Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Child of Light: Review

Version Reviewed: 1.0.31711
What I like: Unique combat system, artistic style and music
Not So Much: Story starts off dull, rhyming feels painfully forced sometimes.
Other Stuff You May Like: Several characters to switch between in combat, light crafting
The Verdict: A beautiful looking and sounding game with a unique feeling that has some weaknesses. Not for everyone but I'm glad I stuck with it.
About my reviews

Official site: Child of Light

Disclaimer: No disclaimer. I bought my copy.


Child of Light is a difficult game to characterize. Starting off it seems like it could focus on being a platformer, but after extended play the platforming aspects of the game are fairly light and lack difficulty. The game has a significant amount of storytelling and beautiful music. There are RPG elements - attributes, combat skills, leveling up and some mild crafting by combining gems (Oculi in game terms). These combat skills are put to use in a very unique combat system. These elements combine into a game which is beautiful, unique, tactically challenging and touching - but also sometimes tedious with a narrative that feels forced. I almost quit halfway through, but am quite pleased I stuck with the game.

The game offers two difficulty levels Casual and Expert. I tend to like games that challenge me in some way, so I played through the entire game on Expert. Casual exists for those wanting to take in the story and artistic presentation without needing to worry about the difficulty. Since I only played on Expert I can't comment on the difficulty of Casual. 

The World of Lemuria

Your journey through Lemuria will take you across various beautiful landscapes, accompanied by atmospheric environmental sounds. The artistic appeal of Child of Light never disappoints. Some areas are somewhat linear, others a bit more open. Not all paths are easily noticed as you pass on your way. Attention to detail is rewarded with loot chests and power ups, so it's wise to keep your eyes open.

The start of an adventure in the forest.

Platforming is simple - move a crate to reach a higher ledge, time your moves to avoid thrusting spikes. At times you need to utilize Igniculus, a helpful elemental, to disable obstacles in your path. Even making a mistake during these sequences never really spells disaster since Igniculus can heal any damage taken. I never took enough damage that it lead to my death. It seems the platforming is there to provide some sense of danger without ever really making it so.

As you move through the world, Aurora (the little girl you control) or companions you meet along the way reveal comments inspired by their surroundings, parts of the main story, or tidbits about their own personal plights. At times these are welcome and well done - sometimes touching or otherwise contributing to the storytelling in a positive way. The dialog and story bits are always presented in rhyme. In many places this works well and gives the tale a storybook feel. Other times they feel forced, with awkward words which makes the narrative harder to follow - even disjointed.

Even though the backgrounds are essentially 2 dimensional, Aurora can take some paths that have some depth to them.

Have a Little Help from My Friends

As mentioned earlier, you'll meet some companions along the way - the first being a firefly (elemental) names Igniculus. Igniculus is different from the other companions you meet. Other companions only participate in combat or appear to tell parts of the tale. Igniculus remains on the main screen with you as you explore the world. He'll follow you around automatically, but at times you'll also take direct control of him to reach an area Aurora can't reach or to assist in some other way. I played with an XBox 360 controller, but mouse and keyboard controls also exist. The controller felt natural. The mouse and keyboard felt OK too in the small amount of time I spent using them.

Aurora, meet Igniculus.
Igniculus can glow, which has different effects depending on the situation. While exploring, he can heal Aurora or even blind enemies so combat can either be avoided or let Aurora and her friends start with the upper hand. Wishes found along the way recharge his ability quickly, or they can slowly recharge over time.

Lemuria is not a Safe Place for a Little Girl

There will be times when enemies will block your path. Using Igniculus to blind them will let you avoid the combat, which may be OK if playing on Casual. Skipping too many encounters would lead to trouble on Expert for sure because the experience points gained from combat allow Aurora and her companions to level up so they are prepared for more challenging enemies.

Get him when he's not looking!

Attacking enemies from behind gives Aurora an initial advantage in combat. It's also possible for enemies to gain the advantage, but in general if you're paying attention this probably won't happen a lot. 

It's Like Choreographing Dance, but More Deadly

Combat takes place on a tactical combat screen, pitting up to 2 of your group members against up to 3 enemies.

See that bar along the bottom? You'll want to pay attention to that. Each participant moves along that bar based on their speed. When they reach the red area, it's time to select their action. This can be a physical attack or a spell of some sort. These actions are unlocked as they level up. While there aren't a huge number of different skills, they are varied - single and group attacks, healing, paralyzation, speeding up, slowing down and more. These actions also take up a different amount of time and here is where the dance begins.

When someone is attacked while they are in the red portion, their action is interrupted and they are moved towards the left on the bar. Interrupting actions is a great way to gain an advantage in combat. Since Igniculus can slow down an enemy's advancement, deciding when to use this power is an important tactical choice It isn't always advantageous to slow an enemy down because then they may not be in the red area when the attack is executed. Juggling Igniculus between enemies, planning which attack to use, deciding what ally to swap into battle are all part of this intricate dance. You do get a chance to stop and think since time pauses when it's one of your characters turn to attack. This combat system felt different from any other game I have played.

While I could generally stick with the 2 characters I liked the most in combat, they all had their uses. This could be due to their different skill set, or due to the fact that injured allies could be replaced during combat. One more step in this intricate dance.

Add the use of potions to buff, debuff and heal and combat provides many options. Enemies were varied enough to require new tactics, but there were times when there were more encounters with the same type of enemy than I wished to fight. Since I needed the experience points, I felt obliged not to bypass the combat. Luckily I never needed to grind and fight the same enemies repeatedly. I obtained enough XP by winning each encounter once. Even on Expert difficulty most of the combat wasn't that hard, but there were difficult encounters that tested my mettle.

Well, it is Tagged on Steam as an RPG...

Leveling comes pretty frequently, coming with attribute increases and a skill choice. Character advancement wasn't one of the more interesting parts of the game. Attributes level automatically. The skill tree is essentially just a progression down 1 of 3 paths, either unlocking a new skill or improving an attribute. I generally just picked 1 branch and stuck with it, but there were times I went partway down another branch to unlock a skill I wanted. Each character has their own unique skill tree, but there is some overlap with the skills.

Another RPG element is some basic crafting and equipping of Oculi (gems). Most of the gems provide some type of elemental damage or protection, but there are some more varied effects. Since some enemies are more susceptible to certain types of damage it pays to try and get beneficial match ups.

Visuals and Music

Child of Light excels in both areas. Each environment has touches of detail that bring them alive and are a joy to travel through. The music is one of the few soundtracks I'd listen to outside of a game. Check it out here and you can buy it here.

An ominous looking area.

Happy after looting a chest.

Much easier to get around when you can fly.

Stopping to have a chat with a friend.

On unsuspecting enemy keeps guard on the left.

Technical Performance

No crashes or any other hiccups experienced - even with frequent alt tabbing!

My specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i& 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 7870.


For me, the strengths of Child of Light were the unique combat system, visuals and music. I almost quit playing after tiring of forced rhymes, and a story I wasn't that invested in. Around the middle of the game, I started enjoying the story a bit more. There were times when the story touched an emotional chord. 

Combat could become a little repetitive, but a new challenge usually wasn't too far around the corner so I persevered during those times. The music in the final battle was like a reward for my persistence. Controlling the flow of combat with Igniculus was rewarding in its own right, just as much as selecting the right characters for a particular encounter and making smart skill choices.

A new game+ mode exists for those looking for more, but I think it is a 1 playthrough type of game. A playthrough which I enjoyed more than I first thought I would.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Cities: Skylines Review

Version Reviewed: 1.05
What I like: Solid basics, how traffic is handled (for the most part), large areas to build, no online requirement!.
Not So Much: Some aspects of simulation too simple, bland buildings from a gameplay perspective.
Other Stuff You May Like: Modding support.
The Verdict: A promising city builder with some holes. Creative types will probably get more value from it.
About my reviews

Official site: Cities: Skylines

Disclaimer: No disclaimer. I bought my copy.


Players are attracted to city builders for different reasons. Creative types enjoy making their cities look pleasing to the eye - a curved road here, a nice copse of trees over there. Less creative types - like me, are building with a purpose. There needs to be challenges of some sort, otherwise we think, 'What's the point?' Of course some people straddle these two groups with their weight shifted more or less to one side, and which group you favor can radically affect how satisfied you are with a game. Disclaimer - while I enjoy playing city builders, I do tend to tire of them quickly. They tend not to offer up new challenges to keep me interested long term.

Cities: Skylines is a city builder along the lines of SimCity, not the resource management games like the Anno series. Roads are laid down, zones defined (residential, industrial, and commercial) and services are provided. Fortunately the Cities: Skylines release was much smoother than the newest SimCity - most definitely due to the lack of a forced online requirement (other than just connecting to Steam). There must have been a pent up demand for such a game, because Skylines broke the Paradox Interactive sales record for a game hot off the press.

The Right Tools for the Job...

       ... But the Toolbox Isn't Always Complete

For the most part, Skylines provides an easy to use set of tools to build your city. Laying down roads is a simple process of selecting the type of road you desire and with a couple clicks - bam, you're done. Gravel roads, various sizes of paved city streets and highways all exist. Use 1-way roads to try and handle troublesome areas. Some roads are decorated with trees to increase land value. The game automatically displays the area that can be zoned so you can immediately see if you're using the available space wisely. Unfortunately you don't get to see the guidelines until after you click, so at times there is some clicking and canceling going on until you hit the spot you want. I can't remember another city builder that makes it easier to create elevated roads with entrance and exit ramps.

The handy shaded area is the land that can be zoned- along with the gray grids already present.

Running utilities is an area that could be more streamlined. In theory I enjoy control, but running water pipelines is just busywork. There isn't any real challenge to it or strategy necessary. On the other hand, power lines are a bit annoying. Buildings in close proximity automatically pass power access to their neighbors - which is good. Unfortunately when buildings pop up in freshly zoned areas they may not have access to power - so you wait and hope some more buildings pop up close enough to power access or you need to run power lines within your zone to reach the new buildings. Doing so de-zones those tiles, so it won't develop on its own until you manually destroy the power lines and rezone the area. Neither of these are a huge deal, but it could be better.

Building placement on the other hand is a breeze. Once the new building is hovered over a valid location, its effective area is highlighted along the roads. Since Skylines is developed by Colossal Order, developer of more transportation-oriented games, it's no surprise that it's easy to draw mass transit routes. As long as you don't need to edit them life is good, but I could never figure out how to effectively tweak and existing line. It was always easier to delete it and start fresh.

Just about to add a school

The newly shaded green area will now be able to get an education!

There are some other niggles as well. I've always liked putting parks in the center of some residential buildings. It's always nice to walk to a park when the weather is nice. Since parks need road access in Skylines, I can't lay them out how I like to.

Some other UI additions that would be helpful:
- the ability to show the color coded zone grid, even when I'm not actually zoning.
- be able to select a residential building to see how the occupants travel to work (like Simcity 4)

Let Me Check the Data

There are plenty of useful data overlays within Skylines, similar to the latest SimCity, which let you answer questions such as
- who has proper service coverage? (power, water, police, fire, garbage, etc)
- am I going to run out of capacity soon?
- where are there traffic issues?

The basics seem to be well covered, but sometimes you want to dig a little deeper.
- Why isn't that household at maximum happiness?
- Which residential buildings have available space?
- How many people died from getting sick?
- What percentage of people are overeducated for their jobs, or jobs available at various education levels, the education level of those unemployed?

Sometimes you can get this data for individual buildings by selecting them, but having more sophisticated data overlays to look at areas from above would be helpful.

Some traffic trouble spots

Driving Merrily Along

Traffic modeling is both the high point and source of some of my bigger gripes. Traffic occurs at logical locations and watching the routes cars take can be very informative. In fact, my favorite aspect to the game is creating additional roadways and watching to see how the traffic patterns adapt. In the majority of cases it makes a lot of sense to me. I enjoy adding some really crazy highway layouts and watching to see who chooses to use it. I can get mesmerized by the little vehicles, selecting one now and then to see where it's going.

There are times where the illusion of having tiny people travel through my city is dispelled. Sometimes a line of cars will crowd into one lane when others are available. In some cases you can feel the consequences of having traffic issues, dead bodies start to pile up at houses, and sanitation workers can't collect the trash in a timely manner. Good stuff. Unfortunately there aren't any consequences when workers can't reach their places of employment. If stuck in traffic for too long, they will magically teleport back to their house. Their workplace will continue on as normal, even if none of their workers can reach them due to traffic. The citizens will happily move on to other tasks, never getting upset that they couldn't reach their destination. This issue is being discussed on the forums, so hopefully this area of the simulation can be strengthened.

Industrial and commercial buildings do require a supply of goods, which is more completely modeled. So there is some good and bad aspects to the game's logistics.

I created some crazy highways, well, because I could.

How Can I Help You?

Providing services to your people is one of the important aspects of most city builders and I briefly mentioned it above. Fire engines travel from station to house to put out fires, cemeteries send out hearses to pick up the dead, and more. Everything I expect to be included is. My one complaint is that there really aren't any interesting choices to make. In the latest SimCity buildings had cool additions you could add to it. In Skylines there really isn't much to them. Just plop down the building of which you want to improve coverage.


As expected, wanna be mayors can tinker with tax rates, tweak budgets, and take out loads when low on cash. Pretty much what one might expect in a game like this. Other than taking out a couple loans, increasing the education budget, and decreasing some taxes, I didn't really need to visit this area often.

Some Innovative Ideas

Colossal Order (CO) included the ability to add districts to your city, which can be combined with city policies to give areas their own flavor. Don't want your city center to burn down? Create a district and give them free smoke detectors. Ban high rise buildings in certain locations. There are a couple dozen to choose from. In practice I didn't really use districts except to take advantage of the resources on the map - creating timber industry and ore mining. There are 4 special resources in all to take advantage of, each with slightly different characteristics. I think with some more interesting effects districts could be an interesting addition.

My starting location is now the Empire District

Another feature that is interesting on paper is that CO modeled the flow of water. Pumping wastewater into the river causes the pollution to travel downstream. Sean Sands at Gamers with Jobs wrote about an interesting effect of this feature.

It should also be noted that as your city grows, new land areas can be purchased, unlocking new areas for your city to expand. The available area is so much larger than the latest SimCity. This will be a big plus for many people.

My city has expanded to 6 out of the 9 possible tiles...

... which gives quite a large area to build.

Many mods already exist on the Steam Workshop so you may want to see what's available. There is even one to disable the chatty bird Chirpy that likes to sputter annoyingly frequent messages about nothing of real importance.

Visual Appeal

Skylines is an attractive game and also performs nicely. Buildings are detailed and tree lined streets seem like a fine place to take a walk. The only downside I can think of is that art assets are repeated pretty frequently. It doesn't bother me too much personally, but if you like a lot of variety you may be at least a little disappointed. Mods may help the game out in this regard.

Notice the nice view of one of my bridges in the background

A street level view

Technical Performance

No crashes or any other hiccups experienced - even with frequent alt tabbing!

My specs: Windows 7 64-bit. Intel Core i& 860 @ 2.80 GHz. 8 Gig RAM. ATI Radeon HD 7870.


If you've made it this far, you can see that while Skylines is promising, I'm not totally enamored with it. I feel bad for saying this because the people at Paradox Interactive seem like a cool group of people. I'm pleased it has done so well for them in such a short period of time. I hope it leads to further improvements! CO seems interested in gathering feedback on the forums.

Skylines does many things right - ease of road construction, traffic modeling, and the city builder basics. By far the aspect I enjoyed most was building roads and watching the traffic. I don't get into the creative aspect of city building, so my contentment comes from overcoming challenges provided by a detailed simulation. I need to feel like traffic problems matter more than they do in Skylines. People should be mad when traffic prevents them from arriving at their destination. Businesses should shut down if their workers never arrive. I didn't really have money issues, which maybe would be solved by using the hard mode mod. It is a pretty beginner-friendly game, so don't expect a great challenge out of the box.

I think creative types would get more out of the game then I do, and beginners to the genre are given a warm fuzzy hug. My negative comments aside, I do think it is the best of the 'traditional' city builder type of games - the new SimCity and Cities XL. It's also kept my interest longer than Banished due to the interesting road building in Skylines. By their nature, city builders can get repetitive and I don't have a high tolerance for that.

I hope the game gets a lot of post release support, and Paradox has a great track record when it comes to that. Maybe after some updates my opinion will be a little more positive.

Edit 3/17/2015: Karoliina at Colossal Order said that they are working on a solution to the 'workers not reaching jobs have no consequences' issue. She isn't promising anything, but that it is an important issue to them.