Oh, it’s you. You’ll have to forgive me, I had JD for breakfast. Normally, I don't take to drinking so early, but I bend the rules when I get my ass kicked before the early cycles. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before, talked to the wrong dame, talked AT the wrong guy. You know how it is. Anyway, let me say that this is a case file that surprised me and I think it will surprise you too.
I found this file while cleaning out some of these data caches, this is relatively new, so give it the once over while I get something for this shiner.
Well background on this game is rather sparse, It was developed by Cyanide studios and Spiders. Both are European developers. Cyanide was formed by a group of seven ex-Ubisoft employees. Both companies are based in France so , when this came across my desk I was a bit more than interested to play it. General consensus is that Ubisoft just cranks out games and generally does not have the greatest reputation; What can not be denied is that their staff is skilled. I wanted to see what their ex-employees could do. This hit the shelves in October of 2012 and was met with relatively decent reviews. So what’s got me all about this game? Well, lets dive in.
Fantasy land…somewhere, The war between the Empire of Man and the territories of the Orcs and the Goblins have been waging for years. The Humans have built massive cities and fortresses trying to force the savage Orcs to submit. You play as Arkail, a member of the BloodJaw clan, the fiercest of all the Orc clans left. You have been a brutal fighter and you have earned the name “The Butcher of Bay Harbor” and for good reason. Arkail is a berserker, unchecked rage has him wildly swinging in combat and potentially destroying everything in his sight.
He has been chosen for a mission that will hopefully change the course of the war. He must assassinate the Emperor of Mankind and help others his kind from the tyrannical heel of this madman's war. Along for the ride with him is a plucky foul-mouthed Goblin, Styx. Hired to be a guide for Arkail, this guy is all business. What seems to be unique about him is that he seems to be the only goblin known that isn’t a slavering, feral, beast of a creature. He can actually talk..and boy, does he ever…at great length.
So, begins Styx and Arkail’s journey through this grim almost suicidal mission. Along the way things are discovered about their plan, a rebellion is staged and lives lost and saved.
Normally, games like this tend to have some basic, simple story but, this one has a definite good grasp on intrigue and a genuine decent twist. It wasn’t 100% obvious but, it was a good one. More importantly it MAKES SENSE. Not a weird penned-in-at-the-last-minute twist but, a decent one with clear repercussions. So no spoilers here, if you take my advice and play this, you’ll enjoy it.
Okay, graphics wise? Not bad actually. I did enjoy the character models, they convey the aesthetic of the characters in great ways. Each equipped item has it’s own graphic so no “Generic sword” for all swords. The orc weapons look crude but strong, designed to look as if they could dish out some disturbing damage. Styx’s daggers and throwing knives look sleek, and honed to edges that you’re sure have seen their share of bloodshed.
NPC models?…well kind of generic for the most part but, since this game is more about action than parley you won’t really see much of others. Animated cut scenes are well done if a little off sometimes. Movements sometimes are a bit stilted, and the lip-synch is off but, I’ll give this game credit it is actually dubbed into at LEAST 2 more languages ( German being one, and that’s gotta be a pain to sync to.)
Environments are also well done. From the rain soaked, mud filled streets of the Wall to the dust filled caverns of the under-city to the softly lit forests of the Isle of Laments, even the lavish Great Hall of the Empire is just so much eye-candy. All the environments seem rendered to convey the feel of this fantasy world in great detail.
The game mechanics are a bit repetitive. Most of the exploration happens in real time but, in combat you can press the Space Bar and time slows considerably. This allows you to set your stances and queue your actions. Very much like Neverwinter Nights or Knights of the Old Republic. Believe me, you will be doing this A LOT.
Assassinations are a MUST. Seriously, Wading into combat swinging for the bleachers is not always going to end well.You need to use serious tactics. Using Styx to thin out your opposing forces or to even wipe them out before they even see you can save a lot of trouble. The one thing I found strange was if you stealth kill someone, their body stays and you don’t have to worry about being found out. It seems that every one takes the Dethklok attitude to finding an assassinated guard.
The ability to set your characters to default stances gives great flexibility allowing you to toggle between Arkail’s in-your-face devastation and Styx’s ranged throw and debilitating melee strikes. This will be a definite help in later encounters when you’ll need to both maneuver and either attack or preform support moves.
The only real issue I saw was the fact that it almost exclusively turns into “Styx’s Stealth and Slay” as a MAJORITY of the encounters can be minimized with the stealth kills.
Leveling and equipping your characters is a careful study in their roles. I followed the generic “Make Arkail a tanky, Make-no-mistake-I–will-wreck-you-day warrior” and turned Styx into a ranged “support/ sniper”. This actually worked very well, and made combat at times challenging but, all in all a fun romp.
Conclusion: Well, was this the all’ round great fantasy-action game we have all been searching for? In a word, no. Gameplay was really the big downfall of this title, and while that itself isn’t bad, it’s the repetitive mechanics that could be a major turn off. Yet, With all that the story was compelling and deep, much more so that I had originally thought it could be. The dialogue is organic and flows nicely especially between Arkail and Styx. The two play off each other well and the VA’s really nail it at several key points. This game has been a great example of what some of these really talented people can create when given the chance. If you’re looking for a great little game with some amazing story pick this up.
In the end this gets a total score of:
Now, I’m going back to my respite block, have some gin and hope for a better morning. Keep safe out there and watch your back.