Monday, October 20, 2008

Talesworth Arena: Death Watch

Talesworth Arena is an interesting game. When I first tried it, I thought it was ridiculously simple and not worth playing, but then I kept on playing it (because there was a badge, alas) and discovered that it's actually pretty interesting. The game doesn't end up having quite as much strategy as it would like to you believe, but it keeps things moving along quickly enough that it stays fresh as you battle your way through the ten levels of the Arena.

The battles in Talesworth Arena are not quite like anything I've seen before. You have up to 12 buttons for your various skills on your side of the screen; your opponent also has a set of skills. At the top of the screen are bars showing your current health and your opponent's. Each skill has a casting time (how long it takes to cast) and a cooldown time (how long after it's been cast you have to wait before you can cast it again). Some skills damage your opponent (either immediately, or gradually over time), some protect yourself from damage, some speed you up or slow down your enemy, some stun your enemy, and so forth. The current skill being used is displayed at the top of the screen, so if you notice your enemy doing something particularly nasty, you can use a skill (if it has a shorter casting time) to protect yourself or possibly even interrupt your enemy's skill. Overall, it's kind of like a console RPG in real time, but much faster and with a greater emphasis on tactics.

Winning battles gets you gold, which you can spend in town between battles to acquire more skills (or upgrades of the skills you already have) and improved equipment. There are also a few sidequests which grant you various useful things. (Losing a battle costs you gold and/or XP, so it's just a temporary setback.) After you've accumulated enough XP to gain a level, you have to fight the boss for that level in order to actually level up; if you don't think you're ready, you can continue to fight normal fights to get more gold for equipment and/or skills, but the game nicely discourages you from doing this too much. The boss fights, as you might expect, are pretty tricky, and the goal is to defeat Krax, the level 10 boss and boss of the whole Arena.

You can play as three different classes, each of which has a rather different method of operating -- Psionics fuel their spells with mana, which gradually regenerates over time; Engineers use gas to power their gadgets, which can be regenerated by a skill (but if that skill gets interrupted, you're in trouble). Juggernauts operate somewhat differently -- they have a Power bar which builds up (rather than depletes) as they use their skills, which they can then turn into a new source of damage. In practice, though, the three classes don't play as differently as you might think; since a lot of the skills do more or less the same thing, there's only a few really unique skills to each class, so the strategies you develop for one class don't have to be changed all that much. Similarly, the game makes a big deal about how you have to carefully plan your strategy against each different opponent, but once you have your basic strategy figured out, you don't need to change it that much for different foes; usually all you need to do is notice you opponent's most annoying skill (usually his stun/interrupt one) and then prevent him from using that.

One thing that's worth noting about the game is that the presentation is excellent. The graphics are very pretty, and there's clearly a lot of care put into the various interface elements, the kind of thing that you don't often see in a Flash game. (The writing is also blessedly free of awkward grammar and spelling errors, a sad rarity. Well, there is a typo or two, but it's still way above your typical Flash game.) The sounds are pretty basic, but at least they're nicely varied. The music is excellent -- the battle music adds the right level of action to the proceedings without being distracting or annoying, and the town music is very pretty. (It would probably get repetitive if you spent a lot of time in town, but usually you won't be in town that long.)

Talesworth Arena is not a really difficult game -- you may struggle in the beginning as you get the hang of how your skills work and how to best string them together, but once you've figured out how to use the character you should find yourself winning nearly all of the time, except when you make the occasional careless mistake. Because an individual battle goes by so quickly, it doesn't really feel too tedious, although sometimes in the middle levels the process of just leveling up feels a little repetitive. The last badge for the game requires you to beat it with all three classes, which I feared would be a dreary trudge, but it's actually not too bad; though it's not quite as fun the second or third times through, it still retains a good bit of entertainment value (though once I finished the third class, I felt I was pretty much done with the game).

Overall, I enjoyed Talesworth Arena. It's an interesting battle system, but one that is well-thought-out, has a good assortment of skills, and does a good job making sure that nearly every skill that you have can be useful at some point. It requires you to do at least some thinking on your feet, manages to keep a brisk pace throughout, and is presented in a very nice package. It may require a bit of effort to get started, but once you've figured it out, it's pretty rewarding.

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