Traditionally ‘dungeon crawler’ games are set in fantasy worlds. Be it classics like Eye of the Beholder or recent Operencia, we are put in the shoes of run-of-the-mill mages, warriors or paladins. But in Conglomerate 451 members of our party are cops from a dystopian future, battling enemies not with a sword and fireball, but using guns, cybernetic augmentations, and computer viruses.
Also, in Conglomerate 451 you don’t progress through levels linearly. Instead at agency HQ you choose from a variety of missions and send your team to different city districts.
In fact, each mission consists of two phases. Phase one – search the streets (first level) and find the elevator leading to the lair of a local gang. Phase two – in the lair (second level) complete your actual task.
Most often your mission is just to find a certain item or kill local ‘boss’. Though sometimes you also need to get a key to access the room with your target. Unless you’ve unlocked all the doors via terminal on the street. Or have a skilled enough hacker who can just crack the lock on the spot. There is quite a bit of freedom and various ways to achieve your goal.
Note, that hacking doors and terminals in the game usually involves solving puzzles in a limited time. Not all of them are needed to be solved to complete the mission, but some hold valuable loot or currency.
Your agents move as one group of three. There is no way to separate, and during the fight, you can change your position only at the start of the turn. So think beforehand how you will approach enemies. Better from behind – this way they’ll be ambushed and have some debuffs at the start of a fight.
In combat, there is a lot of variety too. You can focus on direct damage or use attacks with special effects like shock or radiation. Shocked or irradiated enemies will not only suffer from effect itself but also get additional damage if you use certain attacks. Those other attacks, in turn, can have another effect. And so on, allowing you to make various synergy combos. Just be aware of the enemy’s resistances and weaknesses.
You can also aim at the enemy’s head, hand or leg. That is if an enemy has those – robots can have a non-humanoid configuration. But if you’re able to hit that part, there is a greater chance for a critical effect and additional debuff.
Some of your agent classes have defensive or support abilities that heal, restore shield or boost stats of a party member temporarily. And of course, there is the ‘magic’ of the future – combat hacking. Unlike most abilities, your agents can use several programs per turn as long as there is energy (your ‘mana’) in the battery.
The effects of hacking are usually indirect. Raising the defense of your group, lowering enemy resistances, marking enemy more susceptible to damage. You start with the most basic programs that allow only to scan and lookup opponent stats (though that can still be useful in the beginning while you don’t know much about enemy types). But as you progress you can find, buy or loot more advanced plug-ins with really nasty and/or useful functions.
The Bigger Picture
After successfully completing the mission you will not only get trophies and exp for your agents but also increase your agency reputation and diminish corporate influence in the area. Because all the thugs and criminals you fight actually have ties with one of the four corrupt corporations and it’s them that you’re really after.
Money (there are three types of currency) in Conglomerate 451 can be spent on new gear and recruiting agents. But also on research that allows even more upgrades for your weapons and even augmentations for your crew.
Plus there is a healing center where you can heal traumas and reduce agents’ levels of pain and intoxication. Yes, that’s a thing – getting hit and using drugs to boost combat stats has lasting effects. So managing people, not unlike in the Darkest Dungeon, is quite important.
Sometimes it can even be worth to abort the mission and allow corps to gain back some ground, so you can save your expertly trained and upgraded agent. Because if your team dies, you’ll have to replace them with newbie clones. Not to mention lose everything you collected or bought on the mission itself (except money, that apparently are transferred to your account immediately).
Interestingly enough, there is no shop in your own agency. You can upgrade agents’ skills and weapons, research new tech and even clone new agents (there is even research to enhance clones’ stats). But all hacking programs and SPU-modules, that improve weapons, can only be found or bought on the streets from shady traders.
And there are even traders that sell you illegal soft and drugs that you can’t keep after the mission. So you must use them on that particular mission.
The Darkest Design
While the game indeed has interesting ideas, implementation is not as good as one would like. This is especially disappointing, considering that Conglomerate 451 was in Early Access since November.
During that time developers could at least make a better balance. Hacking isn’t worth to spend an entire turn in combat, as weapons do direct damage, which is more useful. Even damage-over-time effects are somewhat weak, compared to straight shots.
Missions aren’t very inventive. Find/kill – that’s all you’ve got, even in “special assignments”. Only variations of enemy types make you actually think about tactics and party composition. And when you search “dungeon” for keys to unlock the doors (that is if you aren’t using hacking) it’s more annoying, than engaging.
There is no “flavor text” in mission descriptions. Not only this is a lost opportunity to add some lore, but one particular time I even had a problem picking “special assignment” in the list. The Diplomat told me that I must get rid of some “influencer”, but there were several “kill” missions!
There is also a bit of a grind, especially if you screw up your primary team. Training rookies will take quite a bit of low-grade missions to finish. And that would be understandable punishment for your sloppiness if it wasn’t too harsh because of lack of mission variety. Also, sometimes the death of an agent can be just a result of a few unlucky crits.
Total Recall 2020
Still, despite the quirks Conglomerate 451 is certainly a game with a unique identity. The full release added some cutscenes, exploring the world’s lore and history. And your team is accompanied by incredibly funny (if sometimes childish) drone, Echo.
In fact, visuals and sound are great at creating classic cyberpunk entourage. Well, for the most part, as some human characters look isn’t very good, especially up close.
The game presents a decent challenge and variety in ways to achieve your goals on the level (sadly, not the variety of goals themselves). With upgrades for weapons and skills becoming available after research, even newly created rookie teams can be enhanced to become powerful enough for advanced difficulty missions.
And considering that developers are still working out the kinks, there is a decent chance that at least some of the problems would be fixed. Though that DOES bring the question of why “Early Access” plaque was removed.