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Hands-on with Armello's Usurpers Hero Pack

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Also, some thoughts on the base game and the Xbox One port

My initial reaction when I first fired up Armello, a digital board game produced by Melbourne-based indie studio League of Geeks, was that of wonder. Despite not being visually intensive from a technical standpoint, the art style, presentation, and character designs were all highly pleasing from an aesthetic one.

Up until just a few days ago, I’d never had the chance to play Armello before. But within the first hour of testing out the soon-to-be-released Xbox One port of the game, alongside the upcoming Usurpers Hero Pack DLC, I’d become become quite enamoured with the title.

Despite having a reasonable amount of coverage prior to the game’s initial September 2015 release, including a rather in-depth preview by Dale North, Destructoid has never officially reviewed Armello. So before I really delve into the DLC, allow me to write down some quick thoughts on the base game.

Armello takes place in a fantasy kingdom of the same name, where a once brilliant and wise King is succumbing to the corrupting powers of a dark force referred to as the Rot. In it, four heroes must work against each other in order to become the next King or Queen of the kingdom. There are four main victory conditions, which cater to a variety of different play styles. Although it should be said that some victories are harder to achieve than others.

In the base game, players can control one of eight heroes. Heroes are divided into four animal clans (Rat, Bear, Rabbit, and Wolf), with each clan being able to access unique rings that provide bonuses or abilities, most of which are unlocked through repeated play. The main points of differentiation with regards to heroes, however, are their starting stats and unique abilities. For instance, my personal favourite hero, Zosha, gains Stealth on any tile at night (with the exception of the Palace), making her more difficult for other players to spot, and allowing her to easily ambush others.

Sadly, the roster of playable characters in the base game does feel somewhat limited. As previously mentioned, there are only eight playable heroes, which means you’ll likely find yourself fighting against at least some of the same characters as the last round with each successive game. Not only that, but when you factor in that there are only two backdrops for the game board - with summer and winter aesthetics - it’s not hard to feel a level of repetition if you were to play several rounds in one sitting.

As far as core game mechanics go, in order to get a more detailed rundown of them, I’d be inclined to point you towards the aforementioned hands-on preview of the base game. However, I will say that League of Geeks’ blend of randomised card-based and strategy RPG gameplay is a highly engaging one. Throughout a match, players will be forced to think on their feet as they have to learn to adapt to whatever situation the game throws at them. For instance, if a character finds that they’ve gained a high level of Rot due to various unforeseen circumstances, they may decide to try and make their character as corrupt as possible in order to work towards the victory state that requires they defeat the King with a higher level of corruption than said antagonist.

One minor inconvenience that I have with the game is that the multiplayer component is an online-only affair. With that being said, I do understand why it is the way it is. The way in which the game works, especially with the stealth mechanics and the card-based gameplay, does not complement itself well to a room full of people who can look at each and every action you take. Sadly, this prevents Armello from being included in every board game night I have with friends from this point onwards.

Thankfully, the single-player game mode is highly enjoyable, with the enemy AI putting up a reasonable level of challenge.

Overall, the standard edition of Armello is a fairly solid product. It does have a few issues that hold it back from greatness, but it is still very much worth the $20 asking price if you have any interest in strategy RPGs or board games.

As far as the DLC is concerned, right off the bat, it immediately addresses one of my biggest criticisms of Armello. That is, it adds four new heroes, boosting the total number of playable characters to 12. Each of the four animal clans gets a new character to play around with, with each clan receiving access to another ring. It must be stated, however, that the new rings do not require any player achievement in order to acquire. They’re simply unlocked immediately after installing the Usurpers Hero Pack.

The additional characters do add a greater level of variety to each individual match, as you’re significantly less likely to face off against the same handful of characters with each successive round. Not only that, but they also intrinsically add a lot more choice and variety to the core experience. Alongside that, the new heroes are all rather fun to play as in their own right. I’m particularly fond of Sargon, the Death Teller, who can view the top cards of each of the game’s three decks when it’s time to draw a new hand.

As I’ve already covered the new DLC characters and their abilities in a previous article, I’d instead like to address what the new rings each clan receives entails:

Rat Clan: Tanzanite - When the player successfully escapes a Peril, which essentially serve as traps laid forth by either the game or another player, they gain +1 Gold.

Rabbit Clan: Rainbow Quartz - +1 Magic at every Dawn.

Wolf Clan: Rubellite - +3 Fight, which is used to dictate how many dice rolls a player has in combat or during Perils, if the player only has 1 health.

Bear Clan: Aquamarine - In battle and during Perils, the player gains a bonus +1 Moon roll. Essentially, this does not mean much during the day, unless the player is facing a Peril. However, at night, this serves as a bonus hit. The downside to this is that should the player acquire any Rot, this ring’s effect is nullified.

I do find it somewhat unfortunate that the Usurpers Hero Pack does not come with any additional backdrops for the game board, as it can still feel somewhat repetitious to look at the same two backdrops with each passing match. That is still a minor setback, however. It’s just a bit of a letdown.

For people who already own and enjoy the base game, I’d be quite inclined to recommend the Usurpers Hero Pack. For new players, I’m more willing to recommend they try out the base game before deciding whether or not to drop an additional $10 on Armello. After all, the DLC does not make any changes to the core gameplay. It simply adds extra content. Content that, while very nice and does add a little bit more in terms of variety, is not entirely necessary in order to play the game.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve been playing an early review copy of the Xbox One build of Armello. After playing this version of the game exclusively for a number of days, I can safely say that it definitely works as intended. I have yet to run into anything in the way of game-breaking bugs, glitches, or crashes. In fact, the only thing resembling an issue that I’ve noticed is that there is a slight judder indicative of a somewhat reduced frame rate whenever I zoom the camera in as far as possible and pan it around the game board.

With regards to the online multiplayer component, I actually had a fairly difficult time trying to get into a match on launch day. Whether or not this is because the game wasn't available in every region remains to be seen. Either way, it’s something that should be noted. Thankfully, you can still play against AI while you wait for a multiplayer game.

Despite the aforementioned troubles getting the multiplayer part of the game up and running, if your interests lie mostly with bot matches, the Xbox One port is definitely serviceable. Likewise, private matches should be perfectly functional if you can convince three Xbox-owning friends to play the game with you. Sadly, it might be advisable to acquire the game on another platform if your interests lie with random multiplayer matches.

Armello is set to release on August 30 on Xbox One for $20. It is currently also available on Steam/GOG for Windows, macOS, and Linux as well as PlayStation 4. The Usurpers Hero Pack is also set to release on August 30 for $10.

[Disclosure: The review copy of Armello on Xbox One was supplied by a former Destructoid staff member, Kyle MacGregor, whose PR firm currently represents League of Geeks.]


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Dennis Carden
Dennis CardenContributor   gamer profile

Destructoid's (self-proclaimed) cutest blogger and egomaniacal Australian with an unhealthy obsession for - more + disclosures


 



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