

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Thanks a lot for this extensive review! :) I've been taking notes while reading it, and I have to admit I totally agree with you on many points. As I said in a reply to another review, your feedback will most certainly be taken into account when working on a version 1.1. For example, I would indeed make the 'prophetic piano stool' (:D) actually useful and change some of the more obscure quiz questions.
nhubi
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
11099
I'm glad you got some useful feedback out of it and you do need to tighten up some areas. If I did go back and play it again I would probably go the warrior route all the way through unless the Tinker is changed up quite a bit.

Still it was good to delve back into something long for a change...and yes make it a Prophetic Quest Stool instead.
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