Galaxy of Pen and Paper is the latest release from Brazil-based Behold Studios, makers of fine entertainment software like Knights of Pen and Paper and Chroma Squad. We first met Saulo Camarotti at SxSW a few years back, where he was showing off a beta build of Chroma Squad. Saulo graciously provided us a review key of GoPaP prior to release, and I've been zipping around the galaxy questing like a crazy person since. Find out what I learned in our Galaxy of Pen and Paper review!
Judging by its title (always a safe bet!) Galaxy of Pen and Paper could be considered something of a sequel to Knights of Pen and Paper. That was a fun game. Okay, review done!
Seriously, though, if you haven't played Knights, both of these games follow a similar formula. They both harken back to the glory days of tabletop roleplaying, where your party members were actual humans that were physically (or virtually) sitting across a table from you. The "game master" would come up with a story and a scenario to play. How that story plays out is heavily influenced by the players and how they feel their characters would act in the situations the game master sets up.
If you couldn't guess from their titles, the settings are a bit different. Knights focused more on the "fantasy" realms of traditional Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying. Galaxy is set in space, and features a lot of influences and cameos from a wide range of pop-culture sci-fi icons. The references are everywhere, from things like Hitchhiker's Guide and Doctor Who to Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan.
It seems to be a running theme with Behold Studios' games that there are multiple layers to their narratives. In the case of Galaxy of Pen and Paper, there are events happening in the game's "real world," plus events happening in the game's "game world." For instance, sometimes the game is interrupted because one of your characters' computers disconnected from the internet. Or the game master's mom comes barging in during a boss fight, causing some wacky misunderstandings. While the game's "real world" is often obviously more mundane, the two worlds have a tendency to mix as the story continues.
Combat in Knights had a real Dragon Quest vibe. Galaxy adds a few wrinkles, and the end result is more along the lines of Final Fantasy. PCs and NPCs take turns performing actions, and the last team standing is the victor. XP, cash, and occasional loot items are your reward for surviving, while death just means a quick trip to the medbay and some other minor penalties.
There are no random combat encounters in Galaxy of Pen and Paper. Any time you're on a planet, you have the option of creating a battle with whatever local enemies you feel like pummeling. You can also structure your encounters into a wide array of quests, some of which don't involve combat at all. The bonuses for quests are built in such a way that rewards trying a little bit of everything, which helps reduce the feeling of grinding until you burn out.
While I generally like the planet-based combat in Galaxy of Pen and Paper, it is occasionally rather slow. Enemies can have high HP and long animations that make whittling them down a bit of a chore at times. The difficulty also spikes and drops in weird ways. While you can make any regular encounter as hard or as easy as you like, the bosses are always at the same difficulty. It's often unclear how powerful you need to be in order to beat the next boss. Usually the penalties for dying are minor, but occasionally a boss has been behind a long cutscene or a set of scripted encounters that take a while to plow through.
What's a space game without space travel, though? Early in Galaxy of Pen and Paper, you unlock the ability to travel from planet to planet and system to system. There's also space combat, where your ship is pitted against enemy vessels in a simple turn- and dice-based minigame. The space combat is just a little too simplistic for my taste, and aside from completing main plot quests, there's not much way to improve your ship.