Played a bit of Ghost of a Tale the past few days. This is one of the only three crowdfunded games I've ever supported, and is so far the only one to actually fully release. I played it way back in alpha with some of the earliest builds they released, and really didn't get on with it. But given that it's now complete, I thought it was time to give it another try. Even though it has all the content that was missing before, and it looks and runs a whole lot better, it's still a fundamentally flawed experience that I find totally miserable.
The game has some appealing aspects to it, but they're all aesthetic or world building things. You play as a little anthropomorphic mouse character in a world inhabited by similar small animal characters, with a fantasy setting. The characters and environments are amazingly detailed and have a lot of charm to them. That was one of the biggest things that drew my attention to this game in the first place. The game also has a surprisingly fleshed out setting to it, with the world having a detailed history, with its own social structure and such. You're also given footnotes to read in conversations that explain the history or meaning behind words or phrases characters might say. Definitely adds a richness to dialogue, although sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming with the amount that there is to read.
The game design however, is pretty abysmal. It's mainly a stealth game, with some RPG/adventure elements. The stealth mechanics themselves are incredibly bare bones and not fun or interesting in any way. You have hardly any tools to deal with situations, and what you do have is pretty boring. If you're not creeping around painfully slowly trying not to get spotted by the rat guards, you're simply running and hiding over and over. You have a stick you can throw to distract guards, and you can throw a bottle at some to knock them out for a short period of time. Extremely basic stuff, and is usually a waste of time to do anyway, since the controls for these items are pretty poor, and the utility of their effects is often very limited. The game is also terrible at conveying when it's safe to move around too. You have a basic screen icon that shows how much attention you're drawing, and a vague direction of where it's coming from, but it's not clear at all how wide a guard's vision is, or whether a certain spot is safe from view. It makes the stealth elements feel like a complete farce. Not something you can get good at or is rewarding in any way.
Conveyance in general is a massive flaw too. You start the game in a dungeon cell, before breaking out in to the castle above. Once you do that the game throws loads of quests at you. Most of them are simply for gathering parts for outfits that can give you certain effects, while others are from side characters asking you to go fetch something or work out a secret. They usually point you in a certain direction through dialogue, which might sound helpful, except for the fact that when you get these quests, you'll likely not have a map yet, or know what the hell they are talking about. Not that getting a map is much more help, since it's completely without any kind of annotations or helpful information. It's just simply a hand-drawn-style layout of the area, showing where you and (unlabelled) NPCs are. That's it. It's of no use whatsoever, especially given the castle area has multiple floors. What's more, you only ever get the full(ish) explanation of your objectives the first time you talk to a quest giver. The description in the quest tab in your menu is pretty light on details, usually omitting the location you need to go. And you can't talk to characters again to repeat information. Their dialogue changes, giving you less to work with each time, giving you nothing after a couple of attempts.
The environment is also pretty awful at portraying information. Perhaps in part because of how lovingly detailed it is, it's incredibly easy to miss important objects. Nothing stands out as special, and stuff frequently blends in to the background. It's not clear what you can interact with a lot of the time, unless you stand right up next to something and get the UI prompt. But things are so hard to spot, a lot of the time I see the prompt before I see the thing I'm supposed to be able to use. And going back to the problem of navigation, there's a huge lack of signage. While there are things you can read dotted around the environment, usually it's flavour text, or irrelevant details. But when it comes to actually wanting information I need for a quest, there's pretty much nothing pointing you in the right direction. No signs on doors telling you what a room is, etc. Makes me end up running around in circles forever just hoping against hope I come across something that's relevant to any of the quests I'm doing. It really drags things out, makes the problems with stealth that much worse, and ends up making the game feel like an aimless frustration.
Really disappointed by this game. Not simply because I put money towards its development (I'm not too bothered either way about that), but because these are pretty much all the same problems I had with the game in those early alphas. Even though the game has a great visual style and an interesting world, it's just so completely, conceptually flawed that it totally fails to make good on any of its potential. I know I'm definitely not one for stealth games for the most part, but I can't see any stealth fan liking this, or anyone who is in to the aesthetic being able to grit their teeth through it and find any real enjoyment. It's just completely miserable.