Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny Review

Disclaimer: The first RPG game I ever played was Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I was taken aback by the massive open world, the intuitive game controls and the overarching Pratchett-esque narrative which drives the game to its sweet and wonderful conclusion. Due to this, I judge every RPG based on my experience when I first loaded up Oblivion. The reason I am telling you this is, I am biased. I enjoy RPGs, they give something to the gaming world that can be given by any other genre not to mention the fact that almost every other genre has taken elements from the RPG space in order to improve and build upon their original product.

Realms of Arkania is a 2017 re-release of a 2013 re-release of a pc game from the 90’s. As stated in the article sourced from Wikipedia. This iteration of ROA: BOD was developed and released by UIG, it hit the market in October 2017, and as of the writing of this review, the score on Metacritic is basically non-existent. It seems to have made so little of an impact that no one has even bothered to ‘review’ it outside of Steam.

First thing’s first, if you want to be able to ‘get’ ROA: BOD, you need to READ the manual, this is really the only way to try and understand the game in its entirety. This approach is not something that gamers on-the-whole will truly understand, especially if their gaming ‘career’ started pre-2000’s. This mechanic is completely understandable due to the fact that the game is a 1-2-1 remake of the original game which was released into the market when manual reading was pretty standard throughout the gaming landscape. The manual is largely a 1,000-page bible which discusses complex topics which are packed with precise details, depth, and subtlety, this is well-meaning and largely accepted however, the manual seems completely against the idea of you understanding or comprehending any of the game systems because it is written in barely translated English which is bursting at the seams with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and the wrong usage of intended words within long, droning sentences. I intended to read the manual, got around a third of the way through and realised very quickly that I was not absorbing any of the information being thrown at me in broken English. It was at this point I began the game, played for three hours, completely ruined my game then had to restart once I knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Beginning the game is a very rocky affair for anyone new to the game/genre. ROA: BOD is like a fine wine, it tends to get better the more time you spend with it. Whether or not this is due to actual enjoyment or some form of Stockholm Syndrome, you can be the judge of. ROA: BOD is a very deep game, possibly one of the deepest RPG’s I have ever experienced. If you do what I did upon entering the second load of this game then you will find yourself on the character sheet or rather the multiple character sheets on offer. Each of these sheets is filled with complex statistics, a huge range of magic spells and a large array of talents. If you feel like you can deal with this daunting task at this early a stage, you will be greeted with one of the most intricate and complex party creation systems, you can tailor 11 individual classes to your very tastes and to ensure that the party caters in the strongest way possible to your play style and the kind of game you are interested in embarking upon. If, on the other hand, you decide that you would just like to get into the meat of the game, you can random-roll the party stats and you will be handed a completely fresh party with which to play. The game is held up by ye olde stats systems, there is a stat for all of the standard RPG attributes; strength, dexterity etc. Unlike old-time RPGs of yesteryear, ROA: BOD includes negative stats which affect the way in which your party members interact and succeed/fail within the RPG world. These stats range from claustrophobia to the inherent fear of heights. If a party member happens to have one of these negative stats, it will have a knock-on effect in-game.

For instance, if a party member of yours has a fear of enclosed spaces, then that particular member will refuse to follow you into a cave/dungeon etc. This particular mechanic is something we have seen most recently in the gothic, grotesque and morbid side-scrolling RPG from Red Hook Studios, Darkest Dungeon. Accompanying the stats are the ‘talents’ which each character has, talents are attributed to all manner of menial and trivial activities, these run the gamut from swimming and riding to playing an instrument and dancing. If the character in question is proficient enough in an activity like playing an instrument, they can find themselves earning coins hand-over-fist rather easily. In addition to both of these systems are the traditional ‘spells’ which RPG fans have come to know and love over the years, the spells are again very useful in many situations, be it; illuminating the way through a darkened cave or summoning creatures in order to help in battle, you will surely find yourself returning again and again to the spells for many more replays to come. The 3 categories on offer make sure that you, as the player, focus and deliberate purposefully on your upgrade choices as your party ‘levels up’ and rises through the level system, in order to create the perfect skillset for your play style.

If you decide to explore the inventory system in-game, you will realise when I said previously that ‘this game has depth’ I wasn’t being facetious. As with many other RPG experiences, there are items that are completely invaluable to those who are in it for the long-haul. These include but are not limited to; lockpicks, crowbars, and rope. As to be expected, you need lockpicks to pick the locks on locked doors (too many locks in this sentence, lock) and you’ll need water in order to keep your travelers hydrated and useful. Some items are environment/scenario specific, for instance, if you find yourself within a frozen landscape, you will need a blanket in order to keep warm and toasty. Items vary in usefulness and value and in order to manage your inventory correctly, you will need to learn what is and what isn’t useful as, if you don’t get rid of the extra ‘fluff’ then you will quickly realise that over encumberment is not just a clever phrase invented by RPG deviants the world over. If you become very relaxed with your management system, you will be greeted with stunted movement and successful hit probability decreasing, the chance of a failed hit will be increased exponentially if you are wearing armour made out of the items that are causing your over-encumberment. While you should definitely keep an eye on your inventory and the way in which you are managing it, don’t sacrifice a useful item for the sake of your encumberment.

As we have already touched on previously, your party members need to drink and rest in order to maintain an acceptable level of physical fitness and overall usability. This is a unique addition to the standard RPG space which usually only includes the quest, inventory and combat systems which we have already mentioned. The survival aspect of ROD: BOD is fantastic and really ensures that you as a player thinks carefully, acts logically and reacts accordingly. The survival aspect of ROA: BOD is always present however becomes surprisingly apparent during the traveling system which you encounter upon leaving a settlement/location. You will find yourself needing to eat, sleep and drink among other things in order to survive your relatively pedestrian journey. The ‘out of settlement system works largely like a ‘choose your own path’ experience. An event will occur and you will be given a number of options which you will be able to choose from in order to progress through the narrative, or not as the case may be. If you decide to try and face the threat/enemy head on then you will be met with a ‘skills check’ which works largely like D&D in its nature, if you pass the check, then you will be successful in overcoming the obstacle in your path, if you are not successful then the outcome will not be so pleasant. A poorly equipped/skilled party will find themselves being destroyed and consigned to the annals of history in short order. If you do lose your characters and have not donated enough money to the local temple, then you will find yourself in the character creation screen once more and preparing for a whole new game. In short, be prepared for the worst and hold out hope for the best while on your travels and you will ‘probably’ be perfectly okay, probably… Oh and always donate to temples, religion is our friend in this game.

Upon beginning your quest into the massive area of Thorwal, you will see the open-world unfold before you. If you hear rumours within settlements, you will be able to embark upon large quests which can leave you traveling very long distances across the map, often leading you to remote and isolated areas of the world. You will need to decide which quests are going to be worth going on, how you spend your time and when you want to encounter the different interest points chronologically because remember, traveling is not a simple affair. The quests in ROA: BOD are vast and interesting however one cannot help but feel let down by the asymmetry between the narrator’s occasional input and the onscreen subtitles which are meant to visually relay the instructions or information intended for the players’ consumption. This annoyance is minimal due to the fact that the narrator plays a very minimal part in the overall game experience, one could easily draw the comparison to a DM from D&D.

As you embark on your adventures, you will find yourself being attacked and needing to attack in order to progress. Combat in ROA: BOD is turn-based and as with many early RPGs and later, the Final Fantasy series, this is a wonderful addition to an already reasonably enjoyable experience. Unlike the combat in later RPGs, it is slow, heavy and often takes quite some time to complete to defeat or victory. With a view to combat, you can utilise spells, ranged or melee attacks as you move around the grid area. A feeling of elation and satisfaction washes over you as you finish the combat encounter, this is in no small part thanks to the snail-pace of the overall experience. Once completed, the encounter will reward your party with loot and XP which can then be used to harden your heroes for their next fight. As a plus note, more treasure can be found in the conclusion if the fight was quest-based.

The game is made up of hundreds of different locations which further the idea of a vast open world which is interactive and intuitive in its design, the only real concern is, the graphics. If you are a gamer who needs to be amazed and surprised by games’ visual presentation, ROA: BOD will leave you wanting. Character models are terribly presented and often reused to player frustration, animations hark back to a simpler time and the interior of taverns and dungeons are copy-pasted from one encounter to the next. The interiors are coloured and shaded in a very simple way and one can find better use of shadows and textures in online flash-based games today, however, given the time in which the game was initially released, ROA: BOD is not all that alien in terms of graphics. In direct contrast to the interiors, the exterior locations in ROA: BOD are actually rather pleasant to drink in. The clouds are well coloured and the sky is textured to a fine tooth-comb degree. The climate in ROA: BOD is simple, one should not enter the game expecting Grand Theft Auto V weather cycles as this would be a mistake. The weather is understandably footnoted however still manages to capture snow, sun, and rain in a completely acceptable fashion, again, it is far short of where we are now in terms of weather patterns but still reasonable for the initial release time. Snowfall in my mind comes hand-in-hand with a crunching noise as your foot breaks through the initial layer and comes to rest on the covered surface below, this is not something that comes across well in ROA: BOD. The sounds which scaffold the gameplay are simple but solid. Standard ye olde songs played on flutes etc contribute to the soundtrack and become something of an earworm during play, this is largely due to the fact of the repetition, the soundtrack has a very annoying habit of restarting when the player leaves a location or settlement. The sound and graphics are good enough to be in a mobile or low-res PC game but one cannot help but want a higher fidelity of visual and audio fodder in a 2017 game. While not completely what we expect from a game released within the last 5 years, the two elements do combine to provide a welcoming experience into the RPG adventure that lays ahead.

I often state that the only real thing that matters when playing a game is enjoyability, and the real question is does ROA: BOD have that for me? I would have to say, yes. While the game does not look as good as we expect from a newer release nor does it have the most interesting narrative I ever played in my time as a gamer, it does make up for these shortfalls by including some fascinating quests, a superb party management system and a survival-travel system which really ensures player deliberation when making even apparently trivial decisions not to mention the fact that it truly does feel very organic and wholly unique as an experience.

While it may not offer the scope and open-world of newer releases, one cannot help but be taken aback by the old style RPG style which still ignites darkened hearts the world over, definitely worth your time even if at a reduced price.

REVIEW CODE: A PS4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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