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There is something about the combination of high fantasy and Lovecraftian themes that just works. It’s a strange mishmash of themes, after all. Many of Lovecraft’s terrible elder beings were more interdimensional aliens than distinctly magical. Yet, something about it clicks. Perhaps high fantasy is a genre that works best with big, reality ending stakes. The trope of an ancient evil faced down by a party of adventures is inherently silly, yes. Regardless, sword and sorcery go hand in hand with risen eldritch beings of immeasurable power.

Such is the case, too, with Guild Wars 2, the MMORPG by ArenaNet. The game is currently free to play.

The Crapsack World

Guild Wars 2 is easily a post-apocalyptic story. It embodies that trope of the Crapsack World. Things in the world of Tyria are so bad at this point that the end of the world is a very real threat to the present collections of races across the land. One could argue that this may be a welcome reprieve for them. How so?

To begin, after the defeat of the first of several Elder Dragons, the Great Destroyer, five other Elder Dragons awaken 250 years later and besiege Tyria. Your player story begins in this period where, essentially, five Elder Gods are exerting their will on Tyria. Their corruption bleeds into every story you experience in the game.

For example, the Human race, typically the lynchpin of high fantasy narratives, is in rapid decline. There is only one human kingdom remaining. Elder Dragon disasters have wiped out a large portion of humanity’s cities and settlements. Compounding this is a long and bitter feud with the Charr.

The Charr, a brutal and warlike race, have reclaimed their own original lands after a long struggle against the Humans. Yet, their lands, battle-scarred by the machine of war, are also haunted by the ghosts of humans who died in this struggle. Though humans are Charr are not in an active war, the uneasy truce between humans and Charr is constantly at risk. Any semblance of peace is far from lasting.

The Norn, a massive offshoot of humanity, have been pushed out of their own frozen homelands by the Elder Dragon Jormag. Another race, the Asura, fled to the surface of Tyria, chased out by the Elder Dragon Primordus. These small inventors have access to incredible energy magics and golemancy and have injected dangerous technology into an incredibly unstable society.

Most curious of all is the arrival of another race to Tyria, the Sylvari. This plant people are only about 25 years old since their first arrival and come from a collective dream. Even stranger, they may have some connection to the Elder Dragons.

A conceptual image of the Elder Dragon Zhaitan

Here there be Elder Dragons

The main Lovecraftian appeal here is the Elder Dragons. These are beings of unimaginable power. The official wiki for Guild Wars 2 describes them as primordial beings who engage in cyclical destructive periods followed by slumbers. This period of awakening is referred to as a “Dragonrise.” Here players must contend with being so ancient and otherworldly that their patterns of behavior revolve around millennia and who seem to have a synergistic connection to the magic of the land. Tyria has its own share of spellcasters, but that is nothing on the grand scale of power these dragons represent.

These dragons are the greatest consumers of energy in Tyria, but also the greatest providers. To challenge these dragons is to challenge reality itself. They are so influential that even constellations in the sky seem to be altered by their awakening. The sense of scale in influence and even mass itself is disproportionate and fitting of a title such as Elder Dragon.

Guild Wars 2 has six Elder Dragons. Zhaitan, representing death and shadow drives the primary actions of the base game. Primordius waits in the depths of Tyria controlling fire and conflagration. Jormag forced the Norns from their icy homeland and controls ice. The crystal dragon Kralkatorrik controls a large desert territory. Lastly, Modremoth, a plant dragon, is the creator of the Sylvari.

What is worse is what we don’t know…

Concept art of what may be the sixth Elder Dragon

Only the names of five of these Elder Dragons have been revealed in the game thus far. There seems to be a sixth cosmic horror slumbering beneath the waves of the Unending Ocean. Some claim to know of its approximate location, and some refer to it as the deep sea dragon, but any documentation of it is lacking. An in-game scroll, damaged, only reveals that the Elder Dragon’s name begins with an “S.”

Signs of this sixth dragon are everywhere in the game and they are disconcerting at best, terrifying at worst. There is something primal and vastly unknowable about the ocean, and the dragon who makes its home beneath the seas must be horrific indeed. So horrific that aquatic races such as the gentle Quaggan have fled their ancestral lands, which were destroyed by creatures on the influence of this great and terrible dragon.

Based on just how terrible it must be to live on Tyria, the presence of this sixth dragon is a potentially thrilling addition to an already strongly Lovecraftian video game.

Please continue to follow Haunted MTL for more horror content.

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

Gaming

Blade Runner RPG Starter Set Review

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“You walk the streets both badge and boogeyman. This city fears you. Resents that it needs you. Refuses to accept that you’re here to stay. And yet that’s your job. To stand in the rain, steam, and shadows amidst the seething crowds and chaos. Relentlessly pursuing what never wants to be found.”

– pg 6 of the Blade Runner Roleplaying Game Starter Set Rule Booklet

The Blade Runner RPG is a tabletop role-playing game released by Free League Publishing in December 2022. The game is based upon the world explored within the Blade Runner movie franchise and the novel that formed the basis for the franchise, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Explore a dark cybernoir world in which corporations rule a planet ravaged for its resources and left for dead. Blade runners, cops charged with finding robots indistinguishable from humans known as replicants, try to stay alive and protect the city. Be vigilant, some blade runners have nobler intentions than others. And replicants and blade runners may have more in common than they know.

The Blade Runner RPG Starter Set features an introductory scenario, abridged rules, four pre-generated characters, and an insane amount of supporting documents and features. It is an introduction to the Blade Runner RPG recommended for one to four players (plus a gamemaster). The Starter Set is available from Free League Publishing for about $50.

An image of all the materials contained within the Blade Runner Starter Set. Image from Free Publishing.

The Gamemaster Experience

My spouse took on the role of gamemaster during our playthrough. He found the scenario to be interesting and thematic, to the point where he was compelled to rewatch the movies after reading the scenario the first time through. The supporting materials were effective in dispersing clues in a way that made the gamemaster’s job easier. The story in the introductory scenario was also intriguing and made for a good introduction to the world.

He found some of the scenario and rules booklet to be lacking. Specifically, he found that the scenario challenged the gamemaster to withhold as much information as possible even when it was unclear why. He also felt like the scripted events in response to specific pieces of evidence being shown to suspects were odd. The conditions that had to have been met seemed a little obtuse in the sense that he wouldn’t have expected us to even consider taking those actions. Because of this, he improvised some changes according to what worked better for the playgroup. Additionally, some of the rules weren’t explained quite well enough so we had to make some stuff up while playing. The scenario pointed to the Core Rulebook for further rules explanations, which seems like a bad assumption that someone that would be trying out the system through the Starter Set would also have a Core Rulebook.

A last note would be that while the included materials were impressive, the Rules Booklet’s binding began to fall apart pretty quickly. This was disappointing, especially considering the price point and how often we referred to the Rules Booklet.

Game Artwork from the Blade Runner RPG

The Player Experience

The resources provided within the Blade Runner RPG Starter Set were absolutely delightful. Supporting documents from faux case files to headshots to crime scene photos made the experience more immersive. By far, they were the most elaborate handouts I’ve ever seen in an RPG Starter Set. As a player, I loved how the handouts were used to advance the storytelling and how well they fit within the theme of the game. Through the handouts I was able to use my own detective skills to investigate the crime in addition to my character’s. I also liked the pre-generated characters provided as they had enough details to have fun with their backstory while also adding your own components. 

Mechanically, I had a lot of fun as well. Combats are punishing for enemies and players alike, which meant every combat encounter felt high stakes. A single good shot can kill an enemy or a player. This means that every round is heart-racing and rewarding. Outside of combat, skill checks were almost always successful, which felt rewarding but also low stakes at times. This was especially true since only one success is needed in most situations. 

My biggest issue as a player was that game is designed for players to split up, which can create an imbalance of experience. For example, one person can get into an exciting high-speed chase while the others spend the same round reading reports or staking out an empty building. This issue can be fixed with a good gamemaster, however, it is an inherent part of the game system that would need to be kept in mind when designing encounters. The Starter Set encounters were tweaked slightly from what was written so that we could have more equitable experiences throughout the game.

Game Artwork from the Bladerunner RPG

Conclusions

Overall, the Blade Runner RPG Starter Set was a lot of fun to play, and I look forward to delving into the Core Rulebook. It is a masterful example of how to convert genre franchises into a role-playing system. The game excels in delivering the desired atmosphere and themes through the rules, content, and introductory scenario. The mechanics are also novel, which was refreshing. I highly recommend the Starter Set for any fans of the Blade Runner franchise but also for anyone looking for an introduction to a cybernoir game experience.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Find my review of another game from Free League Publishing, the From the Loop RPG Starter Set, here.

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Buddy Simulator 1984 Review

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Making new friends can be difficult, but can it really fall into psychological horror? You bet! Buddy Simulator 1984 was released in 2021 by Not A Sailor Studios. You interact with an AI designed to be the perfect best friend, and as time goes on, it becomes more desperate to hold your attention. Going through this game, I felt a wide range of emotions. I flinched at jumpscares, frowned at bad jokes, and smiled at wholesome moments. It was an interesting and unique experience I don’t I’ve ever had with a game in this genre.

If you want to go into this blind, I would recommend you give the demo a try if it seems interesting. Your progress carries over into the main game, so you won’t have to worry about replaying sections. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the review!

An unforgettable, uncomfortable adventure

From text adventure to pixel graphics to 2.5D, Buddy Simulator 1984 ’s graphical variety is one of the ways it disorients and unnerves the player. You can solve a puzzle while the game is a text adventure, only for the game to show you the same puzzle with pixel graphics hours later. Recognition is horror.

The player character and a stuffed animal sitting on a swing set, in black and white pixel graphics. From Buddy Simulator 1984's Steam page.
The player character and a stuffed animal on a swing set, taken from the game’s steam page.

The soundtrack for this game includes some pleasant chiptune and other memorable tracks. There are some creepy tracks that do a good job of conveying an uneasy, anxiety inducing atmosphere. It really keeps you on your toes.

I do have some gripes with the game, however. There are often loud sudden jumpscares, not for any plot reason but just to spook you. Trying to figure out the sound mixing while avoiding blowing your eardrums out isn’t fun, and I’ll admit I’ve had the game on mute at certain points. There are multiple endings, and some go by rather quickly. This is the kind of game where you need to see all the endings to understand the story, and if you’re a completionist, go for it! Otherwise I would recommend watching them on YouTube.

This is a game about toxic friendships, attachment, attention, and the lengths one will go to to get it. If you have free time and don’t mind the $9.99 price tag, give this a try!

Check out some of the games we’ve been playing at Haunted MTL!

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The Sinking City Review: Sunken Lovecraftian Lore

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The Sinking City is an open world third-person shooter developed by Ukranian developer, Frogwares, and published by Nacon. In this game, you play as a private investigator who has come to the city of Oakmont. In this half-submerged city you hope to find the cause of your maddening dreams and the mass disappearances plaguing the city.

Inspired by several H.P. Lovecraft stories, The Sinking City is a love letter to Lovecraftian lore. However, it takes the time to condone problematic themes in Lovecraft’s writings which is always appreciated. It has a massive open world that lets you explore the haunting world of a city driven partially mad. The neighborhoods are painstakingly designed and the found objects tell an enrapturing story. Riding a motor boat through flooded streets was mesmerizing. I also am fond of the novel detective mechanics. Even if they are a little basic, they are still interesting and tell a good story. 

A screenshot of gameplay from The Sinking City, showcasing a great character model.

I cannot stress enough that I wanted to love The Sinking City. The premise and the atmosphere were everything I wanted from a Lovecraftian horror game. But, the game just fell flat. Frustratingly enough, most of the issues with the game are simple quality of life improvements. I had consistent bugs, performance issues, and visual hiccups that prevented the game from coming into its own. The enthralling environments were tarnished by enemies appearing and disappearing and character animations not functioning properly. While the character models were exquisite, the dialogue was comically tacky, once again ruining the mood. I also wasn’t a fan of the combat, which felt undercooked in its difficulty and stealth mechanics. The Sinking City feels like the alpha release of what could be an amazing game. But in its current state I found it to be semi-unplayable.

That being said, the game has an amazing mod community on Steam. They have created community content to fix a lot of the issues I have with the base game, so I recommend checking that out if you already own the game. I have also heard that the game has better performance on consoles instead of on PC, where I played it. So that may be another avenue for enjoying The Sinking City.

Another unfortunate reason I can’t recommend the game at the moment, is current legal battles against Nacon the publisher. Nacon has been accused by several of its developers, including Frogwares, of pirating their game and uploading it illegally to Steam. The legal battles have yet to be resolved, however, it is unfortunate that these accusations have happened twice now by two independent developers.

Maybe one day we’ll have a good Lovecraftian horror game. But, it is not yet that day. 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

However, in honor of Frogwares please consider donating to a Ukrainian Relief Fund as they actively fight on the front lines to keep their country safe. Additionally, consider supporting their new game Sherlock Holmes: the Awakened.

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