Fun lil toy of a game. You're a lil guy in a ball and you roll around, collecting other balls (but not other lil guys) and sometimes you put those balls in or near something to activate it and open up a path to let you go somewhere else (where there are more balls and more things). Everything makes pleasant little beeps and boops and honks while some pleasant music plays.

My only issue is that for how chill this is, some of the platforming felt too finicky. I don't want to re-try a jump five or six times, I just want to vibe!!

this game is like when you feel really depressed but also really horny at the same time. also it's very gay. and very good.

This game, and a lot of ones similar to it that I"ve played, all seem to suffer from the same fact that I just don't find it fun to lose because of bad luck. This game gives you lots of tools to try and work around getting bad draws but to lose a fight because I expend all those resources and the bad luck persists and I lose anyway... it just feels bad. The levels that don't have an enemy to fight and are just vibing trying to get the biggest combo possible are the best parts of the game but it seems like maybe one in three levels is one of those.

Sure, the game is glitchy and buggy and crashes and the levels are way too long and there's way too many enemies for what your toolset is and the screenshake makes it hard to see anything and it takes way too long to get to the game's gimmick magic spell gauntlet mechanic but damn is it charming. It's the only game I can think of that starts off as a WWI shooter and becomes a crusade into the depths of vampire hell to free the last dragon and fight multiple demon lords and that's gotta count for something.

I would heartily recommend people play the first level or two. The next two or three levels are still pretty okay. But after that it becomes a very mediocre third person shooter and the ending is a dire slog. But those early bits? Oh, there are some genuinely interesting ideas in there. They aren't always executed on well but it's so interesting to see what they were going for. It's tragic that so much of what makes this game unique falls away the further in you get until eventually the only remnant of the squad mechanics is just that you occasionally need an engineer to open a door for you. There was, at some point, going to be a sequel to this but it got cancelled and I think that's really unfortunate because seeing a more refined and more fully realized version of this game's mechanics would be absolutely fascinating to see.

As an adaptation though, this thing is kind of a travesty? It actively undoes the ending of the movie and has some bits of lore that contradict some ideas about how The Thing functions. I think there's something to the idea of doing an adaptation game where you're visiting the ruins/aftermath of the movie and you, the player, understand what you see but your character doesn't and has to piece things together. But this game only briefly touches that and abandons it pretty quickly.

I don't want to go too hard on this game because a lot of things I ended up disliking about it are because a lot of the things I found frustrating here are due to it being based on D&D which I think is, largely, the antithesis of fun. So, things like THAC0, or the garbage alignment system, or obtuse/unclear stat systems aren't really Icewind Dale's fault. I can, however, call out how the game doesn't really offer any help if you're unfamiliar with those systems. The vast majority of things in the game don't have tooltips or details to read and the manuals (which don't come with the Steam version! I had to find the GOG version's manual!) don't have anything to help with this either. So, in the frequent case that I was confused about something, the solution was to go google it. I guess the expectation was that back in 2000 you'd either have your 2nd Edition rule book laying around and look it up there or you'd know what forum to go to to find your answer. Don't know how to remove "Chaos" or whatever? Well, too bad. Go look it up. Hope you know where to look! They had the option to put a lot of information in the game itself (both in the initial release and in this Enhanced Edition) and chose not to. It made a tedious experience that much more tedious when I had to frequently alt-tab out of the game to look things up for every other encounter (and not even always find an answer because Icewind Dale seems to be not terribly well-documented, especially compared to other notable CRPGs of the era).

So, with that aside... I still didn't like this very much. It's an immensely tedious game that asks you to constantly wrestle with every bit of tedium and clunkiness and if you manage to do all that you're rewarded with an immensely bland and generic narrative. I found large swathes of this game to be actively unenjoyable and unfun.

The way combat is seemingly supposed to work in this game is that you engage a group of enemies, they wipe the floor with you, and you load the game to figure out what the best approach for your particular party is. At first, I was okay with this. Combat was a series of fun puzzles to try and solve and once you get a wide enough array of tools at your disposal, it starts to become easier to deal with all the things the game can throw at you. But after hours and hours of saving and loading for just about every encounter, it really wore me down. It's just a tiresome loop to put up with for the thirty-ish hours it took to get through the game. On top of that, I found a lot of the encounter design to be very lacking. It seemed like there were largely two types of encounters here: a massive mob of simple enemies or a smaller group of enemies that have some more difficult aspect to them (resistances to particular damage types or strong spells, things like that). Occasionally, they throw a third type at you: a large mob of simple enemies that also have some stronger enemies behind them. It is, again, fine at first but becomes pretty boring when maps are just the same couple encounters repeated a dozen or so times.

Something that makes all that worse is that this game is clunky. I like to think that I'm pretty willing to put up with a lot of Old Game Jank and will cut older games a lot of slack when they don't have all the smooth sleek experiences of modern games but Icewind Dale really tested my patience in that regard. It feels like every way this UI/UX could be clunky, it is. Managing your inventory, casting spells, even just moving your characters around. The pathing AI was a pretty major source of frustration for me because it meant that I was constantly pausing in combat to micromanage each party member's movements but it felt like it hardly mattered because sometimes their AI routine would wrest control away from me and go do their own thing or other times they'd get inexplicable stuck on a wall or an ally or on nothing at all and they'd just sort of vibrate in place instead of doing anything useful.

And, hey, speaking of those party members, they were a pretty major disappointment for me too! When I saw that it gives you a full party of six pre-generated characters, I made the assumption that they were Actual Characters with stories and companion quests because that's how the vast majority of CRPGs work. But it turns out that, no, they aren't anything. They're just as empty as your own created character is. They get a little paragraph of backstory but there's no connections to the areas you go to or the people you meet. They don't have any goals or ideals or motivations or anything. This was extra weird to me seeing as the Icewind Dale games are basically a follow-up to the Baldur's Gate games which do a pretty good job of having interesting companion characters. (Side note that, yes, those games are by a different developer but you'd think maybe Black Isle would've taken note of what Baldur's Gate did well and try to put that in their game, y'know?)

And, hey, speaking of disappointing writing, the actual main plot of this game is some of the most empty, vapid, dull, tabletop adventure writing I've ever seen. There are a couple interesting tidbits here or there in this but the vast majority of the narrative is intensely dull. You're a group of adventurers who headed North in search of the vague idea of "adventure" and got caught up in chasing down some evil that plagues a village but the evil is always somewhere else and then, oops! it turns out the evil manipulated you into doing a thing for them and now you have to continue chasing the evil down to have a final confrontation. So much of this feels like they were stretching for time. There's so little actually important events in the story that it feels like they crammed in as much filler as they could to fill out the game.

It's not completely devoid of good ideas but most of what I did have any positive feelings for is buried pretty deep or not really engaged with. I think it's very interesting how this game pretty frequently reminds you that there were lots of people already living in the area before a bunch of humans moved in to start the Ten Towns and that y'all are extremely not welcome here you fuckin' settler scum but then the game doesn't really do anything with that. You can't do much to criticize or push back on the idea that because the Ten Towns exist everyone else just has to be okay with land being stolen out from under them. It almost feels like they stumbled backwards into it on accident and that's why they only sort-of address it. I also liked this small sub-plot about elves and dwarves fighting a war against orc but eventually falling because they were deceived into thinking they were being betrayed by each other. It wasn't anything terribly original or groundbreaking but the way it delivered that narrative by telling you one thing, suggesting the truth via some notes, and then revealing the actual truth later was significantly more interesting than almost anything else in this game.

I found that a lot of this held true for the DLC/expansion Heart of Winter as well. The narrative was nothing special ("hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" except the woman is a dragon) and the encounter design was the same but with ice monsters and yetis and shit. At least that one was short.

The Trials of the Luremaster DLC/expansion though is truly awful. Apparently, they only did this one because people complained that Heart of Winter didn't have enough content to it. And you can tell because a lot of it feels like it was made under duress. So much of the encounter design feels actively hostile to the player and downright mean. Most of the puzzles they ask you to solve are either dead simple things that are barely even puzzles or obtuse bullshit that the game seems to expect you to trial and error your way through. And there's barely any narrative to it, either. I made it about 90% of the way through it before the hard-as-nails encounters wore me down and I quit because absolutely nothing I had seen made me think that last 10% was going to be worth my time. Just some atrocious game design on display here. The only part of this that was remotely amusing was that one character's dialogue is, essentially, saying that adventurers like you are a bunch of greedy assholes who just want to travel to places to loot them for all they're worth.

I didn't particularly enjoy my time with Icewind Dale. I kept expecting to find something about it that I'd like and at least be able to point to and say "the rest of it may be kinda shit but this one part is worth it!" but I never found that.

I really like the core idea and would love to see it expanded upon but with this basic game jam version it can be a little frustrating because I had so many rounds that I lost because it came down to a 50/50 guess. When I was able to use the hints to figure out what cards probably were or weren't the vampire it felt great! It just didn't happen often enough to make me want to keep playing.

Foregone has a very strong start with a good gamefeel and a striking visual style but falls off the longer it goes on. The third act of the game has increasingly mean level design and encounter design straight out of the "what if more" school of thought to the point that it became hard to discern what all was going on at any given time because the screen was so covered in enemies and effects. The story barely exists for most of the game and then at the tail end it does a dramatic reveal and a little twist to try and give it some kind of emotional impact and utterly fails at it which is accompanied by perhaps the funniest ending choice I've seen in a while. "Would you rather save the world, like you've been fighting for, or just give up and let evil win?" golly gee I wonder. Also, the skill tree feels mostly pointless? What's the point of giving me a skill to invest points in if it only increases my damage by 1%? I'm a believer that when you have a skill tree, each individual skill should have a noticable, meaningful difference when you play and that describes maybe half of what's on this meager tree. The first two thirds are a pretty fun time, if a bit breezy, but a slog of a late game drags the experience down.

Before I get into the actual review, I need to start off with a little PSA: This game is early access. It's not marked as such and, as far as I can tell, they don't actually call it that but this game is unfinished. Yes, you can play through the entire main story of the game but it feels like they simply haven't added large swathes of content. So this entire review is going to have a big asterisk of "maybe check back in in 6-to-12 months and see if it's actually done now".

First off: it's cool that this game draws so much from Roadside Picnic and Stalker. Outside of the actual S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, I feel like they don't come up as influences for games very often so it's neat to see it. And it works really well with this type of Fallout-y game they're going for! And I like that the bolt-throwing mechanic to disable anomalies felt actually meaningful. In my (limited) time with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, it seemed like throwing bolts was a neat thing to do but ultimately unnecessary because of the visual and audio cues the anomalies caused but in Encased the anomalies are essentially recharging landmines so you have to actually throw bolts at them to be able to move past them to get to objectives or loot or whatever.

One of my favorite parts of any Fallout game are the vaults. They're small dungeons, each with a wholly self-contained short story. So of course I was interested to see what Encased would have as a vault equivalent. Early on, there was a quest to check out four of these research bunkers and I found all four of them to be pretty disappointing. The stories they told weren't particularly interesting and the way they told them wasn't very clever or well done. And then that was it. There weren't any more in the rest of the game.

I need to talk about the main quest because about halfway through the game, that's all there is to do. The actual narrative of it is fine, I suppose. A bad thing happens, you're somehow magically linked to it and you use that link to save everyone or kill everyone. It's nothing special but I never get very attached to the main stories in this sort of game anyway, so your mileage may vary here. My main issue with this is in the actual functional design of the series of quests. You're an extremely important person and yet everyone treats you like a nobody and uses you as a gopher to run errands for them. It's just hours and hours of back-to-back fetch quests. Multiple stages of the story have you running to the various factions to convince them to cooperate on something and having to do favors for them all. Some of the favors include stuff as mundane as putting up some election posters for someone or polling random people about who they're voting for (despite the game never resolving this election plotline! it just fades away and hopes you forget that it ever mattered!). It makes actually advancing the plot feel like a grind when so much of it is Person A sends you to Person B who sends you to Person C who needs a favor and that favor is to kill some zombies or find a macguffin. As much as I don't particularly care for Fallout 1 and 2, I really think they have some exquisitely designed main narratives, especially in the way they reveal what the games are really about and get you into each stage of the story relatively seamlessly.

I gestured at this before but, after a certain point, this game gets empty. During the Prologue and Act 1, there's quite a few side quests available — at one point I had so many that I felt mildly overwhelmed when looking at my quest log because of how much stuff there was to do. But once the game got to Act 2, the side content dried up almost completely. The game finally lets you go visit some of the other factions and when you get to their home bases, you find these big maps full of a ton of NPCs and nothing to do outside of the main quest. You're telling me that The Phalanx (a mercenary band trying to take control of The Dome by force) doesn't have one single thing for me to do? No one in that huge base needs a single favor? To make it worse, there are a lot of locations and characters that have bits of narrative or unique interactions where a quest should be but then nothing is ever there. I constantly had this feeling that I had arrived at a place too early and the quest hadn't unlocked yet, but then I went back just before I finished the game and there still wasn't anything to do. And so that leaves you in the late game with pretty much nothing to do but the absolute grind of a main plot.

For me, the companions are always the most important part of this type of game. I always prefer the smaller-scale and more personal stories of unique characters instead of the bigger main story plot about saving the world or whatever. And in this particular aspect, this game is wildly disappointing. The companions don't have much to say, both in terms of how often they have new dialogue options but also when they actually do talk there's barely more than a sentence or two at a time. And then on top of that, I found the companions to be all varying degrees of dull. They didn't craft interesting characters to talk to! I talked to them anyway in a naive hope that they might suddenly say something compelling but it never happened and I eventually gave up.

On top of all that, they don't have companion quests. You know how normally a game with companions will have quests to resolve their character arc or a loyalty mission or something but these characters don't have any of that. They all have bits of story that point towards having a conflict to resolve with your help but none of them seem to actually do that. For example, the one companion I liked the most was Crump and he talks about how his abusive father is somewhere under the dome and how he wants to find him. But then it doesn't go anywhere. As far as I could tell, you simply can't find Crump's father. And after the finale, when the game lets you talk to the companions one last time, he says that now that everything is settled, he'll go do it himself. It's frustrating and hugely disappointing to me.

And speaking of frustrating and hugely disappointing, I need to talk about Fox. Fox is plural and the writers lean into every old, tired, shitty, trope about plurality that they can cram in. It extremely sucks! At one point, there's even a fortuneteller that hinted that Fox's companion quest (if it actually existed, of course) would be to "help" Fox out by "getting rid" of one personality so you can make her a "normal" person and it sucks! If that's really what they're going to go for, then that sucks and it's better that it's not actually a thing you do in the game. And if you're thinking "well I don't understand why this sucks" please do yourself a favor and read up on plurality some: https://morethanone.info/#

A few last stray thoughts that I just need to get out of my head:
-This game has a tiny bit of talk about the way society treats convicts unfairly even after they've served their sentences but it doesn't really go very far into it and mostly uses it as a tool to make it clear that one particular faction sucks more than the rest. It's like it gestures at having some good politics but then backs away before actually saying anything meaningful.
-This game has one of the most bewildering references I've ever seen where, in a defunct prison, there's a TV showing a cartoon rendition of an Abu Ghraib prisoner being tortured. Why would you put that in a game?? At all?? It's not some biting satire and it's definitely not funny so it just feels completely tasteless. What the fuck!
-Fallout, as a franchise, has an awful lot to say about racism and slavery (even if they try and obfuscate it behind applying it to Ghouls or synthetic people instead of "normal" people or whatever) and this game completely avoids that which is nice because I think the way the Fallouts talk about this stuff is pretty bad.
-It seems like they want to avoid the quest log guiding you too closely to where you need to go and what you need to do but sometimes it gives you a quest to go to the biggest city in the game and talk to Some Guy but gives absolutely no indication where in the city that guy actually is and so I had to run around to every room in the whole place until I found him and it was awful every time. Objective markers are not inherently bad, y'all, sometimes they just save you from doing extremely boring shit!!
-The AI pathing is genuinely terrible. I had multiple instances of my companions (and occasional escort quest NPCs!) walk directly into instant-death environmental hazards because they have absolutely zero sense of self-preservation. You can manually move each character around individually and doing so is very tedious and absolutely required in some locations.
-At first, I thought that the Fops faction (they're liked Fallout's raiders or bandits) were going to be their way of signalling that these are human-shaped goblins that you don't need to feel bad for killing. But then it said they'd be a valid faction for me to talk to and possibly ally with! But then when I got to talk to them it turns out they're just a bunch of crazy cannibals and they're actually just human-shaped goblins that I shouldn't feel bad about killing.

And finally, I want to include some thoughts about the finale but, because it has to be very spoiler-y, I'm going to run it through rot-13. If you don't know what that is, just copy and paste this gibberish into https://rot13.com/ to decode it.

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I really like the idea here: having a conversation with passengers in your car but only speaking through images instead of words. Unfortunately, I think this game kind of fails at achieveing that because the emoji you choose from are selected randomly and the 'responses' from your passengers just seem to be related to the one you pick. So it never feels like there's any sort of coherent conversation happening. Also, I think the toonwave glitch aesthetic sucks and, even when I had it turned way down, it made the game hard to look at.

This game is really a cut above the rest!

Wildermyth is extremely cool and shows how a game can use procedural generation to craft strong stories and characters. I care more about some of these randomly assembled characters that I do the vast majority of other games. I love Hetty the witch who only says the weirdest things at the most serious times. And Marennen the warrior who constantly jumped into the midst of enemies to defend her wife. Or Pamelle, the human chimera who ended up with a wolf's head and arms, a raven's wings and legs, and a scorpion's tail.

But by the third campaign (out of five), I did start to see a handful of events start to repeat which is when the mechanical structure of the game started to be easier to see. The artifice fell away and I saw how functional each choice can be. And when I started to make each of the three classes largely the same because, even with the levelup skill selections being randomized, you can only make one warrior so different from another. But also, that was after something like 20 hours so maybe it's not so bad.

I also need to mention that I played this in co-op and while that was a really cool thing to get to do, it is extremely janky. Latency causes things to desync fairly regularly, sometimes events get skipped for one person but not the other, the text chat is borderline unusable because of how often it refreshes or clears what you were typing.

This game is so so so cool. I like it a lot. I don't have many issues with it but the issues I have feel pretty glaring. But despite that I still will hold this game dearly in my heart because the moments its produced have been so special.

oops, now I'm crying

A very sweet little visual novel about getting a frog out of a pot, about loneliness and living a listless life, and about finding meaning in the things you do.

A beautiful game about anxiety, trauma, family, loss, and moving on. The art has a lovely if occasionally grotesque style to it that was always exciting to see what the game would show me next. The writing was moving and struck a good balance of leaving things for you to fill in some blanks but also being blatant and telling you what you need to hear when you need to hear it. It never once felt like it was clumsy or being too mysterious and I really appreciate that.

The platforming is pretty simple but I think that serves the game's goals well. The puzzle solving is similarly simple but, once again, I think that's for the best. If either of those aspects were too difficult it would just make the game a slog to get through and no one would want that.

It does drag a bit in the middle but for a game that's only five hours long what that amounts to is a 30-ish minute section in the middle somewhere that should've been 15 or 20 so overall that's a pretty minor complaint.

I love Mo and I want her to be happy.

I just want to dig hole, find rock, and buy upgrade. That's all I want. But this game keeps wanting me to do platforming challenges (despite the movement not feeling very good) and combat (which also does not feel very good) and there's also some story happening that seems to be very charming or whatever but I'm sorry I just simply do not care because all I want to do is dig hole, find rock, and buy upgrade.