Total War Battles: Kingdom Launches Globally for Free on Mobile

Total War Battles: Kingdom Launches Globally

A new Total War game launches globally for free on mobile next week.

Total War Battles: Kingdom is a real-time strategy game that allows players to change the world around their kingdom to their needs. Featuring a persistent world, players can work on their kingdom on their phone or mobile device while they’re out and then continue at home on their PC.

Players can grow their armies and engage in huge real-time battles against AIs or other players. Build up towns and castles, manage your economy and expand your territory into the wilderness.

Total War Battles: Kingdom is available on Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, PC and Mac on March 24 around the world. Check your mobile device’s store to download and Steam for PC and Mac players.

Early Access: Darkest Dungeon

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Darkest Dungeon makes a strong first impression. From the moment it begins, the player is presented with a world rendered murky and foreboding through a distinct comic book visual style. Heavy shading exaggerates the inky blackness of shadows and bright red is splashed liberally, highlighting spilled blood and, when aboveground, doomsday skies. The game is meant to evoke a feeling of hopelessness—of insurmountable evil. The unforgiving nature of playing through Red Hook Studios’ role-playing/strategy hybrid makes good on this atmosphere, delivering brutal difficulty and hard-won rewards in nearly equal measure.

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The overarching goal in Darkest Dungeon is to drive out a series of monsters—the game’s bosses—lurking within various dungeons. An unnamed protagonist has been called back to their ancestral home after learning that an older relative who, motivated by the boredom of an easy life, dabbled in the occult and unleashed a plague of evil upon his village. Now, to set things back in order, the player controls groups of heroes as they explore labyrinths, killing strange creatures and mapping out grid-based catacombs in order to find and defeat its boss. Each dungeon is presented in two dimensions, with the four chosen heroes walking along a set, side-scrolling path, which is set by clicking on new rooms represented by a blueprint-style mini-map. The fighters belong to specific “classes”—there are plague doctors, grave robbers, knights, holy warriors, barbarians, and more—and engage in Darkest Dungeon’s turn-based combat by using specific skills. The grave robber, for instance, can throw out daggers that hit multiple enemies at once; the knight can deal massive damage or stun a monster; the holy warrior can heal the party.

While putting together an ideal group of four distinct characters to, say, navigate a poisonous swamp area is complex enough, the game also features systems where stress, a gauge that fills by remaining in darkness too long or suffering morale-breaking enemy attacks, can make the characters perform unreliably. Accumulate too much stress and a hero may turn selfish and steal any treasure she finds. Or, she may become fearful enough to pass over her turn or paranoid to the point of refusing to be healed by others. Considering Darkest Dungeon’s extreme difficulty—it features both permanent character deaths and automatic game saves—a single character who suffers from one of these afflictions can thwart even the best-prepared dungeon expedition. To manage these kinds of drawbacks, the player returns to the gloomy town hub. From this area, new characters can be recruited at a caravan (which is useful, since many trips will result in a fatality or two), items and skills can be acquired, and stress penalties can be reduced at the bar, church, or sanatorium. Assigning a nerve-wracked leper character to the gambling table will take notches off his stress metre, making him better prepared for another journey into the dungeons.
Darkest Dungeoninsert3Each of the game’s systems interlock neatly, turning simple concepts like stat penalties and RPG-style skill and equipment upgrades into something more than the sum of their parts. Though the Early Access version of the game seems slightly unbalanced—stress often piles up too quickly to feel fair while certain combinations of character skills are a bit overpowered—the unfinished game still does a fantastic job of proving the strength of Darkest Dungeon’s concept. The solid foundation of the game’s core systems is furthered by a remarkably coherent and confident audio/visual style. From monster design to level backgrounds, the game’s hand-drawn art is rich in detail and atmosphere. Coupled with the grim theatricality of its omnipresent narrator (who’s quick to comment on any victory or setback with overly dramatic remarks), the entire experience conveys the darkness of its medieval fantasy world with aplomb.


The charming presentation and simple but complexly intertwined gameplay mechanics go a long way toward urging the player onward through one merciless expedition after another. Though progress in Darkest Dungeon is often a matter of attrition, it’s one of the few entries to the “rogue-like” genre to properly encourage continued play by ensuring that something is always being gained, no matter how small. The give-and-take of an hour with the game—a few heroes are incapacitated by stress, even though they manage to bring back enough money to upgrade others—makes for an extremely compelling experience. As development continues, we can hope for what already works well in the game’s design—the variety in visual design and character classes—to be further refined and expanded upon with new areas and, hopefully, extra narrative elements. Even in its current state as an Early Access release, though, Darkest Dungeon is one of the most interesting and well-executed takes on the dungeon crawling RPG to appear in some time.

Early Access: Massive Chalice

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There’s a simplicity to Double Fine Productions’ Massive Chalice that could be mistaken for a lack of depth. During the tactical, turn-based combat sections, soldier units don’t hide in cover to lessen damage or team up for more powerful attacks; they just have to be positioned properly on the battle map. The larger, strategic element of the game doesn’t provide multiple resources to manage; players are just forced to pick whether to research, upgrade, or recruit units and wait until that task is completed before moving on. This kind of streamlining could easily have led to a shallow experience, but it hasn’t. Instead, Massive Chalice is an example of how well a strategy game can work when distilled down to the genre’s foundation.

The goal of the game’s campaign is to give the Chalice—an enormous (massive?) talking cup that summons and guides the all-seeing player character—the time it needs to gather its magical powers and expel a destructive enemy force from the pseudo-medieval world. The rub is that this process takes about 300 years, during which monsters (called Cadence) will attack the player’s fortresses and attempt to overrun their Capital. To fight them off it’s necessary to grow an inter-generational army by arranging marriages, allow the resulting children to grow into adults, and then send them off to battle.

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Combat takes place in turns, with five heroes (explosive-tossing Alchemists, bow-hunting Hunters, and melee-focused Caberjacks) facing off against a group of Cadence monsters. While there isn’t a ton of variety in player or enemy unit types, relatively small health bars and inventive enemy types make every skirmish tense enough to require careful thought (especially in the early parts of the game). One creature—the Bulwark—shields itself from damage after a single attack, which means that taking it out without the attacker being killed requires a bit of extra preparation. There may not be many gameplay systems to juggle, but the few variables at play allow for enough variation that it never feels like the game is in need of extra unit types or battle mechanics.

The combat encounters and army management are made more appealing by Massive Chalice’s distinct audio-visual presentation. Battle maps and characters are rendered in impressionist style, fine details omitted in favour of bold splashes of colour—think Kentucky Route Zero by way of Proteus. This is coupled with a beautifully orchestrated score that underscores fights with plaintive strings at one moment and spirited guitar plucking at another. The striking art and sound direction is accompanied with solid writing and voice acting as well. Massive Chalice’s take on the fantasy genre is inventive and peppered with the kind of humour that, by now, has become an expected trait of Double Fine’s games. From the talking Chalice, whose two distinct voices often bicker with one another while narrating, to the text that fills in research path descriptions, the writing maintains a wonderful tone of delight. There’s a kind of liveliness to everything about the game—and it gives the impression that Massive Chalice is being developed by people who truly love their creation.

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Still, as fully realized as the game’s aesthetic and gameplay systems are, there are rough patches. The straightforward design of Massive Chalice’s combat and management systems means that small imbalances in difficulty—whether it’s a slightly overpowered enemy or an upgrade that takes just a bit too long to research—can torpedo an attempt at finishing a run through the campaign that’s otherwise going well. This becomes especially frustrating in the latter half of the game, when hordes of stronger, “advanced” forms of familiar enemies swarm the Heroes in great numbers. On the flipside, a group of high level characters can too easily win a battle if matched up against the right variety of Cadence enemy types only a few hours earlier. These inconsistent combat challenges also highlight the fact that many of the game’s maps are simply too big. Moments when the player has to cautiously hunt down a remaining group of monsters can create a great sense of tension, but too often the sheer scale of the environments makes these scenarios tedious. Even though the combat and strategy mechanics are well designed, they’re in need of quite a bit of refinement.

Considering that Massive Chalice is still an incomplete Beta, there’s reason to hope that these issues will be cleared up before the final release. And, luckily, none of the Early Access version’s problems detract too much from what is largely a great experience. By designing a strategy game that favours sound fundamentals over complex systems, Double Fine has managed to make something that plays—and looks—unlike its peers. Massive Chalice may not be finished yet, but, despite the annoyances of its uneven difficulty, it already offers an enjoyable and unique take on a familiar genre.

Early Access: Invisible, Inc.

Steam Launches Stealth Sale

A great number of Early Access games are unfinished in a much larger sense than Klei Entertainment’s Invisible, Inc. Important gameplay features and user interface elements might be missing entirely, obscuring the game’s intent and making it difficult to tell how everything will come together in the future. Invisible, Inc. is a lot easier to understand. Despite still being in active development, Klei’s stealth/strategy hybrid feels much more complete than many of its Early Access peers, if not as fully fleshed out as it could (and will soon) be.

invisible-inc-insert1Probably the biggest contribution to this impression is the amount of polish already applied to the game. Invisible, Inc.’s visual elements, from menus to character animations, are crisp and evidently refined, reflecting the same colourful and imaginative design work that has become the standard in previous Klei titles (like Mark of the Ninja and Don’t Starve). The impressive look is matched with innovative gameplay concepts  made good through smart mechanics. It’s a bit reductive to say that Invisible, Inc. is simply a stealth take on the turn-based tactics gameplay of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but, as a reference point, Firaxis Games’ alien invasion reboot isn’t a bad place to start. At first blush, design elements like character inventories, cover systems, and a mission selection map that highlights international hotspots make the game appear overly derivative. Luckily, the similarities are only skin deep.

The major difference between the two games comes from Invisible, Inc. being concerned less with simply eliminating enemy forces than in thoughtful sneaking and low-key thievery. Players choose from a handful of secret agents, each with special starting skills (like an ability to unlock security doors or hack computers from a distance), and guide a small team of these characters through a series of global enemy facilities referred to as “corporations.” Each stage is procedurally generated, its hallways, camera positions, and guards scattered throughout a constantly changing environment. The goal, though, always remains the same. Every level is a gauntlet that requires players to gather as many resources as possible without losing operatives to the permanent death that comes from being knocked out by an enemy.

What makes Invisible, Inc. most unique is its alarm system. As the player works their way through a level, a circular metre in the upper corner of the screen is constantly filling in, notch by panic-inducing notch. Every time the metre hits its limit, new threats are introduced to the stage. These range from fresh guard patrols to unexpected surveillance camera activations—all representing a steady increase in difficulty and a higher likelihood of failing the mission. The alarm system encourages players to do the opposite of what stealth games have trained them for: creeping slowly and methodically through levels. An overly cautious agent will quickly find her/himself outflanked by far too many guards to easily exit the stage. On the other hand, the player who beelines directly for the end of a level will miss out on the cash, items, and new recruits they need to upgrade their team well enough to take on the game’s increasingly difficult later missions.

These systems—constant unpredictability, urgency, and a zero tolerance for mistakes—force the player into punishing compromises on a moment-by-moment basis. They also make Invisible, Inc. a compelling experience. The turn-based sneaking provides just enough empowerment for the player to feel satisfied when slipping past enemy patrols or snatching money out of deposit boxes, but also limited enough that tension remains high throughout entire missions. Some may be turned off by the fairly high difficulty of the game’s Normal mode (even Easy provides a substantial challenge), but those who are intrigued by a fresh take on stealth and strategy and are willing to roll with the punches of Invisible, Inc.’s ruthless design are likely to discover something truly interesting.

Klei Entertainment previously used the Early Access model to release survival simulator Don’t Starve, steadily adding new features onto a solid foundation that was enjoyable enough in its own, unfinished right. There’s every sign that Invisible, Inc. is following the same path. Though it’s easy to see where additional elements can be introduced to make for a richer experience—more agents and inventory items and a greater variety in guard types would help—there’s already a unique and well-polished game to play at this early stage