This War Of Mine

When I was writing up my review of Siege Survival, I was a bit nervous because of how long it had been since I played This War Of Mine, and that I couldn’t remember playing it all the way through (turns out I actually did, though – when I reinstalled the game, one of the scenarios was marked complete). My review of Siege Survival was pretty unfavorable, which is unusual coming from a guy who’s pretty sympathetic to creators and much more likely to at least give a game the faint praise that it might be second or third or twelfth in line in a ranking of best games of its genre, but if you really like that genre you will eventually get down to it.

Most of that unfavorability stemmed from Siege Survival being medieval This War Of Mine and just not as good. It frames your peasant civilians huddling in the courtyard of a besieged castle as unambiguously helping the defenders to repel the invaders who, though I’m given to understand they’re about as sympathetic in the greater Gloria Victis setting, may as well be white walkers in Siege Survival itself. This takes the game’s narrative about nearly-helpless civilians struggling to survive a war zone and turns it into a narrative about civilians-turned-partisans playing a key role in keeping the siege defenders supplied by making nightly scavenging excursions. That’s neat, but the gameplay is largely unchanged (some tweaks are made to adapt the game to siege warfare rather than continuous modern battles, so the tech tree is drastically overhauled and the exact nature of the threats you face while scavenging are different, but the basic loop and the narrative it supports is unchanged), and TWoM’s gameplay is only gripping because of the narrative attached.

What I worried about while writing up Siege Survival is that maybe TWoM was worse than I remembered it. Maybe, once the novelty of the game had worn off, I just didn’t like that kind of gameplay. Having now replayed TWoM, I can confidently say that no, TWoM is just better. Having a bunch of soldiers sitting around in a castle manning the walls while you go on nightly excursions to keep them supplied is just not nearly as compelling as being on your own in a wartorn city. The soldiers of Siege Survival come across as equal parts selfish and stupid for not ditching the chainmail to go scavenging for themselves, the inability to fight the invaders under any circumstances fails to communicate the deadly danger posed by heavily armed opposition the way that TWoM does, where you can defeat soldiers, but it is very unlikely. They’re small details that affect the raw mechanics very little, but they make a world of difference to the narrative. You’re a small band of civilian survivors. The military patrols and criminal gangs are ordinary humans who die when they are shot with bullets just like you, but bullets are a precious commodity, you’re not a very accurate shot, and they travel in packs while you scavenge alone.

Continue reading “This War Of Mine”

Moonlighter Doesn’t Deliver On Its Premise

Moonlighter is a video game where you go into a dungeon to beat up some monsters, collect some loot, then put that loot out for sale in your item shop the next day. So, instead of selling loot to a shop, you run the shop, selling loot to other people. You still use your funds to buy upgrades to weapons and armor in order to defeat the bosses of four different dungeons and collect four keys with which to unlock the grand poobah finale dungeon and reveal the secret behind the dungeons.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t live up to its premise.

The dungeon crawling half of the game is adequate. You’ve got a couple of different weapons with different movesets, enemies with different attack patterns, a dodge roll, and you can have up to five health potions equipped at a time, giving you a finite supply of healing in any specific battle while also having health potions as a long-term attrition resource that competes for limited inventory space with valuable loot. There’s also some inventory innovation with curses on items that do things like destroy an item in a specific direction (above, to the left, diagonally to the bottom right, etc.) when you return to town and which you’ll therefore want to put on an edge or corner where the curse falls harmlessly off the edge of the inventory, or requiring the item to be kept on the top or bottom row. Unfortunately, the inventory management this leads to is ultimately not much more consequential than regular. You’ll almost never have so many cursed items that you can’t find a place to put them without actually sacrificing inventory space. If they wanted to emphasize inventory Tetris, they would’ve been better off using actual Tetris shapes instead of everything being a single cell.

But the shop half of the game is perfunctory. It’s got exactly two significant differences from just dumping your inventory into a merchant like in any other RPG. First, there’s a lot of upgrades you can buy to get customers to pay more money for items. Second, you have to do a certain amount of guess-and-check to figure out the ideal price for an item based on customer reactions, being overjoyed to find something way underpriced or scowling and walking away if they find something way overpriced.

There’s nothing wrong with either of these mechanics, but they don’t sustain proper shop gameplay. There are technically different customer types, but they make almost no difference to gameplay. Adventurers aren’t interested in regular drops, only in finished weapons, armor, and potions. Rich customers are more flexible on price, their threshold for getting scowly and refusing to buy is much higher. The problem is, these customers don’t have a separate reputation pool from standard customers, and even put together they’re very rare, so you don’t really have to care about them at all. If an adventurer comes into your shop and can’t find anything for sale, well, no big deal, because eighteen regular customers did that day. If a rich person walks into your shop, they might buy something at a markup that you ordinarily wouldn’t be able to sell, but only by about 25%, which is basically never worth the hassle of keeping some high value items overpriced until a rich customer walks in, especially since every regular customer who considers buying it will cost you reputation if they scowl at it and leave. There’s a tradeoff here, in that losing customers gets you less foot traffic, but getting more customers than you have items to sell is super easy, so you can afford to sacrifice some reputation to marking up some high value items for rich customers…but the markup is small enough that it’s hard to care. An extra 25% on one or two items when your backpack has enough room for 15-20 (depending on how many potions you’re hauling around) means that your daily profits will probably increase by less than 10% if you master this, the only real shop management mechanic that the game has.

The shop half of the game desperately needs more. For example, instead of reputation being invisible, have three different obvious reputation meters (visible on the HUD whenever your shop is open to customers) for warriors, rogues, and mages, each of whom buy different materials for heavy, medium, and light armor, respectively (there are materials in the game that are only used for different weapons, that are only used for potions, and that aren’t used for any crafting at all, but I’m staying focused on armor materials to keep the example simple). The higher your reputation with a customer type, the bigger a tip they leave, and having a high reputation with a specific customer type also draws in more of that customer type. You lose reputation for overpriced items, but also if a customer can’t find anything to buy.

Additionally, rather than always making just one purchase, customers have a certain amount of money they’re looking to spend and will purchase multiple items until they’re above that threshold. This means you can’t split up bundles of items into multiple small parcels to trick customers into being satisfied with a tiny purchase, you have to actually stock items that the specific customer type values.

A more realistic but more complex approach would be that they have a spending limit and a certain total value of items they’re looking to buy, and they will spend as little money as possible to hit their value target, but will give up and not buy anything if they can’t hit their value target without going over their spending limit. I don’t know if there’s a good way to make all that legible to the player, though, and if the system is opaque it won’t be fun to interact with.

However you model specific customer spending habits, you have to give an easy way to check which drops appeal to which customer type while in the dungeon so players can make quick and convenient decisions about which items to drop in favor of others. A little dot, for example: Grey if no customer has ever reacted favorably to this item (which might mean that it is unknown or might mean that nobody likes it, usually the former), blue if a mage has reacted favorably, green for a rogue, and red for a warrior. The dot can also be multi-color if multiple customer types have reacted favorably to it (for example, probably everyone loves potion ingredients and certain rare and high-value treasure items). A three-color dot is probably pushing it on how easy it is to make out the colors, but since there are three colors total (plus grey, but grey is mutually exclusive to a multi-color dot) it should be easy to interpret that if the dot has so many colors that it’s starting to become a mess, that means everyone likes this item and you don’t have to squint and double-check what specific colors are there.

And then you make the armor-types favored by those customers cheaper the higher their reputation becomes, as your store attracts more of that type of adventurer to town and bulk production of relevant equipment brings the price down. So if you’re a light-armor type yourself, you want lots of mages in town, but you don’t want to neglect warrior and rogue types so much that you can’t sell your warrior/rogue materials at all.

And you’d also want to have to prioritize what you’re doing when the shop is open. As it is, it’s usually very easy to attend to every customer who’s on the fence about an item (this pushes them into purchasing it), check out all the items for your customers, and tackle any thieves who swipe something. Occasionally a thief will swipe something while you’re on the other side of the shop and you just won’t be fast enough to catch up, but there’s never any need to choose whether to attend to one customer or another because there’s always plenty of time to do both. It feels less like gameplay and more like an idle game giving you mostly-pointless tasks to keep you engaged while your gold ticks upward for the day. In a better version of the game, though, attending customers would play more into reputation and would also convince them to give a tip or at least to increase their spending limit and thus buy more items. Instead of being something that comes up now and again, customers would require attendance almost constantly and there’s no way you’d be able to get them all, so you need to decide who’s most important.

I’d want an actual prototype in front of me to play around with before I commited to this next part, but you might also want expenses. The shop half of the game is probably best served by drawing on tycoon games, and in a tycoon game the looming threat is that expenses will outstrip income. Shop employees need income and also should exist at all earlier in the game and be more important, decorations should likewise feature more prominently and require maintenance as should the shop itself. It’s possible you want to cut the shop expenses because in this game you’re saving up for weapon/armor upgrades instead, but I don’t know if the shop management end can work without that.

These are unplaytested idea off the top of my head, but the point here is that you can definitely give the shop half of gameplay a lot more meat, and that it definitely needs more meat, because it’s the game’s main selling point.

Hades Is Good And You Should Play It

I struggle to find anything to say about Hades that hasn’t already been said, but I want it on record that it is a good game that you should play. If you have any interest in Roguelikes or in Greek mythology, you should give it a go, because it does a very good job with both of them. I feel like I should probably go into more detail, it’s not like I’ve ever been averse to spending 1500 words just to rephrase what other people have said because I came to similar conclusions, but for some reason it feels like this time that wouldn’t be any fun to write. I guess probably because I was aware of the conversation around Hades before I played it, so there was never an article growing inside me during gameplay that I wanted to get out of my system even if a post-game scan of reviews and analyses revealed that everything I had to say had been said already. This time around, I’d read/listened to the reviews before I played, which, I guess, switched off the part of me that tries to turn opinions into blog posts.

Blue Fire

Blue Fire is one of those games where you can tell they were heavily inspired by a specific game from their childhood, and in this case that specific game is the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or maybe Majora’s Mask, because this is an emo action adventure jump-y slice-y puzzle-y kind of game. I hesitate to lump it in with things like Minoria and Morbid: The Seven Acolytes as an apprentice-level game in which the creator mostly copies an existing game with their own creativity being clearly present but also not fully developed, because even though the first two hours seem like that, I was already very bored of it by then and will not be playing it any further. It turns out I don’t much like these jump-y slice-y puzzle-y kinds of games. Sure, Ocarina of Time still has some hooks in me, but that’s clearly because I played it when I was eight.

So Blue Fire is going into Regrets, although in this case it’s mostly that I regret I couldn’t give this game a fair shake. Turns out it’s like a racing game or a fighting game, beaten before it began because I just don’t like its genre.

You Play The Sidekick In Bloodstained

Video game plots sometimes have a problem, and Bloodstained, despite some early promise, walked right into it. There are two main characters directly working to defeat the demons in Bloodstained, and Miriam, the player character and alleged protagonist, is not one of them. The first of the real protagonists is Zangetsu, a samurai warrior that the creator is clearly very enamored with. They made a 2D sidescroller game in the style of the pre-Symphony of the Night Castlevanias called Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon that starred Zangetsu – maybe by putting their actual favorite character in the protagonist role, they were able to tell a better story.

Zangetsu and Miriam seem like they’re co-protagonists for most of the game. They’re both working for Dominique, the nun who is totes not evil, and they both have a personal connection with the two co-villains. Zangetsu is on a vengeance quest across the world to kill Gremory, and Miriam is on a quest to save the soul of fellow shardbinder (result of a demonic alchemical experiment that gives you protagonist powers, unfortunately I can’t think of a broadly recognizable word that conveys the concept effectively) and former friend Gebel, who has been corrupted by Gremory. Zangetsu provides you clues as to how to advance throughout the game, and near the end you have a second boss fight with him after which he gives you his special sword, which is the only thing that can break Gremory’s hold on Gebel and kill her.

This would all work, except that the game goes out of its way to establish explicitly in the aftermath of the second boss fight against Zangetsu that you have not surpassed him, that indeed, he could kill you easily and is really just testing your abilities. He thinks Gremory will abandon her current evil scheme and flee to scheme another day if he catches up with her, so he gives the special Gremory-killing sword to Miriam, confident Miriam is strong enough to kill Gremory with it, but believing Gremory will underestimate her. Miriam is very explicitly Zangetsu’s inferior in ability and spends the entire plot following his clues to pick up all the powerups that unlock new areas of the castle until the moment he dies, which is maybe an hour before the end of this twenty hour game. Though initially presented as co-protagonists, the conclusion of Zangetsu’s arc really cannot wait to hammer home how much cooler and more important he is than Miriam.

This might work as a protagonist hand-off if Zangetsu were some legacy character whose shadow Miriam needs to get out of to carry the series, but this is the first full game in the series. Zangetsu is the protagonist of a stretch goal game, and while that was technically the first game released in the series, Ritual of the Night is the game that actually got Kickstarted, Curse of the Moon was always presented as a side project.

The second real protagonist of the game is Alfred. Alfred is one of the alchemists that summoned all the demons in the first place ten years ago as part of the shardbinder experiments. His apprentice Johannes left the order in the aftermath and helped Miriam (and I think also Gebel?) recover from what the alchemists had done to them. Turns out Alfred is also on a redemption quest, inscribing glyphs in Enochian script throughout the castle in order to banish it back to Hell. We learn this after the final boss, when Johannes picks up his book and is like “aha, this is what Alfred was up to all this time!” While Alfred’s emotional investment is lesser than Miriam’s (his personal connection is not with a specific antagonist but just that his foolish mistakes of ten years ago led to the present situation in general), he’s clearly the protagonist of the gameplay. He’s the one for whom going to each part of the castle and defeating all the bosses (or, I guess, evading them, since they’re all still around when Miriam shows up) is actually accomplishing something.

Miriam does it because it’s a Metroidvania game and what else are you gonna do? At first she’s specifically there to find Gebel, but then you find Gebel halfway through and after defeating him get what is clearly a bad ending, so you reload a save before the fight and just start exploring the castle blindly to find more movement upgrades to explore more of the castle, accomplishing nothing besides eventually unlocking all the movement upgrades needed to get to the part of the castle where Zangetsu explains that he’s been the real protagonist the whole time but is too cool to bring it home and needs someone less badass to avoid scaring the villains off before they can be defeated.

The gameplay would make much more sense if Johannes were the one running around inscribing Enochian script in various boss locations (the game says they’re scattered throughout the castle but not exactly where, but the boss chambers is obviously where you put them), and Miriam had to clear the bosses out so he could do so. Then, instead of clearing the game (especially its second half) as purely an exercise in gameplay, I might’ve been able to actually get invested in the story. It’s not an amazing story or anything, but it’s got a few decent enough hooks that I could’ve got on board with it if it didn’t abandon any effort to provide an in-character motivation for completing the game past the point when you can get the bad ending (skipping half the game in doing so).

It’s pretty weak as a Metroidvania, as well. It’s no worse than Symphony of the Night, but Symphony of the Night was a genre-founder who’s since been pretty cleanly surpassed. It has the Symphony of the Night problem where there’s only ever one real way forward, but you often have to backtrack to find it. Movement powers unlock hidden alcoves with extra treasure, which is good, but never provide shortcuts or alternate entrances into areas that tie the castle together. As long as you retained the ability to fast travel between them, little would be lost if you presented each area in the game as proceeding left to right in fixed order.

It’s hard to fault Ritual of the Night too much for this. Symphony of the Night had similar flaws, and it pitched itself as “Symphony of the Night, but again.” On the one hand, there’s definitely no reason to play Ritual of the Night unless you really want there to be another Castlevania game, and specifically Castlevania, not Metroidvania in general. On the other hand, that’s exactly what it advertised itself as, so I don’t know what I was expecting.

Bloodstained Cooking

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has a cooking system. You can bring ingredients to the alchemist Johannes and he can make them into food. Eating food heals you, and if it’s the first time you’ve had that kind of food, you get a permanent stat boost. Cooking ingredients sometimes drop from enemies and also can be purchased from the store. This is a fun way to get some extra healing (you can also buy potions, but there’s a fairly low cap on how many of those you can have), but the execution is unfortunately pretty botched.

There are intermediate ingredients, so for example you combine milk and halite into butter, but butter can’t be consumed by itself, you have to bake it into other things. You can create just plain “cookies” and those are edible, but you can also use cookies as an intermediate step to specifically making chocolate cookies or cinnamon cookies. That gives the system a bit of depth and charm in a good way, but the UI only lists which ingredients you do or don’t have, without indicating which ingredients you’re missing but which can be made from ingredients you have, i.e. if you’re missing butter but you have the milk and halite needed to cook some butter, the game won’t tell you. You have to flip between the recipe cards to check for yourself.

Worse, the shop is down the hall from Johannes, which means if all you’re missing is a bunch of common ingredients like milk, eggs, and sugar that you can buy from the store, you can’t flip over to another tab and stock up immediately. You have to leave Johannes’ workshop, go to the store, buy those ingredients, and come back. That’s not so bad to do once, but if you’ve got a bunch of rare ingredients like beast milk and dragon eggs and you’re trying to cook a bunch of new recipes all at once, it’s easy to end up making a half-dozen trips back and forth between the workshop and the store as you work your way through all the recipes you can make with nothing but what you have and storebought ingredients, one at a time. Pretty quickly I realize that what I actually need is a list counting up how much I need of every single ingredient needed to bake all my rare ingredients into mid- or high-tier food, but if the store for the common ingredients was in a different tab of the cooking menu instead of down the hall, I wouldn’t need to make grocery lists to play a gothic action video game.

Bloodstained Is Easy

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night feels very much like a precursor to Hollow Knight in the indie Metroidvania scene, despite having been released two years later. It was a Kickstarted game whose main selling point is that a bunch of the people who worked on Symphony of the Night were back making Metroidvanias again, and the Kickstarter launched in 2015, so the game would’ve been at least two years into development when Hollow Knight dropped in 2017, and plus, I’m not sure that the guy who made Symphony of the Night felt the need to be looking around the Metroidvania scene to see what the new developments were when the game he made was one of the two founding titles and namesakes of the genre.

That hubris hasn’t paid off, because Bloodstained certainly feels more like a nostalgia trip than it does a new game. It’s a good nostalgia trip, with the soundtrack kicking in on the first stage really feeling like I’ve been dropped right back into the era of peak Castlevania, and I’m having fun with it. More recent games that are actually building on what Castlevania did well are better, though. No one who follows this blog is going to be surprised to hear me bring up Hollow Knight in regards to that, but also Blasphemous and Ori and the Blind Forest (which does suffer from being early on in the process, a stepping stone that the genre has largely moved past – but less so than Symphony of the Night and Bloodstained).

I don’t think the leveling system in Bloodstained is automatically a bad idea. In fact, I appreciate that there is the option to take a trip or two through the castle smacking mooks for a few more levels to help get past a difficult boss. But I think something Bloodstained lacks that its Kickstarter contemporaries have embraced is that the game, and especially the boss fights, are much more satisfying if they are a desperate struggle rather than a formality, that if you don’t grind you should have to learn a bosses’ pattern in order to defeat them (especially since Bloodstained is good about putting save points near boss chambers, so it’s not like it’s a huge imposition to try again).

And I can’t imagine I’m overleveled in this game, even though that happens in other games because of my thorough playstyle, because it’s very hard to be any more thorough than a main-plot-only playthrough in this game. There’s side quests, but they’re all to either acquire and then give away certain items or to kill X amount of Y monster, and in both cases they’ve been easy to accomplish in the course of normal play. I have occasionally had to farm a monster for a couple of minutes, but enemies respawn as soon as you leave a room and re-enter, so it’s not like I was reclearing entire areas of the game. This farming probably accounts for less than 1% of the XP I’ve acquired.

In fairness, Bloodstained has difficulty modes and from what I’ve read online, hard mode is genuinely difficult. Still, the first time I had to make any attempt to learn a bosses’ pattern on normal mode was fighting the Elizabeth Bathory-themed vampire boss halfway through the game. And that’s technically optional content, since you can go fight the final(?) boss before her (he’s very easy), although the game makes it really clear that this is a bad ending and the start menu stats show I’d explored about 45% of the castle at the time, so this is clearly a Symphony of the Night situation where the final boss isn’t really and there’s a whole second half of the game you have to play to get the real ending. No sign that this second half of the game is the first half but upside down, which is a relief.

While I’m glad that Bloodstained offers an easy mode and it does look like the game gets respectably challenging on normal mode once you reach the second half, past the fakeout ending where you go to the final boss as soon as he’s unlocked, I wish the first half of the game had the same challenge, at least once you get past the introduction and into the demon castle where 90% of the game takes place. This is especially true because the game as it is probably has the difficulty curve I want, but has split it up between modes. It’s hard to tell since you can’t change difficulty modes mid-playthrough and I don’t want to run an entire second playthrough to check, but from what I can tell the first half of the game would’ve been more fun on Hard while the second half is better on Normal. That means I ultimately made the right choice, I’d rather blitz through an easy first half than get frustrated on an overly difficult second half, but if there was an option to increase or decrease difficulty midway through, or if they’d just made the difficulty modes with the philosophy that if someone wants a certain level of challenge then that is probably the level of challenge they want for the entire game and there shouldn’t be any major difficulty spikes, then I could’ve had an optimal experience the whole way through.

It’s still a fun game (although bear in mind I really like Metroidvanias, so it’s hard for any reasonably competent Metroidvania not to entertain me), but it’s somewhat annoying that the resources to make the perfect difficulty curve for me were poured into this game, but then structured in such a way that I can’t actually use them.

Bloodstained: So Dominique Is Evil, Right?

I haven’t gotten very far into Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, but there’s a conversation with Dominique that immediately leapt out at me as signposting that Dominique is evil when it’s supposed to be, like, subtle foreshadowing. The basic premise of Bloodstained is that the Alchemists’ Guild were falling out of favor as the Enlightenment marched on, so they summoned an army of demons. The Catholic Church was not a fan of this move. Dominique is affiliated with the Catholic Church, but provided shelter to a rogue alchemist who fled the guild after the whole demon-summoning thing along with the victim of alchemical human experimentation (the latter being Miriam, the main character of the game, who has alchemical demon-fighting superpowers as a result of the experiment).

So Dominique is already under suspicion because she’s Catholic in a Japanese game, and Catholics or Catholic analogues are usually evil in Japanese games. But also, the main character Miriam has a conversation with the rogue alchemist Johannes early on in which Johannes says Dominique provided shelter to a fleeing alchemist and an alchemically enhanced supersoldier fleeing the crumbling Alchemists’ Guild against the will of the greater Catholic Church for reasons unknown.

So, like, she’s evil, right? She wants the power of the demons for herself and she provided shelter to an expert on demons in order to keep a route to that power open. Now that the demons are making their move, she’s pointing her pet alchemist and his supersoldier waifu at them in order to get her hands on the Necronomicon knock-off. She’s even buying all the spare demon shards off of Miriam (as an alchemical experiment, Miriam can use these shards as magic spells, but you can only have so many of them equipped and about 80% of them are going to end up as vendor trash even on spell-heavy builds), allegedly to dispose of them in some kind of nun-approved manner, but, y’know, we only have her word for it that she isn’t grinding them up into powder and cutting them with cocaine to sell to children in minority neighborhoods.

Hades: If Only I Had Some Kind Of Estus Flask

Zagreus, the protagonist of Hades, has a line early on in your first run when you get about under half health. It’s hard to find an exact script for this game because so many of the lines are triggered randomly, but the gist of it is “if only I had some kind of magic red drink that could heal me.” This line is a small detail, but I really liked it. It made me feel like me and Zagreus were in the same place, as indeed I was thinking to myself “oh, no, I’m going to die, I wonder if this game has some kind of healing I can find.” Particularly in a game like Hades that has a lot of random generation poured into it, lines like this help reassure me that the system is working as intended, that the devs anticipated this experience and it’s what they wanted me to be feeling right now, which inspires confidence that the game is going to be well-paced despite its randomization (and indeed, Hades does go on to be a very well-paced game, quite an achievement for a Roguelike, though it’s by no means the first one to pull it off).

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is one of those 2D Soulslike games, in this case taking its cues mainly from Bloodborne. It reminds me a lot of Minoria, not because of the nun fetishism that immediately grabs your attention in Minoria (though the protagonist is a woman, there’s nothing especially fetishistic about Morbid, unless you’re really into gore, I guess), but because it feels like an apprentice-level game created as a learning exercise. This isn’t to say that it has no creative identity of its own. It has original worldbuilding and monster designs and locations and piles on some unique mechanics like stealth and inventory tetris. Ultimately, however, when the game is good, it’s because it’s kinda like Bloodborne, and the best thing you can really say about its innovations is that they mostly fade into the background and don’t get in the way. In fairness, the stealth mechanic might’ve been really good, I never really tried it.

Morbid is a much easier game than your standard Soulslike. There is no penalty for death, except in that your sanity doesn’t regenerate when you visit a shrine (the local flavor of bonfire), so any sanity damage you took before getting kicked back to the last shrine will persist. Sanity regenerating items aren’t that hard to come by, however, and sanity damage is rare enough that you’re not likely to have to deal with it often. Since there’s no corpse runs, if you find one part of the game too difficult, there’s no risk or penalty in trying another instead.

Not that you’re especially likely to run into serious difficulty walls. The only particularly hard bosses in the game are King Cornelius and Bile Toad Putrus. The others I generally beat on my first or second attempt, and it should be noted that my first attempt on most bosses happens when I stumble into them unprepared, with half my resources already depleted, and trying to avoid using anything that doesn’t regenerate automatically when I die so that I can save those for a rematch when I’m better prepared both in how many resources I go into the fight with and having a basic understanding of the boss moveset. And I still got the game’s second to last boss on my first try! I doubt this is intentional, either, since some bosses’ later phases are actually easier than their earlier phases (Bile Toad Putrus, for example, uses his most difficult attacks from the very beginning, which means later phases are easier as less difficult attacks get mixed in, decreasing the frequency of the really hard ones).

While slightly disappointing, a game at this level of craft is defintely wise to err on the side of too easy rather than too hard. You still can’t sleepwalk through it, and making a frustrating game that requires you to beat your head against a boss for hours before getting it is a huge gamble. Sure, it can make the game very rewarding to beat, but you have to make a really good game in order to hold a player’s attention long enough to bother beating it. I liked Morbid, and while I would’ve liked it more if its difficulty had been perfectly balanced to the Bloodborne standard, I would’ve liked it much, much less if it had overstayed its welcome. Besides, if someone really wants the game to be hard, they can always equip rubbish weapons and take all their blessings off to give themselves a short healthbar and low damage. Now every boss is a gauntlet that requires perfect play over the course of (estimating since I haven’t tried this) 15-20 minutes, rather than a blitz where victory is decided one way or the other in about 5 minutes and if you find one particular attack to be hard to dodge/parry, you can probably just facetank it and focus on countering the other attacks instead.

Bottom line, this is one of those games that I recommend to anyone who really likes Soulslikes and has already gotten through all the luminaries of the genre. There’s a lot of luminaries to get through in that genre, but not so many that a fan of the genre can’t get through them all. We’re still talking about 50-100 hours’ worth of S-tier Soulslike gameplay being released per year, which is a lot compared to some other genres but still very easy to get through with six months left to fill with stuff like Morbid.

That’s obviously not the highest recommendation possible, but Morbid came along with Raji and Kingdoms of Amalur in the November Humble Choice (along with Eldest Souls, which I passed on because I doubted the creative vision of a game so blatantly aping FromSoftware, and some others I don’t care about at all), and after Raji was a flop and Amalur I had only picked up out of academic curiosity, fully expecting it to also be a flop, I was concerned that maybe November was a flop entirely and I needed to let some months just have no new games at all. While I do still want to keep in mind that it is possible that there will be a Humble Choice with exactly zero games I am interested in, I do think Morbid saves November from that fate. It’s not my new favorite or anything, but I’m glad I played it.