Early Access – Epistory, Ironkraft, and Zombasite

earlyaccess1_1When I was a kid, I used to play demos. Every month, I’d pick up the latest PlayStation mag, ignore the articles that so many writers had slaved over (ironic now, thinking about it), and hastily stick the disc that had been haphazardly stuck to the magazine’s cover right in to my disc tray. It’s no exaggeration to say that I spent more time playing demos than actual full games.

Thanks to the irresistible march of progress, I can now relive my youth and play bits of games and wish the rest of them were there. No, I’m not talking about the latest unpatched mess from Ubisoft, I’m on about ‘early access’ – the opportunity to buy a game, play whatever bit of it is finished, then fervently hope that the rest of the game is either good, passable… or even finished at some point. Clearly then, early-access games are a leap of faith. Luckily for you, I happen to have my jumping boots on, ready for three more ‘pay-up-front, game later’ endeavours…

As an entry in to the less than saturated ‘type-‘em-up’ genre (if walk ‘em up is a thing then I’m definitely having this), Epistory is an immediately appealing prospect. Played from an increasingly popular isometric view, Epistory eschews traditional controls in lieu of a keyboard-only approach. Movement, battles and even menu operations are controlled entirely by your clickety-clackety epilepsy-inducing board of choice (mine’s a £10 no-brand thing – I’m not even ashamed. It bends in the middle and is pleasingly loud, in a 1950′s receptionist kind of way). At its simplest level, it’s a game about typing words to make things happen, be it transforming dirt patches in to flowerbeds or making enemies go poof. Underneath this simple concept, however, lies a game that will suck you in to its beautifully crafted world in no time at all.


Crafted is the key word here. Epistory is presented with a charming papercraft aesthetic; this is due to the game’s conceit of being the physical embodiment of a writer’s muse as he/she attempts to overcome writer’s block. As you explore, the grid-based environment unfolds itself much as paper does, with a genuinely pleasing papery sound effect lending authenticity to the art direction.

earlyaccess1_3The game itself is an exploratory RPG. The player is prompted through the world by a narrative that writes itself on the environment (very indie-du-jour), with a voiceover being promised in future updates. The player must search the overworld for dungeons to progress, before clearing puzzles and waves of enemies, all by typing words as they appear. While this sounds simple, anyone familiar with other type-‘em-ups will attest as to how fiendishly tricky this can become. Even as an accomplished touch-typist myself, the pressure of typing so quickly and accurately forced an unusual number of errors. It’s fair to say that there is a very decent level of challenge already present.

Overall, Epistory certainly seems to be an example of early access done right. There’s a good level of content already available and an obvious history of developer support that bodes well for the future. What’s available is already extremely well-polished, and the asking price to jump on-board ahead of full release is absolutely justified in my mind. Buy without peril!

IronKraft – Road To Hell
IronKraft’s title does it a disservice. It’s already hell; it doesn’t need a road. I was actually quite excited after watching the trailer for this one. It promised a kind of Trials-esque experience, if Trials were about Nazi-fighting sentient muscle cars from the 1950s. So maybe not that much like Trials, but you get the idea. Unfortunately… it’s broken. It doesn’t work at all. On loading up a game and finally finding the button to make the game actually go (maybe ‘Road To Hell’ refers to the menu system?), the game is overlaid with a pause menu that will not go away. Even worse, I can’t seem to make the car do anything except turn around on the spot. I guess the Nazis win.


A quick look at the Steam forums indicate that this has been an issue since at least late November, which doesn’t provide much hope for speedy fixes. It’s not unreasonable to expect a game-stopping bug to be addressed post-haste, especially on a paid product. In fairness, the developer has acknowledged the issue and is ‘working on it’, but that’s of scant consolation when you’re left with a game that simply doesn’t work.

This is a real shame then – a promising little idea absolutely ruined by a major game-breaking bug. Should this be fixed soon, I’ll come back and try to see how things are shaping up. For now, though, avoid, avoid, avoid.

You know what I really want? A zombie game. I don’t think there’s been enough of those. With the number of original games coming out lately, you’d have thought someone would have tapped the limitless potential of the humble zombie! Sarcasm aside, Zombasite is an interesting idea. The game is an ARPG in the vein of Diablo, with procedurally generated levels and missions. Each map has certain win conditions to be met before you’re whisked off to the next random level built just for you. You special little flower, you.

All the nuts and bolts are here. Soldak has a proud tradition of this type of game, with Din’s Curse being perhaps the most famous of their catalogue to date. Zombasite continues in the same vein, with a zombie-flavoured twist.

The sheer amount of content in this game is mind-boggling. Forget early-access standards, this game is already huge by any traditional measure. The benefit of procedural generation means there’s always something (or a million somethings) to keep you busy while bashing beasties about the bonce with whichever killing stick you’ve most recently equipped, and that’s not even considering the surprisingly in-depth faction relationship system that’s layered over the top.


Unfortunately, in my experience at least, Zombasite suffers from crippling performance issues. The game isn’t exactly a looker – presentation is functional but could never be described as beautiful (much like a Primark suit) and the graphics engine appears to be badly outdated (again, like a Primark suit) – but performance seems to randomly tank. Even my relatively beefy system struggled to run this game at medium-ish settings at any kind of playable frame-rate for extended periods of time. Puzzlingly, neither my GPU nor CPU appeared to be under much stress, so something is clearly not right with the game engine currently. We’ll let this slide-partially due to the early access nature, but it’s something that desperately needs attention before full release.

Honestly… Zombasite didn’t click with me. Quest tracking and information presentation was confusing and clunky at best, and the feel of actually thwacking various undead didn’t feel particularly satisfying. For those willing to spend scores, even hundreds, of hours digging in the game’s many systems though, there is potentially a rewarding experience to be had.

I’d be wary or recommending anyone putting money down on this at the moment, but it’s definitely one to keep an eye out for.

Last five articles by Ian


One Comment

  1. Chris Chris says:

    Good article. IronKraft looks good but christ I’ll be avoiding it. Hope to see more of these!

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