Review: Armello (PS4)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3

Extras:

  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Armello
Format: PlayStation Network Download (941 MB)
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Publisher: League of Geeks Pty Ltd.
Developer: League of Geeks Pty Ltd.
Original MSRP: $19.99 (US), €19.99 (EU), £15.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 7
Armello is also available on PlayStation 3, PC, Mac and iOS.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Armello is a digital board and card game from Australian developers League of Geeks. Admittedly I tend to steer clear of this kind of game in real life and was slightly reluctant to review this. I delve into this beautiful game to see if there is any substance beneath and see if the last four years the devs spent making it have been worthwhile.

Gameplay:
The King has been overcome with The Rot and it’s slowly killing him and filling his mind to madness. His untrusting mind banishes his four loyal clans and their leaders who quickly realize something needs to be done before it’s too late. Up to four players can choose one of the eight characters from the four clans in a turn-based fight for rule. There are several ways to win a game of Armello: you can build-up enough power and eventually kill the King, collect enough spirit stones to cure the King, and if all else fails you can aim to be the most prestigious one in all the land and take his place when he drops down dead.

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You must embark on quests to aid in your ultimate goal and help defend against the three other clan leaders vying for the throne. You have one turn during the day and another at night with some items spells or characters are better at one of those times. Your location also factors into your defensive and evasion capabilities, allowing for an ambush or even a stealthy getaway. Guards move around during the day and a Vulture consumed with Rot called a Bane, moves about at night.

You see the game board from a three-quarter top-down perspective and you play as over-sized characters moving a few hexagonal tiles with each turn. Your King stands in the very middle, watching over the proceedings and delivering orders each day from his guarded castle.

The clan member with the highest prestige is allowed to decide which of the two orders will be cast out across the land. These can mix things up quite drastically and sometimes it might be a case of picking from the lesser of two evils.

… balance in this game is excellent …
At the beginning of each turn you pick a certain amount of cards depending on what you already have. They could be anything from a weapon, a spell, or even an armour card to use in battle. You’ll also have a peril or trap card to place on a hexagon or enemy or even a rare character card that can be one of three additions to your party.

You don’t have to equip every card but your inventory and party size is quite limited so you have to choose wisely. It’s also a good idea to burn some cards in a battle or peril to aid you in various ways. Burning a card is essentially a one-off boost to the amount of die. All this only scratches the surface of this deep and rewarding game and writing any more would end up making this review a guide instead. Oh that reminds me…

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You can try the prologue which introduces you to the four different clans, their abilities and the reason for their adventure, even immerse yourself in the extensive pause menu guide, or learn as you play. The latter of these does sound frightfully difficult, but once you understand your final goal, the ways of achieving it and how to fight, the rest is easy to pick up as you go.

The balance in this game is excellent and every win or loss felt just. Admittedly, luck plays a small role in some parts but it has never felt unfair. There are a few rings and amulets to work toward by performing certain actions, like – Complete ten games with a wolf clan hero.

These rings and amulets give you a slight advantage in the following games but you can only equip one of each at a time. The random board layouts and quests do help to keep things interesting but I can’t see this becoming a game to play every single day. Although just like with many board games, it’s a great game to play every once in awhile and you don’t even need other real players as the A.I. does a fine job.

… a little black border that never goes away …
Visuals:
Beautiful and artistic are the best two words to describe Armello‘s visual style. A stunningly animated introduction shows the high level that continues throughout the game. Some might argue that they had an easy job as the play area is very limited and made up of about ten different hexagons.

You can rest assured the attention to detail and care is in every pixel. Every card is delicately animated and you can view all the ones you’ve acquired in the main menu where you can also see who created them, a nice little touch I thought.

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One strange annoyance is a little black border that never goes away. I can eventually ignore it, but every now and again I notice it again out of the corner of my eye. Surrounding the beautiful game with an ugly black border seems strange. Then there is the matter of the small text which has improved on the cards since a patch but the action window at the bottom of the screen is difficult to make out even now.

UPDATE: It turns out the black border was caused by a very odd glitch with my PS4 that has been fixed in a firmware update.

Each character looks great and moves about the world, expertly drawn as if by Disney animators. It’s filled with wonderful creations that deserve to be more than just confined to this one beautiful game. I want to know more of this world and its inhabitants. As this game was built with Unity it isn’t an inconceivable wish to see it grace the brilliant little PlayStation Vita and it would look fantastic on that screen.

Speaking of the Vita I must mention Remote Play as it is both brilliant and annoying. It looks great and plays very well on the little handheld, you can even swipe the screen to roll the dice. The bad part is the annoying black border and tiny text makes it hard to difficult to properly enjoy, unless you don’t mind straining your eyes.

… a soft and somber song blows in …
Audio:
A deafening roar is unleashed each morning by the flailing lion King and it is easily the loudest thing in the game, so much so that I had to turn the TV down a notch because it annoyed the wife. I had to change the music and sound effects levels but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. They constantly seem to be at odds with each other, never finding a harmony.

When it comes to the rest of the audio, a soft and somber song blows in on a gentle breeze accompanied by an occasional bird song and rustle of leaves. The well fed rabbit, Barnaby waddles around making his shiny metal adventuring gear clank and clatter. Mercurio from the rat clan sneaks and scurries through the streets and undergrowth with an almost inaudible patter of tiny feet.

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Online/Multiplayer:
The online multiplayer aspect is great when you eventually get enough players to begin a game. There is an option to use A.I. players but it’s grayed out. So unless you invite some friends you might be sat waiting on the boring static lobby screen for a while. Once it begins, it plays just like the addictive single-player experience and even lets you press Square to view another player’s battle or peril.

My only gripe is that you can be sat waiting for other players to do their thing if they are in stealth, without seeing anything except the other characters idling and the text in the action window updating with what’s going on until their turn ends. I know it isn’t an actual problem as it’s part of the game mechanic but might confuse some players who aren’t used to stealth gameplay.

… very pleasing on the eye …
In one particular game we had a player leave unexpectedly and the A.I. took over. If you do this then you’ll be unable to join another online game for a set amount of time, which will hopefully keep the quitters to a minimum.

Sadly there is no local multiplayer but the only conceivable way to make it a fair game is keeping the cards and stealth gameplay hidden from other players. I guess the Second Screen functionality of the PlayStation App and Vita could have been used for this but who knows how cumbersome that could have been.

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Conclusion:
Armello is a pleasant revelation that takes a few goes learn but ages to master. A random board layout and a certain degree of luck makes each game feel fresh and fun. It’s very pleasing on the eye with a great use of the tilt shift effect and charming, beautiful, anthropomorphic animals that I hope to see live on beyond this enchanting game.

League of Geeks has managed to craft a fun and addictive game that I truly hope garnishes the attention it deserves. Its beauty isn’t just on the surface as the perfectly balanced gameplay and mechanics will have you hooked before you even realize it. Sadly the sparse multiplayer modes and long waits both before a game whilst waiting for players and then during as they slowly make their choices can be tedious.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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