Vagrus: The Riven Realms (First Impressions)

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I'm pretty careful when it comes to buying games at launch. Mostly, I already know that if I buy a game, it will either just sit around being unplayed until a year or two later... or it will come out on Humble Bundle again. Or it will knock every other game one slot further down on the Steam backlog of game purgatory! However, once every now and then... I see a game that is just so irresistible in terms of gameplay or presentation or just sheer experimentation that I will just purchase the game anyway... less for the playing, but to support a developer that is really making attempts to create a gamer's game, a piece of true vision rather than the money making schlock that normally hits the bestseller lists.

I recently read a launch day review of Vagrus and then was intrigued enough to visit the Steam page. The reviewer had written about how the game was crazily punishing, but so involving and engaging that they would keep going back to it even after they were punished and spat out! The user reviews on Steam told a similar tale, of players LOVING the the realistic and punishing difficulty in a harsh fantasy apocalyptic setting... and those who were crying about being constantly defeated. I'm of a generation of gamers where we expected to struggle for our little wins... and not just relive testosterone filled hand-holding power fantasies. This sounds like my type of game!

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This is the page on the launch screen... You will NEED to read a lot! And you will be dumped into a world that isn't expecting you to be the Messiah... only one of many naughty boys (or girls)! This is looking to be a good one already!

So, a lovingly hand-drawn intro cinematic introduces us into the world of Vagrus. This one seriously dark setting for the game, and I am not the first person to be reminded of the DnD setting of Dark Suns. It also introduces you to the role of the Vagrus, which is what your character will be. A brave and foolhardy caravan overseer that bridges the dangerous wastes between the outposts and forts of the Empire and beyond. Survival looks like it is anything but guaranteed... in fact, it appears that survival will be a hard fought victory at every stage of the game!

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Now, the fool-hardy will be tempted to jump straight into the open world and to skip the guided tutorial. My recommendation is NOT to do that... do the tutorial, the mechanics of Vagrus are complex and there is so much to juggle in the caravan that you will be completely at sea if you skip it. It is a lengthy tutorial as well... expect an hour or two! Plus lots of reading and learning... and yes, you can bork the tutorial and die! Yep... that is where we are at!

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The game world is huge.. this is the map fully zoomed out... and just for reference, the travel between the flag and the Ash settlement markers are roughly 13 days of treacherous travel, and that takes a lot of planning and bravery... and again, this is just the tutorial! Plus, this is in the Empire zone... which is considered "safe". In the open world game, I suspect that travelling too far away from this zone will be instant death.. the game won't scale for you!

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So, travel between settlements occurs on this board-game like network. Generally, at the start, a well-rested caravan can travel roughly three nodes or you can try to force march an extra node or two... not recommended unless you are really desperate. Along each node, you might encounter nothing (a relief...) or some sort of text based event, which will result in some skill tests or combat. Combat is really something to be avoided, it is brutal and you will end up worse for wear even if you win. Last resort...

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Combat happens on a familiar sort of grid and turn based system that other games have made popular. Positioning appears to be key... and NOT taking damage (no healing) seems to be just as critical as taking out the other side. Healing is painfully slow over the coming days...

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You would think that the danger is over with the end of a travelling day, when you break up the caravan to set up camp. But no... the camping screen is still full of choices for you to juggle caravan attributes and stats... do you pay your men, or promise to pay them later... punish or liberate slaves... forage and hunt, or set guards? Everything has a penalty or risk involved, you don't just get a regeneration of stats and attributes!

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You named companions have a light degree of RPG stats to them that you can level up and customise... and you do as well. However, your skills and stats will only apply in general to the text dialogues and encounters, you don't take direct part in the battles and skirmishes. Needless to say, permadeath is at play here... treat your companions well. Plus, they have their own thoughts on how you handle the text choices as well... so, character relationships is yet another dimension to juggle!

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Well, I'm several hours into Vagrus, and I'm only still figuring out the mechanics of the game in the tutorial. This is definitely a game where you learn by doing... and failing. The writing is pretty good, and the setting is amazing... I think I'm going to have lots of fun with this one. This is a vicious and brutal take on the Mount and Blade sort of game... but with turn based grid battles instead.

There is an almost overwhelming amount of juggling and balancing that needs to be done from the management of the caravan, but it is really quite fun! I only have a couple of gripes at the moment... the quest logs could be more detailed, there is so much to read and remember and it is a bit frustrating if the details of what you have learnt in an investigation aren't recorded in to the quest logs. My biggest one would be MORE TOOLTIPS! There are some... but this is such a complex management game that it can be a little bit confusing as to what some of the symbols and resources mean or do!

My first impression... LOVE IT! Support a indie developer and get this game if you are a hardcore, old school gamer!

Review Specs

Played at 1080p (144Hz) on:

XMG Fusion 15

CPU: Intel Core i7-9750H
RAM: 16 GB
Storage: SSD (SATA/Nvme)
GPU: Nvidia GTX 2070 Max-Q

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