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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Pikmin 4 4/5
No Man's Sky 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 4/5
Assassin's Creed IV: Bl... 2.5/5
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5

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Aeon of Sands - The Trail   PC (Steam) 

Aeon of Sads: The Slog    2.5/5 stars

“Aeon of Sands: The Trail” (“AoS”) is the first – and so far only – release from two-man Indie studio, TwoBits Kid. Released in 2018, “AoS” first came to my attention in 2019, when it was mentioned by the ‘Grid-Based First-Person RPGs’ Steam group. I’m always willing and ready to tackle a new Dungeon Crawler that invokes the mechanics of the true classics of the sub-genre, and “AoS” looked to do just that, with a rather novel post-apocalyptic setting to boot. Unfortunately, while there’s clearly a good deal of love and attention poured into this game by its development duo, the end result isn’t particularly enjoyable.

“AoS” embraces the old-school aesthetic of series like ‘Dungeon Master’ and ‘Eye of the Beholder’ in that, unlike many other modern Dungeon Crawler revivals, it’s entirely 2D and raster-based. There are no stinky polygons here, either in the environments or the enemies. The sprite work is generally quite good and shows impressive attention to minor details, even tough, as in the old days, enemies’ attack animations are a meager 2 frames. Moreover, there are a decent number of different environmental tilesets with their own unique looks as well as unique secrets. Even beyond gameplay, there are a number of static cutscene images that give an imagination-stirring glimpse into the game world. Unfortunately, while there is care and attention to detail lavished on the visual assets, they all fall into a rather dismal, muddy color pallet that prevents most of the environments from even approaching ‘interesting’ or ‘eyecatching.’ Instead, like the ‘90s-era post-apocalyptic games it emulates so closely, the pixels are both a bit too chunky and a lot too brown.

While the visuals are well-done, if not a bit subdued, the audio is completely forgettable and lackluster. I can’t really say I remember any actual ‘songs’ or ‘tunes’ accompanying the game, aside from a rather bland sequence of chords that plays on the title screen. Instead, the majority of the game is accompanied by the sound of – unsurprisingly – blowing wind. At least the game’s silence makes playing it compatible with listening to podcasts and leaves the player free to strain their ears for the sounds of enemy activity on the other side of a wall or door.

Technically, “AoS” is acceptable. While it is a stable game that never crashed on me or otherwise misbehaved, it is decidedly lacking in Quality of Life features. There are, for example, only 7 save slots, and it is impossible to overwrite an existing save – only delete them. There is also no native controller support, Xinput or otherwise, which made me glad my Steam controller still works. While the game does include an auto-map – which I consider an essential feature in a modern Dungeon Crawler – this map is as half-assed as possible, requiring the player to manually annotate a wide variety of things, and offering no option to switch between floors in multi-level dungeons to get an idea of, say, how various pits connect two (or more) levels.

“AoS” takes place in a unique desert world, which may-or-may-not be a post-apocalyptic setting. The world consists of a massive desert, sparsely populated with a handful of giant trees, around which humans have built cities, with the entirety of each tree-city enclosed in a massive glass dome.

Our hero is an unassuming bureaucrat named Setrani who is forced out of his indolent existence by his superior when a caravan of trade goods fails to arrive at his city of Pantella. While used to a life of redundant existence, Setrani is first forced to retrieve some desert gear from a poorly-maintained storage area beneath the city’s roots, before setting off into the unknown.

Throughout his quest for the missing caravan, Setrani will encounter a handful of unique individuals who may or may not wish to assist him on his mission, depending on choices the player has made… and whether or not the party is already full.

Setrani and company will explore the vast desert, learning vague snippets of world lore and backstory at a variety of… mostly samey desert locations. Yet as the player gets closer and closer to the game’s final conclusion, this world building and lore makes less and less sense.

“AoS” tries to blend Choose-Your-Own-Adventure gameplay into its dungeon crawling by providing the player ample opportunity to make different dialog choices for Setrani. The game also desperately wants to use humor in contrast to its bleak setting by making Setrani the most sarcastic, sardonic, snarky weasel the Dungeon Crawling sub-genre has ever seen. He comments on nearly everything (text only), even item descriptions, and generally gives the impression of being a very exhausting anti-hero.

Ultimately, “AoS” is not a very long game. I took about 12 hours to get through it – and I got the ‘good’ ending instead of the ‘bad’ one, so I must have made all the right dialog choices – though I know I failed to explore one point on the world map. Despite its short length, “AoS” felt a lot longer just because I was generally bored by the gameplay design, and Setrani’s attempts at being humorous fell flat for me. This is also the type of game that desperately wants players to experience it multiple times: Make different decisions! Recruit different companions! Yet I can’t ever see myself revisiting this title, like I would the original “Dungeon Master” or even the later ‘Eye of the Beholder’ titles.

“AoS” is a fairly basic Dungeon Crawler in the vein of “Dungeon Master,” not ‘Wizardry.’ That is to say, it revolves around spatial navigation, puzzles involving levers and pressure plates, and real-time cooldown-based combat that encourages the player to ‘dance’ around enemies instead of standing toe-to-toe with them.

As such, “AoS” successfully meets the baseline for the sub-genre. All of the basic mechanics work fine… but the dungeons themselves are just incredibly boring.

Combat is nicely streamlined with hotkey options for each of the party’s hands. With a maximum party size of 3, that’s 6 hotkeys maximum, and I had no problem binding them to my Steam controller. Characters can either wield a single weapon and a shield (LAME), a single two-handed weapon (also LAME), dual-wield weapons (YES), or dual-wield a weapon and a magic focus. Magic is rather unique in “AoS” in that most characters don’t learn any by default (there is one character who can ONLY use magic and can’t equip OR CARRY any other items on his person). Instead, characters can attune to one of three flavors of mana (water, electric, and fire) and use a special offhand item to cast up to three spells of that element, which are entirely determined by the specific focus item. Casting a spell doesn’t consume mana, but instead suffuses the character’s body with mana, and casting a spell when mana capacity is full causes self-damage. Mana drains away over time or can be reduced by eating certain consumable items. Using melee weapons consumes stamina, as one would expect, while performing ranged attacks with slings or crossbows only consumes ammo (which is, frustratingly, unrecoverable, making ranged attacks a niche utility instead of a viable main combat style).

The stodgy old food and water meters of classic Dungeon Crawlers are, mercifully, absent in “AoS,” with food items working as healing items instead. With the game’s lack of healing magic and no ability to ‘rest’ to heal-up, consumables are the only way to heal, which makes them incredibly important to lug around in the party’s limited inventory space.

While all of the core mechanics that underpin the gameplay are well designed and fit together neatly into a game that rarely causes abject frustration, the overall dungeon designs are the game’s ultimate pitfall. The game world consists of a large desert map which serves as an overworld, with paths connecting explorable ‘dungeon-esque’ environments. Most of these dungeon areas are simply too big for the amount of stuff contained in them. Furthermore, the number of actually-interesting puzzles and/or traps contained in the entire game is shockingly small. Throughout the game, I experienced one three-level (completely optional) dungeon that felt interesting and fun to explore. Far too many of the other dungeons just felt like complete slogs, with the final stretch leading to the ultimate encounter feeling like it would never end.

“Aeon of Sands: The Trails” is an earnest attempt at creating an old-school Dungeon Crawler with a new-school snarky attitude that falls short of the mark largely due to the uninspired and bloated dungeons through which the player will crawl. Between the boring level design and the storytelling that gets more and more confusing as the game progresses, I can’t really recommend this title to anyone but the most ardent Dungeon Crawl fanatic.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 2.5/5



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