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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (416)

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I Am Setsuna 2.5/5
Assassin's Creed Origins 4/5
Boot Hill Heroes 3.5/5
The Bard's Tale IV: Bar... 4.5/5
The Bard's Tale Trilogy 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale III: Th... 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale II: The... 0.5/5
The Bard's Tale: Tales ... 0.5/5
The Technomancer 2.5/5
Tyranny 3.5/5
Pine 2/5
Victor Vran 3/5
Front Mission Evolved 2/5
Greedfall 4.5/5
The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5

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The Deep Paths: Labyrinth of Andokost   PC (Steam) 

Breathtakingly Average    3/5 stars

“The Deep Paths: Labyrinth of Andokost” (“LoA”) is the second PC game by Steve Jarman, an Australian Indie developer who started as an iOS app developer, and whose team of assistants seems to grow smaller and smaller with each game. “LoA” is also the 2016 sequel to “Coldfire Keep,” a 2014 retro-style Dungeon Crawler that attempted to cash in on the renewed interest in the subgenre sparked by the release of the two ‘Legend of Grimrock’ titles. Jarman’s games have never been as deep or as polished as the efforts created by a larger, more dedicated team combining their efforts, but back when I reviewed “Coldfire Keep,” I found it to be a fairly smooth, if innocuous, introduction to Dungeon Crawler RPGs in general.

Flash forward two years, and “LoA” is hardly different. It’s the same basic experience offered by “Coldfire Keep,” though with a few unfortunate steps backward that drop my rating for it just a tad compared to its predecessor.

“LoA” looks identical to “Coldfire Keep.” This is definitely a sequel done in the cynical “AAA” style, recycling the same art and audio assets, but reassembling them into a slightly different ‘new’ experience. Visually, the labyrinth itself is incredibly drab, featuring sandstone-colored beige walls through all its floors. There are a number of visual ‘clutter’ objects that could conceal secret levers, but only a handful of these objects are actually used in such a way. There are even fewer character models than in “Coldfire Keep,” to boot, with the same small stable of monsters, but none of the inexplicably attractive female shopkeepers.

Audiowise, “LoA” is mostly unambitious. There’s only one musical track in the entire game, which plays during the title and endgame screens. The rest of the game is accompanied by ‘ambient’ noises, such as wind, and the sounds the various monsters make when they move (the heavy breathing of the Mole Men definitely made me think of Chris). Other sound effects are a mixed bag. While monsters and environmental objects have great sound design, for some reason, Jarman thought it would be cute to saddle the game’s interface with sound effects that make it sound like an ancient IBM, with a grading disk drive noise for saving and loading. There is actually some voiceacting, with a fully narrated opening scene. And while this voiceacting is surprisingly well-done for such a small-budget game, it’s also surprisingly brief and never appears at any other point as the game progresses.

Technically, “LoA” is mostly the same as “Coldfire Keep,” with some added quirks. There is no Xinput support, so a Steam Controller is pretty much mandatory. For some reason, the UI design is even worse than “Coldfire Keep,” with no actual ‘Load Game’ button anywhere but the title screen, so if the player wants to reload their save, they need to quit to the title, then reload it. There also seems to be a bug in the save system that causes save and load times to become increasingly long (even on a blazingly fast NVME SSD) the more saves there are. Since the game auto-saves when moving between dungeon floors, it’s quite easy to build up a number of auto-saves, though I noticed horrible load increases with just 3 save files.

While many Dungeon Crawlers are very light on story, instead relying on their intricate puzzles to engage player interest, Steve Jarman’s efforts have actually had some effort put into the writing. Our heroes are a party of four town guardsmen whose boss sends them into the merchant quarter of the city (whose name escapes my mind at the moment) after a massive earthquake cracks open the ground there. Our heroes soon discover that the earthquake revealed the entrance to a lost labyrinth belonging to a legendary wizard named Andokost.

Andokost allegedly went mad centuries ago and began crafting his labyrinthine lair with ever-more-deranged traps and, likewise, began to populate it with inhuman servants. Then, for no known reason, Andokost sealed up the entrance to his lair and was never heard from again. Our heroes’ boss urges them to investigate.

Unlike most Dungeon Crawlers, our custom-created party of heroes actually have a few things to say. Dialog boxes full of banter appear throughout the game, with each party member assigned a personality, more or less, based on their class.

While the writing is generally adequate, there are a few errors, and the game ultimately ends on a blatant sequel tease which, at this point in time in 2021, doesn’t seem to be happening.

“LoA” is a very short game by most standards. Playing through blind (and that’s pretty much the only way to go, since the game isn’t popular enough to have any guides on the entire Internet), I took just shy of 8 hours to finish. Of course, I didn’t find all the hidden secrets and McGuffins, so I clearly should replay it over and over searching for them, right?

As a traditional Dungeon Crawler, “LoA” features a first-person perspective, grid-based movement, cooldown based combat, and a plethora of puzzles as the primary means of player engagement. While none of the puzzles in “LoA” are head-bangingly frustrating, there are a couple of ‘press buttons in order’ puzzles that offer no hints and rely on trial and error. In general, though, the puzzle design feels slightly improved over “Coldfire Keep,” with less repetition of basic ideas.

“LoA,” as mentioned in the story section is not very long. This is, partly, because the dungeon only has 13 floors and a handful of subfloors. In general, the subfloors connect with their parent floors to form multi-level puzzles, which are very well-done.

So, why is “LoA” worse than “Coldfire Keep” from a gameplay perspective? There are two main reasons.

The first major negative in “LoA” compared to its predecessor is combat balance. While both games try to prevent players from doing ‘The Dance’ – that traditional Dungeon Crawler combat technique of attacking, then kiting around a monster while waiting for the party’s attacks to cooldown so the monster can never attack back – in “Coldfire Keep,” enemy balance felt more like the party was expected to stand there and tank the damage. In “LoA,” even basic enemies like giant rats and giant bats feel far too powerful. By trial and error, I discovered that “LoA” has a ‘backstab’ mechanic which causes the party to deal significantly more damage when attacking an enemy from behind. Thus, in “LoA,” most combat requires what I’m calling ‘The Slow Dance.’ Since the party is not allowed to move until everyone’s attack is off cooldown, combat involves baiting an enemy into a position where the entire party can backstab it, face-tanking one attack from that enemy while waiting for the party to cooldown, dancing around to the enemy’s back again, then repeating the process. On the whole, poorly executed and annoying. Likewise, magic, which was simplified in “Coldfire Keep” from the baroque rune-based systems from other Dungeon Crawlers is even more simple in “LoA,” requiring the party’s mage to equip a specific magic staff to cast a specific spell, which makes it impossible to switch spells in the heat of combat.

The second major negative in “LoA” is the change to the mapping system. While “Coldfire Keep” featured a fully modern auto-map system (which only sometimes made mistakes), “LoA” tries to split the difference between the old-school (you have no map, because we couldn’t afford the extra RAM overhead, so draw your own on graph paper) and the new-school (you have an in-game map that draws itself as you explore) by giving the player no map to start, but hiding a complete map of each floor somewhere within that floor. Generally, the game’s layout isn’t convoluted enough to require an auto-map, but I still don’t like it when genres intentionally devolve.

“The Deep Paths: Labyrinth of Andokost” is a breathtakingly average Dungeon Crawling experience. While neither as good as its predecessor nor other modern Dungeon Crawlers available on Steam, some of the puzzle designs are unique enough that genre enthusiasts might want to take a look.

Presentation: 2.5/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 3.5/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5



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