Stoneshard

I recently purchased Stoneshard over at GoG, and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. It’s an isometric RPG game that reminds me of Rogue, Nethack, and more modern interpretations like Dungeons of Dredmor. In case you’re not familiar, these type of games have you explore an enviroment (usually a dungeon) in a turn-based way. Every action—be it moving, inventory management, healing, or so on—is a single turn, and you alternate turns with the world around you. You do an action, everything else in the world takes an action, then it’s your turn again, and so on. Along the way, your character gains experience from killing enemies, which allows you to level up its skills and abilities, so you can deal with more things.

Stoneshard intends to be a harsh game in the genre. In many games, your character will be heroic; in some way or another, the protagonist is more powerful than anything around it, and can deal with much more than a regular human. Stoneshard very much goes against the grain and intends to feature realism in the sense that your character is about as powerful as everything around you, and your character suffers greatly from injuries, status effects, and hunger and thirst. The interaction of all these mechanics mean that you spend time managing and balancing many statistics. Your character is hurt, so you have to bandage the wound and splint the leg. Then, to deal with the pain your character is experiencing (giving you negative effects to your stats), you’ll have to use pain relieving methods (such as alcohols). That will increase your inebriation, however. You can see where I’m going: it’s constantly a balancing of effects.

More than other games I’ve played so far, where healing just involves downing a potion and moving it, recovery management seems to be at the forefront of my early experience with the game. Any fight with an opponent so far is a major fight. A single wolf is deadly; a pack of wolves is sure to kill my character. I can deal with a bandit, but I should heal after; if I run into two bandits, I should probably withdraw to town after. In each of these encounters, the chance of death is quite real.

That brings me to the next design choice of the game, which is quite controversial if you look at reviews: the save system. You can only save the game while sleeping at the inn (perhaps in other places, but I haven’t discovered that yet). This leads many people to complain that the save system is “broken”. It’s commonplace nowadays that games have quicksaves and autosaves, and you can basically exit the game at any time and pick up where you left off later. Stoneshard goes against the grain here. If you go out of town, you commit to an adventure that may last quite a while. So far, I’ve stuck close to town, and that’s kept me out half an hour to an hour. I’ve also died every time I’ve went out, because I haven’t learned the game well so far. Often, I can see in retrospect that it’s my poor choices that ended in my character’s death. I can see, however, that if you haven’t bought in to that risk, that it can be frustrating. For me, however, it brings an enjoyable tension to the game. The stakes are high whenever I venture out, and there’s no quick F5-F8 to recover from my mistakes.

The natural effect of this to my style of gameplay is that I also play the game in spurts. I go out and adventure, and either I die and quit, or return and save and quit. That suits my life fine, so far. I don’t feel comfortable playing for hours on end anymore, and this game seems to fit that. It’s like Darkest Dungeon in that respect. A game that I play in brief spurts, and that I would imagine frustrate me, but somehow, perhaps due to its transparency regarding the difficulty level, doesn’t seem to cause frustration. Rather, it encourages me to learn the game well.

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