As part of our ongoing Theme Week for January of 2016, we are looking back at some of the good and bad things about 2015. Today, we posed a simple question to our writers: What were some of the new, interesting mechanics, or changes on the familiar, that happened in games in 2015? Below are the answers from some of our writers.
Renowned Explorers: International Society by Luigi Savinelli
Renowed Explorers: International Society is one of those games that came out of the blue in 2015 and instantly became the go-to title for the aficionados of the genre. Fans love it for the pretty uncommon theme and the uniqueness of game mechanics. The management part and the node base exploration system makes every playthrough different despite the limited number of available places you can send your team to for an expedition. All this contributes to make REIS awesome, but what really makes it stand apart is the combat system.
In this case, maybe "combat" is an improper term since the encounters can go from actual fighting to friendly banter to name-calling depending on the situation. The encounters revolve around a mood system. Your explorers can use friendly, devious, or aggressive skills. Every skill has its own effects but it also gains bonus or malice depending of the overall mood of the encounter and the specific attitude of the enemies.
If you perform one kind of action several times, your attitude will change to reflect that. This can be used at your advantage or the enemies can change their attitude accordingly in response. For example, friendly actions work better with devious opponents, aggressive actions gain a bonus against friendly foes, and you better face aggressive enemies with devious skills.
The other side of the coin is that often the rewards of the encounter are tied to the way you resolve it. You may want to resolve the fight in, say, a friendly attitude because it will give you more tokens than the other two, but the enemies may not stray from their aggressiveness. This means that acting friendly will negatively affect your stats or abilities in some way. It’s up to the player to balance the risk and reward.
Luckily you will not have to do that reasoning about the mood-based combat mechanic itself because it turns out is pretty damn rewarding no matter what.
Dreamfall Chapters by Don Parsons
Alright, I'm going to cheat here, but Dreamfall Chapters is still being released having released its first episode in late 2014 and the second through 4th in 2015. So, it's been releasing a lot in 2015 and, wel,l talking about Fallout 4's massive failure of a dialogue wheel system I think makes it worthwhile to talk about a game that took the basic idea of it and evolved it further.
Like other games that use the Dialogue Wheel, Dreamfall Chapters has a defined, voiced protagonist—or well protagonist set which is why the Dialogue Wheel exists—so voice actors aren't repeating stuff the player has read. What Dreamfall did with the Dialogue Wheel though was use it as an opportunity to get even further into the character's head by when you hover over a selection, the character's thought process that would lead to it is presented. Taking a page from literature, this lets you understand how the character is thinking and roleplay better, as well as give you a better idea of what type of statement will be said—far more than a word and facial expression can.
The Dialogue Wheel is somewhat of a brute force tool for what it wants to do generally and other than adding facial expressions, no one else has really innovated on it since Bioware put it out there. This is a way to help increase the goal you have by letting you connect with the character and feel like you're in more control of what will be said, addressing one of the major pitfalls of the Dialogue Wheel.
Mad Max by Alex Santa Maria
For a long time, car combat meant a very specific thing in gaming. It meant circular arenas with power ups strewn about. It meant demolition derby rules and an arcade-style of action. It generally also meant that the cars were little more than fast moving gun platforms, and that they could easily be replaced by boats, planes, or any other type of vehicle. The gaming populace has grown out of this type of car combat, and nothing has really come along to replace it. However, the team at Avalanche might have struck onto something that could replace it were another developer to step up and give it a shot.
Mad Max has a few problems, but it was generally an enjoyable open-world game filled with a wasteland of activities to take part in. One of the most notable of these was a series of battles with roving convoys that never stop circling the wastes. In order to take them down, you have to rely on not only your trusty shotgun, but also a well aimed grappling and a spiked front grill. In Avalanche’s vehicle combat, the size and speed of the car matter.
You can shoot out a car’s tires, or take out their fuel tanks for a high octane explosion. You can rip off their doors and hood, or just hook the driver and drag him along the desert sands. For bigger cars, you have to catch the back of them and then reel in your hook for a slam or two before they’ll go down. It truly combines arcade driving with combat in a way that is complementary, and it fits the game world perfectly. It would be a joy to see this unique vehicular mayhem pop up in another driving game somewhere down the line, but it’s still innovative even if it stays relegated to the black on black ...
Darkest Dungeon by Shaun Joy
While we've seen mechanics similar to it before, I don't think I've ever seen the stress mechanic done so well. Darkest Dungeon's stress mechanic can ruin a run and cause you a heart attack ... literally. But it's not just a straight killer; someone having enough stress on them can cause them to become either virtuous or afflicted. These statuses are huge—there have been runs that have failed and succeeded from this mechanic. Depending on what specific status inflicts you, heroes can refused to be healed, or can buff others randomly. When the stress overcomes you, you hope like hell that your hero turns to the light, because if they turn to the dark ...well things get troublesome, very fast.
What I love about this is that it usually becomes a snowball effect very quickly. An afflicted hero may cause stress on each of your other heroes, causing them to go a little bit more insane. As you'll find out in my review (which is coming, I'm having trouble with the last sections, alright!), every mechanic works so well together to complement this stress mechanic, as being in the dark causes you more stress, or traits may cause you more stress against a certain type of enemy.
And while there are some ways to reduce stress in skills and camping, it feels like stress is just that ever-growing threat that you are unable to deal with over the long haul. Even a small bit of stress has to be considered going into a mission, as you spend your hard earned gold trying to drink and pray your problems away. When dealing with the interactables, even if you have the best option in terms of traps ... you wonder whether to use that hero if he's got too much stress on him. Or maybe you do, to try to recover some stress. So many decisions. So many options.
When it comes down to it, the stress mechanic is what feels so well done here and something that defines the game and makes it unique from other roguelikes and RPGs. Play Darkest Dungeon. And enjoy the stress it brings.