I’ve already made my thoughts clear on the Early Access in my Starpoint Gemini Warlords and Shadows of Kurgansk previews and the general conclusion a came to was that Early Access is an incredibly mixed bag. However, as proved with the two aforementioned games, Early Access can also be an extremely beneficial platform for both developers and players.
Now available via Early Access, Ghost of a Tale is an action RPG mixed with stealth and adventure elements. The game is largely the work of Lionel “Seith” Gallat who previously worked on films like The Road to El Dorado, Shark Tale, and The Lorax as an animator and Animation Director for Dreamworks and Universal Studios. He drew inspiration from movies like The Secret of NIMH and the Redwall book series for the setting and characters of the game.
The story goes something like this: Centuries ago, an unconscious green flame destroyed the creatures of the world and the dead rose again as “puppets” of the flame. The rats fought the flame and they succeeded. Then your story begins. You wake up as Tilo – the main character – inside a jail cell. His wife is missing, taken and beaten by a heartless Baron, and he wants to find her. That’s about all the context you get and that didn’t help me invest myself in the world of Dwindling Heights the way I think I should have.
As you explore and sneak around Dwindling Heights Keep, it’s hard to track how the story of the flame impacted the world you’re in now. The rats saved the world; why are they putting the mice in jail? Documents can be found around the keep that give context but it didn’t help deepen the understanding between the present and the past. But it’s entirely possible the full game will bridge the gap.
In order to find your wife, you have to escape the keep. That means undertaking several fetch quests and avoiding guards. The build I played was limited to the jail, courtyard, and sewer which, as I understand, makes up about one-third of the game. Literally all of your time between those sites is spent accomplishing fetch quests. I’m talking Zelda: Wind Waker-search-for-triforce-pieces type of fetch quests. They’re not interesting.
Think about why fetch quests are typically boring. They’re blind searches and require retreading the same landscapes waiting for your brain to notice the nook or cranny you missed several times before. According to this build, that is Ghost of a Tale in a nutshell. You’re digging through chests, barrels, baskets, cupboards, drawers, and open spaces. Occasionally a puzzle tenderly complicates nabbing an item but there’s not enough of them to make searches more entertaining.
It’s unfortunate because Ghost of a Tale is absolutely beautiful. Wandering through the stonewalled jail feels disgusting. And those walls have incredible textures. The grass sways in the wind, the god rays beautifully pierce the morning sky, and the character models have extreme detail. It’s so much detail the developers recommend mid-tier machines don’t even attempt 60 FPS. But all of it feels hollow after you’ve tread the same spaces back and forth for hours just looking for objects, with barely any interesting interactions with the environment.
As far as stealth goes, avoiding guards bothered me at first because Ghost of a Tale has an odd implementation of stealth. You’re able to tiptoe past the rat guards but they have an awareness meter that constantly fills up no matter how quietly you move. It fills faster or slower depending on your proximity and how fast you’re moving.
You’ve seen the awareness meter in various modern stealth games. If you make sudden movements, loud noises, or enter their eyesight, the AI searches for you. That’s how it works in some situations but when you’re sneaking past a guard with their back turned to you or they’re sleeping, the meter continues to fill up even though you could be quieter than the water dripping in the background. The only way to reset the meter is completely stopping. Once you start moving again, it fills up. It doesn’t feel natural. That’s something I hope they can improve. Ultimately, because of the meter, stealth just turned into running past a guard and finding a hiding spot since the AI isn’t the smartest.
It’s evident by the graphical detail that the developers are making the effort to create an adventure that’s special. But it’s also evident the game design feels amateur. Ghost of a Tale is considered feature complete, so what I experienced, except for the bugs, will likely remain the same. I can’t recommend you buy into this early access version but I can recommend you keep an eye on the release. I don’t think this slice flattered the game but I do think there’s potential for a magical experience in the final version.
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