I’m reluctant to call it a review because I don’t feel I’ve played the game enough to see everything, but I’ve played enough that I know I won’t be playing any more. After discussing the game last night with Richard Cobbett, I decided to write this blog post.
Echo Bazaar is a game from FailBetter Games, which is an ironic name for a company considering that the game has failed to keep me entertained enough to continue with it. However, before I continue here, I should say that lots of people have said lots of nice things about the game (see the Failbetter site) so it could just be that it’s not my kind of game; in which case, sorry guys.
Firstly, I must say that I love the feeling they’ve created with the idea, graphics, setting and background details. There is the potential for something wonderful here. It hints at Neil Gaiman and China Miéville, but doesn’t quite deliver in the gameplay to match this promise.
The game nearly failed at the first outing. There is no tutorial or clear instruction that covers what the new player is supposed to do or indeed what everything represents. It was only after persevering through experimentation that I began to get a handle on how it worked. The mechanics are a combination of RPG and card game where the possible tasks that are uncovered are very generic.
I say “possible tasks” because I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve chosen something from the list only to find that I can’t undertake the task because it’s currently locked as I don’t have enough of the inventory item that will unlock it. So why is it even in the list, wasting my time? Or why isn’t it in the list greyed out and showing what I need to collect to unlock it?
The generic aspect is what bugs me most. Not because generic tasks are a problem in themselves – many RPG games have such things – but in the way they are presented. When they’ve been completed they stay available, which kind of shoves their generic nature in your face. It’s worse when a task might seem more specific – “seduce an artist’s model” for instance – but you can try it again and again, starting from scratch each time. The worst part is, you’re often forced to do the repetition just to meet a target and move onto the next stage of the task. Suddenly it becomes a kind of levelling up grind.
The game is seriously lacking in specific characters to come into contact with. There are hints of characters in the “lore” snippets, but nothing substantial. As a result it’s difficult to get a handle on my own character because, in many ways, interacting with other characters helps define a player character. Admittedly, it’s not the type of game where the mechanics make character interaction very easy, but because the whole thing hints at character filled locations, there is the impression we’re seeing them through layers of dirty, smoky glass or they’re staying in the next room out of the way.
The game is in beta still, so I may be looking at it a little harshly, but it’s difficult to see how they would make major improvements without changing the mechanics substantially.
I do wonder if they’re approaching it the wrong way around when it comes to making money from the game. If you click on the “Fate” tab there is a whole swathe of ways to pay for fate points, which can then be converted into game related things. I can’t help but wonder if starting out with money-making aspect is putting the cart before the horse. Don’t you really need a strong player base before monetising the game will make any sense?
To be honest, I don’t see a huge benefit in buying Fate points. The ones that I earned while playing I have yet to spend, mostly because I don’t have enough or the things I have enough for seem trivial. There is nothing that really seems to give me a huge advantage in the game or if they did, what that advantage might be. You can’t, for instance, spend the fate points on cool or expensive inventory items.
Ultimately, I’m reluctant to pay for anything in the game when I can’t see how it’s going to help me towards the larger goals in the game.
But wait… I have no idea what those larger goals are anyway. And this may be the biggest failing. What is the game actually about? When I look at it like this I can see a great setting and this is coupled with the game mechanics, but there is no real heart to the game.
I’m afraid that this is a game with huge potential, but which is not delivering the right experience for me. What a shame.