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Eville (XS)

By Lee Mehr 12th Nov 2022 | 3,460 views 

Rough launch-window bugs and some design faults hinder VestGames' otherwise commendable first stab at the social deduction genre.

In this burgeoning time of various multiplayer-focused genres, such as Battle Royales or Looter Shooters, another big draw since 2020 have been social deduction games.  During the height of COVID-19, one of game streaming's biggest watershed moments was Among Us, a then two-year-old game, drawing newfound fame.  Even if not technically being the first, it set the gaming world alight in unexpected ways.  Over two years on, this asynchronous template has drawn several developers to try their hand at one, including freshman German-based team VestGames.  Is Eville a cheap copycat or is there more than meets the inquisitive eye?

Before answering that, let's lay out the foundation: you'll either assume the role of Villager, Conspirator, or Neutral Third-Party (exclusive to more advanced modes).  It's a game of intrigue and deception as the regular folks within this medieval town have to root out the unknown enemy.  While not completely safe, the day is theirs to complete basic assignments and glean hints about the would-be killers; come nightfall, Conspirators have (mostly) free reign to cleave one resting innocent within a limited time window.  They also have one allowable assassination during each day too, but it’s a much riskier play.  As Villager numbers dwindle, desperation sets in to disinter all guilty parties before numbers even out.

There are a few ways Villagers can counter these aggressors.  The simplest staple comes back to a two-tiered voting system: whomever receives the most votes in the preliminary phase gets tossed into a cage whereby a final guilty/not guilty verdict is made between all other members.  One of the most interesting wrinkles is how calling a meeting in the town square, either by discovering a new victim or ringing the alarm, doesn't instantaneously drag everyone there.  If you didn't discover the body, you'll have to run over there within a limited time before a semi-transparent wall comes up and you're locked out of voting.  It's a neat wrinkle to think about how it can be potentially weaponized against innocent parties (i.e. the wolves getting a larger vote influence by default).

Democracy isn’t the exclusive means of defeating these homicidal neer-do-wells either.  Trappers can selectively place spike traps that'll greatly damage whomever trips them, while Guards can put up a melee fight if they're woken up.  Granted, the laughably wonky hit detection winds up looking like a dumb slap fight, but if you're effective enough at kiting you should last until morning to regale everyone about it.  Beyond fighting back, roles like the Seer can place telekinetic cameras that will temporarily blind anyone within their range.  Even simple objects like a house key or wooden barricades can help you last the night, if you're able to afford them.  That's where the balance between simplistic quests and sussing out potential killers comes into play.

Should your dainty head meet a nasty cleaving, there's still work to be done.  Being a floating apparition has its own set of benefits: faster speed, higher jumps, and other active/passive abilities you can acquire with Spirit Tokens.  Similar to your pre-death life, there are quests to complete so you can net those special coins.  Even though the living can't see nor hear the dead, you have indirect means of assisting Villagers, such as waking up someone at night or subtly adding more money to their wallet.  While Eville's ghost phase is still often treated as a means of floating around and killing time until the next match, at least it tries to encourage active participation.

From this rundown, you can likely follow most of the dynamics.  It's more than just a Medieval/Fantasy coat over Fortnite Imposters Mode or similar social deduction titles.  There are a plethora of fun little wrinkles to play with in uncovering the veracity of someone's claims.  Only Barbarian (Conspirator class) and Citizen (Villager class) have a standard sprinting ability, so seeing someone slip up and claim to be someone else could be an obvious tell.  It's also neat to see 1v1 final showdowns instead of always seeing an immediate Conspirator victory.  One such example of this was me being brazenly killed in the town square when three of us were left; since the other townsperson was the Mayor (who carries two total votes), he was able to secure the win.

Given the various roles I've listed throughout this piece, this may be overwhelming for fresh eyes.  Fortunately, you can make the road from newbie to "Eville Genius" as gradual as you like.  Aside from the admittedly-lackluster tutorial, there are disparate difficulty tiers to test, each affecting the amount of unique Conspirator, Villager, & Neutral roles, plus the overall map size and amount of unique shop vendors.  Those training wheels are also a great time to absorb the significance of certain shop items or unspoken passive abilities for some special roles.  Taking them off at your own speed is one of Eville's best qualities.

When you peer over this boiling cauldron of nuanced social-deduction dynamics and oddball attitude, you can appreciate Eville's ingredients.  While some feel less exciting than others, you're often drawn towards experiencing and adapting to new roles.  Deduction games are also inherently fun by their nature: having to mollify a mob of would-be voters just for speaking out of turn, scouting opportune moments to assassinate someone in broad daylight, and so on and so on.  It's an eminently enjoyable affair, especially with numerous friends.

As much as I respect the foundation, it's not without notable critiques.  Despite officially starting it a week after its 1.0 launch, Eville's share of technical inconsistencies remain annoying.  For starters, the numerous times of being booted back to the main lobby can't help but deflate some enthusiasm – especially when the pre-match timer for loading in is so strict.  Cross-platform implementation still has some hitches to manage.  When making it to a game, other issues like weird visual bugs, input lag, or the semi-broken fishing quest are among the most frequent problems.  You can intuitively feel it needed more time in the Q/A phase.

More time and resources could also be extended to its presentation.  I'm not wont to write an expansive treatise on its lacking beauty, but I'll admit one could safely assume this was a 360/PS3-era title were it not for the higher resolution and framerate (which is also inconsistent).  The 15th-century town is unremarkable, sound foley is quite basic, the UI is somewhat obtrusive, and various details have a light artificial sheen that gets on my nerves.  Beyond those technical critiques, there's simply not enough personality to appreciate; outside of some fun human and goblin character templates, almost everything else is a standard colonial template of function over form.

How these issues tie into Eville's inherent value are going to heavily depend on one thing: Game Pass.  Taking that away, its $15 retail value ($25 for an overpriced Founder's Pack) is on shakier ground, along with a $7 Season Pass.  While I try to avoid strict number-crunching versus a game's inherent quality, it's not as simple when talking about this scenario, its under-polished state, and having one map that only expands based on selected difficulty; further, supplementary gimmicks like emotes and icons feel so content-starved if you don't have the seasonal pass too.  It feels uncomfortable when you start wondering how much time spent on cosmetic tiers & purchasable currency could’ve gone towards ensuring a cleaner launch.

In sum, VestGames has a worthwhile social-deduction template in need of more content and polish.  It’s not easy to look past lobby resets and technical gameplay errors that can potentially cost matches, even if the fleshed-out roles are fun to experiment with.  Those anchors on fun times with friends started to weigh me down as time went on.  But there are clear glimmers of hope.  If this young team continues fixing issues and adding more worthwhile stuff, then I'll happily award it a tentative recommendation for genre fans.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

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This review is based on a digital copy of Eville for the XS

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