I get it. You're probably busy this week. Slaying mutants in Metro, hunting down orbs in Crackdown, or living out your anime fantasies in Jump Force. You could even be playing Far Cry: New Dawn or flying around with the Dragons of Dreamworks. There are lots of games to play this month, but we're here to present more options. After all, no game lasts forever, and you'll always find more fun a little off the beaten path. Why not give Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Dark Hill Museum of Death a chance to delay your backlog and make the big games even cheaper?
Covered by Ron Welch
Good RPGs are hard to come by these days. I’m not talking about first-person shooters with RPG elements, I mean the real stuff. Rolling twenty-sided dice in your mom’s basement RPGs; games like Baldur’s Gate. If you’re looking to capture the freedom and challenge of old-school RPGs, Pathfinder: Kingmaker may be just what the apothecary ordered.
Kingmaker is notably complex. Before you even get to the story, you could spend hours building your character, pouring over spreadsheets, choosing your class and subclass, assigning spells, selecting your birthday, choosing your voice, alignment, etc. While there are a lot of options, many choices could use some more explanation. For example, I was thinking about making a dashing and charismatic thief, essentially Wesley from The Princess Bride. I kept seeing mentions of flanking, but nothing in the character creator described what flanking in combat actually entails.
After seven hours of building my character, I jumped into the story. You are a mercenary in a very large group of cutthroats, barbarians, and killers. A neighboring lord has asked you to go into the boonies of this fantasy world, clean out the bandit population, and bring back a bandit lord’s head. The first mercenary to do shall earn a small a piece of land and the title of Baron. With a little luck, you can foster your newfound property into a flourishing kingdom.
As you might expect from the premise, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is combat-heavy. You’ll find a few traditional speech encounters, inventory puzzles, and some “choose your own adventure”-style moments, but that’s about it. Most of the time, you'll be slaughtering bandits, wading through hordes of giant bugs, and serving as mountain lion chow. It doesn’t help that combat is shockingly difficult, even on normal.
I had a party of five hardened warriors and wizards marching through a mountain pass. A “Mature Mountain Lion” blocked our path. We had dealt with a few dozen wolves by this point, so I sent my giant magical barbarian to clean house. She died, horribly. Before I could figure anything out, the mountain lion mauled the rest of my party, leading to a game over screen. This was just one encounter and a 5 vs. 1 fight against a wild animal at that.
The difficulty is almost the running theme of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. After about a hundred attempts at defeating the bandit king, I finally took his head back to the lord and earned my kingdom. This is where the real game starts. Now you have a country to run. You’ll need to assign advisors, zone construction sites, answer calls to action, and make regular visits back to your capital between exploring dungeons and fighting dragons.
Managing your kingdom is an integral part of the story. You can’t just ignore it. After all, the game is called “Kingmaker”. Your ultimate goal is to grow your tiny barony into a thriving kingdom. That means you need to assign advisors to “problems” and “opportunities.” This can be challenging as each advisor can only work on one thing at a time.
At one point, I had trolls raiding my farms while pockets of surviving bandits conspired to raid my capital. I couldn’t assign my military advisor to both, and I couldn’t go out and stop the trolls myself. You make big decisions by assigning an advisor and rolling a twenty-sided dice. Roll high and you win the encounter. Roll low and your kingdom inches closer to destruction. If your kingdom falls, you lose. You get acquainted with the game over screen. It's part of the charm.
Kingmaker is an odd duck. It’s imitating RPGs of old with an added twist. Sure, there are hundreds of hours of dungeon delving, grave robbing, and monster killing, but you must come back to the capital. You have a country and citizens to care for. If you’re looking an RPG to consume your life the same way Skyrim did, Pathfinder: Kingmaker won’t disappoint.
TechRaptor covered Pathfinder: Kingmaker on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
Dark Hill Museum of Death
Covered by William Worrall
Sometimes a smaller experience can be better than a bigger one. These days, a lot of AAA games have play times of upwards of 100 hours. It can be nice to just have a game which can be finished in a single sitting. Dark Hill Museum of Death manages to pull off a small experience, for a cheap price, but it feels like an experience worth having.
As the name suggests, Dark Hill Museum of Death takes place in a museum based on death throughout history and culture, presumably built on a dark hill. You explore the museum in first person, interacting with the exhibits and solving puzzles to unlock more rooms.
Graphically Dark Hill Museum of Death is decidedly lo-fi, which lends an almost surreal quality to the game. Everything is presented in blocky shapes and odd angles kind of like a cheap cartoon, but the subject matter is so dark and series. It has a way of putting the player on edge as they creep around an abandoned building.
The graphics and the isolation end up making the game surprisingly atmospheric. Not that it ever gets to a point where it's what you'd call scary, but it does lend a certain something to the proceedings. Especially since it's also pretty familiar, especially if you've ever been to a museum at any point in your life.
The exhibits and displays are surprisingly realistic to what they would be in a museum, at least partially. Obviously, it's not as densely packed as a real museum, but the displays are done in such a way that they feel exactly like the sort of thing you'd have found in a real-life place talking about death through the ages.
In a strange way, the quasi-realism of Dark Hill Museum of Death is juxtaposed against the stylised graphics, adding further to the odd atmosphere. Between puzzles, you might even catch yourself remembering other museums you've been to in real life, as exhibits in the game match up with your own real-world experience.
Towards the end of Dark Hill Museum of Death, things get even stranger, which I will avoid spoiling for you. The main thing to say about the ending is that it feels a little abrupt, even for a game which takes less than an hour to finish. It feels like the game is just a proof of concept. The sort of thing a developer puts out to test the water on their game idea before taking the plunge of a full title.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. In its current form, Dark Hill Museum of Death would probably wear out its welcome pretty quickly. The exhibits are interesting enough if the information is new to you, but a lot of the information is pretty much common knowledge. On top of that, almost none of the puzzles were that hard, taking less than 30 seconds to complete for the most part.
Puzzles are often some of the hardest things in a game to get right. A perfect balance has to be struck between challenge and accessibility. Many of the puzzles in Dark Hill Museum miss the mark by just a fraction. Overall, it feels like the puzzles are a token effort to ensure that players see this as an actual game rather than a "digital experience".Dark Hill Museum of Death is a wonderful mini experience for a cheap price. It might miss the mark with some of its puzzles, but this is a game you'll be glad you tried.
TechRaptor covered Dark Hill Museum of Death on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.