Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Preview: Dego

Title: Dego
Developer: Ramshakin
Genre: Action-RPG
Program: ???

Dego is billed as a multi-player, action role-playing game (ARPG), but it is likely you're not going to see much of the multi-player action. Having tested the system myself, I can see that it does function perfectly, but the likelihood of anyone getting some friends around a single keyboard to play an amateur game is... well, it is low, isn't it? Perhaps this chance would be improved if I had multiple game pads for my computer (I don't) or if I had a separate keyboard for my laptop (I don't) but, in any case, the game functions fine as a single-player game* so it doesn't really matter. However, you'll have to consider that this review comes from the viewpoint of someone who didn't experience this as a multi-player game.

Anyway, enough whining about my lack of peripherals and understanding house-mates, onto the game itself...

This isn't a game that has much of a storyline. Like a lot of ARPGs the storyline is pretty generic, you're tasked with building up your character(s) to destroy a massive evil. I'm okay with this because I wasn't really expecting a storyline, but the way the game goes about executing this kind of gameplay is very disorganised and doesn't really work too well. Most games of this kind have quests that build up to some sort of conclusion in each area you visit. For example, the quests in the third act of Diablo II had you collecting different parts of a mace in order to destroy an orb so you could hunt down the big(ish)-bad. These are basically generic fetch quests, but, because they are linked together, they work really well. This game doesn't do that. Instead, you are protecting a hut from random monsters one second and then collecting chickens the next; what do these things have to do with the big-bad? Very little.

Fortunately, although the quests aren't too great, the battle-system is pretty interesting. A lot of amateur ARPGs completely fail when it comes to their action battle-system (ABS) and fail overall as a result; Dego does not. You're probably asking yourself (if you've played any other amateur ARPGs):

"What makes this different from your average ARPG?"

First off, the enemies in this game actually have attack-patterns, attack-animations and don't just damage you by bumping into you. Secondly, the level design is really good. Thirdly, your attacks stun enemies and knock them back. Combining these three elements means that attacking an enemy isn't just a case of hitting and hoping as it is in a lot of other amateur games that use an ABS.

The enemies are the more important part of how the system works. Each enemy has a fairly unique pattern and getting to know them, adapting your character towards them and, ultimately, taking advantage of their flaws is the name of the game. Even the most simple enemies, hornets, have a well-defined attack pattern that won't take you too long to figure out but will keep you on your toes once you get a few monsters hanging around you at the same time. The bosses have more complex attack patterns but the idea is the same; work out their weakness and hit it hard. This seems like something any developer creating an ABS should do, but you'd be surprised how many amateur developers don't realise that this is a massive part of an ABS system.

These fairly well thought out enemy designs are backed up well by the way levels are designed. Levels are split into small pathways, villages/towns and larger openings where fighting occurs. Fighting a group of enemies unlocks the next area (think like the original Zelda) and you always have enough room in which to manoeuvre your character properly. It is a bit monotonous at times, but this is broken up by environmental objects that can both help and hinder you in battle. In the first area, there are exploding scarecrows that you can activate and lead monsters towards for massive damage. In the second area, there are plants that exude a gas that confuses anyone that touches it, something you can again draw enemies towards. These features were nice and added a little bit of originality to each area of the game.

As for your attacks, what you have available depends on the equipment (normal attacks) you have and the class you choose to be (skills). Normal attacks, those achieved by attacking enemies using your weapon, work in one of two ways; a normal attack that does minimal damage, has a small knock-back but has a faster swing time and a charged-attack that does more damage, has a large knock-back but has a slower swing time. This works fairly well when you consider it in isolation, but the problem is that any class can equip any weapon (as far as I could tell). If you are a warrior, you can still equip a staff and throw fireballs around; if you are a mage, you can still equip shuirkens and launch them around the screen. I don't think this is a good idea as, although your damage is going to be less using the "wrong" weapon because your statistics aren't going to be set up properly, it means the classes are differentiated less than they could be.
 
Shakunetsu Hadouken! (Although, if this were actually Street Fighter, this move would also available when playing as Cammie...)

You do have class-specific skills that charge after a certain number of normal attacks but, personally, I think these skills charge a little bit too slowly and this means that these skills aren't accessible to you as often as they should be. This, alongside the lack of class-specific weaponry, means that characters are differentiated from each other even less. I only played alone, but this would be massively problematic if you were building a party because it means that support-classes (i.e. healers) need to charge their skills before they can use them and this leads to an obvious question: Should your healer be having to damage enemies just so they can do what they're there for (healing)? Of course they shouldn't!

Basically, the ABS works better than it does in most amateur games, but there are still quite a few confusing design choices that have been made on the character-building side of things. Unfortunately, confusing choices leak into other areas of the game as well. For instance, the only way you can access the menu without finding a camp-site is by pressing ESC. However, pressing ESC takes you back to the main-menu and results in you being dumped back at the start of the dungeon you were exploring. Find a shiny new sword and want to equip it? Either lose your progress or wait for a camp-site. Find an accessory that's going to boost your stats? Either lose your progress or wait for a camp-site. Want to change your stats after levelling up? You can see where this is going. The whole system is extremely annoying.

This disjointed gameplay is backed up by graphics and music that are all familiar if you've played even a handful of RMVX games. Pretty much all of them are from the run-time package (RTP) or are styled upon it (even if this isn’t actually an RMVX game**). I'm not a big fan of this graphical style, personally, but I can't complain about the use of the graphics themselves and the music does back up the feel this game is going for. To be honest, I don't really have much to say in this area.

Overall, I liked the ABS in this game but I didn't really like much else. The character building doesn't really work too well, the classes aren't differentiated from each other enough, the menu is really annoying, the quests don't come together to make any sort of sense and the graphical style isn't to my liking. Oh, and the multi-player idea is impractical to say the least. Basically, the developers have the core gameplay (combat) down, but everything around it isn't done properly.

Want to see how an ABS should work? You could do much worse than checking out this game. For everything else, look elsewhere: 3/10

*For the record, I played the game three different times using the Warrior, Mage and Necromancer classes.

**Thanks, Chaos.
 

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