Limbus Company: Corrections

A few weeks ago I did a writeup on Limbus Company. You can read it here.

After playing more, I’ve realized there are a few factual things I got wrong in my writeup, and also a few more things I wanted to talk about. So I’ve decided to put those here.

Some Corrections

One of my larger sections in the initial writeup was complaining about Limbus Company’s energy system, Enkephalin. I thought that if I lost while playing, and had spent energy or modules to attempt a level, I would just lose that energy.

As it turns out, in many cases, the whole amount of energy is refunded if you lose. And in others, even though there is some loss of energy, it’s 5%. IE, spend 20 energy to enter a stage, lose, get 19 back.

I still don’t like energy systems in games. Energy systems are in my mind, a gaming dark pattern. But Limbus Company’s energy system isn’t as bad as thought or made it out to be in my initial writeup.

Glorified Slot Machines, and some other F2P bullshit

One of the other things I didn’t talk about in my writeup was that Limbus Company does have a Gacha system. In abstract, it’s very similar to most Gacha systems. Spend premium currency, which you can buy with real money, or earn small amounts of per day to get random characters.

Mechanically though, I’d say it fairly different. For starters, the game starts the players with 13 characters, and each extra “character” you get is just an alternate personality for one of those 13. There haven’t been any times when I’ve gone, “Wow, I need a character who can do X, I guess I need to spend the Gacha”.

The other thing that makes it a bit inherently different is that the game has a system for upgrading characters that simplified, boils down to the following: the default free characters get stronger easier, while premium characters are resource sinks.

Again, I don’t like Gacha systems. But there was never a point playing Limbus Company that made me think “I could beat this if I just spent money”. It’s a better system, admittedly, better in the same way that being stung by 1 wasp is better than being stung by 5.

Going back to actual gameplay: Limbus Company does have a solid combat system, but it’s incredibly poorly explained and displayed, and the more I play, the more convinced I am that the tutorial was some sort of joke.

Ultimately I wrote this to address my issues with the earlier article. I wasn’t sure if I should write this as a separate piece, or edit the initial writeup, but ultimately decided on the first one.

So yeah, Limbus Company. An interesting F2P game with generally reasonable systems by F2P standards, and absolutely stunning lack of meaningful tutorials.

Grotto Beasts

Grotto Beasts is an entertaining TCG with a really clever resource system that I haven’t seen used before. It’s good fun. But at the end of this writeup, I’m not going to recommend buying it. I absolutely recommend playing it! Just… not spending money on it. But we’ll get to that.

The most unique part of Grotto Beasts to me is the resource system. It’s very interesting and not particularly complex, but it is very different from anything I’ve seen in a TCG, so I want to go over it in detail first.

Grotto Beasts’ Resource System

Every card card in the game has a cost. To “play” a card, you have to pay its cost, which you do by placing cards facedown into a zone called the summoning pool. The summoning pool cannot be rearranged, and is not a discard pile/graveyard.

Here’s the neat part: whenever an opponent plays a card, you draw cards equal to the cost of that card from your summoning pool. If you didn’t have enough cards in your pool, you continue drawing from your deck..

In addition, except for the first card you play each turn, you cannot play cards if your opponent’s summoning pool is empty.

I found that in the games I played, this led to a bunch of really interesting decisions about what cards to use to pay various costs, and how to order them into the summoning pool. A heavy cost card might be useless now, but placing it at the very bottom makes it hard to get back. Likewise, it gives the game a sort of tempo pace. Dropping a high cost card into your opponent lets them draw a fair number of cards back, and can give them the answers they need to deal with it.

The Rest of the Systems

The rest of Grotto Beasts’ systems are functional and fun, if not as fascinating. Combat is similar to Magic, where all attackers attack at once. Unlike Magic, attack values are summed, and then defense values are summed. Each player chooses how to allocate damage across the enemy line. Cards only have one stat for combat, Power, so it’s fairly easy to keep track of what’s what.

Damage that isn’t blocked goes through, and when it does, the player who did the damage banishes cards off the top of their deck into a score pile, somewhat akin to Pokemon’s prize card system. These cards can’t be looked at, and the first player to get 10 prizes wins. There are also cards that can generate prizes with their effects.

The Good, the Bad, and the Jerma

The Good

For all intents and purposes, this card game was created as Twitch streamer merch. That said, the game itself is strong, generally fun to play, and has interesting and unique systems. I have no real complaints about the mechanical structure of the game, and it’s much better quality then what I would expect for a tie-in product. God we live in a weird world.

Ed Note: As far as I can tell based on the rulebooks, while a wide number of people contributed to this project, only one person is specifically credited with the game’s design: J. Evan Raitt.

One big thing that I really appreciate about the design is that outside of a single six sided die, it doesn’t require any external components or trackers for things like health, counters, or life. It also doesn’t have a complex zone setup system. I mention this mostly because it’s one of my pet peeves with Nostalgix.

The Bad

But while I don’t have complaints about the game’s design structure, I do have two incredibly large bones to pick with some of the specific designs. First, the starter decks. There are two starters decks, and they felt extremely unevenly matched.

One is called Super Luck, and it’s mechanically themed around coin flips and luck. It offers cards that increase the payoffs of winning coin flips, with some ability manipulate those flips. It has a consistent identity and strategy.

The other is called Lot O’ Grottos. It feels much weaker for a variety of reasons. First, the grottos themselves are primarily a defensive tool for the deck, and some provide search and discard pile recursing. But the deck’s stat lines on its creatures are incredibly low. One of the “tricks” the decks has is a 4 drop card that lets you sacrifice creatures at the start of a turn to get a card that costs one more. Except while the deck has two copies of a card that costs 6, it has no card that costs 5, and only two cards that cost 4. That means it’s a card that turns 1 drops into two drops, which aren’t much stronger.

In addition, the Super Luck deck gets a card named Festive Mimic. It’s a 3 cost, 2 power card that has an effect that triggers when it’s played. Its effect is “Roll a die, then draw that many cards.”

Grottos gets a card named Bobbin. It’s 3 cost, 2 power card, that has an effect that triggers when played. Its effect is “Draw a card.”

This isn’t the greatest sin I’ve ever seen committed. I’m more sympathetic to a card game that prints a version of Swords to Plowshares than I am to one that prints the Power Nine (Looking at you, MetaZoo)

However, these are problems with the design of specific cards, not the core mechanics. I haven’t written about this specifically here, but the initial sets of Magic were kind of janky, and the initial sets of the Pokémon TCG led to a dumpster fire meta. A set TCG with some bad initial set design does not make a bad game.

The Jerma

Indie card games are my kryptonite. I will play one demo game of something I’ve never heard of before, and that will be enough to sell me on it. Show me something even mildly exciting, and I will be forking over cash for a booster box.

So why don’t I recommend Grotto Beasts? Ultimately, pricing and production quality.

The cost of cardboard is too damn high.

Grotto Beasts’ boosters are $10 a pop, while the 2P starter set is $80. The starter set contains 2 decks, and 2 boosters, making each deck come out to $30 for 40 cards. For comparison, the Pokémon starter sets retail at aprox $15-20 a deck, with the higher end comp/premium products going for $30.

These prices are high, which is unfortunate and might be tolerable except for one final thing: production quality.

The physical cards are kind of crap. After just three games, the cards themselves were showing scratches and scuffs on the edges. In addition to this, one of the cards I opened in the boosters was straight up missing any sort of finish on the front of the card.

I spent part of this weekend running a pre-release for the new Pokémon set with the same friend I played Grotto Beasts with. And we both agreed that the print quality of Grotto Beasts is much lower quality than current Pokémon cards.

In Conclusion

I absolutely recommend playing Grotto Beasts if you get a chance. While the game has a few mechanical issues, they’re nothing worse than the very first set of any other TCG.

But the sky-high pricing and miserable production quality of the product means I just can’t recommend it, and I don’t plan on buying it, especially with the issue of the starter decks being incredibly unevenly matched.

If you love Jerma, and want to support the project, more out of the sort of tradeoff that we as humans make when we buy content creator merch, you can find the game here.

I, however, am NOT going to go to this website here with a list of all the Grotto Beasts cards and download the images. Then I am NOT going to put them into a big sheet, and I am NOT going to find a way to print them as make my own bootleg set of of the cards to play with.

I am absolutely NOT going to that. Because that would be wrong, and there are no situations where you should just steal a copy of something really expensive or out of print.

Limbus Company

Limbus Company is very weird, and just a bit nuts.

Authors Note: I’ve played more Limbus Company since this writeup, and I’ve realized a few things I said were incorrect. You can read those corrections here. I’m leaving this writeup as is though, in order to preserve my initial understanding and perspective.

It would make sense that after 10 hours of Limbus Company, I would have a strong feeling on whether or not to recommend it. Thing is, I really don’t.

Limbus Company is fascinating. It’s unlike any other RPG I’ve played, and it’s tonally different than any other F2P game I’ve played. But its F2P mechanics, poor tutorials, and awful information display make it a very tough sell.

Side Note: I saw someone mention that you need to be a rocket scientist to understand this game. I asked my friend who worked at NASA to try it, and they completely bounced off it.

Limbus Company is a game from Project Moon, a Korean indie game studio. Project Moon’s other games include Lobotomy Corporation and Library of Ruina.

All three games share the same world and story. I mention this because I will be talking about Limbus Company’s story, and that means general spoilers for the other two games. Sort of.

It’s a bit hard to explain. Much like the rest of Limbus Company!

Story and Art

Limbus Company has a strong visual style. I’ve always really liked 2D images in 3D environments as a design choice, and it’s done very well here. The story is unusual, and tonally a bit wonky.

The 13 incredibly poorly adjusted and mildly sympathetic whackjobs the player has to lead.

For reference, the game opens with the player character cutting off their own head and replacing it with a clock. The individual story arcs run the gamut from “Haha, weird,” to “What the ever loving fuck.”

Notable moments in the first category include a casino run by people in Mariachi outfits who fight with maracas.

Notable moments in the second category include a sympathetic NPC being gutted and worn like a flesh-suit. By a giant apple.

Anyway, game mechanics. Let’s talk about game mechanics.

How Limbus Company Works (I Think)

I want to know who plays this shit on a phone.

I’m going to try to explain how Limbus Company works. If you don’t care, you skip this bit. The extra knowledge is useful for deciding if you’d like the game, but not necessary for me to explain my problems with the game, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Limbus Company is a combat game. The player controls a group of characters (sinners) in fights against enemies and abnormalities. On a given turn, the player chooses from two available cards and builds a chain of cards across the characters they control.

Cards have: Power, Coins, Damage, Attacks, Damage Type, Sin Type, and Count. Power determines who wins Clashes, but only after Clashes are resolved by flipping the Coins. There’s a secondary value that determines the increase to power based on the number of coin flips that land heads during a clash or one-sided attack phase.

Damage is the amount of damage inflicted. I think. Honestly not sure. Attacks are the number of attacks to be inflicted on the use of a card, or that will be used for resolution of Clash during a Clash. However, it’s important to note that Sanity has an impact on Coin flip resolution, increasing or decreasing the rate at which you flip heads. This makes the Coin Flip not actually a coin flip.

Damage Type is the type of damage inflicted. There are three types, which are modified by enemy resistance, but also change if the enemy is staggered or panic based on their sanity. Abnormalities though, don’t have sanity, and cannot be panicked.

Sin type determines resonance and absolute resonance. In addition, resolving an attack of a given sin type grants Sin that can be used to activate Ego.

Count determines how many copies of a card are in a sinners deck.

If this doesn’t make sense to you, good. Because I’ve played 10 hours of this game, and I don’t get it.

Anyway, combat! Combat is against either abnormalities or everyone else. In fights against abnormalities, individual abnormalities and body parts of the abnormality can be targeted, but in general fights, characters pick targets on their own.

Game Modes

Limbus Company has multiple game modes. I’ve only unlocked a few of them, but most are just “do combat, get different resources.” However, there is one mode that’s very different, and that’s the game’s mirror dungeons.

Yes, it’s a simulation run. I’m not wasting energy to get a screenshot.

Mirror Dungeons are semi-randomly generated path of various encounters, similar to a “run” in Slay the Spire or Inscryption. The characters are reset to start at level 10, and after winning a fight, there’s a reward of either a random item in the vein of Slay the Spires artifacts, or the ability to level one of the current party members up.

Personally though, I’ve found that Mirror Dungeons got stale fairly quickly. Because there’s no reward for experimenting, and Limbus Company is F2P, I usually just ran more or less the same team, and picked safe options.

Story mode has something similar. While 90% of the story is a set of single linear combat encounters, the mission of each story chapter is a large non-randomized dungeon. These have been some of the more interesting parts of the game for me so far, and feel more like playing an actual video game than a free to play game with a gacha system.

The Collision of Money and Mechanics

There are two large pain points I have with Limbus Company. The first is that the game did not spend enough time and detail explaining the aforementioned combat systems, and doesn’t display in-game information in an easily accessible way. The tutorial is brief, and while not unhelpful, is overwhelming. I had another friend download and try the game to confirm that it wasn’t just me being stupid, and they had a similar level of drowning in information.

While bad onboarding and scaffolding can be a problem with games, it’s not one that necessarily turns me off. As perusing this blog for any length of time will make quite clear, I am willing to play games with janky or unexplained systems. I will play games that are horribly broken. I will play games that are in a language I can’t speak or read.

But learning a game’s systems by experiencing them requires me to actually be able to play the game. Limbus Company is F2P play, which means it has an energy point system. As with every energy point system ever, it boils down to the following core loop:

  1. Spend Energy to enter levels
  2. Get more Energy over time, or by spending real money.
  3. There is no three.

I mentioned in my Arknights writeup a while back how much I liked that the game had a parallel energy system that gave free tries at clearing levels without any rewards.

A system like that is exactly what I want in Limbus Company. Something that lets me play the game, experiment with builds and try to figure out the incredibly obtuse systems that make up combat without “wasting” my energy on fights I can’t clear.

Right now, I felt discouraged from actually experimenting with the game’s mechanics, unless I hit a wall and had no other way forward.

Conclusion

Limbus Company has a compelling, if occasionally frustrating, story and solid art. The mechanics are interesting, and I wish I understood them better, or that they were easier to learn by playing.

If you’re looking for a F2P game, you could certainly do worse then Limbus Company. But enjoying it requires a high level of patience and tolerance for what initially feels like esoteric bullshit.

Limbus Company can be played for free on Steam, and also on phones. I suggest you avoid playing it on your phone unless you have an electron tunneling microscope so that you can actually read the text.

Redfall

Redfall is the newest game from Arkane Studios, best known for Prey and Dishonored. It’s their attempt at making a horde shooter/looter shooter, and I have thoughts about it.

Lmao got em.

They are “This is terrible,” and, “Why does this exist?” If you told me Redfall came out 10 years ago, I would have believed you.

The first bad sign is the gunplay. It is not great. The aiming is tight, but the feedback from shooting and recoil is awful. Every enemy feels like a bullet sponge. Only two weapons feel right: the shotgun and sniper rifle. And both of those require headshots. While sloppy guns might be okay in other types of games, this is a horde shooter… it relies on its gunplay.

In addition, there’s apparently no party scaling. So regardless of if you want to play in “single player” where you can’t pause, or with an actual team, it’s the same experience. In fact, you can never pause the game, so I hope nothing ever happens while you’re playing that might interrupt you, or you’ll die.

The graphics are okay, and have a cartoony aesthetic, but the movement animations are all the same. Each special type of vampire feels pretty much the same.

For example there’s one called Angler. Much like L4D’s Smoker, they have a grapple to reel you in with. But as far as I can tell, you they don’t have an obvious tell or signal. The ability is on a 20 second cooldown, and you need to just dodge it based on the timing, and circle strafe.

Redfall could be redeemed by its story, but even after just seeing the opening, I have low hopes. The opening is incredibly stupid. The game opens with two vampires alive in front of the player character. The player has no guns or anything, and can only watch as the vampires turn another unlucky human into a buffet. Suddenly, one of the vampires notices you’re alive, and turns to deal with you.

Then the most predictable thing to happen in the history the earth, happens. The thing that happens every day, and will happen every day for 7 million years after I die occurs: the sun the comes up.

Which makes the vampires run away. Not die or anything. Just… run away. Because I guess they didn’t have sunscreen on. On the boat that we’re on. Because the game starts on a boat.

Once you get off the boat, and go out to face your first enemy, things don’t get better. I chose to go full sneaky commando, because I selected the hardest difficultly I have available. I was prepped to deal with these bloodsuckin motherfuckin vampires, but the first enemy I ran into was actually a cultist.

Here’s the thing though: apparently the children of the children of the night are deaf, because they can’t tell if someone straight ass sprints at them at full speed from behind. For some reason the game doesn’t have an assassination animation or anything; you just thwack them in the back of the head and they fall down dead.

There are some signs that this was made by Arkane, of course. There are a bunch of interactable objects, common in the immersive sim genre, but unlike actual immersive sims (and any game from last 10 years) you can’t actually do interesting things with them. For example, there are more oil spills in the environments than the gulf of Mexico, but you can’t throw gas canisters at enemies, you can only shoot the canisters when enemies walk by.

Some other things that suck:
1. The quippy dialogue. It made me want to root for the vampires.
2. The enemy AI. Maybe it got copied from Fallout 76, and then made worse, somehow. A non-zero portion of the time enemies don’t do anything, and just stand still. The rest of the time enemies wander toward you like geriatric hobos.
3.The questing loop. There seem to be 2-3 options for each mission: i.e. go in guns blazing, sneak in, or sneak in with lockpicks or electric lockpicks via hacking. These are your only options.
4. An open world made out of absolutely nothing between the points of interest. Every other mile has one to two enemies. Apparently everyone thinks you’re a Mormon missionary, because no one will come within six miles of you.

Why make an open world game if it’s all empty? Just give us a mission select. It was good enough for Doom, it can be good enough for you.

Maybe the game would get better if I played another 7 hours. Here’s the thing: I played 7 hours. That’s enough time to watch the entire Lord Rings Trilogy. There are other games that are better, sooner. I’m not continuing to smack myself in the nuts for another full workday to see if it gets fun.

If you want a better horde shooter, go play Back 4 Blood. And I’ll see you on the servers, because I’m the only other person that likes it. But I can’t stomach another minute of Redfall.

If, for some reason, you want to play Redfall, you could buy it with money. Or you could get a game pass subscription, so that after you uninstall, you can go play something good instead.

Catch the Fox

Disclosure: I received a key for free on Lurkit.

Let it never be said that I’m a hack reviewers. Developers, if you give me a key to your game, rest assured I will play the entire thing before I review it. Even if that means I spend 93 minutes of my life on a generic repeatable task in an Unreal 5 demo map.

Don’t conflate that with me saying nice things about your game though. Instead, I’ve decided to title this review “Constructive Criticism.”

For the people reading this review who aren’t the developers of Catch the Fox, here’s a brief overview of the game. The player is placed into a large level populated by shrubberies, foxes, and powerups. The goal is to get close enough to touch the foxes. After touching enough foxes, the next level is unlocked. When you touch a fox, its fur gets redder, and then it moves faster.

Movement

The core of Catch the Fox’s gameplay is movement. It’s really the only thing you can do. Getting airborne gives you a speed boost on returning to the ground. This allows the player to skate merrily along. Or at least it would, if it wasn’t for a few issues.

The foxes you need to touch have a hitbox for collisions that’s only slightly smaller then the hitbox for “touching” them. And when you collide with them, you instantly lose all momentum. This absolutely kills any sense of pacing or chaining together multiple tags.

It’s like if every time I stomped a goomba, I had to fill out a death certificate, and inform their next of kin before moving on. In addition, the player’s jump is miserable, capable of clearing a small subset of environmental obstacles and absolutely nothing else. It’s not high enough to jump over foxes, or up to any interesting areas.

Environments and Level Design

Speaking of environmental obstacles, let’s talk about the levels. I have two problems with them. The levels themselves are not laid out in such as a way as to actually encourage use of the movement mechanics. One level, Fractal, while quite pretty, has literally no capacity to gain speed or momentum, and might as well be flat once you reach the bottom layer.

Visually appealing? Yes. Mechanically appealing? Absolutely not.

Secondly, the other levels have been populated with a frankly ridiculous amount of what I’d politely call “environmental chaff.” The game is about touching foxes, not trying to touch foxes and slamming my wooden head into a tree every five inches.

The strongest level had none of these at all. It’s a great big ocean of sand-dunes that form curving pits. This layout actually lets you leap around and gain speed. This level isn’t the most visually diverse, but that doesn’t matter, because this is a video game. It’s about the game mechanics, not the visuals.

Performance and Bugs

The game was actually fairly bug free, though I did once encounter invisible foxes that couldn’t be tagged. It was on the spooky level, so maybe it’s supposed to be like that? Still frustrating and annoying though.

Performance is frankly terrible. I’m running on a 1080, on low graphics, windowed, and I got like 30 FPS. Maybe it’s my setup, but given how much my frame rate goes up when I’m looking at the ground, or not looking at trees, I don’t think that’s the case here. For a fast paced game based around movement, that’s not acceptable.

The strongest level in the game. Is it because it’s not cluttered with trash? Quite possibly!

And while we’re on the subject of graphics: motion blur sucks. No one likes motion blur. Maybe smearing makes things look neat, but in a game, I want to actually be able to see stuff.

Conclusion – For the Devs

You’ve made a movement based game where every aspect of the gameplay plays counter to that. Your level design doesn’t play with the surf and speed gain systems you’ve developed. All clutter and environmental garbage appears to tank the frame rate. Your primary mechanic of tagging plays counter to that movement.

I liked the music, and there is a bit of zen feel to the game on levels like Ocean Outpost when I could get a flow going.

Conclusion – For Everyone Else

Catch the Fox is not currently worth buying. The most interesting thing I got out of playing it was doing this writeup, and reflecting on the interplay between level design and traversal mechanics. It’s actually something I’ve been thinking about a fair bit since the terrible game I made for Ludum Dare 53.

If for some reason you read all of this, and still want to buy it, Catch the Fox is $3 on Steam.

PS: All the screenshots in this review are from the Steam page. I’m not hugely interested in playing more of this game in its current state just for image captures.