Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

Post-Launch Review
Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 (PC)
Developer: Zeboyd Games
Released: June 25 2012
Played: story complete in 6h:42min; prelude complete in 48min


This very delayed sequel switches to a 16-bit retro RPG style to continue the story of the Startling Developments detective agency and their battle against the disturbingly comedic elder gods. One-time ally Dr. Blood has stolen the dreaded Necrowombicon, and thus Gabe and Tycho set out to foil his plans.

At Launch

Episode 3 received average review scores of 77%.  Reviewers enjoyed the game's humour and accessibility, as well as the low price, but many critics complained of repetitive and unvaried gameplay.

Post Launch

Two free DLC packs were added, included with the core game. The Lair of the Seamstress adds a bonus dungeon accessible by levelling all the class pins to 40, and The Beginning of the End reveals the fate of the player character from episodes 1 and 2.

The first Zeboyd game I played was Breath of Death VII. I thought it was a hilarious and fun take on old-school RPGs. But having played Cthulhu Saves the World and now Penny Arcade 3, the formula is starting to wear a little thin. 

Gameplay is simple and easy to pick up. The only bit that confused me a little at first was the combat initiative bar, but once I figured out when stuff happens and how speed affects the bar, I was fine. Combat creates tension by striking a balance between wanting to save up points for big attacks and wanting to down enemies ASAP because they get stronger as the fight goes on.

The class system is interesting - each character has a base class, and you can equip pins that will add a second (and later third) class. Pins level up even if they aren't equipped, so you're encouraged to mix and match to find the best combination for each character. You can choose classes to amplify strengths or shore up weaknesses - or both, since you get two secondary classes. The downside is that as you level up, each class will grant tons of abilities and attacks, so the higher your level the more combat slows down as you examine your thirty different attacks and try to figure out your enemy's weaknesses by trial and error.
Stats are easy to understand, but also a little obscure. It's very clear what each of the six stats does, but hard to determine precise effects or numbers. Many abilities don't list exact values either. This is fine for attack strength - weak, medium, or heavy attacks - but when I'm looking at an ability that raises my attack, what's the bonus, and what effect will that bonus have on my damage? I don't know. That's fine for players who aren't concerned with precise stats, but annoying for min-maxers (or players who have just come from Dark Souls 2, like me).

Other elements of the format are standard 16-bit RPG fare. I found the overworld travel, items, and music fairly unremarkable.

The characters and humour are what make this game worth playing. There's a bit of a continuity disconnect from the previous Penny Arcade games - 3 feels at times more like a separate story than a continuation of the previous one, despite many references to the past games. That said, dialogue and narration asides are very well written. Gabe is comically, willfully dumb; Tycho is clever but not as much as he'd like everyone to believe. Other characters, especially Moira, tend to be more normal and serve as an audience stand-in to point out when Gabe and Tycho are being weird. Which is pretty much all the time.
The goofy sense of humour is everywhere. Enemies and their descriptions are great if you take the time to look. The secondary classes include stuff like dinosorcerer or hobo. However, there was one gag that went on way too long to be funny: a pair of alternate worlds, one of which is a classic RPG which coincidentally seems a whole lot like Breath of Death VII, and the other being a too-obvious Star Trek spoof with an overreliance on old jokes like redshirts.

The free prelude DLC is a fun little story set before the events of the main episode. Some of the class abilities were re-worked slightly and feel a bit better, though the modifications would probably be too strong to retcon into the full game (mainly Tycho's mana spigot ability). The music was better too. But the main thing is the return of the player character from the first two games, again wielding his signature rake, and the customization accounted for by throwing on an obscuring burlap sack, and the explanation of why you didn't return for episode three.

Lair of the Seamstress is a little annoying to get to. You need all class pins at level 40, but if you never swap them, you won't get there just by playing the story. You'll need to either switch out once your main ones hit 40 or fight in the Coliseum (repeatable) to max everything. Inside your levels are reset and you'll need to re-earn them by fighting your way through the class pin representatives (and some standard monsters). There isn't much to it - it's just a dungeon with more fights. If you enjoy the combat and want to earn some extra reward items it's fun enough, but you might want to skip it if you don't want more fights.

Recommendation: maybe.

Have you played the first two Penny Arcade adventures? If so, play this. The change of format is a little jarring, but the humour is completely intact and very amusing. If you haven't played the first two but you like Penny Arcade's style of comedy, play the series in order. As a standalone game, though, Precipice of Darkness 3 is a little weak due to the odd blend of simplicity and complexity, as well as dragging on a bit at times. But it's cheap, so it's got that going for it.

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