EARLY ACCESS: Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

The newest addition to the iconic Trine-series has recently been released as early-access and is, once again, a visually engrossing masterpiece with beautiful graphics, luminous lighting and stunning bloom effects. Unlike the rather subtle transition between the two prequels, Trine 3: Artifacts of Power has advanced significantly and developer Frozenbyte now invites the player to a fully interactive 3D-world within the Trine-universe.

The player must once more lead the three delightfully unique and charming characters through a fairy-tale world of mysteries and cleverly designed puzzles packed with dangerous traps and monsters. Each character, a wizard, a knight and thief, have their own identities with unique abilities, movement and controls. All of which must be mastered and used correctly to complete the levels. The player may switch freely between the three characters depending on the task at hand – something which proves an interesting game mechanic.

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

Trine’s visuals are truly unique and extremely appealing. It was hard to find the best screenshots (yes, these are actual gameplay screenshots), so if you are interested I’d recommend to check the trailer.

It is important to stress that this preview is done in a relatively early stage of the early-access process. This means that the player is more likely to encounter a few bugs (none entirely game breaking, however) and that there’s room for tweaks and changes as the development is ongoing. Despite being in early-access, the overall experience of the current content does feel rather complete. The three characters still maintain the same abilities, movements and controls remain, for the most part, the same as well. This makes players of the previous games feel at home immediately – almost as if your game session is merely a continuation from the previous two.

Players unfamiliar with the series will, too, soon feel at home. The controls and game mechanics are relatively easy to learn, but does introduce a few challenging puzzles. It is too early to firmly conclude the overall difficulty as there’s only three levels available, but much indicates it’ll be similar to the previous ones and thus be a fine balance between challenging and easy puzzles. The soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen (the guy who created the soundtrack for the prequels as well) moreover never cease to amaze, and does a great job accompanying the atmospheric levels.

The three characters are wonderfully portrayed and invites to a giggle or two through great voice-acting. The characters moreover each play a vital part in completing any level due to their unique abilities.

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power is without a doubt looking very promising, and with a dedicated developer it’s only a matter of time before the game is fully released. Those looking for a platformer or simply a game with stunning visuals will thus undeniably enjoy Trine 3 immensely.

Buy Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/319910/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

EARLY ACCESS: Enter the Darkest Dungeon

The darkness is growing ferociously as you cautiously take yet another step into the unknown and sacred ruins. You have lost track of place and time, and supplies are running low. In fact, the last torch has just burned out, and visibility as well as morale and courage has diminished beneath what you considered sanely possible. Yet you cannot abandon the mission. You have gone through too much. You have sacrificed too much and too many.

Your team was flawed. You are flawed, but yet you and your team managed to leave relentless battles against twisted and unimaginable bizarre foes alive – although mentally vulnerable and heavily affected by the increasing psychological stress and paranoia. You are verging on a mental breakdown, and struggle to stop your natural survival instincts of abandoning your team and your mission, but you manage to find the last bit of courage, the last bit of hope, and take yet another step. The darkness thirstily inhales your fears as you approach the next door…

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Darkest Dungeon features an astonishing hand-drawn atmosphere.

The roguelike-genre has experienced a major renaissance the past few years with hundreds of games released last year alone, and every so often, a game stands out. This is one of them. This is Darkest Dungeon, a challenging roguelike turn-based RPG with innovative and highly intriguing game mechanics by developer Red Hook. It is hard to properly compare the game to others, but in all its essence, Darkest Dungeon remains a visually stunning dungeon-crawler similar to games such as Legends of Grimrock, but with clever and very innovative game mechanics.

The player must lead a team of four flawed heroes through twisted forests, crypts and ruins (the game currently has three completed dungeons, but more dungeons have been announced). Unlike traditional RPG games, all heroes experience psychological pressure as well as their subsequent side effects. The system does not necessarily interfere with the progression nor development however, but when the stress-factor becomes too high it will heavily affect the heroes. Whilst most side-effects are negative and mostly temporary, some effects are positive and will benefit the hero through all future endeavours. Character progression and development thus largely depends on the outcome of the psychological-dice roll.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Players will moreover manage a small village which functions as your party’s headquarters. The various buildings allow the heroes to reduce their stress through either drinking, gambling, medieval treatment, prayer or meditation. Though, every stress-reducing activity is expensive and with the party heavily relying on gear (torches, rations, medicine and bandages) for the next mission it becomes a matter of priorities. Additionally, players need money to fund the heroes’ personal equipment and skills. The many needs for money ultimately encourages the player to take further risks in an attempt to obtain more gold to secure further adventuring.

Darkest Dungeon is still – perhaps quite surprising – in early-access despite feeling like a near-complete game. The graphics and atmosphere is stunning and engrossing, the narration and voice acting is well-made and the gameplay feels reasonably balanced. The combat system is turn-based and heavily relies on positioning and picking the right heroes, skills and items. Failing to do so properly results in a brutal death which due to the roguelike-elements means, worst case scenario, permanently lost heroes (though, the player may abandon a mission, but doing so generates no gold to cover the restoration of the remaining heroes’ physical and mental health). With an announced six months of early-access-mode and dedicated developers, the game is bound to receive plenty of updates which only strengthens this recommendation.

Buy Darkest Dungeon (EARLY ACCESS) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/262060/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

EARLY ACCESS: Welcome to the Sunrider Academy

Introducing the second chapter of the Sunrider trilogy, developer Love In Space welcomes the player to the ever hectic student life at the imaginary Sunrider Academy campus. The player takes the role as Kayto Shields – a young and decently ambitious man whom, unable to decline, ends up being appointed as the school’s Club Manager. He finds himself forced to take the unwanted responsibility and must ensure the three worst-performing clubs regain a minimum of five members each, fix their respective administrations and compete in competitions. Kayto must moreover manage his already tight schedule to fit both a healthy focus on school, homework and exercise, as well as building relationships.

The controls and interaction are similar to other visual novels with the exception of the player's holo in the upper right corner. This gives, once activated, a nice overview of the players current progress.

The controls and interaction are similar to other visual novels with the exception of the player’s holo in the upper right corner. This gives, once activated, a nice overview of the players current progress.

Sunrider Academy requires the player to pay a constant and very cautious eye at Kayto’s extremely tight schedule in order to properly explore the different character paths. It is evident that the dating-like aspect is meant as the end-game (and likely with different endings depending on which character you attempt to pursue), whereas the time-management is a mere requirement to get started. This can prove a surprisingly challenging thing to accomplish however. Fortunately the game does offer various difficulties allowing players to simply enjoy and explore the various paths without fearing a bad ending. Though, as the game does offer a delightful amount of choices, playing on a difficulty risking a bad ending does make the player think more long-term when deciding.

An unique aspect to Sunrider Academy compared to other visual-novels and anime games is the character progression. All activities the player engages in awards points in various categories (RPG-players, read: skilltrees) such as intelligence, luck, charisma and fitness. All events throughout the game are either directly or indirectly related to these parameters – passing an exam requires a high intelligence, for instance. Failing to manage your time properly means an increased stress-level followed by a higher risk of failing everyday activities and ultimately less points. Similar, success in dating depends on these parameters.

The game is, in its current state, very solid, but it's evident that players only get to experience glimpses of the final product.

The game is, in its current state, very solid, but it’s evident that players only get to experience glimpses of the final product – image source.

However, these types of games does not appeal to everyone, and should not be purchased nor played by everyone. Whilst Steam has experienced an exponential increase of respectively visual novels and anime games throughout 2014, the genre does remain extremely unique and requires a genuine interest (or curiosity!) in anime. If you enjoy anime, reading and dating-like simulation (or perhaps just the everyday management similar to The Sims), Sunrider Academy appears to be a very solid game to explore. It is moreover beginner-friendly for players unfamiliar or inexperienced with the genre.

It is important to stress that Sunrider Academy mostly feels like an extended demo for what’s to come in its current state – one can expect about four of the announced thirty hours of gameplay. However, the developer appears very active and does listen to community feedback, so the estimated months of early-access might be worth the wait. In the meantime I’d recommend to check out the free demo if any of the above sounds appealing!

Buy Sunrider Academy (EARLY ACCESS), or download the DEMO, on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/340730/

Play Sunrider Mask of Arcdius (F2P) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/313730/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

PREVIEW: Majestic Nights

Conspiracy theories are not always just conspiracy theories. Sometimes there’s simply something which (or whom) cannot be denied existence – especially not if you have witnessed everything. Or have you? In fact you are not really sure, but everyone around you seems to believe you did. So perhaps you really did – working as an intelligence operative deep undercover and constantly living in the shadows can’t be healthy. No, you need to know for certain that what has been seen cannot be unseen.

And with that, welcome to Majestic Nights.

Majestic Nights

Introducing Majestic Nights – an episodic role-playing-thriller set in an alternate 1980s where all conspiracy theories, past and present, are true.

Set in the 80’s bright, lively and colorful world, the six darkest and most controversial conspiracies through the last 50 years are about to slowly become unwrapped and revealed – all from experiments with mind control and alien abductions to government hoaxes. Indeed, Majestic Nights has been announced to be released in six standalone chapters, excluding the seventh and free prologue Sunset After Dark, all covering one of the six aforementioned conspiracy theories. A season pass allowing access to all episodes once released will moreover become available – though each episode may be purchased individually for a small price.

Gameplay-wise through the roughly 30-40 minutes the prologue takes, it is evident that Majestic Nights is an intriguing mix of stealth, interrogation and action-packed shootouts. Worth noting, however, is that if the protagonist is spotted by enemies, the game will enter a slow-motion mode which significantly reduces the excitement regardless of difficulty. Though, ignoring stiff movement and what at times feels like unresponsive, or slow, controls, the gameplay from a game still in development feels solid. Furthermore, Australian developer Epiphany Games has assured me that several improvements and tweaks (likely addressing the above) will be implemented accordingly prior to launch.

Majestic Nights

You may decide to walk the shadows and avoid direct shootouts, or play by the motto: There’s no one to notice, if there’s no one to notice. A melee-option has moreover been confirmed, something which only adds to the stealth-play.

Another aspect worth noting is the three difficulty-levels, and unfortunately, after having played through all options, there seem to be little-to-no difference between either. Significant differences such as limited or reduced ammunition, reduced cover time, reduced running, no indicator around story-related elements or similar between the difficulty-levels would be very welcome. It is important to stress that the vast majority of players will enjoy the story regardless of difficulty, but those who seek a challenge whilst following an intriguing story would appreciate this.

The visual design of Majestic Nights seems – at first glance – to be a mix of respectively Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us. This means comic-like drawings from an unusual and unique color palette which isn’t afraid of bright colours. The lightning effects when caught is moreover a nice twist and most unique. Admittedly this art style won’t please everyone, but it suits the overall environment and story nicely.

Depending on the player's choice of words, the events will occur differently.

Depending on the player’s choice of words, the events will occur differently.

Overall Majestic Nights seeks to offer a unique perspective on conspiracy theories – an interesting subject which allows for many options. It will be interesting to see how the actual chapters will unfold, but with the right tweaks and fixes together with a firm focus on delivering an intriguing story, Majestic Nights will likely turn majestic.

Pre-order Majestic Nights on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/284140

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.