Frayed Knights Review
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Corwin and skavenhorde have both played through Frayed Knights multiple times to bring you this comprehensive review, starting with Corwin's opinion.
What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But would a game? Well, the play’s the thing and recently I had the opportunity to play a little Indie title with an imposing name - Frayed Knights: The Skull of Smakh-Daon. The game is the brainchild of developer Jay (Rampant Coyote) Barnson and you can read our recent interview with him here. It features four novice adventurers who want nothing more than to be allowed to join the prestigious Adventurers Guild if only they could prove themselves worthy.
You begin the game with your four pre-generated characters in what amounts to little more than a tutorial dungeon, but it does provide an excellent introduction to the game, the gameplay mechanics and the different character types. You will have the opportunity to explore, fight, disarm traps, search for hidden doors and treasure, rescue a damsel in distress and attempt to complete a fairly straightforward - but important - quest while learning how everything works. You’ll gain some valuable experience and likely at least one level, which will then enable you to begin improving your characters skills. You might even choose to teach them some new ones.
Central to enjoying this game is coming to know and understand the four preset characters you play in this party-based game. As the story begins, Arianna (a fighter), Dirk (a rogue), Chloe (a sorcerer) and Benjamin (a Nature based Priest) have just entered an ancient temple to complete a quest, which will gain them entrance to the Adventurers Guild if they complete it successfully. You are immediately introduced not only to the game’s dialogue system, but to the quirky personalities of each of the characters, and they certainly do have plenty of personality.
Allow me to pause for just a moment to say this: if you want your games to be dark and gritty and serious, then this is not the game for you. It is totally a tongue-in-cheek, light hearted, not to be taken too seriously, fun experience with a very solid real rpg core. The opening dialogue made me laugh, not just because it was inherently funny, but because it was also so realistic. It reminded me totally of the dialogues we have every week in our regular Dungeons & Dragons Online gaming session as we begin a new quest or dungeon; I could have sworn that Jay was secretly taping some of our sessions without our knowledge.
While the characters begin the game as a particular character type, as you level up each character you are able to modify, or even change completely the way they develop. Some examples: I tried Arianna as a 2 handed blade specialist and eventually made her a 2 weapon specialist with axe and dagger. After making sure Dirk would be able to disarm most traps I turned him into a secondary healer with a few very powerful damage spells as well. I could have made the fighter into a mage and the mage into more of a fighter if I had wished to do so, but I didn’t.
This is probably a good place to address the issue of magic in the game. There are four somewhat different types; three of the Priestly persuasion and one arcane. A character may only learn one of the cleric schools, but could if they so choose also learn the arcane line as well. The first thing you notice about all the various types is that they have delightfully different spell names ranging from Hellacious Angry Flowers to Power Word Defenestrate (a personal favourite of mine with an excellent animation). Half the fun is reading the spell descriptions and watching some of the animations. The arcane are predominantly attacking spells while the priestly are more buffing, healing with only limited attack possibilities. I tried only 2 of the cleric lines, but did develop strong feelings about them.
Let me preface these remarks by saying that they are my personal feelings based on my play style and someone with a different approach would likely disagree. My only major disagreement with the design decisions taken by Jay was with making Benjamin a Nature-based cleric. I found these spells completely underwhelming and Jay has promised to beef them up. They are predominantly buffing spells and that does not fit my play style - I much preferred the Divine school I gave Dirk. I not only found them better for healing, but they had a few spells I loved such as Wake Up (you get hit by a lot of sleep spells) and Shred the Dead. I would have chosen to have this as the default school for the main cleric character - make sure you give it to one of the other three just as soon as you can.
Combat is turn-based and while you may face anything from one to six enemies, the average number is four. Rarely do you see the enemy in advance, usually they either just appear, or they are behind a dungeon door once you open it. Depending on which skills you select during level ups, you might sometimes get advance notice of enemies and can choose to either fight them or avoid them. Once combat begins you have several choices each turn. You may attack, defend, rest, cast a spell, use an item in your personal inventory, or attempt to flee. Some skills and spells may also permit you to take more than one turn in a round. The rounds are fairly quick and each battle usually doesn’t take too long. Depending on your weapon type or the spell(s) you choose to cast, you may select any of the enemies you face as your target. This is the only practical use for ranged weapons in the game which is why I ended up never using any though I ended up with several. A healer can cast healing spells during combat and the enemy will do that as well. Some will even use very powerful grenades, so watch out. Be sure to save when you think a fight is imminent.
Hopefully, at some point you will have a party wipe. Why? One of the funniest dialogue sequences in the entire game occurs when everyone in your party is incapacitated. Make sure you read it all the way through at least once. Once a character is incapacitated, they are out of the fight and can’t be healed. Afterwards, they will either need to take a special potion, or rest in a bed. While you can ‘rest’ anywhere, it can be dangerous as wandering patrols may discover you and attack. However, usable beds are rare. Aside from the Inn found in the local village, there are only two others places with beds you can use and you have to discover them for yourself.
One of the benefits of both exploration and combat is that you find loot bags, chests, or hidden caches. These will provide you with both cash and equipment you can either use or sell. There are several merchants in the game where you can buy or sell, but only one in the village who doesn’t seem to restock. You will be limited to him in the earliest parts of the game while you do a few local quests to build up experience and levels before tackling the more challenging areas of the game. While it is possible to skip many of the early village quests in order to open up other areas of the game more quickly, it is not advisable: you will need those extra levels and skills. You only get either 1 or 2 skill points a level (they alternate) and there are many to choose from including upgrading attributes, learning magic, being able to wear different types of armor, gaining skill with different types of weapons, or noticing approaching enemies before they can attack you. I was level 12 when I finished the game, but I could likely have made level 13 if I’d fought every possible battle. That’s about 18 total skill points per character, and some skills require 2 points to learn. Choose carefully.
While the structure of the game is somewhat linear in that new areas open up only after certain quests have been fulfilled, not only will you need to revisit these areas, but there is no need to finish every quest in each area before moving on. I found it necessary to return to some dungeons many times. However, there is very little exploration available in all but the main town. After you discover the two or three dungeons which each area holds, there’s not much else to do but enter and explore each of these. Within these very different dungeons you’ll find a mix of fighting, exploration, puzzle solving and even a few extra quests. Some are quite small, while others have several levels to wander through. I think Goblinville offered the most variety; there was much to accomplish. While there is some walking involved, there are points in each area which allow you to ‘fast travel’ to a different area within the game, once that particular area has been opened. While it’s possible to basically ‘clear out’ each area and dungeon, there are random respawns or encounters no matter where you are. Often these will occur while you are either searching, or resting. Be warned.
Quests have variety ranging from simple find me this item, to complex, puzzle filled ones which can take several hours to complete. Most have an element of humour attached to them and several poke fun at traditional RPG fare. The puzzles, while not overly challenging, do add an extra dimension to certain quests. Fortunately, if you pay attention, there are enough hints available that no-one should be completely stumped. It should also be noted that many have more than one possible solution, including a few which are non-violent in nature.
One innovation in the game which I really enjoyed was the use of Drama Stars and I don’t mean Patrick Stewart. There are 3 multi-pointed stars at the top of the screen which slowly fill up with three colourful layers (bronze, silver and gold) as you win fights, or complete simple tasks. These in turn offer you bonuses you can use in the game. There are four possible rewards at each level, for a total of 12. For example, one allows you to restore a character’s ‘energy’ which may have been depleted through fighting, or spell casting. At the third tier, it will restore this energy for all the characters. It’s a simple and elegant system, but with a twist. If you save and quit the game, you have the option next time to ‘Continue’ your previous game from where you saved and your stars will be intact. However, if you save, lose a fight and then reload; all your stars will be lost. This encourages players to avoid the save/reload cycle. There is risk/reward involved, but I liked it and used it.
It’s often helpful to consider previous games which are similar when trying to determine if this is a game for you. There aren’t many turn-based, old school RPGs being made anymore, but while it doesn’t have its depth, richness, or tedious never-ending combat, the closest game I could compare it with would be Wizardry 8. If you enjoyed that game, I think you’ll like this one.
In conclusion. This is a game I’ve really wanted to like for a long time. However, I don’t, I love it! It was a breath of fresh air poured into a genre, which sadly has become almost stale in its approach. Sure, it’s not going to win any prizes for graphics; it’s an Indie game using the Torque engine, which while adequate isn’t in the same universe graphically as games like Skyrim, but unless graphics mean far more to you than gameplay, engaging characters, and sheer enjoyment, then you owe it to yourself to buy Frayed Knights. I’ve started about 8 new games in the past few months, but I’ve only managed to finish one. You can guess by the number of reviews I haven’t written, which one it was.
On to the next page for Skavenhorde's view...
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Information aboutFrayed Knights
Developer: Rampant Games
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2011-09-28
· Publisher: Rampant Games