Quick Look – Pendula Swing: The Complete Journey

Although I played a ton of point-n-click adventure games throughout the years, my recent relationship with them has been rather rocky. They move slowly by design, and in itself, that’s not a problem for me. But endless walking from place to place, pixel hunting, inventory puzzles, and the now infamous adventure game logic usually lead to me losing interest long before the tale is told.

But I couldn’t resist the concept of Pendula Swing, which drops you into a fantasy version of the 1920s. You play as Brialynne, a dwarven hero who has been living a quiet life on a private island after retiring from adventuring. However, that quiet life is about to be disturbed when she finds herself the victim of a robbery in which the only thing taken is her axe.

If you’re the type of person who avoids side quests, preferring to get on with the main story as quickly and cleanly as possible, I’m sorry to tell you that Pendula Swing is not going to be the game for you. As I was exploring the world, I tended to stop and speak with just about everyone, and that’s the kind of experience I believe the developers were going for. Nearly every character has a story, and those small stories teach you about the world that your character has opted out of for quite awhile now.

Your journal will track tasks you have done, and tasks you have encountered that you have yet to complete. Once you’re a ways into the game, if you find yourself really stuck, you can just visit a nearby phone booth to get put back on the right track, and thankfully, you can indeed travel by map. I’m also pleased to report that in my first two hours of play time, I have yet to encounter a single place where I needed to go pixel hunting or combine esoteric items in my inventory to progress the story.

In fact, Pendula Swing feels a lot like a genre mashup to me – while it’s definitely an adventure game, there are aspects that remind me more of a visual novel, and others that remind me of role playing games. I’ve only encountered a couple of places that felt like puzzles so far, but I have also run into a couple of folks who seem to be interested in dating my character, which isn’t exactly your standard adventure game fare.

There’s a lot going on here, and for some folks, the lack of a strong genre focus might take away from their enjoyment. Personally, I’m finding the whole experience absolutely delightful. I’m not sure how far into the main story I actually am, but according to my journal, I haven’t seen very much at all of what this lovely game has to offer.

In a time where I’m struggling to find something to hold my interest, the hours have just melted away while playing Pendula Swing. It was one of the first games from the Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality that I fired up, and I’m already looking forward to Valiant Game Studio’s next title Kaleidocraft, which will be coming soon to Steam Early Access.

Quick Look – The Spatials: Galactology

I’ve always had a soft spot for any kind of game where the main objective is to build things to keep tiny characters happy, and outer space has been a popular feature of these games over the years. I cut my space-station building teeth on games like Startopia and Space Colony.

After (just barely) talking myself out of picking up Space Haven, I decided to instead dive deep into the back room of the library to see what similar games I might already be sitting on, and decided to put some time into The Spatials: Galactology to see if it would satisfy my need to make something functional in a not-of-this-world setting.

At this point, I’m about 9 hours in, and I’m on my fourth colony, so I feel like I can probably scratch the surface of a quick look. So what can you expect from your first couple hours of game time?

Inadequate Tutorials

I get it – not everyone loves tutorials, and I do appreciate the fact that all the tutorials in the The Spatials: Galactology are completely optional. Just click the X to close the window the first time it pops up in different screens, and do your own thing, if you’re so inclined. But if – like me – you don’t relish the idea of wasting a lot of time on trial and error, tutorials can be great.

The tutorials here are not great.

If you’ve ever played any similar sort of game, it probably won’t be too hard to figure out how to put up some walls, and drop some floor tiles, and install a bed. You’re probably not a stranger to doing research to unlock new build-able items, and there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here. Now, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing – it’s the flavor of these building games that differentiate them, and there’s no reason to keep inventing the wheel as far as I’m concerned.

But it’s the flair here that’s completely left up to you to figure out. Aesthetics come into play when building and designing rooms, as well as noise. Of course, better aesthetics cost more, and credits aren’t always plentiful. In my first colony, I made the erroneous assumption that bigger rooms automatically are better rooms – and in The Spatials: Galactology, that’s absolutely not the truth. If you can fit everything you need in a 2 X 2 square, go for it. Having empty space does not make for a more pleasant room, and in fact, those empty squares hurt you by reducing the relative aesthetic value of the decorations & facilities you do add.

None of this is explained adequately in the tutorials, and worse, I couldn’t even really find much information on how to build well in the games help section. My first colony was doomed by overspending on building, and being left in a position of having no real way to fix my finances because I’d ignored all the other things I needed to be focusing on as well.

A Lot to Pay Attention To

If you want to succeed, you’re going to need gobs of raw materials. In a lot of games of this type, you just buy raw materials from faceless traders. In The Spatials: Galactology you need to go out, explore nearby planets, build resource collectors, storage units, delivery centers and recruitment offices. The first two allow you to pick up resources from a given planet, delivery centers allow you to sell ONE type of item on that planet, and without recruitment offices, you’ll never get anyone applying to work on your station.

You will start off with two spaceships, and they’ll have crew assigned to them, but once you set up your initial nearby trade centers, you pretty much lose one of those ships to constantly running around picking up resources. In my second colony, resources were coming in much too slowly – I had built the required resource collectors, but ignored storage units, so each planet would only store up to five of a given resource at a time. It slowed my production (and therefore my profit) to a crawl, and since that wasn’t the only big mistake I had made, I elected to start over.

Staffing Issues

Another critical piece of information that was easy to miss (well, I missed it, so I’m hoping it’s easy to miss) was the increased demands of your crew once you start promoting them into specialist roles. While I expected they would want nicer quarters and higher pay, I did not anticipate that Diplomats would suddenly refuse to eat anything but dessert, or that Scientists would revolt if you hadn’t built a library and stocked it with books.

The good news is, that your staff will appear to work happily in their red shirts making minimum wage pretty much forever. Just because you can promote someone, doesn’t mean you have to. Keeping your staff un-promoted also enables them to do ANY job on your station. There are very compelling reasons to promote, but when in doubt, it’s probably best to err on the side of leaving them all at entry level. This was the second major issue that lead to my abandonment of my second colony – I had specialized staff that I was completely unable to satisfy. You won’t believe what these guys put in pizza (the only food an Engineer will eat).

Support for Multiple Management Styles

I know it seems like I’m really beating up the systems here, but trust me, if I thought it was awful, I wouldn’t have lasted long enough to write this post.

Although it took me a bit to figure it out, I am impressed with the range of options you have as far as management style goes. If you want to micromanage production, you have the option to create bills at any work station, and even assign workstation to specific staff if you choose. If you’re more laid back about production, you can set your stations to global and indicate how many of a particular item you’d like to keep in stock – when you hit that number, production will stop, and when you fall below it, it’ll automatically resume with no input from you. This is great for things like basic meals and purified water – you’re always going to need these items, but when you’ve got plenty in stock, your crew members are free to go do other things instead.

If you want to start specializing your workers from the get go, you can do that with manual priorities. Otherwise, leave priorities alone, and they’ll pretty much work on set tasks from most urgent to least urgent. You can manually pick up stock from the neighboring planets, or you can create an autopilot loop which will keep the goods rolling in at a regular clip.

You’re given a lot of leeway in how much energy you want to put into managing things, which is great, especially considering that it feels like you have so much more to do than your average base building game.

Goals, Quests & Random Events

There’s an ever evolving list of goals in The Spatials: Galactology. You are pretty much open to focus on whatever you like during play, but if you’re at a loss for what to do, checking the goals list might point you in a direction you hadn’t thought of. Mostly, these are very small rewards for hitting milestones you were likely to hit anyway, and in the early game, you will be getting goal notifications left and right.

There are also quests – usually one planet per system will have a quest for you at any given time. During the early game, there’s a good chance these quests will kill your people, and after a few massacres, I mostly ignore them. However, I expect once you start meeting new civilizations that don’t already love you, these are going to be a hugely important part of working on inter-species relations.

Then, sometimes, this happens.

This was the demise of my third colony. I was taking things very slowly – possibly far too slowly – and all of a sudden, evil robot overlords. Although the occasional drop into my station was handled without casualties, neighboring planets started to be invaded, breaking trade routes, and leaving me with no access to raw materials, without which I was ill-equipped to build a liberation force.

So, now, I’m working on my fourth colony. I’ve learned quite a bit about building effectively, station layout, and how to make money (hint: it’s tourism). There are definitely some things going on that feel like glitches – for example, despite having showers and soap, um, no one showers. Maybe they’ll start eventually. But the bottom line is – I’m really enjoying getting my tourist trap – I mean, colony – up and running like a well oiled machine.

If you’re the type who hates restarting, rebuilding, and figuring out things via epic failure, you probably want to give this one a pass. I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to do, and for a game with a retail price of $13 is kind of impressive. I’ve certainly already gotten more than my money’s worth – I paid $6.49 for the previous game and received this one for free when the developers decided to start over from scratch.

I know this has been rather lengthy for a quick look, and for that I apologize, but there’s just too much going on in The Spatials: Galactology to sum up quickly. It does have an early game that certain types of players will find frustrating, and you can easily find yourself up against a point of no return. It does lack the personality of some other colony / base builders, but it’s a solid play experience so far.

Quick Look – Distortions – #MusicGameMay

I picked up Distortions in a $4 IndieGala bundle back in March of 2019, added it to my Steam library because it looked cool, and promptly forgot all about it until I was looking for something to play for #MusicGameMay. Sure, reviews were mixed, but I can forgive a lot of rough edges on an otherwise lovely game. And watching the trailer, it looked like it was going to be absolutely lovely.

However, a little over two hours in, and I have to officially say I’ve given up. This was such an ambitious undertaking for a small indie studio (only four people according to the dev in a discussion thread on Steam), and knowing that, it’s not surprising that it didn’t completely come together. But what they did right, they did so very very right.

I was absolutely willing to trade a somewhat clunky character model for the breathtaking vistas you get throughout the game. I took so very many screenshots while playing because it was just that pretty. The music, and honestly, the sound in general, is also spot on, which made it easy to forgive the rough patches in the translation.

I went in being most concerned about my ability to keep up with the actual musical part of the game. I can’t sight read music, and my rhythm chops are … well … basically chop-less. However, once I overcame the initial awkwardness of the keybinds, even playing the violin felt good.

Unfortunately, not much else did.

Movement is mostly hindered by the constant perspective changes – from first person to third, then to top down, and occasionally even to 2D sidescrolling. The camera is adjustable, until it’s suddenly not, and control is wrested away (and given back) almost randomly. You can sprint when necessary, as long as it’s not necessary for more than a couple of seconds, because your character gets winded fast. It’s almost never clear where the game expects you to go next.

And yet, I wanted to keep playing. But as you enter into the second part (of how many, I cannot tell you for sure), all of a sudden, this linear adventure with light platforming and even lighter rhythm segments goes in a more open-worldy sort of direction, and I was lost.

I knew I needed to collect more music fragments to learn more songs, but I couldn’t figure out where I needed to go. Now, I have no sense of direction, so I fully admit this might be a me problem. I managed to navigate a section which I believe was the Shadowy Forest and unlock the ability to play notes in the wild to solve puzzles, but only narrowly. I bumbled around, eventually finding another song, but once I played it, I couldn’t figure out how to use the wall that it summoned. I was both flummoxed and frustrated and I knew I’d had enough.

Once I exited the game, I did something I almost never do. I went looking for a commentary-free play through. Sadly, I found that the same things that make Distortions un-fun to play also make it not terribly enjoyable to watch (not to mention, the need to pause the video when journal pages are discovered, since neither play through I found left them open long enough to actually read).

Usually, I have no qualms tossing a game a side when it isn’t for me for whatever reason, but this time, I’m doing so with a small measure of regret and disappointment. This could have been great – I think it would have absolutely found an enthusiastic audience if it were a more linear walking sim, maybe sprinkled with music puzzles. I want to read all the journal pages (and am actually considering picking up the reasonably priced DLC on offer to do just that).

I feel like the creators of this game had a very solid vision of how the story should be told, combining exploration, collectibles, puzzles, stealth, and platforming, but when it all comes together, it doesn’t hold up. It’s heartbreaking, because the art and the sound are so well done, and the story was – at least for me – compelling enough that I want to see it through, but I just can’t.

I will, however, keep an eye out for whatever Among Giants does next, assuming they don’t let poor reviews keep them down. And I may still watch the cutscene movie that YouTuber TheBlueDragon put together, and just relax into it and watch it an arthouse film in a language I don’t speak.

Quick Look – My Recommendations from LudoNarracon2020

This is part two of two of my quick look at LudoNarraCon 2020.

Looking over the list of games on sale for LudoNarracon2020, I was surprised by how many I already owned. Granted, many of those were from bundles – in fact, I can only think of a couple off the top of my head that I made a deliberate purchase of. Still, of the ones I have already played, there isn’t a single one I’d try to talk someone out of. However, I definitely had some that I enjoyed more than others, so these are my top 5 recommendations from LudoNarraCon2020.

The World Next Door

This is one I bought on a whim, played immediately, and played all the way through, but I was surprised to see it as part of LudoNarraCon. Sure, the story is very cool, but it’s the frenetic match-3 gameplay that really did it for me. I talked about it here a little after playing the demo, and for someone who likes both match 3 gameplay and a bit of speculative fiction, I’d recommend it without reservation.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

This is another game I played and wrote about back in October. I played this one on XBox Game Pass for PC, and even though I didn’t fall in love with the gameplay, everything else about the game really worked for me. So much so that when I spotted it for 75% off on the Humble store, I picked it up to go back and play around with at my leisure, and at its current price, I’d recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by the art of storytelling and is interested in the Depression-era setting.

Her Story

Her Story is a great game, but only if you go in almost completely blind. The real game here is the deductive leaps you need to make – figuring out what keywords are important and what is extraneous as you watch video clips of police interviews with the main character. It’s sort of a choose-your-own adventure movie, and you’re tasked with rebuilding the story from its component parts. The nature of the game means it’s not at all replayable, and best played in a single sitting, but it’s also a fascinating take on what video games as a medium are capable of.

Monster Prom

Monster Prom is a visual novel / dating simulation that requires some measure of strategy to get your desired outcome. Game sessions are fairly short, and there’s a good amount of replayability here. It took me a couple of passes to really start to get it, but the quirkiness grows on you, and it would be great for folks who like to hunt for achievements.

Night Call

My top recommendation, however, would be Night Call. Another game I played through the Xbox Game Pass for PC back in October, and was then thrilled to get in the February 2020 Humble Choice. Full disclaimer: I have only played through the first case (and plan to do so again when I go back to it), but oh man.

As much as I loved the detective work that was required, what really made the game for me was the random conversations of the passengers in your cab. It was a game I thought about long after I stopped playing, and for a gamer who likes both investigative fiction and slice-of-life stuff, playing Night Call is a no-brainer.

Is there a game featured in LudoNarraCon 2020 that you absolutely loved? One you hated? One you’re really looking forward to? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments, or let me know if you post about it on your own blog!

Part one of my Quick Look at LudoNarraCon2020 focused on the games I’m interested in buying and playing in the future. LudoNarraCon2020 runs through April 27th, although many of the demos & sales are available until May 2.

Quick Look at LudoNarraCon 2020 Games

This is part one of two of my quick look at LudoNarraCon 2020.

Although I’ve always been a big fan of games with a good story, it’s only lately I’ve found myself gravitating towards some games where the story is the game. I want to be kept on the hook, so to speak, but honestly, if I’m just going to read there are comfier places to do that than at my computer.

That said, looking through the games on the LudoNarraCon 2020 sale, the ones I have already played, I really enjoyed, and there are several others that look so very very good (many of which were already on my wishlist, and more that I’m adding as I write this).

There’s a handful of games I don’t yet own that have really caught my eye. If I don’t pick them up this go around (and a couple aren’t even out yet), they’re definitely going to be on my short list of ways to be spendy in the future.

Beyond the Veil is a text-based narrative horror game, with a focus on character-driven storytelling. Kara, an unemployed college dropout, has no choice but to move in with her Dad when he decides to relocate to New Orleans. Kara has no discernible skills, and no direction. It’s her exploration of this city, and the friendships she makes there, that will mold her into the woman she will become. These choices are yours. So step up to the threshold- from here, there is no turning back.

Beyond the Veil – releasing some time in 2020

First off, look at that screenshot. Look at it. So gorgeous.

Secondly, New Orleans is a fantastic setting for a horror game.

Thirdly, I love the idea of a horror coming-of-age story, so to speak. The developers state that your choices throughout the game will not only affect the story, but your character’s core personality.

I’m totally into the whole package that is Beyond the Veil, although the price point and expected play length are probably going to be the biggest factors in whether I pick this up on release or wait for a sale or bundle.

Best Friend Forever is the world’s first simulation game to combine pet care and dating (just not necessarily at the same time). Train, pat and play with your very own dog to form a bond that will last the ages. With your four-legged companion by your side, meet, woo and cherish the many cuties of Rainbow Bay’s thriving singles scene.

Best Friend Forever – Coming Soon

Although dating sims have yet to sweep me off my feet (pun absolutely intended), the dual nature of Best Friend Forever makes me want to try again. I am a sucker for anything dog-centric, and it just sounds so chill and adorable, it’ll be hard to pass this one up when it comes out.

In the late 1970s, the charismatic Isaac and Rebecca Walker lead the Collective Justice Mission. Labeled radicals and feeling persecuted by the US government, they relocate their followers to the one place they believe they can create a socialist utopia: the jungles of South America. There they build Freedom Town. But relatives left behind in the US become worried: what exactly is going on at this compound in the jungle?

You play as Vic, an ex-law enforcement officer who has snuck into Freedom Town to check on their nephew, Alex. Whether you choose stealth or violence, you must infiltrate the commune, find out what’s going on within, and locate your nephew, before it’s too late.

Church in the Darkness – Available Now – On sale for $9.99 (50% off)

Church in the Darkness looks like it’s going to give you a fantastic story, maybe even many fantastic stories, although the game’s length will dictate whether or not I personally would give it multiple play throughs or just try to get the “best” ending the first time.

Sadly, I am rubbish at stealth games, and I expect that “doing it right” will require quite a bit of being stealthy. It’s not a game I’m likely to just buy, but something I’d absolutely play if it showed up on a subscription service or in a Humble Choice.

Step through time as you use our device to eavesdrop on conversations from past crime scenes. Every clue, every move, and every motive will be presented in the form of audio. Rather than controlling any one character, you only need listen to their conversations, following along as the story evolves. Use the information you hear to match names to voices and determine how everything (and everyone) is related. Can you discover the truth?

Unheard – Available now – On sale for $4.19 (40% off)

The coolest thing about this game is also – at least for me – it’s biggest flaw. I’d love to play it, but it’s going to require a chunk of time where I can be assured that I can focus on what I’m hearing (and honestly, this is the main reason I haven’t already picked it up).

But I do love detective games and solving puzzles. And with the current sale – which is even better for me picking it up as part of the Surveillance Stories bundle – it might be time to give it a spin.

Disco Elysium is a groundbreaking open world role playing game. You’re a detective with a unique skill system at your disposal and a whole city block to carve your path across. Interrogate unforgettable characters, crack murders or take bribes. Become a hero or an absolute disaster of a human being.

Disco Elysium – Available now – On sale for $29.99 (25% off)

Ah, Disco Elysium – huge commitment, huge temptation. There’s no denying that this odd but ambitious game has become quite the indie darling, winning a whole bunch of awards and captivating almost everyone who plays it.

Even if it’s only a fraction as open ended and customizable as the store page would lead you to believe, it seems like it would allow for so very many playstyles, and the concept wrapped around those choices seems like something that would really draw me in.

Still, I have never spent a lot of time with long-form narrative games, and I worry that at some point, no matter how good it is, it would start to feel like a chore to do that much reading, and that’s the main thing keeping me from clicking add to cart right now.

Part two of my Quick Look at LudoNarraCon2020 will focus on the games I’ve already played and my thoughts on them. LudoNarraCon2020 runs through April 27th, although many of the demos & sales are available until May 2.

Quick Look – Simmiland

Not being a person who makes games myself, I have no idea why there are so few good god games. Black & White is ancient (and hard to get one’s hands on nowadays), and many of the newer attempts either miss the mark entirely or are unsatisfying on multiple levels.

I don’t expect much from a god game anymore.

So I am delighted to tell you that Simmiland does a lot of what makes god games appealing very well, even if it does do it in a very bite sized package.

You’re given a random map to place humanity on, and then a handful of cards with which to affect them. In theory, it’s very simple – put down a plant, a mineral node, a creature and see what the tiny humans do with them. In practice, there’s definitely some strategy going on here. The same card – say “tree” – will make a completely different type of tree depending on the type of terrain you put it on. Put it in the desert, and you get a palm tree. Drop it on the plains, and it will turn the land into woods. Drop it on a snow covered tile, and you get a pine tree.

Sure, you could just drop stuff willy-nilly, but your tiny humans will wish for stuff. It starts out easy – maybe they want rain. Before you know it, they’ll be asking for polar bears.

You’ll want to fulfill wishes when you can, because not doing so costs you faith, and without faith, you can’t play out any of your cards. When you first start out, you don’t have a whole lot of cards, and you are likely to run out, if your people don’t die from stupid first.

Each round you play will award you stars, which you can use in the card shop to buy more cards. The more cards you own, the bigger your hand is at any given time, making it easier to grant wishes and terraform deliberately. You can’t directly control your people, but you can use sample and inspect cards to help them learn new things. Before you know it, they’ll be setting up farms and building boats and becoming – more or less – self-sufficient.

Simmiland is not a particularly deep game, but it’s solid for what it is, and you can easily play it for 15 minutes or for hours, once you get into the groove of things. Sure, you have to go hunting for information, and it plays a little frenetically, but I’m betting being a god doesn’t exactly come with a guidebook either. It’s not a game I’m likely to spend hundreds of hours on, but it’s priced right for a more reasonably sized diversion.

Quick Look – Saints Row IV

This was a nice switch – instead of days of trying to figure out what to play next after finishing up a game, I jumped right into Saints Row IV and it seemed to be just the right choice. I’ve managed to put about 10 hours into it in just a couple of days.

Here’s the thing – I’d be lying if I said it was a fantastic game. It’s maybe too wacky, and I’m saying that as someone who really enjoyed the third game in the series. I’m not sure an already absurd mayhem simulator series needed aliens and super powers.

The leader of the Saints is back – and she (or he, depending on how you create your character) is the President of the USA. And then the aliens show up. And it doesn’t make a whole lot more sense after that.

The majority of the game takes place in a simulation of Steelport, and the whole map is peppered with random activities, many of which are more enjoyable than going through the main quest line. That said, if a game is working for me, I try to not to over analyze how it’s doing it.

I’m currently just shy of 40% completion, and I have no delusions of coming close to 100%, and a quick glance at achievement stats tell me I’m far from alone here. Although 90% of Steam users complete the first main story mission, that number plummets to just shy of 25% for the last story mission.

It’s an interesting diversion, but nothing that will stay with me once I’ve played my fill and uninstalled it. And that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Quick Look – ECON – Elemental Connection

This post is part of my blogger challenge.

ECON is a neat little puzzle / board game, currently being given away on Itch.io. It is also available on Steam for the extremely reasonable price of $2.99 for folks who prefer to keep all their games in one place. The basic premise is simple – match the edges of your tiles to the tiles on the board to score points.

There are three different game modes (Single Player, Online Versus, and Challenge), and six different AI profiles for the single player version of the game.

I’ve only played a handful of games, and mostly, I’ve lost the ones I’ve played. You only have two tiles in your hand at a time, so it’s difficult to plan more than one move ahead, and as you near the end of the game, the strategy mostly changes to making moves that cause you to lose the least points.

ECON – Elemental Connections is a really interesting concept, with immense replayability, even if you never touch the multiplayer. I’d say if you like puzzle-style board games, it’s worth a pickup at $3, and is a no-brainer at the low low price of free. It’s even more worthwhile if you have a friend to play with and you’re looking for something new to play together online during social isolation.

Quick Look – Cryofall

Please note: I have not played Cryofall on a PvP server, nor do I have any intention to. This quick look is more from the point of view of someone who wants to screw around mostly single player, despite the game being billed as a multiplayer survival game.

Despite the fact that I rarely get as much bang for my buck as I theoretically could, I really enjoy seeing what shows up in Humble Choice (formerly Humble Monthly).

This month included only two games I already own (Book of Demons and The Hex), so I don’t need to make the hard decision of what NOT to pick, but as per usual, I’m only activating a few titles off the bat and waiting on the others.

As someone who is – at best – meh on multiplayer only titles, Cryofall was not an instant unlock for me. Instead, I wandered over to the Steam store and downloaded the 8-hour full game demo. Within an hour, I knew that this was something I’d like to keep checking out as it progresses, especially since the devs are listening to folks, and working on improving the PvE experience.

Right now, for me and the way I like to play, Cryofall is in a great place – interesting enough to keep me coming back, not so interesting I lose entire days to it.

The quest system isn’t story based at all – it’s a huge non-intrusive tutorial. Completing quests gives you extra LP, or learning points, that allow you to unlock new technologies. Early on, it seems to think you should unlock absolutely everything, but it cautions you against trying to do too much as you get deeper into the tech trees.

Finding a place to set down your land claim can be challenging, and I dropped my first one at a decent looking spot just barely out of bounds of other players’ claims. I’ve since spotted much better locations while exploring, but the lack of any sort of deconstruction or moving mechanism has made me hesitant to start setting up a new base somewhere else. Traveling around can be tedious – the map is huge to accommodate Cryofall’s multiplayer aspirations, and there doesn’t appear to be any speedy way to come back to your base when your inventory is full up (which happens more often than I would like).

Skills are acquired automatically from just doing the associated tasks, and this seems to be the only leveling system in game. It feels a little bit slow, but not frustratingly so, and I expect it’ll be tweaked as development proceeds.

So far, the biggest irritations for me are the smallish inventory, and the rate at which perishable items decay. Even with a primitive fridge-box, I cannot prepare food during one play session and expect to use it the next, and although I’ve not been burned yet by leaving crops growing when I log off, I can see that being a problem as well.

I was apprehensive about the PvP multiplayer focus of Cryofall, but playing on a PvE server has been enjoyable for the four or so hours I’ve put in so far. It’s not something I would have sought out or purchased on its own, but I feel like it’s an interesting indie for inclusion in Humble Monthly, at worth at least trying out for anyone who has a fondness for survival-style games.

Quick Look – Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

For me, the biggest appeal of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine was in the concept of the “narrative adventure”. What I didn’t realize I was getting was a fantastic story-telling collectathon. After losing big at poker, you are tasked with wandering the United States collecting stories to pay your debt, and along the way, you’ll meet other wanderers like yourself and swap stories.

I kept an eye on it for awhile when it first released, and then it faded from my radar. When I spotted it on XBox Game Pass for PC, I knew I’d have to at least give it a shot to see how the concept panned out.

Let’s start with the things I thought were amazing. The voice acting in this game is top-notch. I am frequently guilty of pushing through dialogue as quickly as I can read it, but I found myself wanting to sit and listen to the stories rather than just reading them quickly. This is not a game you can play in the background – you are going to want to sit and take it all in. The music is also pretty fantastic, although with how slow you tend to mosey around the overland map, it does start to get a little repetitive when you spend too long in one portion of the country.

Then there’s the artwork in the stills. Simply stunning. So stunning in fact that when I started playing the game proper, I was a bit disappointed that wandering the countryside didn’t look better. It’s not bad, but it’s not up the quality I was expecting.

You should be aware that traversing the country is every bit as tedious as you might expect. You can whistle to walk a bit faster, but for me, it only served to distract slightly from the plodding pace. You can hop trains and hitchhike, but when you do so you lose control of how far you’re going to travel, making it easy to miss things along the way, and usually requiring you to backtrack significantly. I’m not sure how detrimental it is to miss stories along the way, but I had to walk back to revisit the major characters, so I picked up everything I could while I did so.

Also, the actual “game” mechanics feel poorly explained. Money can be obtained when you randomly search locations, or by panhandling or looking for work in major cities. This is important because travel will make you hungry and tired, and if you ignore either of those things for too long, they will kill you. In major cities, you have the opportunity to purchase items to refill your meters, or you may get lucky and find opportunities to rest or eat while looking for stories. If you get unlucky, and have no money, you may die. The first time it happened to me, I thought it was game over, but it’s not, so at least there’s that.

For me, the most frustrating part of the whole game is story swapping mechanic. The stories you pick up along the way are automatically sorted into categories and cannot be changed, and once you swap a story from a given category during a camping session, the other stories in that category are no longer available. There are plenty of categories, but you don’t know what types of stories your companions will request. Over the course of the night, you trade several stories, and I frequently struggled to match the requested type.

Stories may be scary, sad, hopeful, exciting, or funny. It sounds simple enough, but those categories have nothing to do with how the stories are sorted in the interface, and it’s not always easy to figure out which category a story fits into. I was really wishing that the game gave you some way to mark your stories once you discovered their category, but it looks like I’ll have to rely on trial and error and my memory.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine really does keep the focus on the stories, sometimes to its detriment as a game. You can expect to spend 15-20 hours to complete the game, which requires getting all four chapters from all 16 potential companions.

One last note for completionists: This game has an unobtainable achievement, so unless you’re willing to resort to a cheat, you will not be able to get 100% completion.