Investigate the occult murder of a university professor in Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace.
Format: PC via Steam
Cost: 19.99 USD
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Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace is an adventure role-playing game with turn-based combat. Players choose from one of seven starting characters and then begin a journey to uncover the truth behind the occult murder of an elderly professor of Arkham University. The professor provides narration throughout the adventure, primarily with information the player already knows, but occasionally with foreshadowing. As players advance the story, they uncover increasingly unnatural phenomena and a greater evil threatening humanity. The game can (mostly) be played with a keyboard or keyboard+mouse, but some actions require explicitly one or the other meaning the mouse hand has to switch fairly often. The controls can also be frustrating in terms of responsiveness. It can be hard to maneuver characters into position to interact with an object and finishing an interaction often leaves a pause before characters can start moving again.
In each chapter, players bring a party of 2-3 characters (most unlocked through the story) to investigate, interact with objects, and gather items and equipment. Based on the investigation knowledge of each character, they’ll provide advice in relevant areas to help the player get items and avoid pitfalls. If no advice is available, players and still interact with items and try to deduce the best option from the description. Failure advances the mythos clock, eventually triggering random bad effects and sanity checks, but players can still try again. Certain rooms or areas are marked with red fog and entering them reveals enemies are triggers turn-based combat. Each character has proficiency with different weapons allowing them to use fewer action points to attack with weapons they’re proficient in, but they can still use any weapons. Weapons, ammo, consumable items, and equipment are readily found throughout each chapter so inventory management is usually more of an issue than finding enough gear.
While Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace offers seven starting characters, multiple combinations of characters in each chapter, and fully voiced conversations no matter which characters are chosen, I found the game to have some major replayability barriers. First are the puzzles, there are a number of puzzles within the game for players to interact with and solve. Clues are found within the chapter and are automatically recorded in the logbook. These are set so there’s nothing new to discover if a player replays the game. Second, while there are some minor side story options in some of the later chapters, they don’t seem to have a strong effect on the game and it seems fairly obvious what happens if players take the other option. The game and story are quite linear, meaning there’s not a lot to discover here by playing again. Third, maps, interactions, and items are fixed. This gives some appeal to replaying the game for a speedrun attempt, but that’s about it. Lastly, character’s backstories and personalities seem to have only a minor impact on dialog, so despite all the colorful characters players can start with, everyone is quickly reduced to their combat proficiencies and investigation knowledge.
Speaking of combat proficiencies, I found guns to be vastly superior to every other weapon in the game. To the point that I started using them even on characters with the lowest level of proficiency with them. Ammo is pretty easy to come by after the first few chapters and reloading isn’t much of a hindrance for everything other than shotguns. Guns also have a huge range and can go on overwatch for a reduced cost to taking a shot. I routinely found that the story character players are immediately given, with max proficiency in firearms, would do three times the damage of any melee or magic-user while staying at a safe range and never having to move. While magic is ranged, there’s no character with max proficiency in it and magic can’t go on overwatch. Melee also has to spend action points to move in range to attack and while it can overwatch, the range is tiny. The only thing that stopped me from giving all my characters overpowered pistols was the fact that weapons have durability and randomly break over time. Frustratingly there’s no way to track this, players are just told a weapon is normal, ruined soon, or ruined. However, these labels are very unreliable. I’ve had a “ruined soon” weapon become ruined and break all in the same attack while other “ruined” weapons lasted several fights.
Overall, Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace is a pretty decent adventure RPG. It has a decent story and I enjoyed the thematic puzzles and constructing well-rounded parties. However, the game struggled with smooth controls, weapon balance, and replayability. Potential players should also note that while the game is themed after the Arkham Horror board game, the mechanics are very different. I recommend Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace as a decent adventure RPG for players more interested in the theming and investigation than strategy or replayability.