I completed the main story after playing this for about 20 hours, but I still have a lot of open-world things to do now that I’m “done.” Let’s talk about it a little.
But first, a quick disclaimer. I am a video game designer working in the industry, so I know how things go. Plans change, resources shift, emergencies happen, fires need to be put out, schedules update, priorities get reprioritized… and, sometimes that cool thing you wanted to do turns out to be more complicated than you expected, and you have to settle for something a little more realistic given the scope you’re desperately trying to keep from creeping.
Also, I am very forgiving as a player – which is why you don’t see a whole bunch of review posts here on my blog 😆 As long as things are fun and I’m still able to get from A to B, I let a lot of things slide.
So, with that said… Overall, I really liked this game – from a bird’s eye view, it was really fun and had a pretty compelling storyline. I don’t complete many single-player games I start, so the fact I finished it (and in such a relatively short time, for me) says a lot about how compelling the game is, I think. However… two big issues just stuck in my craw, and I need to vent a little.
There are plenty of overviews for this game – including a really good one by the studio [a], and of course, EA’s site for it – so there’s no need for me to give a full rehash; here are the broad strokes:
- Magic comes in three flavors: Red, Blue, and Green (more info in this article [a])
- You might think this is setting up an R-P-S situation, but it’s not.
- Most Magni in the game can only use one color, but you are special (a Triarch) and can use all three.
- While you will likely prefer the gameplay of one magic type more than the others (I loved Green, for example), you will end up cycling through all of them to overcome the more complex fights.
- Oh, and you have a melee punch ability (The ‘V’ key, for the PC) — I didn’t know that until the last quarter of the game (when I got the Ward Shatter spell).
Issue 1: The Illusion of Choice [🚨Spoilers🚨]
In game design, you sometimes need to be fairly prescriptive about how things play out for the sake of the story. Allowing for too much choice by the player means you have to keep track of all those threads and ensure each branching point doesn’t cause an eventual contradiction with the plot or make the player feel all roads lead back to a single point, so all those branches were meaningless.
All of that takes time and effort, and for a game where players are realistically only going to play through once (maybe twice) and won’t get to experience all those other options, it becomes a painful question of ROI.
But in this game, there was a critical moment where they went on and on about how you’re about to make a super important decision; the cut scene is very intense, with the protagonist contorted in “what should I do” expressions…
You can choose one. But know that control is an illusion. Choise is not.
Control is an illusion – choice is not … Yeah, except the choice is 100% an illusion at this moment, and the decision is made for you during the cinematic. And, trust me, I get it – sometimes you need to force a direction for the sake of flow, and a cinematic is a great way to do that… in theory. But in this specific moment, there was all of that build-up about choice, and needing to choose, and being thoughtful and careful because this choice is such an important one … only to have it be empty and meaningless because the “choice” was never really yours to make as the player.
That was a huge feel-bad moment for me, and I spent the rest of the game thinking about ways they could have let me have that choice and still maintain the integrity of all of the big beats of the game I was experiencing.
Issue 2: The Left Hand – It Knows Nothing [🚨Spoilers🚨]
As you get closer to the end of the story, there is a moment where visions are given to you so you can see how things were “supposed to be” – the whole Grand Plan, as it were. During these visions, we learn how the Aelori (or “Magic Eaters”), whom the Humans hated and feared and forced to flee underground, were supposed to be part of The Process:
- Magic originates in The Shrouded Realm.
- Leylines are currents of magic.
- Leylines start in The Shrouded Realm, move through Fonts into Averum, spread out all over the world, and eventually cycle back.
- Human magni draw magic from leylines to use in Avernum.
- The Aelori draw ambient magic from the world and return it to The Shrouded Realm.
- Rinse and Repeat.
In this game, magic (as the power, not the effect) cannot be created or destroyed – it is focused and used by a Magnus to create an effect, and then the magic disperses. The Wound everyone is so worried about is the result of that magic trying to get back to The Shrouded Realm where it came from. And since the humans have driven out all the Aelori whose job it is to filter that magic between the two worlds, magic has, much like water carving through stone over time, carved a very real, and very dangerous hole in the fabric of reality.
All of that is pretty cool, and it made everything going on in the game suddenly click in an in-game way that I really, really appreciated.
However … that knowledge of the cycle was entirely one-sided. The being who designed this delicate system only told the Aelori about it. And as soon as these creatures appeared and started siphoning magic, the Humans freaked out and started killing them and forced them into hiding.
And, just like with the issue above, I was left thinking about different ways this could have gone and still maintained the struggle, serving as the momentum behind the game. They could have lived in harmony until some tragic event that caused humans to mistrust them (or vice versa), for example. Over time, the knowledge of their place in The Process would have been lost, and we would start the game at the same point.
But instead, they gave us actual visions of how it happened, and the humans’ betrayal was nearly instantaneous because they didn’t know the whole story. For something that required such a delicate balance, it feels very … blah … to me that only the Aalori would have been told about it.
Anyway, there you go. The gameplay is fun and the story is cool for the most part. If your interest was peeked by the trailers and promotional material, then you’re likely going to get a kick out of the game as well.