It’s a common trend in video games that what you get on release is never really all there is and, in fact, is merely the beginning of things to come. DLC, added content, and gameplay or design updates are all a part of extending the lifespan of a game, and it’s sometimes a gamble as to whether or not they work out. Recently, developers League of Geeks (LoG) dropped some DLC – the “Usurpers Hero Pack” – for their digital board game Armello, adding new heroes and trinkets to the line-up for available content. It gave me an excuse to go back and play the game some more, and I was glad to have it because I still thoroughly enjoyed my time spent ruining the plans of others. There have also been a few updates and, while I’d like to say that everything’s just rosy, I have some qualms about what’s going on with how the game is being run.
“Speaking as the Prestige leader, it sure would be a shame if the King just decided to fill the board with Banes…”
First off, even before this DLC, there’ve been a few major updates and changes to improve the game overall. Extra cards have been added over time, including a new follower called The Stranger (who can go straight to hell) that acts as more of a hindrance than a helping hand. There’ve been added amulets, new mechanics, and tweaks to gameplay in general, changing how certain mechanics work and introducing “House Rules,” which allow you to customise the rules of the game. This is basically stuff like adding a handicap of extra life, making the King crazier or calmer and affecting the number of perils always in play, or turning off The Stranger. That last one doubleplusgood, because that misdirecting jerk can go drown in a pit of his own incompetence. In all, there have been four major updates before the release of this DLC, which is some great support for the game in general and what you’d like to see from developers.
For the Usurper Hero Pack DLC, however, I have a few problems. My experience with the new heroes is that they’re great fun but just a tad OP in comparison to their predecessors. Their inherent, passive abilities are far better than those of the original eight heroes, which renders playing the first lot of heroes a little pointless. There seems to be a bit of hate online for Sargon the Death Teller in particular. Although I don’t think he’s the worst of the four, I can certainly see why you’d think otherwise because he can always see the top card of each deck as a standard, passive ability. Aside from already being a powerful magic character, he’s now a seer that uses his ability to be the worst kind of boardgames cheater.
Seriously, it’s like they’ve taken the guy who keeps sneaking peaks at the deck when no one’s looking and made him into a character.
Magna the (unironically named) Unbroken turns all burned shield cards into reflected damage. Reflect is a recently introduced mechanic that can turn some of your shield icons, under certain circumstances, into shields that protect you as well as granting a bonus attack. Who’s going to attack you when you’re Magna? Not a single damn person, that’s who, not when she can throw away a few cards to remain untouched while murdering your face right off in a single battle. Ghor the Wildkyn loves the forest, and it loves him back so much that it gives him a discount on the cost of casting spells. What’s more is that he can cast them on any forest title anywhere on the board, regardless of his spirit stat, making them all terrifying DMZ’s for every other player.
Bullshit wizards and a shield maiden of death aside, none of the new heroes have anything on Elyssia, Wardress of Warrens and probably the closest this DLC comes to completely breaking the game. I have won every game I’ve used Elyssia, and her abilities are so ridiculous that I barely needed to try. Any settlement she ends her turn on becomes fortified, giving her added defence while on that tile and costing other players an extra AP just to move into that settlement. Do this a couple of times and the cash money starts coming in. Add in her high wits stat and a few quests, and it starts raining gold and cards. Her attack stat becomes irrelevant when she can hamstring just about anyone who tries to go near her. Just look at this:
That’s ten cards, nine wit and eleven prestige, and most of that prestige was from screwing over other players without actually fighting them.
Moreover, the addition of some new heroes (regardless of how powerful they are), rings and amulets are a great addition, but for the price tag of $10 USD I’d have expected it to be a little meatier. Price isn’t something I often talk about when it comes to reviewing games or additional content, however, I feel like it’s particularly relevant in this instance. One of the recent additions to the game of Armello has been the introduction of chests and keys, a concept that players of TF2 will already be familiar with. There are different kinds of chests, for which you need corresponding keys to open, and one of either are randomly awarded for participating in multiplayer games through to their end. Or you can buy them through the Armello Steam store page.
The contents of these chests are dice skins, the cosmetic must-have’s of Armello, of which there are quite a variety. Some of these chests and dice skins are only available during certain events, some are even exclusive solely to backers of the game on Kickstarter or Early Access adopters. It creates a culture of have’s and have-not’s, which might not matter to you but clearly does to some. At the time of writing this, these chests and keys have sold nearly a thousand each in the last 24 hours. Not to mention that it introduces an element of luck, and essentially gambling if you’re buying these things since there’s no guarantee of what you get from each chest.
And there’s still more to this tail! Haha… Ha…. Please laugh.
Given the addition of microtransactions, which are obviously doing well, why is this expansion as expensive as it is? If this were a physical board game, ten dollars would be a bargain given the costs of producing physical products, shipping, so on and so forth. However, putting out an expansion for a video game that’s half the price of its base version and offers only a fraction of the content is just taking the piss. This is on top of there being DLC that was promised that has yet to be released, and they’re officially past due.
The Bandit Clan was another DLC hero pack, which was first promised as Backer exclusive content. Issues arose when LoG decided to make it available as DLC, with backers of the game feeling somewhat cheated that their exclusive content was about to become available to all. The reason LoG decided to not make the content exclusive is that it would create a potentially unbalanced playing field in online multiplayer – a fair point. The resolution, in the end, was that the content would be a timed exclusive, available only to backers initially and unavailable to play in online multiplayer until the DLC had been released.
Seriously, one of them is a badger warrior, whom I like to imagine has fallen from a line of badger royals and gone rogue. Bring down the price and actually release this and you’d totally have my money, LoG.
Backers are presumably still waiting to play the characters online, just as I’m still waiting for the Bandit Clan DLC to be released because neither one has come to pass. In fact, the last time this was mentioned at all by the development team was in March of last year where they said the DLC would be “expected 3-6 months after launch,” to coincide with the iPad release. We’re now past that expected point by seven months, and there’s no telling when the iPad version will be released yet, either. They’ve said it will possibly Q4 this year, maybe early 2017 if they think it might adversely affect their 2016 Christmas sales too much.
While we’re on the topic of platform versions, lord only knows what’s going on with the GoG version of the game. As detailed in this forum post, the developers have said, “there’s no way for us to provide DLC for DRM Free users.” There’s no explanation of why this is the case, just that there’s also no way for them to ensure parity between Steam and DRM-Free players. It should be noted at this point that the Usurpers pack is available on the XBox One, with plans to later release it on PS4. The only mention of future content updates for GoG’s “DRM Free Users” is that they’ve been working with the distributor to provide a special edition of the game to GoG, with nothing about what that entails. Hrrrm. Call me a cynic if you like but I get the feeling that GoG’s lack of an add-on store for chests, keys and dice might have something to do with it.
“What… What’s that spike on your shield for, Magna? You’re not still mad at me immolating you, are yooooouuuuuUUAAAAAARRRRGGGHHH MY SPLEEEEEEEEN.”
This has been a weird one for me because I still enjoy Armello immensely as a game, but League of Geeks has taken a strange direction with its paid content. It looks as if things started out well after release with a number of updates that offered free content along with the usual fixes, and, somewhere along the way, things have gone awry. The concerns I have are mostly with what LoG thinks is justifiable business-wise and how they’re carrying this game into the future. The new heroes’ abilities are more than a little OP, and, in my opinion, the content of the DLC pack just isn’t worth half the price of the base game. I find the price point especially egregious given the introduction of microtransactions and how well they’re selling, and I’m not super keen on how those are being implemented either. A lack of communication from the studio is also plaguing certain aspects of the game, like the absence of promised DLC content, or why GoG players aren’t getting DLC at all and with no explanation. It seems that in post-release, just as in the game itself, not all is well with Armello.
DISCLAIMER: access to this DLC was provided by the developer and reviewed on PC across 6 hours of gameplay.