Review: Aarklash: Legacy (PC)

coverAarklash: Legacy
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Publisher: Cyanide Studio
Genre: Strategy RPG
Release Date: 09/12/2013

Aarklash: Legacy
is the second game from Cyanide Studio set in what used to be the Confrontation miniatures game series before Rackham, the company that produced the original miniatures game went defunct. Confrontation was their first foray into the world after Cyanide had started developing it before Rackham went under and then picked up the property in its entirety for their own use. While I liked most of the ideas, the story and world setting in the first game, it had a few gameplay and balance issues that I thought could be smoothed out. The good news is some of it has, owing more to a different approach to level and world design and a few tweaks to combat that solve most of the issues I had with the first game but not all of them.

Aarklash: Legacy, while being set in the same world as Confrontation, actually takes place in a different area and with a whole new cast of characters than in Confrontation while both are set on the continent or world of Aarklash itself. This isn’t a direct sequel and the story most definitely has a very different feel to it as it all plays out. Part of that stems from the fact that you’re playing as a group of mercenaries now instead of the Griffin Elite Squad, but also because all eight of the mercenaries at your disposal are very unique in their own right but all have quite a bit of flavor to them that makes them far more interesting as characters than our options in the first game. Each of the characters you end up with in the game are part of the Goldmongers Guild which uses different tiers of members including Patrons who do the dishing of orders and deals and the Wheel Swords who get to do all of the dirty work for the guild arranged in groups called quorps. The game starts with four of the Goldmongers Guild out to collect on a debt owed to their guild and as Wheel Sword quorp of varying placement in the guild, it’s their job to retrieve a specific item as the original debt has not been paid.

2013-09-11_00004The Lions, who owe the debt, take exception to this and it’s quickly evident that something has transpired that the Goldmongers and their Wheel Swords weren’t involved in when they are not only attacked by the Lions and trying to stop the Goldmongers from escaping but are also accused of assassinating one of the royals in the Lions line. The Goldmongers charter has been stripped and the Patrons and Wheel Swords of the Guild have all been ordered to be executed. The members of your quor at the time within Lion territory are Nella, the leader of this quor and a powerful mage, Denzil, a thief and assassin, Wendaroo, a Wolfen traded to the guild for swords when she was five, and Knokka, a genetic and mechanical construct that was originally designed for miners but was sold into the Golmongers for her strength and ability with a sword as well as sniff out gold. These four are fiercely loyal to the guild and no slouches when it comes to combat. They contest this charge and fight their way out trying to make it back into their own territory using some back roads that are supposed to make it easier to arrive.

Along the way they pick up Leck Lorus, an undead mage, Frinz, a demented inventor who has a thing for Knokka, Motcha, an orc Shaman with some decent abilities, and Bo Lahm, a lumbering juggernaut tank on the battlefield. The eight of them resolve to find out who has set them up and right it with whoever has wronged them. The eight characters have some great interactions together and the dialogue is fairly sharp and witty, the kind of banter you’d expect from a mish mash of characters barely getting along if only to the loyalty of their guild. It keeps the cutscenes lively and moving and very amusing and engaging even when something serious is going on.

2013-09-15_00005Visually there isn’t too much different from the first game in this other than very new character designs and environments. While the engine is still producing some really interesting visuals that work in both full light and the darkness of tunnels and caverns, the new designs for the characters as well as a variety of enemies really sticks out. There was a wide variety in the first game but it’s nice not getting the same models and visuals thrust at us and something new and unique popping up in the next in what I’m hoping will be a series of games in the Confrontation line-up. The only minus here is that the camera is fixed. There’s no way to zoom out like there was in the previous game and even though the environment is very accommodating to the fixed camera it still drives me up a wall when I can’t zoom or change my angle.

The audio is decent. Spell, weapon and environment effects as well as your party and enemies all have unique and differing sounds that work. Nothing too stand out this time here even with the music. They all do their job and do it decently. What really got me though was the excellent voice cast for the main eight leads that bring your group to life. They do a fantastic job. They feel like a band that’s either worked together awhile or one that has been through a ringer and the snark flows freely and effectively. A number of times I was playing a line that would have gotten just a smile with text only ended with me actually laughing just because of the delivery of the voice cast.

2013-09-17_00008Controls are set-up to work with either the keyboard or the mouse, but the interface really lends itself to just playing the game with a mouse, although I did find myself going for the keyboard to hit the spacebar to pause the game for faster results to keep my characters alive. I will say the interface is a bit cleaner than the previous game which is partly because the game has been streamlined behind the scenes more, but it’s also because it’s organized better to give the player more of what they need and less of what they don’t. As far as that goes they improved what they had before and I didn’t even know it needed improvement, at least until you get to the camera. While we had free range with the camera with height and distance and even different viewing angles, here we’re tied to that one single isometric view. While you can zoom in and out and it doesn’t hurt anything at all and even gives the game a more old-school feel that way, but it is a curious change-up and limitation from before.

The game plays a bit like Baldur’s Gate with more of an action RPG flair to it. You have a team of four characters at your disposal for an immediate battle. Each has a standard attack that won’t have a cooldown, but 4 abilities that have varying cooldowns for what they do and can also be leveled up along different paths to customize the character more to your play style. The standard tropes of tank, damage and caster or healer are here and you can sort of assign duties as you put four of the eight available characters into field under your control. They are set with certain damage types from the start so it pays to give them equipment that ties in with their abilities. If they’re a physical damage type you really won’t see a bonus if you attach an item to them that raises they’re magical damage. Each character can equip four items to different slots and each slot is unique. There are different ratings on equipment that you pick up from your kills denoting rarity and the more rare items have more ability bonuses stacked up on them.

2013-09-18_00001Combat can run a few ways, and while there are achievements related to going hardcore without pausing, I really recommend making full use of the auto-pause options buried in the menus. By default the game auto-pauses when an enemy catches sight of your group. You can add more options to that, like when a party member drops, health is critical, etc. The only way you’ll lose a combat is if all four of your party drop, so don’t worry if what you consider your lead character goes unconscious. Any of your other party members can revive. You can select everyone in your party and have them attack the same enemy or select each team member individually and give them different targets. Most abilities your team has however do in fact deal full damage to your own party members. Bear that in mind when you fire off that spell that follows a path for the first target hit. Combat is less of a chore this time around and it still does pay to micro-manage a bit but you don’t have to sit on each character every other second to make sure they’re not going to suddenly collapse on you.

Firing off abilities isn’t automatic, you do have to do that yourself which makes sense for managing cooldowns. It wouldn’t do to have your healer firing off a heal on someone who won’t need it for awhile but it would have been nice to see some automation on this end of things a little bit the second game into what’s turning into a series. Especially with the Dogs of War Online game in production. You will find some puzzles throughout that have different ways to get around and the way levels are arranged there are easy paths to where you’re going and other paths that take you to mini-bosses and more chests for more access to newer and more powerful items.

2013-09-14_00015There are different difficulty levels to choose from here and some things may play out differently once you get to the point you can change out your party members on the fly, but for the most part this story plays out the same each time you hop behind the controls. There are achievements off of Steam for this and only a few are really going to require you to go about doing the really intense difficulty level and some of those without using the pause option. The rest just need you to play through and beat the game normally. I know a few people who’d want to go for those, but for the average player I can see this being almost a one and done affair.

While the new layouts and design have helped the game immensely and the streamlined abilities make the game flow a bit better, I do think that it can be a bit of a pain to micro-manage everything going on around you. The lower difficulties are a bit easier, but the harder difficulties make me want to cry tears of blood. Other people on the Steam forums have been having easier times of it, and if this was purely turn based I might be doing better. Sure there is some of that with the pause option, but that’s not quite the same thing. I will say that you’re getting a decent amount of content for the money. While most strategy RPGs go into the hundreds of hours, most mainstream top out at forty with bonus content in the form of DLC, and this at twenty-ish bucks on Steam runs between twenty and forty hours depending on your skill level with this. So you’re getting a regular mainsteam RPG’s amount of content for a third of the price but taken as a strategy RPG you might be lacking in that regard, but this is still a cheaper and equally entertaining game.

2013-09-20_00007They’ve taken the concepts of the first game and refined them a bit more into their crunchy delicious center with this title and then injected a healthy dose of presenting another part of the world and a group of characters that most games would pass by in favor of following one of the major factions. Instead we get an entertaining romp with the equivalent of the Firefly cast in a dark fantasy setting with some amazing visuals. While they did take some things out, the game feels fresh and moves along at a good pace with little padding involved making everything feel weighted despite the levity of some of the cast. Not only does this end up being a lot of fun but a great time sink as well. I easily lost lots of time with this one playing with different builds and different mixes and then just listening to the banter between the party members in different scenes. There’s a lot here to really sink your teeth into which is fantastic. On top of that it’s got a good price and a decent following. While it may not entirely appeal to strategy RPG fans or straight up RPG fans it offers a rather unique experience in a very lore-rich world with a lot going on.

While this outing was better than the last, I do have a few issues to mention. I did get some visual frame rate dropping when the camera would do sweeps over areas during cutscenes. I didn’t have this when I was playing and this happened whether I had the game cranked up visually on my laptop or not. This kind of makes it looked rushed in spots even though this feels much more polished than the last outing which is kind of disappointing. The same goes with the audio. There would be brief pauses between scenes when the dialogue was loading that seemed out of place. Where one character should be cutting in with the next line where you could tell there shouldn’t be a pause, there would be one. I don’t know if this is just allowing for someone to read the text or not, but it made some of the conversations not flow as well as they should have which kind of broke it up a bit. This is far from earth-shattering and didn’t really hinder my enjoyment of the game, but it’s something to look at if you’re looking for a smooth play without any hitches.

Short Attention Span Summary
Aarklash: Legacy is the second game from Cyanide Studio in the Confrontation series and jumps from the characters the player has being heroes to being members beholden to a mercenary band and it was the right way to go. The anti-hero’s are out for revenge and the make-up of the group smacks of the gang from Firefly with a dark fantasy twist while going with their complete and own direction. The combat and gameplay has been streamlined with excellent results from the previous title and while there can be some predictability based on the enemies you’re running into the game doesn’t make a habit of throwing filler at you leading to a tight and well-paced story with some great voice actors bringing the characters to life. This is more the game I was expecting when I first fired up Confrontation last year and I really would love to see more games like Aarklash: Legacy lined up from Cyanide in the future.



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