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Review - posted by JarlFrank on Sat 6 February 2010, 02:35:41Tags: Venetica
Venetica is an Action RPG by German developer Deck13, who is mainly known for their adventure games, which have been quite successful in Germany. Venetica is their first foray into the RPG genre, and they have implemented some elements from the Adventure genre into this game.
Story and Setting
Venetica is set in 16th century Venice - or, at least, a fantasy version of 16th century Venice. The city itself is well-designed, and the first two districts manage to look quite like the real Venice, which I have visited twice. The fantasy elements mostly concern the story, the presence of magic and the existance of several fantastic creatures you'll encounter during your quest.
The story itself begins with assassins attacking the peaceful village you live in, killing your lover and burning some houses in the process. You fight them, are slain - and greeted by Death, who tells you he's your father. He explains that the assassins came for you and that you have to travel to Venice, where you should kill the Undead Lord. You should also find the moon blade, a legendary weapon which will allow you to kill demons and undead. You are then sent back to the mortal world, awaking on the morning after the attack. While the story seems very simple and clichéd in the beginning, it becomes more involving and interesting the further the game progresses. The villain turns out to have some actual motivations instead of just wanting to destroy the world for fun, and the further you progress, the more details you'll learn about you, your father, his job and your quest.
This is Death. He's also your dad.
While I can't say anything about the English version of Venetica, the writing in the German version is quite solid and the main characters all have consistent and interesting personalities.
Old woman with an attitude
RPG + Adventure + Action
In its essence, Venetica is an Action RPG, with a lot of emphasis put on the action. The combat reminded me most of Rise of the Argonauts, or a mixture of Gothic and The Witcher. You control your character from a third person perspective with the classical WASD + mouse combination. Combat is very "twitchy" and is mostly decided by player reflexes than character stats. You'll constantly have to dodge enemy attacks and deliver attack combos by left-clicking when you've finished your strike. Similar to The Witcher's infamous "glowing sword", a white glow at the hilt of your weapon will show you when you have to click in order to continue your attack-chain. There are four different kinds of weapons with which you can kill your enemies, and each weapon type has its own advantages and disadvantages. Swords are quick and can block other swords; hammers can smash down doors and deal a lot of damage but are slow to swing, giving your enemies the chance to strike back; spears (which always come together with a shield) are mostly defensive weapons that can block everything and have a long reach. Finally, there's also your moon blade, a weapon that can restore your shadow energy when you use it to kill enemies, but I'll talk about that later.
Love-greetings: a hearty kick between the legs
While the combat is very action-focused, some quests and dialogues show that the developers used to make adventure games before trying their hands on an Action RPG. There are several riddles throughout the game where you have to press buttons in the correct sequence. Hints on how to solve those riddles are usually found nearby, either as a pattern on the ground or as instructions on a scroll. Sadly, those instuctions are all too easy to understand, which makes it seem that the developers thought it to be a good idea to supply the solution to a riddle on the table right next to it.
The boss fights feel a lot like riddles, too. You have to figure out how to hurt the seemingly invulnerable enemy before being able to defeat him in combat. The solutions are usually quite logical and easy to figure out, though.
There are very few occasions in the game where you can avoid combat by talking to a character, but there are no dialogue skills and it all depends on the player picking the correct dialogue options, similar to an adventure game.
The Persian boss-enemy
So, the combat plays like an action game and the dialogues play like an adventure game. Then why is it an RPG? Well, the RPG elements are, admittedly, very light. You gain experience by killing enemies, solving quests and discovering new places (which rewards exploration, but since the game is very linear you will have visited all available places by the end of the game). On each levelup you gain three stat points and ten talent points. There are only four stats in the game - constitution (which determines your health), wisdom (which determines your mana), strength (which determines your combat damage) and mental strength (which determines your magic damage). Skills, on the other hand, are a lot more interesting. Similar to the Gothic games, you will have to find a trainer and buy skills from him with your talent points. There are several combat skills and magical spells you can learn that way, but I found only a handful of them to be really useful.
The game also has a small amount of the Codex' favourite RPG element, choices. It's too bad that it lacks any consequences. Throughout the game there will be occasions where you have to work for one of two factions, but in the end it doesn't matter who you help, the result is the same. Quite early in the game, in order to gain the trust of an important character, you'll have to join one of the city's three guilds, which are a guild of warriors, a guild of researchers/magic users and a guild of couriers. The choice of guild is the only choice in the game that has any real consequence, since each guild has unique sidequests and the members of the guild will help you during certain plot points.
In the end, you will even be able to decide who will rule Venice before going into the final battle, but, sadly, there are no ending slides that tell you what consequences your choice had. Since there are multiple occasions where your choice could have made a difference, it's quite disappointing that there aren't any ending slides to tell you how it all turned out. This way, all the choices end up being no more than meaningless fluff.
With a little help of my (dead) friends
Being the daughter of death, you have the ability to enter the world of the dead, where you can see the ghosts of the deceased and talk to them. The farther you progress through the game, the more abilities to interact with the world of the dead you will learn. In the beginning you will only be able to enter hidden portals, which you can only see in the world of the dead but can notice by the sounds of ghostly whispering when you're close to them. Later you will learn to talk to the ghosts of the deceased, who will usually help you by giving you an item or even give you a little quest.
I see dead people
Another useful perk of being Death's daughter is your resistance to death. If you die, you enter the world of the dead and can return to the world of the living shortly after - that is, if you have enough shadow energy. Shadow energy is refilled by killing enemies with your moon blade, so you can't die five times in a row against the same enemy. It's a very useful feature, especially since the combat is hard and getting surrounded by a group of enemies usually means certain death. Towards the end of the game this feature becomes a little overpowered, though, because your shadow energy pool will grow and when it's filled, you'll be able to die seven times in a row and still survive.
Achievement unlocked: killed a negro
Some interesting features, also game design
The game also has a handful of really interesting smaller features. When you loot armor from your fallen enemies, you won't be able to wear it at once but have to go to a smith who can modify it to fit your body for a price. I really liked that feature, as it removes the concept of "one size fits all" plate armors other RPGs still stick to.
Bureaucracy at its best
I also liked the lockpicking minigame, where two dead friends of yours will show you in what sequence you'll have to use four different lockpicks in order to open the chest/door. The lockpicks have to be used either four, six or eight times and you just have to remember the sequence, like "green, red, red, yellow, blue, yellow, red, blue". It's one of the more fun lockpicking minigames I've encountered in RPGs, but, as is usual for even the most interesting of minigames, it does become tedious and repetitive after a while.
Your dead friends show you how to open the chest
Area and encounter design are done well, I haven't encountered any places in the game that seemed like filler to me, as even the more combat-heavy areas are explored quickly. Enemies are varied enough not to become boring, and a complete lack of level-scaling adds to the quality of encounters, which are usually quite difficult. Respawning only happens where it makes sense (bandits respawn on the streets at night, giant crabs respawn in the catacombs where there's deep water), but it happens far too quickly. Once I went into the catacombs to do a few quests, and when I went back to the entrance the crabs that I had killed when I entered the dungeon had already respawned.
A very interesting aspect of the area design is the ability to explore the rooftops of Venice, where you can find some chests with loot and a certain type of flying enemy that manages to be more annoying than Morrowind's cliffracer.
Quest design is pretty average, ranging from simple fetch- and kill-quests to (easy) riddles and quests that involve some persuasion. Some quests showed potential for being more than just the usual fetch-and-bring fare, but they never did anything with that potential.
Cliffracers? No, worse!
Graphically, the game looks really good. Characters look cartoony but detailed and the environments are quite beautiful. While the art design is generally very good, the developers really overused bloom in some areas.
An amount of bugs Troika would be proud of
On the one hand this game is a lot of fun, but on the other hand it has many technical shortcomings that lessen that fun. It has enough bugs and performance problems to compete with the Codex' favourite developing studio, whose games were well-known to have tons of bugs.
Prior to installing patch 1.01 I couldn't even start the game, recieving an error whenever I tried to launch it. The current patch is 1.02, and while the game is now stable and doesn't crash, it still has many bugs and a horrible performance. While I can run games like Dragon Age and the new Wolfenstein on max settings without problems, Venetica is plagued by intense lag in some areas. The performance has noticeably improved from patch 1.01, but it's far from fluent. Generally I've noticed that the lag is more severe when there are many NPCs on the screen.
I've also encountered one broken quest, a handful of quests where the quest marker on the map pointed into the middle of nowhere, got stuck in front of a ladder twice and once walked into the air and couldn't get back on the ground no matter what I tried.
While it doesn't reach the buggy mess of a Gothic 3, there's still a lot to fix.
Venetica is a solid Action RPG and a lot of fun to play. It does have some interesting premises, but especially the Adventure elements are underdeveloped and don't add that much to the game, since the occasions where you encounter them can be counted on one hand. The story and combat are the meat of the game, and it manages to stay exciting right until the end.
If you like action RPGs, don't mind a few adventure elements and can live without Choice & Consequence and deep character development, this game is well worth your money. If you expected choices like in The Witcher, freeform exploration like in the Gothic series, or a complex roleplaying system with lots of stats and skills, this isn't your type of game. I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable and "good for what it is".