Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny HD Review
You shouldn't judge a book by its cover. You've heard that old saying before, right? It means: you shouldn't judge something based on its outside appearance alone, you must first explore its depths. Okay, English lesson aside, that little piece of wisdom seems to ring true for Realms Of Arkania: Blade Of Destiny (hereby known as RoA). The cover is a bit misleading here, as the jacket is slightly tattered, torn, missing parts of the binding and the pages are a bit yellowed with age. Okay, maybe it's not that bad, but it is a little rough at times. The character models aren't the prettiest, the combat animations are simply there to do the job and not much more, and there is little flash in the way of fancy cut-scenes or anything like that. However, there is much more beneath the surface here that deserves exploring for the benefit of the RPG fan reading this review. Let's take a look.
A broken state
First, let's talk about the elephant in the room. Upon release, this game was in a broken state, with a large amount of bugs and an overall playability factor of negative one. However, a lot has been done since its release to ensure the game is up to snuff. At the time I'm writing this, there have been over 30 patches, with more promised to come. Make no doubt about it, the developers over at Crafty Studios have made a serious effort to get this game polished up to where it should have been on release day. Kudos to those guys and gals. One could argue that it should have been finished on release day and not have needed 30-plus patches just to get it functioning properly, but we needn't get into that discussion in this review. However, at the time of this review, the game is still unfinished. Sadly, we'll all have to wait a little longer to get the features that should have been in the game from the start. That doesn't mean it's a bad game in its current state, though, so let's explore the actual content of what is presented at this time and see how it holds up. More about bugs later.
In order to get something out of RoA, you first have to properly prepare for your journey. You actually have to read the manual and learn the game systems before playing, reminiscent of the games of yesteryear. After all, this is a one-to-one remake of the original RoA, which was released back in 1992. It doesn't help that the first impression you get of the game might turn some people off right away, since it's basically like being handed a 1000-page tome discussing some complex topic, rife with precise details, complexity, depth and subtlety, but written in a language you don't yet understand. I suppose this game was made with the intention of experienced veterans of the original RoA series playing it, as well as those who have thoroughly read the manual. For newcomers to the series who just want to jump right in, this means you're presented with the aforementioned 1000-page tome and asked to figure it out immediately and create a party. This could be a daunting task for a newcomer, so thankfully, if you aren't comfortable with rolling your own characters, you can select from premade heroes or just go with the default party the game selects for you. The customization options are there for you to explore if you're feeling particularly daring, and there is a total selection of 11 different classes for you to experiment with. But, if you're anything like me, your first hour or two will be spent getting to know the game, realizing you've screwed up, and starting all over at the beginning once you have a semblance of an idea of what's going on.
Although the start of the game may be a bit rocky for new players, rest assured that the game does get better the more you invest into it. As I mentioned earlier, it has depth. View the various character sheets and you are greeted with complex stats, a plethora of talents and a wide range of magical spells available for use. The system here is old-school and complex, just like we like it, and there is quite a nice array of various goodies to ponder over. There are your basic stats you would find in any RPG, such as Strength, Dexterity, Agility, etc. There are also negative stats to decrease each level, such as Claustrophobia and Fear Of Heights. There are talents for every activity you can think of - swimming, climbing, riding a horse, driving a carriage, even dancing and playing instruments are available to you (and a good way to make a bit of coin at the local taverns.). There is also a nice variety of spells that do many different things, such as lighting your way in the darkness, summoning creatures to your aid and even spells that make your target afraid and flee the battle. These 3 categories all provide a good variety of choices to make, so you'll be thinking hard about which stats to upgrade when you level up and which talents and spells to invest in to not only suit your play-style, but also create a well-rounded group of adventurers.
Explore the item and inventory system in the game and you'll start to see more of the depth present in this game. There are certain items that are invaluable to seasoned adventurers, such as supply kits (food), water, rope, fishing hooks, pickaxes, lock picks, crowbars, alchemy sets and so on. Not only are these items important, but they can make all the difference on how a situation plays out. You'll need lock picks to open locks, fishing hooks and nets to help catch food, tinderboxes to light torches and much more. Traveling in the mountains during a freezing snowstorm? You will need blankets at the very least, or sleeping bags to ensure you stay warm. This adds a pretty interesting inventory management element to the game, but be careful. Carry around too much junk and not only will your character's movement be stunted, but you'll also see your chance of landing a successful hit will be decreased as well if you're wearing some of that junk as armor. Keep your characters light on their feet and they will be able to move around with ease, but they may take more damage, and you may have need for that shovel you discarded awhile back. There are many actions which are influenced by the items you're carrying and the system is a welcomed addition to the game.
Survival and exploration
That brings me to the next point. A large part of the gameplay experience is not only your standard RPG affairs, such as quests, inventory management and combat. There is something pretty unique to RoA that sets it apart from other RPGs, and that is the survival aspect of the game. Not only do you need to set up camps when you travel between towns, you'll have to eat, drink, sleep, endure the weather conditions as well as tackle the various random events that can happen to your party at any time. Surviving from town to town is a game in itself and plays out at times like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Uh-oh, a rock wall slid down due to a storm and blocked your path. Do you go around it, or try to go over it? You reach the top of a tall cliff and have to get down to the valley. Do you have rope to climb down? Or do you want to risk climbing and having your characters pass a climbing skill check? There are many different scenarios that can happen in the game and they play out differently based on your choices. You are never quite sure what is going to happen next, and that keeps the adventure exciting throughout.
The many random events, sicknesses and enemy encounters along your path also means that the game can be brutal at times. A poorly equipped party will certainly freeze to death if they try to cross a remote mountain path in the dead of winter. In fact, even a well equipped party may succumb to the various pitfalls in the game at any given time. Illnesses play a large role in the game, and catching some bad fever or frostbite could mean the end of a character's life. And once they're dead, they're gone, unless you have donated enough money to the local temple. Otherwise, you'll be drafting a new character from the available pool of adventurers or creating a new one. The game is not a pushover, and you will be pushed to your limits at times. For the most part, it seems the game knows exactly how hard to push you at any given time. You will be down to your last healing potion, your magicians will have run out of magic , you're eating your last ration and drinking the last gulp from your waterskin, you've left Bill the Warrior behind because he was too afraid to continue, yet you still have to press forward to find the evil creature inhabiting this dreadful lair. It's advisable to keep some backup saves in case something goes horribly wrong on your journey, although you do have quite a bit at your disposal to ensure your party survives the treacherous path ahead of them. Just enough, it seems.
Once you start exploring the vast area of Thorwal, you will start to see the open-world aspect of the game come to life. You will hear rumors that send you to remote sections of the map, as well as quests that send you in the complete opposite direction. You will start to have to make decisions about how you spend your time, where you should travel, and in what order you should travel to the different points of interest, if at all. There is no fast travel in the game, so every choice counts, as a trip to any location means you must survive the perils ahead of you. The game is timed as well, meaning, if you waste too much time and don't complete your main quest, the game is over. We have been assured by the developers that you still have "plenty of time", but it makes your choices on how you spend your time much more important overall. You might think twice about spending a few months in a single town waiting for winter to pass. Or, you may think hard before deciding to explore that rumor of a pirate's treasure, since the location is east and your other quests send you west. But, maybe you need more ducats (money) in order to take a boat to another location, so you have no choice but to try to line your pockets first. You will be faced with many decisions like these that add another dimension to your adventure.
If those elements don't make the role-playing fan reading this drool a bit, what makes this experience all the more immersive and interesting is the addition of the narrator who tags along for the ride. The narrator narrates the various things that happen to you while exploring, from any secret paths you discover, to the various random events that can happen to your party. It's almost like you're playing a pen-and-paper role-playing game with a real Dungeon Master. There are many little things to find during your adventures, and it's refreshing to be able to sit back and let the narrator read them to you. Unfortunately, sometimes the text on your screen does not match what is being said by the narrator, so that could leave you a bit confused. You'll also need some patience with him, as he talks a bit slowly, but once you adapt to the style it becomes better. More variety during tavern scenes would also have been nice, as I find myself skipping those dialogs a bit, as many lines of text are repeated, but overall, the addition of the narrator is an important one.
While you're busy trying to survive in the wilds, you will also have to take part in combat and defend yourself. Combat is turn-based and takes place on a tactical grid, and this is another area where your patience will come into play, as combat in this game can take quite awhile to play out. The overall pace is pretty slow, between the somewhat sluggish combat animations and the large amount of missed attacks at early levels, but you have the ability to speed up combat if you're in a hurry. Thankfully, enemies miss at the same rate you do, so as long as you can handle some missteps in combat you should be fine. You can sling spells or used ranged and melee attacks as you move about the grid, and due to the lengthy nature of the battles, it is very satisfying to win a challenging encounter. And yes, there are quite a few challenging encounters in the game, and one unlucky die roll will have your best warrior incapacitated, which makes the entire experience a pretty nervous affair. Once combat is over, you're rewarded with loot and some experience to help you level up, which is everything you'd expect from a typical RPG. If the battle was quest-related, you may find some bonus treasure at the end.
What would an open-world adventure be without dungeons? If dungeons are your thing, RoA does not fail to deliver. There are many dungeons in the game and they all provide ample exploration within them, with plenty of hidden chests, loot caches, secret areas and random events to discover. Not only do you have to worry about enemy encounters, you'll have to be careful with the various traps and pitfalls within the dungeon itself. For example, you see a dark hole that you can climb down, but one wrong step could mean death for the poor victim who dared to explore it. Or, there could be some shiny, enchanted trinket waiting for you at the other end, if you survive, that is. Like exploring the world map, you are never sure what random events will happen to you while exploring the dungeon. You can run into special rooms, have traps triggered, step on teleport platforms and much more. Similar to winning at combat, it's very satisfying to clear a dungeon as you will have bested many foes, traversed the various levels and carefully survived until the end, which is a task in itself. Thankfully, the dungeons in this game are well-balanced and you won't spend too much time in combat, although you will have your fair share of encounters. When you've completed the dungeon you can come back up for some fresh air, restock your supplies and hit the local tavern for a hot meal and a cold mug of beer.
Taverns in this game actually play an important role. Not only can you eat and drink there, you can mingle with the townsfolk and learn the latest rumors going around town. Rumors are important because they start new quests and unlock areas you might not have had access to without first hearing the rumor. Once you've heard the rumor you can start to track it down and find out if it's true, and they can unlock everything from learning where a good hunting area is nearby, to learning about the quality of wares a certain merchant sells, or even the location of a dungeon itself. When you aren't at the tavern, you'll be exploring the rest of the towns, which, for the most part, are very large with quite a bit to see. You have your aforementioned taverns, general goods merchants, weapon and armor sellers, inns, as well as alchemist shops, blacksmiths, temples and more. There are some unique houses in the game, and finding them usually leads to some interesting, humorous dialog scenarios that add a bit of flavor and role-playing opportunity to the adventure. It feels good to explore the various towns in first-person mode and is a nice break from traveling between towns and combat.
If you play games to be wowed by amazing graphics, you probably won't be blown away by RoA. As I mentioned at the beginning, the character models leave a little something to be desired, and the animations are a bit bare-bones. However, it does look nice enough to get the job done and not be an eyesore. There are some nice bits, like the outside of the buildings themselves, and the layout of towns feel natural and right. Characters walking in the streets is a nice touch and the sky and clouds look great. Weather patterns at the time of writing this are decent, but could use a bit of work, particularly the snowfall, although they are currently in the game and functioning properly. The sound is solid and there's some catchy medieval tunes that play throughout your journey that you will probably be humming at some point when you've turned the game off. Some more variety would have been nice, but the sound and graphics are good enough to set the mood quite nicely and get you fully immersed in your adventure.
If you've made it this far in the review, you're probably wondering what bugs I encountered. Truth be told, I have encountered quite a few bugs in my time with the game. However, most of them were minor. For example, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes text on your screen does not match what the narrator is saying, or a person will introduce themselves at a tavern as "a man" or "a woman", instead of by their real name. A few of the quests had some quirks, too, like meeting an important NPC at a tavern, having her want to take my characters back to her place to talk (don't get any ideas here), yet when you arrive at her home, she acts as though you've never met before. Sometimes a random event would trigger the next step in the encounter without me having selected my response to the situation, and I would die horribly as a result. I also encountered one particularly nasty bug that saw my Druid character catch frostbite 8 times over (which was entirely my fault, no complaints there), and his Endurance stat dipped into the negative, which made moving on the world map impossible until he either died or was healed. Little things like this do detract from the experience, and even with 30 patches the game still feels a bit unfinished. While there are usually only minor bugs, they happen with quite a high frequency that gives you the feeling that this game has still not been play tested enough. The developers have stated they plan on patching the game as many times as it takes to iron out the remaining bugs and also add new features, so let's hope they continue to work hard and get the game to 100% completion.
So, the ultimate question is, did I enjoy my time spent with Realms Of Arkania: Blade Of Destiny HD? Absolutely! Minor bug annoyances aside, the game feels like a real adventure and has a load of potential. I missed some of the features that haven't been implemented to this point, yet the game still delivered a good level of immersion and a memorable journey that you create yourself. If you're looking to spend some time with a throwback RPG and immerse yourself in an open-world fantasy land with adventure, interesting RPG mechanics and a challenging and unforgiving game world, you really can't go wrong with Realms Of Arkania. The game doesn't hold your hand and it expects you to learn it's inner workings in order to survive, which is a breath of fresh air, really. There are still a few kinks in the mix, though. You will have to be able to look past some bugs in order to fully enjoy yourself, but if you really dig to the core, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you uncover.
I'm giving it a solid 3 out of 5 rating, however, when it's fully patched and all the features are in and functioning properly, it's an easy 4. As of right now, it's still playable and fun, so give it a shot.
Addendum #1 - Since writing this review I have experienced a bug of a more serious nature. About 25 hours in, an NPC I was supposed to meet in a town failed to appear, and a part of the main quest has been broken because of it. This has been made known to the developers, and they will fix it, but in the meantime, my play-through has come to a bit of a standstill. So, while the game has been mostly playable, you may want to wait a little bit longer for a few more of these issues to be addressed before diving in.
Addendum #2 (Oct. 31, 2013) - Patch 1.31 has released and the game-breaking bug is no more! Also, the game looks much improved graphically, and overall, there is a huge list of improvements made. I think now is as good a time as any to finally give this game a go if you've been patiently waiting to jump in. Kudos to the hard work put in by the gang at Crafty Studios.
Information aboutRealms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny HD
Developer: Crafty Studios
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2013-07-31
· Publisher: United Independent Ent.
- The survival elements make the game unique
- Interesting item and inventory system
- Deep character stats, talents and spells
- Rough getting started for newbies to the series
- Many character models are reused
- Still not a finished product