Bionic Dues is the latest title from Arcen Games and is their first attempt at creating a rogue-like. With the new genre comes a different experience from the developers and while it is a great introduction for people new to the genre, I’m not so sure about the hardcore.
Bionic Dues’ story tasks the player with defending a city from an army of robots as a pilot of giant mechs called bionics. When a robot attack wipes out the rest of the defenders, you must keep the robot army from taking out your HQ or the city will be destroyed to contain the robot menace.
At the start, you’ll choose your group of four bionics and pilot from a preset list. Each bionic comes with different equipment and component slots for attaching items to (more on that in a minute). Each pilot also has a different bonus that can be a factor; after that and choosing your difficulty, you’ll be taken to the city.
The city is made up of nodes (which their placement is randomize at the start of a new game) that represent missions with your goal to strengthen your bionics and weaken the robotic army as best you can before the 50 day time limit is up and you’ll have to fight them.
Each mission takes the form of a procedurally generated dungeon floor as in a rogue-like, with robots, traps, loot and a goal to achieve. Every time you either complete a mission or fail it, a day of game time passes and the robots become more powerful. When the 50 day limit is up, the robots will attack and you’ll be forced into a final battle with the robot army that is viewed on the right hand side of the map screen.
Survive and you win, fail enough times to have your HQ run out of points and you lose. In this regard, Bionic Dues reminds me a little bit of Sid Meier’s Colonization with how the end game is about defense rather than completing an arbitrary goal.
One thing I like about the missions is that there is a lot of variety with the actual mission goals or mission modifiers. One mission may have you running away from an immortal robot to reach the exit, while another map may be loaded with fuel tanks and explosives to ruin your day.
Enemy design is also as varied, with enemies that grow in diversity and strength as the game goes on. Such as powerful siege units that will only attack if an enemy is next to it, to an EMP bot that disables all weaponry within seven tiles of where it’s destroyed.
The rogue-like portion of the game is handled similarly to other games in the genre. Control is done via an “I go, you go” style, where the player makes a move or action, then the enemy and repeat.
The four bionics you choose at the start can be switched to at any time and in essence are your lives. When a bionic runs out of health, it gets destroyed and becomes unavailable for the rest of the mission, with the mission considered failed if all four bionics die.
Improving your bionics is handled in two ways. First, by the insane # of components that can be bought from the store or found on a mission. The game features procedurally generated loot and it’s very unlikely that you’ll find the same exact component twice.
Components come in different types and rarities and can be equipped to any of your bionics. Each piece of equipment comes preset on a bionic, with component slots open. The only limits on what you can equip comes down to available slots and the bionic’s overall power supply. Components drain power and you need to watch what you have equipped.
The second form of improving is upgrading your actual bionics. As you explore the city, you may find an upgrade for one of your specific bionics, turning it into its epic version. The epic version, besides having a different art model comes with more weapons and component slots. With their new found weapons having several times the attack strength of the regular version, these bad boys are just what you’re looking for to survive the robot attack.
Arcen is promoting Bionic Dues as a “rogue-lite”, as the game doesn’t have the depth or extreme difficulty curve of other games in the genre. And while I enjoyed what I found in Bionic Dues, the “lite’ portion is where I have some problems to discuss.
A major element of a rogue-like’s replayability comes down to its progression model. That sense of discovery and unknown when it comes to items and possible tactics helps make each new game a unique experience.
But Bionic Due’s “lite” take on the genre hurts this to some degree. First is with the components that while incredibly varied, lack the deep choices associated with other rogue-likes.
There is so much loot in Bionic Dues that after a few missions, you’ll be overwhelmed by it, mainly since you are technically equipping four different characters with gear. But the components are very general and can easily overwhelm you with stats, modifiers and then some, making it difficult at first glance to know what you’re looking at.
In a game like Diablo 3 or Dungeons of Dredmor, loot is always scaling upward regularly and you can easily tell what items would be considered upgrades.
But with so much loot of minute differences in Bionic Dues, it can take more time than other games to tell if one component is better than the other.
Incidentally, this is a complaint I had about the Torchlight series, where they gave you so much loot of minuscule differences that it made equipping your character more of a chore in my opinion.
With so much of the loot only offering small changes, this can also have the unintended effect of making the game harder than expected. Since after every day of in game time, all the robots level up and become stronger which also means the missions become gradually harder. It’s possible for you to fall behind in some area: not enough shielding, weaponry or even finding the elite upgrades.
The other problem is that unlike other rogue-likes where progression means big changes to your choices and play style, here the gameplay and tactics stays relatively the same throughout your play through. You can’t find new guns, shields or proportion systems of varying attributes and component slots. Instead, every bionic has the same preset capabilities every time you play. With the only direct improvement is finding the epic upgrade hidden for them.
I can understand why Arcen made those choices, to keep with the rogue-lite nature of the design and not complicate the game with a crazy amount of progression. However, I feel that by not giving the player a variety of major forms of improvement that it limits Bionic Due’s replayability somewhat.
In the end, Bionic Dues is keeping with Arcen’s style of creating a focus and very unique experience. If you’re new to the rogue-like genre, then this is a great first step to learn it.
However, hardcore fans may find the lack of deeper mechanics and choices off-putting.
Ultimately I can say the same thing about Bionic Dues that I said about Skyward Collapse: That I want to see more content and depth hopefully added if it sells well. And when my biggest complaint is that I want more, that’s not exactly a horrible problem to have.
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