Had I quit playing this game ten minutes earlier, this would've been a way happier review. Perhaps it's a testament to the game's quality that I felt compelled to play those extra minutes and run into all the troubles. At any rate, Carcere Vicis is TMC and Master K's random collab game. It's a roguelike and despite the eventual bugginess it's probably the best example of the genre ever made in the OHR.
Well, kind of in the OHR. Apparently TMC cheated and added some kind of special scripting-co-processor thing. Being a developer for the engine has its advantages, I guess. The extra horse power is needed, because TMC goes for broke with all the featuers: Field of vision, turn based enemies, high(er) resolution, item durability, custom inventory and of course procedurally generated dungeons. It's all really cool and works really well... till it breaks.
The game's download description does warn you that the save feature is indefinitely broken due to engine bugs, so I won't hold that against them (Though how hard would it've been to convert the "Save/Quit" thing to just "quit" to prevent accidents? It's askin for trouble!) but the late game buggery is a big bummer and I can't let it pass. A working save feature would theoretically let you dodge some of this instability, or at least let you revert to before the problems started.
But, I suppose I need to review the parts that work. When the game starts, you're in a pretty empty pub. Your prospects for adventure are a nearby cave or the nearby woods. As you explore the dungeons, the pub becomes livelier and you hear rumors of new places to visit. Some of the patrons have problems, and who knows what kind of favors they'll do for you if your exploration happens to help them out. It does a really cool job of slowly expanding from simple wandering to a larger quest. It's an unusual sense of progression for a roguelike.
Another unusual progression is levelling up: Instead of simply having "EXP" which gives you "Levels", Carcere Vicis features 4 kinds of essence. One is strength, one is magic, one is sneakiness and one is how fast you restore health. Defeating enemies gives you different kinds of essence, and the more of each essence you have the better you get in that category. It's hard to tell just how much of an impact these changes have, and harder still to try to "farm" a particular stat. If you see an enemy, it's in your best interest to kill it. I don't even know if there's a specific kind of essence each kind of enemy drops or if it's random.
In addition, you can use your collected essence to "shift" your spiritual self to a plane more suited to your strengths. The most obvious is Astutia, the Stealth domain, which makes you invisible to mortals, but visible to some very dangerous ghosts, just like in Lord of the Rings. I didn't play with the others as much, but apparently one super charges your attacks, one super charges your spells and one super charges your regeneration. The game mentions that this "expends" the essence, but I only started monkeying with 'em when my bars were entirely full so I couldn't be sure whether or not I was actually burning any or if it was just like a "start-up cost".
There's three classes to choose from, Warrior, Rogue and Mage. I tried Warrior 3 times and had terrible, terrible luck each time but my very first Rogue was nearly invincible after a little time. Go figure! Didn't give the Mage a try, being able to "read spells without breaking them" sounded boring. Starting gear's quality is randomized, which seems kind of silly. My first rogue started with a +1 dagger and +3 leather armor. My second one started with a regular dagger and negative modifer armor. This adds a lot of RNG to the start of the game. Worse, the rogue having a higher chance to flat out dodge damage seems overpowering compared to the Warrior. Maybe the Warrior has some ability I'm forgetting, but it seems like there could be a lot more balance in this department.
Combat is your standard "push in the direction of the enemy till he dies or do you" roguelike stuff. Actions are described in text at the top of the screen. I felt it was a little hard to pay attention to up there. It also covers some of the action, but the high res gives enough room that it's never super obnoxious. There's no form of currency, items don't seem to need to be identified (Which is great, in my opinion that's always one of the most tedious parts of a roguelike). The enemies get a little samey. You'll fight the same spiders, statues and bandits in the last dungeons as you did in the first. There was one late dungeon that mixed it up a little, but I would'vel iked to have some prefixes or somethin to keep 'em fresh. Red Bandits instead of black, Iron statues instead of stone. Just enough to have some variety.
The music is kind of forgettable at first, but the later dungeons have some super amazing ominous stuff. It doesn't sound ripped to me, but I don't think TMC and Master K composed it either. Master K's graphics are actually the perfect style for this kind of roguelike, kudos to him for keeping a consistent style, and not muckin the maps up with a bunch of stuff that looks like it should do something, but doesn't actually do anything.
I wasn't able to reach the ending, but I did find 3 of the 4 pieces necessary and enjoyed the puzzles it took to get there. Won't spoil 'em. I was backtracking trying to find the fourth when I ran into the bugs. Peekin through the scripts, apparently I missed an entire dungeon. Not sure how that could've happened, so one of the puzzles might be too tricky! The game lets you know when you've done what you needed to do in a dungeon, but it does it in that same "hard to look at" text scroll as a million "You swing... you hit! He swings... he misses! You swin.. you miss!" kinda messages and you only get that warning once, so it's easy to keep wandering after you're "done". Making this more visible would've been nice, maybe even do a little sound cue?
I don't have a whole lot of complaints gameplay-wise, because it does such a great job of sticking to the tried and true rogue-like mechanics. I would've liked a "rest till you're healed or attacked" button, because the default rate of healing is super slow. Presumably the various potions or regen dimension could be used to make this better, but if that's the case, why bother healing any HP at random? We're talking like One HP over a very very very large amount of turns. Then again, on my lucky runs I barely took ANY damage at all, a boss didn't even touch me before he was dead. I guess it all boils down to starting equipment and what you find in that first dungeon? It's definitely better to be too easy than too hard, but a little more challenge would've been nice.
It's unclear whether or not TMC has any intention of fixing this, and since he used his own modified version of the OHR it's hard to even suggest it as a plotscripting demo. Had I not run into the bugs, I'd be singing this game's praises from the highest mountaintops. Having seen them, it doesn't seem fair to suggest getting invested in a game just to have it conk out on you at the end. Perhaps that's the ultimate roguelike, random number challenge. Can you beat this game before the bugs beat you? If you like those kind of odds, Carcere Vicis is perfect for you.