Charisma is one of my favorite skills to level in RPGs and RPG-adjacent games. Maybe it’s my own social ineptitude, but I feel empowered by the fantasy of being able to easily talk, flirt, or make eye contact with a shopkeeper. For decades now, games like Fallout and Mass Effect have mesmerized me with the ability to bend people to my will using mere stat points and whatever sweet-talking sycophant I created. able to live through However, it turns out that those games and many others are actually pretty bad at exploring conversation in compelling or meaningful ways. Cheating at Club Love has opened my eyes to the possibilities of dialogue.
Betrayal at Club Low is part of Cosmo D’s off-pack series of sports, which can only be described as a series of interactive modern art exhibitions that snowball into something bigger. Additional gameplay features are being developed to make the various off-pack titles more than just walking simulators. However, despite the obvious signs of improvement in all these games, Cheating at Club Low is a unique experience. The real star of previous titles in the series has been the strange world, but here, it’s the dialogue.
The setup for the scam in Club Low is clear: you’re dropped into the titular club with the mission of taking out an undercover agent from under the nose of the local crime lord. To infiltrate, you use the disguise of a pizza delivery man. This should be easy for an established pizzaiolo like myself. Unfortunately, all your conversational skills start in the gutter, and you need to spend money to make them useful anywhere.
Unlike your typical RPG, where your success in dialogue is decided primarily by your charisma stat and maybe if you’re feeling sassy, the battle dice are king in Club Love. makes It’s very much like a pen-and-paper RPG, taking its cues from the mini-adventures printed in pulp magazines.
You still have seven basic stats, but instead of giving you a solid baseline to roll off of, each one represents a six-sided die, and you spend cash to beef up its individual sides. Spend money. This gives you the freedom to balance your dice, but you can choose to have all their sides set to 0 and the sixth side to nines. Like a more typical RPG, you can choose to master a skill, then focus only on completing tasks that your skill set allows, or you can create a more balanced character and something else. Can also try. You can grind your skills to the moon, or if you prefer a challenge, you can at least try to get through it.
It is a system that is simultaneously complex and extremely simple. However, what makes it unique is that it makes the dialogue as deep and engaging as any RPG combat system. The conversation is now adversarial, with you pitting your Wordcraft against the opponent’s better judgment. This is enhanced by optional stat buffs, which means that, while your story may seem far-fetched and outlandish, it’s hard not to trust a man with such an incredible jacket.
It’s ridiculously compelling, and while some scoff at gameplay that involves an element of chance, it’s one of the fundamental principles of RPGs. Although the genre has expanded beyond the confines of tabletop rules, it still serves as an abstraction for systems like damage. This is sometimes simplified to varying degrees, but mechanics like critical hits are still often decided by chance. If anything, Cheats in Club Low is more faithful to its tabletop roots.
As I played through it, I kept imagining what its system meant for games like Mass Effect’s romance system. Instead of just being a dialogue tree where you listen to your crush’s life story until it eventually results in sex, you have to make your way there in a unique way. You might be out the door looking to seduce, but you can minimize the chances of rejection by listening. Each time you make a successful Empathy roll, your buffed dice gain on that person. Okay, I’m making it really creepy, but is scrolling around for seduction any worse than clicking through a dialog tree until you get to the bottom?
Cheating at Club Love revealed to me a lack of how games approach conversation. I’ve always said that, when it comes to video games and their relationship to violence, ballistics is easy and debate is hard. Advancing similar chance-based dialogue found in Disco Elysium and dice-heavy gameplay such as Citizen Sleeper, Betrayal at Club Low utilizes systems already present in video games to create an equally compelling piece of gameplay. It may not be suitable for every game, but it proves that our charismatic characters deserve better.
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