Slot Nordic Saga — Game Review
Mighty DOOM — Review
Doom has been many things over the years — a pioneering first-person shooter, an RPG, even a board game — but Mighty Doom is the first time this franchise has been cute. Your cartoonish Slayer in this mobile top-down shooter is just as adorable as the chonky cacodemons and prowlers with pinchable cheeks he is mutilating. The whole thing starts out as a lively single-stick roguelite that has you marching through demon-packed levels toward… well, I’m not exactly sure. I never saw the end of it, because a hellish difficulty spike clearly designed to bully me into spending real money on in-game power Glory Killed any desire I had to keep playing. There’s a fun, fast-paced, delightfully gory game in here, but it’s chained to a mountain of free-to-play garbage that leaches the fun out of the experience once you reach a certain point. The result is a monetized nightmare that feels less like Doom and more like Candy Crush Saga with Hell Priests.
You control your Doom Slayer using an onscreen joystick, but shooting is automatic. That means all you have to do is move around the arena-like stages avoiding enemies, projectiles, and environmental dangers like spikes and saw blades. You also have a couple of slots for special weapons, like a rocket launcher and BFG, that you can deploy with the press of a button after a cooldown period. The touchscreen controls aren’t super precise, which becomes a problem when the screen is filled with enemies and bullets later on, but they’re mostly adequate in earlier levels.
What we said about Diablo Immortal
Doom isn’t the first major game series to get a mobile port awash in distracting monetization recently, here’s what we said about 2022’s Diablo Immortal.
There’s so much to like about Diablo Immortal that it really pains me to see it so close and yet so far from being a game I can heartily recommend. As a casual, purely free-to-play experience it offers a lot to do, with its empowering ARPG combat and interesting skill system, whereas for those that want to be competitive in PVP it quickly becomes restrictive, punitive, and money-grubbing. And for everyone in between? It just doesn’t offer good value for money spent. If the Empowered Battle Pass and Boon of Plenty offered more, I could definitely see myself renewing them each season and steadily working my way through the many difficulty levels as I ascend Immortal’s 600 paragon levels, and gradually – oh so gradually – ranking up my legendary gems. Instead, that dream is so far out of reach that it’s not feasible, and the further in I get the less the rewards offered by those paid services are actually likely to be meaningful. I’m still going to keep playing Diablo Immortal, but without overhauls to the monetisation and the many restrictions, it’s going to be a dip in, dip out game, as opposed to a world I want to live in. — Cam Shea, June 1, 2022
As a roguelite, you start each run with only the persistent gear you’ve equipped between levels, but you’ll earn lots of temporary upgrades as you slay demons mid-run to increase your combat capabilities. This is incredibly empowering, as toward the end of a run you might be double-firing spread-shot rounds that bounce off walls and ricochet from one enemy to the next, while lobbing grenades with upgraded splash damage. These upgrades go away at the end of each run, but they make Mighty Doom exciting and rewarding on a moment-by-moment basis.
Most levels are made up of 40 stages roughly the size of tennis courts, with bosses to take down every 10. Bosses are big, souped-up versions of standard enemies like imps, soldiers, revenants, and prowlers, but they have their own unique attacks and patterns, so they feel fresh — at least the first few times you encounter them. The enemy variety in the levels mostly works well, too, with weaker pawn-like foes up front, sturdier tank enemies in the middle, and ranged opponents in the back. Your demon-slaying runs are accompanied by a heavy-metal soundtrack that sounds like it was pulled straight from recent Doom games, too, giving the whole thing a boost of intensity as the announcer growls the names of your upgrades in a delightfully over-the-top manner.
Level four’s steep difficulty spike halted my progress like a BFG blast to the chest.
Take all that together and I had a lot of fun in my first few hours with Mighty Doom. After one run, I always wanted to start another to see if I could get closer to beating whatever level I died on. During those early hours, I could make progress at a reasonable rate as well — I might die on a stage 10 boss, but I’d be able to make it several stages deeper the next time after upgrading my Slayer between runs.
I was somewhere in level four when I hit a steep difficulty spike that halted my progress like a BFG blast to the chest. Two things happened: first, the enemies became noticeably more powerful, draining big chunks of my health with a single blow. On top of that, the number of enemies on screen in some levels increased to the point where it could be difficult to tell what was even happening. I’d find projectiles flying at me from all directions, pinkies and lost souls charging in from offscreen, and revenants dropping down to lob missiles at my face. I’d often see my health bar draining and have no idea what was even hitting me.
After struggling to make any headway for a while, I spent $15 on in-app purchases to upgrade my equipment — both because it seemed like the only option I hadn’t tried to make progress, and because I wanted to see if my growing pay-to-win suspicions were correct. The boost that money provided did get me through level four, but not much further. Level five introduces waves of enemies, while also giving those enemies another enormous power boost. That’s when Mighty Doom started to feel downright unfair, and the emphasis it put on its purchasable loot boxes meant the difficulty struck me less as a balance miscalculation and more of an unspoken paywall.
Whether you want to spend a whole lot of time throwing yourself against this frustrating and repetitive challenge or a whole lot of money to make it slightly more reasonable, you aren’t going to get past this point without jumping through even more free-to-play hoops. And Mighty Doom has free-to-play hoops galore. You have an avalanche of currencies to keep track of: unique keys for each equipment type (there are eight), energy, coins, and crystals, the last two of which can be purchased with real money. You have to spend five energy to start a run and you can only carry 20, which means you can’t always dive into another run when you want to. Your energy replenishes slowly over time, but of course you can speed it up by spending crystals. You can also spend crystals to buy loot boxes to increase your Slayer’s power, but the number of crystals required to open a loot box with a chance of containing a rare or epic item is steep.
Any aggravating monetization scheme you’ve heard of is probably here.
Each piece of gear can be upgraded dozens of times by spending coins and equipment keys, but individual improvements are barely noticeable. Coins can be used to upgrade a random core stat, or “mastery,” but after hitting the difficulty spike, those power boosts felt inadequate as well. Other monetization options include purchasing new Slayer skins and weapon skins, using either crystals or real money directly depending on the item. You can even spend crystals to revive your Slayer once mid-run. And, to get even better gear as you play, you can purchase a battle pass for $6.99. Basically, whatever aggravating monetization scheme you may have heard about in the last decade is probably here.
The one alternative to spending in-game currency is spending your real-life time watching ads. You can watch an ad to avoid paying to revive (this is a limited privilege, I discovered). You can also watch an ad to open a very basic type of loot crate containing coins or common gear. And while you can earn the currencies just by playing, it’s never enough to make much of a difference after that level four difficulty spike. No matter what I did, I never had the currency needed to make progress at a reasonable pace unless I was willing to open my wallet.
Trying to wrap my head around all the free-to-play junk surrounding the basic game felt like I was studying for the Bar Exam. I understand some of this monetization is necessary, or at least accepted as common practice for many mobile games these days, especially free ones. But buying skins or a battle pass in Fortnite or Marvel Snap feels different. Those games are centered around multiplayer, and showing off your favorite cosmetic upgrades at least seems to serve a purpose — plus they’re easy to ignore if that’s not your thing. Mighty Doom is a single-player game, so you don’t have anyone to impress with your new Slayer skins except yourself. And paying for power upgrades to complete a level you’re stuck on due to an artificially punishing difficulty spike is the very definition of pay-to-win.
There is a devilishly fun roguelite hiding in Mighty Doom, but the way it’s been buried under all the most egregious money-making schemes in mobile gaming is hugely disappointing. I enjoyed the first few hours, when monsters posed an entertaining challenge I could satisfyingly overcome, and I would probably be happy to recommend it if Bethesda had balanced all nine levels to match. But it’s not long before a super-powered difficulty spike meant my Slayer’s defense and damage output just couldn’t keep up — at least, not without opening my wallet. Even when you do, this invisible paywall and the free-to-play speed bumps that accompany it turn Mighty Doom into a teeth-grindingly frustrating experience that made me want to delete the app entirely rather than pay to upgrade my Slayer enough to progress.
Nerdy But Flirty
Gaming and geek culture website – by women, for women
Review: The Banner Saga – An Epic Viking RPG
The Banner Saga from developer Stoic Studio and publisher Versus Evil is the result of a successful Kickstarter. $723,886 was pledged, far surpassing the $100,000 goal. Stoic is made up of only three people (all former Bioware employees who worked on The Old Republic), which makes their accomplishments with this game even more impressive.
Watch the trailer:
“Live through an epic role-playing Viking saga where your strategic choices directly affect your personal journey. Make allies as you travel with your caravan across this stunning yet harsh landscape. Carefully choose those who will help fight a new threat that jeopardizes an entire civilization. Every decision you make in travel, conversation and combat has a meaningful effect on the outcome as your story unfolds. Not everyone will survive, but they will be remembered.”
The men and the varl (a race of giants with horns on their heads) must work together to drive back the darkness taking over the land. Along the way, you meet a huge cast of characters, get embroiled in politics, and will have to make a lot of hard decisions as leader of your caravan. The story is initially split between two groups, but eventually they meet in the middle.
The women in this game are not damsels in distress – every woman you meet can defend herself, whether it be with a bow and arrow or magic, and they’re just as fleshed out as the men. There’s even a section where some of your clanswomen want to start learning how to fight, which I thought was awesome. The treatment of women in the game is excellent.
This is the first game in a planned trilogy, and the decisions you make in this game will carry over to the next two. Think of this portion as The Fellowship of the Ring. The game took me nine hours to complete and has 39 Steam achievements (27 of which I completed on my first playthrough). There’s a lot of replayability here (to see if you can get a better outcome by making better decisions), but since there is only one save game slot, you’d have to go into the game’s files and save one of your games before starting another, otherwise you’ll lose that playthrough. I’m hoping this might be addressed in the future. [edit 4/26/2016 – I replayed TBS before reviewing TBS2, and there are now more save slots!]
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are unlike anything I’ve seen in a game before; they look more like a high-quality 2D cartoon. Everything is highly detailed – when you’re in a dialogue, characters will blink and the wind blows their hair and clothes. The animations are fluid whether in combat or trekking along the landscape, and there were a lot of times where I just admired the view. I loved watching my characters fight because of the combat animations. Even though the sprites on the battlefield are tiny, you can still tell exactly what they’re doing.
The soundtrack is of equally high quality. The score was composed by two-time BAFTA award-winner Austin Wintory, performed by the Dallas Winds Orchestra, and features Peter Hollens, Malukah, and Taylor Davis. Tracks never seemed to repeat, and there was a huge variety of instrumentation and themes. It’s definitely a soundtrack that is worth listening to outside of the game. There is not a lot of voice acting, but what is there is excellent.
I only experienced two game crashes, once after a battle and once during the end credits. These were not highly impactful, as the game just brought me back to the last checkpoint in the case of the battle.
Gameplay consists of three main parts: combat, dialogue, and traveling. Traveling is reminicent of The Oregon Trail – you have to keep your caravan in good spirits by resting often and keeping supplies in stock. If your morale is down, you’ll be penalized in battle, and if you run out of food, your followers will start to die off. At one point, there’s a very clear wink to Orgeon Trail – you need to cross a river, and your options are the same as in Oregon Trail, which made me laugh. During travel, you’ll encounter events that often require you to make a decision, and that decision can lead to trouble and loss of supplies/people or gaining the same. When I ran out of supplies and people started dying, I felt really guilty and hoped that the next town was close by. It’s too bad you can’t hunt like in Oregon Trail!
Dialogue holds consequences too; sometimes you have to be careful about your choices, and sometimes dialogue is just a way to get more information and story. Dialogue can be initiated by your companions when you’re traveling or you can do so on certain occasions when you’re resting in a town. Those dialogue sessions are optional, but they flesh out your characters more. I found myself getting attached to almost everyone. You might not find every playable character the first time through; I know that I missed finding at least one person, and I think one of the people I found would be closed off to a player who didn’t make the same choice I made.
I am not a big combat fan, normally seeing every battle as a necessary evil, but The Banner Saga‘s won me over. There are a lot of tactics and strategy involved, even on easy, but if you take your time and plan out what you’re going to do, you shouldn’t have a problem (at least on easy; I believe the game is much more punishing at higher difficulty levels). The end boss is quite challenging even on easy – it took me three tries to beat him, but I didn’t feel frustrated because of that, only challenged. Battles are fought on a 2/3rds isometric battlefield, with the turns alternating between your warriors and enemy warriors until there is a side with only one warrior remaining. This activates the pillage stage, which makes it so the side with only one soldier left goes, then all the remaining warriors on the winning side. Needless to say, the lone survivor often doesn’t get a second chance. You can attack a unit’s strength or armor, and they’re easier to hit if their armor is damaged. If a unit’s strength is down, they don’t hit as hard, and they fall easier.
When battles are won, you get renown, which is the only currency in the game. Renown allows you to buy supplies and trinkets at the market and also upgrades your warriors. You will rise in rank from level one to level five, each level costing more renown. Each warrior has to kill people in order to level up, starting with two to get to level two and expanding exponentially from there. The renown system took some getting used to, and it’s hard to balance at times, but I think it helps contribute to the feeling that you need to make compromises to succeed in this game.
The Banner Saga is a fantastically gorgeous, fun game that you should play without hesitation. The amount of detail put into every aspect of it is amazing, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. I can’t wait to see further games in the series, along with whatever else Stoic has in store for us.
Get The Banner Saga on Steam for $19.99. You can also get it with the soundtrack for $24.99 (the soundtrack separately is $7.99). It’s available on GOG here, and you can check here for more retailers. Visit the official site and follow the team on Google+, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also check out a taste of the game by playing The Banner Saga: Factions, a FTP multiplayer version of the game.
[Disclaimer: A review code was provided for me to review this game.]