Part 5: Thorn Brenin and the Curse of the Bad Game MechanicsThorn Brenin and the Curse of the Bad Game Mechanics
When we last left our hero, he was debating whether or not to mouth off to a Reaper. You all picked that he should politely ask for the release of his daughter, and now we get to see the consequences of that decision.
The towering monster looks at you for a moment, then extends its arm and points to your pendant.
The monster grabs your captain's insignia, clenching it in its fist. Hissing, the strix in the pendant shrinks.
The what? We've been carrying around a flesh eating mythological bird this entire time?
The monster vanishes. You shake your head, before coming to your senses.
: (Exhaling) Oh blessed gods...
: Did you hear what it said about our family? Quick! We've got to get home!
This is the loading screen - the skeletons are animated and do their little musical thing. I kind of like it, as it hearkens back to medieval plague images. Unfortunately, you'll see it a lot playing the game.
Welcome to our first real combat, and we're gonna see one of the game's big gimmicks: Battle Cards.
From left to right:
Touch of Chaos: Deals 5 damage to a random enemy, increases energy by 2 to all party members, and increases attack by 2 to a random party member
Spirit Armor: Increases target's defense by 10 for a round
Cure: Heals target 10 hp
Chokehold: Deals 10 damage to target unit
Rancor: Reduces target attack by 5 and increases target attack by 1 to all surrounding units.
The magical plaques are hot to the touch, almost burning your fingers, yet they fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. You feel as if you could, but with a gesture, sling spells at any foe. Could they be regaining their power because of the Reaping? You wonder where Rask came by these cards, but you remember seeing them peddled as curios and souvenirs at many Berkanian markets.
With a swift motion, you draw your sword, but the thugs are unimpressed. You look closer and notice the vacant eyes and foam at their mouths. Your opponents are either very drunk or insane. You step in front of Gleda. "I'll beat some sense into them. Stand back!"
In response, Gleda steps aside and draws her own blade. "Did I practice with a sword all these years just to cower behind your back? Together we can deal with them faster!"
Gleda, we all saw you hiding from that Reaper.
This begins our first real battle of the game, and thus my long-winded and boring explanation of the battle mechanics. I could encourage you to skip this, but these mechanics are stupid and I'm going to spend more time making fun of them and less time doing boring blow-by-blow combat.
So, let's start with Gleda.
So welcome to Ash of God's battle system. It is extremely derivative of The Banner Saga (of course) but also manages to include its own innovations that make everything worse and dumber. Remember when I introduced health and energy in Hopper's tutorial battle? You'd be forgiven for thinking that energy was basically your mana bar and the double damage thing was an incentive to not go spamming skills.
Skills will gladly eat up your entire damn health bar as with poor Gleda up there. Now, this will one-shot the two guys in the front, but that back guy is going to be able to unload all over Gleda's 9 remaining health and murder her. Now, this isn't her only attack. She has another attack that only eats 14 health but will one-shot these guys, and a pathetic auto attack that deals 9 damage.
This applies to the enemies as well. Human enemies use mostly the same classes you do and thus you get absurdities like archers blowing off half their health to use a bow attack. Unfortunately you really don't have the health to tank the enemy's super moves, and damage reduction is extremely rare and only gotten in significant amounts by two characters.
Fortunately, the turn system blatantly ripped off from the Banner Saga comes in to save us here. It's an IGOUGO system where the player gets to move a unit, then the enemy, then the player etc. Notably if you show up with 1 guy, and the enemy shows up with 5, you get to take 1 turn for each guy while they can't move their first guy until their last guy has gone.
The protagonist units (Thorn, Hopper, and our third PoV character we haven't met yet) also get powerful AoE attacks that don't cause health (well, much in the case of #3) to use.
This means that the optimal way to play Ash of Gods is to bring your lone protagonist and his AoE attacks, and run around gibbing dudes like the Doomguy while the enemy tries to play a crappy knockoff of Final Fantasy Tactics.
Anyway, a quick unit rundown.
: Unlike most other characters in the game, he gets two basic attacks: FIghtback and Parry. Fightback puts him into a counterattack stance where he will counterattack attackers with a basic attack. It's best early game, until it's outclassed by Parry which gives him damage reduction equal to a third of his attack stat. RIght now, that's 2 damage reduction, but most Thorn strategies involve buffing his attack into the stratosphere then yeeting him into the enemy forces. His third attack is Knockback, where he jumps into the air like a doofus, does a ton of damage to all surrounding units, gets 3/4 of his attack as damage reduction, and knocks everyone back 2 squares. WIth enough attack buffs you become a crazy invincible man AoEing everyone to death. He's got 2 support abilities you never use: one that grants defense to another party member but wastes his turn, and one that deals health/energy damage to himself for a battle-long attack boost and 1-round defense boost. He has a passive that gives the party a buff if he goes down, but if he goes down you probably fucked up.
: Gleda suffers acutely from the fact that she sucks. Yes, her powerful attacks can kill people and you can upgrade them to be less self-harming. Yes, she has a passive that gives her health when she kills something. Unfortunately, her attacks all have fairly long cooldowns and her autoattack sucks without massive upgrades. She also suffers from the RPG Girl Problem where she gets kidnapped out of the party, and this is weirdly key to using her because when she returns she gets a level to match Thorn's. She's best used to pick off stragglers, then you have her wander around aimlessly because she's blown her own health into critical territory.
I may as well mention the battle cards while I'm here. Battle cards by and large suck, but have a bunch of unintended uses that ensure you'll use at least a few. First, casting a battle card doesn't count as ending the turn for all the buffs that end at the end of a characters turn. Second, if you're only using the protagonist to fight the "random character gets buffed" cards become a lot better. There are some really fucking awful battle cards (sacrifice a character is always bad) but all in all you may as well use a few.
TL;DR: The battle system sucks due to everyone needing health to use their attacks, the optimal way to play is to field as few units as possible and 1-shot AoE everyone to death.
On to battle!
Thorn goes up and puts up fightback. The guy striking Gleda gets one-shot by her 14 health attack.
These guys pair up with Thorn and Gleda and get attritioned to death, ending the fight.
These fights never get better, by the way. It's always a big open field with no terrain or chokepoints and no goals other than "kill all those guys". Unless there's a massive demand from the thread, I'm not going to go too deep into individual battles.
You are proud of your daughter, but even more so, worried about your wife - Liki. There is no time to lose. You need to get home as soon as possible. A couple of side alleys later, you open the familiar gate.
Reapers 2, Thorn 0. I probably shouldn't make light of this scene, but it has the same flaws as dead Trobbel. We didn't know Trobbel at all. We, the players, never even met these women but here they are dead. This is a pretty horrifying scene, but it doesn't hit us as hard because we don't know any of these dead characters. The game is about to show its effect on Thorn, but as Mechanical Ape pointed out Thorn is just some dude who bought a magic hankie. I'll be going more into story details at the end of Chapter 1.
: Tenner! What happened here?
Gleda is trying to say something, but cannot speak through suffocating sobs.
It takes all your willpower to retain composure, managing to speak is a struggle. With jaws [sic] and fists clenched - nails dig deep into the flesh of your palms and your teeth feel as if they are about to crack.
Gleda is stroking her mother's hair and whispering to her
Thorn is not taking the loss of his wife well. Unfortunately no one gives a shit about poor Quina except Tenner.
: (Weeping) Such a tragedy has befallen us! Oh, such grief... First, both Liki and Quina screamed in pain. Then my daughter seemed to lose her mind. She went at mistress Liki with a knife. Mistress defended herself, but...
: Gleda, give me a hand.
: Take a sheet from the bed and cover Quina's body.
: (No longer sobbing): I will... in a moment
: Oh, the horror, the horror! His Excellency Count Vichti and his young son Brann always said it would end this way.
So I'm not sure if "the horror" is supposed to be a subtle hint that Tenner went mad and stabbed one or more of the the women or not. It's a reference to Kurtz from Heart of Darkness and are his dying words after he goes nuts. It'd be in character for this game to reference Conrad, as the Reaping evidently drives people insane and they kill each other.
Or I'm just overanalyzing a cliched scene of "wife dies to motivate hero", take your pick. It's super flimsy, I know, but what more is there to say? Do note that Tenner is somehow completely unscathed while both these women are dead, Quina with a knife wound to the side despite supposedly using it to attack.
: Oh Liki, this shouldn't have happened.
: Dad, I need you. We have to do something. Tenner, you saddle the horses while I pack.
: (Coming to his senses) Yes. Understood...
: (Scared) This is right out of an ancient manuscript! The same thing happened seven hundred years ago. A pain pierces your neck and turns into a fiery noose. It strangles you and you die in terrible agony. They called this plague "the Reaping". Dad, the back of my neck is burning!
: Let me see. Damn it! You've got the same mark. Take a look, do I have it?
: Nothing? How come... why did the plague spare me? Wait... I don't believe in luck. There must have been something else, something that protected me. But what?
As you may have guessed from that "strixes lost" message, this is a gameplay mechanic. More when that becomes relevant.
I just want to point out the art doesn't match the words again, at all.
You walk into the front yard and look around. No, you shouldn't bury Liki here-better do it in the back. Gleda follows you. "Get Tenner and bring the bodies here," you tell her. "Be quick about it. Our time is short. Just...wrap them in something, alright?"
You lay Quina's body beside that of her mistress. They used to play together as children. You lift the shovel. Gleda remains still. Tenner mumbles one of the Temple hymns. What could he be asking of the gods, you wonder. What use are prayers to his daughter now?
Let's talk to Gleda first, then see what Tenner's up to. The gate advances the plot, so I'd rather not do that for a bit.
Gleda loads her horse up, weeping over the tack. "Oh, Mom... how are we going to live without you?" she whispers.
You embrace your daughter. She presses her face, wet with tears, to your chest. "It's over for Liki, my dear. But for you and Mact - it isn't. Remember this, no matter how much it hurts."
Gleda nods and tries to steel herself. No longer sobbing, she starts strapping the saddle bags. "It's not over for you either, Dad-no matter what you think. I'm nearly finished. Just got to pack Rask's scrolls. Maybe I'll get a chance to return them.
We keep the scrolls, because why not?
Gleda buries her face in your shoulder. "Thank you. Mom's dead, we've got to run from the Reaping-and I'm still fussing with this package."
On to Tenner.
You enter the house and see that Tenner has packed your things, but it seems he is in no rush to leave. "What's keeping you, Tenner?"
We ask about his intentions.
Tenner's face darkens. "I must write a letter to the count. I won't lie-I've been keeping him informed of the comings and goings about this house. It's time I sent him a final letter. I will inform His Excellency that you failed to protect your wife, just as I've failed to safeguard my daughter..."
Is Thorn gonna smack a bitch?