It seemed hard to imagine immersing myself back into the Mass Effect universe without the heroic presence of Commander Shepard, but Andromeda has put all my fears to rest. Fair warning, this review for will contain a few setup/early game spoilers, but I’ll keep major priority mission details and game-affecting decisions under wraps.
I admit it me a little adjusting time to get used to the new protagonist. They don’t exactly fill Shepard’s shoes, but Pathfinder Ryder does indeed live up to expectations and is more than worthy of standing alongside our favorite space explorer. Bioware, you did good.
That said, Andromeda is not without its ups and downs. I’ve spent the last week wavering back and forth between high highs of tugged heartstrings and trigger-happy excitement, and low lows of some hellishly boring space travel and glitchy game mechanics.
It all starts with the character creation section. In all honesty, this has been the most uninspired and disappointing aspect of the entire game. It’s not fully customizable; you basically have to choose a template face and make only minor adjustments. It leaves out the ability to drastically alter your character’s mouth, nose and eye shape beyond whatever shape they come in from your chosen template. The only options for extra additions are scars, makeup and tattoos (plus facial hair for maleRyder). No freckles, moles, or age lines here. And also no fucking eyebrow color changer.
I opted for femRyder with a hairstyle similar to my original femShep. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the final product, but she grew on me as the game progressed. If there’s one piece of advice I can give, it’s make your hair color darker than you think. I thought I was going for an auburn, red-brown, and it looks okay indoors, but in broad daylight my Ryder’s hair is BEACON ORANGE. You have been warned.
The story sets up fast — possibly too fast. There’s a lot of information thrown at you in the first dozen cutscenes, but it does slow down to a more even pace as things go on. The short of it is this, the Andromeda Initiative has sent four arks full of humans, Turians, Asari and Salarians respectively off into space to seek out a new home. In case you forgot that this was Mass Effect, things do not go to plan. The arks got separated and lost off course. The planet destined for the human population turns out to be not even slightly inhabitable. And just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, the human leader, the Pathfinder, dies in the heat of an ambush. Ryder happens to be the child of that Pathfinder, and in a further unexpected twist of events, they wind up his successor. Ryder is now the Human Pathfinder, suddenly destined to lead their people through the galaxy in search of a new home.
Understandably, it’s not so easy for Ryder to step into the role. Not everyone trusts them to handle the burden. And it really is a burden when you’re left alone trying to pick up the pieces scattered in the wake of your father’s death.
Pathfinder Ryder is quite a bit younger than Commander Shepard, and it’s hard not to notice the youthful naivety in their mannerisms and dialogue. It definitely gives the game, especially the early game, a completely different feel to the original trilogy, almost prequel-like.
The crew of the Tempest also feels more youthful and inexperienced than Shepard’s on the Normandy. But this is an important part of the story. These are the people who have left Earth and everything they know far behind for a new start at life. They left behind parents, siblings, and important memories. Much of the crew will tell you about these things as you get to know them. All of them are grieving something, but Ryder, one of the only people to actually come with family only to lose them right away, is able to find comfort in the shared stories of the team. This fits well with the nostalgic vibe of the entire game, as those of us who spent hours upon hours in the original trilogy have waited 5+ years for this next-gen experience.
And holy heck, is it good to play Mass Effect on the newer generation console. Elizabeth gave us an early-game PC review and raved about the smooth combat mechanics. Playing on PS4, I found that she was exactly right. This is the smoothest and sleekest Mass Effect combat has ever been. As a result, it’s absolutely the most fun. As an infiltrator, I’ve never enjoyed testing out various assault rifles and upgrading my tech powers more than I have in this game. The tech and biotic powers are pretty brilliant, a fantastic counterpart to your physical weapons. It’s extremely satisfying to seamlessly stun an enemy with electricity and then blast them to smithereens while their shields are down. And that’s just one of many possible combinations.
The cutscenes are also relatively smooth. I appreciated the way the story dialogue and background atmosphere, including radio announcements, sometimes continues between travel points to make your journey between load screen as invisible as possible. I could go into nitpicky details about the sheer amount of load times, but considering how fucking huge this open-world RPG is, I have no grounds to complain at all. After 40+ hours of gameplay I’m only just making a dent in the realm of possibilities for exploration.
The exploration and missions revolve primarily around traversing the galaxy in search of a new place to live as well as finding viable places to make outposts for the 20,000 people you have waiting on the ark. Luckily, a mysterious alien race known as Remnants have left wildly advanced technology that, if logged into correctly, can help out with some of the planets’ more dangerous environmental problems. This sounds weird but trust me, it makes a lot more sense and is definitely more interesting in-game than on paper. To get across the planets you get to drive the Nomad, a slightly better version of the infamous Mako.
What makes the Nomad so much more driveable is that it actually has a gear change, so you can go at a nice even speed across flat road and then roll your way carefully up rocky hillsides. This isn’t without hazards, of course. The roads have tire tracks already present to mark out the path you’re meant to take, but sticking to those tire tracks is occasionally impossible and makes you look like a pretty terrible driver. But I guess that’s inevitable, after all what did we say about Ryder following in Shepard’s footsteps?
Along the way you’re meeting new alien races, old alien races (hello Krogans), and trying really damn hard not to fuck up. Like Ryder, you feel pretty in the dark, and it’s difficult to tell what choices you’re making are having what kind of affect on your endgame, or potential future games. This is because Andromeda ditches the beloved (by some) paragon/renegade scale of the original trilogy and opts for the four-category dialogue wheel familiar to those of us who played Dragon Age Inquisition. Your Ryder can respond to a given situation either emotionally, logically, casually, or professionally. At minimum you’re going to rack up dialogue points in at least two categories, as every option isn’t available in every single conversation.
I chose to characterize my Ryder with the emotional and professional dialogue choices, an interesting mix that means she comes across extremely capable in the Pathfinder role, but obviously cares a whole damn lot, and possibly too much, about everyone she meets. My Ryder is extremely trusting and basically tries to make friends with everyone, which may or not actually work out in her favor. Who you side with — or more importantly, who sides with you — obviously affects what happens in the endgame, but I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself.
The further I got into Mass Effect Andromeda, the more I felt like I was at home. There was definitely a warm-up period but after a while Andromeda really does feel exactly like any other Mass Effect game. My only qualm with the new story is that your main enemy, the Kett, are frankly just not as scary as the Reapers. But Bioware does know just how to play into its original emotional beats. Not knowing where the other missing arks are or if they’re even alive is heart-wrenching when you know they’re full of Turians and Asari. I dare you to get through this game without thinking fondly of your original favs.
But even better is that I didn’t miss Garrus and Liara so much when the new Turian and Asari crew members, Vetra and Peebee, were around. I absolutely love the Tempest crew. Each character has their own well-developed personality and backstory that floods the game with colorful dialogue and interesting interactions, a surprising number of which can turn romantic. Andromeda eases off on previously limited relationship rules and actually allows you to get seriously flirty (and possibly more) with basically as many people as your Ryder is interested in. The commitment part doesn’t come until much later, so any time that love-heart option pops up in your dialogue wheel don’t feel like you have to hold back and save yourself for that one special someone.
If I’m being honest, it wouldn’t be a Bioware game without a few annoying game glitches. Mine have been relatively minor compared to a few complaints I’ve seen. But, in my 40+ hours of gameplay so far I have experienced occasional frame rate issues, characters and scenery failing to load on time, camera angles missing the speaking characters completely, team members appearing in odd places during combat, NPCs randomly walking way too fast, and interaction buttons only showing up when you’re on the exact right angle. None of these glitches really affected my overall experience, bar the interaction button issues. Sometimes they take too long to load and you’re left standing at a door you know is supposed to be openable just waiting for the interaction to show up.
Once, and thankfully only once, the interaction didn’t show up at all, and I was forced to reload a mission (this was during the Firefighters mission when I went back to speak with SAM on the Nexus, so keep an eye out and hopefully it doesn’t happen to you). This seems like something that will get fixed in a future patch. Other than that, there’s really nothing that ruined the experience. So are there bugs? Yes, but minor bugs given just how freaking huge the Andromeda game world is. On a developer level these are, in my eyes and for the most part, forgivable and fixable offenses.
More frustrating than the glitches is the space travel required to get through all the missions. There’s an absolute ton of missions to play through, and many of them require you to visit at least two or three planets. Annoyingly, the navpoint only allows you to track one mission at a time. A few other nearby missions will show up on the map when you’re on a planet, but if you’re trying to do things in the most time efficient way and with the fewest planet visits possible, you can forget about it.
The missions centered around your friends and allies are the worst offenders. Sometimes you have to go meet one of your Tempest crew members on a planet despite them normally being in the next room, only to get to said planet and discover that the next point in the mission is on a whole other planet entirely. There’s just too much back and forth traveling and much of it feels wasteful. It’s easy to spend half the day playing the game only to feel like you’ve barely accomplished anything in the time spent. Towards the end, I flicked on subtitles and started skipping through cutscenes just to save myself some time.
That said, the planets are gorgeous and the exploration is worth it when you have the time and patience. The best thing about open world RPGs is knowing that you don’t actually have to rush. With no linear level system to worry about, you can spend as much time anywhere as you want. When the gameplay is at its best, Mass Effect Andromeda is actually a very relaxing play. It’s very satisfying to work through all the missions on a single planet to get that planet to 100% viability and start a settlement there. The visual changes that happen to the planet after you do so make your work worth the effort. The designs are truly very beautiful.
Mass Effect Andromeda is worthwhile. It may not be the sleekest open world game out there, nor the most challenging, but it has heart, just like its predecessors. If you enjoy spending time getting highly invested in characters, cruising beautiful planets and blasting aliens, this game is for you.
Images courtesy of Bioware
Keeping Kosher In Monster Hunter World
Monster Hunter World is the best selling game in its series, with over 7.5 million units shipped. There are many reasons for this: The game is more accessible for new players, it’s not just on a handheld console anymore, there was actually some marketing push for this game…the list goes on.
However, I personally think one of the reasons the game is so popular is its food eating cutscenes. Before you go on a hunt, you can eat a meal at a canteen that gives you buffs. You’re also treated to an adorable and very tasty looking cutscene of the Palicoes (a cat like race that helps you hunt monsters) making your meal. The details are so lavish and the end product looks so good I couldn’t help thinking about it off and on for weeks. And one question that kept recurring was, “Would any of this food be Kosher?”
Kosher foods, for those of you who may not know, are foods that conform to the Jewish kashrut (dietary law). The word treif describes any food that does not abide by this law. Determining what foods are Kosher or not can get complicated since different groups of animals have different rules. At its most basic though, there are three groups of animals: land, flying, and fish (invertebrates as a rule are treif). Conveniently enough, most monsters in Monster Hunter World could fit under the same categories. We’ll go through each category and examine a few monsters from the game to decide if any (or all) of them can be Kosher.
Before we begin though, I’d like to give major props to one of our editors, Gretchen. Before I wrote this article, I knew next to nothing about what makes a food Kosher or not. Gretchen not only educated me, but did a lot of the heavy lifting, and for that I am grateful.
The first monster up for discussion is called Uragaan. Uragaan lives mostly in volcanic regions and is identifiable its large chin, its shiny, lustrous golden hide, and the spikes along its back. It consumes mostly bedrock and those large spikes on its back are actually crystals. It produces a sticky, tar like substance on its stomach, which it uses to attach explosive rocks to itself as a means of defense. If someone were to knock down or kill Uragaan, they’d be able to mine the vast mineral wealth on it’s back…but they wouldn’t be able to eat it, as Uragaan isn’t Kosher.
In order for a land animal to be Kosher, it has to meet three basic requirements. First, it can not be a carnivore or a scavenger. It can not eat meat. Second, it must have a split hoof. Horses aren’t Kosher, but animals like cattle and sheep are. Finally, the animal must chew its cud. Pigs have split hooves, but they don’t chew their cud and thus are not Kosher. Uragaan meets the first rule, but fails with the second and third. As such, Uragaan can never be Kosher.
The next monster up is Kirin. Kirin resembles a unicorn or (more accurately) a Chinese Qilin. It has a single large horn growing out of its head, with a white mane and tail that seem to stand on end from static electricity. It’s body appears to have fur, but those actually are scales. Kirin also seems to crackle with electricity as it walks. Looking at the picture we can see clearly that it has a split hoof. The game doesn’t tell us what it eats or if it chews its cud, but if we extrapolate what it looks like and compare to say, an antelope or a deer (both of which are Kosher) we can safely assume that Kirin is Kosher as well, right? Wrong.
Kirin fails to be Kosher not by the quality of the animal, but by the quality of its behavior. You see, Kirin belongs to a group of monsters called Elder Dragons and these monsters, in addition to being tougher the ordinary monsters, are immune to traps and tranqs unlike other monsters. This presents a problem, as in order for meat be Kosher, the butchering must happen in one swift action using a sharp knife. Shooting the creature with an automatic repeating crossbow is not the way to do it. Kirin, unfortunately, is not Kosher for this reason.
We come now to the last land based monster in this article: The Kelbi. Kelbi, unlike the monsters mentioned thus far, are not aggressive. They are small, and the males are usually green in color while the females and juveniles are blue. Males also have large, prominent horns while female horns are smaller. In-game, Kelbi horns are medicinal, and players make potions out of them. I’m also happy to report that Kelbi might be our first (possibly) Kosher monster.
Like Kirin, Kelbi has a split hoof. We also know that Kelbi are herbivores, but it is unknown whether or not Kelbi chew their cud. Extrapolating and comparing them to real world deer and goats though, we can have more confidence that Kelbi are, in fact, Kosher.
Now we will discuss birds. According to Jewish tradition, animals that fly and are not insects are birds. Thus animals such as bats are ‘birds’ in regards to Kosher rules. The rules for birds themselves are fairly simple. They can’t be predatory or scavengers. This rule immediately rules out the next monster on the list: Rathalos.
Rathalos is known as the “King of the Sky” and is the male counterpart to Rathian, another flying monster. Rathalos are bipedal wyverns, primarily red in color, with sharp, poisonous claws that they use to hunt with. In addition to that, they have a flame sac that they use to produce flaming projectiles from, and their long thick tail has a club at the end of it. But as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, no birds of prey can be Kosher.
The next monster on the list is one of the oddest in the game. Pukei-Pukei resembles at first glance a giant chameleon with frog like eyes, wings, and green scales covering its body everywhere except around its wings and neck, where it has feathers. The Pukei-Pukei is an herbivore and it will eat poisonous plants so it can produce a poison to defend itself. Despite all of these peculiar traits, Pukei-Pukei appears to be Kosher.
I was surprised to hear Gretchen tell me this, as I thought there would be no way a monster as weird as Pukei-Pukei could be considered Kosher. But as she laid the case out it began to make more sense. Despite some reptilian traits, Pukei-Pukei has more avian traits, and that classifies it as a creature of the air under the kashrut. As a creature of the air, it has to meat a few specifications. It does not scavenge like a vulture, nor does it hunt like a bird of prey. Thus, Pukei-Pukei meets the requirements.
And By Sea
There aren’t very many sea monsters in Monster Hunter World sadly. Only one of them really seems like it would count. And this one is Jyuratodus. Jyuratodus resembles nothing more than a bipedal coelacanth fish. It has two dorsal fins, two pectoral fins, two pelvic fins, and a long, thick tail that it can use to defend itself. It also covers itself in mud and other ooze, to act as another layer of defense and to possibly keep its gills and scales damp. Fortunately for us, practically the only water based monster in this game is also Kosher.
For a sea animal to be considered Kosher, it must have fins and scales that can be removed. This generally means that the stereotypical fish is allowed, but not animals such as eel, lobster, squid or crab. Jyuratodus, despite its size and aggression does have fins and scales and would be Kosher.
The Hunt Goes On…
So what are we left with from this list? Two monsters that could be considered Kosher, three that are not, and one that might be, if it chews cud. And this is only a small sample of the monsters in the game. Not only that, but Capcom has plans to release more monsters as free DLC over the upcoming months. When the PC version of the game is out, I might revisit this article and expand on it. Until then though, happy hunting and bon appétit!
Images Courtesy of Capcom
Hopes and Fears for Deadfire
The release of Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire, the sequel to an old-school RPG that’s close to my heart, was pushed back a month. An unfortunate state of affairs, to be sure, but tolerable if it gives the developers the time to eliminate bugs. It also gave me time to undertake another play-through of the original. This time, as a female dwarf druid from the Deadfire Archipelago, just to see if it becomes relevant.
And for those of us who appreciate traditional, yet forward-looking RPGs as I do, I’d like to talk a bit about what I hope and worry about in the sequel. Unfortunately, I was unable to get into the player beta that has been going on for some months now, for brutally fiscal reasons. So while I kept close tabs on the testers were saying, I must avoid making authoritative statements.
Instead, I’m going to cover some big topics that occur to me as I play Pillars of Eternity again and wait for Deadfire. Those are, in no particular order…
Spells: rest or encounter?
First things first: since I play a full spellcaster as my main character for the first time, I already can’t wait for Deadfire’s upgrade to spells with per-encounter uses, rather than per-rest. Having spells that only recharge on a full rest stunts the game’s pacing and makes balance very difficult. What we have here is three situations:
- The caster doesn’t use any of their per-rest spells and doesn’t contribute much.
- The caster does contribute without per-rest spells, using per-encounter or passive abilities. Each main casting class has those.
- The caster dominates the encounter with powerful spells.
None of those situations are optimal. If we have either the first or the last, it means two extremes. If the second or the last, then it means those classes’ performance is similar to those with per-encounter or passive abilities, but they also sit on tactical nukes.
There’s really no way to balance it against classes whose abilities are available a number of times every encounter, or entirely passive. It will inevitably swing in the direction of some classes having more impact on the battle than others.
Resting as a pacing mechanic is notoriously unreliable, because the game can’t really control how much we rest. It can dole out camping supplies and make some areas impossible to rest in, but players can bypass it all. In a tabletop game, per-rest encounters will rely on the GM’s willingness and ability to enforce a particular pacing. In a video game…there’s no GM to do that.
This change has met with mixed reception. Aside from those who think it’s dumbing down the game, there have been concerns over insufficient quantity of spells and the fact that they take too long to cast. Meaning the battle might be over by the time you fire off that spell. The latter two are legitimate, and I hope the developers address them.
But regardless of what issues arise from a shift to a per-rest resource management, I really think it’s for the best. Per-rest spells are a relic of old-school D&D that has stuck around by inertia. We can’t be rid of it in D&D, so let’s at least remove it from Pillars.
Health and safety
The health system of Pillars of Eternity is somewhat controversial. Its removal in favor of a more traditional health in the sequel, perhaps more so. The original system measures two health “bars”: endurance and health.
Every time you take damage, you lose both, but while endurance regenerates by itself and through abilities, health doesn’t. You have at least four times as much health as endurance, which means it drops slowly. Once your health becomes lower than maximum endurance, the latter is also lower. Dropping to 0 endurance knocks you out, dropping to 0 health maims you, then kills you.
In theory, I like it. It’s a compromise between old-school unforgiving attrition and a more modern style where everyone gets back to full strength after each battle. But I’m not sure it works so well in practice.
Sometimes it does, and introduces slow sapping of your characters’ strength and forcing you to rest. But at other times, you either avoid damage enough for it not to matter or one character is focus-fired by enemies and their health drops dangerously low. So you have to rest even though everyone else is fine.
This particularly punishes characters who get into the thick of it without necessarily being tough and wearing heavy armor, but also back-like casters or shooters who end up target of enemy attacks. There’s no “taunt” mechanics that would straight-up force enemies to attack certain characters instead of others, either.
Deadfire will remove this duality and simply have health that acts like endurance did. Once you drop to 0, you’re once again knocked out, which results in maximum health dropping by 25%, in addition to injuries. But if it didn’t drop to 0, it will return after the fight just fine.
While I wish they could have tried to strike some sort of compromise and refine the health/endurance system, I can see why they did this instead. The old system was fiddly, random and many players didn’t understand it. Although in the last case I think the problem was with insufficient explanation. The game never tells us in plain terms how it works, so of course it confuses people. But other than that, I can respect their choice of predictable simplicity over continued tinkering.
Matters of romance
We don’t know a lot about romance in Deadfire, only that it will be there. It will also include non-heterosexual relationships, something rather conspicuously absent from the original – with the exception of openly lesbian Maneha and her crush on Pallegina. Whether or not Pallegina reciprocated it is less than clear. She’s flustered by Maneha’s attention, rather than threaten bodily harm as she usually does, so maybe?
This has drawn some ire from people. Some complaints stem from elitism, believing that romances are something from a BioWare game and Obsidian should be better. Others come from a place of homophobia, believing that the existence of non-heterosexual romances are a sign the SJWs are coming.
An actual concern one might raise is accidentally getting our character tangled up in a romance. The developers promise a complex system of inter-personal relationships, where all sorts of interactions will influence them. That’s great…if it works. I expect that they will still be predictable to some degree. But I also worry about accidentally making an NPC attracted to us.
Relationships developing in a way we didn’t expect or plan for is natural, of course. In fact, that’s what the supposed complex network of influence is meant to accomplish. But when it comes to romantic or even sexual matters…I feel it’s different. Having someone suddenly display such interest in your character can be uncomfortable.
We’ve seen it in RPGs before, particularly those from BioWare. That studio eventually adopted a system of making it absolutely clear we’re pursuing a line of dialogue that may develop into a relationship. What will Deadfire do here? Regardless of how they handle it, I do look forward to this new way of tracking relationships and influence among our companions.
One of the major features in the sequel is the ability to mix and match classes. Or, well, not mix and match, really. You can pick two classes and get abilities from both, but at a slower pace. While you will have a broader repertoire, you will get new tiers of abilities later than a single-class character of the same level would get.
I’ve been excited and worried about it ever since its announcement. It has so much potential for customization, but also for breaking the game. The balance team certainly has their hands full with it. By some accounts, single-class characters feel not so much weaker as constrained, compared to multi-classed ones. There’s just not enough abilities to pick from, or ability points to use. There have been some hints on how they plan to fix it, so I hope they do. This is a tremendous opportunity and I look forward to playing a greatsword-wielding Fighter/Rogue.
…and many more
There’s a good deal of other innovations Deadfire will include, but it would really take me a while to discuss them all. The new system for damage reduction and penetrating it, managing your ships, exploring the vast archipelago… this game promises to be huge, and what I discussed here is just the tip of the iceberg,
Whatever happens, Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire promises to stay on the same course of marrying old-school gameplay with innovative, fresh design. I have high hopes for it, with the usual trepidation over their getting dashed to the ground. But that’s just how it goes when a series doesn’t just repeat the same things over and over.
Images courtesy of Obsidian Entertainment
Dialect is an amazing game that asks if dying languages should be saved
Greetings readers! Today will be the first of hopefully many reviews of tabletop role playing games. Some of them more mainstream, and others somewhat obscure. Today’s review is going to be about one of the more obscure titles. The game is Dialect and it is made by Thorny Games. Dialect is about language. Specifically, how languages are born, can grow, change your way of thinking, and how they can die. The team working on it has quite a pedigree, and includes people like David Peterson, who created the fictional languages on Game of Thrones.
Now, full disclosure: This game was on Kickstarter, and I did back it. My review will be based on the initial digital copy of the game I was given after the crowd-funding campaign was successful. I played Dialect with three other people: M, T, and V, none of whom backed the crowd-funding campaign.
Dialect itself is different then a lot of “traditional” tabletop RPGs in that there are no dice, and no GM running the game. All you need are index cards, the five different decks of language cards that come with it, and the rules. Dialect requires three to five players as well, counting yourself.
The first thing the players do when they begin a game of Dialect is picking a backdrop for the game. The backdrop (called an “Isolation” in-game) is what separates this group from the wider world. These Isolations range from the physical (A new colony on Mars) to the cultural (A thieves guild). The Isolation is what lets them develop their language. The language also changes with the Isolation as well, as the next step is to define three different “aspects” about the Isolation. These shape the language, and will vary from game to game. In one example from the book, an aspect for a colony on Mars might be the ever present dust storms. After that the players have to answer questions about their community. These are smaller than the aspects, but still can define how the language will grow and change.
Once the players have answered all the questions, they draw three “archetype” cards, choosing one of them to use. These cards define a role in the isolation, and range from Innocent to Zealot. Leader to Jester. Each archetype has a different relationship with the different aspects. Some relate to only one aspect, some relate to them all. After selecting an aspect, giving a bit of backstory to the character, and determining their name and what others call them, the meat of Dialect can begin.
Each player starts with three cards from the first language deck in their hand. These cards have different word ideas on them. They range from ‘Greeting’ to ‘Bad Omen’ to ‘Filler World’. The player then ties this word to one of the aspects, explaining how the aspect gave rise to this word. It’s at this point that the players can discuss what word fit the best. In the end though, only the person who played the card can decide what the word is. After that, the final step is to have an in-character conversation either using or conspicuously not using the word. The final step has the player draws a card from the second language deck, and play passes to the next person.
After each player has had a turn, the “Era” changes. Now the isolation will have to deal with hints that their way of life is ending. There are three eras. By the end of the third, the Isolation has ended, and the language (Or at least the culture that spoke it) dies.
One of the goals of Dialect is to create a language based on what the players want. And in this, it succeeds spectacularly. The language cards are clear and concise. The round table nature of the game also makes sure that every player has a say. As ‘V’ puts it: ”The floor is pretty much always open for discussion, but it prods every player into the spotlight so nobody gets unintentionally left out. The ‘this is 100% your choice’ questions make you feel more attached to that element of the game.”
Another, smaller aspect of Dialect I particularly enjoyed was how the book (and by extension, the writers) were concerned about player’s comfort levels. They stress repeatedly how the group should know it’s limits, and to avoid situations or scenarios that might be triggering to other players. A lot of games do this nowadays, but few do it as frequently or as early as Dialect does.
Dialect is also open ended enough that it can be useful when used with other settings to define specific cultures. ‘M’ agreed with that sentiment, and added: “I feel like it was less a game in and of itself than one of those generators I see every now and then, to help build a setting or a space marine chapter or whatever else.”
One of the strongest aspects of Dialect is the re-playability. With the randomness of the cards, the different selections of Isolations, and even the contrasting moods of the players, you will have a totally different experience each time. ‘T’ put it best, saying: ”A lot of the games will be different each time. Between the scenarios and the players and the cards, everyone will have a different perspective.”
Dialect is not without its faults. The most prominent of which is the very thrust of it’s premise. A game about how languages die can be very high concept, and that can scare some players away. Another thing that can scare players away is the group role-playing and decision process. Some players are just naturally more timid than others. In ‘T’’s words: “as it stands someone who isn’t comfortable at the sort of ‘rping’ it out probably wouldn’t get the same enjoyment’
Another fault with Dialect that stems from its focus on language is that nearly all it’s focus is on the language. There is very little to help new players get used to roleplaying. There is also very little that helps distinguish between the language creation and the roleplaying aspect. ‘V’ had a bit to say on this: “I think the game’s biggest weakness, from what I played, was the actual roleplaying part. It’s 90% meta, OOC [Out of character] discussion of your language, then you suddenly have to scramble into character and improv on the spot.”
The final criticism I have with Dialect is that there are places in the rules where there is ambiguity. Some rules errata will fix that issue though.
Before I give my opinion on the game itself, there are a few things I would like to mention. The first is that the Isolation does not have to be literal. It can be as simple as a boarding school, or even a website where people go to congregate. I even noticed some parallels to a few of the Isolations and the early LGBT movement. Not that the LGBT movement is dead, but that the language of it has changed since the early days.
The second thing I want to tell you about is a story from the test game I ran before writing this review. The players were members of a thieves guild in early 19th century London. They were con-men, swindling rich aristocrats out of their money by selling them ‘Mummy dust’ that was actually just dirt scraped up off the side of the road. One of the words the came up with was the word ‘Stone’ to refer to a bad omen. Named after the newly discovered Rosetta Stone, the word took on new meaning in a few turns, and began to be a term for anyone who wouldn’t fall for their tricks. It became one of my personal favorite words that session. When the game ended, I realized that the word was dead. Only a game like Dialect could make me feel that way about a simple word.
Dialect is an amazing game. I highly recommend it for people curious about language, those who are looking for a tool to help flesh out their own worlds, or for anyone just looking for a unique, fun game that doesn’t require a lot of set-up. Everything from the art design to the rules to the cards all helps bring the main focus of Dialect into perspective: What is lost when a language dies? Are dying languages worth saving?
Having played Dialect, I can tell you the answer to the second question. Yes.