UPDATE: Due to confusion about the nature of the article, the title has been updated to reflect that this was a beta version of the game that had been sent to GameCloud for the purposes of a First Impressions. The content of the article has remained the same, though the author regrets not having mentioned that big head mode makes everything (somewhat) better. Thanks, indeed, Josh.
Well, this is… disappointing. They say that you only get one shot at making a first impression and Obsidian used it on the dog within the first few hours of my “gameplay experience.” The game itself is plagued with all kinds of bugs, but the worst of it came a couple of hours into my playthrough when I couldn’t get the game to run at all. Of all the games I’ve played and written about on this site, this is the first I’ve had to re-install multiple times just to get it working. I struggled with the game, and I was ultimately defeated; the bugs and generally unhelpful everything got to me enough that I just couldn’t keep playing. That isn’t to say that the game will be a failure in any sense, just that there is a lot of work to be done before the full release.
I might not have my own screenshot of invisible characters anymore, but it wasn’t hard to find another online.
I was actually excited for this from the start, I am a fan of RPG gaming in general and I was looking forward to diving into the world. The character creation screen, while currently limited in it’s customisable options, gives an idea of how diverse and expansive the final game will be. Going above the standard class, skills and race choices, you’ll also get to choose their sub-race, where they hail from and what they’re overall intentions are. It adds an extra layer of characterisation that I hope carries forward into the rest of the game. I like the idea of playing a foul-mouthed, rogueish Orlan what stepped out from the Aedyrian Empire with delusions of grandeur and higher standing. I’d like it even more if NPC’s changed their interactions with me based on these choices though it’s not something I’ve seen thus far.
The NPC dialogue is well-written, for the most part, doing an excellent job of characterising the town and its citizens without outright forcing you to listen to arbitrary exposition. The town has its woes, and its people are surly; finding out what and why is enjoyable when it feels like your character is conversing with those around them, rather than being spoken at. It slips a little, in certain areas, with a few of the scripted responses being re-used regardless of what you choose. The potion maker in the town, for instance, will wince and say the same line about her wounds, regardless of whether you kindly press her on the issue or demand that she tells you. This example seems fairly indicative of a few dialogue choices you make, and they’ve managed to write most responses in such a way that they’ll work for any speech option. However, without some form of reputation bar to nurse throughout the game, it feels as though your choices don’t make much of an overall impact.
Which is probably just as well, what with all the corpse looting I was doing.
The game itself is still in beta form, which means the phrase “rough around the edges” can be applied to just about anything you see while playing. That being said, even some rough instructions on how to play the game would have been nice. Dropped into the world with a party of four that I hadn’t chosen and to whom I hadn’t been introduced, I began exploring the nearby town of Dyrsford. There were no tutorials or guides to speak of, other than the tooltips in the loading screens, which meant a rousing romp through the config and help menus for about 20 minutes. This general lack of explanation would become a common theme during my playthrough. For what it’s worth, however, my time exploring the city and learning about the story was time I really enjoyed.
Not all characters are voiced, and those that are haven’t had all of their lines recorded yet though they still exude a lot of charm. The starting town is something of a small farm community that’s allowed nature to creep in a little. You learn that the town has fallen on hard times through listening to their collective stories and issues, instead of having stock NPC’s just straight up tell you the town’s woes. It was at this stage, however, that I started to have issues. It initially started as prolonged loading screens between areas and some janky object selection on-screen, though soon I was walking into rooms full of floating swords and no NPC’s. I mean that literally, as well, because I couldn’t interact with these people at all; eventually, my save file corrupted and all I could load was the HUD and a black screen.
I hadn’t even reached the constantly dying stage of my play-through.
Frustrated, I canned that save and tried again with the same results. Thus began a series of reinstalls, each time loading up the game to the same problem. For clarity, my PC had been functioning fine; I had been using it for other work and games, without issue, except for PoE. I ended up having to install it on another computer just to finish the playthrough; how naive I was to think I would finish. I eventually caught up on the progress of my previous playthrough before the game had begun to crash, and I was ready to leave town. At least I thought I was; all my characters appeared to be carrying pre-equipped weapons and armor, their abilities pre-picked, I felt ready for adventuring. I was unceremoniously murdered by the very first enemies I encountered.
I can only describe the combat in this game as unintuitive at best and distracting at worst. The health indicators that float above the heads of each character are so easily lost in the throng of the fight that they may as well not be there. Selecting characters is a challenge in itself as the game often bugged out and selected multiple characters at once if at all. There’s also no tutorial, again, and little HUD info that clearly indicates what is going on. It was only because of a loading tooltip that I learned you were actually supposed to pause mid-fight to issue commands to your team, which actually does allow much more planning during combat.
It also means a LOT of pausing, every few seconds for myself, which really interrupted the flow of play and made me wonder why they didn’t just make this a turn-based game. This was a constant, nagging issue for me while playing because it felt like the action should be fast-paced, with most of the actions being issued through HUD or hot-key commands. Maybe this is how the game is meant to be played, but if it is then it wasn’t something I could master, and it definitely wasn’t something I was eased into. This pause screen does, at least, provides a little more clarity to the general chaos of battle, with indication lines showing who your characters are attacking, and who is attacking them. Without any instruction or tutorial, however, it was still information without context. RPG’s are often not the kind of games that one can simply “pick up” while playing.
I was so sick of seeing this screen by the end.
I dived into the in-game help menu once more, though it’s more of glossary of terms as opposed to a user guide. I was pretty confused at this stage, given the exceeding amount of praise that PoE had been receiving. I went online to seek out some strategies about how to deal with just the damn beginning of this game; not my proudest moment. After a brief look around online, I really wish I’d gotten the version that outfits like Polygon and IGN received. Their experience of the game came complete with a tutorial and, from the sounds, not a damn bug in sight. They’ve essentially been playing a different game from what I have been, from what has been given to the poor suckers who backed this game. I found a couple of online guides that helped me along, though the game is far from being even remotely informative to users.
From the looks of the videos and reviews from those other outlets, Obsidian is capable of making something great with this. The only issue is that it doesn’t carry over from the tech-demo that they’ve apparently been showing to the actual game they’re developing. There’s a lot of potential here, because the storytelling, character creation and NPC interaction seems fairly solid. However, this is a beta that’s only a month from release and I’m still having characters turn invisible and my save files becoming corrupted. Let’s just hope that, when the game fully releases, they’ve been listening to their fans instead of the undue praise they’ve been receiving.
AUTHOR NOTE: Please note that I had initially prepared a series of screenshots for much of what I talk about throughout this article. However, due to some unexpected issues and data loss, I no longer have these available.