Epic Games Store offers its users three (or rather five) freebies to grab this week: Daedalic Entertainment‘s adventure games Deponia: The Complete Journey, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, and David Wehle‘s exploration title The First Tree.
Deponia: The Complete Journey comprises Deponia, Chaos on Deponia, and Goodbye Deponia, all of which I’ve already reviewed (see the articles for the first, the second, and the third game), so I won’t go much further than this, only that it’s a divisive trilogy of point-and-clickers due to the main character, the tasteless humor and obscure puzzles.
The fourth game, Deponia Doomsday, I also reviewed, but it’s not included in the compilation, probably because it’s a rather strange alternative non-sequel.
Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is an episodic game based on the author’s bestseller, and it’s quite a departure for Daedalic because of its decision-making gameplay and historical drama genre, in contrast to the more cartoon-y titles they’ve done so far.
There are lots of survival games around, but if someone like Hervé Bonin, the co-founder of Dontnod who are known for their Life is Strange games, is involved, it becomes a bit more interesting. 200 years after geological disasters have struck the earth and left it behind as a wasteland, one has to survive everything that comes with the territory.
While this post-apocalyptic idea isn’t new (see the Game release: “Endzone – A World Apart” article), there’s much more storytelling this time around, as can be seen with 34 different endings that can be achieved (made easier by individual playthroughs of around 2 hours), depending on the paths one decides to take. Of course managing resources as well as one’s party of survivors is as much part of the experience as getting to know the various characters’ background stories and personalities.
The game is out now on PC with a 15% launch discount that lasts until April 22, 2021, at 3 PM UTC.
The Girl, together with her mechanical alter-ego Cubus, has to save her world by finding the missing pieces of the Sacred Engine that has been damaged by a mysterious cloaked figure.
Simple storytelling The story starts out simple and it remains that way, so anyone expecting an epic quest with lots of twists and turns might be disappointed. However, as soon as one has to restore a totem by finding missing parts that are held by various keepers on their respective planets, things get more interesting.
The Girl’s background story and her connection to the Cubus stay mysterious, but the more one talks with the individual planet inhabitants, the more one learns about each totem keeper and how they’re related to the worlds’ balance. So while one feels slightly detached to the main protagonist(s), one still cares for their quest and embraces the planets’ uniqueness. The very touching ending with a surprising twist make the journey all the more worthwhile.
Bizarre worlds and creatures The worlds one visits are unique. Being populated by imaginative creatures, some of which can be clicked on and memorized for a photo album collection, each fish planet also has some truly memorabe characters. These aren’t too creepy for a younger audience, which is probably because there’s a lot of quirky humor as well.
Lots of co-op puzzles Many puzzles require teamwork or rather switching between the Girl and Cubus forms. The former can climb objects or crawl through tight spaces, in addition to talking to NPCs. The latter does the heavy lifting of objects. Solving various conundrums in this way makes for the best moments.
Imaginative and not so original conundrums Some of the puzzles are quite original, e.g. traveling back in time or making Cubus win a contest of brain and brawn against his mirror counterpart. In each new location one is faced with varied mission goals, e.g. turning a not so frightening pet of an old woman into a more intimidating dragon.
Unfortunately more than enough puzzles are too familiar to seasoned adventure gamers: guiding a light through adjustable lenses, putting gears in the correct positions to make a mechanism work, rerouting pipes, rolling a ball through a maze or filling containers that can only hold a specific amount of liquid to achieve 4 liters of oil.
Time for despair The worst puzzles are those that require fast reflexes and hand-eye-coordination. In an admittedly interesting twist on the whack-a-mole game, one has to move the Girl’s head from hole to hole avoiding multiple hammers, which becomes increasingly difficult the faster the game becomes. The same holds true for a very annoying cutting-the-right-wire puzzle in which one has a very short timeframe to follow each connection, with every failure resulting in the random placement of them next time.
In general, the puzzles could have used more fine-tuning, as can be seen with some requiring to push or pull things multiple times to work, to create shadow images by making pixel-perfect adjustments, to endure an unnecessary stealth section involving a magnet to hang on to and objects to interact with, only without much time for experimentation or thinking.
Helping hands letting loose While the objectives are always clear thanks to a logbook with hints, one can still become stuck at times. Receiving further hints or even a correct solution to the current problem or screen is made overly complicated by tasking the player to do an annoying mini-game that involves pressing buttons at the right time. To make matters worse, some items can be easily overlooked, as they can’t be distinguished from the background.
Wonderfully weird presentation The bizarre characters and detailed backgrounds feature some great hand-drawn art, with the cute animations being particularly good. While there isn’t any dialogue between the characters, the voice acting of the narrator is very good. The music is varied and atmospheric, although one won’t remember any particular parts afterwards.
Old-school puzzler in a memorable world TOHU looks and sounds great, and even if it doesn’t tell the most compelling story, one still wants to visit each new planet just to see what weird characters and puzzles it has. Unfortunately it’s here where the game doesn’t quite find the right balance, as the conundrums are often too run-of-the-mill and even frustrating at times, making the playtime of 4-5 hours an exercise in patience. Still, if one perseveres, one will be rewarded with a highly imaginative world to become lost in.
It’s nothing new that indie developers tackle personal life stories or deliver more contemplative experiences than AAA studios (although there are exceptions of course), and this title feels as true to this as any. It tells the story of fiction writer Sid whose creativity and new inspirations have to be rekindled in order for him to deliver a story for a grant to pay his rent.
While this doesn’t sound like much intrigue, especially since it only takes place on one Sunday, there are many heartfelt moments, including friends and family. After being invited by his mother due to her having to sell her house and doing one last farewell party, Sid sees all the memories of the past flooding back to him. A bit reminiscent of The Last Show of Mr. Chardish (see the GOG release news), one also plays parts of the fictional world he creates, making this another example of how art and life can be represented in a game.
The game is out now on PC with a 15% launch discount that lasts until April 21, 2021, at 4 PM UTC.
Curse of the Dead Gods clearly looks like something one has seen or played before, a mix of Diablo and God of War, but there’s much more than the comic-book like aesthetic that meets the eye and differentiates it from others. The premise is simple: entering a cursed temple and collecting all the riches, but being aware of the results of greed.
Anyone who’s played an action-adventure with lots of looting knows how difficult it is to stop, and this is where the game is different. With every cursed treasure one picks up, corruption takes a hold of the hero, which might even result in death, only that one can rise again. Of course the title features everything the genre is known for: lots of monsters to slay, building an arsenal of weapons, avoiding traps and defeating bosses. But one wouldn’t want this formula any other way.
Curse of the Dead Gods was originally released in February 2021 and is now available DRM-free on GOG with a 20% launch discount that lasts until April 21, 2021, at 4 PM UTC.