The Knights of Pen & Paper was one of the best games that I ever stumbled upon when I couldn’t sleep one night. Wrought with insomnia and probably too many energy drinks, I opened up the game on my smart phone and proceeded to play relentlessly until noon the next day, when my battery died and I passed out. It was a self-aware recreation of a tabletop group, complete with snarky dialogue and quite a bit of 4th wall destruction, and actually paced itself well with grinding and story development. I was totally hooked. I was also disappointed beyond measure by the sequel, TkoP&P 2. It felt like a cash grab that was too focused on IAP, the story was much shorter and the graphics had this awful sheen to them like they’d been polished in grease. It really turned me off from the series, and I nearly didn’t give the newest installment a chance. I’m especially glad that I did, however, because Galaxy of Pen & Paper is a return to form with some fun and interesting new twists.
Galaxy of Pen & Paper , as you may have guessed, is a space and sci-fi take on the formula that made The Knights of Pen & Paper a massive success. You are an omniscient player in a game of DURPS, a digital parody of the GURPS format. You create a party of, initially, two players whom you can customize with personality, race and class and set them loose in a traditional tabletop RPG setting, but with a focus on aliens instead of dragons. As you play, you unlock new characters and classes, plus two more seats at your table for a total of four potential players. More players means more chances to survive encounters, but that also means less experience being given, as it needs to divide even further. There is also the matter of the storyline, which gives so many nods to pop culture sci fi that you’ll develop whiplash. You start out on a desert planet dreaming of being free, out in the stars, and things only get more referential from there. If you despise games that give winks to other games, movies and novels, then you might want to quit reading now.
Out the gate, Galaxy of Pen & Paper shows its true colors and that the creators, Behold Studios, have learned a lot from their last game. The Steam page screams about the lack of in app purchasing, and I’m pleased to announce that they’re true to their word. Unlocks and further developments in and outside the game (things do get quite meta for the game master) only use in game currency: your Steam wallet is safe. Additionally, the graphics are much, much more akin to the first game, which was a very upscaled version of pixel dot art. It particularly works well with Galaxy, as the entire game is “retro future,” which we use here to describe a game being played in 1999 that looks to the year 2999. It’s late stage cyberpunk with a bit of 80s influence liberally sprinkled throughout, and it’s not a bad thing. Even your Game Master, whom you can customize to look how you want, generally comes across as someone who runs a neon bar called The Chatsubo.
While the primary gameplay focuses on fulfilling missions and grinding to defeat enemies, there’s plenty of roleplay aspects to the game that really give it the “pen and paper” feel. For example, if you have players who are more verbal or intelligent in your party, you may have the choice to try and talk through an encounter or negotiation, with varying degrees of success. Technical skill classes, like the engineer, may provide the ability to dismantle traps or malicious machines. And brutally strong players have the chance to intimidate and threaten NPCs who aren’t being forthcoming with their help. This kind of gimmick definitely inspires replay in the game, as you sometimes may wonder what right combination of party members would allow you the longest stretch without needing combat. Though the options are static, it’s pretty awesome to feel some degree of control in the campaign, just like any player in a real tabletop setting would hope for.
Combat looks a bit different this time around. Since you’re technically playing with the GM through a digitial interface, he uses a series of figures (similar to Warhammer) to represent you and the enemies when battle begins. I didn’t totally love this at first, because it felt more like a shift to a turn based RPG (like Final Fantasy) and less like a physical game, but it did win me over, eventually. The players and monsters look great as tiny effigies, and there’s a satisfaction watching them tip over when you’ve worn down their hit points. There’s also a new sci-fi aspect to combat, which is the shield meter. In theory, if your character and the enemies are properly balanced, you can walk away from a battle without sustaining any real damage, as the shields you each possess will gradually recover between turns. That’s not to say it’s guaranteed invincibility, far from it: if you overload on monsters initially, your shield won’t save you from a massive smackdown. For new comers, the ability to decide how many monsters you fight at once is a surprising notion, but it makes sense. Battle one monster at a time for an easy victory, but very little payout. Gamble with multiple monsters to risk certain doom but garner XP percentages and a better chance at loot drop.
Finally, the game is, I’m happy to report, significantly longer than the last installment in the series. Though it took me only a day to play through Galaxy of Pen & Paper, that was a legit day focused only on the main storyline: I tried to keep my sidequests to a minimum. If you love sidequests, then Galaxy has you covered, as every planet, star and spaceship you encounter will have loads to do, plus you can always take a break and just beat on the never ending supply of enemies that can spawn wherever you are. If you love the story but only the story, you’re looking at a good 13 hours. If you need to see and hear everything there is to see (and there’s a lot of well written and fun banter) then I’m gauging more than twenty hours. I’m going back now to replay with some newly unlocked characters (no spoilers!) and I’ll take my time with the sidequests.
All in all, Galaxy of Pen & Paper is a huge sigh of relief and a big smile on my face. I never want to give up hope on a series, and I know there were people who enjoyed the last Pen & Paper game, I just wasn’t one of them. If you loved the original, then this will scratch that itch in a satisfying and exciting new way. If you’ve never played before, the meta humor and long travels could be irksome, but RPG fans everywhere will find something they like. This is the best installment in the series so far, and I applaud Behold for using some of the awesomeness of Chroma Squad to make Galaxy even more incredible. I’m off to journey through the stars again, so wish me luck and I’ll see you on the other side of the wormhole!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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