Written by  :  Cavalary (10031)
Written on  :  Jul 31, 2010
Rating  :  3.43 Stars3.43 Stars3.43 Stars3.43 Stars3.43 Stars

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A potentially great game plagued by some major design flaws

The Good

Fortunately for a game built around a rarely used gaming system, the system itself truly shines. It was my very first contact with it and I have to say I was quite impressed. It’s quite complex and also, if I may use the term, pretty elegant due to how skills and attributes are connected. Not to mention that you can use your accumulated experience to gradually improve almost constantly, without needing to do it in leaps and bounds only when you level up. It is also somewhere in between more typical computer gaming systems and Dungeons and Dragons when it comes to the importance of random chance. I still prefer the systems that make predicting the exact effects of an action according to the character’s attributes and skills pretty straightforward, but this still seems somewhat better than the highly randomized nature of Dungeons and Dragons.

The game’s story is somewhat different from what you usually see, because you’re not one chosen from birth, or aware of some great destiny, nor are you the random stranger who happens to decide to save the world. You start on a personal quest, which will actually only be completed in the second half of the game, and happen to get involved in something along the way that will later prove to be far greater. The main quest develops in several stages, giving you a reason to be where you are at pretty much every moment of the game, that reason really becoming “to save the world” only towards the end. I’m not saying the plot design should win any prizes, because it has few notable moments and plenty of rather weak or somewhat unclear ones, not to mention a really disappointing ending, but it should be noted that they tried.

Your companions’ little quips are one thing I have no complaints about, however. They’re often quite appropriate, give you a sense of their personalities and can sometimes even point out some things you could otherwise have missed. At times I was really sorry I couldn’t take them all along wherever I went just so I could hear what each of them had to say. The voice acting is also quite good for them and any NPCs that have a lot to say, though it becomes poor for the others, who generally only have their first line voiced anyway.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the developers didn’t seem to keep in mind the fact that for many people this was likely to be the first contact with this particular gaming system. Perhaps they tried to make it appear more accessible by getting rid of more in-depth information, but I really don’t think that’s the right approach. Reading the manual before starting to play is a must, but even so I was still left wondering whose rear end was the game pulling some of those numbers out of. The console isn’t particularly helpful in that regard either, as it seems to have been designed with the same idea in mind and is therefore unlikely to provide the player with all the required details. Plus that in-game information regarding the maximum level for each talent according to the character’s current attributes should have been provided so players won’t need to check the manual if they forget how that’s calculated whenever they want to plan ahead, and being told what the maximum value each character can have for each attribute would have helped as well.

One bad thing to be said about your companions is that there’s no point in actually talking to them more than once, or twice for those you get early on, because they won’t have anything new to say. And Jost stands out in a bad way because his story seems to imply a personal quest but there will be no such thing during the game.

Moving on to the combat system, I have to say that, while it’s generally functional, it can be really frustrating at times. The most notable problems are the fact that everyone moves around to reposition themselves pretty much whenever anyone either joins the fight or dies, potentially destroying your tactics, and that, while this doesn’t happen too often, there are times when characters just sit there, refusing to attack because they can’t find a good path to the enemy or even refusing to cast spells for no apparent reason.
Some sort of adjustable AI could have helped as well, so you could, for example, set your party members to automatically use strong special attacks whenever they can against tough enemies unless you tell them otherwise or to focus on a single enemy, such as the strongest, the weakest or the one attacking a certain character, instead of needing you to make them focus once again after every kill because they tend to spread out, with each picking a different fight. The lack of that AI isn’t that much of a problem for someone who likes micromanagement as much as I do, but I’m just saying it would have helped quite a lot.

Another relatively minor reason for annoyance would be the graphics. Sure, they look really nice from a distance, but they can break down somewhat if you look closely. That would certainly be no problem in itself from my point of view, but it becomes one when it seems that the system requirements are too high for what it offers. Those high requirements may well be directly connected to the insane amount of bloom, which made me rub my eyes on more than one occasion, thinking my vision was getting cloudy… Also, while I’m talking about the system requirements, I should also mention the pretty long loading times…

And, while in a way it makes sense, I could also list the available equipment under minor annoyances. There are things you’ll be able to purchase or otherwise obtain as soon as you gain access to the Ducal Citadel that you’ll likely be using until the end of the game. In fact, you’ll only be able to purchase better equipment in two places: Tallon and Murolosh, and even then the differences will be minor. Not to mention that the best armor you can find in Murolosh can only be worn by dwarves, pretty much forcing you to take Forgrimm with you until the end of the game, because he’s the only one who can use the best pieces of equipment. Weapons aren’t that different either, with arguably the best rapier and staff of the game being obtained in Moorbridge, which is the very first area you’re sent to as part of the Dragon Quest, and a two-handed axe that’s better than anything you’ll be able to get your hands on until Murolosh being obtained in the Blood Mountains, which is the second Dragon Quest area.
And the fact that the Armor of Fire gets turned into a single suit once you gather all the pieces isn’t exactly pleasant either, because it no longer allows you to mix and match parts of it with other pieces of equipment that could perhaps be more useful for your chosen character class.

But this game’s major problems are exactly two, with the one that will plague you from the very first moment to the last being your characters’ slow running speed. Coupled with the lack of any mounts or means of teleporting, that turns going from one end of a map to another, which you’ll need to do quite often, into a very tedious and time-consuming task. While a slow jog would seem like a realistic running speed for someone in heavy armor, implementing it in a game is nothing but annoying and a serious design flaw. Not to mention that you’re not too likely to have more than two characters in heavy armor at any one moment, and possibly just one.

The other problem is that most areas only get unlocked when a quest sends you there and then get locked again once you complete that quest. That’s right: Once you complete the main quest in an area and exit that area, you can never go back! If there were any other quests there that you hadn’t finished yet or if you wanted to purchase or otherwise obtain something but didn’t before leaving, tough luck. The only exceptions to this rule are Ferdok, Tallon and Murolosh. Though you’ll bump into several NPCs in more than one location, meaning that they advance through the story as well and therefore certain areas could end up looking quite deserted if they’d still be accessible, there really is no excuse for something like this and I therefore consider this to be the game’s biggest flaw.

The Bottom Line

Finding a gaming system that most computer gamers have likely never heard of before and using it is a risk and a challenge, but also a big opportunity, because you can address the issues some gamers have with the most popular systems, most notably Dungeons and Dragons, while sticking to a tried and true recipe and therefore reducing the risk of running into the inherent problems of developing an entirely new system yourself. When you attempt something like this, you need to explain the system very well and implement it in an appealing game, one likely to create fond memories that will draw players to future games using the same system, because otherwise you run the risk of making a good number of them stay away from any such future games without even giving them a chance. And the gaming system itself needs to be a good one as well, of course.

If you glance over my review, you’ll see that I listed a few good things and many more bad ones. Does that mean this is a bad game? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. Personally, seeing as I’m very interested in what goes on “under the hood” and usually have a couple of gaming system concepts running through my mind at any one time, the complex yet elegant character development system got me quite hooked, while my penchant for micromanagement meant that I wasn’t really bothered by the combat issues I mentioned above, mainly just making note of them in order to properly write this review. Otherwise, I learned to more or less ignore the loading times, made sure I finished everything before an area would get locked and generally found ways to put up with every annoyance, with the possible exception of the slow running speed, without significant problems.

In the end I can say that, while I found certain things frustrating, a couple of them very much so, I still thought it was a reasonably good game overall. It’s just so disappointing to recognize its true potential and imagine how great it could have been if the developers wouldn’t have insisted on “compensating” for every good feature by intentionally implementing at least one really bad one!