I got this game yesterday and played it "through" twice. There are a few reason that I'm not fully conivinced that I've seen and done everything, but I'm not really sure what else that I can do. Since I'm aware that "when the audience tells you something is wrong, they're probably right, but when they tell you how to make it right, they're probably wrong," I've decided to split this post into the best description of my purely subjective initial expirience of the game and a section on stuff I thought about after my initial expirience was over.
My initial reaction to the game went along an arc of excitment, frustration, then enjoyment. I was charmed at first by the visuals and over all atmosphere. I really like just how little is intially explained. The game really is gorgeous on several different settings and I feel like I could play it through several more times just to see how it all looks with different filter settings.
Then the game frustrated me. My use of the word frustration might conjure up images of me yelling and pulling my hair, but it leaned more towards a sense of feeling apathetic towards the game. When I came up on the first spainard, I tried sneaking up on him, and thought I was in the shadows, but he turned around and started charging at me without warning. Therefore, I just decided to not try stealthing at all.
Straight up fights with the spainards also felt somewhat boring at first. They weren't particularily challenging unless I got bum rushed by more than three at once, but it sort of felt like it boiled down to firing some very slow rate-of-fire weapons at dumb meat shields. The combat was just something to get out of the way inbetween the bits of intrigue. It also made exploration difficult because I'd get disoriented by the fighting and lose where I was on the map.
Because of this, I just decided to try running past all the spainards, which seemed to work suprisingly well at first, and it had a bit more of a thrill to it than straight up fighting, but I ended up dying and my loot dropped. I decided to run after my loot, but died several times because I didn't realize at the time that loot disapears if you don't pick it up before dying again and because I would keep on getting small ammounts of supplies from the small number of spainards I'd kill on the way there and couldn't tell when it was time to cut my losses.
I decided to explore the otherworld and was happy to find out that I could retrieve my loot using it (though saddened by the discovery that the loot from my first death had just disapeared.) I didn't try fighting the spectres because I had very little ammunition at that point and didn't know if I could really harm them at all.
I sort of just lost interest and decided that I'd play it a bit more the following day, but I didn't write it off because A. I knew the game was in alpha and B. I really wanted the game to be good.
My expirience changed a bit when I found an average pistol in a chest. I hadn't realized at first that I could carry more than one musket at the ready in order to fire two or more quick shots. This lead me to juggle between weapons more and made the combat significantly more engaging. When the combat became more engaging, I found myself also enjoying the exploration more simply because I no longer had to worry about the prospect of an uninteresting and tedious battle. It felt really awesome to be able to take on four or five guys at once, not because the game was trying to say "hey! look at how badass you are!" but becuase I felt like my deadliness was the result of my own ability.
I sort of just wandered around until I stumbled on the first collection of clues. After returning to the fort and questioning the guy, I wondered if I had missed someone at the site, so I tried heading back, but I also finally realized that the listening ability was trying to guide me with directional audio, but I hadn't noticed before because I wasn't turning around at all when I tried listening.
After visiting the three or so sites that I could find in the light world, I started exploring the darkworld. I was sort of shocked by just how easy the spectres were to kill and how much loot I got from killing them. I cleared all of the corruption from the totems, placed all of the lost skulls, and found the other ghost. I figured I'd get to make a judgment and decided who done it or something like that, but there were no more dialogue options and it never felt like I had anyway of making judgment on the guilty party. Not sure if that's how it's supposed to be, but if it isn't the mechanic needs to be better communicated. I then went to the ulocked door and got the "thank you for playing the alpha" message.
I love the way that combat emphisises switching between weapons. It makes each kill feel significant and adds tension to the moments between firing a shot and having to pull out another weapon. Three things about it came to mind though while playing though.
First, while I think the system works fairly well as is and I'm guessing it's how the game is supposed to be played, but the way that combat is introduced as well as the modern mechanical vocabulary for shooters has sort of made this more opaque than it should be. It may be important to comunicate this (especially the fact that the player can equip three loaded muskets or pistols at once) a bit more explicitly without neccessarily changing anything about how the system works. It would be nice if it could be done in a way that doesn't compromise the undefined atmosphere of the games.
Second, it might add to the "weapon juggling" feel of the combat if more emphesis was placed on player agency on how they manage availbile weapons. Rather than having three fixed quick slots it might be interesting to have the number of weapons availible based on how cumbersome in question the weapons are. For example, a small weapon, like a pistol, might only take up one slot, where as a musket might take up several slots. This concept could be taken further by having specific slots represent places on the players body, each affecting the equip speed. That way, a player could choose to have the [g] key very quickly pull out a pistol instead of the tomahawk and the tomahawk could be an equipable weapon just like the others, but also having a stronger melee attack along side the ability to throw it.
Lastly, I think something that could add both to the tension of an encounter and deeped the survival element of the game by rewarding preparedness is making the process of reloading and readying a bow more tedious. For example, the player could have gun powder, bullets, and priming powder in slots 7, 8, and 9. To reload, the player hits 7-7-7-8-hold r (ram the load in)-9-tap r (♥♥♥♥ the gun) to reload a musket. This means that the player hypothetically has the ability to actually reload faster than they currently do in game, but is at risk of screwing up.
This concept could be furthered by allowing players to modify the ammount of powder they use when reloading a gun or use some sort of work station to change the draw weight of a bow. A bow with more draw strength has a higher maximum range and velocity, but is slower. A gun with a larger powder load is more powerful, but also prone to explosions. This also makes the quality of a weapon a much bigger deal, becuase higher a quality weapon would have the ability to withstand far more stress.
I'm not going to pretend that any of these would be easy to put in or that everyone would like them, but these idea kept going through my mind on the second play through and I figured I'd just throw them out there.
I really like that the map as it is right now, without any artificial markers, but it would be nice to allow the player to draw on it.
There have been a number of instances where I'll kill a large group of spainards, but the loot from some of them will seemingly disapear in between the time I kill the first enemy to the time I kill the last. Even if this isn't the game, it would be nice if things like weapons and loot would be more persistent and perhaps a bit easier to spot on the ground.
The shortbow quiver doesn't seem to work. I purchased it both times, but I could still only carry 20 arrows. On that note, it would be nice if the inventory had a list all of the miscellanious items and ammunition the player currently possesses.
Whew. Well, that's all I have on my mind. Well, I can't think of anything else on my mind at the moment. I should close by saying that I absolutely love what is being done here. Shooters in general have been largely appropriated by the triple A world and it's nice to see a small studio working on something like this for a change. I also love the sentiment of playing by ear and going where the project leads you. I the team the best of luck.