PEGBRJE: Tallowmere, BOTOLO and Empyrean Frontier

Page 12 ends with a bang.

Can’t say I was expecting an RPG in my dungeon crawler.

Tallowmere is an infinite dungeon crawler made by Chris McFarland, solo dev out of New Zealand. This is the first of two adventures, as the sequel entered early access last December, so if this overview gets a few playthroughs out of anyone, perhaps the sequel will elevate that experience. First, however, we must cover the original where a lone ‘hero’ equipped with an axe and shield will enter a dungeon for some reason and attempt to clear it of all enemies. No matter the cost.

An overall summary of what one might expect of Tallowmere is that it plays like a traditionally solid roguelike dungeon fiesta; players have starting equipment to destroy monsters, a will to move forward, and that’s about it. Each entry into the dungeon will procedurally generate each room and the hazards within so that no two run ever feels the same. As the hero of this adventure, players will utilize their trusty axe at first to hack their way through enemies, and use their shield to block attacks. The tagline of this title isn’t misleading in the slightest, for the shield is actually necessary in survival due to the sheer amount of projectiles that may get flung at players upon arrival. Players can opt for an alternative style in dodging, for there is no limit on how many times one can jump, but I found that this strategy only works for so long before the narrow mazes of the dungeon close in and ‘cramp that style’. Destroying enemies will result in various loots such as health drops, money, and their soul which is best seen as a type of experience. Collect enough souls to hand them in and gain a bunch of perks as one levels up. Just remember, death removes everything that the player gained within the dungeon.

What I found most interesting about my time within Tallowmere was it’s approach to difficulty and its complete nonchalant attitude of waypoints. See, in most rooms of the dungeon there are waypoints which can warp the player back to the start and interact with the entire starting zone cast of characters; this includes spending money, introducing challenge modes, sacrificing kittens for health boons (you monster), and even a free heal from our lovely Lady Tallowmere herself. Some individuals will scoff at the hero until they die (see the Punisher for that) as they are for making the game harder, but that’s the beauty of this system. The only thing players are entering the dungeon for is the points and to see how long they can survive; sure giving oneself health boons via kittens will put the player on a different score board, but if one doesn’t care much for that this is completely an exercise in seeing the limit of one’s ability. If players find that this is too ‘easy’, challenge and punishments can immediately make the game more difficult in various ways such as removing all merchants, healing of any kind, doubling the enemies, or adding way too many poison traps.

Combine this with the fantastic fact that this game can be played in a local co-operative environment with 3 other people, and players have a chaotic dungeon crawling blast awaiting them. Sure there’s no obvious ‘goal’ besides points, but sometimes there doesn’t need to be any besides just wanting to blow off some steam and see how far one can go. Plus, this game is on Android! You can dungeon crawl on your phone now. Technology is crazy. If this is what you’ve been looking for, try out Tallowmere and see if it’s your thing. If it is, get hyped for the sequel.

Yes I’m losing, stop asking about it.

BOTOLO is a competitive arcade-y title made by Auren Snyder, whom some may remember for her for ‘The Floor Is Jelly’ title from back in page 4, that really soft and springy platformer. This game isn’t as soft, but it is definitely as springy. Players will go head to head in a duel to see who can gain the most points, except ‘points’ are more visual than they are a number.

Players take control of a circle of an intricate textured design and go up against another of a different colour for control over a small ball of light. Capturing this ball is how players gain progress on different shapes of the arena, shown as progress based on the colour the player is. Fill out the area, and it becomes that players and contributes towards victory, feeling like a capture the point and king of the hill all in one. Obviously the opponent doesn’t want that to happen, so they can get in close to steal the ball to allow it to either be swapped over immediately, or get tossed out away from both. The ball carrier can use their shield to stop this, which is rewarded for timing the shielding with the opponent steal attempt; not only does it give bonus progress on the current shape, but it also stuns the stealer. Over utilization of the shield will lead to self stunning, so do be careful to time it properly. As one might expect, this leads to more mind games than focusing on the positioning of the avatars, as timing the shielding can yield fantastic results or absolutely ruin the strategy, while constant attempts at stealing can give the opponent too many free points.

The focal point of BOTOLO is present as soon as players pick up the title; negative space and mind games. It’s a clean and crisp experience that takes a bit to get used to at first, but soon you’ll be playing 4D chess against an AI that will morph halfway through to play 5D chess on your brain. All just to make different coloured shapes light up your colour. If you are looking for an alternative way to settle disputes with friends or just have a competitive time with mind games, this may be the title to try.

I had my own photos, but none of them really captured the chaotic size as well as I wanted them to, so this is from Steam.

Empyrean Frontier is an RTS adventure made by Galdor Studios, a solo dev which I don’t know how to emphasis the insanity enough: a solo dev decided to do an RTS in a custom engine. That’s impressive on its own right, so the only thing left is to find out how it plays, which I like to think that I’ve got a good understanding of the genre. RTS titles were the first games I ever played on a PC, from Starcraft 1 to Supreme Commander and the Stronghold Franchise plus a few I’m forgetting. So how does it play, with its approach as a space commander slowly taking over the galaxy?

Disclaimer: I don’t think it’s entirely possible to describe the entirety of an RTS title due to the sheer size, complexity and system synergy. Instead, I’ll be covering a few things that I found unique and different and comparing them to what I’m traditionally aware of.

For those familiar with RTS titles, Empyrean Frontier holds true to much of what makes these titles so much fun. Players will gather resources in the forms of credits and ore from planets or surrounding debris, colonizing areas and creating trade routes to bolster their economy while crafting ships and fleets from their bases. It’s a more fluid experience in terms of economic creation, instead of nodes that must have buildings to harvest them, even if it technically acts the same. Protect the supply train, create army, destroy opponent. The stations are nodular in creation, allowing for MCS to expand slowly as new nodes are crafted such as collection facilities, ship factories and more. There are techs to uncover while farming resources and expanding the sphere of influence, while conquering planets to get closer and closer to the enemy main base. Unit manipulation is also similar, albeit with a singular cool tech that I wish more titles had: Formation mode. This allowed me to create a line on the ground in which my units would ‘line up’ on, allowing for crazy specific formation strategies. Yes I did the ‘bull horn formation’ immediately upon learning this ability, and while it was a little hectic it turned out quite fantastically.

While there are a bunch of new techs and aesthetical changes, there’s a glaring difference to the formula that opens up the game to hundreds of possible combinations without altering the core: the campaign galaxy is procedurally generated. In a FTL stylized galactic map — or better yet, Star Wars Battlefront 2 THE OG ONE — players will decide which region of space they will attempt to wrangle under their control after each node. Some may have decisions that need to be made before entering, such as siding with a galactic faction of pirates or negotiating with the local governments, which will set the mood for the upcoming battle. This can also lead into a solar map of control, where players will send fleets out to cross vast distances and engage in skirmishes with other fleets in a Worm Hole space for influence of a region, similar in function to an Age Of Wonder or Endless franchise title. This blows the door of possibility wide open, as players can now run campaigns to test their RTS skills while also acquiring different scenarios and situations thanks to the power or procedural generation. My only gripe was that it would occasionally lead to some battles feeling similar or disjointed to others, which is a common issue with procedural titles — but I feel that Empyrean does a great job with the campaign setting and layers of abstraction to make it work.

There’s a lot to Empyrean Frontier that still blows my mind when I’m reminded that this was made in a custom engine by a single developer. Campaigns can start with a more customized feeling as players can set their own fleets prior to launch, and there’s even an arcade to just duke it out with AI; which I didn’t even mention are annoyingly smart. In small scale skirmishes, they’re not bright — but over long engagements they kept adapting to my strategies and I was not a fan. Regardless, I cannot cover everything about this title within a respectable length of time, so I’ll just summarize as this: if you’re a fan of RTS titles and were hoping for something a bit more 4X grandiose in scale, then Empyrean Frontier has you covered on both of these fronts.

Oh dang, page 12 finished. Lot of games this time around. Will have the software up today or tomorrow. Unsure. Life fast.

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Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.